Hebrides, the (hĕbˈrĭdēz) [key], Western Isles, or Western Islands, group of more than 50 islands, W and NW Scotland. Less than a fifth of the islands are inhabited. The Outer Hebrides (sometimes also referred to as the Long Island) are separated from the mainland and from the Inner Hebrides by the straits of Minch and Little Minch and by the Sea of the Hebrides; they extend for 130 mi (209 km) from the Butt of Lewis on Lewis and Harris to Barra Head island. Other islands are North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist, Barra, the Flannan Islands (Seven Hunters), and Saint Kilda (or Hirta). The Outer Hebrides comprise the council area of Western Isles. The Inner Hebrides include the islands of Skye, Raasay, Rum, Eigg, Coll, Tiree, Staffa, Iona, Mull, Scarba, Colonsay, Oronsay, Jura, and Islay. They are divided between the Highland and Argyll and Bute council areas. The climate is mild, the scenery is beautiful, and there are prehistoric and ancient historical remains and geological structures. Fishing, crop raising, sheep grazing, manufacturing of tweeds and other woolens, quarrying (slate), and catering to tourists are the chief means of livelihood.
The original Celtic inhabitants, converted to Christianity by St. Columba (6th cent.), were conquered by the Norwegians (starting in the 8th cent.). They held the Southern Islands, as they called them, until 1266. From that time the islands were formally held by the Scottish crown but were in fact ruled by various Scottish chieftains, with the Macdonalds asserting absolute rule after 1346 as lords of the isles. In the mid-18th cent. the Hebrides were incorporated into Scotland. The tales of Sir Walter Scott did much to make the islands famous. Emigration from the overpopulated islands occurred in the 20th cent., especially to Canada.