Saint Kilda is an isolated group of islands in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. The largest island is Hirta. Permanent dwelling on the islands possibly extends back 2000 years, the population in all probability never went beyond 180. The entire remaining population was evacuated from Hirta, the only inhabited island, in 1930. You can see just how isolated the island was from everything on Google Maps.
History of Saint Kilda
The first penned accounting of St. Kilda may date from 1202 when an Icelandic cleric wrote of taking refuge on “the islands that are called Hirtir”. So while they were known to exist, they were so isolated that there was little influence from the outside world.
Eventually in the 18th and 19th century, Scotland established a church and sent ministers.
Daily life on the island
A vital attribute of St. Kilda’s life was the daily “parliament”. This was a meeting, held out in the street, every morning after worship and attended by all the grown men. Together they would decide upon the day’s activities; no one led the meeting, and all men had the right to speak.
In the 19th century, the good health of the people was compared favorably with conditions elsewhere in the Hebrides. It was not an ideal society; there were minor crimes and penalties set up, but no resident St Kilda is known to have fought in a war. In the four centuries of recorded history, no serious crime committed by an islander was recorded there.
Saint Kilda in World War One
Early in the First World War, the Royal Navy erected a signal station on Hirta, and the first daily communications with the mainland were established. on the morning of 15, May 1918 a German submarine arrived in the village bay and, after issuing a warning, started shelling the island. Seventy-two shells were fired, and the wireless station was destroyed. Some buildings were damaged but no loss of life.
The was brought the islanders in regular contact with the outside world. This was a doubled edge sword. It made life easier, but also more dependent on outside contact. Both were factors in the evacuation of the island a little more than a decade later.
Before the constant contact with the mainland, the people of St. Kilda had never known any other way of life. They didn’t know that the strong winds they lived with or the cold weather were unusual.
Life Without Trees
Many former islanders were offered work in the forestry service. This was a bit of an irony since trees didn’t grow on the islands. All the houses and buildings were made of stone. Residents who had not before left the island had never seen a tree.
Saint Kilda Today
The island sat empty for 26 years,. It eventually was then over by military and government research scientists. The population today ranges from 20 to 100 people in residence at any one time. Just as it had for 2000 years.