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Flannan Isles

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Flannan Isles
Gaelic name About this sound Na h-Eileanan Flannach  
Meaning of name Flannan Isles
Flannan Isles is located in Outer Hebrides
Flannan Isles
Flannan Isles
Flannan Isles shown within the Outer Hebrides
OS grid reference NA720460
Physical geography
Island group Lewis and Harris
Area 58.87 hectares (145.5 acres) over more than seven islands.[1]
Area rank Eilean Mòr is 325th [2]
Highest elevation 88 m on Eilean Mòr
Political geography
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Country Scotland
Council area Na h-Eileanan Siar
Population 0
Largest settlement Flannan Isles Lighthouse is the only habitable structure
References [3][4]

The Flannan Isles (Scottish Gaelic: Na h-Eileanan Flannach,[5] pronounced [nə ˈhelanən ˈflˠ̪an̪ˠəx]) or alternatively, the Seven Hunters are a small island group in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, approximately 32 kilometres (20 mi) west of the Isle of Lewis. They may take their name from Saint Flannan, the seventh-century Irish preacher and abbot.[4]

The islands have been devoid of permanent residents since the automation of Flannan Isles Lighthouse in 1971.[6] They are the location of an enduring mystery that occurred in December 1900, when all three lighthouse keepers vanished without trace.


The islands are split into three groups: the main cluster of rocks that lie to the northeast include the two principal islands of Eilean Mòr (Big Isle), which is approximately 17.5 hectares (43 acres) in extent,[4] and Eilean Taighe (House Isle); to the south lie Soray (Eastward Isle) and Sgeir Tomain; while the main western outcrops are Eilean a' Gobha (Isle of the Blacksmith), Roaireim (which has a natural rock arch), and Bròna Cleit (Sad Sunk Rock). The total land area amounts to approximately 50 hectares (120 acres) and the highest point is 88 metres (289 ft) above sea level on Eilean Mòr.[4]

The Flannan or Seven Hunters Isles[7]

The geology consists of a dark breccia of gabbros and dolerites intruding Archaean gneiss.[4] In prehistoric times, the area was covered by ice sheets that spread from Scotland out into the Atlantic Ocean. After the last retreat of the ice circa 20,000 years BP, sea levels were as much as 122 metres (400 ft) lower than at present and it is likely that the existing islands were part of a much larger land mass, although still separated from the Outer Hebrides by many miles of open water. Steadily rising sea levels thereafter would have reduced the land remaining above sea level to its present extent.[8]

There are two possible landing places for yachts visiting Eilean Mòr to the east and west, although this may be hazardous given the regular heavy swells.[4]


Northern gannet (Morus bassanus) in flight

As the name implies, Eilean Taighe hosts a ruined stone shelter. Eilean Mòr is home to the lighthouse and a ruined chapel dedicated to St. Flannan, which the lighthouse keepers referred to as the "dog kennel" because of its small size. These ruined bothies were described collectively by the Ancient Monuments Commission as The Bothies of the Clan McPhail,[9] or Bothain Chlann ‘ic Phaill.[10] It is not entirely clear which St. Flannan the chapel honours. It is likely that the honoree was either the seventh century Abbot of Killaloe in County Clare or alternatively, the half brother of the eighth century St. Ronan who gave his name to the nearby island of North Rona. There was also a certain Flann, son of an Abbot of Iona, called Maol-duine, who died in 890 and may have loaned his name to these isolated isles.[4]

The archipelago also is known as 'The Seven Hunters'. During the Middle Ages they also may have been called the 'Seven Haley (Holy) Isles'.[11] Martin Martin (1703) lists a number of unusual customs associated with regular pilgrimages to Eilean Mòr, such as removing one's hat and making a sunwise turn when reaching the plateau.[12] It is possible that the saint or his acolytes lived on Eilean Mòr and perhaps, on Eilean Taighe as well. It is unlikely, however, that there were permanent residents on the islands once the Celtic Church fell into decline in the Hebrides (as a result of ninth century Viking invasions), until the construction of the lighthouse and its occupation very shortly before the dawn of the twentieth century.

Flannan Isles Lighthouse was built near the highest point on Eilean Mòr for the Northern Lighthouse Board between 1895 and 1899. In 1900, its three keepers disappeared without trace, causing much public attention and speculation. The lighthouse is no longer occupied after it was automated in 1971.


The isles provide nesting for a population of seabirds, including Atlantic puffins, northern fulmars, European storm-petrels, Leach's petrels, common shag, and black-legged kittiwakes. There is a gannetry on Roaireim.[10] From the late Middle Ages on, Lewismen regularly raided these nests for eggs, birds, and feathers. There is a population of rabbits, brought to the islands by the lighthouse keepers,[13] and crofters from Bernera graze sheep on the most fertile islands.[4] Minke and pilot whales, as well as Risso's and other species of dolphin are commonly observed in the vicinity.[10]

The islands became a Site of Special Scientific Interest in December 1983.[14]



  1. ^ "SPA description:Flannan Isles". JNCC. Retrieved 5 September 2009.
  2. ^ Area and population ranks: there are c. 300 islands >20ha in extent and 93 permanently inhabited islands were listed in the 2011 census.
  3. ^ General Register Office for Scotland (28 November 2003) Scotland's Census 2001 – Occasional Paper No 10: Statistics for Inhabited Islands. Retrieved 26 February 2012.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Haswell-Smith, Hamish (2004). The Scottish Islands. Edinburgh: Canongate. pp. 329–31. ISBN 978-1-84195-454-7. 
  5. ^ Mac an Tàilleir, Iain (2003) Ainmean-àite/Placenames. (pdf) Pàrlamaid na h-Alba. Retrieved 26 August 2012.
  6. ^ Nicholson (1995) pp. 168–79.
  7. ^ Harvie-Brown & Buckley (1889) facing p. XXIV
  8. ^ Murray (1973) pp. 68–69.
  9. ^ "Flannan Isles Lighthouse " Northern Lighthouse Board. Retrieved 23 March 2008.
  10. ^ a b c "Western Isles Guide Book: Flannan Islands. Charles Tait photographic Ltd. Retrieved 23 March 2008.
  11. ^ Munro, Sir Donald (1594) Description of the Western Isles of Scotland.
  12. ^ Martin (1703) pp. 97–98.
  13. ^ Murray (1973) p. 108.
  14. ^ Scottish Natural Heritage list of SSSIs. (pdf) SNH. Retrieved 28 December 2006.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 58°17′N 07°35′W / 58.283°N 7.583°W / 58.283; -7.583