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In 1930, the last islanders left. Now St Kilda Day celebrates their legacy

ON 29 August, 1930, the last of the 36 inhabitants of St Kilda abandoned their homes and were evacuated to the mainland.

Now the historic date is to be remembered in a series of events planned to commemorate the islands and their people, in what could become an annual celebration.

St Kilda Day: Latha Hiort will be held on 29 August, organised by Priseact nan Ealan (PNE), the Gaelic Arts Agency, with funding from Homecoming Scotland.

The project has been launched as a follow up to the 2007 St Kilda Opera, which was staged across Europe. It will celebrate the islanders' legacy in music, word and image.

PNE says the programme is still being finalised, but it aims to involve artists, communities, and individuals across Scotland and the rest of the world in a series of events to commemorate the St Kildans and their lost way of life.

A St Kilda exhibition is planned for the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow, while a photographic exhibition will be held in Perth and a Gaelic service at Edinburgh's Greyfriars Church.

It comes as the Ministry of Defence is considering running down its missile testing facilities on St Kilda, South Uist and Benbecula.

St Kilda's main island, Hirta, could be left unmanned by the proposals, and the National Trust for Scotland, which has owned the archipelago since 1957, has warned it will struggle to maintain the site as a result of the cutbacks.

Malcolm Maclean, PNE director, said: "The success of the 2007 opera has acted as a catalyst to new ideas about St Kilda at a time of grave uncertainty about the islands' future.

"St Kilda Day will increase public awareness of the St Kildan story and build support for a world-class, remote-access St Kilda Centre that celebrates the islands' unique spirit-of-place."

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council) wants to create a St Kilda visitor centre, but building it on Hirta has been ruled out because of its remoteness.

Instead, a feasibility study will look for a possible site for the centre elsewhere in the Outer Hebrides.

It is thought that St Kilda, the remotest part of the British Isles, lying 41 miles west of Benbecula, had been inhabited since the Bronze Age.

Islanders had little contact with the mainland until the mid 19th century.

The arrival of tourists in steam yachts began a gradual loss of self-sufficiency as islanders became more dependent on the outside world.

The population decline began in 1852, when 36 people emigrated to Australia, many of them dying on the way.

In 1912, there were acute food shortages, and the following year an outbreak of influenza.

After further emigration of able-bodied young islanders, the island economy broke down, and in 1930 the last inhabitants requested evacuation.

St Kilda was designated by Unesco as a World Heritage Site in 1986 in recognition of its exceptional natural beauty and its natural habitats.

It has also been recognised for its cultural heritage, making it one of only a few places in the world with dual World Heritage Status.

HIGHLAND FLING

A POLISH production of Macbeth on stilts, a clan of kilted puppeteers and a 10,000 year old giant will all help to celebrate the Year of Homecoming as the festival moves north.

More than 100 events are planned during Highland Homecoming. Polish theatre company Teatr Biuoro Podrozy will present Macbeth: Who is that Bloodied Man? in Inverness, using stilts, fire and music, while Big Man Walking, to be staged on the streets of Invergordon, tells the story of a mythical giant who arrives in a vast seed pod that is unsealed by kilted puppeteers.

The festival, from 19-31 October, also features Scotland's Global Impact Conference, exploring the theory that our small nation changed the world.

Blair Douglas's Gaelic Mass, performed in St Columba's Cathedral, Oban, will be sung by the Inverness Gaelic Choir.

 
 
 

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