Three tiny islands in the Outer Hebrides to get new flags

Cula Bay on Benbecula - one of the three islands working on its new flag.
Cula Bay on Benbecula - one of the three islands working on its new flag.
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They are the tiny islands with big identities.

Now communities on Eriskay, Benbecula and North Uist are coming together to design new flags for each of the Hebridean islands that will reflect the culture, history and values of the place they call home.

Eaval on North Uist, an island with a population of around 1,200.

Eaval on North Uist, an island with a population of around 1,200.

The Court of the Lord Lyon, the legal protector of Scotland's heraldry, flags and national symbols, will oversee the competition that will select how each island is represented.

All islanders are invited to contribute with those who have moved to the mainland or overseas particularly encouraged to take part with design ideas going to a shortlist and public vote over the summer.

Three votes will take place, one for each island, through a combination of online and postal voting.

Alasdair Allan MSP, SNP member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, said: “I am pleased to see that Benbecula, Eriskay and North Uist may all soon be about to get their very own flags.

Prince's Bay on Eriskay, where Bonnie Prince Charlie is said to have landed in 1745.

Prince's Bay on Eriskay, where Bonnie Prince Charlie is said to have landed in 1745.

“As well as being an obvious expression of the identity of a community and providing a collective symbol to rally around, community flags could help to boost the profile of each island and boost marketing efforts.

"People often think of the Western Isles and one community but the Western Isles is at least half a dozen completely distinct communities all which are a very long way from each other.

"All these communities have a very strong sense of identity and they all have a very strong history.

"Barra and South Uist have informally been using flags of their own for perhaps 30 years on fishing boats and other places. Now they have become useful ways of marketing the islands."

Mr Allan said he expected symbols of the islands' mythology and history to appear in the shortlisted designs.

South Uist had its official flag confirmed in 2017 and confirmation followed soon afterwards for Barra. In the time since the two islands have utilised their respective nordic crosses as effective icons for their communities, which are now central to efforts to market Barra and South Uist.

Once voting has completed on the shortlisted designs, the Court of the Lord Lyon will assess the proposed flags to check they do not clash with any official Scottish flags already in existence

It will then prepare legal documentation that must be completed before each flag is declared official and added to the heraldic records for Scotland.

Philip Tibbetts, honorary Vexillologist with the Court of the Lord Lyon, is advising the steering group of representatives from the three islands which is co-ordinating the competition for Eriskay, North Uist and Benbecula. He has also toured schools on the islands to encourage ideas and entries.

He said: “I have been greatly impressed by the positive reception to the concept of the flags as well as the ideas the pupils have come up with so far – the distinct history, geography and culture of each island is serving as a very rich palette for some very creative minds.

“I was also very impressed on my visit to see the innovative ways that the neighbouring flags of Barra and South Uist are already being used to promote their communities. I am pleased that Benbecula, Eriskay and North Uist will be able to emulate these same benefits following this competition.”

THE ISLANDS:

North Uist

With a population of around 1200, North Uist is home to a vibrant crofting and fishing community as well as some of the most significant archaeological sites in the Outer Hebrides. Visitors travel to the island each year to visit iconic locations such as Barpa Langais burial cairn, the remains of the Pobull Fhinn stone circle, and Teampull na Trianaid, a twelfth century church built close to the site of the Battle of Carinish which is said to be the last engagement fought with bows and arrows in the British Isles.

Benbecula

Benbecula has a population of around 1300. Balivanich, the main settlement on the island, is the economic centre of the Uist island chain, base for the local hospital, airport, numerous businesses, retail outlets and places to eat, and a sizeable military base which forms part of Hebrides Range. Benbecula is steeped in history and was the scene of some of the most notable chapters in the history of the land struggle, such as the land raid at Nunton.

Eriskay

Just 150 people live on Eriskay. It was the site on which Bonnie Prince Charlie landed ahead of the Jacobite rising in 1745. Sea Bindweed seeds are said to have fallen from the prince's pocket when he set foot ashore at what is now known as Prince's Bay and the flowers grow there to this day. The island also inspired the Compton MacKenzie novel, and later the classic Ealing movie, 'Whisky Galore'. Cargo ship the SS Politician ran aground on a small island off Eriskay in 1941. Stories of the islanders salvaging some of the 28,000 cases of whisky aboard were the basis for 'Whisky Galore'. Eriskay is also famed for the Eriskay Jersey and Eriskay Ponies.