Page last updated at 05:57 GMT, Thursday, 30 July 2009 06:57 UK

Day dedicated to abandoned isles

St Kilda
St Kilda became a tourist destination in the 1800s

A remote group of Scottish islands abandoned by its last residents almost 80 years ago is to have a day dedicated to it by an arts agency.

St Kilda Day: Latha Hiort has been organised by 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.

The agency said the day would be held on 29 August. The last St Kildans left on that date in 1930.

It hopes the celebrations will be held annually.

St Kilda Day will increase public awareness of the St Kildan story
Malcolm Maclean
Gaelic Arts Agency

Gaelic Arts Agency director Malcolm Maclean 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 island's unique spirit-of-place."

Western Isles Council - Comhairle nan Eilean Siar - is considering the creation of the visitor centre.

Building it on Hirta has been ruled out because of the difficulties in reaching it.

Instead, a feasibility study is to look for a possible site for the centre somewhere on the Western Isles.

People had lived on St Kilda since prehistoric times.

In the 19th Century, a series of tourists began to visit St Kilda, bringing with them ideas on how to improve the place and St Kildans - known as the Hiortaich - became more dependent on the outside world.

In the 1850s, 42 of the islanders emigrated to Australia, half of them dying on the way.

Until that decade ended, their houses had been built from materials that were easily available on Hirta, with stone walls, and roofs of thatch or turf.

New lives

One of the so-called improvements that came from the outside world was 16 new houses that were built in the village in 1860.

These new homes were cold, and it was necessary to import coal from the mainland as the supplies of peat on St Kilda were not sufficient to heat them.

Because of the tourists, the world heard of the St Kilda Parliament, in which the men met each morning to discuss the day's tasks.

They also heard about the islanders' ankles, which were unusually thick and strong from climbing cliffs to hunt seabirds, which were the basis of their economy.

The winter of 1929 was particularly hard on the island and some of the remaining inhabitants died, many having already left.

The remaining 36 islanders wrote to the government asking to be taken off so they could lead new lives on the mainland. The island was abandoned the following year.

St Kilda now has dual Unesco World Heritage status.

However, owner the National Trust for Scotland has been concerned about the withdrawal of permanent staff from a military radar station on Hirta, the main island in the group.

It said this would leave the islands vulnerable to vandalism by visitors.

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