What Killed Kilda? Ghost Isles: Living Conditions on St Kilda Were Harsh (Left), but They Supported a Population for Almost 2,000 Years. Now Island Homes Are Derelict Shells (Right)
Byline: Charles Legge
A recent TV documentary suggested that a possible reason for the abandonment of St Kilda was that the soil was poisoned. What are the facts?
ST KILDA is remote island group, 40 miles west of the Outer Hebrides. Its cliffs are rich in bird life, and it is a World Heritage site.
The main island is called Hirta, with Soay (sheep island) and Dun next to it. To the north-east is Boreray, accompanied by two tall stacks emerging from the sea.
The name St Kilda is thought to derive from Old Norse skildir shields, from the appearance of the islands from a distance. There was no saint called Kilda.
Evidence exists for habitation thousands of years ago, and for early Christian and Norse settlement, yet by 1930 the last human inhabitants had left the isles.
Usually their evacuation is explained by the opening up of the islands to tourism and the presence of the military in World War I. The islanders saw what outside life had to offer and after the war, most of the young men left. The population fell from 73 in 1920 to 37 in 1928.
After the death of four men from influenza in 1926 came a succession of crop failures. Recent investigations by Aberdeen University showed heavy contamination of the soil by metallic pollutants. This pollution occurred when manuring practices on St Kilda became more intensive. The pollutants, including lead, zinc, cadmium and arsenic, can mainly be attributed to the use of the carcasses of seabirds which tend to have a range of potentially toxic metals in their organs.
The last straw came with the death from appendicitis of a young woman, Mary Gillies, in January 1930. On August 29, 1930, the remaining 36 inhabitants were evacuated to the Scottish mainland at their own request.
The tragic story foreshadowed the fate that was to befall many of Irelands island communities over the succeeding decades, including the Blaskets, off Co. Kerry. The anniversary of their evacuation on November 17, 1953 fell this week.
Daniel Whittington, Glasgow.
QUESTION Why, of all the hosts of heaven, has the archangel Michael been made a saint, an honour reserved in all other cases for human recipients?
ANGELS are also saints, as indicated by the fact that the Bible applies the Hebrew word for saint/ holy one qaddiysh to them.
For example, Daniel 4:13 I saw in the visions of my head on my bed, and, behold, a watcher and a holy one (qaddiysh) came down from heaven.
Hence, there are angel saints in heaven and human saints in heaven and on earth and thus we speak of St Michael the Archangel, St Gabriel, St Raphael etc.
Gordon Miller, Oxford.
QUESTION Which novel by an Irish author has sold the most copies?
DESPITE their popularity none of our modern-day best-selling authors such as Maeve Binchy, Cecelia Ahern or Marian Keyes can lay claim to this accolade. …