Hebridean islanders end 650 years of feudalism with all-night party

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The Independent Online

More than 650 years of feudalism on the Scottish island of Gigha ended at noon yesterday when its 110 inhabitants were given the deeds to the land they bought after raising £4m.

More than 650 years of feudalism on the Scottish island of Gigha ended at noon yesterday when its 110 inhabitants were given the deeds to the land they bought after raising £4m.

The 3,400-acre (1,375 ha) island, which sits at the southernmost point of the Inner Hebrides, was an important centre of trade and influence when it was the main stopover between Ireland and the rest of Scotland. For much of the last century Gigha was bedevilled by disputes over ownership and lack of investment.

But yesterday, in the white-washed village hall at the southern end of "God's isle", talk among islanders preparing to celebrate their independence with an all-night ceilidh was of the future and the transformation of the island from a serfdom to a vibrant community. "The future is looking brighter now. It was a dream back in October but now we have hopefully secured the island it has become a reality," said Willie McSporran, chairman of the Isle of Gigha Trust.

"We are going to look to the future with a spring in our step and a smile on our face. There's been a lot of hard work done already and there's going to be a lot of hard work to do. We have had a lot of help but we will need a lot more yet." The islanders must repay £1m in next two years as part of the deal, which allowed them to buy the six-mile-long idyll that includes a grand country house, white sandy beaches, a nine-hole golf course, 37 estate cottages, a shop, a pub and an airstrip.

Derek Holt, 74, a businessman who also has homes in London and South Africa, put the island on sale last year, seeking offers of above £3.85m. He accepted a bid from the islanders – even though it was less than others he received – after they were given £3.5m from the National Lottery-backed Scottish Land Fund and a grant of £500,000 from the Highlands and Islands enterprise community land unit. Mr Holt bought the island for £2.3m in 1992.

Mr McSporran said: "I am confident we will be able to repay the £1m in time. We hope to sell the big house for as much as we possibly can. Then we will see what there is left to find." All over the island are posters advertising fund-raising events. "Support your island" T-shirts cost £2.50.

Lorna MacAlister, headteacher at Gigha's small primary school, said: "I think we will attract a lot more younger people with families who want to come and help turn this into a flourishing island again. This means a great deal to the island, it will enable the islanders to make their own decisions. It's a great sense of freedom."

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