The Isle of Gigha (Scottish Gaelic: Giogha) is a small island off the west coast of Kintyre in Scotland. The island forms part of Argyll and Bute and has a population of about 150 people, many of whom speak Scottish Gaelic. The climate is mild with higher than average sunshine hours and the soils are fertile.
Gigha has a long history, having been inhabited continuously since prehistoric times. It may have had an important role during the Kingdom of Dalriada and is the ancestral home of Clan MacNeill. It fell under the control of the Norse and the Lords of the Isles before becoming incorporated into modern Scotland and saw a variety of conflicts during the medieval period.
The population of Gigha peaked at over 700 in the eighteenth century, but during the 20th century the island had numerous owners, which caused various problems in developing the island. By the beginning of the 21st century resident numbers had fallen to only 98. However a “community buy-out” in 2002 has transformed the island, which now has a growing population and a variety of new commercial activities to complement farming and tourism.
Attractions on the island include Achamore Gardens and the abundant wildlife, especially seabirds. There have been numerous shipwrecks on the surrounding rocks and skerries.
The challenges created by private landlords came to an end in March 2002 when the islanders managed, with help from grants and loans from the National Lottery and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, to purchase the island for £4 million. They now own it through a development trust called the Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust. As a result 15 March, the day when the purchase went through, is celebrated as the island’s “independence day”. £1 million of the financial support was in the form of a short-term loan. The money to pay this loan back was largely raised by selling Achamore House (but not the gardens) to Don Dennis, a businessman from California. Dennis now operates a flower essences importing business and a boat tours company from the house, which is also rented out as a Bed and Breakfast business. An additional £200,000 was raised by the islanders through various fundraising ventures, allowing the loan to be paid back to the Scottish Land Fund on 15 March 2004.Since the community buy out several other private businesses have sprung up on Gigha providing a boost to the local economy, including the multi-award winning Boathouse Café Bar.The island’s population and economy has begun to recover as a result of these activities.
In 2010 the historian James Hunter stated that the transfer of ownership had brought about “a spectacular reversal of Gigha’s slide towards complete population collapse” and suggested that the UK Government should learn lessons from Gigha and other community buy-outs to inform their “Big Society” plans.