Skye or the Isle of Skye (//; Scottish Gaelic: An t-Eilean Sgitheanach or Eilean a' Cheò) is the largest and most northerly large island in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. The island's peninsulas radiate from a mountainous centre dominated by the Cuillins, the rocky slopes of which provide some of the most dramatic mountain scenery in the country. Although it has been suggested that the Gaelic Sgitheanach describes a winged shape there is no definitive agreement as to the name's origins.
The island has been occupied since the Mesolithic period and its history includes a time of Norse rule and a long period of domination by Clan MacLeod and Clan Donald. The 18th-century Jacobite risings led to the breaking up of the clan system and subsequent Clearances that replaced entire communities with sheep farms, some of which also involved forced emigrations to distant lands. Resident numbers declined from over 20,000 in the early 19th century to just under 9,000 by the closing decade of the 20th century. Skye's population increased by 4 per cent between 1991 and 2001. About a third of the residents were Gaelic speakers in 2001, and although their numbers are in decline this aspect of island culture remains important.
The Inner Hebrides (Scottish Gaelic: Na h-Eileanan a-staigh, "the inner isles") is an archipelago off the west coast of Mainland Scotland, to the southeast of the Outer Hebrides. Together these two island chains form the Hebrides, which experience a mild oceanic climate. There are 36 inhabited islands and a further 43 uninhabited Inner Hebrides with an area greater than 30 hectares (74 acres). The main commercial activities are tourism, crofting, fishing, and whisky distilling. In modern times the Inner Hebrides have formed part of two separate local government jurisdictions, one to the north and the other to the south. Together, the islands have an area of about 412,850 hectares (1,594 sq mi), and had a population of 18,257 people in 2001. The population density is therefore a little over 4 persons per km2 (11 persons per square mile).
There are various important prehistoric structures, many of which pre-date the first written references to the islands by Roman and Greek authors. In the historic period the earliest known settlers were Picts to the north and Gaels in the southern kingdom of Dalriada prior to the islands becoming part of the Suðreyjar kingdom of the Norse, who ruled for over 400 years until sovereignty was transferred to Scotland by the Treaty of Perth in 1266. Control of the islands was then held by various clan chiefs, principal of whom were the MacLeans, MacLeods and MacDonalds. The Highland Clearances of the 19th century had a devastating effect on many communities and it is only in recent years that population levels have ceased to decline.