Britain's first Gaelic museum is to open in Stornoway thanks to lottery funding

By Jenni Davidson | 22 November 2011
A computerised image of what the new museum is expected to look like.
An architect's impression of the new museum in Stornoway© Malcolm Fraser Architects
The first museum in the UK to use Gaelic as its first language is to open on the Isle of Lewis.

The Heritage Lottery Fund has announced that it is investing £4.6 million in a new museum and visitor accommodation in Stornoway. It is hoped that the museum will become a key destination and encourage tourism in the Western Isles.

The new museum will display the collections of Museum nan Eilean, as well as supporting the work of more than 20 different heritage organisations which have been collecting material relating to Gaelic communities during the past 30 years and who now have unrivalled archives of photographs, documents and memorabilia.

The museum will also house the Western Isles' first archive facility, which means that items of local significance that are currently held by National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh can be brought to the islands.

The state-of-the-art facilities will make it possible for collections from the British Museum and the National Museum of Scotland to be exhibited on Lewis. In particular, this may boost the long-running campaign to have the Lewis Chessmen returned to where they were found.

A photograph of Lews Castle and its grounds with a river in the foreground.
Lews Castle
© Heritage Lottery Fund
Stornoway's new museum is to be built in Lews Castle and forms part of a plan to restore the historic building to its former glory.

The castellated mansion overlooking Stornoway harbour was built between 1847 and 1857 for James Matheson, who had bought the whole island of Lewis after making a fortune in the Chinese opium trade. Unusually for this largely treeless island, the castle is surrounded by many species of trees and shrubs, which were all planted by Matheson.

In 1918 itwas sold to the industrialist Lord Leverhulme, the founder of the soap manufacturing company Lever Brothers. He had plans to turn Stornoway into a major fishing centre, but when those didn't come to fruition he gifted the castle to the people of Stornoway in 1923.

Since then it has been a naval hospital, a school and a college, but over the years it has fallen into a serious state of disrepair and the grade A-listed building is now on the Buildings at Risk register. 

The new funding will secure the future of the castle as well as providing the islands with a significant museum for the 21st century.
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