The First Minister has officially opened the £19.5 million Lews Castle museum and
hotel in Stornoway.
The event marks mark the completion of a flagship cultural and economic regeneration
project led by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.
The project, undertaken in phases over a five years has fully restored Stornoway’s
main landmark building as a visitor and hospitality destination.
At the heart of the scheme is a new Museum nan Eilean and Tasglann nan Eilean - the
first public archive for the islands.
Since public opening in July 2016, over 34,000 people have visiting the museum and
The museum galleries examine the long human occupation of the Outer Hebrides with
themed displays focusing on the relationship between the people the land and the
sea, working life, community life and contemporary issues.
Particular highlights include a stunning cinematic gallery which takes the viewer
on a virtual journey through the diverse landscapes of the Outer Hebrides across
the seasons and in all weathers and the ‘Eileanaich’ (islanders) gallery in which
a cross section of people talk about life in the Outer Hebrides.
Through a partnership with the British Museum, six of the world famous Lewis Chessmen
take their place as a centrepiece within the main gallery. These fascinating playing
pieces, carved from walrus tusk and whalebone some 800 years ago were discovered
on Uig beach on the west coast of Lewis in 1830.
Over one third of the objects on display have been loaned by National Museums Scotland,
including archaeological finds from across the Outer Hebrides, a spectacular Viking
hack-silver coin hoard and a three-wheeled Morgan car from the 1920’s which was the
first private motor vehicle on the Island of Berneray.
Comainn Eachdraidh (local historical and community heritage societies) have played
a key role in the project and are signposted in the new museum to encourage visitors
to explore the unique and rich local collections that exist across the Outer Hebrides.
The main public rooms on the ground floor of the castle have been restored to their
Gothic Revival glory, including ornate plaster ceilings and a fabulous 19th century
wall mural in the Morning Room.
The exception is the spectacular Adam style ballroom which Lord Leverhulme extended
and re-modelled in the 1920’s and has been restored in that style. The ballroom and
other public rooms have already hosted a wide range of functions including what is
believed to the first wedding ever held at Lews Castle.
The final phase of the project has created luxury holiday accommodation on the upper
floors of the Castle with 23 bedrooms in a flexible configuration of individual suites
and apartments with one to three bedrooms.
First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said: “The opening of the Lews Castle development
is a historic occasion for Stornoway and the whole of the Outer Hebrides and I’m
delighted I could be part of the event. I’m pleased the Scottish Government and its
agencies could provide funding to help restore this iconic castle to its former glory
as well as providing a key cultural and heritage hub for the area.
“It is also very fitting that the refurbishment has been completed this year – the
Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology.
“The comhairle and its partners must be congratulated on developing what is now a
beautiful venue for both local residents and visitors to the island to enjoy, telling
the unique story of the islands in an amazing setting. It will also be a fantastic
boost for the local economy, increasing tourism, creating jobs and bringing additional
revenue to the islands.”
Comhairle leader, Angus Campbell, said: “I am delighted that we are at the stage
of officially opening this iconic Outer Hebrides landmark, which is a truly magnificent
facility for visitors and residents alike. The Castle has already proved to be hugely
popular, as evidenced by the large numbers of visitors in the first few months.
“I would like to thank the First Minister very warmly for being with us today to
celebrate the official opening. I hope she enjoys her brief visit to the Outer Hebrides
and that she will be back with us soon.
“Thanks are also due to our many partner funding agencies, particularly the project
bBoard and staff for all their support and efforts over recent years.
“Not only is the castle a major economic boost for the Western Isles - with the creation
of many jobs and more still to come - it is also a symbol of island regeneration
and cultural renaissance.”
“Projects of this nature and scale are never easy and can present many challenges.
“Identifying an economically sustainable end use for the castle was a vital requirement
in securing external funding for the project. I believe we have delivered the original
vision for the project with the combination of the heritage development, public access
to one of our main heritage assets and top class hospitality and accommodation facilities
which will generate new visitors to the islands.
“The comhairle and the whole community can be extremely proud of what has been achieved
and I am confident that the benefits of this substantial investment will be felt
right across our islands in the years to come.”