The history of the Small Isles, to the south of Skye, is typical of the Hebrides: early Christianization, followed by Norwegian rule ending in 1266 when the islands fell into Scottish hands. Their support for the Jacobites resulted in hard times after the failed 1745 rebellion, but the biggest problems came with the introduction of the potato in the mid-eighteenth century, which prompted a population explosion. At first, the problem of overcrowding was lessened by the kelp boom, but the economic bubble burst with the end of the Napoleonic Wars and most owners eventually resorted to forced Clearances.

Since then, each of the islands has been bought and sold several times, though only Muck is now privately owned by the benevolent laird, Lawrence MacEwen. Eigg was bought by the islanders themselves in 1997. The other islands were bequeathed to national agencies: Rùm, by far the largest and most-visited of the group, possessing a cluster of formidable volcanic peaks and the architecturally remarkable Kinloch Castle, belongs to Scottish Natural Heritage; while Canna, with its high basalt cliffs, is owned by the National Trust for Scotland.