The Fringes of the Fringe

I may have a problem when it comes to remote Northern islands. Ireland was the first, and when I visited it in the 80s, it still was in many ways remote from the rest of the world. The Celtic Tiger economic boom was still in the future, as were all of the horrible cheap looking holiday homes on the coasts that followed the tiger. It was cheap, the coffee was awful, you could hitchhike all around the country in complete safety and there were no big roads. I still love Ireland, but in the last 25 years, it has become more like the rest of Europe; you can zoom across the country on a four lane highway, and there’s been a lot of unfortunate building. Traditional Irish cottages looked like this, three windows and a door, whitewashed, under a thatched roof:

cottage

From www.irishpage.com/prayers/bleshaus.htm%5B/caption%5D

 

 

That’s Ben Bulben in the background, by the way, where Yeats roamed as a boy.

 

 

 

Nowadays, if you want to rent a cottage, you’re more likely to find something like this… 5 star and glamorous, according to the ad.

f1

 

And worse, the collapse of the Celtic Tiger left half finished developments all over the country. Here’s a gallery from HuffPost.

My new obsession is Iceland, which reminds me of Ireland 30 years ago, only with volcanoes. Iceland, curiously, has some claim to being a partially Celtic country. The Irish monks who first settled there before the Vikings arrived in 874 hardly count, because, of course, they left no descendants.

[caption id="attachment_957" align="alignright" width="163"]irish_monks Irish monks sailing to Iceland in a very small boat.

They were just looking for the most remote place imaginable to pray and get closer to their God.

Nor do the early Viking settlers sound very Celtic; they have names like Ingolfur Arnason (there should be an accent on the o in Ingolfur, but this interface won’t let me add it) and Hrafna-Floki Vilger├░arson, Raven-Floki son of Vilger├░, and Unn the Deep Minded, an extraordinary woman who lead her whole family to a new life in Iceland from… Ireland, via Scotland and the Orkney Islands. She was Norse through and through, but plenty of other women who went with the Vikings to Iceland seem not to have been. Recent DNA studies suggest that 63% of Settler women were actually from the British Isles; 80% of Settler men, on the other hand, were Nordic. What does this mean? Well, let’s just say that some of those women were probably given little choice about whom they “married” and where they went. You can read more about the DNA study at the Arni Magnusson Institute for Icelandic studies, where I was lucky enough to spend 6 weeks last Fall. Next up (next summer) the Orkney Islands. I’ll keep you posted.

IMG_5623

That’s Leif Ericsson behind me, looking towards America.