History of the Faroe Islands

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Pre-Norse history

The early details of Faroese history are rather nebulous. It is possible that Saint Brendan, an Irish monk (a Papar) sailed past the islands during his North Atlantic voyage in the 6th century. He saw an 'Island of Sheep' and a 'Paradise of Birds', which some say could be the Faroes with its dense bird population and sheep.

In the late 7th century to early 8th century the islands were visited by monks from Ireland, possibly looking for converts or solitude. Little is known about them, except that they used the Faroes (and Iceland) as a hermitage. As these monks were celibate and lived in all-male communities, their populations were not self sustaining.

The earliest text which is believed to include a description of the Faroe Islands, was written by an Irish monk in the Frankish Kingdom named Dicuil, who wrote about the countries in the north.. Dicuil had met a "man worthy of trust" who related to his master, the abbot Sweeney (Suibhne), how he had landed on the Faroe Islands after having navigated "two days and a summer night in a little vessel of two banks of oars." Around A.D. 825, Dicuil wrote a book, Liber de Mensura Orbis Terrae, (Measure/description of the sphere of the earth) in which he states:

"Many other islands lie in the northerly British Ocean. One reaches them from the northerly islands of Britain, by sailing directly for two days and two nights with a full sail in a favourable wind the whole time.... Most of these islands are small, they are separated by narrow channels, and for nearly a hundred years hermits lived there, coming from our land, Ireland, by boat. But just as these islands have been uninhabited from the beginning of the world, so now the Norwegian pirates have driven away the monks; but countless sheep and many different species of sea-fowl are to be found there..."

The physical description of these islands and the travel time described, fits the Faroe Islands, and the name Faeroe is thought to mean Sheep Islands. According to this, the first settlers in the Faroe Islands were Irish monks, who introduced sheep and oats to the Faroe Isles. Recent pollen analysis showing that oats were grown in the Faroes about the year 650 A.D supports this theory.

The Faroese ethnic group is of primarily Norse Viking descent and Scottish.

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