Fàilte! (Welcome!)

Fàilte! (Welcome!)
This blog is the result of my ongoing research into the people, places and events that have shaped the Western Isles of Scotland and, in particular, the 'Siamese-twins' of Harris and Lewis.
My interest stems from the fact that my Grandfather was a Stornowegian and, until about four years ago, that was the sum total of my knowledge, both of him and of the land of his birth.
I cannot guarantee the accuracy of everything that I have written (not least because parts are, perhaps, pioneering) but I have done my best to check for any errors.
My family mainly lived along the shore of the Sound of Harris, from An-t-Ob and Srannda to Roghadal, but one family 'moved' to Direcleit in the Baighs...

©Copyright 2011 Peter Kerr All rights reserved

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Olaf the Black and North Uist

Óláfr Guðrøðarson, perhaps better-known as Olaf the Black, was a 13th century sea-king
who ruled the Isle of Man and, at least, parts of the Hebrides. He was a younger son of Guðrøðr Óláfsson, King of the Isles, King of Dublin, and his wife Finnguala, a grandaughter of Muirchertach Mac Lochlainn, High King of Ireland, King of Cenél nEógain.

Uist in the Sagas

Godred, a son of Olaf the Red, left three sons, Reginald, Olaf , and Ivar, of who, shortly before his death, he recognised Olaf (born in 1173, and afterwards known as Olaf the Black) as his lawful heir.”

“In 1202 King Olaf was residing at ‘Sandey’, in the Sudreys which Captain Thomas identifies as being the district and former parish of Sand, in North Uist, which...both from its central position and comparative fertility, would appear in every way the more likely residence to be chosen by a ruler of the Long Island.”

(Source: North Uist, Erskine Beveridge, 1911, p20-21)

According to the saga of the celebrated chief and physician, Hrafn Sveinbiarnson c1166-1213 (as cited in A.W. Moore’s 1900 publication A History of the Isle of Man), Hrafn “and the bishop-elect, Gudmund, sailed from Iceland towards Norway in the year 1202, but were driven by storms to Sandey, one of the Sudreys, where they happened to find Olaf and the bishop, and were compelled by the former to pay a tax, that Reginald had assigned the Hebrides to Olaf.” This saga was presumably the source that Captain Thomas and Professor Munch had used in their earlier respective researches into the matter and it was the Captain’s interpretation regarding the location of Sandey that Beveridge referred to in his book.

Thus, thanks to the scholarship of Captain FWL Thomas, we have evidence suggesting that Olaf the Black lived in North Uist in the area of Cill Chaluim Cille (Kilcolmkill) in the vicinity of the burial ground at Clachan Sands and near to Tobar Chaluim Cille , the well of St Columba’s Chapel.

In the Sleat History or History of the MacDonalds it is recorded that Olaf the Red, Olaf the Black’s grandfather, killed a MacNicoll in North Uist, although it has also been suggested that it may have been the grandson Olaf the Black who was responsible. Either way, we have two clues pointing to the presence of one or both of the Olaf’s in the island during the 12th and 13th centuries.

Erskine Beveridge also notes that nearby Loch Amhlasariagh derives its name from this period:

Loch Aulisary; Norse, from Olafs-erg or Olaf’s shileling” (Source: p105, as previously)

It would therefore appear possible, perhaps even likely, that it was Olaf the Black who had his summer residence somewhere on the shore of this tidal lagoon which is located within the old farm of Newton and Cheesebay, now known as the Newton Estate, and who gave his name to the loch.

Beveridge remarks that:

On the north side of Portain, near Loch Aulasary, occurs a group of three place-names, Cnoc Mòr an t-Sagairt, Cnoc Beag an t-Sagairt, and Loch an t-Sagairt – all obviously referring to a priest, and at least suggestive that a chapel formerly stood in that vicinity. (Source: Beveridge, p278)

Is this, perhaps, a further link to Olaf and the bishop (possibly Michael) cited in the saga?

We shall never know for sure but it is tantalising to think that more than 800 years ago this ‘remote’ corner of Uist was in fact sufficiently well-connected to attract a Norse ruler and his ecclesiastical ally to make their respective marks by leaving clues within the naming of the landscape.

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