Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Hostname: page-component-77c89778f8-vsgnj Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-07-19T10:29:21.945Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

9 - Norse Settlement in the Southern Hebrides: The Place-name Evidence from Islay

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 October 2023

Tom Horne
Affiliation:
University of Glasgow
Elizabeth Pierce
Affiliation:
University of Glasgow
Rachel Barrowman
Affiliation:
University of Glasgow
Get access

Summary

There can be little doubt that the Hebrides were among the first parts of the British Isles to witness the Viking expansion. A location along the sea road from Norway to Ireland means that through traffic, at the very least, was a certainty. Beyond that, however, the extent of raiding and land-taking is not immediately obvious. While the Irish annals report a series of attacks on Iona, contemporary accounts are otherwise vague. For this reason, the Hebridean Viking experience can only be gauged by a process of jigsaw identification using a variety of different sources. The most ubiquitous are the names of places. From the late 19th century, scholars focused on the ratio of Old Norse (ON) to Gaelic material. Early assessments of 4:1 for Lewis, 3:2 for North Uist and Skye, 1:2 for Islay, 1:4 for Kintyre and 1:8 for Arran (MacBain 1893–4: 218; Scott 1954: 189–90) helped embed the idea of a dichotomy in Scottish Viking studies, with ‘extirpation’ in the north giving way to integration in the south (Thomas 1874–6: 503). For the islands closest to Ireland, the concept of ‘hybridity’, albeit in a loosely defined sense, became a keystone of interpretational models. More recently, however, attempts to unpack the place-name evidence have sought to take account of demographic, linguistic and onomastic change in the centuries separating the earliest records from the height of the Viking Age. For the southern Hebrides, the island which has attracted the most attention is that of Islay (Figure 9.1). Lying within sight of both the Irish mainland and the Kintyre peninsula, Islay controls the strategically important North Channel, and with it, access to the Irish Sea. By geological coincidence, Islay’s large expanses of limestone bedrock also provide the basis for a relatively fertile agricultural landscape, explaining why it became known in later times by the Gaelic epithet Bannrigh, or ‘Queen’ of the Hebrides. If any part of this region was fated to attract or repel the flood of Scandinavian colonists sweeping across the North Atlantic, Islay would surely have been near the top of the list.

Type
Chapter
Information
The Viking Age in Scotland
Studies in Scottish Scandinavian Archaeology
, pp. 123 - 134
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2023

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats
×

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats
×