Longships on the Sand – an exploration of Norse history on the island of Tiree
A new book, about Tiree, Longships on
the Sand, has proposed that the West Coast island was mainly Norse for at least four centuries.
This conclusion comes from an analysis of place-names. The Ordnance Survey collected more than 600 placenames from Tiree – a higher density than on any other West Coast island.
GP John Holliday was, until recently, the island’s doctor for 30 years. In that time he collected more than 2,500 additional place-names. Of these, around 250 seem to come from the Norse, although some are cunningly disguised.
Using these names, Dr Holliday has reconstructed how the island was settled by the Vikings soon after 800, what Scandinavian Tiree looked like and how Norse gave way to Gaelic again in the 14th or 15th centuries.
Resettlement by the MacDonalds, MacLeans and MacKinnons was slow and piecemeal, with the township of Hough retaining a large number of Norse names, while nearby Middleton contains none.
The book contains a full introduction, dealing with the island itself, medieval farming practices and the history of the western seaboard of Scotland during the period.
At 483 pages, it is not a light read, but the book adds to the work of Alan Macniven on Islay in showing that the islands of the southern Hebrides were colonised early and completely by the Viking raiders of the ninth century, and that this influence lasted much longer than previously realised because of the island’s fertility and strategic location on the sea lanes to Ireland.
Longships on the Sand is the first book published by An Iodhlann Press, the publishing arm of the island’s historical centre.
It is available from outlets on Tiree and from www.aniodhlann.org.uk.