Thursday, January 9, 2014


From "Lindores Abbey and its Burgh of Newburgh:  Their History and Annuls"
Alexander Laing, Edinburgh, Edmonston and Douglas publishers, 1878
Iona (Link)
Currach Boats (Link)


  1. Also check out the Irish monk known as Dicuil:

    Dicuil, (flourished 825 ce, Ireland), monk, grammarian, and geographer whose work is important to the history of science and is a testament to Irish learning in the 9th century.

    Much of Dicuil’s astronomical knowledge was gained in calculating dates for religious festivals. Completed in 825, his De mensura orbis terrae (“Concerning the Measurement of the World”) contains the earliest mention of Irish hermits having visited Iceland (795), where they marveled at the midnight sun. The work also contains the most definite Western reference to the old freshwater canal between the Nile River and the Red Sea, which was blocked up in 767. Dicuil learned of the canal from one “Brother Fidelis,” probably another Irish monk, who sailed along the “Nile” into the Red Sea, passing the “Barns of Joseph”—the Pyramids of Giza, which are well described. Dicuil quotes from, or refers to, 30 Greek and Latin writers as well as to the poet Sedulius, an Irish contemporary. The best edition of De mensura, edited by J.J. Tierney with contributions from L. Bieler, was published in 1967.

  2. Also this account of Dicuil from Iceland:

    The North Atlantic islands seem to have been of only passing concern to the centers of power in Europe, so very little historic documentation exists about their settlement. One early 9th century Latin text describes North Atlantic islands that may be the Faeroes and perhaps Iceland. Thankfully, two Icelandic documents detail the early settlement of Iceland. One, the Book of the Icelanders, was written between A.D. 1122 and 1133 while the Book of Settlements might have been written in the 12th century, but is only attested to from the 13th century. In all of these documents, it is apparent that the Vikings were not alone in their interest in these islands, and that early settlers came from the British Isles as well, and some attribute the discovery and settlement of the Faeroes and Iceland to the Celts.

    Around A.D. 825, an Irish monk named Dicuil wrote a book, Liber de Mensura Orbis Terrae, (Measure/description of the sphere of the earth) in which he states, " [A] set of small islands, nearly all separated by narrow stretches of water; in these for nearly a hundred years hermits sailing from our country, Ireland, have lived. But just as they were always deserted from the beginning of the world, so now because of the Northman pirates they are emptied of anchorites, and are filled with countless sheep and very many diverse kinds of seabirds." The physical description of these islands fits the Faeroes well, as does the name, which means Sheep Islands. It seems likely that the Irish had reached the Faeroes first, and that the Vikings came to these lands after raiding and trading in the Western Isles, instead of by accident as the sagas suggest.

    Dicuil also describes another island, Thule, beyond the Faeroes, where the water is mostly ice-free and the sun barely dips below the horizon around the summer solstice (making it bright enough at midnight that a man can "pick the lice out of his in broad daylight.") This description certainly fits Iceland well, and early maps often label Iceland as 'Thule.' If this is a reference to Iceland, how does an Irish monk writing 50 years before the settlement of Iceland by Vikings know so much about it? Dicuil says that priests had been staying on this island during the summer months for 30 years (i.e. around A.D. 795).

  3. Thanks, Paul. I had a look at the wiki page for Dicuil as well.

    There is also the unsubstantiated claim that Saint Brendan sighted Jan Mayen Island in the sixth century:

    I don't know how reliable that is. Given the fact that quite a few of these stories mention anchorites living out on various islands, I wouldn't be surprised if many people reached the Faroe Islands, Shetland Islands and even Iceland. They just didn't have the writing and mapping skills to record their journeys.


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