Heimaey & Papakrossinn

Iomramh 2011.

20th June 2011.

Heimaey, Vestmann Islands.

Video - Gisli on Heimaey - monks or slaves?

The name means ‘Home island’ and the town is based on it’s fishing industry. A new ferry service to a new terminal on the mainland promises to bring a big increase in tourism, based on the islands volcanic activity.

Gunnthor had arranged for Gisli Oskarsson,  a local TV reporter, to meet us and make some video footage of the boat and crew and he, Gisli, would then take us on a tour of some local archaeological sites.

The first site – Herjolfsdalur -was about a mile outside the town in a beautiful, natural amphitheatre. According to legend this was the earliest settlement site in Vestmanneyjar, There have been archaeological excavations on the site which indicate that it was occupied as early as 800 AD. The nearby well, now covered over by concrete was known as the “The Irish Well”. It had actually been destroyed about 50 years ago and a large concrete disc platform was all that now remained. Nearby was substantial remains of a Norse long-house settlement, which Gisli, said had displaced the Irish.

Next we went to Papakrossinn on Heimaklettur (Klettur = Cliffs). Here we climbed up about 200 ft mainly by ladders, to a sheep handling platform. Behind the ladders we could see footholds carved into the cliff and at the top, just underneath the sheep platform there was a cross with splayed terminals carved in the cliff face. Gisli positioned himself with his camera just beside this cross and filmed our reactions as we looked at the cross.

I was looking for a good angle to photograph the boat from the cliff and ended going to the top from where there was a great view. ‘The cliff’ is 265 metres high and I signed the visitors book on the top for ‘Ar Seachrán’

Back at the foot of the mountain Gisli was interviewing Gunnthor on film and made a short piece for my camera giving a different twist to the standard version of the history:
The Icelandic sagas, Book of Settlement, records that one of the first settlers in Iceland, Hjorleifur Arnarson, was killed by his Irish slaves who then fled to Heimaey where  Hjorleifur’s brother Ingolfur, tracked them down and killed them all in retribution. Gisli, who had a deep interest in local history believed that the people killed at Heimaey, were, in fact Irish monks, not slaves.  A cliff nearby is named after the slave ‘Dufthakur’, who was said to have thrown himself off Heimaklettur (very close to the place where the Celtic Cross is carved in the cliff-face)—preferring to take his own life than to let Ingólfur take it. The name “Dufthakur” is pronounced like the Irish name ‘Duffaigh’. Perhaps the very strange location of the Papakrossinn - just under the cliff platform, is intended to indicate the place where Dufthakur leapt to his death!

After dinner we went to the Volcano pub and with Pádraig in top form we had a session with some German tourists and the English sailors. Gunnthor excelled in harmonica playing and bought drinks for all.