Lewis Chessmen pieces returned to Uig

Three of the pieces that are being returned to Uig. Picture: Hemedia
Three of the pieces that are being returned to Uig. Picture: Hemedia
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SIX pieces from the world’s most famous chess set have been returned to the Outer Hebrides, where they were discovered in the 19th century.

A king, queen, bishop, knight, warder and pawn from the famous Lewis Chessmen have been revealed as the pieces returning to the Scots island where they were discovered more than 150 years ago.

Carved from ivory from walrus tusk, the chessmen were found in 1831 near Uig, where they had been buried, and have been dated as 12th century.

Normally on display in the British Museum in London and National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, the chessmen are set to go on show permanently as part of a loan agreement between Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and the British Museum.

The chessmen will be the centrepiece of the new Museum of the Western Isles at Lews Castle, Stornoway and will go on display in time for its grand opening later this year.

Lews Castle has been repaired and restored at a cost of £8.5 million over the past two years.

Of the 93 known pieces of the Lewis Chessmen, 11 are in Edinburgh and 82 in the British Museum.

They are understood to have been made in Norway around AD 1150-2000.

But an American author has claimed the valuable pieces may have been carved by a woman in Iceland.

In a newly released book, called Ivory Vikings: The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World, Nancy Marie Brown suggests an Icelandic bishop fond of decorative arts commissioned a woman called Margret the Adroit to produce chess sets.

This theory has also been proposed by Icelanders Gudmunder Thorarinsson and Einar Einarsson, who said only in Iceland were the bishops given that name at the time.

In other countries they were given a name unassociated with the church.

Local councillor Iain Mackenzie, who represents Stornoway north, said the new home of the chess pieces was “beautiful”.

He added: “It’s an exciting thing to happen but it’s a pity they won’t take all the pieces up here.

“The castle is exceptional place for the chessmen.”

And Councillor Charlie Nicolson, for Stornoway South, added: “We’re really pleased that they’re coming back and it will be good for tourism.

“It’s good that some of them can come back home where they were found.”

The chessmen have previously been on short-term loan to the Western Isles, most recently in 2011, when 21,000 people visited them.

It is expected they will go on long-term loan to the Museum of the Western Isles later in the year.