Ancient links between Hebrides and Iceland fuels new 'ancestry tourism' to the islands

Balephuil Bay on Tiree, one of the locations visited by the Icelandic group. PIC: Creative Commons/Irvine Smith.
Balephuil Bay on Tiree, one of the locations visited by the Icelandic group. PIC: Creative Commons/Irvine Smith.
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The ancient links between the Hebrides and Iceland is helping to fuel a new wave of ancestry tourism to the islands.

Around 50 guests from Iceland visited Tiree last week in a tour organised by Reykjavik-based author Vilborg Davíðsdóttir.

The Icelandic group at the site of 13th Century ruined chapel Teampall Pharaig. The site may have had earlier Norse connections. PIC: Contributed.

The Icelandic group at the site of 13th Century ruined chapel Teampall Pharaig. The site may have had earlier Norse connections. PIC: Contributed.

They were there to trace the steps of the key characters and locations features in her her popular 2009 book Auður.

The novel is based on historical figure Aud the Deep-minded, the daughter of a Viking ruler of the islands who secretly fled the Hebrides in the 9th Century with her family, friends and slaves to become some of first settlers of Iceland.

READ MORE: Vikings and Scotland: 10 lesser-known facts

It is known around half of the the earliest population of Iceland have a DNA link to Scotland or Ireland, according to research released last year.

The triskele - a Celtic three-spiral design - discovered a few weeks ago in Balemartine, Tiree. A similar design can be found on the cover of Vilborg'Davsdttir's novel Auur. PIC: Contributed.

The triskele - a Celtic three-spiral design - discovered a few weeks ago in Balemartine, Tiree. A similar design can be found on the cover of Vilborg'Davsdttir's novel Auur. PIC: Contributed.

It is now hoped to capitalise on this growing interest in Icelandic roots and the role of the Hebrides in shaping the nation.

Meanwhile, details surrounding the Viking history of Tiree, which was a Norse speaking country for at least 300 years, are coming to the fore.

READ MORE: Face of female druid from the Hebrides recreated 2,000 years after her death

Dr John Holliday, chairman of An Iodhlann museum and archive on Tiree, helped lead the tour of the island.

Dr Holliday said: "The visit was very successful and we are hoping to build on the links between the Hebrides and Iceland.

" We know that Tiree was a Norse speaking island for at least 300 years and we are only just now starting to appreciate our Viking history.

"Here we had dozens of visitors from Iceland who were keen to explore not only this but their ancestry. We hope to build on this interest.

"Many of the tour were actually coming to see their ancestral home, as much as re-living the stories in the book."

He said that one guest, the prominent Icelandic journalist Þóra Arnórsdóttir, who ran for President of Iceland in 2012, had traced her family tree going back a staggering thirty-one generations – to Aud herself.

Aud was reportedly born around 830 into a powerful Norwegian family who fled a tyrannical king and settled in the Hebrides with her father, Ketil Flatnose, ruling the islands.

It is said she eventually left the islands following the death of her son, Thornstein the Red, and ventured to Caithness where she secretly commissioned a boat before captaining the vessel to take her family, friends and slaves to settle in Western Iceland.

While there is no evidence that Aud lived specifically on Tiree, Daviosdottir's book is based on the island.

Visitors visited locations such as the ruined 13th Century Teampall Phàraig on the Kenavara headland, where a Norse graveyard may have been sited, and the beach at Tràigh Bhì, Balephuil Bay.

Both locations feature in the book, which carries on its front cover a triskele - a Celtic three-spiral design - similar to the one found on a rock carving discovered a few weeks ago in Balemartine.

Three more tours from Iceland are due to visit Tiree next year with visitors also to stop at Burghead, Thurso, Freswick, Duncansby and the Orkney Islands.