hidden europe 2

Of curraghs and kings

by Nicky Gardner


Irish monks and a Norwegian king have helped shape the community of Kirkjubøur on the Faroese island of Streymoy.

Streymoy has a knack of weaving its way into all manner of tall tales and true stories. There is a legend about St Brendan that he was commanded by an angel to spend nine years on the high seas exploring all of God's creation. Whether or not Brendan really did land in the Faroe Islands has long been debated. Scholars certainly agree that Brendan did set sail from Ireland in a primitive vessel not unlike the traditional Irish curragh. Now the curragh is a simple but sturdy boat, affording no shelter, and more suited to a quick trip around the bay than an ocean voyage. Brendan's vessel was evidently covered in ox hides, and he and his dozen monks may even have been among the first Europeans ever to set eyes on North America. Some say he could have landed in Newfoundland, but the early accounts of the voyage, most notably the Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis, are rich in imagery but short on precise geographical detail. The Navigatio recounts Brendan's discovery of the fabled promised land of the saints, and for the last millennium any island, large or small, even remotely close to Brendan's possible route has been laying claim to that title.

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