According to legend, the Faroe Islands were first settled by Irish monks who reached the islands, remarkably, by sailing for days across the North Atlantic in tiny coracles. Although there is no firm evidence for this, there are stories in the Irish annals of a visit to the “islands of sheep and the paradise of birds” located several days’ sailing north of Scotland. Archaeological discoveries suggest that Irish monks may well have settled in the Faroes before the Vikings arrived in the late ninth century.
Onwards from around 900AD, Norwegian
settlers began arriving in the islands in search of new farming land, causing
the Irish monks to flee. During the following centuries, the Faroes became part
of the kingdom of Norway and Tórshavn with its parliament site, Tinganes, gradually
developed into the main centre of settlement, albeit in very modest terms. Due
to a lack of sources, though, frustratingly little is known about medieval
Faroese history since the only historical source we have is the Færeyinga Saga,
written in Iceland, around 1200. The original is long lost and the three
existing copies, noted in other sagas, are contradictory in many details.
In the late 14th century,
Norway and Denmark were joined under a single monarch in Copenhagen and
Norway’s overseas territories accordingly fell under Danish administration. In
1816 the Faroese Parliament was abolished and direct rule ensued from Denmark;
the Faroese were granted two MPs in the Danish Parliament; and Danish was
introduced as the official language in the islands. Support for independence
grew during the latter part of the 19th century as the economy blossomed
with the introduction of fishing sloops.
In more recent times, support for and against
independence has risen and then waned – currently the Faroese government has
control over all key economic and social areas.