top of page

The Independence Celebration at Þingvellir June 17, 1944

A two-part article: First an historical account that lead to Iceland's first day of Independence. Second, we hear from Bryndis when she attended Þingvellir with her family on that very first day of Independence.

Sunna Furstenau wrote a fine article, Iceland’s Road to Independence, published as an IR blog in 2017.

In this article, Sunna recounts the history and fate of the Icelandic nation from the settlement period during the 9th century to the present. The story is of a people who once had a golden age, lived well, and owned boats big enough to be sailed to Europe for provisions and connections. It also tells of the decline when this nation lost its independence to the Norwegian king and later to the Danish crown. The boats bringing the necessary provisions promised by the king failed to show up, the temperature fell, so the grass and crops didn’t grow, ice filled the fiords year after year and famine set in. With famine, people were in poor condition to fight sickness and plagues that time and again hit the population. Did the kings who “owned” Iceland help this nation in need? The answer is no. The Black Death hit Iceland in 1402-1404, and it is estimated that half of the population (at that time, 50 thousand) died. At the end of that plague, the number of the Icelandic people was at its lowest and we were only about 25 thousand souls.

Yet we didn’t forget who we were. Somehow we didn’t quite lose ourselves; our memory preserved our golden past, the stories of our brave ancestors who settled the country, our songs, our self-respect, our spirit.

I want to tell you about the first day that we were a free and independent nation again. We gathered at Þingvellir to celebrate and we knew the history of our country. We were celebrating the freedom that we had won without bloodshed, won through the power of the word.

Kindly read Sunna´s article before you read my account of June 17th, 1944.

The link to Sunna´s article:


Lýðveldishátíðin á Þingvöllum 17. júní 1944

The Independence Celebration at Þingvellir June 17, 1944

I didn’t possess the words that could embrace what had been in the air the last days before it would happen, June 17th. What did all of this mean? My parents were going to Þingvellir and my younger brother and I were going with them. They had invited us to come home from our summer stay in Landsveit in order to be at Þingvellir on this very special day. I was ten years old and wanted to know more about why this day was so very special as it promised to be. My parents had never before, to my knowledge, taken a trip for a whole day just for pleasure. This must be very special.

Last winter, my teacher, Anna Konráðsdóttir from Skagafjörður had told us that this event, this turning point in our history, our existence as a nation, would be happening this very day. She talked to us about our right to live as free and totally independent people in our country, the country of our ancestors, and of the duties we were accepting by gaining our independence. You will be the people she said to us that will build the new Iceland, the Iceland that will rise and shine among the nations of the world.

When I discussed this with my parents, they didn’t say much except that we should continue being kind to each other and do the best we could in all instances.

And the day was here.

When we woke up early in the morning, the rain was pouring, not just drizzling or falling softly but raining in buckets. I remember my father saying with a smile that he thought the old gods, Óðinn, Þór, Freyja, Frigg, and Freyr, had most likely decided to fill the skies with water to wash off all the misery and hardships of the past and let the sun finally shine in all its glory on our nation.

We wore our Sunday clothes, of course. The road to Þingvellir crosses a heath named Mosfellsheiði and when we approached the heath, we could see the line of vehicles of all possible shapes and sizes heading for Þingvellir.

Once my father had parked the car, we walked over to Lögberg where everyone was headed for the festivities. Everywhere there were people. I had never seen so many before and had no idea there were so many living in Iceland. Later I learned that there were about 140,000 Icelanders altogether living in the country in 1944.

Independence Day, Þingvellir. Year unknown. Photo credit: Visir
Independence Day, Þingvellir. Photo credit: Visir

Where did all these people come from? I asked my parents.

These people are the Icelandic people. They have come to Þingvellir to witness and celebrate that we are finally able to stand up straight and be proud of our nationality.

The parliament convened at Lögberg at 13.15, the location where our Alþingi, which was established in 930, used to meet. The president of Alþingi introduced a new Constitution for the Republic of Iceland. The great numbers of people all around clapped and the shouts of joy echoed and reechoed from the cliffs and mountains around us. The next item for Alþingi was to elect the president of Iceland and they chose Sveinn Björnsson for the post. Then our wonderful flag was hoisted, and there was silence while the flag was being raised. Once it was flying, another wave of joy swept over the crowd. Many had waited their whole life for this moment, waiting to see our own flag fly over the country. The last item on this part of the agenda was singing the National Anthem, “Ó, Guð vors lands.” Those emotionally strong enough to sing with the choir did so.

A courier brought a telegram from the Danish King, Christian X, sending his greetings and best wishes and it was received with much gratitude and joy. People shouted the fourfold “Húrra” to honour the king.

There were a lot of white handkerchiefs drying peoples’ faces, wet from the rain from the sky and tears from their eyes. These are tears of joy, I was told when I asked.

I cannot retell all the feelings and thoughts that went through my young mind that day. I know that I identified with the people who were gathered at Þingvellir to witness the independence of our nation. I was one of them and resolved to help build a new and independent Iceland to the best of my abilities.

Gleðilegan 17. júní! Happy June 17th!


Email us your questions or join the conversation on our Facebook Group.

bottom of page