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The Irish In Iceland

Updated: Mar 13, 2022

The oral history of Iceland was written down about 1125 and states that ”Christian men” (called Papar by the Norse settlers) were there before they arrived. Because the papar disliked these heathen peoples, they left the island. Evidence of their existence includes Irish books, bells, crosiers (Bishop’s staff), and a few place names. This historical work is called Íslendingabók (Book of Icelanders) and was written by Ari 'fróði' Þorgilsson who was called Ari the Wise (I133667).

Ingólfur Arnarson (I135531) is credited with being the first permanent settler in 871 -874 CE, along with his foster brother, Hjörleifur Hróðmarsson (I544357). They both left Norway because of a blood feud. The settlement period began during the time of Harold Fair-hair (I174857), an ambitious man who eventually made himself King of all of Norway. Many fled his tyranny, his high taxes, and settled in Ireland, England, Scotland, and the Northern Islands. Some took their families with them, but many were young single men who eventually married (or took as slaves) the local women.

Word soon reached these Norwegians that there was a large island in the north called Iceland. It had a mild climate, land free for the taking, great access to rivers, and the sea for fishing. Stories abounded of large walrus populations in the northern parts of this island, which would provide them with the highly valued ivory tusks, a trading commodity that was sure to bring them much wealth.

The settlement period lasted from 874 to 930 when the Alþingi was founded at Þingvellir and by then, all the valuable land had been claimed. In those years of settlement, many families were united through marriage; many children were born, the population expanded. Those women from Ireland, England, Scotland, and the Northern Islands became the DNA donors for a good portion of the children of this new land called Iceland.

“In 2000 and 2001, Agnar Helgason and other geneticists analyzed the Y-chromosomes of 181 modern Icelandic men and the mDNA of 401 Icelandic women. The results were decisive and extraordinary. While 80 percent of Icelandic men studied bore a Y-chromosome of Norwegian origin, 20 percent had one of Irish or Scottish origin. Even more astounding, only 37 percent of the Icelandic women carried mDNA of Norwegian origin; the remaining 63 percent bore Irish or Scottish origin mDNA. Not only was approximately forty percent of the settlement population from Ireland or Scotland, but a majority of Icelandic women came from outside of Norway!” Ann Humphrey concluded that “Modern Icelanders are genetically and ethnically the direct descendants of the original settlers.”

My ancestry is 100% Icelandic, but as a child, I always wondered if there had been an Irish influence in Iceland. In this photo, you can see that my mother (in the white jacket) had black hair, as did my afi Kjeli. Her sister Steina’s hair looks dark, but she was born fair-haired, while my mom was born with black hair. When they got together with their first cousins, the Borgfjord sisters, beautiful raven-haired women, they always made me think that an Irish connection had to be there… somewhere???

Although history later proved to me that there is Irish DNA in our blood, it then became a search to find that direct connection, and better still, to find a story. Then I discovered Icelandic Roots. It was the most exciting time when I discovered the relationship calculator; it proved that yes, indeed, there was a definite Irish connection and talk about stories… there are so many!

So let us join together in celebration of that rich Irish connection we all share!

The settlers and their ancestors have been connected into the Icelandic Roots Database using the various oral histories such as the 12-century Íslendingabók (Book of Icelanders), various Sagas, Heimskringla, and more. An All-Access membership to Icelandic Roots gives you access to these historic works. You can discover how YOU are related to these famous Icelandic ancestors. Join HERE.


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