The Mysterious Isle of Eynhallow

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The home of nefarious Finmen, victim of a savage plague epidemic and eventually abandoned to the sea, the Isle of Eynhallow is perhaps one of Europe's most mysterious corners.

The tiny island is only half a mile across

The tiny island is only half a mile across
Christoph Lischetzki/123rf

Veiled in mystery, the island of Eynhallow nestles itself between the larger Orkney Isles and Rousay where it remains inaccessible to the outside world for 364 days a year.

Once a year those curious about the island can take a trip with The Orkney Heritage Society to the rocky outcrop. It's a difficult undertaking given that the swirling currents that course through the surrounding waters can only be navigated by a small ferry. On the annual trip the boat runs itself ashore on a typical Scottish skerrie beach characterized by its unforgiving rocky shingles and mounds of seaweed with the background of crashing torrid waves punctuated by the shrill calls of seabirds.

Geographically the island is insignificant, measuring less than half a mile in length and rising to only 40 meters above sea level , but its prominence lies in something more transcendent than facts and figures.

All sorts of legends and myths surround the abandoned island with references to the island found even in the famed Orkenyinga saga from the 13th century. The island is only passingly mentioned however, and is left without an origin story, unlike many of the other islands in the narrative whose own origins are an exquisite blend of fact and legend.

On the mythical side of this historical tapestry there are all sorts of stories about creatures like the legendary sea trows. Evil Norse spirits which take the form of the 'ugliest creature imaginable' and would make the entire island vanish into thin air should you make the mistake of trying to set foot on it.

The Goodman of Thorodale is said to have lifted the island's curse

The Goodman of Thorodale is said to have lifted the island's curse
Eugene Sergeev/123RF

Alongside these beings the island served as a summer home for the mermaid like Finfolk who were notorious for kidnapping humans and making them their spouses - and it's the Finfolk, which are central to the island's most intriguing tale. The story goes that a local farmer, The Goodman of Thorodale, was happily married when one day his wife was abducted by a Finman who wanted her as his bride instead. Thorodale, with the help of his sons, sailed to Eynhallow where the Finman had taken his wife and confronted him. The island was protected with curses and magic that Thorodale had to battle before finally defeating the Finman to win back his wife. Following his triumph he performed a ritual to make sure the Finfolk would never return thus claiming the island back for humans. It was soon after this that the isle's church was built in the 12th century giving it the name 'Eynhallow' - the Holy Isle.

The church served a small community until the mid-19th century when disease struck the island's remaining four families. In the face of the outbreak they decided to abandon their home and never return. Upon fleeing the island the local Laird decided to remove the roofs from all the buildings ensuring no one would take up residence on the forsaken outcrop. Since then the island has been trapped in time with its buildings standing vacant and its only inhabitants being the seabirds who fish in the surrounding torrid waters.

In the present day, a trip to the island offers a surreal journey into the heart of the myth that shrouded Eynhallow for centuries. And as you explore the crumbling ruins you will undoubtedly understand why the isle inspired such tales of fancy. Today as time chips away at the remaining buildings and the island becomes increasingly lost in overgrowth maybe the old tales of a cursed island which disappears into the sea won't seem as farfetched as they once did.

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Benjamin Jacques
Posted on 02/08/2017 7 shares
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