Borgs, Boats and the Beginnings of Islay's Medieval Parish Network

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Abstract

The c. 62,000 Ha island of Islay lies at the southwest extremity of the Inner Hebridean archipelago, about half-way between the mainlands of Scotland and Ireland. Despite its pivotal location on the Viking Age ‘sea-road’ from Norway to Ireland, there are no specific accounts of the Vikings ever having been there. Between AD 740 and 1095, however, there are no specific references to Islay at all. On balance, it seems likely from a number of other sources, including grave-goods, loan-words and place-names, that early medieval Scandinavians not only visited the island but settled, with disastrous consequences for the native population. Precisely how the incomers then organised themselves, on the other hand, is not quite so clear.
This paper discusses how a retrospective study starting from later medieval land denominations and territorial divisions can help shed light on these developments. Specific attention is drawn to a small group of local place-names ending in Old Norse –borg and the possibility that they underlie the evolution of Islay’s early parish network from an earlier, Norse, leiðangr-type system of naval service.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNorthern Studies
PublisherScottish Scoiety for Northern Studies
Pages68-99
Volume45
Publication statusPublished - 2013

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