Kilda in english

The very end of the world (2/5)

Since we started this website, we noticed numerous visits from our Anglo-Saxon internet users. So we decided to translate in English some articles to offer you a better understanding.

It is said that the Vikings occupied the archipelago around the year thousand. The discovery of brooches and swords in the slopes of Hirta, seems to confirm this. But it is a long way from saying that a treasure is buried a few metres under the rocky bark of the island. However, the fact remains that in the Middle-Ages, mentions of St Kilda are rare.

Plan de l'archipel Saint Kilda. Projet, Musique, écriture, théatre

St Kilda – map

Before going on, we must give some information on the origin of the name itself, which can explain its weak referencing at the time (Google considerably set up a new deal since !) St Kilda does not refer to a saint who had been living on those islands. There was no monk called Kilda who would have braved the elements to come and evangelise the archipelago with a canonisation on top. So where does this name come from if the religious hypothesis does not make sense ? The first hypothesis comes from the old Norse ( a dialect spoken in some Scottish regions) Sunt Kelda which means « spring water ». The second one comes from a wrong interpretation of Martin Martin, a Scottish author, who, during his visit on the archipelago in 1697, thought that the source Tobar Childa present on Hirta refered to a saint who lived in the island. The third one comes with the more and more frequent visits of persons from the continent who misunderstood the name given by the islanders. They pronounced the « r » like the « l » and their « h » were very guttural. So, if we pronounce Hirta with their accent, it almost sounds like Kilda…. Lastly, the fourth one diserves to be noticed : the mistake of Dutch cartographers who got mixed up Horta with Skildar island (today Haskeir), located 40 kms at the east of the archipelago. Then a wrong copy would have confirmed it with the mention of S.Kilda on several maps, the S. would have been seen as the abbrevation of Saint.

In 1202, the first written mention of Hirta island is found in the writings of a Icelandic ecclesiastic evoking « the islands called Hirtir » (Hirta). During the XIVth century, Jean de Fordun, Scottish chronicler also talks about Hirta : “The island of Irte which, we agree, is under the Circius and at the very end of the world ».

At the very end of the world of Men, exactly. Thus, if we refer to the first report written after a visit in the archipelago in 1549, it is said that “its inhabitants are poor simple people, hardly educated in any religion. ». There is also the precision that the intendant of the territory of the MacLeod of Harris clan (territory supposed to manage St Kilda) went once a year on the island with a few chaplains to « christen Hirta’s children ». Another example, in 1746, a few times after the Battle of Culloden which raged in Scotland between the Jacobites (followers of James II Stuart’s heirs for the crown of England from which he was dismissed with the Glorious Revolution in 1688) and the Hanoverian (followers of the Hanover dynasty, then in possession of the English crown). Defeated, Prince Charles Edward Stuart would have fled and taken refuge in St Kilda. The population in terror, took refuge in caves, went out after discussion to answer the soldiers questions. Those latter quickly realised that the islanders never heard about the prince. The opposite would have been surprising because they did not even known King Georges II, then in power.

Far from politics, wars, tourists and religion, the islanders succeeded in preserving their way of life (which will be presented in the next episode) and their special link to an hostile environment. Nevertheless, things will be going to change soon, speeding up the decline of the community.

To be continued


Clément B., translation by Valérie G.


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