The Papar (from Irish pap, father or pope) were, according to early Icelandic historical sources, a group of Irish monks that inhabited Iceland at the time of the arrival of the Norsemen. However, no archeological proof of their existence has ever been found.
The Scandinavians began settling in Iceland in the 9th Century (874 AD), but the oldest source which mentions the existence of the Papar was only about 250 years later, in the Íslendingabók ("Book of the Icelanders"), written between 1122 and 1133. They are also referred to in the Landnámabók (the Icelandic Book of Settlements) which mentions that the Norse found Irish priests in Iceland when they arrived, together with bells and crosiers.
An earlier source that could possibly refer to the Papar is the work of Dicuil, an early 9th century (825 AD) Irish monk, which discussed the wandering of "holy men" to the lands of the north. However, it is not known whether Dicuil is speaking about Iceland, as Celtic hermits also settled in other islands of the north such as Orkney (565 AD) and Shetland.
Several Icelandic toponyms (see Toponymy) have been linked to the Papar, including the island of Papey, but no archeological evidence was found that would link the two names.
Another theory is that the two sources were conflated and that Ari Thorgilsson, the author of Íslendingabók also based his history on the writings of Dicuil. The traditional accounts have stated that the papar left when the Norse arrived, but it has been theorised that their influence may have helped Christianity spread in these areas.
Papar in the Faroes
There are also several toponyms relating to the papar in the Faroe islands
Amongst these are Paparøkur near Vestmanna, and Papurshílsur near Saksun. Vestmanna itself is short for Vestmannahøvn, meaning "harbour of the Westmen" or Irish.
In Skúvoy, a certain churchyard also has tombstones which display a possible Celtic origin, or at least influence.
Some suggest that Grímur Kamban, may have been responsible for driving them out, despite being a probable Norse-Gael himself:
- "According to the Faereyinga Saga... the first settler in the Faroe Islands was a man named Grímur Kamban - Hann bygdi fyrstr Færeyar, it may have been the land taking of Grímur and his followers that cauysed the anchorites to leave... the nickname Kamban is probably Gaelic and one interpretation is that the word refers to some physical handicap, another that it may point to his prowess as a sportsman. Probably he came as a young man to the Faroe Islands by way of Viking Ireland, and local tradition has it that he settled at Funningur in Eysturoy.
Joseph Anderson noted that:
- "The two Papeys [of Orkney], the great and the little (anciently Papey Meiri and Papey Minni), [are] now Papa Westray and Papa Stronsay... Fordun in his enumeration of the islands, has a 'Papeay tertia' [third Papey], which is not now known. There are three islands in Shetland called Papey, and both in Orkney and in Shetland, there are severeal districts named Paplay or Papplay, doubtless the same as Papyli of Iceland
Papar in the Shetland Islands
The Shetland Islands
have many commemorations of the papar
including the islands of Papa
(one of the Scalloway Islands
, lying north west of Burra
and east of Oxna
, connected to West Head of Papa
), Papa Little
and Papa Stour
Papar in the Orkney Islands
also have many such commemorations:
The Outer Hebrides have many examples of the papar
, but with the crucial difference that the Norse language died out early in this area, and it is arguable whether Scottish Gaelic
ever died out at all. There are at least three islands originally named Papey
, now spelt "Pabbay" (Gaelic
) in the Outer Hebrides
Pabay, is in the Inner Hebrides, near Skye.