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Great Ireland

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Title: Great Ireland  
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Subject: Vinland, Markland, L'Anse aux Meadows, Categories for discussion/Log/2015 August 18, Irish diaspora
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Great Ireland

Great Ireland (Old Norse: Írland hið mikla or Írland it mikla), also known as White Men's Land (Hvítramannaland), and in Latin similarly as Hibernia Major and Albania, was a land said by various Norsemen to be located near Vinland.[1] In one report, in the Saga of Eric the Red, some skrælingar captured in Markland described the people in what was supposedly White Men's Land, to have been "dressed in white garments, uttered loud cries, bore long poles, and wore fringes." Another report identifies it with the Albani people, with "hair and skin as white as snow."

Scholars and writers disagree on the nature of the land, from either being treated as a myth based on faded knowledge of lands in the western ocean, to theories on actually locating it somewhere in North America.


  • Encounters 1
    • Landnámabók 1.1
    • Saga of Eric the Red 1.2
    • Eyrbyggja saga 1.3
  • Other references 2
    • 12th century Norman Sicily 2.1
    • Hauksbók 2.2
    • 16th-century Iceland 2.3
  • Location hypotheses 3
  • See also 4
  • Footnotes 5
  • References 6
    • Primary sources 6.1
    • Secondary sources 6.2
  • External links 7



According to the Landnámabók, Ari Marsson discovered the land six days' sailing west of Ireland.[2] This journey is thought to have occurred around the year 983.[3]

Their son was Ari, who drifted to White Men's Land, which some people call Greater Ireland. It lies in the ocean to westward, near Vineland the Good, said to be a six-day sail west from Ireland. Ari couldn't get away, and was baptized there. This story was first told by Hrafn Limerick-Farer who spent a long time at Limerick in Ireland. Thorkel Gellisson quoted some Icelanders who had heard Earl Thorfinn of Orkney say that Ari had been recognized in White Man's Land, and couldn't get away from there, but was thought very highly of.

Saga of Eric the Red

White Men's Land is also mentioned in the Saga of Eric the Red, where it is related that the inhabitants of Markland speak of it to Thorfinn Karlsefni;[4]

Now, when they sailed from Vinland, they had a southern wind, and reached Markland, and found five Skrælingar; one was a bearded man, two were women, two children. Karlsefni's people caught the children, but the others escaped and sunk down into the earth. And they took the children with them, and taught them their speech, and they were baptized. The children called their mother Vætilldi, and their father Uvægi. They said that kings ruled over the land of the Skrælingar, one of whom was called Avalldamon, and the other Valldidida. They said also that there were no houses, and the people lived in caves or holes. They said, moreover, that there was a land on the other side over against their land, and the people there were dressed in white garments, uttered loud cries, bore long poles, and wore fringes. This was supposed to be Hvitramannaland (White Man's Land). Then came they to Greenland, and remained with Eirik the Red during the winter.

Eyrbyggja saga

In the [5]

The described circumstances in this report have led some to connect it with Great Ireland, although the Eyrbyggja saga does not make this explicit identification.[6] The voyage is thought to have taken place in 1029.[7]

Other references

12th century Norman Sicily

In the 12th century, in Norman Sicily (where the Normans probably brought the belief with them from Scandinavia), the Arab geographer al-Idrisi in his famous Tabula Rogeriana mentioned Irlandah-al-Kabirah (Great Ireland).[8] According to him, "from the extremity of Iceland to that of Great Ireland," the sailing time was "one day." Although historians note that both al-Idrisi and the Norse tend to understate distances, the only location this reference is thought to have possibly pointed to, must likely have been in Greenland.[9]


The Hauksbók states that the inhabitants of Hvítramannaland were albani, meaning people with white hair and skin.[1]

16th-century Iceland

In a 16th-century Icelandic text, a chart had apparently been made of the land;[10]

Sir Erlend Thordson had obtained from abroad the geographical chart of that Albania, or land of the White men, which is situated opposite Vinland the good, of which mention has been before made in this little book, and which the merchants formerly called Hibernia Major or Great Ireland, and lies, as has been said, to the west of Ireland proper. This chart had held accurately all those tracts of land, and the boundaries of Markland, Einfœtingjaland, and little Helluland, together with Greenland, to the west of it, where apparently begins the good Terra Florida.

Location hypotheses

Kirsten Seaver identified the land as a fabled country, which had arisen on the background of the faded knowledge of lands in the far western ocean by Icelanders.[3]

Carl Christian Rafn positioned Great Ireland in Chesapeake Bay. Rafn based his identification on Shawnee Amerindian legends of a race described as "white men who used iron instruments". These legends he connected to the description of the inhabitants of Greater Ireland as being white people who carried poles.[11]

Other sources place Great Ireland in Papar who had fled first Iceland and then Greenland escaping Norse invaders.[13]

See also


  1. ^ a b Barnes, 2001, p. 31.
  2. ^ Pálsson; Edwards, 2007, p. 61.
  3. ^ a b Seaver, Kirsten A. (1996), The Frozen Echo: Greenland and the Exploration of North America, ca. A.D. 1000–1500 37 (4), Stanford University Press, p. 27,  
  4. ^ Sephton, 1880, p. 7.
  5. ^ Pálsson; Edwards, 1989, p. 161-164.
  6. ^ Reeves, 1906, p. 272-277.
  7. ^ Howgego, Raymond John (2001). Encyclopedia of exploration to 1800: a comprehensive reference guide to the history and literature of exploration, travel, and colonization from the earliest times to the year 1800. Hordern House. p. 462.  
  8. ^ Dunn, 2009, p. 452.
  9. ^ Ashe, 1971, p. 48.
  10. ^ Reeves, 1906, p. 278-279.
  11. ^ Rafn, 1841, p. 209.
  12. ^ Barnes, 2001, p. 31 (footnote).
  13. ^ Mowat, 1998


Primary sources

  • Pálsson, Hermann; Edwards, Paul (1989). Eyrbyggja saga. Penguin.  
  • Pálsson, Hermann; Edwards, Paul (2007). The Book of Settlements: Landnamabok. Univ. of Manitoba Press.  
  • Sephton, John (1880). Eirik the Red's saga: a translation. D. Marples. 

Secondary sources

  • Ashe, Geoffrey (1971). The Quest for America. Praeger. 
  • Barnes, Geraldine (2001). Viking America: the first millennium. Boydell & Brewer.  
  • Dunn, Joseph (2009). The Catholic Historical Review. BiblioBazaar.  
  • Reeves, Arthur Middleton;  
  • The Discovery of America by North-men in the Tenth Century, Carl Christian Rafn, T. and W. Boone, 1841.
  • Mowat, Farley (1998). The Farfarers. Toronto: Random House.  

External links

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