The place name Eynhallow derives from the Old Norse Eyin-Helga, meaning ‘Holy Isle’. The island is now uninhabited, but in the 1300s it was probably the home of a monastery.
The Orkneyinga Saga relates how the foster-son of the great Kolbein Hruga of Wyre, the builder of Cubbie Row’s Castle
, was kidnapped from Eynhallow in 1155. It is likely that the youth had been sent there to be educated by the monks.
A hidden gem
The 12th-century monastic church on Eynhallow is a hidden gem. Its existence only came to light by chance in 1851, when the residents of four cottages on the island caught a fever and were evacuated. As the roofs were being dismantled to make the cottages uninhabitable, the structure of the ancient church was discovered.
The church consisted of a porch at the west end, a rectangular nave, and a square-ended chancel at the east end. Much of what visitors see today belongs to a house built in the 1500s, but parts of the original Norse kirk are visible in the porch walls, the west and east gables of the nave and the lower section of the inner face of the chancel walls.
The west and north doorways into the porch are close to their original, narrow form. The entrance to the nave was through a rounded archway.
- The church’s location – on an uninhabited island, with just seals and seabirds for company.