According to the Orkneyinga Saga, detailing the lives of the Earls of Orkney from the 9th to 12th Centuries, King Harald’s sons were real troublemakers. Gudron Gleam and Halfdan Long-Leg caused lots of trouble in Norway and then killed Earl Rögnvald of Møre, the father of Einar, Earl of Orkney. Einar lived between the 890s and the 920s AD. Halfdan Long-leg then arrived in Orkney, took over the Islands and made himself King, with Einar having to escape to Scotland. Earl Einar then gathered his forces and later in the year came back to fight Halfdan Long-Leg. Einar emerged victorious. In the evening Halfdan escaped from the battle by jumping overboard his ship.
In the morning, as soon as it was light, Einar and his men set out to scour the Islands to see whether anyone had escaped. Although only one-eyed, Einar was well known as clear-sighted and said, “I don’t know what it is bobbing up and down over there. It’s either a bird or a man. Let’s go and find out.” There they found Halfdan Long-Leg and Einar had the ribs hacked from his spine with a sword and then his lungs pulled out through the slits in his back – A ‘blood-eagle’, sometimes seen as a ritual sacrifice by Vikings to Odin. Always one for composing poetry, Einar made a verse:
Happy am I, keen
heroes have spear-hacked,
bloodied the king’s boy:
brave the bold act
– but hard to hide
what a howling I’ve caused:
the corbie croaks
over carrion in Orkney
Seems like a nice man.
So how does our house come to bear his name?
One of the great things about Westray is that there is a sense of continuity. Families have lived here for many centuries and have a long folk memory. Some of that has been captured in The Buildings of Westray – Fae Quoy Tae Castle – An Orkney Island’s Snapshot in Time.
This details how the house was built in 1878 as the Eastside School, also known as the Skelwick Academy School and was used as a school until 1968. It was then bought by a couple, Johnny and Marina who renamed it Einor after the sports ‘house’ they were in at Kirkwall Grammar School. Hold on, Einor? That’s not how you spell Einar is it? I looked at the Ordnance Survey map of Westray and the house appears as Einor. Why was it advertised as being called Einar, I wondered. In fact it troubled me so much, I phoned the previous owner and asked why it was advertised as Einar and not Einor when that’s the name on the OS map? He said “Oh that’s my fault. I didn’t know how it was spelled.”
The grand romantic tale of how our house came to be called after one of the Earls of Orkney? It was mis-spelled.