St Ronan, (there were 12 of them), founded a hermitage at Ness on the northwestern point of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides just behind St Moluag’s church. He later moved to the island now named after him some 44 miles out to sea north of Lewis. There he built 2 chapels, one of which is still in a fair condition. His brother was St Flannan.
North Rona, as the island is now called is the remotest island in the remotest island in the British Isles ever to have been inhabited and is more remote than the better known St Kilda. Its closest neighbour is the Faroe islands; it even suffers the indgnity of being left of some maps! The chapel however is remarkably virtually complete and intact. Some simple cross slabs may mark the graves of hermits. The island was inhabited by several families till all died in 1685 due to a plague of rats from a shipwreck consuming their food. It was repopulated but about 1695 but again the people were wiped out by some sort of boat tragedy. Shepherds and their families kept life going there till in 1844 it was found deserted. Two men from Lewis lived there till in 1884 their bodies were found, having died through illness.
St Ronan’s sister Brenhilda was found dead on the little island Sula Sgeir some 11 miles to the west. It is laconically described as ‘storm washed’; in other words the breakers break over the whole island. I think the lady should be immediately sainted
The story of St Ronan is bare to the knuckle and the consequent history almost unbearable. You can still get there. The little boat takes 6 hours if you can cope with the wind and te cold. There are no safe anchorages. So make sure you are not going to be the next to dies of starvation…The whole thing is so unimaginably shot through with absolute bravery and awful tragedy. Some how it is the end of the trail.
But we forget that the Highway of the sea passes by these parts all the way from the Med, around and up the coasts and on to Faroe and Iceland.
Irish monks got to the Faroes about 625. They reached Iceland, (possibly banished by the Vikings) by 675. The Viking conquest of the Faroes was over by 1033 when Norway took over.
The first settlers of Iceland is ascribed to the 9 and 10C. Iceland’s adoption of Christianity is put at about 1000. Three Armenian bishops worked as missionaries there – due to King Harold of Norway being a member of the Varangian guard in Constantinople.
This just shows to go how history is made up of connections which we would never dream up and which historians would otherwise dismiss as ridiculous.