There’s undeniably a special kind of charm to many of the small settlements scattered around the Faroe Islands, and the northernmost part of Eysturoy is no exception. Some of the places most popular for sightseeing are found here: sea stacks Risin og Kellingin at Eiði on the northwestern tip of the island facing Tjørnuvík on neighboring Streymoy; Eiði’s neighbor on the northeast edge of Eysturoy, Gjógv, is another main attraction with the famous gorge from which the village has its name. Mind you, that name was orginally short for Funnings Gjógv — in English, Gorge of Funningur. Speaking of which, Funningur is believed to be the oldest Viking settlement of the Faroe Islands, as the name itself implies, derived from “finding” i.e. a place found. Situated slightly to the southwest of Gjógv, Funningur sits on the western side of the fjord named after it, Funningsfjørður on the east coast of Eysturoy. A stonethrow from the shoreline, the village is surrounded by mountains including the two highest peaks of the Faroe Islands, Slættaratindur (880 meters) and Gráfelli (856m).
There are other settlements within the same region, such as Elduvík, opposite Funningur on the eastern side the fjord and Oyndarfjørður and Hellurnar further to the southeast.
Eiði is in fact a relatively large village or town in a Faroese context, thus not part of the small-settlement category. However, its proximity to the surrounding villages in the area makes it part of the local communities, almost as a sort of regional capital. Yet with less than an hour’s drive from here to Tórshavn, it hardly makes sense to discuss any idea of a regional capital, and yet.
If you look at the triangle of Eiði-Gjógv-Funningur from a local government perspective, you’ll notice that each one of the villages belongs to a separate municipality, with Eiði holding its own, Gjógv part of the Sunda municipality, and Funningur part of the municipality of Runavík. Now look slightly to the east and southeast of Elduvík — and the villages of Oyndarfjørður and Hellurnar, in a similar way, belong to two separate municipalities, Runavík and Fuglafjørður, respectively.
The traditional claimant to the seat of power in the wider region of northern Eysturoy would be the town of Fuglafjørður, located southeast of Hellurnar. In recent years, meanwhile, arguably at the expense of Fuglafjørður, Runavík in the south of the island has been in the ascendancy.
As national-level public policies of the Faroe Islands have increasingly put pressure on municipalities to merge and consolidate into fewer and larger entities to cover the increasing expenditures of social services, many of the smaller villages of northern Eysturoy have opted to merge with Runavík, which has grown rapidly to become the largest municipality on the island; with about 4,300 local residents, it’s now the third-largest in the country, behind Tórshavn (22,900) and Klaksvík (5,400).
From a local-patriotic point of view, today’s arrangement of municipal borders hardly makes sense, according to Páll Sivertsen, a Gjógv native and a former teacher.
“In my opionion Eiði, Gjógv and Funningur should really belong to the same municipality,” he noted. “These villages have much in common, both with their geographical proximity and with regard to local history.”
“We really don’t know how old Gjógv is as a settlement,” Mr. Sivertsen added.
“It’s believed to be from around 1500 but it could be older. The oldest known written reference to its original name Funnings Gjógv is from 1580, found in land property records. There are traces from older settlements near the site of the church, possibly from the Viking era; unfortunately, no archeological investigation has been made in that regard. Funningur is clearly older and we know that people from there were the first to settle down at Gjógv.”
According to legend the first Viking to set foot on the Faroe Islands was Grímur Kamban, who settled in Funningur, hence Funningur is said to be the oldest settlement.
No wonder natives of Funningur are proud of their local heritage. They’re indeed planning, in liaison with the Municipal Council of Runavík, to erect a memorial statue of Grímur Kamban, and those plans look set to be turned into reality in the near future.
People of Funningur have a reputation of being fiercely independent.
“As the old saying goes,” Petur Skeel Skarðsá, a native of Funningur noted, “after the reformation of the church, the King of Denmark decided to confiscate the land that had previously been owned by the Catholic Church. So he sent his representatives to every corner of the kingdom to transfer the property deeds accordingly. People would generally acquiesce, perhaps more or less grudgingly, as the land previously held by the church had in some case been taken over by locals. But when the king’s men came to Funningur, by boat of course, the villager and his sons were standing before them at the beach armed with axes, warning them to go away — which they did, never to return. So that land around here formerly owned by the church remained in the hands of the people.”