An otherwise unremarkable small island in the Orkneys has a sinister tale to tell, if you believe that sort of thing!
Eynhallow is a small island, less than a third of a square mile in area, that sits in the narrow channel between two much larger Orcadian islands, namely Mainland and Rousay. It only rises a few feet above the level of the sea and has a generally flat landscape.
The name Eynhallow means “holy island”, which probably comes from having been the site of a monastery many centuries ago. The ruined church, of 12th century origin, is all that is left of the monastery. The only other buildings on the island are a few crofts that are used by researchers who study the birdlife; otherwise the island is uninhabited.
The island’s reputation for mystery begins with its traditional ability to disappear and reappear. Whether this has anything to do with how much whisky has been consumed by the person reporting this event is not on record!
However, according to Orcadian folklore Eynhallow was once the summer home of the mysterious Fin Folk. This was, apparently, a race of amphibious shapeshifting sorcerers who spent the winter under the sea in the legendary city of Finfolkaheem but came ashore in summer to the island of Hildaland, which was renamed Eynhallow after they were sent packing by a farmer from the Orkney Mainland.
The Fin Folk had a nasty habit of abducting mortals. Young men and women would be spirited away to become husbands and wives of Fin Folk, and their offspring would be mermaids. Female Fin Folk took mortal husbands as protection against turning old and ugly.
However, various versions of the stories have been told, and the relationships between Fin Folk, mermaids and mortals vary depending on which account you choose to read or listen to.
An incident in 1990 gave rise to speculation in some quarters as to whether the Fin Folk had disappeared after all. The island of Eynhallow has for many years been a bird sanctuary, being open to public visits only once a year by an expedition organised by the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) and the Orkney Heritage Society.
During the 1990 visit, 88 people were taken to the island, but only 86 came back. A huge search was organised for the two missing people (both men) but no sign of them was ever found. The story soon got about that the two men were actually Fin Folk who had made their way back to Hildaland after centuries of exile. An alternative tale was that they had been abducted by Finwives.
Of course, there is always the possibility that somebody got the count wrong and actually nobody went missing at all!