By Seán Andrews

Iceland is a Nordic country of great natural beauty, with vast landscapes of glaciers, hot springs and rugged coastlines. The country, which is a little larger than Ireland, sits at the edge of the Arctic Circle in an area which is volcanically active. Sporadic Icelandic earthquakes and eruptions are often reported.

The population of Iceland is around 380,000, with most inhabitants living close to the coast. The interior is largely uninhabited, a combination of mountains, extensive lava fields, glaciers and volcanoes. So rugged is the interior that NASA used it as a practice area for astronauts heading for the rocky landscape of the moon.

The capital, Reykjavik, is an exciting city with colourful houses and a lively cultural scene. Icelanders have their own language, closely related to that spoken by the Vikings.
Iceland is a democratic country that boasts one of the earliest established parliaments in Europe. At various times it has been ruled by Norway and most recently by Denmark. However, Iceland has been an independent republic since 1944. Both Ireland and Iceland established diplomatic relations in 1948.

Surprisingly, Iceland has historical Celtic links, which have been detailed in the Icelandic sagas, stories written between the 13th and 15th centuries. The sagas are a blend of history and myth, and their reliability as historical records may not be entirely reliable.

However, modern genetic studies have shone a positive light on our historical connections with Iceland.

Iceland was discovered by wandering Viking adventurers around AD 800. The first Norse residents are thought to have arrived around AD 870. The influx of settlers lasted for several decades until all the fertile land had been occupied.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own