The Faroe Islands (/ˈfɛəroʊ/ FAIR-oh), or simply the Faroes or Faeroes (Faroese: Føroyar [ˈfœɹjaɹ] (About this soundlisten); Danish: Færøerne [ˈfeɐ̯ˌøˀɐnə]), are a North Atlantic archipelago located 320 kilometers (200 mi) north-northwest of Scotland, and about halfway between Norway and Iceland. Like Greenland, it is an autonomous territory of the Kingdom of Denmark. The islands have a total area of about 1,400 square kilometers (540 sq. mi) with a population of 53,358 as of June 2021.
The terrain is rugged; the climate is subpolar oceanic climate (Cfc)—windy, wet, cloudy, and cool. Temperatures average above freezing throughout the year because of the Gulf Stream. As a result of the moderation and the northerly latitude, summers normally hover around 12 °C (54 °F). Average temperatures are 5 °C (41 °F) in winter. The northerly latitude location also results in perpetual civil twilight during summer nights and very short winter days.
Between 1035 and 1814, the Faroe Islands were part of the Kingdom of Norway, which was in a personal union with Denmark from 1450. In 1814, the Treaty of Kiel transferred Norway to the King of Sweden, on the winning side of the Napoleonic Wars, whereas Denmark retained the Faroe Islands, along with Greenland and Iceland.
While part of the Kingdom of Denmark, the Faroe Islands have been self-governing since 1948, controlling most areas apart from military defense, policing, justice, currency, and foreign affairs. Because the Faroe Islands are not part of the same customs area as Denmark, the Faroe Islands has an independent trade policy, and can establish trade agreements with other states. The Faroes have an extensive bilateral free trade agreement with Iceland, known as the Hoyvík Agreement. In the Nordic Council, they are represented as part of the Danish delegation. In certain sports, the Faroe Islands field their own national teams.
In Faroese, the name appears as Føroyar. Oyar represents the plural of oy, older Faroese for “island”. Due to sound changes, the modern Faroese word for island is oyggj. The first element, før, may reflect an Old Norse word fær (sheep), although this analysis is sometimes disputed because Faroese now uses the word seyður (from Old Norse sauðr) to mean “sheep”. Another possibility is that the Irish monks, who settled the island around 625, had already given the islands a name related to the Gaelic word fearrann, meaning “land” or “estate”. This name could then have been passed on to the Norwegian settlers, who then added oyar (islands). The name thus translates as either “Islands of Sheep” or “Islands of Fearrann”.
In Danish, the name Færøerne contains the same elements, though øerne is the definite plural of ø (island).
In English, it may be seen as redundant to say the Faroe Islands, since the oe comes from an element meaning “island”. This is seen in the BBC Shipping Forecast, where the waters around the islands are called Faeroes. The name is also sometimes spelled “Faeroe”.
Archaeological evidence shows settlers living on the Faroe Islands in two successive periods before the Norse arrived, the first between 300 and 600 and the second between 600 and 800. Scientists from the University of Aberdeen have also found early cereal pollen from domesticated plants, which further suggests people may have lived on the islands before the Vikings arrived. Archaeologist Mike Church noted that Dicuil (see below) mentioned what may have been the Faroes. He also suggested that the people living there might have been from Ireland, Scotland, or Scandinavia, possibly with groups from all three areas settling there.
A Latin account of a voyage made by Brendan, an Irish monastic saint who lived around 484–578, includes a description of insulae (islands) resembling the Faroe Islands. This association, however, is far from conclusive in its description.
Dicuil, an Irish monk of the early ninth century, wrote a more definite account. In his geographical work De mensura orbis terrae he claimed he had reliable information of heremitae ex nostra Scotia (“hermits from our land of Ireland/Scotland”) who had lived on the northerly islands of Britain for almost a hundred years until the arrival of Norse pirates.
Norsemen settled the islands c. 800, bringing Old West Norse, which evolved into the modern Faroese language. According to Icelandic sagas such as Færeyjar Saga, one of the best known men in the island was Tróndur í Gøtu, a descendant of Scandinavian chiefs who had settled in Dublin, Ireland. Tróndur led the battle against Sigmund Brestursson, the Norwegian monarchy and the Norwegian church.
he Norse and Norse–Gael settlers probably did not come directly from Scandinavia, but rather from Norse communities surrounding the Irish Sea, Northern Isles, and Outer Hebrides of Scotland, including the Shetland and Orkney islands. A traditional name for the islands in Irish, Na Scigirí, possibly refers to the (Eyja-)Skeggjar “(Island-)Beards”, a nickname given to island dwellers.
According to the Færeyinga saga, more emigrants left Norway who did not approve of the monarchy of Harald Fairhair (ruled c. 872 to 930). These people settled the Faroes around the end of the ninth century. Early in the eleventh century, Sigmundur Brestisson (961–1005) – whose clan had flourished in the southern islands before invaders from the northern islands almost exterminated it – escaped to Norway. He was sent back to take possession of the islands for Olaf Tryggvason, King of Norway from 995 to 1000. Sigmundur introduced Christianity, forcing Tróndur í Gøtu to convert or face beheading and, although Sigmundur was subsequently murdered, Norwegian taxation was upheld. Norwegian control of the Faroes continued until 1814, although, when the Kingdom of Norway (872–1397) entered the Kalmar Union with Denmark, it gradually resulted in Danish control of the islands. The Protestant Reformation in the form of Lutheranism reached the Faroes in 1538. When the union between Denmark and Norway dissolved as a result of the Treaty of Kiel in 1814, Denmark retained possession of the Faroe Islands; Norway itself was joined in a union with Sweden.
Following the turmoil caused by the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) in 1816, the Faroe Islands became a county in the Danish Kingdom.
As part of its mercantilist economic policy, Denmark maintained a monopoly over trade with the Faroe Islands and forbade their inhabitants trading with others (e.g. the geographically close Britain). The trade monopoly in the Faroe Islands was abolished in 1856, after which the area developed as a modern fishing nation with its own fishing fleet. The national awakening from 1888 initially arose from a struggle to maintain the Faroese language and was thus culturally oriented, but after 1906 it became more political with the foundation of political parties of the Faroe Islands.
In the first year of the Second World War, on 12 April 1940, British troops occupied the Faroe Islands in Operation Valentine. Nazi Germany had invaded Denmark and commenced the invasion of Norway on 9 April 1940 under Operation Weserübung. In 1942–1943, the British Royal Engineers, under the leadership of Lt. Col. William Law, MC, built the only airport in the Faroe Islands, Vágar Airport. Control of the islands reverted to Denmark following the war, but Danish rule had been undermined, and Iceland’s full independence served as a precedent for many Faroese.
The 1946 Faroese independence referendum resulted in 50.73% in favor of independence to 49.27% against. The Faroe Islands subsequently declared independence on 18 September 1946; however, this declaration was annulled by Denmark on 20 September on the grounds that a majority of the Faroese voters had not supported independence and King Christian X of Denmark dissolved the Faroese Løgting on 24 September. The dissolution of the Løgting was on 8 November followed by the Faroese parliamentary election of 1946 in which the parties in favor of full independence received a total of 5,396 votes while the parties against received a total of 7,488 votes. As a reaction to the growing self-government and independence movements, Denmark finally granted the Faroe Islands home-rule with a high degree of local autonomy in 1948.
In 1973 the Faroe Islands declined to join Denmark in entering the European Economic Community (later absorbed into the European Union). The islands experienced considerable economic difficulties following the collapse of the fishing industry in the early 1990s.
e Faroe Islands are an island group consisting of 18 major islands (and a total of 779 islands, islets, and skerries) about 655 kilometers (407 mi) off the coast of Northern Europe, between the Norwegian Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, about halfway between Iceland and Norway, the closest neighbors being the Northern Isles and the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. Its coordinates are 62°00′N 06°47′W.
Distance from the Faroe Islands to:
- Rona, Scotland (uninhabited): 260 kilometers (160 mi)
- Shetland (Foula), Scotland: 285 kilometers (177 mi)
- Orkney (Westray), Scotland: 300 kilometers (190 mi)
- Scotland (mainland): 320 kilometers (200 mi)
- Iceland: 450 kilometers (280 mi)
- Ireland: 670 kilometers (420 mi)
- Norway: 670 kilometers (420 mi)
- Denmark: 990 kilometers (620 mi)
The islands cover an area of 1,399 square kilometers (540 sq. mi) and have small lakes and rivers, but no major ones. There are 1,117 kilometers (694 mi) of coastline. The only significant uninhabited island is Lítla Dímun.
The islands are rugged and rocky with some low peaks; the coasts are mostly cliffs. The highest point is Slættaratindur in northern Eysturoy, 882 meters (2,894 ft) above sea level.
The Faroe Islands are made up of an approximately six-kilometers-thick succession of mostly basaltic lava that was part of the great North Atlantic Igneous Province during the Paleogene period. The lavas were erupted during the opening of the North Atlantic ocean, which began about 60 million years ago, and what is today the Faroe Islands was then attached to Greenland. The lavas are underlain by circa 30 km of unidentified ancient continental crust.
The climate is classed as subpolar oceanic climate according to the Köppen climate classification: Cfc, with areas having a tundra climate, especially in the mountains, although some coastal or low-lying areas may have very mild-winter versions of a tundra climate. The overall character of the climate of the islands is influenced by the strong warming influence of the Atlantic Ocean, which produces the North Atlantic Current. This, together with the remoteness of any source of landmass-induced warm or cold airflows, ensures that winters are mild (mean temperature 3.0 to 4.0 °C or 37 to 39 °F) while summers are cool (mean temperature 9.5 to 10.5 °C or 49 to 51 °F).
The islands are windy, cloudy, and cool throughout the year with an average of 210 rainy or snowy days per year. The islands lie in the path of depressions moving northeast, making strong winds and heavy rain possible at all times of the year. Sunny days are rare and overcast days are common. Hurricane Faith struck the Faroe Islands on 5 September 1966 with sustained winds over 100 mph (160 km/h) and only then did the storm cease to be a tropical system.
The climate varies greatly over small distances, due to the altitude, ocean currents, topography, and winds. Precipitation varies considerably throughout the archipelago. In some highland areas, snow cover may last for months with snowfalls possible for the greater part of the year (on the highest peaks, summer snowfall is by no means rare), while in some sheltered coastal locations, several years pass without any snowfall whatsoever. Tórshavn receives frosts more often than other areas just a short distance to the south. Snow also is seen at a much higher frequency than on outlying islands nearby. The area receives on average 49 frosts a year.
The collection of meteorological data on the Faroe Islands began in 1867. Winter recording began in 1891, and the warmest winter occurred in 2016–17 with an average temperature of 6.1 °C (43 °F).
The vast majority of the population are ethnic Faroese, of Norse and Celtic descent. Recent DNA analyses have revealed that Y chromosomes, tracing male descent, are 87% Scandinavian. The studies show that mitochondrial DNA, tracing female descent, is 84% Celtic.
There is a gender deficit of about 2,000 women owing to migration. As a result, some Faroese men have married women from the Philippines and Thailand, whom they met through such channels as online dating websites, and arranged for them to emigrate to the islands. This group of approximately three hundred women make up the largest ethnic minority in the Faroes.
The total fertility rate of the Faroe Islands is currently one of the highest in Europe. The fertility rate is 2.409 children born per woman (2015 est.).
The 2011 census shows that of the 48,346 inhabitants of the Faroe Islands (17,441 private households in 2011), 43,135 were born in the Faroe Islands, 3,597 were born elsewhere in the Kingdom of Denmark (Denmark proper or Greenland), and 1,614 were born outside the Kingdom of Denmark. People were also asked about their nationality, including Faroese. Children under 15 were not asked about their nationality. 97% said that they were ethnic Faroese, which means that many of those who were born in either Denmark or Greenland consider themselves as ethnic Faroese. The other 3% of those older than 15 said they were not Faroese: 515 were Danish, 433 were from other European countries, 147 came from Asia, 65 from Africa, 55 from the Americas, 23 from Russia. The Faroe Islands have people from 77 different nationalities.
If the first inhabitants of the Faroe Islands were Irish monks, they must have lived as a very small group of settlers. Later, when the Vikings colonized the islands, there was a considerable increase in the population. However, it never exceeded 5,000 until the 19th century. Around 1349, about half the population perished in the Black Death plague.
Only with the rise of the deep-sea fishery (and thus independence from agriculture in the islands’ harsh terrain) and with general progress in the health service was rapid population growth possible in the Faroes. Beginning in the 19th century, the population increased tenfold in 200 years.
At the beginning of the 1990s, the Faroe Islands entered a deep economic crisis leading to heavy emigration; however, this trend reversed in subsequent years to a net immigration. This has been in the form of a population replacement as young Faroese women leave and are replaced with Asian/Pacific brides. In 2011, there were 2,155 more men than women between the age of 0 to 59 in the Faroe Islands.
The Faroese population is spread across most of the area; it was not until recent decades that significant urbanization occurred. Industrialization has been remarkably decentralized. Nevertheless, villages with poor harbor facilities have been the losers in the development from agriculture to fishing, and in the most peripheral agricultural areas, also known as Útoyggjar (“Outer Islands”), there are few young people. In recent decades, the village-based social structure has given way to a rise in interconnected “centers” that are better able to provide goods and services than the badly connected periphery. Shops and services are relocating en masse from the villages into the centers, and slowly but steadily the Faroese population is concentrating in and around the centers.
In the 1990s, the government abandoned the old national policy of developing the villages (Bygdamenning), and instead began a process of regional development (Økismenning). The term “region” referred to the large islands of the Faroes. Nevertheless, the government was unable to press through the structural reform of merging small rural municipalities to create sustainable, decentralized entities that could drive forward regional development. As regional development has been difficult on the administrative level, the government has instead invested heavily in infrastructure, interconnecting the regions.
Faroese is spoken in the entire area as a first language. It is difficult to say exactly how many people worldwide speak the Faroese language, because many ethnic Faroese live in Denmark, and few who are born there return to the Faroes with their parents or as adults.
Faroese belongs to the Germanic branch of Indo-European languages. Written Faroese (grammar and vocabulary) is most similar to Icelandic and to their ancestor Old Norse, though the spoken language is closer to Norwegian dialects of Western Norway. As stipulated in section 11 (§ 11) in the Home Rule Act from 1948 passed into law in both Faroese and Danish parliaments, Faroese is the first official language of the island while Danish, the second, is taught in schools and can be used by the Faroese government in public relations.