|The Vikings and Early Settlers
Why begin with the Vikings? It was already 800AD when they turned
up here. Others came much earlier but the Vikings are the first whose
comment we can quote. A scout, sent ashore from the longboat is alleged
to have reported, "Ullamhdha", Viking for 'Nobody Home'. They named
the island 'Ullfur', their word for 'Wolf Island' then came ashore and
built Glackindaline Castle on Dun Ban, a small rock-ribbed island connected
by a causeway to the northwest shore of Ulva.
If the Vikings cared to look, they could have found evidence of much
earlier inhabitants. The standing stones of Ulva stood then where
they stand today, the mute and mysterious legacy of a pre-Celtic, megalithic
people who lived on Ulva around 1,500 BC and vanished before the Vikings
The people who set up the stones were, in fact, newcomers compared to
the first inhabitants of Livingston's Cave. Archeologists from Edinburgh
University have been studying the floor of this large cave. A shell
midden, flint artifacts and fragments of bone from lemming, Arctic fox
and human infant indicate people lived here from as far back as 5,650BC.
|Ulva's Kelp Industry
Seaweed plays an important role in the history of Ulva. It was
burned to produce kelp, a product in great demand in the early 19th Century
for making glass and soap. Being a labour intensive process ( it took 20
tons of seaweed to produce 1 ton of kelp) Ulva's population grew to meet
the demands of cutting, carrying and burning enough seaweed for an average
output of 23 tons of kelp per year. In 1785 Ulva was purchased by
a pioneer of the kelp burning industry and his son, Staffa MacDonald ws
reputed to have 'trebled his income and doubled his population by careful
attention to his kelp shores'.
In 1835 Francis William Clark bought Ulva.
By 1837 the population had grown to 604 people living in sixteen villages
whose ruins you can see today. There were shoemakers, square-wrights,
boat carpenters, tailors, weavers, blacksmiths, dry-stone masons and two
merchants. Clark's high hopes for this thriving community were shattered
when the kelp market collapsed and he was left with a great surplus of
tenants. Then, the potato blight struck Ulva. Like so many
other estates in the West of Scotland, it ceased to be a crofting estate
and the sad era of the clearances followed.
Some of the crofters who were cleared went to other parts of Scotland,
some to north America and Australia. The abandoned villages are sad
to see but the saddest is the row of small, low houses which stand at Starvation
Terrace on Ardglass point. Here were the last evicted crofters for
whom no place could be found.