“… to get commerce into the hands of the Icelanders so that the dividend goes to the natives and not out of the country.”
By Hrútafjörður – Fjord of Rams – in the North-west of Iceland is the tiny village Borðeyri which literally means Plank at Sea. Borðeyri with sixteen inhabitants in 2018 is rich in history as it was one of Iceland’s busiest anchorage that dates back to the Settlement of Iceland in the 8th century. It was Ingimundur gamli – Old Ingimundur – the Viking settler at Hof in nearby Vatnsdalur who named the Fjord as he saw two Rams running down the hills as well as a huge plank by the sea-side. Hrútafjördur is a long fjord south of Húnaflói – Bay of Bears.
Ingimundur gamli fought along with Norwegian king Harald Fairhair in the historical battle at Hafangursfjord 872. The story goes that Ingimundur gamli later gave the King two Polar Bears cubs captured in Iceland. The gift was well appreciated as Polar Bears had never before been seen in Norway. Ingimundur gamli was held in high esteem in the country of his ancestors.
Tale of mixed fortunes
During Iceland’s Commonwealth era 930-1262, Bordeyri was a quite busy anchorage but as Iceland came under Norse rule 1262 and later Danish rule in the late 1300’s during the Kalmar Union as Norway collapsed, Bordeyri gradually declined. During the dark Monopoly Trade Period 1602-1787 there are no recorded ship arrivals as it was forbidden to trade at Borðeyri with Iceland being a colony sold to highest trading bidders. However Borðeyri got township by law from Althing in 1846 as Iceland started its road to freedom and the tiny village was quite busy well into the 20th century.
The first ship to sail to Borðeyri arrived in June 1848. Slowly but surely traffic increased and hundreds of farmers and their spouses gathered in the busy village to trade aboard the ships. Pétur Eggerz (1831-1892) educated in Great Britain is recognized as Borðeyri’s founding father. He was the first merchant to move to Borðeyri. Eggerz built a turf farm in 1858 and two years later a warehouse and in 1860’s Eggerz built the faktorshouse. His son Sigurður Eggerz 1875-1945 was Iceland’s Prime Minister 1914-15 and 1922-24.
In 1870 Pétur Eggerz along with his brother-in-law Páll Vídalín and farmers in the district established a Community Store at the Faktorshouse. Their vision was clear as to “… get commerce into the hands of the Icelanders so that the dividend goes to the natives and not out of the country.” Eggerz became the store manager. The Faktorshouse later became known as the Riis-house named after merchant Richard Riis who later moved to Borðeyri.
Quest for sovereignty
Iceland’s quest for sovereignty started in the late 1900’s and in 1904 the country got home rule and Sovereignty in 1918 with a Danish King. Iceland declared Independence in 1944 when the Danes were occupied by Nazi Germany in World War II while Borðeyri was occupied by the British 1940-1943.
Borðeyri was by then well and alive with the main actor being Kaupfélag Hrútfirðinga – Fjord of Ramsers Co-Op, member of Iceland’s Co-Operative Society by then far the largest company in Iceland. However, the Co-Op crumbled in the early 1990’s when 20th century Iceland started to say farewell, as did Borðeyri.
Plássið, in translation The Place, being the old Borðeyri of ten houses with 16 inhabitants, was in April 2019 declared protectorate by Iceland’s Cultural Ministry. The rebuilding is underway as Borðeyri revisits its amazing heritage.