Eyvind Úrarhorn was a Norwegian man-of-action who supported King Olaf II Haraldsson of Norway (aka St. Olaf, r. 1015-1028) by doing such tasks as hunting down unwanted Vikings in Norwegian waters and forcing out foreign tax collectors who were trying to extort King Olaf’s borderland subjects. In 1018, however, Eyvind Úrarhorn decided to take a break from his domestic duties to go raiding abroad. His Viking expedition brought him to the British Isles, and after some pillaging, Eyvind apparently signed his crew up as mercenaries for a certain King Connor in Ireland. Unfortunately for Eyvind Úrarhorn, the contract with the Irish king brought him into hostile contact with another Viking crew that was skulking around Ireland. In the fall of 1018, Jarl Einar Wry-Mouth of Orkney (r. 1014-1020) appeared in Ireland and clashed with the Irish King Connor. Eyvind Úrarhorn, heeding his mercenary contract, joined the Irish side in the battle and fought against the army from Orkney.
King Connor and Jarl Einar Wry-Mouth met in battle at Lough Larne, in Northern Ireland. According to the accounts of the Orkneyinga Saga and the Heimskringla, King Connor won a great victory that day and forced the jarl of Orkney to retreat. The Orkneyinga Saga, describing the battle from Jarl Einar’s point of view, claimed it was a “crushing defeat with heavy loss of life” (chapter 15). The rebuffed Jarl Einar Wry-Mouth was sorely aware that a band of Norwegian mercenaries had aided King Connor during the battle, and although the jarl may not have known who commanded the mercenaries at the time, he was determined to discover who led the group and to seek revenge. For the meantime, however, Eyvind Úrarhorn enjoyed the victory and spent the rest of the year without any harassment from Orkney.
By the summer of 1019, Jarl Einar Wry-Mouth had learned of Eyvind’s part in the battle at Lough Larne, and he was keeping his agents busy searching for the Norwegian. It was at this inopportune time that Eyvind Úrarhorn decided to return home to Norway. In a curious move, Eyvind made the bold decision to plot his course past Orkney during his return trip. He might have been able to get away with this move if fate had been kinder, but the weather betrayed Eyvind Úrarhorn, forcing his ship to make landfall. Of all the places he could have been driven ashore, Eyvind was unlucky enough to find himself beached at a place called Osmundwall, located in the southern section of the Orkney archipelago.
Jarl Einar Wry-Mouth soon learned about Eyvind Úrarhorn’s presence in Orkney and he quickly mobilized his fleet, eager to exact his revenge. Before Eyvind could set sail, the jarl’s fleet descended on the Norwegian Vikings and caught them by surprise. In the encounter that ensued, there was not much of a battle, and Jarl Einar was allegedly able to take the stranded crew captive without any difficulty. According to both the Orkneyinga Saga and the Heimskringla, Jarl Einar Wry-Mouth used the situation to execute Eyvind Úrarhorn. With the Viking leader’s death, the jarl’s drive for vengeance was sated, and he ultimately let most of Eyvind’s crew return home. When King Olaf II of Norway learned of his friend’s death, he took no official act against Orkney, although he did begin to show public support for Einar’s rivals on the Orkney Islands, especially for Einar’s brother, Jarl Thorfinn the Mighty (r. 1014-1064), who traveled to Norway to meet with King Olaf II in 1020. During that very year, King Olaf II was likely pleased to learn that Einar Wry-Mouth was murdered by one of Jarl Thorfinn’s associates before the end of 1020.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Scenes from the Bayeux Tapestry, [Public Domain] via flickr.com and Creative Commons).
- Orkneyinga Saga, written anonymously approximately c. 1200, translated by Hermann Pálsson and Paul Edwards. New York: Penguin Classics, 1981.
- Heimskringla, by Snorri Sturluson and translated by Lee Hollander. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964, 2018.