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Swedish Prince slays Gille Odhrain by Loch Glendhu

Poll a’ Ghamhna
[58.245855, -5.055642]
Brendan O’Hanrahan
North West Highlands Geopark

Sometimes Scottish folklore and Scandinavian sagas come together in an attempt to tell the same story. One such instance occurs in the recalling of the story of The Swedish Prince and the saga of Sweyn Asleifsson, King of Orkney. Orkney Saga Renowned folklorist Charlotte Dempster recalls the tale of a Swedish prince who had been…

Sometimes Scottish folklore and Scandinavian sagas come together in an attempt to tell the same story. One such instance occurs in the recalling of the story of The Swedish Prince and the saga of Sweyn Asleifsson, King of Orkney.

Orkney Saga

Renowned folklorist Charlotte Dempster recalls the tale of a Swedish prince who had been warned by his stepmother to avoid the seas around Cape Wrath, Glendhu and Poll a’ Ghamhna, after she had a vision that something awful would happen to him. Some years later he was sailing along the west coast and had to seek shelter in an inlet that was well-protected from the gales of an impending storm.

As they lay at anchor, they were approached by a band of local men in boats, whose faces had been blackened with soot. When the prince’s men asked the locals where they were, they were told that it was a place called Poll a’ Ghamhna. Recalling his stepmother’s warning he immediately attempted to weigh anchor and escape his fate. However, the men of Assynt and the Isles who were gathered there were too strong for him. The assembled men prevented the Prince and his men from leaving by boarding the Swedish vessels. A local man from the Glendhu, fired an arrow through the hole which hit the unfortunate Prince.

The Swedes fled and the men of Assynt, thinking the prince dead, started to concentrate on plundering the cargo of gold and other riches on the prince’s ship. As they attempted to steal the prince’s gold the weight tore a hole in their plaids and the treasure sank to the bottom of Poll a’ Ghamhna. 

Poll a’ Ghamhna on OS MAP Sutherland Sheet L 1875

A year later the man from Glendhu was fishing in Poll a’ Ghamhna when a boat docked alongside him, and there in the bow, was a tall man, with a gold-embroidered cloak and a sword. The Prince had returned and killed the man from Glendhu on the spot in revenge.

The identity of the Swedish prince in Miss Dempster’s tale has been debated for years, but a recent theory is that the Swedish Prince is in fact the Norse King of Orkney, Sweyn Asleifsson, who was one of the most prominent characters in the Orkneyinga. Sweyn was born in Caithness but held the lands of Orkney, from where he would launch his marauding expeditions down the west coast of Scotland, through the Suðreyjar (the Hebrides) and along both coasts of the Irish Sea, even as far as the Scillies.

Dempster’s tale is thought to mirror that of the saga written by Torfaeus’, an Icelandic historian who details Sweyn’s clash with a Scottish or Hebridean warrior called Gille Odhrain who had killed a man during a stay in Orkney. Sweyn Asleifsson hunted Gille Odhrain, an ally of Somerled, for several years. He eventually succeeded in tracking Gille Odhrain to the bay of Loch Glendhu (or Myrhvafiordum as Torfaeus knew it) and killed Gille Odhrain and fifty of his men.

The two stories differ in many of the details, however, it is expected that each culture embellished their own side of the tale for their own entertainment.

Addition Reading


Norse Invaders on History Links Website

Image: Orkneyinga Saga Public Domain: Image from Wikipedia. Original Source Below

Gudbrand Vigfusson,Icelandic sagas and other historical documents relating to the settlements and descents of the Northmen on the British isles,(London: Aire and Spottiswood,1887) pp. xxxvi – xxxvii. 

Map Image: All Map Images from NLS, should say ‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’ and have the link available to the map.