Friday, 26 February 2010

Lewis, No More

The Isle of Lewis has apparently joined the long list of 'no more' places celebrated in the Pretenders' Message from America, after the British Museum created a spectacular blunder in a poster on the London Underground depicting the famous Lewis Chessmen. One of the chess pieces is featured with the date 1150-1200 and the word 'Norway' beneath it, despite the pieces famously having been found buried in sand at Uig, Lewis in 1831. There is no mention of Lewis, or Scotland anywhere at all.

Angus MacNeil, SNP MP has secured the support of two other SNP MP's and seven others for a motion in Parliament deploring the poster.

A British Museum spokeswoman apparently said that “It is generally accepted that the chessmen were made in Norway. During this period, the Western Isles, where the chessmen were buried, were part of the kingdom of Norway, not Scotland.”

As Angus MacNeil points out, the Hebrides may have been ruled from Norway but were not part of Norway, any more than India was part of Britain.

Nobody has ever clearly established where the chessmen came from, but they were found in Uig. There is speculation they are of Scandinavian origin but there is also speculation they originated in Scotland and they certainly should be associated with Lewis.

The chessmen will be on display in four venues in Scotland including Museum nan Eilean, Stornoway, between April 15 and September 12 next year.If the British Museum continue to insist on this spectacular snub to the Hebrides and the wider Scottish Nation, then one thing is abundantly clear - when these chess pieces arrive back in Lewis, we should keep them!

1 comment:

  1. I wonder if Angus Macneil recognises that his bullish insistence that "we wuz robbed" may be contributing negatively to how the chessmen are being presented by the BM. It is a shame that more is not made of the Uig connection (generally, not just in this campaign - and isn't this approach by Angus making that even less likely), but there is no question in knowledgeable minds that they originated in Norway (despite what some ill-informed "spokesman" in Stornoway says), and are a high point of Norse culture. They are not typically or actually Scottish.

    I am on the board of the local museum and historical society in Uig, and we think that while it would be fantastic to have the chessmen back in Lewis on a longer-term basis, that would naturally have to be part of a well-considered, intelligent movement towards decentralisation of resources - eg by establishing a well-funded Viking research centre in Lewis. Angus and the Comhairle are working against this by, in the face of all academic understanding, trying to separate the chessmen from their Norse origins, and obviously for political ends.

    Suggesting (even tongue-in-cheek) that we keep them is very irresponsible. This is one of the issues the BM has had in the past with sending them - there is a letter from some years ago displaying some trepidation that hot-headed Gaels (though they mistyped it and it says Gauls!) might stage some kind of nationalist stunt, perhaps in the style of the Stone of Destiny episode.

    Just as Angus is doing. Shabby, political and not helpful to the wider cause of proper recognition of our actual Norse heritage here in the isles.