The small island of Gairsay in the Orkney Islands features prominently in the Orkneyinga Saga as the home of famed ‘Viking’ chieftain Svein Asleifsson . Made infamous in the Orkneyinga Saga, spent his life on Gairsay, a small island (0.93 sq mi) located roughly in the middle of the archipelago. Due to the fact that he lived nearly a century after the end of the Viking period, his lifestyle was that of a Viking from a previous age. The saga records him as…
“This was how Svein used to live. Winter he would spend at home on Gairsay, where he entertained some eighty men at his own expense. His drinking-hall was so big, there was nothing in Orkney to compare with it. In the spring he had more than enough to occupy him, with a great deal of seed to sow which he saw to carefully himself. Then when that job was done, he would go off plundering in the Hebrides and in Ireland on what he called his ‘spring trip’, then back home just after mid-summer, where he stayed till the cornfields had been reaped and the grain was safely in. After that he would go off raiding again, and never came back till the first month of winter was ended. This he used to call his ‘autumn-trip’” (Orkneyinga Saga, ch. 105, reproduced from Barrett, 2005).
Svein’s wealth and power brought him to the attention of the Earl of Orkney, the most powerful man in the islands (Palsson et al. 1978). It is recorded that:
“After he had been home for a short while