The Faroe Islands, also called the Faeroes, (/ˈfɛəroʊ/; Faroese: Føroyar pronounced [ˈfœɹjaɹ]; Danish: Færøerne, pronounced [ˈfæɐ̯øːˀɐnə]) is an archipelago between the Norwegian Sea and the North Atlantic, about halfway between Norway and Iceland, 320 kilometres (200 miles) north-northwest of Scotland. Its area is about 1,400 square kilometres (541 square miles) with a population of 50,030 in April 2017. The Faroe Islands are an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark.
The land of the Faeroes is rugged, and these islands have a subpolar oceanic climate (Cfc): windy, wet, cloudy, and cool. Despite this island group’s northerly latitude, temperatures average above freezing throughout the year because of the Gulf Stream.
Between 1035 and 1814, the Faeroes were part of the Hereditary Kingdom of Norway. In 1814, the Treaty of Kiel granted Denmark control over the islands, along with two other Norwegian island possessions: Greenland and Iceland. The Faroe Islands have been a self-governing country within the Kingdom of Denmark since 1948. The Faroese have control of most domestic matters. Areas that remain the responsibility of Denmark include military defence, the police department, the justice department, currency, and foreign affairs. However, as they are not part of the same customs area as Denmark, the Faroe Islands have an independent trade policy, and can establish trade agreements with other states. The islands also have representation in the Nordic Council as members of the Danish delegation. The people of the Faroe Islands also compete as a national team in certain sports.
In Danish, the name Færøerne may reflect an Old Norse word fær (sheep). The morpheme øerne represents a plural (with definite article) of ø (island) in Danish. The Danish name thus translates as “the islands of sheep”. In Faroese, the name appears as Føroyar. Oyar represents the plural of oy, older Faroese for “island”. The modern Faeroese word for island is oyggj. In the English language, their name is sometimes spelled “Faeroe”, similar to “faerie”.
Archaeological evidence shows settlers living on the Faroe Islands in two successive periods prior to the arrival of the Norse, the first between 400 and 600 and the second between 600 and 800. Scientists from the University of Aberdeen have also found early cereal pollen from domesticated plants, which further suggests people may have lived on the islands before the Vikings arrived. Archaeologist Mike Church noted that Dicuil mentioned what may have been the Faroes. He also suggested that the people living there might have been from Ireland, Scotland or Scandinavia, possibly with groups from all three areas settling there.
A Latin account of a voyage made by Brendan, an Irish monastic saint who lived around 484–578, includes a description of insulae (islands) resembling the Faroe Islands. This association, however, is far from conclusive in its description.
Dicuil, an Irish monk of the early 9th century, wrote a more definite account. In his geographical work De mensura orbis terrae he claimed he had reliable information of heremitae ex nostra Scotia (“hermits from our land of Scotland “) who had lived on the northerly islands of Britain for almost a hundred years until the arrival of Norse pirates.
Norsemen settled the islands c. 800, bringing Old West Norse, which evolved into the modern Faroese language. According to Icelandic sagas such as Færeyjar Saga, one of the best known men in the island was Tróndur í Gøtu, a descendant of Scandinavian chiefs who had settled in Dublin, Ireland. Tróndur led the battle against Sigmund Brestursson, the Norwegian monarchy and the Norwegian church.
The Norse and Norse–Gael settlers probably did not come directly from Scandinavia, but rather from Norse communities surrounding the Irish Sea, Northern Isles and Outer Hebrides of Scotland, including the Shetland and Orkney islands. A traditional name for the islands in Irish, Na Scigirí, possibly refers to the (Eyja-)Skeggjar “(Island-)Beards”, a nickname given to island dwellers.
According to the Færeyinga saga, more emigrants left Norway who did not approve of the monarchy of Harald Fairhair (ruled c. 872 to 930). These people settled the Faroes around the end of the 9th century. Early in the 11th century, Sigmundur Brestisson (961–1005) – whose clan had flourished in the southern islands before invaders from the northern islands almost exterminated it – escaped to Norway. He was sent back to take possession of the islands for Olaf Tryggvason, King of Norway from 995 to 1000. Sigmundur introduced Christianity, forcing Tróndur í Gøtu to convert or face beheading and, though Sigmundur was subsequently murdered, Norwegian taxation was upheld. Norwegian control of the Faroes continued until 1814, although, when the Kingdom of Norway (872–1397) entered the Kalmar Union with Denmark, it gradually resulted in Danish control of the islands. The Reformation reached the Faroes in 1538. When the union between Denmark and Norway dissolved as a result of the Treaty of Kiel in 1814, Denmark retained possession of the Faroe Islands.
The trade monopoly in the Faroe Islands was abolished in 1856, after which the area developed as a modern fishing nation with its own fishing fleet. The national awakening from 1888 initially arose from a struggle to maintain the Faroese language and was thus culturally oriented, but after 1906 it became more political with the foundation of political parties of the Faroe Islands.
On 12 April 1940 British troops occupied the Faroe Islands, shortly after the German invasion of Denmark on 9 April 1940. In 1942–1943 the British Royal Engineers, under the leadership of Lt. Col. William Law MC, built the only airport in the Faroe Islands, Vágar Airport. Control of the islands reverted to Denmark following the war, but in 1948 home rule was introduced, with a high degree of local autonomy. In 1973 the Faroe Islands declined to join Denmark in entering the European Economic Community (later absorbed into the European Union). The islands experienced considerable economic difficulties following the collapse of the fishing industry in the early 1990s, but have since made efforts to diversify the economy. Support for independence has grown and is the objective of the Republican Party.
The Faroe Islands are an island group consisting of 18 major islands about 655 kilometres (407 mi) off the coast of Northern Europe, between the Norwegian Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, about halfway between Iceland and Norway, the closest neighbours being the Northern Isles and the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. Its coordinates are 62°00′N 06°47′W.
Distance from the Faroe Islands to:
- North Rona, Scotland (uninhabited): 260 kilometres (160 mi)
- Shetland (Foula), Scotland: 285 kilometres (177 mi)
- Orkney (Westray), Scotland: 300 kilometres (190 mi)
- Scotland (mainland): 320 kilometres (200 mi)
- Iceland: 450 kilometres (280 mi)
- Ireland: 670 kilometres (420 mi)
- Norway: 670 kilometres (420 mi)
- Denmark: 990 kilometres (620 mi)
The islands cover an area of 1,399 square kilometres (540 sq. mi) and have small lakes and rivers, but no major ones. There are 1,117 kilometres (694 mi) of coastline. The only significant uninhabited island is Lítla Dímun.
The islands are rugged and rocky with some low peaks; the coasts are mostly cliffs. The highest point is Slættaratindur, 882 metres (2,894 ft) above sea level.
The Faroe Islands are dominated by tholeiitic basalt lava, which was part of the great Thulean Plateau during the Paleogene period.
The islands are windy, cloudy and cool throughout the year with an average of 210 rainy or snowy days per year. The islands lie in the path of depressions moving northeast, making strong winds and heavy rain possible at all times of the year. Sunny days are rare and overcast days are common. Hurricane Faith struck the Faroe Islands on 5 September 1966 with sustained winds over 100 mph (160 km/h) and only then did the storm cease to be a tropical system.
The climate varies greatly over small distances, due to the altitude, ocean currents, topography, and winds. Precipitation varies considerably throughout the archipelago. In some highland areas, snow cover can last for months with snowfalls possible for the greater part of the year (on the highest peaks, summer snowfall is by no means rare), while in some sheltered coastal locations, several years pass without any snowfall whatsoever. Tórshavn receives frosts more often than other areas just a short distance to the south. Snow is also seen at a much higher frequency than on outlying islands nearby. The area receives on average 49 frosts a year.
The collection of meteorological data on the Faroe Islands began in 1867. Winter recording began in 1891, and the warmest winter occurred in 2016-17 with an average temperature of 6.1 °C.
A collection of Faroese marine algae resulting from a survey sponsored by NATO, the British Museum (Natural History) and the Carlsberg Foundation, is preserved in the Ulster Museum (catalogue numbers: F3195–F3307). It is one of ten exsiccatae sets.
The flora of the Faroe Islands consists of over 400 different plant species. Most of the lowland area is grassland and some is heather mainly Calluna vulgaris. The Faroese nature is characterized by the lack of trees, and resembles that of Connemara and Dingle in Ireland. Among the numerous herbaceous flora that occur in the Faroe Islands is the marsh thistle, Cirsium palustre.
There are no native forests in the Faroe Islands, and only a few woody plants occur. Findings of Betula pubescens trunks and branches in the soil, dated to c. 2300 BC, and the abundance of Corylus pollen in deep layers, suggest that at least some local stands of birch and hazel trees were present in the Faroe Islands, prior to human settlement.
Four species of willow are still present in the Faroe Islands: Salix herbacea is very common in the mountains, but the other three species: Salix phylicifolia, Salix lanata and Salix arctica are only to be found in a few places, due to heavy grazing by animals. Only one evergreen, Juniperus communis (the prostrate form) grows naturally in the Faroe Islands, and small populations are spread throughout the islands, though for some reason juniper is very common on Svínoy Island.
The extreme oceanic climate, with winds whipping vast quantities of sea salt into the air, makes the islands very unfavourable to trees, though a few species from South America have been introduced since the 1970s. One outstanding for its beauty and for having resisted strong storms and cool summers is the monkey-puzzle tree from Argentina and Chile. Trees from Tierra del Fuego: Drimys winteri, Maytenus magellanica, Embothrium coccineum, Nothofagus antarctica, Nothofagus pumilio, and Nothofagus betuloides, have thrived too, in this cold oceanic climate. In 1979, 6000 small Nothofagusplants were transferred from Tierra del Fuego to the Faroe Islands, making it the biggest Nothofagus population in Europe. Species from the Alaskan coastline and islands have also adapted well in the Faroe Islands, especially Pinus contorta, Picea sitchensis, Salix alaxensis, Populus trichocarpa and Alnus sinuata. The biggest Alaskan pine tree (Pinus contorta) in Europe (in width, not in height), is to be found in the Selatrað plantation in the Faroe Islands.
Generally, species from the oceanic climates of coastalAlaska, New Zealand, Tierra del Fuego and Tasmania are adapted to Faroe, while species from the more continental climates of Scandinavia and Europe do not show that virtue because of intolerance to the wind and the lack of summer heat.
Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla mollis), first introduced as a garden plant, has become notoriously invasive and hard to get rid of. Though some few localities have met with success in combating it, it seems to spread further every year, eliciting fears that it might exterminate some of the local flora if drastic measures are not taken.
The natural vegetation of the Faroe Islands is dominated by arctic-alpine plants, wildflowers, grasses, moss and lichen. Most of the lowland area is grassland and some is heath, dominated by shrubby heathers, mainly Calluna vulgaris. Among the herbaceous flora that occur in the Faroe Islands is the cosmopolitan marsh thistle, Cirsium palustre. Faroe is characterised by the lack of trees. A few small plantations consisting of plants collected from similar climates such as Tierra del Fuego in South America and Alaska thrive on the islands.
Fauna of the Faroe Islands
The fauna of the Faroe Islands is characterized by the islands’ remote location in the North Atlantic Ocean. There are few terrestrial species, but relatively many breeding seabirds and marine animals. Some sub-species and breeds are endemic. All land mammals were introduced by humans.
The bird fauna of the Faroes is dominated by seabirds and birds attracted to open land like heather, probably due to the lack of woodland and other suited habitats. There are special Faroese races of eider, starling, wren, guillemot, and black guillemot. Puffins (Fratercula arctica), razorbills (Alca torda), and guillemots (Uria aalge), are very common seabirds in Faroe. Gannets (Sula sula) are common around the islands, but only breed on Mykines. Black guillemots (Cepphus grylle), eiders (Somateria mollissima) and shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) are common around the coast and the fulmars (Fulmarus glacialis) which immigrated to the islands in the 19th century have a steadily growing population. There are six species of seagulls (Larus) and the storm petrel (Hydrobates pelagicus) colony on Nólsoy is the largest in the world.
Inland birds are fewer in numbers. Oyster catcher (Haematopus ostralegus) (the national bird), curlew (Numenius), common snipe (Capella gallinago) and tern (Sterna) are common on the heather hills. The Faroese starling (sub-species Sturnus vulgaris faroeensis) is the biggest starling in the world, and is very common in and around human habitation together with the sparrow (Passer). In later years they have been joined by blackbirds (Turdus merula) which are growing very fast in numbers. Crows (Corvus cornix) and the Faroese-Icelandic subspecies of raven (Corvus corax varius) are also very common around human habitation. Until the 19th century a special coloured raven, the pied raven was common on the islands. This was not a special race, but a colour variation of the Faroese-Icelandic sub-species. In the same nest, three youngsters could be black while one could be white-speckled. This colour variation was unique to the Faroe Islands, and maybe because of this, the demand from foreign collectors was big for these ravens. This might be a reason why it became extinct; the last white-speckled raven was seen on Nólsoy in 1949.
The land mammals of Faroe have all been introduced, accidentally or deliberately by people. Although nine species of wild land mammal have been reported on the Faroe Islands, only three have survived and are thriving on the islands today: mountain hare (Lepus timidus), brown rat (Rattus norvegicus) and the house mouse (Mus domesticus).
Mountain hares were introduced from Kragerø in Norway in 1854. The first years, some of the hares developed a white coat in winter, like their ancestors from Norway, but after a few decades, due to the oceanic climate with its lack of snow cover, the Faroese hares had adopted common traits with the Irish hares (Lepus timidus hibernicus) staying brown most of the year and turning grey in winter. Hares are present on all but three of the smaller islands, Koltur, Stóra Dímun and Lítla Dímun.
The Faroese house mouse was probably introduced accidentally from Britain by the Irish monks as early as the 6th century. It is the Western European house mouse (Mus domesticus) but has earlier been labelled as Mus musculus. This naming has also been used to name the sub-species which has evolved in the isolated island populations. The Nólsoy house mouse is a sub-species called (Mus musculus faroeensis) and the Mykines house mouse is also a sub-species called (Mus musculus mykinessiensis). However, a recent study, based on DNA-analyses, has shown that mice on the most remote islands (Hesti, Fugloy, Mykines and Nólsoy) are characterized as M. m. domesticus, whereas the mice on the better connected islands (Sandoy and in Torshavn) are mixed and have both M. m. musculus and M. m. domesticus genetic elements. Furthermore, the investigation indicated that the majority of the mice have their origins in south-western Norway, in agreement with human historical data, while the mice on the island of Sandoy may have arrived from the British Isles or from Denmark. The M. m. musculus genetic component appears to derive from recent immigrant mice from Denmark. The wood mouse or field mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus) was recorded on the Faroe Islands in the 17th century, but has not been recorded since. These recordings might have been mistaken. The house mouse is present on the islands Mykines, Streymoy, Fugloy, Hestur, Nólsoy and Sandoy. From time to time they have been located on Eysturoy, but they have never managed to establish themselves there due to the presence of the brown rat.
When the black rat (Rattus rattus) first came to the Faroes is unclear, but it is given the blame for having spread the plague, the Black death in 1349, since then there have been several reports of the rat going extinct in part or in whole across the archipelago, only to return at later dates. The reasons for its many disappearances vary, from legends about the use of magic to environmental reasons and disease. It has since been exterminated by the more aggressive brown rat.
The brown rat (Rattus norvegicus) is common in and around human habitations as well as in the outfield, doing big damage in bird colonies. It reached the Faroe Islands on the Norwegian ship Kongen af Preussen, which wrecked on the Scottish island Lewis. The wreck drifted to Hvalba in Suðuroy in May 1768; in 1769, the rat had already established itself in Tórshavn. The brown rat replaced the former black rat (Rattus rattus) which was common in human habitation in Faroe before. It has spread to the islands Suðuroy (1768), Streymoy (1769), Eysturoy (1776), Vágar (1779), Kunoy (1914). To Borðoy, and Viðoy it is only known that it came prior to World War II, but at the same time, it is known that it were people from Klaksvík(Borðoy) who brought the rat to Kunoy, hinting that it must have had a presence there for some time.
Rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) were introduced to Suðuroy in the beginning of the 20th century. They soon spread throughout the island, but after a few years, they were exterminated. Rabbits also established colonies in the extreme south of Eysturoy (Eystnes) in the 1960s and 1970s, but they were also exterminated. In 2006 there were reports of rabbits establishing colonies on Streymoy they have since been exterminated. Every now and then escaped pets get into the mountains, but they are usually hunted down and shot shortly after being sighted, preventing further colonies from being established.
American mink (Mustela vison) have escaped from farms on several occasions, but were caught or shot most of the time, and never managed to establish a stock in the wild. Arctic foxes (Alopex lagopus) also escaped from farms now and then in the first half of the 20th century. These were individuals who survived for months in the wild until they were found and shot. Without mates they were unable to multiply.
In the beginning of the 20th century, a few hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) were introduced to Tórshavn, but too few in numbers to establish a population.
Bats are infrequent guests to Faroe, and usually die soon after arrival.
Apart from the local domestic sheep breed called Faroes, the Lítla Dímun sheep, a variety of feral sheep survived on Little Dímun until the mid-19th century. There is also a local breed of horse, the Faroe pony.
From time to time, domestic cats escape into the mountains and go feral. These are usually hunted down as fast as possible, as they do heavy damage to native bird life and the introduced hare population.
Several species of whales live in the waters around the Faroe Islands. Best known are the long-finned pilot whales (Globicephala melas), but the more exotic killer whales (Orcinus orca) sometimes visit the Faroese fjords, and this can lead to a somewhat dangerous encounter if you are in a small boat.
Harbor porpoises are the most frequently sighted cetacea. They frequent the islands year round, though it seems to be in larger numbers around the northern islands than the rest of the country.
Blue whales can sometimes during the months late April to June, be seen migrating north through Hestfjørð and Vestmannasund on the southwest side of Streymoy (if the weather cooperates).
Bottlenose whales have a very strict migrating route, which goes south over the northern part of Suðuroy in August–September, and there are few years where no whales beach themselves on either of the two beaches at the northernmost villages of Hvalba and Sandvík.
Naturally, there were no amphibians in the Faroe Islands. But recently frogs (Rana temporaria) have been introduced to Faroe, and are breeding successfully on Nólsoy. A young toad (Bufo bufo) hibernating on Eysturoy was recorded in 2006; most likely a lost pet.
Flies, moths, spiders, beetles, slugs, snails, earthworms and other small invertebrates are part of the indigenous fauna of the Faroe Islands.
More recent introductions are the New Zealand flatworm, the Spanish slug, and the common wasp which all have become part of the natural fauna.
Cockroaches, black garden ants, pharaoh ants and burgundy snails have also been found, but it is not clear if they have become part of the established fauna.
The bird fauna of the Faroe Islands is dominated by seabirds and birds attracted to open land like heather, probably because of the lack of woodland and other suitable habitats. Many species have developed special Faroese sub-species: common eider, Common starling, Eurasian wren, common murre, and black guillemot. The pied raven was endemic to the Faroe Islands, but has now become extinct.
Only a few species of wild land mammals are found in the Faroe Islands today, all introduced by humans. Three species are thriving on the islands today: mountain hare (Lepus timidus), brown rat (Rattus norvegicus) and the house mouse (Mus musculus). Apart from these, there once was a local domestic sheep breed, the Faroe sheep (depicted on the coat of arms), a variety of feral sheep survived on Lítla Dímun until the mid-19th century.
Grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) are common around the shorelines. Several species of cetacea live in the waters around the Faroe Islands. Best known are the long-finned pilot whales (Globicephala melaena), which are still hunted by the islanders in accordance with longstanding local tradition. Killer whales (Orcinus orca) are regular visitors around the islands.
The domestic animals of the Faroe Islands are a result of 1,200 years of isolated breeding. As a result, many of the islands’ domestic animals are found nowhere else in the world. Faroese domestic breed include Faroe pony, Faroe cow, Faroe sheep, Faroese goose and Faroese duck.
Politics and Government
The Faroese government holds executive power in local government affairs. The head of the government is called the Løgmaður (“Law person”) and serves as a premier. Any other member of the cabinet is called a landsstýrismaður (“national committee man”) or landsstýriskvinna (“national committee woman”). The Faroese parliament – the Løgting (“Law assembly”) – dates back to Viking times and is believed to be one of the oldest parliaments in the world. The parliament currently has 33 members.
In contemporary times, elections are held at municipal, national (Løgting) and Danish (Folketing) levels. Until 2007, there were seven electoral districts, each comprising a sýsla, while Streymoy was divided into a northern and southern part (Tórshavn region). However, on 25 October 2007, changes were made such that the entire country is one electoral district, giving each vote equal weight.
Traditionally, there are also the six sýslur (similar to the British “shire”: Norðoyar, Eysturoy, Streymoy, Vágar, Sandoy and Suðuroy). Although today sýsla technically means “police district”, the term is still commonly used to indicate a geographical region. In earlier times, each sýsla had its own assembly, the so-called várting (“spring assembly”).
Relationship with Denmark
The Faroe Islands have been under Norwegian/Danish control since 1388. The 1814 Treaty of Kiel terminated the Danish-Norwegian union, and Norway came under the rule of the King of Sweden, while the Faroe Islands, Iceland, and Greenland remained Danish possessions. From ancient times the Faroe Islands had a parliament (Løgting) which was abolished in 1816, and the Faroe Islands were to be governed as an ordinary Danish amt (county), with the Amtmand as its head of government. In 1851, the Løgting was reinstated, but, until 1948, served mainly as an advisory body.
The islands are home to a notable independence movement that has seen an increase in popularity within recent decades. At the end of World War II, some of the population favoured independence from Denmark, and on 14 September 1946 an independence referendum was held on the question of secession. It was a consultative referendum; the parliament was not bound to follow the people’s vote. This was the first time that the Faroese people had been asked whether they favoured independence or wanted to continue within the Danish kingdom.
The result of the vote was a narrow majority in favour of secession, but the coalition in parliament could not reach agreement on how this outcome should be interpreted and implemented; and because of these irresoluble differences, the coalition fell apart. A parliamentary election was held a few months later, in which the political parties that favoured staying in the Danish kingdom increased their share of the vote and formed a coalition. Based on this, they chose to reject secession. Instead, a compromise was made and the Folketing passed a home-rule law that went into effect in 1948. The Faroe Islands’ status as a Danish amt was thereby brought to an end; the Faroe Islands were given a high degree of self-governance, supported by a financial subsidy from Denmark to recompense expenses the islands have on Danish services.
At present, the islanders are about evenly split between those favouring independence and those who prefer to continue as a part of the Kingdom of Denmark. Within both camps there is a wide range of opinions. Of those who favour independence, some are in favour of an immediate unilateral declaration of independence. Others see it as something to be attained gradually and with the full consent of the Danish government and the Danish nation. In the unionist camp there are also many who foresee and welcome a gradual increase in autonomy even while strong ties with Denmark are maintained.
As of 2011, a new draft Faroese constitution is being drawn up. However the draft has been declared by the Danish Prime Minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, as incompatible with Denmark’s constitution and if the Faroese political parties wish to continue with it then they must declare independence.
Relationship with the European Union
As explicitly asserted by both treaties of the European Union, the Faroe Islands are not part of the European Union. The Faroes are not grouped with the EU when it comes to international trade; for instance, when the EU and Russia imposed reciprocal trade sanctions on each other over the War in Donbass in 2014, the Faroes began exporting significant amounts of fresh salmon to Russia. Moreover, a protocol to the treaty of accession of Denmark to the European Communities stipulates that Danish nationals residing in the Faroe Islands are not considered Danish nationals within the meaning of the treaties. Hence, Danish people living in the Faroes are not citizens of the European Union (though other EU nationals living there remain EU citizens). The Faroes are not covered by the Schengen Agreement, but there are no border checks when travelling between the Faroes and any Schengen country (the Faroes have been part of the Nordic Passport Union since 1966, and since 2001 there have been no permanent border checks between the Nordic countries and the rest of the Schengen Area as part of the Schengen agreement).
Relationship with international organisations
The Faroe Islands are not a fully independent country, but they do have political relations directly with other countries through agreement with Denmark. The Faroe Islands are a member of some international organisations as though they were an independent country.
The Faroe Islands are a member of several international sports federations like UEFA, FIFA in football and FINA in swimming and EHF in handball and have their own national teams. The Faroe Islands have their own telephone country code, Internet country code top-level domain, banking code and postal country code.
The Faroe Islands make their own agreements with other countries regarding trade and commerce. When the EU embargo against Russia started in 2014, the Faroe Islands were not a part of the embargo because they are not a part of EU, and the islands had just themselves experienced a year of embargo from the EU including Denmark against the islands; the Faroese prime minister Kaj Leo Johannesen went to Moscow to negotiate the trade between the two countries. The Faroese minister of fisheries negotiates with the EU and other countries regarding the rights to fish.
The vast majority of the population are ethnic Faroese, of Norse and Celtic descent. 300 women from the Philippines and Thailand make up the largest ethnic minority in the Faroes.
Recent DNA analyses have revealed that Y chromosomes, tracing male descent, are 87% Scandinavian. The studies show that mitochondrial DNA, tracing female descent, is 84% Celtic.There is a gender deficit of about 2,000 women owing to migration.
The total fertility rate of the Faroe Islands is currently one of the highest in Europe. The fertility rate is 2.409 children born per woman (2015 est.).
The 2011 census shows that of the approximately 48,600 inhabitants of the Faroe Islands (17,441 private households in 2011), 43,135 were born in the Faroe Islands, 3597 were born in the other two countries of the Kingdom of Denmark (Denmark or Greenland), and 1,614 were born outside the Kingdom of Denmark. People were also asked about their nationality, including Faroese. Children under 15 were not asked about their nationality. 97% said that they were ethnic Faroese, which means that many of those who were born in either Denmark or Greenland consider themselves as ethnic Faroese. The other 3% of those older than 15 said they were not Faroese: 515 were Danish, 433 were from other European countries, 147 came from Asia, 65 from Africa, 55 from the Americas, 23 from Russia. The Faroe Islands have people from 77 different nationalities.
Only with the rise of the deep-sea fishery (and thus independence from agriculture in the islands’ harsh terrain) and with general progress in the health service was rapid population growth possible in the Faroes. Beginning in the 19th century, the population increased tenfold in 200 years.
At the beginning of the 1990s, the Faroe Islands entered a deep economic crisis leading to heavy emigration; however, this trend reversed in subsequent years to a net immigration. This has been in the form of a population replacement as young Faroese women leave and are replaced with Asian/Pacific brides. In 2011 there were 2,155 more men than women between the age of 0 to 59 in the Faroe Islands.
The Faroese population is spread across most of the area; it was not until recent decades that significant urbanisation occurred. Industrialisation has been remarkably decentralised, and the area has therefore maintained quite a viable rural culture. Nevertheless, villages with poor harbour facilities have been the losers in the development from agriculture to fishing, and in the most peripheral agricultural areas, also known as Útoyggjar “Outer Islands”, there are few young people. In recent decades, the village-based social structure has nevertheless been placed under pressure, giving way to a rise in interconnected “centres” that are better able to provide goods and services than the badly connected periphery. This means that shops and services are now relocating en masse from the villages into the centres, and slowly but steadily the Faroese population is concentrating in and around the centres.
In the 1990s, the government abandoned the old national policy of developing the villages (Bygdamenning), and instead began a process of regional development (Økismenning). The term “region” referred to the large islands of the Faroes. Nevertheless, the government was unable to press through the structural reform of merging small rural municipalities to create sustainable, decentralised entities that could drive forward regional development. As regional development has been difficult on the administrative level, the government has instead invested heavily in infrastructure, interconnecting the regions.
In general, it is becoming less valid to regard the Faroes as a society based on separate islands and regions. The huge investments in roads, bridges and sub-sea tunnels (see also Transport in the Faroe Islands) have bound the islands together, creating a coherent economic and cultural sphere that covers almost 90% of the population. From this perspective it is reasonable to regard the Faroes as a dispersed city or even to refer to it as the Faroese Network City.
Faroese is spoken in the entire area as a first language. It is difficult to say exactly how many people worldwide speak the Faroese language, because many ethnic Faroese live in Denmark, and few who are born there return to the Faroes with their parents or as adults.
The Faroese language is one of the smallest of the Germanic languages. Written Faroese (grammar and vocabulary) is most similar to Icelandic and to their ancestor Old Norse, though the spoken language is closer to Norwegian dialects of Western Norway. Although Faroese is the official language on the islands, Danish is taught in schools and can be used by the Faroese government in public relations. Faroese language policy provides for the active creation of new terms in Faroese suitable for modern life.
According to the Færeyinga saga, Sigmundur Brestisson brought Christianity to the islands in 999. However, archaeology at a site in Toftanes, Leirvík named Bønhústoftin (English: prayer-house ruin) and over a dozen slabs from Ólansgarður in the small island of Skúvoy which in the main display encircled linear and outline crosses, suggest that Celtic Christianity may have arrived at least 150 years earlier.The Faroe Islands’ Church Reformation was completed on 1 January 1540. According to official statistics from 2002, 84.1% of the Faroese population are members of the state church, the Church of the Faroe Islands (Fólkakirkjan), a form of Lutheranism. The Fólkakirkjan became an independent church in 2007; previously it had been a diocese within the Church of Denmark. Faroese members of the clergy who have had historical importance include Venceslaus Ulricus Hammershaimb (1819–1909), Fríðrikur Petersen (1853–1917) and, perhaps most significantly, Jákup Dahl (1878–1944), who had a great influence in ensuring that the Faroese language was spoken in the church instead of Danish. Participation in churches is more prevalent among the Faroese population than among most other Scandinavians.
In the late 1820s, the Christian Evangelical religious movement, the Plymouth Brethren, was established in England. In 1865, a member of this movement, William Gibson Sloan, travelled to the Faroes from Shetland. At the turn of the 20th century, the Faroese Plymouth Brethren numbered thirty. Today, around 10% of the Faroese population are members of the Open Brethren community (Brøðrasamkoman). About 3% belong to the Charismatic Movement, which started somewhere around the late 1920s, but had its zenith in the 1970s–1980s. There are several charismatic churches around the islands, the largest of which, called Keldan (The Spring), has about 200 to 300 members. About 2% belong to other Christian groups. The Adventists operate a private school in Tórshavn. Jehovah’s Witnesses also have four congregations with a total of 121 members. The Roman Catholic congregation has about 170 members and falls under the jurisdiction of Denmark’s Roman Catholic Diocese of Copenhagen. The municipality of Tórshavn has an old Franciscan school.
There are also around fifteen Bahá’ís who meet at four different places. The Ahmadiyyas established a community in the Faroe Islands in 2010. Unlike Denmark, Sweden and Iceland with Forn Siðr, the Faroes have no organised Heathen community.
The best-known church buildings in the Faroe Islands include Tórshavn Cathedral, Olaf II of Norway’s Church, and the Magnus Cathedral in Kirkjubøur; the Vesturkirkjan and the Maria Church, both of which are situated in Tórshavn; the church of Fámjin; the octagonal church in Haldórsvík; Christianskirkjan in Klaksvík; and also the two pictured here.
In 1948, Victor Danielsen (Plymouth Brethren) completed the first Bible translation into Faroese from different modern languages. Jacob Dahl and Kristian Osvald Viderø (Fólkakirkjan) completed the second translation in 1961. The latter was translated from the original Biblical languages (Hebrew and Greek) into Faroese.
According to the 2011 Census, there were 33,018 Christians (95.44%), 23 Muslims (0.07%), 7 Hindus (0.02%), 66 Buddhists (0.19%), 12 Jews (0.03%), 13 Baha’i (0.04%), 3 Sikhs (0.01%), 149 others (0.43%), 85 with more than one belief (0.25%) and 1397 with no religion (4.04%).
The levels of education in the Faroe Islands are primary, secondary and higher education. Most institutions are funded by the state; there are few private schools in the country. Education is compulsory for 9 years between the ages of 7 and 16.
Compulsory education consists of seven years of primary education, and two years of lower secondary education; it is public, free of charge, provided by the respective municipalities, and is called the Fólkaskúli in Faroese. The Fólkaskúli also provides optional preschool education as well as the tenth year of education that is a prerequisite to get admitted to upper secondary education. Students that complete compulsory education are allowed to continue education in a vocational school, where they can have job-specific training and education. Since the fishing industry is an important part of country’s economy, maritime schools are an important part of Faroese education. Upon completion of the tenth year of Fólkaskúli, students can continue to upper secondary education which consists of several different types of schools. Higher education is offered at the University of the Faroe Islands; a part of Faroese youth moves abroad to pursue higher education, mainly in Denmark. Other forms of education comprise adult education and music schools. The structure of the Faroese educational system bears resemblances with its Danish counterpart.
In the 12th century, education was provided by the Catholic Church in the Faroe Islands. The Church of Denmark took over education after the Protestant Reformation. Modern educational institutions started operating in the last quarter of the nineteenth century and developed throughout the twentieth century. The status of the Faroese language in education was a significant issue for decades, until it was accepted as a language of instruction in 1938. Initially education was administered and regulated by Denmark. In 1979 responsibilities on educational issues started transferring to the Faroese authorities, a procedure which was completed in 2002.
The Ministry of Education, Research and Culture has the jurisdiction of educational responsibility in the Faroe Islands. Since the Faroe Islands is a constituent country of the Danish Realm, education in the Faroe Islands is influenced and has similarities with the Danish educational system; there is an agreement on educational cooperation between the Faroe Islands and Denmark. In 2012 the public spending on education was 8.1% of GDP. The municipalities are responsible for the school buildings for children’s education in Fólkaskúlin from age 1st grade to 9th or 10th grade (age 7 to 16). In November 2013 1,615 people, or 6.8% of the total number of employees, were employed in the education sector. Of the 31,270 people aged 25 and above 1,717 (5.5%) have gained at least a master’s degrees or a Ph.D., 8,428 (27%) have gained a B.Sc. or a diploma, 11,706 (37.4%) have finished upper secondary education while 9,419 (30.1%) has only finished primary school and have no other education. There is no data on literacy in the Faroe Islands, but the CIA Factbook states that it is probably as high as in Denmark proper, i.e. 99%.
The majority of students in upper secondary schools are women, although men represent the majority in higher education institutions. In addition, most young Faroese people who relocate to other countries to study are women. Out of 8,535 holders of bachelor degrees, 4,796 (56.2%) have had their education in the Faroe Islands, 2,724 (31.9%) in Denmark, 543 in both the Faroe Islands and Denmark, 94 (1.1%) in Norway, 80 in the United Kingdom and the rest in other countries. Out of 1,719 holders of master’s degrees or PhDs, 1,249 (72.7% have had their education in Denmark, 87 (5.1%) in the United Kingdom, 86 (5%) in both the Faroe Islands and Denmark, 64 (3.7%) in the Faroe Islands, 60 (3.5%) in Norway and the rest in other countries (mostly EU and Nordic). Since there is no medical school in the Faroe Islands, all medical students have to study abroad; as of 2013, out of a total of 96 medical students, 76 studied in Denmark, 19 in Poland and 1 in Hungary.
Economic troubles caused by a collapse of the Faroese fishing industry in the early 1990s brought high unemployment rates of 10 to 15% by the mid-1990s. Unemployment decreased in the later 1990s, down to about 6% at the end of 1998. By June 2008 unemployment had declined to 1.1%, before rising to 3.4% in early 2009. In December 2014 the unemployment was 3.2%. Nevertheless, the almost total dependence on fishing and fish farming means that the economy remains vulnerable. One of the biggest private companies of the Faroe Islands is the salmon farming company Bakkafrost, which is the largest of the four salmon farming companies in the Faroe Islands and the eighth biggest in the world.
13% of the Faroe Islands’ national income comes as economic aid from Denmark. This corresponds to roughly 5% of GDP.
Since 2000, the government has fostered new information technology and business projects to attract new investment. The introduction of Burger King in Tórshavn was widely publicized as a sign of the globalization of Faroese culture. It remains to be seen whether these projects will succeed in broadening the islands’ economic base. The islands have one of the lowest unemployment rates in Europe, but this should not necessarily be taken as a sign of a recovering economy, as many young students move to Denmark and other countries after leaving high school. This leaves a largely middle-aged and elderly population that may lack the skills and knowledge to fill newly developed positions on the Faroes. Nonetheless, in 2008 the Faroes were able to make a $52 million loan to Iceland to help with that country’s banking woes.
On 5 August 2009, two opposition parties introduced a bill in the Løgting to adopt the euro as the national currency, pending a referendum.
By air, the government owned Atlantic Airways provides helicopter service to each of the islands. Atlantic Airways and other airlines have scheduled international flights to Vágar Airport, the islands’ only airport. All civil aviation matters are controlled from the Civil Aviation Administration Denmark.
By sea, the Smyril Line operates a regular international passenger, car and freight service linking the Faroe Islands with Seyðisfjörður, Iceland and Hirtshals, Denmark.
Because of the rocky terrain in the Faroe Islands, its road transport system was not as extensive as in other places of the world. This situation has now changed, and the infrastructure has been developed extensively. Some 80 percent of the population of the islands is connected by tunnels through the mountains and between the islands, bridges and causeways that link the three largest islands and three other larger and smaller islands to the northeast together. While the other two large islands to the south of the main area, Sandoy and Suðuroy, are connected to the main area with ferries, the small islands Koltur and Stóra Dímun have no ferry connection, only helicopter service. Other small islands—Mykines in the west, Kalsoy, Svínoy and Fugloy in the north, Hestur west of Streymoy, and Nólsoy east of Tórshavn—have smaller ferries and some of these islands even have helicopter service. In February 2014 all the political parties of the Løgting agreed on making two subsea tunnels, one between Streymoy and Eysturoy (the Eysturoyartunnilin) and one between Streymoy and Sandoy (Sandoyartunnilin). The plan is that both tunnels should open in 2021 and they will not be private. The work to make the Eysturoy-tunnel started on 1 March 2016 above the village Hvítanes near Tórshavn.