The Great Orme - Llandudno - Wales

Genealogy Index | Orme in Europe

The Great Orme and the Little Orme are limestone hills at either side of Orme's Bay. Part of the Great Orme is known as Orme's Head, possibly from the Old Norse 'Orms ætt' - meaning Orme's family or clan; and likewise Orme's Bay may be a corruption of Ormesby, the Old Norse 'by' means farm or enclosure.

The Great Orme, Llandudno, Wales
The Great Orme, Llandudno, Wales (Source: Wikipedia)

There are far flung branches of the Orme family who have a tradition of Welsh ancestry. This is not impossible, but to put it in proper context please read the 'Orme in Wales' item. Some of them refer to a 'General Orme' or 'Captain Orme' who landed in the bay at Llandudno.

A gentleman who grew up in Llandudno has passed on a story that he was taught at school there in the 1950's, it is basically the same as the family folklore:

"A party of Vikings led by a father and son, both named Orme, landed in the bay and unloaded their boats to show that they intended to stay. The local population were understandably alarmed, but quickly came to realise that welcoming the strangers would be preferable to a fight in which men would die on both sides, and that having a few Vikings there would discourage any future invasion or piracy. So, the Orme family were made welcome and they built their houses and farms in the hills. They soon integrated into the local community and became respected local leaders. When the father died, he was buried on the hill that became known as the Great Orme. His son was later buried on the hill at the other side of the bay - the Little Orme."

There is an opinion, widely distributed on the Internet and based upon a single book, suggesting that the Great Orme was so named because it looks like an Orme (serpent) when viewed from the sea. Personally, I always doubt any statement that begins with 'It is said that ...' . Every other place in the world that has 'Orme' in its name was named after a person called Orme who either lived there or did something there, I see no reason why Orme's Bay and the Great and Little Ormes should be an exception. Norsemen and Danes were active in the area in the 9th and 10th centuries and it is unlikely that a Norse placename would evolve unless there were Norsemen or Danes living there.

A recent archaeological excavation (2001) on the island of Anglesey, not far from the Great Orme, has confirmed the presence of Vikings (the local people were already well aware of the fact).

[BBC news story: Skeleton at Llanbedrgoch, Anglesey, sheds light on Viking Age]

The Great Orme would have held the same appeal for Vikings as Anglesey - farmland with a nearby copper mine and a good beach to land boats on. Another archaeological site has yet to be excavated, it is on the landward slope of the Great Orme* and was noted down as 'evidence of farming' and 'a rectangular long-hut'. Since the indigenous Celts lived in round huts, perhaps 'a Viking long-house' would be a better description?

The suppression of Welsh literature and the Welsh language itself by English rulers and governments in the past has resulted in an extreme lack of information about Wales during the Viking era. Some of the Icelandic Sagas, however, refer to raids in Bretland (Wales); though the number of Norse placenames when compared with the rest of the British Isles suggests that there were few settlements - or that Vikings were driven out when Rhodri Mawr united the Welsh armies to oppose Vikings, the fact that this was necessary suggests that Wales was being overrun. Irish Annals record that a Viking leader named Orme*, who was based in Ireland, was slain in Wales by Rhodri Mawr in 855a.d..


* Exact location witheld. It is on private land and should not be disturbed unless by the appropriate experts.

* The name Orme is spelled Horm in the Irish records, in Irish Gaelic an 'H' was often added to words beginning with a vowel so we can safely dispense with it here.


Additional Links