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20 things you didn't know about The Faroe Islands


Fairytale  landscape: The Faroe Islands

Fairytale landscape: The Faroe Islands

Star player Gunnar Nielsen

Star player Gunnar Nielsen

Fairytale landscape: The Faroe Islands

Ahead of Northern Ireland's clash at Windsor Park tonight, Joanne Fleming uncovers interesting facts about the rivals.

1. Irish hermit monks, are now thought to be the earliest settlers of the Faroe Islands. They arrived in the sixth century, bringing with them sheep as well as early Irish language. The Vikings landed by 900AD.

2. The Faroe Islands, formed by volcanic activity 30 million years ago, are now a cultural melting pot with 77 nationalities among its population of only 48,000.

3. The Faroe Islands are one of very few countries in Europe to have no McDonalds outlets. You can, however, find a Burger King, in Torshavn if you're in need of a fast food fix.

4. The country's football team won their first competitive match against Austria in September 1990, which prompted a massive Faroese party.

5. There are three traffic lights on the Faroe Islands. All are in the capital Torshavn and are very close to each other.

6. Crime doesn't appear to be rife. There is no prison on the Faroe Islands and any long-term prisoners get sent off to Denmark.

7. Streymin bridge is the only bridge over the Atlantic Ocean in the world, connecting the island Streymoy to Eysturoy.

8. The Faroese language, spoken by all Faroese people, is most similar to Icelandic and the now extinct Old Norse language. English is also widely spoken, especially among the younger people.

9. Not sure where the Faroe Islands are exactly? They lie northwest of Scotland and halfway between Iceland and Norway. It is composed of 18 individual islands covering 545 square miles, 70 miles long and 46 miles wide, roughly in the shape of an arrow-head. On the islands you are never more than three miles from the ocean.

10. Star player Gunnar Nielsen, a goalkeeper for the Scottish team Motherwell, is the only footballer from the Faroe Islands to play in a Premier League. Manchester City is among his former clubs.

11. Birdwatching is popular. There are many puffins to see – around 10 times as many as there are humans – plus oystercatchers and other rare birds.

12. Your most likely company out and about is sheep. Some farmers have started putting reflective straps on their sheeps' legs so they won't get run over in bad weather and poor visibility.

13. The Faroe Islands are not far from the southern end of the Arctic Circle. Considering their high latitude, the islands are not as cold as you might expect, with average temperatures of 3C in winter and 11C in summer.

14. Considered to have a 'fairytale' landscape, the Faroe Islands are covered by a blindingly green grassland that carpet the islands from the base up to the highest mountains, although few trees survive because of the North Atlantic winds.

15. National Geographic recently elected the Faroe Islands as the world's most appealing island community, out of 111 island destinations worldwide. They are noted for their friendliness.

16. The weather in the islands changes so quickly and frequently that a well-known Faroese saying is 'If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes'.

17. The Faroese drink in sheebeens, known as key clubs – set up in secret when alcohol was banned on the islands. These dens were so popular they stayed open when prohibition ended. There is an Irish pub called, imaginatively, 'Irish Pub'. It is said to serve the best beer on the islands.

18. One of the Faroes' best football results came in September 2002. They raced into a 2-0 lead against Scotland, before their opponents fought back for a draw. The result was a major embarrassment to Scotland. One headline read: 'Faroes 2 Fairies 2'.

19. Fishing is the islands' single most important industry, providing more than 97% of the total exports. The second largest industry, perhaps surprisingly, is tourism.

20. The Faroes are a self-governing community within the Kingdom of Denmark.

Five fun facts about the Republic's opponents Gibraltar

1. Gibraltar has the only wild monkey population in the European continent, and the monkeys are thriving. But whatever you do, don't feed them – you could be slapped with a £4,000 fine. The free-roaming and tail-less barbary macaques make occasional forays into town where they run amok foraging in rubbish bins and harassing locals.

2. Legend has it that Gibraltar will cease to be British if the monkeys leave. This legend was taken very seriously by the British Government, so much so that the Army used to be responsible for their care. However, this week Gibraltar rounded up its 30 most troublesome monkeys for a new life in a Scottish safari park.

3. The official language is English, but Gibraltar has its own peculiar dialect – a blend of English, Spanish, Genoese and local words. The common name for the dialect is 'llanito' and locals are known for passing seamlessly from English to Spanish at lightning speed.

4. Gibraltar was used as a location in the 1987 James Bond movie The Living Daylights. The scene filmed saw James Bond and other agents parachuting from a plane on to the Upper Rock .

5. The tiny colony may be one of the smallest countries in the world, with a population of just 30,000, but it is considered one of the most prosperous places in Europe to do business. M&S, Morrisons and Next also all operate on Gibraltar.

Belfast Telegraph