The Norse Period
Despite the significance the island had to the
pre-Norse Orcadians, to the modern visitor it is the later Viking
remains that are by far the most prominent.
From the ninth century AD until the twelfth century,
the Brough was a Norse settlement and from the gently sloping hillside
leading up from the Brough's south-eastern shore are the lower courses
of an extensive settlement that includes some of the finest examples
of Norse hall-houses so far found in Scotland.
The Brough was perhaps most prominent during the
reign of the Norse earl Thorfinn the Mighty (1014-1065) who controlled
a vast area extending from Shetland down through the west coast
of Scotland and into Ireland.
According to the Orkneyinga
Saga, Birsay was Thorfinn's seat of power, and tradition
has it that the remains of the more elaborate structures on the
Brough were once his headquarters.
Between the cliffs and the kirkyard are a series
of stone walls that represent different stages of construction at
the site, ranging from the 800AD to 1200AD.
The church on the Brough was one of the later
additions to the settlement. Built in the twelfth century it was
served by a clergy who were housed in purpose-built dwellings to
the north of the kirk.