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  The Brough of Birsay

The Norse Period

Picture Sigurd TowrieDespite 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.

Picture Sigurd TowrieAccording 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.

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