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  Jo Ben's 1529 "Descriptions of Orkney"


Dierness, as it were the Ness of Diers.

This parish in old times was wooded and many wild beasts were found here; at length, floods coming, the trees were up-rooted and were submerged.

In the north part of the parish there is, in the sea, a natural rock where the people on hands and knees ascend to the top with great difficulty*.

On it is a chapel [sanctuary] called the Bairns of Brugh**. Hither flock together from various islands men, youths, boys, old people, and servants innumerable, in truth coming with naked feet, as formerly related; they ascend praying, where none except one at a time can come to the chapel.

Here is a well [spring], pure and sparkling, which is indeed wonderful.

Then the people on bended knees and with clasped hands, without confidence in the God that is, supplicate the bairns of Brugh with many incantations, throwing stones and water behind them, and walking twice or thrice round the chapel. Having finished their orations they return home, affirming that they have performed their vows.

Here they do not worship God purely.

In the year 1506, John Stewart Donnensis and Tartensis in the north landed in Orkney and discovered a gold mine in this parish.

After loading two ships and having prepared sand ballast for others, and when, with the workmen in the gold mine, a crow called aloud three times; the master and some others came out, but five being left, a large stone fell and suffocated the five, all the others being saved***.

* - The Brough o' Deerness.
** - Although it is tempting to equate this name, the Bairns of Brugh, with the infant graves found during excavations in the 1970s, it is more likely Jo Ben's attempt to anglicise the Norn term "baenhus", literally "prayer house".
*** - This is remarkably similar to the Deerness folktale of the crow and the Rose o' Kytton.

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