Why dont Orcadians like to hear
the islands referred to as "the Orkneys"?
the same way you wouldnt refer to "the Irelands", "the New
Zealands" or "the Hawaiis", Orcadians don't refer to the islands
as "the Orkneys". However it is a common mistake made by visitors and
the national, and international, media.
It is just "Orkney".
speaking the name is already plural as "Orkney" is simply a shortened
version of the Old Norse "Orkneyjar", meaning "Seal Islands"
also: Is 'The Orkneys' ever right? by Dr Peter Anderson)
What about the main island -
what's it called?
Orcadians simply refer to it as the
It is becoming more common to hear visitors
and incomers calling it "Mainland" and talking about "their trip
around Mainland" or "we spent three days on Mainland".
is something an Orcadian will never say.
It's a trip around "the Mainland"
or "we spent three days on the Mainland."
I've heard the Mainland is also called "Pomona"
name, which is never used by Orcadians, stems from a mistranslation of an early
Roman passage. Click here for full details.
Do the people of Orkney speak Gaelic?
Gaelic was never spoken in Orkney, unless the language of the Picts - the inhabitants
of the islands before the Norsemen took them - was an early form of Gaelic. This is itself highly debatable.
Norse settled the isles from the 8th century onwards and brought with them
their own language, Old Norse, which replaced the Pictish language.
Norse adapted over the years into the language known as Norn,
which remained the language of the rural Orcadians until finally dying out in
the 18th century.
Orkneys placenames are more or less completely derived from Old Norse with only handful of possible
Gaelic "borrowed" words.
So can I learn Orkney Norn?
No. Only a few scraps of the language
Few Orcadian speakers of Norn had the inclination,
or the ability, to write. So, when the language was finally overtaken by Scots,
it simply vanished. On saying that however, elements of Norn still exist
within Orcadian dialect.
more details on Norn, click here.
My family are from Orkney.
Why dont they have a tartan or belong to a clan?
simply tartan, clans, bagpipes et al, are traditions from the Scottish Highlands.
Orkney and Shetland never operated under the clan system,
with surnames either being patronymic - i.e. Sigurd Erlendson - or changeable
until the eighteenth century.
As an example, surnames more
commonly came from where the person was actually from. To a certain extent this
still exists today.
David Towrie of Clickimin, for example,
would generally be referred to locally only as David o Clickimin.This was
more common in early years, so a person's surname might change over a period of
years as he moved from dwelling to dwelling. However, Jimmy Leonard of Langskaill
might leave Langskaill after many years but would always be referred to thereafter
as "Cheemy o' Langskaill".
Using the fictional
character, John, who moved from the Orkney Mainland onto one of the islands, say
Rousay. There he might be referred to as John Mainland. Moving back to the Mainland
a few years later he may become John Rousay etc etc.
such tartans, clans and all the associated trappings are not a part of the islands'
Does Orkney have a flag?
For years, Orcadians flew the "Cross of St Magnus" as pictured top right.
However, this flag was not recognised
by the Scotland's heraldic authority, the Lord Lyon King of Arms, who decreed
it could not be sanctioned for official use.
The reason? The design, he said, was too similar to a number of coat-of-arms, in particular the old
arms of the Kingdom of Ulster.
However, some supporters insisted
that Orkney has a right to use the flag, the design of which, say some, was that
of the flag of the Kalmar Union -- a union of Norway, Sweden and Denmark from
1397 until 1512. Click
here for more details.
The protests were in vain, however, and, in April 2007, a new design was chosen from a number submitted by members of the public.
The favoured design was submitted by Duncan Tullock, from Birsay, and featured a blue and yellow Nordic cross on a red background.
Is it true it never gets
dark in the summer?
More or less. At midsummer, June 21, the sun
only sets around 10.30pm, but even then barely dips below the western horizon. As a result,
there are no real hours of darkness, merely an extended twilight period.
this time it is perfectly possible to read outdoors at midnight.
here for more on the summer and winter solstice.
What is Udal Law?
There has been some concern in the Northern
Isles recently that the traditional rights afforded to people in Orkney and Shetland
under the ancient Norse system of udal law will be scrapped as a result of proposals
being considered by the Scottish Law Commission.
of Udal Law, as applies to Orkney, remains a contentious subject – over
1,000 years since Norse settlers first introduced it to the islands.
what exactly is Udal Law?
At the root of Udal law was the
principle of the bonder – farmers who owned their properties outright
and owed fealty to no superior.
But although the udal system
meant the bonder had no immediate superior, there were still obligations to the
Norwegian Crown. Not only was a udaller expected to take up arms for the Norwegian
King if required, but he also paid scat – a form of tax to the
The other main distinction between udal and feudal
law was the manner in which land was passed on. In Udal Law no written deed was
required to transfer udal land and agreements were concluded verbally.
meant a lack of written deeds, a fact that led to problems after Orkney was annexed
to Scotland. Not only did the system baffle the Scots, but it was also extensively
abused and Scottish landowners used the lack of deeds to appropriate land from
After death, udal property was passed to the
udaller’s offspring – daughters receiving half as much as the sons.
Inevitably, this practice led to fragmentation of land.
Law also included, and still includes, ownership of the foreshore. This extended
to the lowest point of the ebb, and also the ground further out, or marebakke,
which is where the foreshore becomes steep at a depth of from two to five metres at
the ebb tide.