“Under Brinkie’s Brae” (1980)

The following “Under Brinkie’s Brae” columns by George Mackay Brown were published in the Orcadian during 1980 and were signed with initials only. Most were reprinted in GMB’s Rockpools and Daffodils (1992), cited here as RD.


3 January 1980, p. 7. “We still retain some shadow of the ancient Christmas that lasted 12 days.” ¶ 10 January 1980, p. 4. Robert Rendall’s books should be reprinted. ¶ 17 January 1980, p. 4. A meditation on the lives of the earliest inhabitants of the Orkney islands. Repr. RD 20–21. ¶ 24 January 1980, p. 4. Description of a very early (but undated) souvenir booklet about “Stromness and Vicinity.” Repr. RD 21–22.

7 February 1980, p. 4. The pleasures of examining Ordnance Survey maps of Orkney. Repr. RD 22–23. ¶ 14 February 1980, p. 4. Memories of exploring Stromness’s interesting closes. Repr. RD 23–24. ¶ 21 February 1980, p. 4. Recollections of Gray’s Pier (which still existed in his younger days). Repr. RD 24–25.

6 March 1980, p. 4. About his diary-keeping. Repr. RD 25. ¶ 13 March 1980, p. 6. “We do not realise sometimes what a powerful force television is in our lives.” ¶ 20 March 1980, p. 4. A fictionalized account of Bessie Millie’s encounter with John Gow. ¶ 27 March 1980, p. 4. Spring has arrived – but “now, suddenly, Winter is back!”

3 April 1980, p. 6. Poems in childhood. ¶ 10 April 1980, p. 4. A walk along the shore on Palm Sunday. Repr. RD 26. ¶ 17 April 1980, p. 4. A discussion of the plays of Sean O’Casey. Repr. RD 26–27. ¶ 24 April 1980, p. 4. On the anniversary of the death of St. Magnus, he visits Birsay; a day earlier he was at St. Magnus Cathedral and saw where his bones were immured. Repr. RD 27–28.

1 May 1980, p. 4. April and daffodils. ¶ 8 May 1980, p. 4. May Day; the failure of his television. ¶ 15 May 1980, p. 4. Memories of World War Two. Repr. RD 28–29. ¶ 22 May 1980, p. 4. The warmth and sunshine of spring. ¶ 29 May 1980, p. 4. Possible local subjects for Orkney authors to write about. Repr. RD 29–30.

5 June 1980, p. 4. Days spent in the country when he was a boy. Repr. RD 30. ¶ 12 June 1980, p. 4. A walk up Brinkie’s Brae. Repr. RD 31. ¶ 19 June 1980, p. 6. A fierce thunderstorm. Repr. RD 31–32. ¶ 26 June 1980, p. 4. The opening of the Corrigall Farm Museum. Repr. RD 32–33.

3 July 1980, p. 4. A visit to Rackwick on Hoy. ¶ 10 July 1980, p. 4. A series of paintings by children of St. Magnus and the construction of the St. Magnus Cathedral. Repr. RD 33–34. ¶ 17 July 1980, p. 6. The pronunciation of Orkney place names. Repr. RD 34–35. ¶ 24 July 1980, p. 4. “It has been a good summer in Orkney so far.” ¶ 31 July 1980, p. 4. Walking around Stromness early in the morning on the third day of Shopping Week.

7 August 1980, p. 4. “Summer passes, so quickly. Today is the first of August. In a few weeks’ time the shadows of autumn will begin to cluster around us.” ¶14 August 1980, p. 6. “Where have all the insects gone this summer?” ¶ 21 August 1980, p. 6. What it must have been like for young Orkneymen forced to serve on ships two centuries ago. Repr. RD 35. ¶ 28 August 1980, p. 4. An excursion on the sailing ship Marques to Rousay. Repr. RD 36.

4 September 1980, p. 6. The end of summer. ¶ 11 September 1980, p. 4. British and other monarchs who have visited Orkney through the centuries. Repr. RD 36–37. ¶ 18 September 1980, p. 6. “. . . to sail from Norway to Orkney on a Viking longship must have been a deeply uncomfortable experience.” ¶ 25 September 1980, p. 4. Again, the end of summer. Repr. RD 37–38.

2 October 1980, p. 4. The story of Hundi, the son of Earl Sigurd, who was taken hostage. Repr. RD 38–39. ¶ 9 October 1980, p. 4. “October has come in with a half-tempest from the south-west.” ¶ 16 October 1980, p. 4. Accounts of crime on television and heroism in the Orcadian. Repr. RD 39–40. ¶ 23 October 1980, p. 4. “One of the great life-experiences is to come, unexpectedly, upon a writer whose work leaves one struck through with admiration and praise.” ¶ 30 October 1980, p. 4. Halloween in the past.

6 November 1980, p. 4. Memories of early gramophones and wireless sets – and now the arrival of television. ¶ 13 November 1980, p. 4. Guy Fawkes day. Repr. RD 40–41. ¶ 20 November 1980, p. 6. The Orkney habit of understatement. Repr. RD 41. ¶ 27 November 1980, p. 4. The loss of older words in Orkney: “More and more our speech is approximating to Standard English; with, it’s true, the music of the islands in them still.” Repr. RD 41–42.

4 December 1980, p. 6. Various thoughts on a cold winter day. ¶ 11 December 1980, p. 4. Memories of the sweeties he bought during early boyhood. Repr. RD 42–43. ¶ 18 December 1980, p. 6. Reflections on the changing seasons in antiquity. Repr. RD 43–44. ¶  25 December 1980, p. 4. An Orcadian version of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, with Rolph Scroogeson as the central character. Repr. RD 44–45.

GMB — Letter from Hamnavoe (1973)

The following “Letter from Hamnavoe” columns by George Mackay Brown were published in the Orcadian during 1973 and were signed with initials only. Most were reprinted in GMB’s Letters from Hamnavoe (1979), cited here as LH.


4 January 1973, p. 3. The South End of Stromness, where he lives, was once a much more lively part of town. Repr. LH 65–66. ¶ 11 January 1973, p. 3. Holiday advertisements in the Sunday newspapers. “There is magic in Orkney indeed in summer, but it is not the kind of magic that can be caught in holiday brochures, even with the help of coloured photographs. The essence of Orkney’s magic is silence, loneliness, and the deep marvellous rhythms of sea and land, darkness and light.” Repr. LH 66–67. ¶ 18 January 1973, p. 3. An imaginary account of how Robert Burns might have traced his ancestry to the island of Sanday. Repr. LH 67–68. ¶ 25 January 1973, p. 4. How he cooks for himself. Repr. LH 68.

1 February 1973, p. 4. He imagines what it was like when the first wheelbarrow arrived in Stromness. Repr. LH 38–69. ¶ 8 February 1973, p. 4. He thinks about a potential volcanic eruption near Stromness. ¶ 15 February 1973, p. 4. Trying to write while suffering from the flu. Repr. LH 69–70. ¶ 22 February 1973, p. 3. “The first snow for two winters has come to the islands, and is reluctant to go away. . . . But where are the sledges? . . . One grows old, and forgets. But I swear there seem to be far fewer snow vehicles than there used to be 40 years ago.” Repr. LH 70.

1 March 1973, p. 4. Memories of being a Celtic supporter when he was in school. Repr. LH 70–71. ¶ 8 March 1973, p. 4. Recounts the legend of Helen Waters and Henry Stewart (the latter of whom disappeared just before their wedding); concludes by wondering whether the story is true. Repr. LH 72–73. ¶ 15 March 1973, p. 4. A visit to the site of the battle of Summerdale (1529) on Orkney. Repr. LH 73–74. ¶ 22 March 1973, p. 4. His memories of the first air raid on Orkney in March 1940. Repr. LH 74–75. ¶ 29 March 1973, p. 4. Remembering the record players of his childhood.

5 April 1973, p. 4. A discussion of some of the most important books about Orkney and his recollections of purchasing them. Repr. LH 75. ¶ 12 April 1973, p. 4. Foul weather and a disturbing television drama. ¶ 19 April 1973, p. 4. Watching the Eurovision Song Contest on television; Picasso; various scholars who have visited him and asked questions about Edwin Muir. ¶ 26 April 1973, p. 4. A television adaptation of Forster’s A Room with a View; John Holden’s letters in the Orcadian; “. . . the meaning of precious old things [such as St. Magnus Day] is gradually seeping away, like honey from a comb.”

3 May 1973, p. 4. “There has never been an April like this for a long time, with cold northerly winds streaming over the islands day after day.” But now the weather has turned pleasant, and he remembers idyllic days of his childhood. Repr. LH 76–77. ¶ 10 May 1973, p. 4. “Nearly everyone who writes to me from the south mentions, somewhere in the letter, and in tones varying from apprehension to horror, the black wave about to break over Orkney – OIL.” But then he remembers a reassuring line by Gerard Manley Hopkins: “There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.” Repr. LH 77. ¶ 17 May 1973, p. 4. The performance of two of his stories, Witch and The Return of the Women, as plays in Glasgow; place names within Stromness. Repr. LH 77–78. ¶ 24 May 1973, p. 4. “Last summer, it seemed to this unbiased observer, Orkney had about as many tourists as it could take.” A book published in 1810 records an instance of hostility by an Orkney crofter toward strangers. Repr. LH 78–80. ¶ 31 May 1973, p. 4. Discusses the recent theatrical productions by the 7:84 players on Orkney; connects the Highland clearances and the drilling for oil. Repr. LH 80.

7 June 1973, p. 3. Instead of sponsored walks, perhaps there should be a sponsored “attack on littler.” ¶ 14 June 1973, p. 3. The publication of his An Orkney Tapestry leads to some reflections on the pleasures of buying paperbacks when he was younger. Repr. LH 80–81. ¶ 21 June 1973, p. 4. The old tradition of complaining about the weather. ¶ 28 June 1973, p. 4. The pleasures of a bus trip to Kirkwall on Midsummer Day. Repr. LH 81–82.

5 July 1973, p. 4. An imaginary account of how Finstown acquired its name. Repr. LH 82. ¶ 12 July 1973, p. 4. He conjectures what Shopping Week in Stromness will be like in 2049. ¶ 19 July 1973, p. 4. “As I write this on the eve of Shopping Week, the flood of tourists is reaching the high level.” Lists the most quiet places in Stromness. Repr. LH 83. ¶ 26 July 1973, p. 4. A fanciful history of the Standing Stones of Stenness. Repr. LH 84–85.

2 August 1973, p. 4. Various editions of the Orkneyinga Saga. Repr. LH 86. ¶ 9 August 1973, p. 4. Visitors arriving in Orkney to discover “a thin persistent saturating drizzle.” ¶ 16 August 1973, p. 4. A day-by-day account of the rainy weather in early August. ¶ 23 August 1973, p. 4. Nowadays a writer’s rough drafts are thought to be valuable. “Whatever the reason, the little scraps of paper with a few words on them, and the scarred and gory rough work, and neat immaculate fair copies – that I used to light the fire with in the mornings of yore – are now carefully labelled and put away in a drawer until the arrival of the manuscript dealer.” Repr. LH 86–87. ¶ 30 August 1973, p. 4. Has recently seen a group of drawings by Ian MacInnes intended for a new edition of the Orkneyinga Saga that was never published; hopes they will appear in print eventually. Repr. LH 87.

6 September 1973, p. 4. Accompanying a friend who was whelk-hunting on Marwick beach. ¶ 13 September 1973, p. 4. A local legend about King James V of Scotland, the embryo of GMB’s story “The King in Rags.” Repr. LH 87–88. ¶ 20 September 1973, p. 4. The Lammas Market as it was in Stromness during his childhood. Repr. LH 88. ¶ 27 September 1973, p. 4. His experiences in guiding visitors around Orkney. Repr. LH 90.

4 October 1973, p. 4. Cars in the street causing interference on his television; investigating the meaning of “grouting”; the wealth of nations does not correspond with wealth of individual citizens. ¶ 11 October 1973, p. 4. A story about the men who built the Suleskerry Lighthouse. ¶ 18 October 1973, p. 4. Reading about St. Brandon; approaching winter; Israelis in a state of seige; books about Orkney in the Stromness library. ¶ 25 October 1973, p. 4. “Looking through the sittingroom window, I can see a segment of harbour, and further off, between the Outer Holm and Clestrain shore, a thin gleam of sea. It suddenly struck me this afternoon that that piece of sea was where Gow the pirate cast anchor on a winter day in 1725.” Repr. LH 90–91.

1 November 1973, p. 4. How they celebrated Halloween in Stromness when he was a child. Repr. LH 91–92. ¶ 8 November 1973, p. 4. A typical week when he was a schoolboy. Repr. LH 92. ¶ 15 November 1973, p. 4. Old and new place-names in Stromness. Repr. LH 92–93. ¶ 22 November 1973, p. 4. Describes how John Renton, an Orcadian sailor, became the victim of a conspiracy in San Francisco in 1867. Repr. LH 93–94. ¶ 29 November 1973, p. 4. The sad depopulation of Rackwick. Repr. LH 94–95.

6 December 1973, p. 4. Some of the traditional holidays, such as St. Andrew’s Day and Burns Day, are no longer widely celebrated. Repr. LH 95. ¶ 13 December 1973, p. 4. Pedestrians in competition with cars on the narrow main street of Stromness. ¶ 20 December 1973, p. 4. A visit to Maeshowe on the winter solstice: meditations on the shaft of light that strikes the interior of the tomb on that one day of the year. Repr. LH 95–97. ¶ 27 December 1973, p. 4. Unhappy local news during the past year.

Island Diary (1955)

The following “Island Diary” columns by George Mackay Brown, all signed “Islandman,” were published in the Orkney Herald during 1955. (From 1948 onward, most of the “Island Diary” columns had subheads, which I have here recorded at the start of each entry.) A few of them were reprinted posthumously in GMB’s Northern Lights (1999), cited here as NL.


“Earl Patrick and the Ministers.” 4 January 1955, p. 6. Description of the execution, in 1615, of Patrick Stewart, Earl of Orkney, in 1615, and the Calvinistic clergy who made h­is last hours miserable. ¶ “A Lodging in San Francisco.” 11 January 1955, p. 5. The semi-fictionalized story of a young Orkney sailor who was shanghaied in San Francisco in the 1860s. ¶ “Snow.” 18 January 1955, p. 4. Following a heavy snowstorm, he reflects on the meaning of snow for children and older adults. ¶ “After the Blizzard.” 25 January 1955, p. 4. The hazards of walking in the snow.

“Orkney Trows in America.” 1 February 1955, p. 4. Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle is an Orkney story in an American setting; the population drift from Orkney; a conversation with Robert Rendall; wondering what the ale in the Orkneyinga Saga tasted like; the thaw after the blizzard; his distrust of Billy Graham. ¶ “Orkneymen versus Highlanders.” 8 February 1955, p. 4. The differences between Orcadians and Highlanders; England’s victory in the Fourth Test Match; misleading names of political parties; darts and “a spectacular increase in arithmetical knowledge in Orkney these last few years”; corduroy now associated with “spivs.” ¶ “Not So Healthy.” 22 February 1955, p. 5. An account of the recent drama festival. (The “Island Diary” headline was omitted from this column.)­­

“The Old Winter Weariness.” 8 March 1955, p. 5. The second great snow of the winter (which prevented the publication of his column the previous week).­ ¶ “Talking with Edwin Muir.” 15 March 1955, p. 5. Recollections of some of Muir’s literary conversations and lectures. ¶ “Three Letters on Drama.” 22 March 1955, p. 5. Replies to his comments about drama festival (see above, 22 February). ¶ “The Death of Sweyne.” 29 March 1955, p. 5. “Sweyn Asliefson [in the Orkneyinga Saga] was the great Orkney poet of the flesh and its glory”

“Read All about It.” 5 April 1955, p. 4. Because of a strike, he has been without the London daily newspapers (for which he is grateful); the political views of Jo Grimond; listening to Billy Graham on the radio; Eric Linklater; the end of March. See reply by R. Johnson, “Islandman and the Newspaper Strike,” 3 May, p. 4, and a rejoinder by GMB. ¶ “The Egilshay Crofter’s Story.” 12 April 1955, p. 4. A short story in which the martyrdom of St. Magnus is described by an ol­d crofter on Egilshay. ¶ “The Eve of the Battle.” 19 April 1955, p. 4. A speech by Jo Grimond in Stromness Town Hall; the plans of the Kirkwall and Stromness Film Societies for next winter; the Holy Shroud of Turin; James Bruce, curator of the Stromness Museum. ¶ “April at the Housing Scheme.” 26 April 1955, p. 4. An April morning near the council houses in Stromness; the story of a Stromness man who accidentally dropped a bag full of beer bottles; the political scene in Orkney.

“Waiting for the Fireworks.” 3 May 1955, p. 4. “It’s the dullest general election in Orkney for a very long time”; Brenda Clouston, a local sculptor; a proposed museum in Tankerness House; Billy Graham’s effect on Orkney folk; Robert Rendall’s latest visit to Italy. ¶ “Home Sweet Home.” 10 May 1955, p. 4. “Last Saturday afternoon I found myself alone in a house all a-gleam from the recent spring-cleaning.” ¶ “Election Notes.” 17 May 1955, p. 4. “I have never known a tamer election in Orkney.”

“The Pier Head, Stromness.” 7 June 1955, p. 4. The Pier Head is the absolute center of life in Stromness. ¶ “Tam.” 14 June 1955, p. 4. Short story. Repr. in New Shetlander, September–October 1955. ¶ “Magazines, Bere Bannocks, Dandelions.” 21 June 1955, p. 4. The latest issue of the New Shetlander; Orkney food; wild flowers. ¶ “The Mysterious Harray Loch.” 28 June 1955, p. 4. “On Thursday afternoon we went for an hour’s fishing on Harray Loch.” Repr. NL 114–16.

“The Stenness Black Mass.” 5 July 1955, p. 4. Short story about a midsummer Black Mass. ¶ “Portrait of Stromness.” 19 July 1955, p. 4. The history and character of the parish of Stromness. ¶ “Jock.” 26 July 1955, pp. 4–5. Short story.

“The Temporal Abstinence of Mr Melvin.” 2 August 1955, p. 4. Short story. ¶ “The Reds and the Blues.” 23 August 1955, p. 4. “I went to the inter-county football match with G.” ¶ “‘To the Unborn’.” 30 August 1955, p. 4. Review of David Balfour’s privately-printed collection of poems, To the Unborn.

“Dounby Market.” 6 September 1955, p. 4. A visit to the agricultural fair. ¶ “A Forgotten Tomb.” 13 September 1955, p. 4. Meditations on the tombstone of Ellen Dunne, a local girl who died at the age of 17 in the nineteenth century. Repr. NL 120–23. ¶ “‘The Seasons’: An Orkney Farmer’s Poems.” 20 September 1955, p. 4. Review of John Skea, The Seasons and Other Poems. ¶ “A Book from Toronto.” 27 September 1955, p. 4. An anonymous reader in Toronto has sent him a copy of The Collected Poems of Robert Service; Jimmy Harvey, recently retired harbor-master of Stromness; R. T. Johnson’s Orcadian Nights, a collection of stories about the imaginary Stenwick.

“Summer and Winter.” 4 October 1955, p. 4. “Winter has a thousand consolations. . . .” ¶ “A Fine Library.” 11 October 1955, p. 4. Visiting the County Library in Laing Street, Kirkwall; rabbits dying of myxomatosis; an unsatisfactory BBC program about the Orkney accent. ¶ “Street Names.” 18 October 1955, p. 4. Some unsatisfactory street names in Kirkwall and Stromness. ¶ “Old Houses.” 25 October 1955, p. 4. The best old houses should certainly be preserved; “yet . . . we cannot have a town like Kirkwall crammed with old, insanitary beautiful buildings, which serve no purpose at all.”

“The Unfolding Week.” 1 November 1955, p. 4. A day-by-day account of his week. ¶ “Debaters in Birsay.” 15 November 1955, p. 4. A debate between the Rev. Hector G. Ross and Ian MacInnes. ¶ “The Trafalgar Veterans.” 22 November 1955, p. 4. The Orkney men who fought on the Victory at Trafalgar; the historic roots of the game of draughts in Orkney; a relative of his who saw fairies. ¶ “St Andrew’s Day.” 29 November 1955, p. 4. The feast days and holidays of autumn.

“The First Week of December.” 6 December 1955, p. 4. Disappointment with the radio program Matter of Opinion; admiration for a series entitled “Some Annals of an Orkney Parish” that is now being published in the Orkney Herald; the gradual depopulation of Orkney might be solved if residents were allowed to make their own whiskey. ¶ “Another ‘Victory’ Sailor.” 13 December 1955, p. 4. William Bruce, an Orcadian who fought at Trafalgar (see 22 November above); conversations with Jehovah’s Witnesses; the first signs of Christmas. ¶ “The Island Magi.” 20 December 1955, p. 4. Short story. ¶ “Prospect for 1956.” 27 December 1955, p. 4. His whimsical predictions for each month of the next year.

GMB — Island Diary (1946)

The following “Island Diary” columns by George Mackay Brown, all signed “Islandman,” were published in the Orkney Herald during 1946. GMB did not reprint any of them in a later book.


1 January 1946, p. 7. Response to a letter from George W. Johnston; Orkney Christian names; December skyscapes in Orkney. ¶ 8 January 1946, p. 5. Sir John Franklin; John Rae; early Orkney explorers. ¶ 15 January 1946, p. 7. “Pomona” should not be the name of Orkney’s main island; “peedie” versus “peerie” in the local dialect; pipe-smoking among women; excessive makeup. ¶ 22 January 1946, p. 7. The case for Robert Burns as an Orkneyman. ¶ 29 January 1946, p. 7. The “big tree” on Stromness’s street; the melancholy shipwrecks near South Ronaldsay; the Italian chapel on Lamb Holm; the causeways.

5 February 1946, p. 2. The differences among Orkney’s parishes; a poem (by GMB) about the “Peerie” versus “Peedie” debate. ¶ 12 February 1946, p. 7. The weather; Sheriff Alfred Thomas (who left £60,000 for the restoration of St. Magnus Cathedral). ¶ 19 February 1946, p. 2. Orcadians are suspicious of enthusiasm; “peedie” versus “peerie.”  (See letters to the editor: Ould Mansie, “Peedie v. Peerie,” 26 February, p. 2; “Peerie Tam Says” [a poem], 5 March, p. 7; Peerie Tam’s Peerie Brither, “Some Peeries Remarks,” 5 March, p. 7.)  ¶ 26 February 1946, p. 2. The Drama Festival should be held in St. Magnus Cathedral.

5 March 1946, p. 2. “Peedie” versus “peerie” again; housing shortage; late winter weather. ¶ 12 March 1946, p. 7. Orkney during World War Two; the recent thaw. ¶ 19 March 1946, p. 2. The Kirkwall Arts Club wins a prize; on becoming a true Orcadian; Eric Linklater’s new novel, Private Angelo; Edwin Muir. ¶ 26 March 1946, p. 7. Church music.

2 April 1946, p. 7. Eric Linklater; Stanley Cursiter; Sibelius and Grieg. ¶ 9 April 1946, p. 5. The burning of heather on Orphir; summer football matches on Orkney. ¶ 16 April 1946, p. 5. Salaries for clergymen; the Hydro Electric Scheme; the effects of the Budget on Orkney; Sunday football. ¶ 23 April 1946, p. 7. Accordions; religious films. ¶ 30 April 1946, p. 7. The value of manual labor; the fickle weather of April.

14 May 1946, p. 7. Orkney not “a minor Scottish county”; what an independent Orkney would be like. (See the reply by “Islandwoman,” “How about It, Islandman?”, 28 May 1946, p. 7 [“Casting my mind back since “Island Diary” first started I am amazed at the flood of tempestuous feeling obviously filling your heart towards this bare, bleak treeless island and its, generally speaking, monotonous and unimaginative people”]. This letter in turn prompted an editorial response in the Orkney Herald, 4 June 1946, p. 4. See also “Islandman Replies,” 4 June, p. 7 [“In the midst of incredible beauty, you have been blind. It is time you had your eyes open, and I will be only too glad to perform that operation, absolutely free of charge”]. “Islandwoman” in turn offered a lengthy “Reply to Islandman,” 18 June, p. 7. See also the letters from J. Moar, “Orkney versus the World, 18 June, p. 2; Pax, “Islandman and Islandwoman,” 25 June, p. 5; Moar, “Ver. Sap,” 2 July, p. 5; and John B. J. Laurenson, “Humourless Bore?”, 16 July 1946, p. 5. GMB re-entered the fray in “‘Over to You, Islandwoman’: The Fourth Round of the Big Fight,” 25 June, p. 7, which provoked yet another letter from “Islandwoman,” “Second Reply to Islandman,” 2 July, p. 7 [“How like a man!”]. GMB again responded with “‘Islandwoman’ Psycho-analysed! A Lady’s Mind Fully Exposed,” 9 July, p. 7, and her final letter was entitled “Reply to Islandman,” 16 July 1946, p. 7. See also 23 July below.) ¶ 21 May 1946, p. 7. A Stromness hotel has been granted a liquor license; the parish of Harray. ¶ 28 May 1946, p. 7. The handsome Polish troops; local football rivalries.

4 June 1946, p. 7. The dismantling of the military camps; the local regattas; Tennyson’s refusal to visit Orkney. ¶ 11 June 1946, p. 7. A visit to Hoy. ¶ 18 June 1946, p. 7. Rackwick on Hoy. ¶ 25 June 1946, p. 7. The beach at Rackwick.

2 July 1946, p. 7. The conclusion to his visit to Hoy. ¶ 9 July 1946, p. 7. A recent radio broadcast about Shetland. ¶ 16 July 1946, p. 7. Bread rationing; the arrival of sightseers in Orkney. ¶ 23 July 1946, p. 7. Response to letter from John B. J. Laurenson (see above); “My chum ‘Islandwoman’ alas has thrown in the sponge, somewhat belatedly.” ¶ 30 July 1946, p. 7. “I want . . . to tell you about a recent Sunday afternoon [bus] trip to some West Mainland beauty spots.”

6 August 1946, p. 7. The second part of his account of the bus tour. ¶ 13 August 1946, p. 7. Third installment about the bus tour. ¶ 20 August 1946, p. 6. An attempt to understand how Edwin Muir sees the world. ¶ 27 August 1946, p. 7. An account of the Hamilton Cup competition at the Stromness Golf Course.

3 September 1946, p. 7. What Sundays were like on Orkney fifty years ago. ¶ 10 September 1946, p. 7. Commentary on Frank Baker’s short story “Mr. Allenby Loses His Way,” which is set in Orkney. ¶ 17 September 1946, p. 7. The recent football match between Shetland and Orkney. Reply by “A. J. W. (Another Ferrylouper),” 24 September, p. 3. ¶ 24 September 1946, p. 9. The football pools.

1 October 1946, p. 6. The recent glorious weather; Sir John Sinclair’s Statistical Account of Scotland (1898). ¶ 8 October 1946, p. 2. “Now it is mid-October, and relentless winter approaches, cold and dark, over the Northern lands.” ¶ 15 October 1946, p. 6. The medieval story of an Orkney nun and her sparrow. ¶ 22 October 1946, p. 3. The modern sounds of airplanes and radios; why Orkney and Shetland will never break away from Scotland. ¶ 29 October 1946, p. 5. The Peedie Sea in Kirkwall. On the question of peedie vs. peerie he was challenged by “Ferrylouper in Reverse”: see GMB’s reply (as “Stromness Correspondent”), 5 November, p. 4.

12 November 1946, p. 6. A concert at the Paterson Church in Kirkwall. ¶ 19 November 1946, p. 3. The municipal candidates’ meeting. ¶ 26 November 1946, p. 9. His hobby of collecting Orkney postcards.

3 December 1946, p. 3. Orkney under Norse rule, unlike modern times, was full of poetry. ¶ 10 December 1946, p. 9. More about the decline of poetry in Orkney through the centuries. ¶ 17 December 1946, p. 6. “Who would you say was the greatest Orcadian who ever lived?” Possible candidates: St. Magnus, Rev. John Gerard, Dr. John Rae, John Gow. ¶ 24 December 1946, p. 3. Prints an anonymous “Ballad of Andrew Ross”; reading Robert Rendall’s Country Sonnets. ¶ 31 December 1946, p. 8. A look back on the year.

“Under Brinkie’s Brae” (1985)

The following “Under Brinkie’s Brae” columns by George Mackay Brown were published in the Orcadian during 1985 and were signed with initials only. Most were reprinted in GMB’s Rockpools and Daffodils (1992), cited here as RD.


3 January 1985, p. 3. Reflections on the traditional twelve days of Christmas. Repr. RD 122. ¶ 10 January 1985, p. 4. Forecast of a hard winter; a recent severe cold. ¶ 17 January 1985, p. 4. Reading Arnold Bennett’s Anna of the Five Towns when he was young. ¶ 24 January 1985, p. 4. “. . . Burns was indeed the greatest of all Scottish poets.” ¶ 31 January 1985, p. 4. Temporary power loss on a cold winter day. Repr. RD 123.

7 February 1985, p. 4. The variable weather of January. Repr. RD 123–24. ¶ 14 February 1985, p. 4. Memories of catching sillocks (newly hatched fish) when he was a boy. Repr. RD 124–25. ¶ 21 February 1985, p. 4. He is mystified by the appeal of breakfast television. ¶ 28 February 1985, p. 4. Recalling Edwin Muir as the centenary of his birth approaches.

7 March 1985, p. 6. Walking on the beach at Warbeth. ¶ 14 March 1985, p. 6. Rent increases (and decreases) in Stromness during the twentieth century. Repr. RD 125. ¶ 21 March 1985, p. 4. The artistic career of Ian MacInnes. Repr. RD 126. ¶ 28 March 1985, p. 4. The silliness of prices like £9.99; the “aversion to the number 13.” Repr. RD 126–27.

4 April 1985, p. 4. Some Orkney books recently sold – with particular praise for Robert Rendall. ¶ 11 April 1985, p. 4. All Fools’ Day (1 April). Repr. RD 127–28. ¶ 18 April 1985, p. 6. “It is not far to seek, the joy that daffodils bring. They have risen from their winter graves; they are the harbingers of the Spring.” ¶ 25 April 1985, p. 4. The extinction of the dinosaurs and the bleak prospects of the human race. Repr. RD 128.

2 May 1985, p. 6. In praise of public benches in Stromness. ¶ 9 May 1985, p. 4. Memories of the end of World War Two in Orkney. Repr. RD 129. ¶ 16 May 1985, p. 4. Forcing himself to write on a beautiful spring day. ¶ 23 May 1985, p. 4. De-icing the refrigerator. Repr. RD 129–30. ¶ 30 May 1985, p. 6. Remembering some of his favorite books from a lifetime of reading.

6 June 1985, p. 4. His youthful passion for football. ¶ 13 June 1985, p. 4. “. . . there’s a midsummer magic in the air”; a visit from Hugo Brunner. ¶ 20 June 1985, p. 4. Reading the Penguin books in the 1930s. Repr. RD 130–31. ¶ 27 June 1985, p. 4. Traveling through the mountains of the west and north of Scotland. Repr. RD 131–32.

4 July 1985, p. 6. “We passed pleasant days at a most beautiful house on the south shore of Loch Tummel”; a train journey to Glasgow. ¶ 11 July 1985, p. 6. Taking the ferry from Scrabster. ¶ 18 July 1985, p. 4. A visitor from London. ¶ 25 July 1985, p. 4. Summer insects. Repr. RD 132.

1 August 1985, p. 4. Brian Murray’s family; writing a poem on a bench. ¶ 8 August 1985, p. 4. Riding around Orkney with his friends Peter and Betty Grant. ¶ 15 August 1985, p. 4. “No news on BBC television or radio today, or on ITV. . . . In many ways, what a relief!” Repr. RD 133. ¶ 22 August 1985, p. 4. The St. Magnus Fair in Kirkwall. ¶ 29 August 1985, p. 4. A description of various overseas visitors, including Osamu Yamada from Japan. Repr. RD 133–34.

5 September 1985, p. 4. Watching the drama in the sky of a gale. Repr. RD 134–35. ¶ 12 September 1985, p. 4. A visit from Finn Strönsted, a Norwegian poet; Earl Rognvald. ¶ 19 September 1985, p. 4. The experience of suffering from a cold. ¶ 26 September 1985, p. 4. The naming of Alfred Street in Stromness. Repr. RD 135.

3 October 1985, p. 4. “Up to the 1939–45 war, the vast majority of Orcadians recognised four mealtimes in every day: breakfast, dinner, tea, supper.” Repr. RD 135–36. ¶ 10 October 1985, p. 6. Watching films at the old Albert Kinema during his childhood. ¶ 17 October 1985, p. 6. Remembering the beginning of a new term at the University of Edinburgh. ¶ 24 October 1985, p. 4. ¶ Cats in Venice and Stromness. ¶ 31 October 1985, p. 4. Windows that will not open during the cold part of the year; the “peedie summer.” Repr. RD 136–37.

7 November 1985, p. 4. 1987 will be the 850th anniversary of St. Magnus Cathedral and the centenary of Edwin Muir. ¶ 14 November 1985, p. 6. The discomforts of the past; but “the same science that has given us the electric toaster could conceivably make of the globe a smoking cinder.” Repr. RD 137–38. ¶ 21 November 1985, p. 4. “It is really a play, our northern winter, thronged with extraordinary characters, and touched here and there with such magic transmutations.” ¶ 28 November 1985, p. 4. ¶ The story of Captain William Bligh and the Bounty.

5 December 1985, p. 6. Patrick White’s A Fringe of Leaves, a novel based on the experiences of Eliza Fraser, a Stromness woman who lived among the Aborigines in Australia during the nineteenth century. ¶ 12 December 1985, p. 6. The problems of writing Christmas cards. ¶ 19 December 1985, p. 6. An imaginary reconstruction of Christmas in Hamnavoe (Stromness) in 1085. Repr. RD 138–39. ¶ 26 December 1985, p. 4. How the New Year was celebrated during his childhood. ¶ Repr. RD 139.

“Under Brinkie’s Brae” (1991)

The following “Under Brinkie’s Brae” columns by George Mackay Brown were published in the Orcadian during 1991 and were signed with initials only. Most were reprinted in GMB’s Rockpools and Daffodils (1992), cited here as RD; the last column of the year was reprinted in The First Wash of Spring (2006) [FWS].


3 January 1991, p. 15. A fictionalized account of John Gow’s arrival in Stromness in 1726. ¶ 10 January 1991, p. 10. What happened to him during the past year – including his stay in the Foresterhill hospital in Aberdeen. ¶ 17 January 1991, p. 10. A record of his activities on a recent pleasant day. ¶ 24 January 1991, p. 12. How Burns’s birthday was celebrated in the 1930s. ¶ 31 January 1991, p. 12. “. . . every day of the week, when we were children, had its own unique flavour.” Repr. RD 250–51.

7 February 1991, p. 12. The “south end” of Stromness is much quieter now than it used to be. ¶ 14 February 1991, p. 12. Description of working-class house interiors a century ago. Repr. RD 251–52. ¶ 21 February 1991, p. 12. A day-by-day record of his activities during the past week. ¶ 28 February 1991, p. 12. Remembering the first tea-time by daylight in late February two generations ago.

7 March 1991, p. 14. Speculation about what life must be like in the other Stromness (in South Georgia). Repr. RD 252–53. ¶ 14 March 1991, p. 12. Remembering various General Elections in Stromness in the past. ¶ 21 March 1991, p. 12. The vernal equinox; March fogs. ¶ 28 March 1991, p. 12. Lying in bed listening to the radio on a gloomy day.

4 April 1991, p. 12. Memories of collecting pace eggs on Easter Eve. ¶ 11 April 1991, p. 12. April Fool’s Day when he was a child. ¶ 18 April 1991, p. 10. Enjoying a heavy rainstorm. ¶ 25 April 1991, p. 12. Earl Hakon was “an accomplished ruler, and a good man according to the ‘mores’ of the age.” Repr. RD 253–54.

2 May 1991, p. 12. His kitchen table as a writing desk. Repr. RD 254–55. ¶ 9 May 1991, p. 12. “The chief difference about life in Orkney now and sixty years ago is that noise has intensified and deepened.” Repr. RD 255–56. ¶ 16 May 1991, p. 12. The pleasures of May. ¶ 23 May 1991, p. 12. Thoughts about ball point pens. ¶ 30 May 1991, p. 12. The closing of the Stromness pubs in the 1920s: one man’s sad experience. Repr. RD 256–57.

6 June 1991, p. 12. Sea-haar (fog), particularly during the “astonishing summer of 1947.” Repr. RD 257–58. ¶ 13 June 1991, p. 12. Dressing up for an event at the Pier Arts Centre; the public benches in Stromness. ¶ 20 June 1991, p. 14. If you’ve written a poem or novel, put it away in a drawer and come back to it later. Repr. RD 259–60. ¶ 27 June 1991, p. 14. The pleasures of midsummer; a visit from Hugo Brunner.

4 July 1991, p. 12. Reflections on midsummer. Repr. RD 260–61. ¶ 11 July 1991, p. 14. What it was like to be released from school for the summer when he was a child. Repr. RD 261–62. ¶ 18 July 1991, p. 12. The arrival of summer. Repr. RD 262–63. ¶ 25 July 1991, p. 12. “Gavin Muir, the only son of Edwin and Willa Muir, died a few weeks ago in Edinburgh.” Repr. RD 263–64.

1 August 1991, p. 12. Some reflections (partly imaginary) on the early history of Stromness. Repr. RD 264–65. ¶ 8 August 1991, p. 12. “Some days everything you do seems to go wrong.” Repr. RD 265–66. ¶ 15 August 1991, p. 12. Trade names that have disappeared. ¶ 22 August 1991, p. 10. The miseries of a cold. Repr. RD 266–67.

5 September 1991, p. 14. Tourists in Stromness past and present; our dependency on modern electrical gadgets. ¶ 19 September 1991, p. 14. The Stromness Lammas Market when he was a child. ¶ 26 September 1991, p. 12. How he is keeping himself amused in the Foresterhill hospital: reading, writing, correspondence, afternoon car rides in the countryside. Repr. RD 267.

3 October 1991, p. 14. Life in the hospital. ¶ 10 October 1991, p. 12. Thoughts about the approach of winter. ¶ 17 October 1991, p. 12. Severe thunderstorms in Orkney past and present. Repr. RD 268. ¶ 24 October 1991, p. 12. His seventieth birthday evokes memories of earlier birthdays. Repr. RD 269. ¶ 31 October 1991, p. 12. When a little loch next to Stromness became a part of the sea many centuries ago.

7 November 1991, p. 14. The traditional Orkney dish called clapshot. ¶ 14 November 1991, p. 14. May Burn, the stream that runs close to his home, overflows during a heavy rainstorm. Repr. RD 270. ¶ 21 November 1991, p. 12. Various games that have been played in Orkney homes on winter nights. ¶ 28 November 1991, p. 14. There has been no peedie summer (i.e. Indian summer) this year; but it’s a pleasure to turn to books again.

5 December 1991, p. 16. Difficulties in sleeping; threats from the natural world. Repr. RD 271. ¶ 12 December 1991, p. 16. The pens he used in school. Repr. RD 272. ¶ 19 December 1991, p. 12. What to do with all the Christmas cards flowing in? ¶ 26 December 1991, p. 10. “I think there ought to be an Orkney variant of the marvellous Scrooge story. How about this?” Repr. FWS 11–12.

“Under Brinkie’s Brae” (1996)

The following “Under Brinkie’s Brae” columns by George Mackay Brown were published in the Orcadian during 1996 and were signed with initials only. Most were reprinted in GMB’s First Wash of Spring (2006), cited here as FWS.


4 January 1996, p. 12. A cold day in his house without electricity, followed by a Christmas day in front of his television set. ¶ 11 January 1996, p. 12. John Gow’s visit to Stromness in January 1726. ¶ 18 January 1996, p. 12. Temporarily housebound and watching too much television. Repr. FWS 240–41. ¶ 25 January 1996, p. 14. Burns as a poet of winter.

1 February 1996, p. 14. January, with its fierce winds, compared with February and March. Repr. FWS 242–43. ¶ 8 February 1996, p. 14. His morning rituals; writers obsessed with the “mystery of Time”; the scientific “Big Bang” theory. Repr. FWS 243–45. ¶ 15 February 1996, p. 14. Insomnia in old age. ¶ 22 February 1996, p. 12. Reflections prompted by winter storms. “. . . when I was a child, Stromness was a poorer place materially than it is today; but there was more laughter along the street.” Repr. FWS 245–47. ¶ 29 February 1996, p. 14. “ . . . February, that seems always like a young girl at the door of Spring, with a crocus and a snowdrop in her fingers.” Repr. FWS 247–48.

7 March 1996, p. 12. “I have a weakness for paper.” Repr. FWS 248–50. ¶ 14 March 1996, p. 14. The return of his rheumatism. Repr. FWS 250–51. ¶ 21 March 1996, p. 14. The Chinese satellite that is about to crash on to the earth. Repr. FWS 251–52. ¶ 28 March 1996, p. 14. He bought a telephone fifteen years ago. “I tell folk that I have a kind of Skara Brae telephone, compared to those models at the cutting edge of communications.”

4 April 1996, p. 10. William and Mareon Clark, the earliest recorded inhabitants of Stromness. Repr. FWS 253–54. ¶ 11 April 1996, p. 12. “This morning – as I write – is April 3, and the first wash of Spring has gone over the earth.” (GMB’s last weekly column.) Repr. FWS 254–55.