GMB — Stromness News (1948)

The following “Stromness News” columns by George Mackay Brown, unsigned, were published in the Orkney Herald during 1948.


13 January 1948, p. 4. Cold spell; books for the County Library; Burns on the social horizon; Stromness District Nursing Association; Whist Club party; golf; Current Affairs Discussion Group; German prisoners’ good work. ¶ 20 January 1948, p. 4. Drama Festival; property market; the snow; entertainment slump; other names for Stromness (Hamnavoe and Cairston); Arts Council concert (record attendance); Current Affairs Discussion Group. ¶ 27 January 1948, p. 4. Alexander Graham; new Council houses; film A Certain Nobleman; clearing up Stromness; Physical Culture class.

3 February 1948, p. 4. Victoria Street Woman’s Guild; Current Affairs Discussion Group; death of Thomas W. Eunson. ¶ 10 February 1948, p. 4. Rope slippers; a new Priestley play and J. M. Barrie’s Mary Rose by the the Perth Repertory Company; Current Affairs Discussion Group; famous signatures in the shop window of L. J. Smith; pinups selected; Whist Club; next season’s football; S.W.R.I Burns Night. ¶ 17 February 1948, p. 4. Bad weather; annual general meeting of the Stromness Golf Club; Stromness Youth Club; competition for Miss Stromness of 1948; outstanding actors in the Drama Festival; two Stromness plays in the Festival; Stromness singers in the rehearsals for the Easter performance of the Messiah; Stromness without lamp posts; two old whiskey stills still visible at the distillery; Current Affairs Discussion Group. ¶ 24 February 1948, p. 4. Hill fires; three more pinups; the Alexander Graham memorial; Perth Repertory Players; Current Affairs Discussion Group.

2 March 1948, p. 4. New manager of the Lounge Cafe in Lerwick; no housing exchanges; new library books; whist drive and dance; church news. ¶ 9 March 1948, p. 4. Whist drive; loss of Stromness football club’s books; Easter events; Current Affairs Discussion Group; visit by the Perth Repertory Theatre Company; three Festival plays; Tory meeting; death of James M. Linklater. ¶ 16 March 1948, p. 4. Football; gardens; Stanger’s Park paved; Alexander Graham memorial; Unionist meeting; Temperance Hall for Youth Club; death of Patrick Mee; Lloyds agent; Legion talk by Leslie J. Smith; historic photograph of Post Office officials; Miss Stromness 1948; church news; bulb show. ¶ 23 March 1948, p. 4. Stromness Town Council; trip to South Ronaldsay; North Church Woman’s Guild tea; Youth Club; jumble sale; performance of Messiah at the Victoria Street Church; meeting of the Stromness Athletic F.C.; temperance lecture; further competition for Miss Orkney. ¶ 30 March 1948, p. 4. Miss Stromness 1948; licensing for the sale of alcohol; the Messiah performance; golf; Easter weather; drama from Kirkwall; retirement of G. S. Robertson from the postmastership of Stromness Post Office; new Youth Club; football and hockey.

6 April 1948, p. 4. Stromness Academy holidays; the weather; the Town Clock custodian; church news; Provost G. S. Robertson’s retirement; Kirkwall Scout exhibition; Stromness airman congratulated. ¶ 13 April 1948, p. 4. Snow mantle; church news; Stromness holiday; Nursing Association the budget; golf; football; Whist Club social evening; Youth Club; Stromness Liberal Party. ¶ 20 April 1948, p. 4. A Stromness guidebook; shipping notes; Stanley Cursiter’s house; April holidays; Miss Stromness 1948; three Stromness licenses (to sell liquor); jumble sale; Kirkwall Scouts’ exhibition. ¶ 27 April 1948, p. 5. Miss Stromness 1948; comedy by the Kirkwall Scout Club Dramatic Society; local football league formed; Town Council; fundraising for trip to Shetland; jam jar collection; District Nursing Association.

4 May 1948, p. 6. Local League Football Competition; Stanley Cursiter; May dew custom; new library books; the overhead wiring of Stromness has reached “the furthest limits of the South End”; golf competitions; Miss Stromness 1948; church news; Young Farmers’ Club; listening to football matches on radio; Stromness Sailing Club. ¶ 11 May 1948, p. 4. Provost G. S. Robertson returns from holiday; open-air seats at Ness; church news; film The Outlaw at Stromness Cinema; football; golf and putting; Miss Stromness; Thursday a holiday; jumble sale by the Stromness Ladies’ Hockey Club. ¶ 18 May 1948, p. 4. Renovation of library lavatory; the May holiday; debris of war; church news; Stromness youth sports; Stromness Athletic Football Club; the local Youth Club; Stanley Cursiter’s new house to be called “Stennigar”; golf. ¶ 25 May 1948, p. 4. Stromness Tennis Club; site of the Garrison Theatre; church news; new telephone kiosk beside the Stromness Museum; youth sports; anniversary of the date when Stromness became “dry”; concrete paving stones near the hotel; irregularity in town gas supply; annual inspection of the S.S. Orcadia; summer guests arrive; the Orkney football team.

1 June 1948, p. 4. Concert by the Orkney Choral Union; golf; the late Mr. James M. Stevenson (Stromness bookseller); football; Stromness Museum acquisitions. ¶ 8 June 1948, p. 4. Holiday today; local cinema to close; church news; putting; possible gold and radium at Moosland; the artistic activities of Ian MacInnes and John Farmiloe; bowling; a Sromness fire; the football match in Shetland; golf. ¶ 15 June 1948, p. 4. Eric Linklater in town; changes in the colors of buoys in Stromness harbor; bird watchers; local holiday; remains of the Nissen huts; extended bus service between Stromness and Kirkwall; football; sailing boats points racing; message in a bottle found on the beach; golf; swings for children; an illustrated lecture about North Ronaldsay; Gala Day to Deerness. ¶ 22 June 1948, p. 4. Quiet Kirkwall holiday; more benches needed for “the older inhabitants of Stromness”; the end of J. R. Learmonth’s rectorship of Stromness Academy; golf; cinema; John Farmiloe and Ian MacInnes visiting town; new paintings at the Stromness Museum; visitors expected for the summer; unfavorable review of a new Stromness guide book. ¶ 29 June 1948, p. 4. The longest Stromness Town Council meeting; Grieveship Terrace; midsummer; Wishart’s Thursday bus tours; Councillor wins Edinburgh golf trophy; summer tours in the Scapa Rover (boat); local cinema will close down during July; swings; voting for ministers.

6 July 1948, p. 4. Excursion to Flotta and St. Margaret’s Hope; the latest issue of the Stromnessian, the magazine of Stromness Academy; John Farmiloe’s work as an artist; obituaries of James Ritch and William Spence. ¶ 13 July 1948, p. 4. Golf; July weather (a gloomy story); John Farmiloe and George Scott are in Stromness, and Ian MacInnes is expected soon; church news. ¶ 27 July 1948, p. 4. Ordination at the Victoria Street Church; golf; exhibition (by John Farmiloe, George Scott, and Ian MacInness) opening tomorrow.

10 August 1948, p. 4. Loud thunder last Sunday; cement streets in Stromness; reopening of the local cinema; a hole in one at the Stromness Golf Club. ¶ 17 August 1948, p. 4. A film version of Dickens’ Great Expectations; deserted streets in Stromness last Thursday; the Stromness Putting Championship Cup; Eric Linklater’s short story “Sealskin Trousers”; how the art exhibition (see above, 27 July) went. ¶ 24 August 1948, p. 4. Church news; Kirkwall Market holiday; oil paintings from the recent exhibition still on sale; Stromness Academy reassembles from a seven-weeks’ vacation; the new Stromness burgh surveyor; the boundary line between the North End and South End of Stromness; local interest in psychic phenomena; a cigarette shortage; cricket. ¶ 31 August 1948, p. 4. Stromness gardens; street lamps; cycling accident; more on the North–South boundary; a plague of earwigs; Lammas Market Day; the Orkney/Caithness annual football match.

7 September 1948, p. 4. Pipe Band parade; introducing a “Do You Know” series in this column; re-start of the Stromness Whist Club; recent filming in Dundas Street; end of the golf season; ordination at the North Church; Mark Day; breakup of the summer artist colony; retrospect on summer. ¶ 14 September 1948, p. 4. Welfare foods; “the Stromness Market this year was an utter flop”; acknowledgment of a found bottle at Sule Skerry (see above, 15 June); record crowd at the Stromness Museum; “Did You Know – I” (curse of the Black Craig).

19 October 1948, p. 4. Stanley Cursiter on holiday; no municipal election this winter; an Orkney woman is on a 7,000-mile journey; cycle accident; plays by the Perth Repertory Theatre Company; an Orkney boy appears on a popular radio program; the Victoria Street Church Woman’s Guild; John Farmiloe wins prize at Gray’s School of Art, Aberdeen; new books at the Stromness Library; “Did You Know – 2” (a Stromness radio station); British Legion Club. ¶ 26 October 1948, p. 4. Talk on Communism; Harvest Thanksgiving Day; seats for Stromness pensioners at the Pier Head; no Peedie Summer this year; local entertainment; “Do You Know – 3” (the daughter of Bessie Millie); the Current Affairs class at Stromness Academy; a Fancy Dress Dance.

2 November 1948, p. 4. The harvest thanksgiving service at Victoria Street Church; Stromness Academy’s long weekend; the Pier Head light; the recent storm; Dundee Repertory Theatre; “Do You Know? – 4” (superstitions among Stromness fishermen and sailors). ¶ 9 November 1948, p. 4. A magnificent Aurora Borealis; local rates going down; Guy Fawkes rituals; exhibition sponsored by the Arts Club; sale in benefit of the Victoria Street Church. ¶ 16 November 1948, p. 3. Stromness Youth Club opened; Orkney paintings in the exhibition at the Arts Club, Kirkwall; Girl Guides jubilee party; “Do You Know? – 5” (Robert Leighton’s book The Pilots of Pomona); the Current Affairs class; British Legion Club concert. ¶ 23 November 1948, p. 4. National Insurance queries; North Church Woman’s Guild; Youth Drama Festival in Stromness; town buys Point of Ness; congratulations from Stromness to Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh on the birth of their son; another whist club; “Do You Know – 6” (the baptismal font of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Stromness); a wall to be built in Stromness.

7 December 1948, p. 4. Belated “Peedie Summer”; retirement of the curator of the Stromness Museum; a new District Nurse; Miss Stromness 1949; Stromness Youth Club to discuss “What’s wrong with Stromness?”; Christmas in the shops; the Discussion Group meetings; new Stornoway postmaster; the Point of Ness may become a playing field. ¶ 14 December 1948, p. 4. The Suleskerry lighthouse; church news; winter functions at the Stromness Hotel; rumors of a revival of the Boys’ Brigade in Stromness; performances by “The Hill Billies”; Christmas carols “outside your door”; talks and discussions at the Youth Club; “Do You Know?” (the cave under the Black Craig). ¶ 21 December 1948 p. 3. Tory meeting tonight; new “Pin-up” competitions; possible revival of the Yule Log Tug-o’-War; the Orphir British Legion Club entertained at the Stromness Club; a collection for the Royal Blind Asylum and School, Edinburgh; plans for new lighthouse buildings; a Christmas Eve Variety Concert in the British Legion Club; “Do You Know – 8” (the history of Stromness during the last 300 years); a birthday tea sponsored by the North Church Woman’s Guild. ¶ 28 December 1948, p. 3. The Provost on “What’s wrong with Stromness?”; the 1st Stromness Company Boys’ Brigade will be re-formed; the Current Affairs discussion group; a dinner-dance at the Stromness Hotel.

GMB — What the Pier Head Is Saying (1969)

The following “What the Pier Head Is Saying” columns by George Mackay Brown were published in the Orcadian during 1969, signed with his initials only.


16 January 1969, p. 3. “They speak sometimes about colour television at the Pier Head, and they wonder if it will come to Orkney in their time.” ¶ 23 January 1969, p. 4. “Robbie Burns’ Day on Saturday . . . is one date in the calendar that the Pier Head never forgets.” ¶ 30 January 1969, p. 4. “Solemnly at the Pier Head they debate the pros and cons of one-way traffic in Stromness.”

6 February 1969, p. 3. “Snow has a queer effect on the Pier Head folk.” ¶ 13 February 1969, p. 3. A “magnificent blizzard” – followed by complaints from “the Pier Head folk.” ¶ 20 February 1969, p. 4. Daydreams about summer holidays. ¶ 27 February 1969, p. 2. “So we are, in all likelihood, to have a new Warehouse Pier in Stromness. The Pier Head folk are quietly pleased about that.”

6 March 1969, p. 4. The pleasures of the Eventide club room “on a cold wet winter afternoon.” ¶ 13 March 1969, p. 4. “A variety of topics at the Pier Head last week,” including a final blizzard of the winter. ¶ 20 March 1969, p. 4. “Sometimes, especially in such terrible weather as last week, they speak at the Pier Head about summer and the tourists, to keep their hearts up.” ¶ 27 March 1969, p. 4. The good and bad of television.

3 April 1969, p. 4. “The West Shore is still, at week-ends, the favourite walking-place for Stromnessians.” ¶ 10 April 1969, p. 4. Affectionate memories of the Stromness cinema. ¶ 17 April 1969, p. 4. The Stromness Museum. ¶ 24 April 1969, p. 4. A visit to Edinburgh, where he encounters many Orkney students.

1 May 1969, p. 4. Beards have returned in the Edinburgh taverns. ¶ 8 May 1969, p. 4. Thoughts of spring in Edinburgh and Orkney. ¶ 22 May 1969, p. 2. “. . . women have been known to join in a discussion [at the Pier Head], but in the end they are gently frozen out, as they inhibit complete freedom of expression – the whole spectrum of the language cannot be used.” ¶ 29 May 1969, p. 4. Alexander Graham’s fountain at the Pier Head.

5 June 1969, p. 4. Watching “Tomorrow’s World,” a television program about the technological marvels of the future. ¶ 12 June 1969, p. 4. “The gaming machines have come to Orkney, all except Stromness.” ¶ 19 June 1969, p. 4. “They sat all last week bewildered with heat at the Pier Head.” ¶ 26 June 1969, p. 4. “The imminent death of the half-penny is causing some concern at the Pier Head.”

3 July 1969, p. 4. The old women who were the first doctors of Stromness. ¶ 10 July 1969, p. 3. “It seems like only yesterday since the first Shopping Week was opened, on a fine Monday morning in July 1949, by Provost G. S. Robertson at the Pier Head.” ¶ 17 July 1969, p. 4. A quiet Sunday morning. ¶ 24 July 1969, p. 4. An afternoon squall and an amazing cloud.

7 August 1969, p. 4. “Was there ever such a Shopping Week as the one just past?” ¶ 14 August 1969, p. 4. The Dounby Show. ¶ 21 August 1969, p. 4. Walking to Warbeth. ¶ 28 August 1969, p. 4. Many children now actually enjoy school.

4 September 1969, p. 4. Many of the Pier Head regulars are at home watching television. ¶ 11 September 1969, p. 4. Various minor religious groups in Stromness. ¶ 18 September 1969, p. 4. “Probably the greatest single event in Stromness this year is the Swimming Pool.”

2 October 1979, p. 4. “After being in the doldrums for years, the Pier Head is glad to note a great resurgence of interest in football, on the part of young folk.” ¶ 9 October 1974, p. 4. The pleasures of making beer at home. ¶ 16 October 1969, p. 4. “A great silence has descended on the town: the hush before winter.” ¶ 23 October 1969, p. 4. “Naturally the Pier Head was delighted with the Highlands and Islands Development Board decision to keep Stromness as the Orkney terminal of the Pentland Firth ferry.” ¶ 30 October 1969, p. 7. “In that longish spell of mild weather through October – ‘the peedie summer’ – creation turned back a little from the cold of winter.”

20 November 1969, p. 4. “Last week in the Youth Centre the Heritage Society gave a show of local slides, with commentaries by Ernest W. Marwick, E. Balfour and Ian MacInnes. It was intended to show the precious things – nature, streets, houses – that history has bequeathed to us, and that are perhaps in danger of being sacrificed to notions of progress and planning.” ¶ 27 November 1969, p. 4. “With St Andrew’s Day looming up . . . the Scottish Nationalists at the Pier Head are working up a fine head of steam.”

4 December 1969, p. 4. “Twopence on a pint of beer – that was the shock news that hit the Pier Head last week-end.” ¶ 11 December 1969, p. 4. “. . . it is very important . . . that that there should be a central pool, such as the Heritage Society or the Museum, for gathering and preserving these [old] photographs.” ¶ 18 December 1969, p. 4. “They are standing at the Pier Head these nights . . . dyed with multicoloured lights. It is of course the Christmas tree in the Town House garden and the festive web strung athwart the Fountain, that is scattering such richness.” ¶ 25 December 1969, p. 4. Christmas, which was once seen primarily as an English festival, is now vigorously celebrated in Orkney.

GMB — Magnus (1973)

MagnusGMB. Magnus: A Novel. London: Hogarth Press, 1973.

206 pages. 12.5 × 19.5 cm. Dustwrapper (designed by Ian MacInnes).

First published in September 1973; second impression, January 1974. Dedicated to Arthur K. Campbell.

Prefatory note signed by GMB: “Readers of An Orkney Tapestry may notice that the two old tinkers of the ‘Martyr’ chapter appear, more full-fleshed, in this novel. Those who saw, in Orkney in August 1972, the play The Loom of Light, written for the St. Magnus Cathedral Restoration Fund, may also notice some resemblances.”

Contents: 1. The Plough. — 2. A Boy and a Seal. — 3. Song of Battle. — 4. The Temptations. — 5. Scarecrow. — 6. Prelude to the Invocation of the Dove. — 7. The Killing. — 8. Harvest.

Reviews: Robert Nye, “Reviewer’s Rapture,” Guardian, 20 September 1973, p. 16. — Roger Garfitt, Listener 90 (20 September 1973): 384. — Jacky Gillott, The Times, 20 September 1973, p. 16. — Maurice Wiggin, “The Faith of a Poet,” Sunday Times, 23 September 1973, p. 30. — Anthony Thwaite, Observer, 23 September 1973, p. 36. — Michael Maxwell Scott, Daily Telegraph, 27 September 1973, p. 11. — E.W.M. [Ernest W. Marwick], “Magnus – Portrait of a Saint,” Orcadian, 27 September 1973, p. 4. — Catherine Lucy Czerkawska, Scottish International, October–November 1973, p. 29. — Cuthbert Graham, “The Making of a Martyr,” Press and Journal Weekend Review, 13 October 1973, p. 8. — Nancy Keesing, Sydney Morning Herald, 22 December 1973, p. 13.

Copies: Library of Congress [PZ4.B8778 PR6052.R59]. — Orkney Library [Orkney reserve FIC Y].

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.

MacInnes — Finding a Voice (2002)

MacInnes, Morag. “Finding a Voice in the Forties.” New Shetlander n.s. no. 221 (Hairst, 2002): 30–33, 36.

A history of GMB’s creative development during the 1940s and early 1950s, with emphasis on the complicated network of Orkney writers and artists (including her father, Ian MacInnes, who illustrated many of GMB’s books and dust-wrappers).

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.