The following “Island Diary” columns by George Mackay Brown, all signed “Islandman,” were published in the Orkney Herald during 1951. (From 1948 onward, 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 Rognvald in Lallans.” 2 January 1951, p. 4. A description of his previous week, beginning with a radio play, The Jerusalem Farers by Alexander Scott, “an account of the pilgrimage made by Earl Rognvald and Bishop William from Orkney to Jerusalem in 1151.” ¶ “Lost Treasures.” 9 January 1951, p. 4. His “outstanding memories of the last year in Orkney”; the threat of nuclear war; slipping on an icy street; disappearing Hogmanay traditions; the importance of the Viking tales. ¶ “Talking at Random.” 16 January 1951, p. 4. Cricket; home-brewed ale; buying a scarf; a story about a “fire-and-brimstone” evangelist; reading Eric Linklater’s The Sailor’s Holiday; local politics; a series of old photographs being published by the Orkney Herald. ¶ “The Gutter and the Stars.” 23 January 1951, p. 4. “In a day or two from now we shall be celebrating the birthday of that extraordinary man, Robert Burns.” ¶ “Another Winter Election?” 30 January 1951, p. 4. The national political scene; the Yule issue of the New Shetlander; a new magazine to be published by the Kirkwall Thorfinn football club; story about the building of the lighthouse on Suleskerry; the awkward winter; Shaw’s comment on Stromness.
“A World of Birds.” 13 February 1951, p. 4. “The hobby that has the most enthusiastic followers in Orkney nowadays is undoubtedly the rearing of cagebirds”; imagining life in Orkney 70 years in the future; “there is a somewhat ghoulish story from the West Mainland which deserves to be better known”; not all Orkney Vikings were strong and handsome. ¶ “Days of Storm.” 20 February 1951, p. 6. “Yesterday the most fearful storm blew that Orkney has yet experienced this winter: he imagines Madame Bovary as told by a saga-writer; an anecdote about King George VI visiting Orkney. ¶ “The Play’s the Thing.” 27 February 1951, p. 4. The Orkney Drama Festival.
“‘Candida’ and ‘By Candlelight’.” 6 March 1951, p. 4. The Perth Theatre Company’s production, in Stromness and Kirkwall, of Shaw’s Candida, “followed by Harry Graham’s adaptation of the German play ‘By Candlelight.’” ¶ “A Sky-scape in March.” 13 March 1951, p. 6. A walk on “the first real spring day”; the Hydro-Electric Exhibition; a book about life during the last century on a group of Irish islands that resemble Orkney; painters in Orkney; the death of the playwright James Bridie. Repr. (in part) NL 97–98. ¶ “What the Orphir Minister Thought.” 20 March 1951, p. 6. The foolish historical commentary by the Rev. Francis Liddel in the eighteenth century; the current number of the New Shetlander; the late arrival of spring; listening to the “Housewife’s Choice” on radio while eating breakfast; quotes a letter from Captain D. J. MacInnes. ¶ “A Torrent of Gold.” 27 March 1951, p. 6. Report of a talk about the state of Orkney’s economy; the failure to commemorate the martyrdom of St. Magnus; the slow, reluctant arrival of spring; Hoy’s Dramatic Society; the dreariness of modern Scottish poetry.
“An Old Salt Ballad.” 3 April 1951, p. 4. Discussion of “The Ballad of Andrew Ross”; last year he visited Shetland and Suleskerry, while in 1951 he may go to Caithness, Wick, and Thurso; a spring walk. ¶ “Dispecta est et Thule.” 10 April 1951, p. 6. Review of Shetland Isles by Andrew T. Cluness; praise for the Orkney Librarian; rural poverty in Orkney’s past; complaints about the treatment of Orkney and Shetland on maps of Scotland; “the Orkney lobster fishermen are looking forward to a more prosperous summer this year.” ¶ “The Orkney Accent on the Air.” 17 April 1951, p. 4. A BBC radio program about “the Islands of Scotland,” which included some excerpts from his “Island Diary”; the relative Scottishness of Orkney and Shetland; the disappearance of old Orkney words and phrases; Eric Linklater and Edwin Muir in Linklater’s anthology of modern Scottish writing, The Thistle and the Pen.
“The Return of Bernard Shaw.” 1 May 1951, p. 4. The banning of Boswell’s London Journal in Caithness; his friend James Bruce’s tales of witches on Orkney in earlier centuries; the Orkney Strathspey and Reel Society; finding consolations in reading “during this long, harsh, bitter winter”; listening to the England v. Scotland match on the radio; a Manchester medium claims to have had communications from Shaw; “Spring has come to Orkney, but our spirits remain frozen.” ¶ “Out on the Lifeboat.” 8 May 1951, p. 6. A day spent on a lifeboat. Repr. NL 99–102. ¶ “Good-bye, Old Ship . . .” 15 May 1951, p. 4. The retirement from service of the St. Ola, “the smallest and best-loved ship in the North of Scotland Shipping Company.” ¶ “The Last Passage.” 22 May 1951, p. 4. His final trip on the St. Ola to Scrabster.
“Letter to an Exile.” 5 June 1951, p. 4. Celebrating (somewhat unenthusiastically) the Festival of Britain in Orkney; dreary weather; a visit to the golf course; signs of summer; the vanishing glory of the Stromness Market. ¶ “A Fardel of Old Yarns.” 12 June 1951, p. 4. A Sunday afternoon stroll; an old poem about the Rev. William Blaw on Westwray in the eighteenth century; “another very good story”: about Dr. Hamilton in Stromness in the early nineteenth century; a witch in Stenness. ¶ “Midsummer Gossip.” 19 June 1951, p. 4. Reading some American magazines; a visit from James Tosh of Aberdeen; the reading habits of Orcadians; the declining population of Orkney; “there is no such thing, at midnight on an Orkney midsummer, as clear broad daylight”; a country walk. ¶ “A New Book of Orkney Verse.” 26 June 1951, p. 4. Review of Robert Rendall, Orkney Variants and Other Poems.
“The Creels at Midnight.” 3 July 1951, p. 6. The corruption of Orkney names; the problem of reading stories and poems in the New Shetlander in the Shetland dialect; the weather has taken a turn for the worse; the death of James Twatt, proprietor of the Orkney Herald; suggested holiday writing. ¶ “Rognvald and Ermengarde: An Old Love Story.” 10 July 1951, p. 4. Their engagement in Narbonne while he was on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land 800 years ago. ¶ “A Stromness Anthology.” 17 July 1951, p. 4. “To celebrate Stromness’s third Gala Shopping Week, ‘Islandman’ has gathered from a wide range of literature a posy of facts about, and impressions of, the western burg.” ¶ “Around Hoy.” 31 July 1951, p. 4. After the excitement of Shopping Week, GMB takes a brief sea voyage on the new St. Ola around Hoy.
“Afternoon by the Sea.” 7 August 1951, p. 4. A quiet day at the seashore, with Graemsay and Hoy in the distance. ¶ “The New Orkney Book.” 21 August 1951, p. 4. Review of Hugh Marwick, Orkney. ¶ “From Brinkie’s Brae.” 28 August 1951, p. 4. A climb up Brinkie’s Brae at twilight, “almost as good as having been to church”; the need for more biographies of Orkney figures; the unusual Orkney conception of time; the first issue of the Orcadian, November 1854; the books of Jamie Hay, “bard of Flotta.” Repr. (in part) NL 103–04.
“Lammas Market.” 4 September 1951, p. 4. Old-fashioned cures for toothache; recollections of Stromness Lammas Market Day twenty years ago; the changeable Orkney weather. ¶ “Journey to Wick.” 11 September 1951, p. 4. A weekend visit to Wick for a football match. ¶ “Political Warm-up.” 18 September 1951, p. 4. A small pamphlet published by the Orkney Tories; the use of Shetland dialect in the latest issue of the New Shetlander; a recent book (Ventures in Verse by W. Fordyce Clark) published in Lerwick; pipe-smoking; a tour of the Mainland, Orkney, in the sidecar of a motor bike. (See reply by Peter Jamieson, editor of the New Shetlander, 30 October, p. 5.)
“Autumn Letter.” 2 October 1951, p. 4. The pastimes of autumn and winter.