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 (1964)

The following “What the Pier Head Is Saying” columns by George Mackay Brown were published in the Orcadian during 1964, signed with his initials only.


19 November 1964, p. 4. “The Pier Head, of course, had its own Budget debate after it was all over.” ¶ 26 November 1964, p. 4. New Year was once “the great winter festival,” but now Christmas, increasingly commercialized, is the dominant holiday.

3 December 1964, p. 4. “It is a long time since the debates at the Pier Head were chronicled (owing to the fact that the chronicler was unavoidably absent from the Pier Head) and in the interim several familiar Pier Head characters are no longer with us.” ¶ 10 December 1964, p. 4. “Sometimes the Pier Head discusses T.V. and the current programmes. As usual, marked likes and dislikes emerge.” ¶ 17 December 1964, p. 4. Disputing the claim that “Stromness is getting wickeder and wickeder.” ¶ 24 December 1964, p. 4. “The Pier Head notes with approval the resurgence of an old Orkney custom which seemed to be in danger of dying out – the making of home-brewed ale.” ¶ 31 December 1964, p. 2. A review of the past year. “A quiet year it was. Happy is the town that has no history.”

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 — What the Pier Head Is Saying (1967)

The following “What the Pier Head Is Saying” columns by George Mackay Brown were published in the Orcadian during 1967, signed with his initials only.

5 January 1967, p. 3. The television documentary about Scapa Flow. ¶ 12 January 1967, p. 3. Changing New Year customs. ¶ 19 January 1967, p. 4. “The Pier Head approves of Robbie Burns. They feel he is one of themselves.” ¶ 26 January 1967, p. 4. “The Pier Head was shaken one day last week when they got to know that Jo Grimond had resigned as leader of the Liberal Party in the House of Commons.”

2 February 1967, p. 4. The rainiest January in memory. ¶ 9 February 1967, p. 4. “Stromness is one hundred and fifty years old as a burgh this year.” ¶ 16 February 1967, p. 4. The local fascination with Kosygin. ¶ 23 February 1967, p. 4. The Pier Head is enthusiastic about the “Big Freeze” of wages and prices.

2 March 1967, p. 4. “As the members of the Pier Head get older, they become more and more amazed at the goings-on of young folk. . . .” ¶ 16 March 1967, p. 4. “This is a time of year dreaded by the Pier Head members, because of the spring cleaning.” ¶ 23 March 1967, p. 4. Persons to whom Stromness ought to give the Freedom of the Burgh on its “one hundred and fiftieth anniversary as a burgh.” ¶ 30 March 1967, p. 4. The westerly gales of the past winter.

6 April 1967, p. 4. “The Pier Head members have been having nightmares for a week and more about huge tankers half-a-mile long going ashore on the Brough of Birsay or the Pentland Skerries or the Mull Head and saturating Orkney with oil.” ¶ 13 April 1967, p. 4. The town is full of visitors from Kirkwall because of a holiday there. ¶ 20 April 1967, p. 4. “All smiles at the Pier Head last week, as spring came at last after the wettest, stormiest winter in living memory.” ¶ 27 April 1967, p. 4. Extreme wealth and poverty in Edinburgh (where GMB is visiting).

4 May 1967, p. 4. Watching the Students’ Charities Day procession along Princes Street in Edinburgh. ¶ 11 May 1967, p. 4. Traveling on the St. Ola ferry across the Pentland Firth. ¶ 18 May 1967, p. 4. “The Pier Head members are beginning to turn their attention to the 150th anniversary of our burgh, which is to be celebrated early next month.” ¶ 25 May 1967, p. 4. Comments on Stromness, a booklet by J. A. Troup and F. Eunson.

1 June 1967, p. 4. Thoughts about “the most famous football match of 1967, Celtic’s 2-1 victory over Inter-Milan in Lisbon. . . . The Pier Head members, usually (as far as nationality goes) in a kind of no-man’s-land between Scandinavia and Scotland, definitely decided they were Scotsmen. . . .” ¶ 15 June 1967, p. 4. The pleasures of the most recent Stromness monthly holiday. ¶ 22 June 1967, p. 4. “Houses falling, houses rising. Slowly and imperceptibly the appearance of the town changes.” (One of his examples is the group of new council houses on the site of the old distillery, where he was later to live.) ¶ 29 June 1967, p. 4. The new benches at the Pier Head.

6 July 1967, p. 4. “Now is the time of summer visitors to Stromness. There is more activity than usual round the Pier Head this year. . . .” ¶ 13 July 1967, p. 4. “Stromness is full of Edinburgh folk just now (it being the trades holiday) and for the next fortnight beginning on Monday the accents of Clydeside will be heard on our streets.” ¶ 20 July 1967, p. 4. “Cars sometimes get on the nerves of the Pier Head – even worse than transistors. Every year cars and vehicles of all kinds get denser in Stromness.” ¶ 27 July 1967, p. 4. Pondering the possibility of a home-brew drinking contest during Shopping Week.

3 August 1967, p. 4. “The Pier Head is amazed at the number of gulls this year. Where have they all come from so suddenly?” ¶ 10 August 1967, p. 4. The Dounby Show causes some reflections on modern holidays. ¶ 24 August 1967, p. 4. The BBC weather forecasters gave misleading advice about the day of the Dounby Show. ¶ 31 August 1967, p. 4. The disintegration of the British Empire and its implications for the future of Orkney.

7 September 1967, p. 4. Memories of the old Stromness Lammas Market Day. ¶ 14 September 1967, p. 4. “The Pier Head members were delighted one day last week when they heard that Stromness Academy had won the premier place in Scotland with its magazine, ‘The Stromnessian.'” ¶ 21 September 1967, p. 4. The regulars at the Pier Head don’t stray very far for their holidays.

5 October 1967, p. 4. With the approach of winter, the Pier Head group is inclined to stay home – usually watching television. ¶ 12 October 1974, p. 4. Pensions are going up soon, but that extra money will disappear with the arrival of higher prices. ¶ 19 October 1967, p. 4. The centenary of the Stromness lifeboat.

23 November 1967, p. 4. Talk about devaluation of the pound. ¶ 30 November 1967, p. 4. What Christmas was like in earlier years.

7 December 1967, p. 4. Changes in the Stromness skyline, especially the new flats going up at the site of the old distillery. ¶ 14 December 1967, p. 4. “On these days, with snow swirling out of the norther, those at the Pier Head wish they were bears who could sleep in a cave all winter.” ¶ 21 December 1967, p. 4. How we observe the winter solstice – and how it was understood in earlier centuries.

GMB — What the Pier Head Is Saying (1970)

The following “What the Pier Head Is Saying” columns by George Mackay Brown were published in the Orcadian during 1970, signed with his initials only.


1 January 1970, p. 3. “As the last few days of the Sixties dwindle and flicker at the Pier Head, they remember some of the things that happened during the year.” ¶ 8 January 1970, p. 3. What Stromness was like in the 1770s and 1870s; information about Robert Leighton, author of Pilots of Pomona. ¶ 15 January 1970, p. 3. Puzzling local street names. ¶ 22 January 1970, p. 4. “This is the Burns season, and at the Pier Head they honour the bard as sincerely as anywhere.” ¶ 29 January 1970, p. 5. Eyesores in Stromness that could be repaired or removed.

5 February 1970, p. 4. “Washing day in the old times – not so long ago either – was a large-scale operation, especially if there were more than four or five in the family.” ¶ 12 February 1970, p. 4. “”The Pier Head waits, with some apprehension, for the introduction of decimal currency a year from now.” ¶ 19 February 1970, p. 4. Recalling the wartime aerodrome near Stromness. ¶ 26 February 1970, p. 4. “The big snow came with a wild white flurry one Friday morning, and continued most of the afternoon.”

5 March 1970, p. 4. A visit to the Eventide Club. ¶ 12 March 1970, p. 4. “Congratulations to the Stromness W.R.I. on winning the Orkney Drama Festival again”; suggestions for an open-air drama in Stromness. ¶ 19 March 1970, p. 4. “Have they gone forever, the old shops of Stromness, where you could drop in for a talk at any hour of the day, and be sure of a good story before you left?” ¶ 26 March 1970, p. 4. The tradition of collecting pace eggs the Saturday before Easter.

2 April 1970, p. 4. “Nowadays, whetted no doubt by the activities of the Heritage Society, there is a great interest in old photographs both of the places and people that were once a part of our story.” ¶ 9 April 1970, p. 4. Signs of spring. ¶ 16 April 1970, p. 4. “Would it not be a good idea to start thinking now about the future of the Warehouse Building?” ¶ 23 April 1970, p. 4. Local feats of walking, past and present. ¶ 30 April 1970, p. 3. We are all hypocrites.

7 May 1970, p. 4. Spring-cleaning is no longer the “important and desperate ritual” that it once was. ¶ 14 May 1970, p. 4. “Whether they put fluoride in the water or not does not concern the Pier Head people very much.” ¶ 21 May 1970, p. 4. a visit to Edinburgh. ¶ 28 May 1970, p. 4. Signs of opulence in the shops of Edinburgh.

4 June 1970, p. 4. The pleasures of crossing the Pentland Firth. ¶ 11 June 1970, p. 3. The June holiday in Stromness. ¶ 18 June 1970, p. 4. Memories of earlier General Election Days. ¶ 25 June 1970, p. 4. The attempt to revive the tradition of a Johnsmas Eve fire on a hill on Hoy.

2 July 1970, p. 4. The flood of summer visitors.


[In the 3 December 1970 issue of the Orcadian (p. 4), a letter from G. Woodward complained, “We very much miss the one-time feature ‘What they are saying down at the Pierhead.'” The editor responded, “The writer of the Pierhead Gossip is ‘recharging his batteries’ and intends to return to the fold sometime.” In fact, GMB never resumed the “What the Pier Head Is Saying” column, but in February 1971 he launched his “Letter from Hamnavoe,” which seems to have been intended for a somewhat broader audience.]

GMB — What the Pier Head Is Saying (1961)

The following “What the Pier Head Is Saying” columns by George Mackay Brown were published in the Orcadian during 1961 and were signed with his initials only.

9 November 1961, p. 4. “The Pier Head – that second chamber of the town, which stands in relation to the Town Council roughly as The House of Lords stands to the Commons – is puzzled by certain innovations which have crept into the Hallowe’en and Guy Fawkes ritual of recent years.” ¶ 16 November 1961, p. 4. What would happen if the inhabitants of Tristan da Cunha (a volcanic island in the south Atlantic) were to resettle in Stromness? ¶ 23 November 1961, p. 4. “The Pier Head is astonished by the undoubted fact that the Christmas season is beginning earlier with every year that passes.” ¶ 30 November 1961, p. 4. Bingo is a new version of the old game of Housie.

7 December 1961, p. 4. Two regulars at the Pier Head: George S. Robertson and James Harvey. ¶ 21 December 1961, p. 4. A discussion of “vanished Christmas customs, particularly the Yule Log.” ¶ 28 December 1961, p. 2. Hogmanay and New Year customs.

GMB — Letter from Hamnavoe (1974)

The following “Letter from Hamnavoe” columns by George Mackay Brown were published in the Orcadian during 1974 and were signed with initials only (except for 30 May 1974, which was unsigned). Most were reprinted in GMB’s Letters from Hamnavoe (1979), cited here as LH.


10 January 1974, p. 3. New Year in Stromness when he was a child. ¶ 17 January 1974, p. 4. Reflections on a Daniell print of the Bishop’s Palace, Kirkwall. Repr. LH 97–99. ¶ 24 January 1974, p. 4. Burns never mentioned Orkney in his writings, but there are allusions to it in various other literary texts through the centuries. Repr. LH 99. ¶ 31 January 1974, p. 4. The history of the name of the St. Ola ferry.

14 February 1974, p. 4. Local political talk; a high tide. ¶ 21 February 1974, p. 4. Approves the decision to close down television (“old one-eye”) at 10:30 p.m.; the death of the poet Douglas Young. Repr. LH 100. ¶ 28 February 1974, p. 4. Memories of past election days in Stromness. Repr. LH 100–01.

7 March 1974, p. 4. Tribute to the career of Eric Linklater on his 75th birthday. Repr. LH 101. ¶ 14 March 1974, p. 4. The end of the miners’ strike leads to some thoughts about the history of mining in Stromness. Repr. LH 102. ¶ 21 March 1974, p. 4. “Today is the vernal equinox, one of the four magical times of the year. In the everlasting struggle between light and darkness both forces are locked together and motionless, on this day. From now on the darkness begins to give way.” Repr. LH 102–03. ¶ 28 March 1974, p. 4. Fine weather and the sighting of swans near Stromness. Repr. LH 104.

4 April 1974, p. 4. Even 300 years ago Orcadians were notorious for heavy drinking, but they are rarely interested in betting. Repr. LH 104–05. ¶ 11 April 1974, p. 4. He imagines what would happen if Shetland were to declare its independence. ¶ 18 April 1974, p. 4. The egg symbolism of Easter. Repr. LH 105–06. ¶ 25 April 1974, p. 4. The problem of getting rid of old books; the story of how Peter Maxwell Davies gave a copy of the Orkneying Saga to Jorge Luis Borges. Repr. LH 106.

2 May 1974, p. 4. Conversations at the Pier Head. ¶ 9 May 1974, p. 4. Short story about an old woman and her granddaughter on a May morning. ¶ 16 May 1974, p. 4. Memories of going to the cinema in Stromness when he was young. Repr. LH 106–07. ¶ 23 May 1974, p. 4. Review of G. S. Robertson, A History of the Stromness Golf Courses. Repr. LH 107–08. ¶ 30 May 1974, p. 4. Unsigned. In 1842 “there were over 40 places in Stromness where drink could be bought. But most of these premises would not have been ‘pubs’ as we understand them. They would have been ‘ale houses’, where you drank the ale that was brewed on the premises.” Repr. LH 108.

6 June 1974, p. 4. The death of James MacTaggart; recalls the time when MacTaggart filmed a television drama based on three stories by GMB, the first of which was set in Rackwick. Repr. LH 110. ¶ 13 June 1974, p. 4. Gloomy thoughts about Dounreay, the nuclear reactor visible across the Pentland Firth. Repr. LH 111. ¶ 20 June 1974, p. 4. The pleasures of riding in a friend’s car around the island. ¶ 27 June 1974, p. 4. Imaginary letter written 150 years ago about the Orkney hilltop bonfires on midsummer’s eve (Johnsmas). Repr. LH 111–12.

4 July 1974, p. 4. Visiting an exhibition at the Stromness Museum. ¶ 11 July 1974, p. 4. Reflections prompted by John Firth’s Reminiscences of an Orkney Parish (reissued by the Stromness Museum). Repr. LH 112–13. ¶ 18 July 1974, p. 4. An account of the life of Phin, who was (mistakenly) thought to be the founder of Finstown. Repr. LH 114. ¶ 25 July 1974, p. 4. Story about a Stromness man who retreats to another island in order to escape the crowds of Shopping Week.

1 August 1974, p. 4. A day on a boat with friends in Burra Sound. Repr. LH 114–15. ¶ 8 August 1974, p. 4. A visit to the Dounby Show (of farm animals). Repr. LH 115–16. ¶ 15 August 1974, p. 3. The problems of reading the Sunday newspapers. ¶ 22 August 1974, p. 4. Praise for the week-long Orkney Orchestral Summer School in Stromness. Repr. LH 116–17. ¶ 29 August 1974, p. 4. Summer visitors in Stromness.

5 September 1974, p. 4. The pleasures of looking at an old map he has just bought, “A Map of Orkney Shire, drawn from the best Authorities by T. Kitchin.” Repr. LH 117. ¶ 12 September 1974, p. 4. Unsightly military relics throughout Orkney. ¶ 19 September 1974, p. 4. An imaginary account of a school day forty years ago. Repr. LH 117–20. ¶ 26 September 1974, p. 4. The autumnal equinox. “If only we could read the great stone book of Brodgar! It was undoubtedly erected with some reference to, and reverence for, the waxing and waning of the fruitful year.” Repr. LH 119–20.

3 October 1974, p. 6. “Another election! – the second within a year – what a bore!” ¶ 10 October 1974, p. 4. “They were discussing the election at the Pier Head . . . one afternoon recently.” ¶ 17 October 1974, p. 4. Listening to a radio program about plants and farming. ¶ 24 October 1974, p. 4. The death of John Shearer, former Director of Education and once a science master at Stromness Academy. Repr. LH 120–21. ¶ 31 October 1974, p. 4. Listening to awful news on radio and television; reading Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

7 November 1974, p. 4. The telephone box in front of the Stromness Museum. Repr. LH 121–22. ¶ 14 November 1974, p. 4. His cooking and eating habits. Repr. LH 122–23. ¶ 21 November 1974, p. 4. A new St. Ola ferry has arrived. Repr. LH 123–24. ¶ 28 November 1974, p. 6. Possible origins of the name of the hill behind Stromness, Brinkie’s Brae. Repr. LH 124–25.

5 December 1974, p. 4. Fictional narrative about an Orkney boy’s misunderstanding of the Ice Age. Repr. LH 126. ¶ 12 December 1974, p. 6. Electrical problems in his kitchen; the acquisitiveness of modern society. ¶ 19 December 1974, p. 4. How a boy named Josie might have experienced Christmas at the beginning of the twentieth century. ¶ 26 December 1974, p. 3. Memories of the past year.