“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 — 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 — 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 (1954)

The following “Island Diary” columns by George Mackay Brown, all signed “Islandman,” were published in the Orkney Herald during 1954. (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.


“New Year’s Day.” 12 January 1954, p. 4. Because he’s in the hospital, he hasn’t suffered the usual after-effects of Hogmanay; watching the Ba’ in Kirkwall. ¶ “The Ballad of Andr­­ew Ross – Second Version.” 19 January 1954, p. 4. Another version of a nineteenth-century ballad that interested his readers. ¶ “The Star o’ Rabbie Burns.” 26 January 1954, p. 4. An assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of Burns as a poet.­

“Look Out, It’s Coming.” 2 February 1954, p. 4. Is uneasy about the possible arrival of television on Orkney; recollections of his earlier encounters with television in Dalkeith and Edinburgh.­­ ¶ “At the Bull Show.” 9 February 1954, p. 4. Going to the Bull Sale at Kirkwall Auction Mart for the first time in his life; the depopulation of Rackwick; the hundredth anniversary of the Orcadian; the “old weather witch” who mistakenly prophesied a hurricane in January. ¶ “Taken to Task.” 16 February 1954, p. 6. Responding to a letter from a reader, he surveys other great Scottish writers besides Burns and defends his praise of the Orkneyinga Saga. ¶ “The Cruel Sea.” 23 February 1954, p. 4. “That story, in the national press last week, of the fishing boat skipper who drew up in his nets a drowned body, and ordered it to be given back to the sea, roused a great deal of interest in Orkney.”

“The Long Night.” 2 March 1954, p. 4. “I heard a good story the other day, said to be true, which could perhaps be worked up into an effective one-act comedy”; the county ploughing match; “a spin in the car round Scorriedale and Houton”; the Drama Festival in Stromness. ¶ “Lure of the Map.” 9 March 1954, p. 6. The old place names of Orkney; dramatic local weather. ¶ “Inquest on a Radio­­ Programme.” 23 March 1954, p. 6. “I should like, in the next few weeks, to discuss some of the programmes we hear regularly on the Scottish Home Service”; review of a program about an Orkney family in the eighteenth century; watching films at the hospital; Herman Wouk’s The Cain Mutiny. ¶ “Take Your Choice.” 30 March 1954, p. 6. “The news that there is to be a large atomic pile (or whatever is the right name) in Caithness has roused various reactions in Orkney”; declining Presbyterian church membership in Orkney (mainly thanks to John Knox); the radio program Just as You Please.

“The Night of the Falling Bombs.” 6 April 1954, p. 4. Remembering the first bombing raid on Orkney during World War Two; review of Judgment Day, a radio play by Elmer Rice. ¶ “Earl Haakon’s Testament.” 20 April 1954, p. 4. “This week ‘Islandman’ imagines Earl Haakon, in the last year of his rule in Orkney, telling the story of Magnus’s death, from his own point of view.” Reply by “Reader” and response by GMB, 27 April, p. 4. ¶ “On Reading the Great McGonagall.” 27 April 1954, p. 4. The poet William McGonagall of Dundee.

“Island Politicians.” 4 May 1954, p. 4. Various Shetland politicians, including John W. Eunson; rooks in Kirkwall (which he has observed from the hospital windows); peat smoke on Orkney. ¶ “The Second Miscellany.” 11 May 1954, p. 4. Review of the second volume of the Orkney Miscellany, consisting of “seven papers read before the Orkney Record and Antiquarian Society last winter.” ¶ “Peerie Sea: Princess or Trull.” 25 May 1954, p. 6. The debates about Kirkwall’s Peerie Sea; new houses in Kirkwall; the most recent issue of the New Shetlander.

“A New Scottish Magazine.” 1 June 1954, p. 6. Review of the first issue of the Saltire Review; a friendly letter from a woman in London, but “some week soon, for your entertainment, I must print here some of the savage bitter letters I get from readers”; playing the game of Monopoly in the hospital. ¶ “The Great Song Famine.” 8 June 1954, p. 6. “I wish someone with ability would try to compose one or two decent Orkney songs, for those we possess are dreadful beyond belief”; an encounter with Andrew Manson, who had a phenomenal memory; Orkney poetry. ¶ “Thou Shalt Not Read!” 15 June 1954, p. 6. The banning of books by public libraries; wonders whether his own book, The Storm, mostly “a collection of innocuous little poems,” published yesterday, might be publicly attacked; a booklet recounting the history of King Street Church, Kirkwall; Orkney books at a recent Kirkwall auction. ¶ “A Visit to the Cathedral.” 22 June 1954, p. 6. An afternoon at St. Magnus Cathedral with Ernest Marwick. Repr. NL 108–10. ¶ “A Day in Rendall.” 29 June 1954, p. 6. A bus trip to visit friends in Rendall. Repr. NL 111–13.

“June Days.” 6 July 1954, p. 6. Bad weather and a recital of terrible events associated with June in Orkney. ¶ “The Jew and the Spaniard.” 20 July 1954, p. 4. Two surprising past members of the King Street Church; an American visitor named George Brown; extract from his diary about the solar eclipse. ¶ “Shopping Week Overture.” 27 July 1954, p. 4. Description of the beginning of Shopping Week in Stromness.

“Black Pat’s Palace.” 3 August 1954, p. 4. The ruins of Earl Patrick Stewart’s palace in Kirkwall. ¶ “The Stenness Witches.” 24 August 1954, p. 4. Modern witches allegedly in Stenness; visit of a spiritualist medium; Orkney tombstones; has been made an honorary member of the Doglovers Club’ Hugh MacDiarmid’s lapses as a poet; the Stromness Regatta; the Multiple Sclerosis Society. ¶ “Three Ambitions.” 31 August 1954, p. 4. Paradox, a book of poems by Jean Macdonald Watt; the abundance of painters in Orkney; the need for lyrics to accompany some old Orkney music; changing golf fashions; recent stormy weather; three ambitions (including a visit to Rackwick) for the summer not yet realized.

“An Afternoon in Stromness Museum.” 7 September 1954, p. 4. A history of the Museum and a description of its current displays. ¶ “An Orkney Convict Poet.” 14 September 1954, p. 4. The story of J. T. Wilson-Bonchord and his Poems Composed in Prison. ¶ “Evening at the Black Craig.” 21 September 1954, p. 4. A walk up the Black Craig, near Outertown, on a Sunday evening; Ferguson’s Scottish Proverbs by David Ferguson (1641); a dying rabbit near his home.­ ¶ “The Great Orkney Judas.” 28 September 1954, p. 5. The story of the mutiny led by John Gow.

“John Rae and the Franklin Expedition.” 5 October 1954, p. 5. The arctic adventures of John Rae. ¶ “A Defence against the Cold.” 12 October 1954, p. 5. Despite the early arrival of winter weather, he finds pleasure in reading older books about Orkney. ¶ “Kirkwall’s Black Sabbath.” 19 October 1954, p. 5. The Rev. Charles Webster’s denunciation of sabbath-breaking in 1888. ¶ “The End of Gow.” 26 October 1954, p. 4. John Gow’s trial and execution in London.

“Edwin Muir’s ‘Autobiography’.” 2 November 1954, p. 4. A long, laudatory review. ¶ “A Forgotten Masterpiece.” 9 November 1954, p. 4. James Wallace’s Description of Orkney (1693). ¶ “Portrait of Geremy.” 16 November 1954, p. 5. Gerald G. A. Meyer, the editor of the Orcadian. ¶ “Sir Walter Scott in Orkney.” 23 November 1954, p. 4. Scott’s unhappy visit to Orkney in 1814; his The Pirate (1822), which grew out of that visit, is a terrible novel. ¶ “Gow on the High Sea.” 30 November 1954, p. 4. “So many readers have asked for another article on Gow, that ‘Islandman’ has written a few more. . . .”

“The Other Kingdom.” 7 December 1954, p. 4. How he was introduced to poetry as a child.­­ ¶ “The Gale Warning.” 14 December 1954, p. 4. Taking a walk on a stormy day; the fortieth issue of the New Shetlander; Melville’s Moby Dick. ¶ “A Large Christmas Card.” 21 December 1954, p. 4. The difficulty of writing another Christmas column; seasonal greetings to several of his friends. ¶ “The End of a Sinister Year.” 28 December 1954, p. 5. The worst weather in living memory; Orkney’s shrinking population is connected with the sickness of modern life.

Island Diary (1950)

The following “Island Diary” columns by George Mackay Brown, all signed “Islandman,” were published in the Orkney Herald during 1950. (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.


“O Wild West Wind!” 3 January 1950, p. 4. An article in the Orkney Herald, November 1909, about the turbulent crossing of the Pentland Firth by the Royal Mail. ¶ “Journey through Hell.” 10 January 1950, p. 4. Reading Dorothy L. Sayers’ new translation of Dante’s Inferno. ¶ “We Have No Time to Stand and Stare.” 17 January 1950, p. 4. A typical boring day in the life of a writer. ¶ “Homage to Burns.” 24 January 1950, p. 4. Various reactions to Burns’s poetry. ¶ “Remembering July 1945.” 31 January 1950, p. 4. Remembering the political scene five years earlier.

“A Columnist’s Year.” 7 February 1950, p. 4. A look back on the past year (especially its weather). ¶ “Things that Go Bump in the Night.” 14 February 1950, p. 4. Supernatural apparitions. ¶ “A Fortnight to Go . . .” 21 February 1950, p. 4. An account of his life just before the election, with emphasis on the cold weather. ¶ “The Noble Art of Murder.” 28 February 1950, p. 4. His fascination with murderers.

“Orkney’s Illustrious Obscure.” 14 March 1950, p. 4. Orcadians who “have won a minor immortality.” ¶ “Letter to a Hot Country.” 21 March 1950, p. 4. Letter to “Dear Willie” in the tropics about what has been happening politically in Orkney.

“Exchange of Views.” 4 April 1950, p. 4. Prints a letter from a reader complaining about immorality on the stage, and responds to it. ¶ “’The Only Pretty Ring Time . . .’.” 11 April 1950, p. 4. The arrival of spring in Orkney. ¶ “Trying to Be Honest.” 18 April 1950, p. 4. Imagines a completely honest guidebook about Orkney for first-time visitors. ¶ “Ten Years Ago.” 25 April 1950, p. 4. Remembering the early phase of the war in 1940.

“War of Words.” 2 May 1950, p. 4. The arguments in favor of English rather than Scots as the best language for Scottish writers. Reply by Robert M. Thorburn, “War of Words,” 9 May 1950, p. 6. ¶ “Mansie Harra’s Escape from the Trows.” 9 May 1950, p. 4. “The following story, which you will either accept as true or dismiss as a piece of wild imagination, was told by Mansie Harra, who, even in his lifetime, was a legendary figure in the West Mainland.” ¶ “The Beginning of Summer.” 16 May 1950, p. 4. An account of his activities, literary and otherwise, during the past week. ¶ “A Football Fan Remembers.” 23 May 1950, p. 4. His earliest memories of watching football. ¶ “Hours Worth Living For.” 30 May 1950, p. 4. His chief delights in life.

“The League of Story Tellers.” 6 June 1950, p. 4. “Fortunately the story-tellers of Orkney are not all dead. . . . But they are dying out fast, I must warn you of that.” ¶ “Letter to London.” 13 June 1950, p. 4. He writes to a friend in London about what’s happening in Orkney. ¶ “The Wickedest Woman in Orkney.” 27 June 1950, p. 4. An account of the life of Ragnhild a thousand years ago on Orkney.

“A Summer of Carnival.” 4 July 1950, p. 4. The activities of Earl Rognvald, nephew of St. Magnus, eight centuries ago. ¶ “Floreat Stromness!” 18 July 1950, p. 4. Technically this is not part of the “Island Diary” series, but it is signed with GMB’s usual pseudonym of “Islandman,” with this accompanying note: “‘Islandman’ contributes a thumb-nail sketch of the history and growth of the town, and mentions some of its outstanding people. And he has tried to discover what Stromness hopes for in the future.” ¶ “This Modern Orkney.” 25 July 1950, p. 4. How life on Orkney has changed in the past fifty years.
“Rousay – Isle of Beauty and History.”

1 August 1950, p. 4. “Now Rousay is not half such a celebrated island as it should be.” Repr. NL 91–96. ¶ “An Hour or Two in Rousay.” 8 August 1950, p. 4. A visit to the Rousay Golf Course. ¶ “Advice to Tourists.” 22 August 1950, p. 6. A brief guide to Orkney for visitors. ¶ “The Minister Who Went to Jail.” 29 August 1950, p. 4. The conviction of the Rev. Matthew Armour for disturbing the peace in Sanday in 1885. Reply by M.S., 12 September, p. 5.

“John Gerard’s Heir.” 12 September 1950, p. 4. The only son of “one of Orkney’s greatest preachers and personalities, the Reverend John Gerard, of South Ronaldsay.” ¶ “The Island of Seals” [1]. 19 September 1950, p. 4. GMB visits the island of Suleskerry. ¶ “The Island of Seals” [2]. 26 September 1950, p. 4. Description of the scenery and wildlife on the island.

“Journey to Thule” [1]. 3 October 1950, p. 6. A trip to Shetland “with the football and hockey contingent at the end of August”; description of Lerwick.­ ¶ “Journey to Thule” [2]. 10 October 1950, p. 6. A visit to a bookshop in Lerwick, followed by the hockey and football matches in Scalloway. “The evening came down, and I realised with a sharp pang of disappointment that I wouldn’t be able to see any more of Shetland this time.” ¶ “A Great Orkney Historian.” 17 October 1950, p. 4. “The death of Mr. John Mooney has removed from our midst one of the keenest and noblest intellects of Orkney.” ¶ “A Shower of Poets.” 24 October 1950, p. 6. Various writers who have visited or written about Orkney in the past. ¶ “Islandman Listens In.” 31 October 1950, p. 6. What he enjoys listening to on BBC radio.

“The Tumult and the Shouting.” 7 November 1950, p. 3. An account of the Battle of Summerdale. ¶ “Battered Caravanserai.” 14 November 1950, p. 4. An evening at the Shelter, an old air raid shelter. ¶ “November Chill.” 21 November 1950, p. 6. The occasional consolations of November, including St. Magnus Day (the 13th). ¶ “Winter Afternoon’s Walk.” 28 November 1950, p. 4. Reflections on Orkney politics; his regular afternoon walk; flying saucers; a piece of local folklore (the Knowe of Yuro).

“The Old Norse Gods.” 5 December 1950, p. 4. The Norse deities of ancient Orkney. ­¶ “Window on a Golden Age.” 12 December 1950, p. 4 . ¶ “A Yule-tide Setting.” 19 December 1950, p. 4. Transfers the story of the first Christmas to Orkney during the period of Norse rule. ¶ “New Year’s Song.” 26 December 1950, p. 4. The traditional song once connected with Hogmanay.

GMB — Memorable Week at Stromness (20 June 1944)

[GMB.] “Memorable Week at Stromness.” Orkney Herald, 20 June 1944, p. 5.

Signed by “our Stromness correspondent.”

“. . . Stromness ‘Salute’ [a series of military ceremonies], from the entertainment point view, at any rate, compares more than favourably with that of the county town [Kirkwall].”