What the Pier Head Is Saying

Pier Head.jpg

GMB (right) and his Pier Head friends, in a photograph taken by Ernest W. Marwick in 1970. (Orkney Library and Archive.)

George Mackay Brown’s “What the Pier Head Is Saying” column, signed with initials only, was published in the Orkney Herald between 1954 and 1956 and in the Orcadian between 1961 and 1970 (with a gap between October 1962 and November 1964 when he was living in Edinburgh). It purports to be a record of conversations near the ferry pier in Stromness.

“What the Pier Head Is Saying” was a forerunner of two later columns by George Mackay Brown in the Orcadian (“Letter from Hamnavoe” and “Under Brinkie’s Brae,” but unlike those subsequent contributions, the “Pier Head” series was never reprinted in book form. From a literary (as well as a chronological) point of view, it stands midway between the earlier “Stromness News” columns in the Orkney Herald (1944–1947), which consisted mainly of short paragraphs of local news, and the more polished essays of “Letter from Hamnavoe” (1971–1975) and “Under Brinkie’s Brae” (1976–1996).