Virtual Vault Rev James Wallace's Description of the Isles of Orkney, 1684 (MS)
Chapter 5

Chapter 5th
The peculiar customs, maners
& Dispositions of the Inhabitants
of this Countrey

The People heer are generallie mannerlie Sagacious & Circumspect, Loyall & piouslie enclined.† Tho Beothious report them to be great Drunkards, and Maginus say off them Quod Sunt Bibacissimi nunquam & amen inebriantur, yet now itt is not so for the† the use of strong ale & Beer (the nature of the Climate requyring Strong Liquor) yet generallie they are sober and temperate.† But with all much given to hospitalitie & feasting, evrie Civil & Liberall in their††††††††††††† ††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††† ††††††††††† inter

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intertaining off straingers & much enclined to speak badlie of these that are peevishlie ir niggardlie disposed.† Buchanan tells a storie which is still beleeved heer & talked of as a truth ; That in Scapa (which is a village about a mile from Kirkwall to the South) there wes kept a bigg Cup which when anie new Bishops Landed there they filled with strong ale & offered it to him to drink:† And iff he hapned to drink itt of cheerfullie they promised to themselves a noble Bishop and manie good years in his tyme.

In manie places the Landlord hes his tennant bound to him & his followers Liberall entertainment once a year, especialie at Christmass (att which tyme the people of this Countrey are generallie enclined to feasting) and the Tennant will not faile to have good victualls & strong ale (which they call Bummocks in readiness & will be offended iff the landlord refuise to make mirrie with them.

The People are Generallie Personable & Comlie.† Polyd.† Verg. Sayes of them Quod Statura sunt procera semper sane forme corporo pariter atq mente quo sit ut multo longissimam degant ∆ tataln et si piscibus ut plurimum victitant.† The women are broodie & apt for gneration.† One Majrie Bimbister is the parish of Evie wes this last year brought to bed of a male child in the 63 year of his age.

The Gentrie & those yt are of anie qualitie both men and wo

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women love to goe fyne & goe in the faishion.† The Husbandmen & their servants manie of them use hatts & cloaks, and make no use of plaids as in other places.† By reason off yr temperance of their dyett, & wholsomnes of the air, the people usuallie live to a good age.† A man not farr from this (in the parish of Ham) dying latelie, who lived upwards of four scoir years with his wife in a maried estate.† Some there be also of ane exceeding high stature, as that young man who, for his talnes, wes usuallie called the Meikle man of waes as being a great deall taler then the comon sort of men.† Att† the Chappell of Clett in Sanda is a grave to be seen, wherein they say a Giant is buried and indeed the ston that is laid upon the grave will be above eighteen foot long, so that iff the bodie hes been proportionalle to the grave itt hes been exceeding monstruous.

The more comon & generall diseases heer are the Scruvie, agues, consumptions etc.† There are some poor men in the countrey that have great skill to Cure anie comon sore or seikness.† Instead of a Cupping-Glass they have a horn with a litle striffen [2] att the small end.† The way how they use itt is this.† The Physitian with the poynt of his knife gives three or four small cutts or gashes on ye place qr he purposes to sett the horn : & haveing sett the broadest end on the wounds, he sucks the small end a litle & then letts it stand, till the aboundance of blood which itt dranes makes itt to fall off.† Some have away (iff they be to cure anie akeing or inward pain in anie part of the bodie) to draw our fever all litle worms out of the pairt affected (qrof I had occasion to see some) whereby they remove ye pain ††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††† ††††††††††† othr

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Others there be also that use charms for the cureing of he Heart-cake & Ricketts ; but these are much curbed by the carefull industrie of our pious ministers.

All speak English with the South Countrey accent : onlie some of the comon people among themselves speake Norse or the old Gothish Language which they derive either from the Pights who first peopled this Countrey, or from the Danes & Norwegians in whose possession itt once wes.

Anciently as they are yet in a great measure, they wer much given to superstition: as appears by the manie Chappells that are dispersed heer & there thoro the Countrey.† But the Chappels to which most frequentlie they made their Pilgrimages, wer to the Cahppell off the Brogh of Birsa and to the Chappell of the Brogh at the Mule head in Deirnes: these tuo Chappells Standing att the furthest extremities off the Mainland east & west.† Nor to this hour are these Pilgrimages omitted be the Comon People, who still for the obtaining of some good or deprecating of some evill, doe frequent some chappells that they have most veneration for.† Beside, they have† this generall custom, the day that is dedicated to the memorie of the Saint who is patron of the cheef Kirk (where Sermon is made) is kept holie be the comon people off the whole parish, so that they will not work on that day: and these that live nixt to the samller Chappells doe moreover keep holie that day that is dedicated to ye memorie of that Saint that that Chappell is deneminated by.

††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††† ††††††††††† Heer


Heer they make no use of Pocks or secks, but of a sort of strae called casies in which they keep & transport their victual: nor doe they make use of peck & firlott, but all their corn is weighed on Bismires or Pundlers.† The last quantitie is called Mark ( which is eighteen unco).† Twentie four mark make a leispond or setten:† six settens make a meill (equivalent to a Boll) & 18 meils make a chalder.

In evrie Ile they have a Wart-hill which is the most elevated & conspicues pairt of the ile: on which in tyme of warr they keep Centrie, & when they see the enemies ships approaching they putt a fire qrby to give notice to the adjacent iles of the vicinitie of the enemies, yr by to advertise them to be on their guaird or to come to their help.† Therefor are they called wart-hills that is Ward-hills, because on these places in tyme of warr they keep ward or Centrie.

Their cornland is evrie qr parked or dyked about & withour dykes.† Their sheep & swine and some off their other bestiall goe att random wtout a herdman to keep them.

All their sheep are marked on the luggs or nose.† Evrie man that heth sheep, hath his oun mark, qrby his sheep are distinguished from others and its strainge to Consider how so manie difference merks could be invented as are found cutt in so litle roum.

They use to fleece their sheep about Beltyme And ye way they take to apprehend them (for they goe wild) is both† strainge & delectable.† The Balzie of the Parish of ye Parish with the Law-right-men, and the persons to whom ye sheep belong meet togither on a day appointed haveing ††††††††††† ††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††† with


with them sheep doggs trained up for the hunting of them and when they wold have such a sheep caught, they poynt him out by the finger to the dogg, qrupon he runs & singles out that sheep from all the flock, & never leaves off running till he heth apprehended him, which being fleeced or shorne be the owner they then goe on to hunt for others.

They also have a pleasant way of takeing the Sea-foull qn they are young, as Toists & Kittiwiacks, Maws etc. which build verie thick on the shelves of high rocks.† Under the rock there is a Boat with men, haveing a lairge nett qch att the tuo upermost corners is fastned wt tuo long ropes, which are in the hands of men att the top of the rock, who heofe up the nett till itt be over anent the place qr the young fouls sitt: then they that are in the Boat under the rock have a Ratle which makes so frishtening a noise yt all the youung fowles take wing & flee forward into the bottom off the nett where they are presentlie hanged and caught.† Then the nett is lett doun into the Boat & the prey seized upon.† And so they goe from rock to rock takeing as manie as they can.† Others have this way to take these fouls: a man that is accustomed to the exercise, hes a rope weel bound about his midle with which he is let slide doun the steep rock till he be overanent the place qr the young fowls are, of whom he apprehends as manie as he is able to carie, & then is heefed up with hs prey.

They use that way also in harrying off the Hawks nests.

††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††† ††††††††††† Chap

[2] The Scottish National Dictionarystriffin: a thin skin, membrane or film of anything


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