In December, production artwork for an upcoming animation will be on display at the Northlight Gallery in Stromness. This work was created for a short film from The Orkney News called A Gude Cause Maks A Strong Erm. Researched and written by Fiona Grahame, it tells the largely forgotten story of the Orcadian Woman’s Suffrage Society. The project received funding from the Scottish Government’s Centenary Fund celebrating 100 years of women having the vote.
The Orcadian Woman’s Suffrage Society was a peaceful, non-party political organisation, open to both men and women. The title of the animation, A Gude Cause Maks A StrongErm, comes from one of the banner slogans which the Suffragists used on marches.
This exhibition is taking place in association with St. Andrew’s Fair Saturday. Fair Saturday falls on the last Saturday of November (following the consumerist Black Friday). A wide variety of events in support of positive social change are taking place across the globe. The events calendar can be viewed on the Fair Saturday website (link).
The quote, “What you don’t have, you don’t miss,” comes from an interview with Edwin Harrold’s former neighbour Ruby Spence, as outlined here.
Edwin Harrold was by all accounts quite a character. He lived a simple life at Bankburn Cottage off Bigswell Road, Stenness, in the West Mainland of Orkney. There he re-routed the Russadale Burn to power a small hydro-electric system to cover his modest electrical needs.
The area around Edwin’s house was landscaped to create a small woodland escape of a kind which is uncommon in Orkney. Visitors were welcome, and the magical-sounding Happy Valley no doubt left a lasting impression on many a young Orcadian.
Happy Valley is now maintained by the Friends of Happy Valley, a charitable organisation.
For more on Edwin Harrold’s life and work, read this months iScot magazine.
Egilsay is a small, sparsely populated island in Orkney, where the people seem to be heavily outnumbered by the horse-flies. There are a few small farms which face an uncertain future as Brexit threatens the EU farming subsidies they depend on for survival. Part of Egilsay is a protected habitat for the Corncrake, and this has also received EU funding.
It was on Egilsay that the peaceful, kind Magnus Erlendsson was murdered by his violent cousin Haakon Paulsson in a power struggle over the Earldom of Orkney. Magnus was killed around 1116AD, and canonised in 1136AD – a short turnaround for sainthood. St Magnus Church was built in his honour sometime in the 12th Century, possibly on the site of an older church. With a distinctive round tower, it is the dominant landmark on Egilsay.
An obelisk marks the site of Magnus’ execution, on a grassy sward not far from the church which was supposedly a barren landscape before his death. It is surrounded by fields of nesting birds. Signposts bearing the symbol of the St. Magnus Way mark access. The majority of pilgrims have four legs.
Cartoon created to accompany The Orkney News article in the June 2018 edition of iScot magazine, about the Orkney connection to the Scottish Covenanters. The drawing references the dark artistic vision of William Blake. The figure of Urizen represents an aspect of God in Blake’s personal mythology.
The Covenanters were a 17th Century Scottish Presbyterian Christian sect. They were evangelical and militaristic, effectively governing Scotland for a time during the War of the Three Kingdoms. They also fought in the English Civil war, where they were defeated by the New Model Army of Oliver Cromwell.
The Covenanters did not recognise the Divine Right of monarchs to lead the Church, only Jesus. This caused them to fall foul of a succession of Kings – Charles I, Charles II, and James VII, who all tried to suppress their religious and rebellious activities.
During a period called The Killing Time, many Covenanters were executed or captured. 1200 of them were defeated at the Battle of Bothwell Brig, and 250 of these put aboard the Crown of London and sent into a life of slavery in the English colonies. They never made it. In 1679 the ship was wrecked in a storm off the coast of Deerness, in Orkney, at a headland called Scarvataing.
As the people were slaves, they were treated as cargo. The captain would be recompensed for their loss if they died, but not if they escaped. Therefore the hatches were ordered closed even as the ship foundered. One crew member did use an axe to break free some prisoners, and thanks to his efforts 47 of them survived. Most were recaptured, but some escaped and it is said their descendants still live in Orkney.
This cartoon was created for The Orkney News column in the May 2018 edition of iScot magazine. The theme is music, and the article addresses the excellent standard of musical education and live performance that can be found in Orkney.
In Orcadian folklore the ‘peerie,’ ‘trowie’, or fairy folk were said to dwell within ancient mounds and cairns. These mischievous creatures were great lovers of music. A human musician playing for them might be well rewarded, for example with a magical ‘trowie shilling’. This would always be found in the pocket when money was needed (at least until the spell was broken).
The downside of playing for the fairy folk is the effect they have on the passage of time. A year and a day (or more!) might pass in the human realm before the fiddler emerges from the trowie mound, and the fiddler would be none the wiser.
According to The Folklore of Orkney and Shetland, the father of Washington Irving, American author of Rip Van Winkle, was an Orcadian (Marwick, 2000, p.34). It seems plausible that the old folk tales of the Northern Isles influenced his writing.
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Marwick, E., 2000. The Folklore of Orkney and Shetland. Edinburgh: Birlann Limited.
Since 2012, as a result of the ideological austerity programme being pursued by the Conservative Government at Westminster, at least 449 public libraries have closed across the UK. Scotland did not vote for this. The Scottish Government has to spend valuable time and resources trying to mitigate Tory cuts within the limits of a budget set by Westminster.
105 libraries closed in the year following Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling’s much-publicised surprise visit to the Orkney Library in March 2016.
Rowling’s statement is full of mischaracterisations, Better Together talking points, and dubious assertions.
She sets up a straw-man target in the fringe nationalist who judges her “insufficiently Scottish”. The pro-independence Yes campaign embraced anyone who was “Scots by choice”, regardless of where they were born. Everyone living in Scotland was permitted and encouraged to vote in the first indyref (in marked contrast to the Brexit referendum, from which EU nationals living in the UK, as well as 16-17 year olds, were excluded).
Another common fallacy, which Rowling repeats, is the conflation of Scottish independence with “Alex Salmond’s ambition.” A Yes vote would not have installed Salmond as dictator in perpetuity, but restored the sovereignty of a nation and its people. This transcends individual careers and party politics. Dislike of Alex Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon, or anyone else, is not a valid reason to consign a country to the dustbin.
Rowling went on
“I’ve heard it said that ‘we’ve got to leave, because they’ll punish us if we don’t’, but my guess is that if we vote to stay, we will be in the heady position of the spouse who looked like walking out, but decided to give things one last go. All the major political parties are currently wooing us with offers of extra powers, keen to keep Scotland happy so that it does not hold an independence referendum every ten years and cause uncertainty and turmoil all over again. I doubt whether we will ever have been more popular, or in a better position to dictate terms, than if we vote to stay.”
Since the No vote the following things have happened:
The British Government enacted English Votes for English Laws (EVEL) legislation in the British Parliament. MPs from Scotland were already out-numbered and out-voted 10 to 1 – now they have fewer voting rights as well (as do the Welsh). Everything the British Parliament does has ramifications for Scotland.
The Scotland Bill denied numerous new powers to the Scottish Government, falling far short of the promised “extensive new powers.”
The Brexit vote threatens to drag Scotland out of the EU despite every single part of the country voting against it. According to Better Together, voting No was the only way to guarantee Scotland’s place in Europe.
Scottish brand identity is under attack, as “One Nation” British nationalism leads to Scottish produce being rebranded, thereby losing its unique signifier of quality. #keepscotlandthebrand
With the Continuity Bill, the governments of Wales and Scotland are now fighting to prevent a power grab by Westminster upon exit from the EU. The existence of the Scottish Parliament itself looks increasingly under threat, as Unionist MSPs actively work to undermine it.
If Scotland were a spouse who decided to give things one last go, it has been betrayed, humiliated, and ignored. All promises made by the supposedly equal partner have been broken. An open mind might question whether or not staying in this relationship was the right decision.
The Vore Tullye, or Spring Struggle, is a mythical battle between two primal nature deities described in the folklore of the Northern Isles of Scotland. It takes place every year, in March.
The Sea Mither is a benevolent spirit who calms the wind, stills the seas, and brings forth an abundance of fish. In Shetland, the Mither o’ the Sea was once invoked by fisherman for protection against the Devil (Marwick, 2000, p.19). She is depicted here as a small sea anemone-like humanoid with a serene, calming influence.
Teran is the Sea Mither’s opposite number: the raging embodiment of Winter. Teran is actually a male spirit, but the physical appearance of these beings has apparently not been handed down in folklore.
Teran is a huge sea monster with the cold, dead eyes of a shark, grasping tentacles, and barnacle-encrusted flippers with which to thrash the water and create stormy seas. It has a vicious, leech-like round orifice which is used both to eat, and excrete.
Following the Vore Tullye, Teran is overcome by the Sea Mither, bound, and confined to the bottom of the sea. The occasional unseasonal storm indicates the thrashing of the monster as it tries to escape.
Later in the year comes the Gore Vellye, or Autumn Tumult, when Teran breaks free once more and begins a new reign of terror (Towrie, 2018). The tyrant of Winter wreaks havoc through storms, gales, and dangerous high seas. The days grow short. People become depressed.
The cycle continues.
Marwick, E., 2000. The Folklore of Orkney and Shetland. Edinburgh: Birlann Limited.
This cartoon first appeared in the January 2018 edition of iScot magazine. It accompanies an article by Fiona Grahame of The Orkney News called “Owre the ferry tae the islands.” The subject of the article is the provision of lifeline ferry services in the Northern Isles, which has become a major issue at every election.
Ferry services are unceasingly used by the Lib-Dems as a stick with which to beat the SNP government. The term RET (Road Equivalent Tariff) is practically a catchphrase for them at this point. It has appeared regularly in letters and political columns in the local press, and in mountains of election material pushed through letter-boxes.
In fact, provision of an affordable ferry service with fares in line with the rest of Scotland is not something that is easily delivered. The Liberal Democrats themselves bear some responsibility for this – something they would no doubt rather people forget.
In 2005, Lib-Dem MSP for Shetland, Tavish Scott, was transport minister in the Labour/Lib-Dem coalition government which awarded the contract to Northlink to build new boats. Due to this PFI-style contract, the resulting ferries will end up costing the public £200 million – twice what they are worth. It seems the Royal Bank of Scotland gets to pocket the difference. To cap it off, the ferries are also inefficient and expensive to run.
According to the late Danus Skene, SNP candidate for Orkney & Shetland, a passenger travelling from Aberdeen to Lerwick is effectively subsidised by £300 – far more than the Western Isles. In addition, RET cannot be applied across the board to every ferry route in the Northern Isles. Some fares would go down, but others would go up.
This is still a live and somewhat controversial issue, but in October 2017 Humza Yousaf, Scottish Government minister for Transport and the Islands, announced that a fall in fares is coming in 2018.