Memories of Pirate Gow

Memories of Pirate Gow

Memories of Pirate Gow, a digital photomontage showing Gow's Folly aka the Groatie Hoose combined with childhood project book drawings.
Memories of Pirate Gow. Digital drawing and photomontage, 1986-2021.

Memories of Pirate Gow is an artwork comprised of digital drawing and photomontage. It is inspired by the story of the infamous Orcadian Pirate John Gow and the unusual structure known as Gow’s Folly (or the Groatie Hoose), which was constructed using ballast material from his ship. As I studied this subject at primary school and visited Gow’s Folly in its original location, I decided it would be interesting to incorporate drawings done at that time. This was an experimental piece produced without any preparatory sketches or a clear idea of how it would develop.

Gow’s Folly was built by James Traill of Woodwick in the grounds of O’Connor’s Hotel, in a courtyard off Bridge Street in Kirkwall. Traill was at one time the Provost of Kirkwall, and apparently decided to build the folly using ballast material from Gow’s ship on a whim.

John Gow had led a mutiny aboard the George, renamed it Revenge, and following a short and unsuccessful career in piracy around the Mediterranean headed for his birthplace of Orkney. His ship ran aground off Eday, leading to his capture and eventual execution in London in 1725.

Trees blowing in the wind behind the weathervane atop Gow's Folly.
Gow’s Folly on a windy day.

In 1938 a fire destroyed the hotel, leaving only Gow’s Folly intact. It had once sat in supposedly the most beautiful garden in Orkney, but as new buildings arose it found itself in a sadly neglected courtyard. in 2005 the structure was moved to its present home in Tankerness House Gardens, the home of the Orkney Museum in Kirkwall.

Gow's Folly, aka the Groatie Hoose, in Tankerness House Gardens at the Orkney Museum, Kirkwall. Wide angle photo with tree branches.
Gow’s Folly, aka the Groatie Hoose, in Tankerness House Gardens at the Orkney Museum, Kirkwall.

Memories of Pirate Gow was featured in The Orkney News regular column by Fiona Grahame in the June 2021 edition of iScot magazine.