Thursday 15 July 2021

Local People Doing Local Things

 South Ronaldsay is part of the Orkney archipelago, the southernmost island, which has been linked to Orkney Mainland since the completion of the Churchill Barriers on the 12th May 1945 - see ishmael passim ( Before a roadway was laid across the seas, South Ronaldsay

was a self contained little community, with a general stores, a tailor's shop, cobbler, a blacksmiths, and lots of churches. To get up to Kirkwall, it was necessary to embark on a sea voyage. The principal town, now with a population of 550 souls, the third  largest town in Orkney, after Kirkwall and Stromness, is St Margaret's Hope, known locally as the Hup. 
The eponymous Margaret, born in 1283, was the only child of King Eric II of Norway. Her mum, Margaret, daughter of King Alexander III of Scotland, died following childbirth and her dad was only 15, so baby Margaret was brought up in the household of the Bishop of Bergen. The dynastic marriage of her parents was arranged by treaty in 1281, which provided that her mum and heirs would succeed to the throne of Scotland if there were no legitimate heirs of King Alexander. Alexander's three children predeceased him and Alexander died in 1283 after falling from his horse in a storm, thus Margaret became Queen of Scotland at the age of 3. It was arranged that Margaret would marry Prince Edward of Caernavon, son of King Edward 1 of England, thus unifying Scotland and England. Negotiations took a while, but in August 1290, Margaret embarked on her journey from Norway to Scotland, where she was to be inaugurated as monarch at Scone, the ceremonial inauguration site for the Scottish throne. During the journey, she became gravely ill and her ship put into Orkney, which was then a Norwegian archipelago. She died, aged 7,  in the arms of the Bishop of Bergen, in September 1290. Many hopes died with Margaret that day. Her body was returned to Bergen, where her father, King Eric, had the coffin opened to verify that it was, indeed, his daughter.   
How, you may ask, was a 7 year old child canonised? Why is the town called St. Margaret's Hope rather than Queen Margaret's Hope? Enter an earlier contender for the origin story. Margaret was the daughter of the English prince Edward the Exile and his wife Agatha. After the death of her husband, Agatha set sail for the continent with her children.  However, a storm drove their ship north where they were shipwrecked in 1068 in South Ronaldsay, Orkney and given refuge by King Malcolm III of Scotland, who subsequently married  young Margaret, by whom he had many kings. Margaret died in 1093 and was canonised.  There is an early chapel in South Ronaldsay dedicated to her. 
 So -  the 1290 Margaret certainly had a frustrated Hope, but wasn't a saint, whereas the  1093 Margaret was a Saint, but I don't know what she had to be Hopeful about. I imagine the two Margarets have become amalgamated over time. This is the little town of St Margaret's Hope in South Ronaldsay:
Once a year, the Boys' Ploughing Match and the Festival of the Horse is held in South Ronaldsay. It's a local thing. A very local thing. They've been at it for 200 years. It used to be held in a kailyard (vegetable garden) in St. Margaret's Hope, but it got too big and so was relocated to the Sands of Wright in South Ronaldsay.
Originally, only young boys had participated, either in the ploughing or being dressed as the horse (mimicking the Clydesdale horse decoration), but following a revival in the 20th century, it was decided girls could take part, but only as horses.
The early ploughs often just consisted of an ox hoof, or horn, tied to a stick. In 1920, the first miniature metal plough was made by the local blacksmith, Bill Hourston. Some of these are still in use today.
In the competition, each furrow must be identical to its neighbour. With a four to five feet square patch, the boys must plough straight and even furrows over the whole area.
The judges look for the best start, which includes how the boys set the dreels, and the neatest ending of their work, as well as the overall ploughing. No help is allowed when ploughing. The fathers, grandfathers and uncles can only stand back and watch and hope their painstaking tuition has paid off.
The "horse" outfits, as pictured above, are spectacular. A collar, hat, belt and feet decorations are added, a tail can be fixed to the jacket and pom-poms or fringes sewn on the cuffs to resemble the forefeet.
When you live on an island, you have to make your own entertainment. It was cancelled in 2020, but in the unlikely event that you want to join in the fun, this years' Festival and Ploughing Match are scheduled for 21st August 2021.


Mike said...

Some very complicated history, there, Mrs I. Is it true that Orcadians (is that the collective noun?) all have webbed feet?

mrs ishmael said...

Sacred is the norm, eh, mr mike? Syndactyly affecting the feet is not terrifically unusual, occurring in approximately one in 2,000 to 2,500 live births. I don't know whether the incidence is greater in Orkney, cos everyone I see wears shoes. I once knew a couple from the Isle of Dogs, which is DahnSarf - he had webbed toes and his daughter did. Both of them had corrective surgery in infancy, cos they would have had to only wear custom built shoes - in addition to the fusing and webbing, they had six toes.
There have been some genetic studies of Orcadians and I may write up a blog post on the unique genetic profile of Orcadians when I get a round tuit.
Orkney does have the highest percentage of Multiple Sclerosis per capita in the whole entire world, and the percentage of autism is also startlingly high.
Despite this, Orcadians enjoy the longest life expectancy in Scotland (well, anyone lives longer than Weegies, unless you are unfortunate enough to live in a war zone.)

mongoose said...

"What's all this shouting? We'll have no trouble here. This is a local shop for local people."

It could just as easily have been Orkney. Here in Bandit Country we are infested with Morris Dancers. If the wokerati could see, the county would be cancelled in a moment.

mrs ishmael said...

I've always thought that Orkney has much in common with Royston Vasey, or indeed,Craggy Island. The episode with the fun fair, in which the star attraction is sitting on a park bench which is then hoisted into the air by a tractor always puts me in mind of Stromness Shopping Week.

mongoose said...

Yes, that's the problem with watching Ted, mrs i, I have met those people. Some of them are relatives.

mrs ishmael said...

Never mind, mr mongoose - at least they're not Belfast folk.