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View May 2019 Birsay Heritage Trust Newsletter

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Ancient Capital of Orkney



Welcome to BIRSAY, home to Neolithic peoples, Picts, Vikings, Scottish Royalty and a cosmopolitan cross-section of people today.

BIRSAY, home to Neolithic peoples, Picts, Vikings, Scottish Royalty and a cosmopolitan cross-section of people today


  Now a parish of Orkney, Birsay was already ancient when it became the centre of Viking power in the days of Earl Thorfin of Saga fame. Orkneys' first cathedral was in Birsay, and St Magnus was buried here following his foul murder, c 1116. St. Magnus Church now stands on these foundations. Centuries later Earl Robert Stewart, bastard brother of King James V, built his palace here, testimony to the richness of the area. Today peace reigns over good farm land, fishing grounds, bird colonies, convenient services and quiet, beautiful scenery.



  Birsay - in fact, all of Orkney - has been settled continuously since Neolithic times more than 5000 years ago, and Birsay has remains and reminders from every chapter of this long history. Earliest are the chambered cairns and standing stones; in the Iron Age tall stone towers called brochs were built for reasons still unknown. Later, the Picts lived here, as archaeologists have found from their house sites and workshops. Most famously, the Norse swept all before them, as place names and the ruins of buildings testify. The Norse blended with the incoming Scots leaving a record of activity up to the present day.

  Come to absorb the sense of continuity wrought by the evidence of this long history. Come to walk along the sea cliffs and across the open moorland while studying the bird life. Come to explore the archaeological treasures, or just to relax in the glow of the open sea and sky.


The BIRSAY HERITAGE TRUST was established in 1998 by the citizens of Birsay concerned that historically interesting sites are rapidly decaying or disappearing, and that living memory of these will soon fade.

BARONY MILLS is operated by the Trust for the Orkney Islands Council.  The Barony Mill produces stone ground Beremeal and oats during the winter months.  The Mill is open to the public for guided tours during the summer months.  Please check and Barony Mill on Facebook for latest updates and contacts.

BIRSAY IN WARTIME is a new initiative commemorating the role of the parish during the World Wars.  Undertakings include the renovation of the Control Tower and other buildings at the former Naval Air Station, HMS TERN, in cooperation with ARGOS, the Aircraft Research Group. Another is the repair of the KITCHENER MEMORIAL in conjunction with the centenary of the loss of the Hampshire soon after the Battle of Jutland in WW I.

In addition, the Trust also disseminates information about Birsay and encourages the public to appreciate and help preserve the many aspects of heritage.

MEMBERSHIP The Trust welcomes new members from anywhere in the world who have an interest in history and the traditional ways of life. Birsay is an excellent example spanning 5000 years. See our membership application.

      The Birsay Community Council publishes a newsletter: 'Roond Aboot Birsay'. The newsletter was started by Rev. Graeme Brown when he first came to the Birsay Parish. When Rev. Brown retired, the Birsay Community Council felt the newsletter was of significant interest to the parish that they have continued its publication. As each new issue is published it will be added to this website for your enjoyment.
 To get in touch, please contact Jack Norquoy at

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To get to BIRSAY from KIRKWALL: Take the A965 road from Kirkwall, through the village of Finstown; about 1 mile beyond turn RIGHT onto A986 following the signs to Dounby. The parish of Birsay begins in Dounby, and the Barony Mills, a working water mill and information point, is 5.3 miles north of Dounby, and close to the main Historic Sites.

To get to BIRSAY from STROMNESS, a ferry terminal for those arriving by car, leave the town on the A965 for Kirkwall, but just outside the town, turn LEFT onto A967 to Dounby. Follow the signs to Dounby then turn LEFT onto A986 and continue to Barony Mills as above.

Click here for local map highlighting Mill

Click here for local map highlighting Church



Official Orkney Tourist Board Site

British Airways plan your trip

Kirkwall Airport

NorthLink Ferries

Orkney Ferries

Pentland Ferries

Ridgway Travel, Kirkwall



LINKS of Interest to Travellers to Orkney



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The Birsay Heritage Trust is a Recognised Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation, SCO 26742

Photographs and sketches kindly supplied by Frank and Sara Zabriskie and Harold Stanley

Birsay Heritage Trust 2019