- Brough of Birsay
Infobox Scottish island
meaning of name=
highest elevation= m
local authority=Orkney Islands
references= [2001 UK Census per
List of islands of Scotland] Haswell-Smith] [ [http://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/ Ordnance Survey] ]
The Brough of Birsay is a small (21 hectare) uninhabited tidal
islandoff the north west coast of The Mainland of Orkney, Scotland, in the parish of Birsay.
Geography and geology
The island is accessible on foot at low tide via a largely natural
causeway. It is separated from the mainland by a 240 metre stretch of water at high tide: the Sound of Birsay. [ [http://www.orkneyjar.com/history/broughofbirsay/index.html Orkneyjar: "Ancient seat of Orkney power".] Retrieved 1 August 2007.]
The Norse settlement has been partly removed by coastal erosion, and the cliffs are reinforced by concrete
rip-rapto prevent further damage.
The earliest settlement on the island is thought to have been in the 5th century, perhaps by
Christianmissionaries. By the 7th century it was a Pictish fortress, and in the 9th century the Picts were displaced by Norsemen. Another Pictish fort on the northwest of Mainland Orkney is Gurness, a well preserved broch.
The Pictish settlement is attested by a small well and an important collection of artefacts (now in
Tankerness House Museum, Kirkwalland in the Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh). Notable among these are a group of moulds for fine metalworking, showing that brooches and other ornaments were being manufactured on the site in the eighth century. The enclosure round the Norsechurch overlies a Pictish graveyard, and an important Pictish carved stone was found in pieces in this enclosure during site clearance (also on display in Edinburgh: replica on site). The most interesting Pictishremain found is a stone slab showing three figures and some additional Pictish symbols. It is not known what the subject of this carving is, but it likely shows aristocratic Picts as they wished to be perceived. This early eighth century slab shows a striking procession of three Picts dressed in long robes and bearing spears, swords and square shields. Above the figures are parts of four Pictish symbols (the warrior motif was adapted as the logo of John Donald Publishers Ltd, Edinburgh). Two simple cross-incised slabs, likely grave-markers, were also found in the graveyard, and are probably Pictish or early medieval in date (displayed on site).
The Old Norse name for the island was "Byrgisey" which means fort island, and gives the parish its name. Brough, indeed, means
fort. (For etymology, see borough.) At its east end are extensive remains of an excavated Norse settlement and church. Archaeological investigation has shown that these overlay an earlier Pictish settlement. There is a small site museum. The finds of Vikingdate are also very rich, forming one of the best collections of such material in the British Isles.
According to the "
Orkneyinga saga" the main residence of Jarl Thorfinn the Mighty (1014-1065) was located in Birsay, possibly on the Brough. At this time the first Bishopof Orkney was appointed and his cathedralwas probably on the site of the present day Saint Magnus Kirk, nearby on the Mainland.
Many of the remains of these settlements are visible. The most significant being the remains of a fine, though small Romanesque church. This dates back to about 1100
ADand was dedicated to Saint Peter. It has an interesting shape; probably with a square tower at one end, and a semi-circular apse at the other. There is some evidence of an earlier, possibly Pictish church on the same site. The church was a place of pilgrimage until the Middle Ages. The remains of adjoining buildings round three sides of an open court suggest that it may once have been a small monastery (though there is no documentation for such a foundation).
There is an unmanned
lighthouseon the Brough which was built in 1925.
List of Orkney islands
Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.
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