Isles left off the map in museum magazine

A quarterly publication on museums has come under fire after it described Thurso as being the “most northerly town in the UK”.

The spring edition of Scotland’s Museums and Galleries Quarterly, published by Museums Galleries Scotland, included an article celebrating the opening of the Caithness Horizons museum. Twice they described Thurso, where the museum is based, as the most northerly town in the country.

The notion that the UK runs out at the Pentland Firth has annoyed Orkney MSP Liam McArthur, who has tabled a motion on the issue in the Scottish Parliament, backed by his Shetland counterpart Tavish Scott.

Mr McArthur’s motion suggests that any antiquities collected in Orkney and Shetland but held by the National Museum of Scotland, should become the property of the museums in the Northern Isles.

He said: “This will come as something of a surprise to Orcad­ians and Shetlanders, particularly those living in Kirkwall, Stromness and Lerwick. They would be fully justified in suggesting that the people at Museums Galleries Scotland should look to see if one of their member museums has a map of the UK which they could look at. But, if this is indeed the view of the extent of the UK held by the museum community in Scotland, then they have to be consistent.

“If they think that Orkney and Shetland are not part of the UK, and thus not part of Scotland, then they have to accept that all the antiquities taken from the Northern Isles over the years must be stolen loot. And there is a good deal of this loot stored, and sometimes displayed, at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. These antiquities should therefore be returned to their rightful owners, the people of Orkney and Shetland, who would no doubt be happy to see these treasures owned by their local museums.

“I am sure that, given the generosity of the Island museums, and the fact that some of our artefacts have been returned to the Islands on loan by the National Museum, we would be prepared to lend them artefacts to boost their displays in Edinburgh. But it would only be right that the control lay with the museums in Orkney and Shetland, rather than in Edinburgh as at present.”

Mr Scott said: “This is a welcome boost to the campaign to return the St Ninian’s Isle treasure to Shetland. We have a splendid new museum in Lerwick to display it in along with other Shetland artefacts currently in exile in Edinburgh. And some artefacts could be also displayed in the smaller local museums close to where they were found.

“But of course we probably won’t have room to display everything at the one time. So I am sure that we would be happy to lend artefacts to Edinburgh. Maybe we would sometimes even let them have the St Ninian’s Isle Treasure which, after all, they did lend us for a while last year. But control should be in Shetland and in Orkney – not in Edinburgh.”


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