First burning of the day … at Dunrossness primary

SMUHA came early in the Ness as excited bairns were treated to their own procession and galley burning on Friday afternoon.

It was a special part of the big day for Guizer Jarl Lesley Simpson, who swapped her head teacher’s hat for a helmet, axe and shield when she visited her school children at Dunrossness primary.

Guizer Jarl Lesley Simpson with Dunrossness school jarl Emily Black, one of Lesley's pupils. Photo: Dave Donaldson
Guizer Jarl Lesley Simpson with Dunrossness school jarl Emily Black, one of Lesley’s pupils. Photo: Dave Donaldson

Pupils were joined by Cunningsburgh schoolbairns too and the heartwarming spectacle had proud parents lined up on the roadside, cameras at the ready.

A fire engine lead the way followed by the impressive junior galley, with flashes of green.

Children proudly sported their handmade helmets and impressive colourful torches, cheering all the way up the hill from the school, up onto the main road and along to the burning site next to the Boddam sports field.

Along the way the squad musicians kept everyone entertained, with sing-alongs ranging from “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah”, to Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds and “I Wish It Could be SMUHA Everyday” (better than Wizzard’s I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday, this reporter would argue).

Towering school caretaker John Mackenzie, was really getting into the spirit of the occasion and was roaring away at the children, who gave as good as they got.

A samba-style drum performance from the kids and speeches by junior Jarl Emily Black, and Lesley preceded the galley burning.

All the children with homemade torches rushed to the galley to throw in their paper flames, before the real torches sent fire licking at the galley head.

Then, SIC councillor Allison Duncan held a flaming torch aloft, after the flare struck up and the torchbearers were engulfed by smoke.

Lesley was all smiles as the embers from the galley danced in the air.

“It’s been a fabulous day, a brilliant, brilliant day,” she said.

“We’ve had an absolute ball.”

She said it was a special event for the schoolchildren and was good way of involving the kids from both areas.

Lesley was dancing away in the procession, and looking ahead to the adult version she was certainly excited about it.

Junior Jarl Emily Black said the burning event “was really good” and said it had been an exciting afternoon.
Asked what she thought of Lesley and her squad’s outfits, she replied.

“They look really nice.”


Add Your Comment
  • David Spence

    • March 13th, 2015 23:30

    It is good, for the first time, there is a woman Jarl, but……………………

    Is this being done because of 2015 ‘ Political Correctness (or Up Helly Aa being regarded as sexist in this day and age regardless of history or whatever?) or there is historical fact that women also took part in raiding, pillaging and killing of people during the Viking exploits?

    • Robin Barclay

      • March 19th, 2015 23:08

      If you look at the recent genetic studies they show that the Northern Isles were “settled” ( not raided and pillaged) equally by both men and women Norwegian Vikings (unlike the Western Isles where the “invasion” was predominantly by males, who intermarried into the resident population). They also show that even so, there is a predomination of genes from the existing, pre-Viking residents – which argues against the “ethnic cleansing” by the Vikings settlers of the resident population proposed by some commentators. I think SMUHA has its own identity, and part of that is it is inclusive and women participate and contribute to the celebrations. I don’t think that this has anything to do with pandering to political correctness but is an honest reflection of that community – which may unintentionally reflect the original pattern of Viking settlement in Shetland.

      • Brian Smith

        • March 20th, 2015 8:55

        This may be what you want ‘recent genetic studies’ to show, Robin, but they don’t.

      • Ali Inkster

        • March 20th, 2015 11:19

        Are you sure Brian? would you like to back up your usual one line comeback with something a little more substantial for a change.

      • Malcolm Henry Johnson

        • March 20th, 2015 12:29

        Those of you who choose to argue about ‘recent genetic studies’ may want to read about them first. Personally, I think the subject is neither useful nor relevant so I have to admit that I am just posting this link out of pure mischief.

        (I apologise for using the beeb as a source – I’m just having a day off from Al Jazeera and RT)

      • Ali Inkster

        • March 20th, 2015 14:24

        Here yo go Brian excerpt from the link Malcolm provided that backs up Robin Barclay position.

        “And in Orkney, the study finds clear evidence of Norwegian DNA, as might be expected from the Viking settlement of the Islands.

        Interestingly, it persists at fairly low levels, suggesting that the Vikings and the existing populations coexisted and intermingled more than people had expected – in the way that occurred with the Anglo Saxons.

        The Viking armies that laid waste to parts of England, and for a while ruled what became known as the Danelaw, left little if any genetic trace, confirming that their success was due to their military prowess rather than large-scale population movement.”

        Where is the proof of your statement?

      • Brian Smith

        • March 20th, 2015 19:05

        To respond to Ali. In my article ‘Not welcome at all’, in Jane Downes and Anna Ritchie, ed., Sea Change (2003) I discussed the use that the archaeologist Colin Renfrew was making of work by geneticists such as Jim Wilson about Orkney and Shetland.
        Wilson & Co. had found that their Orcadian Y chromosome samples were intermediate between Irish and Welsh – which they regarded as Pictish and pre-Norse – and Norwegian.
        I said: ‘Many people assume that only two things happened in the history of the islands: Vikings … arrived in 800, and Scots … came in the sixteenth century. But anyone who has studied the geography and history of Orkney knows that (a) Viking Orkney is right next to Pictland, and therefore that (b) there must have been lots of contact between Orkney and the rest of Scotland during the centuries after 800.’
        I am certainly not a genetics expert, but to the best of my knowledge no-one has taken issue with my argument since then. There is a sentimental view that there must have been, as my friend Olly Owen once said, ‘gentle integration’ between Vikings and Picts in Orkney and Shetland – but there isn’t an atom of evidence for it, genetic, archaeological, linguistic or historic.

      • John Tulloch

        • March 20th, 2015 23:02


        I read your article on this subject in “Orkneyjar” a while back and would recommend it to interested readers:

        I’ve argued, previously, against your theory that Orkney and Shetland are “part of Scotland”, however – at last, we agree about something – I’m unable to take issue with this one.

      • John Tulloch

        • March 20th, 2015 23:11

        Sorry, folks, the above link to Brian’s article doesn’t work, try this:

      • Ali Inkster

        • March 21st, 2015 0:01

        So you are using your own article to back up your claims. Astounding.

      • Brian Smith

        • March 21st, 2015 9:10

        I am offering you a different way of looking at the question, Ali. What is astounding about that?

      • Malcolm Henry Johnson

        • March 21st, 2015 19:50

        In attracting people’s attention to the recent genealogy study, I was hoping people might analyse the evidence and reach their own conclusions rather than just copy the conclusion provided, which incidentally, was the conclusion of the BBC science correspondent rather than that of the researchers who carried out the study.

        For what little it’s worth, I would like to share my own wildly speculative interpretation of the evidence:

        The particular mix of (let’s call it) Viking and Pictish DNA found in Orkney amounts to irrefutable scientific evidence that something unique happened there and it would be childish to deny this. However, for the purpose of this debate, what we need to ask is – How did this mix occur? The BBC correspondent invites us to conclude that it happened because the Viking invaders and the existing population co-existed and intermingled. On face value, that is an entirely reasonable argument but even if we restrict the conversation to the DNA study alone, a closer analysis becomes problematic.

        Let’s go with this theory for a moment: If the DNA mix occurred in this way, we would be looking at an enduring and presumably stable society in Orkney that was part Viking and part Pict. If the two components of that new society were inclined to collaborate on such a venture then there is an obvious question to ask, namely – Why did the Orkney Vikings and the Orkney Picts who had made friends and created this integrated and tolerant society not extend their diplomatic mission to the nearby areas of the Pictish mainland and establish lasting and mutually beneficial trading and social relations with communities along the coast of modern-day Caithness? If the Vikings travelled to Greenland, Iceland and even the American continent, surely they could not have been too scared to set up a ferry service across the Pictish Pentland Firth.

        Had this happened, it would surely, through time, have left significant traces of the mixed Viking/Pictish DNA along the north-east coast of Scotland and further inland but the researchers found no evidence of this. Rather, the evidence suggests that there may initially have been a chain-mail curtain between Orkney and the mainland and a cold war between the Orkney Vikings and the neighbouring Picts with little appetite for integration. Any Viking presence on the mainland seems to have ended with a complete withdrawal, either voluntary or at the end of someone’s sword and no trace of their DNA survived. Rather than supporting the conclusion drawn by the BBC correspondent, the evidence of a uniquely Orcadian DNA undermines it. If we are going to delve into the murky subject of DNA analysis then we should probably try to choose a conclusion that is consistent with the evidence, or at least, one that is less inconsistent.

        If we assume that the lack of Viking DNA in nearby mainland areas is evidence of an unwillingness or inability of the Vikings and Picts to peacefully co-exist then we must consider the alternative theory that the Viking DNA’s restriction to Orkney was a result of replacement rather than integration. In this case, we have to explain the mixed Viking/Pictish DNA found in Orkney and surely this is not difficult. I would suggest that it happened at a much later period in history when people from mainland Britain and afar began to re-occupy Orkney and mix with the descendants of (fairly pure) Vikings. Many of these new settlers were the long-time descendants of Picts and it could well have been this point at which the mixed DNA first appeared.

        This interpretation would support Brian’s assertion that the Vikings did not integrate with the Orcadian Picts but actually replaced them. The only part of Brian’s earlier work that might need a minor tweak is his statement that “Viking Orkney is right next to Pictland and therefore there must have been lots of contact between Orkney and the rest of Scotland during the centuries after 800.” If this had been an on-going two way process over several centuries then we would expect to find significant evidence of Viking DNA on the mainland side of the trading area. As this is largely absent, I would suggest that the mixed DNA found in Orkney occurred mostly as a result of one way migration from the mainland to Orkney at a later stage rather than ongoing trade carried out by the Vikings themselves. It would be interesting to read an update of Brian’s article which takes full account of the new DNA evidence which has become available since the article was first written.

        p.s. I speak fluent Industrial Revolution but this thread has taken me WELL outside my history comfort zone so please don’t judge my clumsy juggling of pre-industrial events too harshly. I also apologise to anyone who I may have offended by not using the politically correct name for their favourite ancient tribe

        You should engage in conversations about genealogy as a hobby only. Information about your ancestors’ racial make-up should be absorbed in very small amounts as part of a calorie-controlled diet and be accompanied by regular exercise. If you find that these subjects are making you feel anxious, obsessive or upset, please switch off your computer immediately and seek help. If you ever enter a polling booth and feel that your vote may be influenced by information about the racial makeup of relatives who died a thousand years ago, please DO NOT VOTE.

      • John Tulloch

        • March 22nd, 2015 9:16

        Thanks, Malcolm, for the fascinating insight.

      • Ali Inkster

        • March 22nd, 2015 17:01

        Malcolm If you consider the fact that the north most tip of the British mainland is called Sutherland and there is quite a high level of Scandinavian DNA in the north of Scotland, then it may support the idea that the inhabitants of Orkney did in fact export this idea of peaceful co-existence. we could also come to the conclusion that it did not expand further south because of a belligerent native population. Pretty much the same reason the scots brag about not being part of the Roman empire.

  • Robin Barclay

    • March 22nd, 2015 13:48

    To reply to Brian Smith’s one-line comment, it was not a matter of what I would “like it to mean” – I was just quoting from the interpretations of the studies published last week by Prof Peter Donelly’s Oxford Group. I have no opinion either way. I am aware of Jim Wilson’s work and in fact knew Jim in Edinburgh as a collaborator in a biomedical context not long before I recently retired. I am probably better skilled to interpret genetic information than Brian Smith, having spent my whole working life in biomedical research, both academic and NHS – but I am neither geneticist nor molecular biologist and in my field would follow the advice of those in my group especially skilled in those disciplines. What I guess I have learned is that in many contexts, and especially in these population studies, the data is open to different interpretations, as you can read from Malcolm Henry Johnson’s comments. I have not read the original in detail, only a few reported interpretations from different sources, including the BBC, so that is what I quoted. I am aware of Brian Smith’s “ethnic cleansing” hypothesis, and I guess that is what Brian would “like the data to mean”, but it is open to different interpretations. I think that this study may not strongly support Brian’s hypothesis. However it does seem a small sample of only 2039 samples for the whole of the UK, not especially focused on Orkney – and as far as I can tell (I have just downloaded the complete Nature article using my academic access – but so far have just skimmed it) not including any samples from Shetland. If Brian’s (and Malcolm’s) proposition that original female indigenous celtic DNA came from later influx of these peoples from the Scottish mainland after the pre-existing celtic population was cleared out by invading vikings from the Northern Isles, that post-viking celtic contribution might be proportionately less in Shetland just because it is more remote from the mainland. That information is not in this study, and even the Orkney proportions imply that the celtic population proportions are dominant there. If the viking clearance hypothesis with later celtic resettlement is correct, you might expect the opposite with the viking gene proportions dominant. I think Brian is being a bit subjective in defending his hypothesis, whereas as a scientist I think it best to try to be objective and consider only probabilities while recognizing they are not established facts. I have no hypothesis to defend. I knew 40 years ago, before DNA work, that my tissue-type was typically Scandinavian (since I was then pestered to provide leukocyte samples for our typing panel for transplant matching antibody characterization, since my type was rare in Edinburgh). The use of biological markers in population studies is fascinating, but not exact, and Malcolm’s warning about interpretation should be heeded. This needs further study, especially now some controversies are developing, and I look forward to the next chapter. My original comment was just to link current comment on women as guizer jarls with another in-the-news item on women in the viking settlement of the northern isles, and was never intended as a critique or to promote any view other than “why not?”.

    • Malcolm Henry Johnson

      • March 24th, 2015 12:17

      It’s back to the drawing board for me. It seems that I might not be quite as clever as I had thought. Please see correspondence from Professor Mark Robinson of Oxford University, copied below:

      Dear Mr Johnson,

      Thank you for your interest in the People of the British Isles project. We had insufficient resources to include Shetland as well as Orkney but we did manage a good coverage of Orkney.

      I have had a quick look at the articles on the two links you gave. It is clear that whether the Norse slaughtered all the “Picts” on Orkney and Shetland or whether they assimilated the earlier populations is a major topic of argument. Our study certainly adds useful data for consideration.

      The press readily picked that there was a significant Norwegian genetic component to the current Orkney islanders, indeed greater than any of the other areas studied, but that the majority of their DNA was non-Norse. What the results do not tell us is whether the previous inhabitants adopted Norse culture and language through a relatively peaceful process of assimilation or whether they were enslaved, although I do take the objection to either of these interpretations that Celtic place names do not survive. The addition of slaves brought to the islands could also have made a contribution.

      The detail in the published paper that was not picked up in the press was that the mixing of Norse and non-Norse DNA on Orkney occurred of the order of a thousand years ago. We know this from the degree to which the crossing over of lengths of chromosomes has decreased the uninterrupted runs of “Norse-derived genes” in the current genetically mixed population. If the mixed population were the result of a trickle of settlers over the past few hundred years joining Norwegian islanders, there would have been longer lengths of Norse-derived chromosomes in the population.

      A final point about Orkney is that there was very little intermarrying between the inhabitants of the different islands, resulting in the occurrence of three distinct populations in the archipelago.

      Do use these comments on your website if you wish.

      Best wishes,

      Mark Robinson

      • John Tulloch

        • March 24th, 2015 13:52

        Very interesting, Malcolm, thanks.

        1000 years ago would have been about the time of Thorfinn the Mighty. According to Orkneyjar:

        “Thorfinn Sigurdsson, or Thorfinn the Mighty, was born around 1009, and, at the height of his power, controlled Orkney, Shetland, the Hebrides, Caithness and Sutherland.”

        Thorfinn’s rule over Northern Scotland and the estimated period of the genetic mixing would seem to support Brian’s comment above:

        “‘Many people assume that only two things happened in the history of the islands: Vikings … arrived in 800, and Scots … came in the sixteenth century. But anyone who has studied the geography and history of Orkney knows that (a) Viking Orkney is right next to Pictland, and therefore that (b) there must have been lots of contact between Orkney and the rest of Scotland during the centuries after 800.’”

  • Ali Inkster

    • March 22nd, 2015 16:48

    Considering there is evidence of co-existence between Picts and Norse in Shetland dating from before the 793 AD sacking of Lyndisfarne, and the ample genetic evidence revealed recently I would say your interpretation is slanted to suit your own ideas Brian.

    • Brian Smith

      • March 24th, 2015 14:17

      You will have to tell us what that evidence is Ali. I am all ears.

      • Ali Inkster

        • March 24th, 2015 15:31

        for a start their is a stone written on in Pict but bearing a female Norse name dating to the 5th century. But I should not need to tell you this Brian as you have ignored this and many other pieces of evidence that does not support your wishful thinking.

      • Brian Smith

        • March 24th, 2015 20:28

        I haven’t ignored it, Ali, as you will see if you study the link that John Tulloch mentioned. You must read more carefully.

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