Kirkwall is the biggest town and capital of Orkney, off the coast of northern mainland Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

. The town is first mentioned in Orkneyinga saga
Orkneyinga saga
The Orkneyinga saga is a historical narrative of the history of the Orkney Islands, from their capture by the Norwegian king in the ninth century onwards until about 1200...

in the year 1046 when it is recorded as the residence of Rögnvald Brusason
Rognvald Brusason
Rognvald Brusason , son of Brusi Sigurdsson, was Earl of Orkney jointly with Thorfinn Sigurdsson from about 1037 onwards. His life is recorded in the Orkneyinga Saga....

 the Earl of Orkney
Earl of Orkney
The Earl of Orkney was originally a Norse jarl ruling Orkney, Shetland and parts of Caithness and Sutherland. The Earls were periodically subject to the kings of Norway for the Northern Isles, and later also to the kings of Alba for those parts of their territory in mainland Scotland . The Earl's...

, who was killed by his uncle Thorfinn the Mighty. In 1486, King James III of Scotland
James III of Scotland
James III was King of Scots from 1460 to 1488. James was an unpopular and ineffective monarch owing to an unwillingness to administer justice fairly, a policy of pursuing alliance with the Kingdom of England, and a disastrous relationship with nearly all his extended family.His reputation as the...

 elevated Kirkwall to the status of a royal burgh
Royal burgh
A royal burgh was a type of Scottish burgh which had been founded by, or subsequently granted, a royal charter. Although abolished in 1975, the term is still used in many of the former burghs....

; modern roadsigns still indicate "The City and Royal Burgh of Kirkwall".

The name Kirkwall comes from the Norse
Old Norse
Old Norse is a North Germanic language that was spoken by inhabitants of Scandinavia and inhabitants of their overseas settlements during the Viking Age, until about 1300....

 name Kirkjuvagr (Church Bay), which was later corrupted to Kirkvoe, Kirkwaa and Kirkwall.


Situated on the northern coast of Mainland Orkney and with a population of about 8,500, Kirkwall is a port with ferry services to Aberdeen
Aberdeen is Scotland's third most populous city, one of Scotland's 32 local government council areas and the United Kingdom's 25th most populous city, with an official population estimate of ....

 and Lerwick
Lerwick is the capital and main port of the Shetland Islands, Scotland, located more than 100 miles off the north coast of mainland Scotland on the east coast of the Shetland Mainland...

, as well as the principal north islands in the group. At the heart of the town stands St. Magnus Cathedral, which was founded in memory of Saint Magnus Erlendsson, Earl of Orkney
Magnus Erlendsson, Earl of Orkney
Saint Magnus, Earl Magnus Erlendsson of Orkney, sometimes known as Magnus the Martyr, was the first Earl of Orkney to bear that name, and ruled from 1108 to about 1115...

 1108-1117 by Earl (later Saint) Rögnvald Kali. Next to the Cathedral are the ruins of the former Bishop's Palace
Bishop's Palace, Kirkwall
The Bishop's Palace, Kirkwall was built at the same time as the adjacent St Magnus Cathedral in the centre of Kirkwall, Orkney, Scotland, was being constructed, and housed the cathedral's first bishop, William the Old of the Norwegian Catholic church who took his authority from the Archbishop of...

 and Earl's Palace
Earl's Palace, Kirkwall
The ruins of the Earl's Palace, Kirkwall lie near St Magnus Cathedral in the centre of Kirkwall, Orkney, Scotland. Built by Patrick Stewart, 2nd Earl of Orkney. It was begun in 1607 and built largely by forced labour...

. The town has two museums: Tankerness House Museum, which is contained within one of Scotland's best-preserved sixteenth century town-houses, contains items of local historical interest. The prehistoric, Pictish
The Picts were a group of Late Iron Age and Early Mediaeval people living in what is now eastern and northern Scotland. There is an association with the distribution of brochs, place names beginning 'Pit-', for instance Pitlochry, and Pictish stones. They are recorded from before the Roman conquest...

 and Viking
The term Viking is customarily used to refer to the Norse explorers, warriors, merchants, and pirates who raided, traded, explored and settled in wide areas of Europe, Asia and the North Atlantic islands from the late 8th to the mid-11th century.These Norsemen used their famed longships to...

 collections are of international importance. The other museum is the Orkney Wireless Museum
Orkney Wireless Museum
The Orkney Wireless Museum in Kirkwall, Orkney houses a collection of domestic and military wireless equipment. It developed from the private collection of the late Jim MacDonald from St Margaret's Hope and marks the importance of wireless communications in Orkney during World War II.-Museum:The...

, dealing with the history of radio and recorded sound.

Apart from the main historical buildings mentioned above, Kirkwall has many 17th-18th century houses and other structures in the local vernacular style. The 'Kirk
Kirk can mean "church" in general or the Church of Scotland in particular. Many place names and personal names are also derived from it.-Basic meaning and etymology:...

' of Kirkwall was not the Cathedral (which was originally at Birsay
Birsay is a parish in the north west corner of The Mainland of Orkney, Scotland. Almost all the land in the parish is devoted to agriculture: chiefly grassland used to rear beef cattle...

), but the 11th century church of Saint Olaf
Olaf II of Norway
Olaf II Haraldsson was King of Norway from 1015 to 1028. He was posthumously given the title Rex Perpetuus Norvegiae and canonised in Nidaros by Bishop Grimkell, one year after his death in the Battle of Stiklestad on 29 July 1030. Enshrined in Nidaros Cathedral...

 of Norway. One late medieval doorway survives from this church, and an aumbry
In the Middle Ages an aumbry was a cabinet in the wall of a Christian church or in the sacristy which was used to store chalices and other vessels, as well as for the reserved sacrament, the consecrated elements from the Eucharist. This latter use was infrequent in pre-Reformation churches,...

 from the original church survives within the late 19th Century structure of the present-day Saint Olaf's Church (Episcopal
Scottish Episcopal Church
The Scottish Episcopal Church is a Christian church in Scotland, consisting of seven dioceses. Since the 17th century, it has had an identity distinct from the presbyterian Church of Scotland....

) in the town's Dundas Crescent. Kirkwall also once had a medieval castle, which was destroyed in the 17th century.

On the west edge of the town, surrounded by Hatston Industrial Estate, is a prehistoric ancient monument, Grain Earth House (Historic Scotland
Historic Scotland
Historic Scotland is an executive agency of the Scottish Government, responsible for historic monuments in Scotland.-Role:As its website states:...

), a short low stone-walled passage deep underground leading to a small pillared chamber. This is the form of earth house or souterrain
Souterrain is a name given by archaeologists to a type of underground structure associated mainly with the Atlantic Iron Age. These structures appear to have been brought northwards from Gaul during the late Iron Age. Regional names include earth houses, fogous and Pictish houses...

 characteristic of the Northern Isles
Northern Isles
The Northern Isles is a chain of islands off the north coast of mainland Scotland. The climate is cool and temperate and much influenced by the surrounding seas. There are two main island groups: Shetland and Orkney...

 (although Grain is unusually deep below ground). It was originally connected to a surface dwelling, which has since disappeared, and the original purpose of these Iron Age
Iron Age
The Iron Age is the archaeological period generally occurring after the Bronze Age, marked by the prevalent use of iron. The early period of the age is characterized by the widespread use of iron or steel. The adoption of such material coincided with other changes in society, including differing...

 structures remains unknown. The key for the monument comes from Ortak Visitor Centre and Factory. Further west towards Grimbister is the similar Rennibister Earth House
Rennibister Earth House
Rennibister Earth House is located on the main island in the Orkney islands. It is located by the south eastern shore of the Bay o' Firth, in a farm yard and is accessed by a hatch in the roof of the earth house and by a ladder...


One of the major annual events in the town is the Ba Game
Kirkwall Ba game
The Kirkwall Ba Game is one of the main annual events held in the town of Kirkwall, in Orkney, Scotland. It is one of a number of Ba Games played in the streets of towns around Scotland; these are examples of traditional football games which are still played in towns in the United Kingdom and...

, held each Christmas Day and New Year's Day
New Year's Day
New Year's Day is observed on January 1, the first day of the year on the modern Gregorian calendar as well as the Julian calendar used in ancient Rome...

 between the Uppies and the Doonies, each team representing one half of the town. Kirkwall also has the most northerly of the world's Carnegie libraries, which was opened by Andrew Carnegie
Andrew Carnegie
Andrew Carnegie was a Scottish-American industrialist, businessman, and entrepreneur who led the enormous expansion of the American steel industry in the late 19th century...

 and his wife in 1909. The building survives, although the library itself has since moved to a larger building on Junction Road.


As with the rest of the British Isles
British Isles
The British Isles are a group of islands off the northwest coast of continental Europe that include the islands of Great Britain and Ireland and over six thousand smaller isles. There are two sovereign states located on the islands: the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and...

 and Scotland, Kirkwall experiences a maritime climate with cool summers, mild winters, often strong winds, plentiful rainfall, frequently overcast skies and sparse amounts of sunshine.

Parliamentary burgh

Kirkwall was a parliamentary burgh, combined with Dingwall
Dingwall is a town and former royal burgh in the Highland council area of Scotland. It has a population of 5,026. It was formerly an east-coast harbor but now lies inland. Dingwall Castle was once the biggest castle north of Stirling. On the town's present-day outskirts lies Tulloch Castle, parts...

, Dornoch
Dornoch is a town and seaside resort, and former Royal burgh in the Highlands of Scotland. It lies on the north shore of the Dornoch Firth, near to where it opens into the Moray Firth to the east...

, Tain and Wick in the Northern Burghs
Tain Burghs (UK Parliament constituency)
Tain Burghs, was a constituency of the House of Commons of the Parliament of Great Britain from 1708 to 1801 and of the Parliament of the United Kingdom from 1801 to 1832, sometimes known as Northern Burghs. It was represented by one Member of Parliament .The first election in Tain Burghs was in 1708...

 constituency of the House of Commons
British House of Commons
The House of Commons is the lower house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which also comprises the Sovereign and the House of Lords . Both Commons and Lords meet in the Palace of Westminster. The Commons is a democratically elected body, consisting of 650 members , who are known as Members...

 of the Parliament of Great Britain
Parliament of Great Britain
The Parliament of Great Britain was formed in 1707 following the ratification of the Acts of Union by both the Parliament of England and Parliament of Scotland...

 from 1708 to 1801 and of the Parliament of the United Kingdom
Parliament of the United Kingdom
The Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the supreme legislative body in the United Kingdom, British Crown dependencies and British overseas territories, located in London...

 from 1801 to 1918. Cromarty
The Royal Burgh of Cromarty is a burgh in Ross and Cromarty, Highland, Scotland.-History:It was previously the county town of the former county of Cromartyshire...

 was added to the list in 1832. The constituency was a district of burghs known also as the Tain Burghs
Tain Burghs (UK Parliament constituency)
Tain Burghs, was a constituency of the House of Commons of the Parliament of Great Britain from 1708 to 1801 and of the Parliament of the United Kingdom from 1801 to 1832, sometimes known as Northern Burghs. It was represented by one Member of Parliament .The first election in Tain Burghs was in 1708...

 until 1832, and then as the Wick Burghs
Wick Burghs (UK Parliament constituency)
Wick Burghs, sometimes known as Northern Burghs, was a constituency of the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom from 1832 to 1918...

. It was represented by one Member of Parliament
Member of Parliament
A Member of Parliament is a representative of the voters to a :parliament. In many countries with bicameral parliaments, the term applies specifically to members of the lower house, as upper houses often have a different title, such as senate, and thus also have different titles for its members,...

 until 1918, when the constituency was abolished and the Kirkwall component was merged into the county constituency of Orkney and Shetland
Orkney and Shetland (UK Parliament constituency)
Orkney and Shetland is a constituency of the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It elects one Member of Parliament by the first past the post system of election...


Media and the arts

Kirkwall Harbour can be seen in The Highlands and Islands - A Royal Tour, a 1973 documentary about Prince Charles' visit to the Highlands and Islands, directed by Oscar Marzaroli
Oscar Marzaroli
Oscar Marzaroli was an Italian-born Scottish photographer of post-World War II urban Scotland. He was born in Castiglione in northwest Italy and came to Scotland with his family at the age of two....


Scottish film-maker Margaret Tait
Margaret Tait
Margaret Caroline Tait was a Scottish film maker and poet.-Life:Tait was born and raised in Kirkwall on Orkney, an island off the coast of Scotland.Tait died in Kirkwall in 1999.-Training and career:...

 was born in Kirkwall, and many of her films (in particular the Aspects Of Kirkwall series) are set there.

The composer Peter Maxwell Davies
Peter Maxwell Davies
Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, CBE is an English composer and conductor and is currently Master of the Queen's Music.-Biography:...

 founded the annual St Magnus Festival
St Magnus Festival
The St Magnus Festival is an annual 6-day arts festival which takes place on the islands of Orkney off the north coast of mainland Scotland.-History and Management:...

which uses various Kirkwall venues.

External links

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