Apr 182017
 

Welcome to the world of one-place studies! Twenty-six of our members are sharing something in their particular place for this year's A-Z Blogging Challenge. It's time to head north to the Orkney Islands with today's tour guide Jane Harris.

O is for Osmondwall. It’s not actually In my place, but as it was the only graveyard in the area until around 1883, many people from my place are in it.

My place is North Walls and Brims, in the island of Hoy, Orkney. Osmondwall, or Ousna as it is commonly known locally, is in South Walls, on the shores of Kirk Hope. All three form part of the parish of Walls and Flotta.

Ousna has quite a history. According to the Orkneyinga Saga, it was there that Olaf Trygvesson, a Viking leader, compelled Sigurd the Stout, Earl of Orkney, to convert to Christianity in 995. The ungentle conversion was fairly short-lived it seems.

The graveyard at Ousna reflects the history of North Walls and Brims in several ways. Towards the shore is the mausoleum built by the Moodies of Melsetter, who owned most of Walls from the 16th until the early 19th century. More humble gravestones testify to the strong seagoing tradition of the area, revealing information that in at least two cases would have been very hard to find otherwise: William Robertson died at Riga (Latvia) on 24 June 1846; Jemima Ross, wife of Captain George Bruce, master mariner, interred in St Helena; 1866. Jemima spent most of her short life in North Walls while William and his family were born there.

Not only is there a strong tradition of seagoing, but there is also a history of saving lives. The Longhope Lifeboat Station was established in 1874 at Brims. In March 1969 tragedy struck when the entire crew lost their lives on a rescue. All eight were men from Brims or very close by. Their memorial at Ousna, the bronze statue of a lifeboat man looking out to sea, is strikingly poignant.

Around 40 Commonwealth war graves collectively bear witness to the importance of Lyness, North Walls, as a naval base in two world wars.
Life itself could simply be hard. Margaret Sabeston’s gravestone also commemorates six of her infant children, no names given. She was the wife of John Gray, Miller, Rysay, and died 31 December 1841 aged 37. Rysa(y) or Risa is in the north of North Walls, a fair boat journey away from Ousna. That final journey is echoed in the boat under sail lightly incised into her gravestone.

Unlike many older graveyards, Ousna is still in use. There is even a Facebook group with photos of some of the stones and stories about the people on them.

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