“Well, by definition, if it’s oral history it’s generally not written down. Now I mean, well, I’m 58 now, so I knew folk that – well, my grandad was in the First World War and when I worked down at the pier in the 1980s a lot of the dockers were ex-Burma Star, had been in Burma and that. So you got an immense of stories and things like that. And if it’s not recorded, it’s gone.”Brian Alexander, Egilsay
The North Isles of Orkney have a varied and unique history, and their inhabitants have many stories to tell about their experiences and their past – their ancestors, the local landscape, the industries they have seen and worked in, and the changes in their communities over the years.
The Oral History of the North Isles project was undertaken to document and capture this oral history, to explore the social, economic and cultural history of the North Isles.
The recollections were gathered through face-to-face interviews across generations of folk from a variety of backgrounds.
Key to the project was to try to understand what has shaped each island giving them their distinctive identities and how the memories, experiences and reminiscences from the past can inform the present for years to come.
The resulting archive of recordings provides a wealth of material that documents the lives and experiences of people in the North Isles, much of could vanish if not recorded.
The interviews explored several key themes, such as farming, heritage and the Orkney dialect, which highlight and celebrate different island identities as well as the sense of community, co-operation and cohesion throughout the Isles.
It is hoped that the archive will be a resource that will be accessed and enjoyed by people in Orkney and farther afield for many.
The final project report is available to download here.
The Oral History of the North Isles project was led by Dr Tom Rendall and funded through the North Isles Landscape Partnership Scheme (NILPS). Copies of the archive are held at Orkney Library & Archive and the heritage centres on each of the North Isles.