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Witch memorial plaque to be unveiled

A memorial to those accused of witchcraft will he unveiled, this Saturday, at the top of the Clay Loan in Kirkwall.

All are welcome to join Orkney Heritage Society (OHS), as they commemorate the county’s historic witch trial victims with the unveiling of memorial plaque tomorrow, Saturday, March 9.

The plaque, designed and engraved by retired stonemason Colin Watson, is now in place on the green at the top of the hill known as Gallow’ha, where Orcadians found guilty of witchcraft were hanged in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Records show that at least 19 women and one man, accused of worshipping the occult, went on trial in the county between 1594 and 1645, with nine of them sentenced to death by hanging or at the stake.

OHS previously held a day of creative workshops back in October, where folk were encouraged to come up with ideas on how to commemorate the victims. This included a time capsule, which is to be placed under the ground beneath the plaque. This inauguration event will see activities take place throughout the day, with the unveiling ceremony set to take place at 12.45pm.

The day will begin at 10am, at the Hub in King Street Halls, Kirkwall, where musicians Kate Fletcher and Corwen Broch will teach attendees the song that was written at the creative day. Then the St Magnus Players will perform an extract from Witch by George Mackay Brown, directed by Penny Aberdein.

Next, Ashleigh Angus will read Unknown, Unknown, her award-winning short story based on the Orkney witch trials.

“We will then make our way to St Rognvald’s Chapel, in the east end of St Magnus Cathedral, to arrive about 11.30am,” explained Helen Woodsford-Dean, who, along with Ragnhild Ljosland, has been one of the key figures behind the project.

“Kate Fletcher and Corwen Broch will be playing some background music of the historic period as we arrive, and then a ceremony of contemplation and reflection will take place, followed by Fran Flett Hollinrake playing her haunting composition — Marwick’s Hole — on the fiddle.

“From St Magnus Cathedral, we will gather outside the west end about 12.15pm, before making our own way up to Gallow Ha’, along Victoria Street and up Clay Loan, to the historic execution site. At 12.45pm, we will unveil the memorial as part of the inauguration ceremony.”

After a short break, folk are invited to reconvene at King Street Halls at 2pm for an afternoon conference.

“We have confirmed talks from Professor Liv Willumsen — our honoured guest for the day,” Helen explained.

“The original inspiration for our project came from a lecture given by her in 2012, in which she made comparisons between the witch trials in northern Norway with those in Scotland, and spoke about the modern memorial at Steilneset in Finnmark, Norway.

Jocelyn Rendall, Tim Morrison, Dan Lee and Marita Lück are also expected to be in attendance at the conference.

Teas and coffees will be available at the King Street Halls and, at 4.30pm, a raffle will be drawn. Donations will be gratefully accepted.

Please note — although all are very welcome to the inauguration day events, some of the activities may be unsuitable for young children, and people of a sensitive disposition, due to the subject matter.