• Gordon MacLellan

The Eynhallow roost

The Eynhallow Sorrows,

Clara's Lament

The little island of Eynhallow, sitting at the mouth of Eynhallow Sound looks peaceful. The ruins of a The ruins of an 12th century church stand on the eastern side, perfectly positioned for sunrise warmth. The church was only “discovered” in the 19th century….in the centuries since it a built and later abandoned, it had been quietly incorporated into a steading, a house, a farm house, a home. It stayed there, hidden, until the last 4 families of residents were rescued (or cleared depending on who you listen to) from a decline into disease and death in 1851

Now the island is left to the animals, to seals and cormorants and indignant fulmars who nest in the comforting shelter of old walls. Visited by researchers and occasional wildlife enthusiasts, Eynhallow holds it stories close and quiet.

Until the tide turns and then the roost roars. A step in the tide, it is difficult to describe: too much water moving through too narrow a strait, over too shallow a sea , raises a churning anger of water that should be avoided.

Eynhallow holds stories, keeping them hidden, tucked into its ancient past as Hildaland of the Finfolk, as a refuge for Norse monks, as the rocks where the selkies dance

Storyteller and historian Tom Muir’s third and final Eynhallow Sorrow mixes ancient stories with the hard lives of the fisherfolk and the wild passionate seas of Orkney. Clara’s grief and the conflict between a passionate sorrow in the sea and the emptiness of the life she saw in front of her on land informed our choice of images to go with Tom’s words. When you are on the Islands, you know the seals are always watching.

CelebrationEarth! comes into this story when we were talking to artists we know on the islands about continuity. Like so much of Britain, the Orkney Islands have been occupied by humans for thousands of years and seem to have been seen to hold sacred places for much of that time from Mesolithic travellers to the Neolithic builders of monuments and tombs and temples, to Bronze Age brochs and Viking settlements and Christian monasteries and churches…..Everything feels concentrated on Orkney. When you stand in one place you can often touch all those layers of history by hardly moving at all. We asked about ways of capturing that sense of story upon story upon story of a celebration that runs across centuries, reminding us of the value people have placed in landscapes, in sunrises and waves and wind, of the intimate relationship between people and the land that becomes home.

Out of that challenge four pieces have come with Clara’s Lament being the last of them.

There are the Eynhallow Sorrows, picking moments out of the island’s long and sea-washed history and there is The Unsilent Cathedral. Here, the custodian of St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, storyteller and musician Fran Flett Hollinrake, listens to the echoes of the old cathedral in lockdown, full of the sounds of its past, of its own long story of service to the isles and the islanders.

All four pieces are now films and can be seen and heard on our vimeo channel, or you can pick out individual films at the links below


Eynhallow Sorrows

The Unsilent Cathedral

Find out more:

Thanks and credits:

  • Thanks to Tom and Fran for all their wonderful work

  • To our friends and photographers who helped with images throughout the. making of these films: from Moorforge Viking Settlement and and a supportive pod of Orkney wildlife photographers

This post:

words and images c/o G MacLellan

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