• Gordon MacLellan

to speak of seals and murder

Brother Dagfinn's Lament

the second of the Eynhallow Sorrows

Magnus Erlendsson was the first Christian Saint of Orkney. His murder by his cousin Haakon is recorded in the Orkneyinga Saga and the subsequent journey of his body to Kirkwall has recently become the heart of a pilgrimage route across the Mainland in the Islands. Magnus’ story is embedded in the islands. A visitor can even stand before the pillar in the cathedral that holds his name and see the stone behind which his remains are contained. They were found in 1919, hidden in the pillar in a box to keep them safe during the Reformation.

St Magnus Bones

Storyteller and historian Tom Muir’s second Eynhallow Sorrow (see, hear and experience the first of the Sorrows, here) grows from the death of Magnus, seen through the eyes of Dagfinn, a monk caught up in the betrayal and horror of Magnus’ murder. Tom’s story is full of sorrow and emptiness but ends with a sense of acceptance and of belonging. That desolation but final gentle stillness informed our choice of images to go with his words. We have built a sequence around Eynhallow (with some images from St Mary's Kirk on Rousay and of Eynhallow Sound itself) and echoes of the islands in their Viking days, with many thanks to the team at the Moorforge Viking Settlement in Cumbria for their help with images

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.

Find out more:

Brother Dagfinnn's Lament, opening lines

I sit and watch the sun yield to the ocean's cold embrace,

cheered only by a flagon of strong ale.

The young monks mock me for having foam on my lips,

but did the Good Lord Himself not turn water into wine?

He was flesh too, once,

and laughed and wept with us in our frailty.

I am a small man sitting on a small island.....

Thanks and credits

  • To Tom Muir for his beautiful words and resonant recording of Brother Dagfinn's Lament


  • St Magnus Bones: picture sourced from Orkeyjar, where the picture is courtesy Orkney Library Image Archives

  • All other images in this post: c. G MacLellan

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