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Shetland and Orkney

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Shetland and Orkney are both old Norse holdovers. Orkney and Shetland became Scottish as security for the dowry for the Danish Princess Margaret who married James III. When oil was discovered some wondered if the Danes could get them back if they paid the dowry, but they became permanently Scottish a century later.

Shetland and Orkney were speaking forms of old Norn up to the 18th century and the language used there is still filled with special loan words. The place names show heavy Norse influence as do half the west coast names (and in many there is a direct combination of the Gaelic and Norse influences, indicating the level to which the Norse came into the already present gaelic communities and assimilated successfully. Examples would include places like Inverness from Inbhir (Gàidhlig for an estuary, or river mouth) and Nese (Norse for nose or headland). Another example is Suilven from Sula (Norse for column) and Bheinn (Gàidhlig for mountain - Feumaidh sibh a bhith ceart-chainnteach, is Beinn am facal...). On this point it is worth noting that there are written records indicating that the Norse Earls of Orkney had Gàidhlig, no doubt to foster trading relations with the Gaidhealtachd.

Most islanders (natives, not incomers) in these places still consider the islands as their own communities and Scotland as a separate entity. This is not to say they want to split off or achieve independence, just an indication of how different they see themselves. In Orkney, one goes to the mainland to go to Kirkwall or Stromness. If you want to go to Aberdeen or Scrabster, you are going to Scotland! :-)

For more information on Orkney, see or
See also [12.18] for info on Orkney customs

For more information on Shetland, see

Scottish FAQ > FAQ Contents > Areas and Places > Shetland and Orkney > Top

Q-HTML V3.4 by Craig Cockburn created this page on 19-Jun-2012 at 08:06:33