Unlockthepast 5th Genealogy Cruise- British Isles, 2014-Day 4, Kirkwall, Orkney Islands

Day 4, 22 July 2014

The wonderful thing about this cruise was that we went to bed, and while we slept, the ship took us to the next port,.

We arrived in Kirkwall early in the morning. The weather was a little over-caste, but the town looked beautiful in the morning light, as we patiently waited for the port authorities to complete their work, so we could go ashore on our next adventure. By then the sun had come out and it was a glorious day.

The shore excursions offered at Kirkwell were very different to what had been offered at Invergordon the day before. Most were about 4 hours and offered an option to visit the sites either morning or afternoon.

One of the tours took you along the sea front overlooking the historic Scapa Flow where HMS Royal Oak was torpedoed by a German U-boat in 1939, with heavy causalities. Then there were the Churchill barriers built by Italian prisoners of war during World War II. They also built themselves a chapel constructed from Nissen huts, plasterboard and other available material at the time. The little Italian Chapel is an amazing building with delicate wrought tracery, and frescos. The  artist, Dominico Chibocchetti, returned in later years to restore his original work.

Just out of Kirkwall is the unique Highland Park Distillery , the most northern distillery in Scotland, and  founded in 1798. A nice tour for those who love whiskey.

However, most of the tours were of Orkney’s Neolithic World Heritage Site of the Standing Stones of Stenness, Ring of Brodgar, Ness of Brodgar and Skara Brae.

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Then there was Skaill House, a manor house built by the powerful bishop, George Graham, on the site of an ancient graveyard, in 1620.

In its 400 year history, twelve generations of the same family have lived there. Wonderful family history if you happened to be connected to this Graham family.

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We took a morning tour of these sites, and the lecture by Lesley Silvester, the day before, gave some a good background to really enjoy them.

We were back on-board for lunch, and I took the opportunity in the Research Help Zone to talk to Lesley Silvester about Irish records. I was hoping she might have come across sources, which I hadn’t. Although she couldn’t come up with any new ones, she did remind me I should go back and review many of the records, as the National Archives of Ireland, had introduced better cataloguing of their resources, and have placed them on-line. I made a list of resources she suggested, and will check them out when back home and have the time.

Everyone had to be back on-board by 5pm, so there was plenty of time to hear the Unlockthepast lectures before dinner. The only catch was we had to choose between, Lisa Cooke on “Evernote: and how the Genealogist can remember everything.”and Paul Blake on “British army records 1660-1913”. Evernote is a free ‘app’ and a great help to the dedicated family historian. As I use it to save much of my on- the- spot research, I went to Lisa’s talk and found it most interesting and helpful. I was sorry I missed Paul’s talk, as I have recently found one of my Irish ancestors was in the army. I made a note to ask Paul about this topic, when I made an appointment with him during the Research Help Zone.

Having these experts available at these extra periods of time is invaluable to the family historian. They are completely free and are part of the Unlockthepast conference package.

After a short break we had to make the choice of the Unlockthepast panel explaining many of the new features of several Genealogy computer software programs, or Sean O’Duill with a talk on the Irish Language. As I already use a Genealogy program,( which I am happy with), for recording my family history, I went to listen to Sean on the Irish language. As we have so many Irish ancestors, no doubt some would would have spoken ‘Irish’, perhaps all their lives. Although I had no plans to learn the language, I hoped that at least hearing a little of it, I might have gotten some clues to track down some useful material.

The time after dinner was rather special in that being so high in the earth’s latitudes, (59 degrees N) and up towards the Artic Circle, the twilight was so long. I  wondered how it affected the people of Orkney, to have such long warm summer days. Such a contrast to the long cold nights they endure for many months in the winter.

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