Christmas on Orkney

December 22, 2016

On Orkney there is always a flurry of activity during December, from the lighting of the two Norwegian Christmas trees inside and outside the St Magnus Cathedral, to the annual Orkney Arts and Crafts Fair in the Kirkwall town hall. But one of the most celebrated events of the Orkney calendar is ‘The Ba’ Game’, which takes place on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day every year, and a tradition that many of our distillery workers take part in.

ba games christmas orkney highland park whisky

What is Ba’ Game

Ba’ Game is a version of medieval football. This fierce battle for control of the leather Ba’ takes place on the streets of Kirkwall. Two areas of the town – the Uppies and the Doonies – move the ball through the town, up alleyways and down streets for up to 8 hours until one side is victorious. Shops and houses even board up windows in preparation for the game!

The Uppie goal is to touch the Ba’ against a wall in the south end of the town, while the Doonies have the unenviable task of getting the Ba’ into the water of Kirkwall Bay, to the North. And if you are wondering how it is decided who is an Uppie and who is Doonie – it originally depended upon the players place of birth. Those born to the north of the Cathedral were a Doonie, with Uppies being those born to the south. These days, family loyalty is usually more important than the place of birth.

The Ba’

The Ba’ itself is a handmade, cork-filled, leather ball. Every game is played with a new ba’, each one handmade by one of a few Orcadian Ba’ makers and is a piece of exquisite craftsmanship.

When the goal is finally reached, the Ba’ – itself a coveted trophy – is awarded to a player in the winning side who has been a notable participant for a number of years. Once awarded to our very own Ronnie Paterson, who works at the Highland Park Distillery, for his contribution to the game, winning both for the under 16 boys and again as an adult.

“Orkney-based photographer and travel writer, Charles Tait has been covering the Kirkwall Ba’ games since 1977.  This image is taken from 2016 New Year Mens’ Ba’ Game.  The doonies were in control for most of the game and the Ba’ was in the Basin by 3.30pm.  Doonie Ian Rushbook was declared winner.  The doonies won all four games last season.  We are all looking forward to this year’s events, none more so than Charles Tait for the New Year 2017 games which will be his 80th Mens’ Ba’.”

Are you based in Kirkwall and want to watch this year’s games? Make sure you arrive in good time to watch the Ba’ – the boy’s game begins at 10:00 and the men’s game at 13:00, both outside St Magnus Cathedral.

Have you taken part in this Orkney tradition? Tell us using #Vikingsoul

Highland Park Whisky, The Orkney Single Malt with #VikingSoul

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2 Responses to “Christmas on Orkney”

  1. Sophie says:

    I loved hearing about the Ba game!


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