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Monday, 28 December 2009

Orkney traditions - the Kirkwall Ba'

Nope - nothing to do with sheep. But the Kirkwall Ba' 0r the Ba' as it is more simply known, has been played in the streets of the town for generations. It's basically a game of street football, but with fewer rules! There are two teams - the Uppies and the Doonies. Your membership is defined by where you live or family allegiances. The Ba' refers to the game and also the "ball" - the ba' is thrown up in the town centre (outside the St Magnus Cathedral) then the teams scramble for possession and form a scrum with the aim of pushing through to their goal (in the south end of the town for the uppies and the north end of the town for the doonies). It actually looks more like rugby than "football". Only the "game" lasts for hours - averaging four or five hours, sometimes more. Lots of folk also go to spectate, but it is something of a hazardous spectacle - you need to make sure you keep well out of the way of the mele!

I'm not sure I can explain it any better so suggest you take a look here for details and here for photos of this year's Christmas Ba'!

As we don't have a ferry service (due to public holidays) I've never actually witnessed the event myself - though if I did I would want to doing so from a window high up! I remember the first year I was in Kirkwall at Christmas - stout thick barricades were being put over windows and doorways and I thought - Blimey this is a bit of a rough place I've moved to! Not then understanding that this was all in preparation for the Ba'! The barricades get taken down after the New Year event and the town returns to "normal"!


  1. Wow, that sounds fascinating! How long has the tradition been going on?

  2. According to Sigurd Towrie's website (he's a local expert on Orcadian traditions among other things) it's been going for over 300 years!

  3. I definitely like your idea of watching from an upstairs window!

  4. I remember reading a news article about that a few years ago. They mentioned the large number of players who get carried off to the hospital on stretchers! I think I'd like to see it from a high up window too.

  5. There was some talk in the pub tonight about getting a team of Westray lads in next year to boost the Doonies who have lost most of the Ba's for the last 15 years. I suspect the lack of ferries into town will mean that it remains just talk.

  6. Hope you had a good New Year! Here's wishing you all the best in 2010!!!

  7. Mary Z - Yup upstairs window is a must I think! With something warming close to hand as it goes on for HOURS.

    Mary - yes the hospitals are on full alert as quite a few injuries occur in the pack.

    Malc - the Doonies Won didn't they!! Though I wouldn't have wanted to be the person who dived into the Kirkwall harbour to retrieve the Ba! More like the Brrrrrrrr!

    Sil in Corea - Happy New Year to you too!