Wednesday, 18 January 2017

September 11, 2016 and our last day at Stromness

It is about time I showed you a map of the southern part of Orkney Mainland, with Stromness at the left, Kirkwall in the centre and St.Mary's, near to the location of the Italian Chapel, south of Kirkness.
 From Stromness, the ferry goes past the Island of Hoy back to Scrabster, not far from Thurso .

From my travel journal describing our final day on Orkney:

Yesterday (Sunday) we walked from our bed and breakfast to the church instead of taking a bus or taxi, as the weather was sunny and the route downhill. 

I tried getting money from a bank machine but couldn't because presumably my daily limit is so low. 

Greg got some cash.

We went to the wrong church first off, but someone from the Baptist church arrived just as we did. 

The Town Hall, now a community centre, used to be a church.
The Baptist congregation meets there on Sunday mornings.

He directed us up the hill to St. Mary the Virgin, which was tucked into the wall in what used to be the premises of the Legion (?). It was not much bigger than St. Alban's (in Souris) but better appointed,having recently been redecorated. It had a blue ceiling and blue altar hangings.

This is the outside of the church from a posting on the church's Facebook page.
The blue doors are in keeping with the colour associated with the Virgin Mary
 and abide by the colour scheme chosen for the historical section of Stromness.

This is what the little sign in the photo above says (also from the church's Facebook page).


Warm welcome: We were introduced to each of the 10 or so congregants and the priest, a retired interim from New York City. He grew up in Reading, Pennsylvania.

Nice service: The 90-year-old organist played only the prelude and the postlude. We sang the hymns a capella. Good singing, which became a bit slower as the verses progressed.

There was a little four-year-old boy,a foster child of a couple in the congregation. This was his last day in Stromness. He was lively and dressed in a combination of Star Wars gear and a cincture lent by the priest. 

We went for cake and tea in a very small room afterwards. The village eccentric was there too in a somewhat outlandish get-up including lots of purple...He appeared to be very well-liked  and like us, was plied with lots of cake. 

The foster-parents of the little boy had two balloons and a present for their little fellow. He seemed genuinely surprised at the fuss and while unwrapping the gift, said, "O... for me? ... Oh... a buuhk? ... Oh... a Babble!" which he hugged to his chest and grinned with delight.

This is the Bible (from a picture on the church's Facebook page)

He will be going to England to live with his adoptive parents. I hope he gets to use and read his bible.

I didn't record in my journal anything about the striking stained glass windows we enjoyed in the church, so here are two images I found on their facebook page: 
This window commemorates St.Luke, symbolized by the winged ox.
Notice also  the doctor's bag and stethoscope for Luke the physician.

The sun shines through the window commemorating
St John, symbolized by an eagle.

After the service, we were walking further up the hill when Ann, one of the ladies at the church (whose husband is half-Orcadian), stopped and offered to take us on a little tour. She had an hour or so to wait for her spouse, who was off somewhere doing something else. 

First, she took us to the ferry terminal where we put our big bags into a locker - a brilliant idea.

Then Ann drove us around the town and beyond - so nice of her. She drove an electric car, which she was going to charge up after she dropped us off. There are 100 charge stations in Orkney! Ann told us it has a reputation for being very progressive in energy and experimentation.

This is the view of the town close to the mouth of the harbour.

This is overlooking the harbour closer to the downtown.

After we bid our tour guide goodbye, we walked along the extremely narrow main street : 

I thought it was a pedestrian mall until I realized - in time - that it accommodated
 two lanes of traffic. Pedestrians, look out!

Between many of the buildings on the main street, there were intriguing walkways up the hill.

And going down to the water, there were more vistas.

Here is the Stromness Hotel and the official (since 2007) flag of Orkney, showing blue for the flag of Scotland and red and yellow for the coats of arms of Scotland and Norway, thereby reflecting Orkney's connection to both countries..

Shouldn't every town square have one of these?

Now, where do those stars lead?

I was taken with the stone work and flowers.

Back from our walk,we repaired to a cafe near the ferry terminal and had a very odd lunch: potato skins with melted brie under a cascade of too much bacon. I paid 10 pounds in cash.

Back at the ferry terminal we chatted with a bicyclist who was doing his laundry. He found too late that there was no detergent, so he washed everything twice. It had taken him 11 days to cycle to the Orkneys from wherever it was that he lived.

The harbour at Stromness close to the ferry dock.

We forgot about the arrangement for our boarding passes until we handed the wrong,i.e.used, end of the ticket to the ticket taker. We were directed back to the wicket (where I had earlier asked about the wifi in the terminal) and were handed our boarding passes, which we would have picked up long before had we remembered what to do. There was not much in the way of foot traffic, so we boarded the ferry in good time in spite of the little glitch.

We had intended to eat dinner on the ferry but held off to see how rough it was going to get, as the bicyclist we had talked to had mentioned windy conditions once outside the harbour.

It did get rather rolling, so we just closed our eyes and went for the ride.

In Scrabster, another Ormlie cab was waiting for us. The driver turned out to have been the best man for the husband of the woman who ran the bed and breakfast on Princess St. where we were headed for the night. 

We were now officially back in Scotland ...

where further adventure awaited us. In my next blog, I will try to get us all the way to Nairn.

Friday, 13 January 2017

September 10, 2016: We explore Kirkwall

From my travel journal dated September 11, 2016:

"Spent yesterday in Kirkwall ... St. Magnus Cathedral ... 

 Work on the Romanesque-style cathedral began in 1137.

They had put the bones of many people, including Robert Stewart, into a common grave just outside the cathedral walls, where there is now a green space. Robert Stewart and all the Stewarts are not well-liked.  

 The unmarked common grave looks spookier through the fence

Lots of references inside to Richens. I photographed the tombstones.

The grave marker of Robert Richen, my 8th great-grandfather.

Stained glass window in St. Magnus Cathedral

Lunch at the cafe across the road from the cathedral... salads! Yay. I bought a tea towel with puffins on it. 

Went to the museum and got the time-line sorted out re settlements, and peoples, and dates. Then to the library archives where I found a book on the Richens, some of which the librarian photocopied(3£).

Then back on the bus to Stromness. He stopped as soon as we rang the bell so we did not have far to walk."

My travel journal doesn't really do justice to our day in Kirkwall. I wanted to go there to investigate my family connection to Orkneyjar, its name when reflecting its Norwegian roots. It was given to Scotland  by the king of Denmark and Norway as part of a dowry for his daughter Margaret, who married James III of Scotland in July 1469. The islands were never redeemed by him. 

Orcadians to this day feel attached to Scandinavia. In fact when we left Orkney Mainland, we were asked if we were going back to Scotland. Gaelic (on the road signs, along with English, in other parts of Scotland) is seen as unnecessary in Orkney; as Carrie of See Orkney told us, "No one speaks it here."

At the time we visited, I thought I was directly related to the notorious Robert Stewart, scion of  James Stewart V of Scotland and his mistress Euphemia Elphinstone, and Robert's equally despised son Patrick. Thankfully, the notorious Robert is merely the second great-grandfather of my seventh great-uncle, Robert Richan (1707-1791), husband to a Stewart descendant, Jane Stewart of Eday.

However, seventh great-uncle Robert Richen and I share another Robert Richen in common, his paternal great-grandfather and my eighth great-grandfather, who is remembered on the gravestone pictured above. Born in 1620, Robert was a well-off merchant in Kirkwall, making his living as a litster or dyer.  In the late 1660s, in addition to other property,  he bought two double dwellings, "two sclaitt ruifed and twa theack ruifed." The inscription on his tombstone refers to him as "Merchand - Burgess of Kirkwall, who departed this lyf 1 Decr 1679." (Source: The Richans of Orkney 1983)

Time passed and vowels changed and my fifth great-grandfather, Captain John Richan, born in Kirkwall in 1756, arrived in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia about 1788. He died there in 1807.  But who is his father? He is named "son of John Richan" in one book about Yarmouth. In another account, his father is said to have been  Captain William Richan, descendant of those nasty Stewarts via his mother's side. 

This Captain William (1741-1829) was a colourful figure (sea captain, decorated naval commander, smuggler and husband of a profligate wife who pretty much bankrupted him). I wish he were my direct relative for the stories about him. Alas, I did some math once we returned from our trip and discovered he would have become John's father at the age of 15, not an impossibility in those days (or any days), but John Richan would have been his fifth consecutive son. Not likely, even with his virile Viking blood (the Richen's originally hailed from Denmark in the mid-900's), would he have been a father before age 10. 

There is another William Richen in Kirkwell, about whom I know very little aside from his date of birth in 1713. I wonder if he is the father of my Yarmouth relative. Did the writer of the family chronicle get the two William Richens confused or did John Richan's descendants intentionally re-write the family history? I shall likely never know.

John Richan ran a pub called variously the Vengeance, the Olive Branch and the Phoenix over the years. He had been a midshipman on board the "Vengeance,"  and outside his tavern, he painted a sign showing the ship with it guns blazing,  "a masterpiece according to his son (yet another William Richan 1797-1875) in a story on oral history in the Yarmouth Herald dated 1902 . The building was later used as a courthouse, jail and public meeting place. It was situated at the corner of Main St. and Marshall Lane, where a plaque was placed by the Yarmouth County Historical Society in 1998 (according to a photo in Africa's Children:a History of Blacks in Yarmouth NS.

So I have come a long way in both time and geography. And taken something of a detour in my account of our trip.It is quite exciting for me to think I walked along streets in Kirwall and Yarmouth traversed by my ancestors.

Anyhow, while we were in Kirkwall, we also walked about inside the ruins of the Bishop's and Earl's palaces, located across the road from the cathedral:

The dreadful Patrick Stewart wanted to build a magnificent complex incorporating the Bishop's palace. Although it is a fine example of renaissance Scottish building, the Earl was not so fine. After a life of apparent unending feuding and general malice, he was executed for treason in 1615. The beheading was apparently delayed for a few days until he learned the Lord's Prayer. (Source:

While I was in Orkney, I did not reveal what I thought was my relationship to the Stewarts and was so relieved after coming home that it was not a direct relationship at all, just one by marriage: dodged a bullet and  possibly hostile stares on that one. 

The Earl's Palace:  Patrick Stewart Earl of Orkney


The much older Bishop's Palace originally looked something like this: 

It was built in the mid-12th century for Bishop William the Old, a friend and crusading companion of the founder of the cathedral.  (Source:

It followed the design for a typical Norwegian palace of the time, with a hall for entertainment and a tower for the bishop's residence.

We spent a couple of hours clambering around the ruins enjoying the lovely sunny day unencumbered by any other visitors.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

September 9th: We visit the Italian Chapel

Later in the afternoon, we left the neolithic age far behind and journeyed towards Scapa Flow to see the Italian Chapel at Lambholm. We were rather drowsy and overly full of facts as well as food and almost didn't want to go; however, we did. Carrie, our See Orkney tour guide, said that at this point in the day, she would often be chatting about Orkney history only to look in her rear view mirror to see everyone sound asleep. She said they would try to appear as if they had not missed anything, but they gave themselves away by asking questions about what she had just talked about.

I thought, how rude of them to nod off. However, a short while later, I succumbed to Sleep's beckoning and drifted off. However, when I woke up, I said to Carrie at least I know not to ask any questions, which made her laugh.

It turned out that the chapel was a treat I am glad we didn't miss. It was built during the Second World War. In 1942, about 550 Italian prisoners of war were brought to the Orkneys mainly from North Africa to provide labour for building a causeway to better protect the English Fleet often stationed at nearby Scapa Flow.

In the 18 months that they were in Camp 60, the POW's grew flower and vegetable gardens, and also built concrete walkways,  and constructed a theatre and recreation hut - with three pool tables - built from concrete. Apparently there was a lot of concrete on account of the construction of the causeway. In 1943, the camp commandant and the padre decided a chapel would be a good addition.

Prisoners, including master craftsman Domenico Chiocchetti, set about using found materials to convert two Nissen huts into a place of worship. This is the resulting exterior:

The crucifix shrine, barely visible in the image above, is more visible below.  It was donated by Chiocchetti's hometown the Commune of Moena in 1961. (My source is an intriguing account found at ) Greg is hunched over in the wind, which blew out the rainy weather from earlier in the day.

A prisoner fashioned the image of Christ over the entrance:

Apparently the candle holders in the sanctuary were fashioned from corned beef tins. Another prisoner, Giuseppe Palumbi, a blacksmith by trade, made the delicate rood screen, a task which took him four months to complete:

Chiocchetti and other prisoners created the rest of  interior.The corrugated hut interior was covered in plasterboard.  What appears to be brick and stone is painted - a most convincing  use of  trompe d'oeil. This is the ceiling in the sanctuary, barely visible in my photo above:

 A church in his home town of Moena might have been Chiocchetti's  inspiration for the ceiling:

Images of the four evangelists and of St. France of Assisi were painted to look like stained glass windows: 

The square objects on the wall are depictions of the stations of the cross. Chiocchetti and his wife donated them 20 years later on a return visit in 1964  and  participated, along with 200 Orcadians, in a rededication service.

Outdoors, in what was the centre of the camp, Chiocchetti constructed a statue of St. George and the dragon  - on a base of barbed wire covered with concrete.


Most of the prisoners were moved to Yorkshire, England in 1943, before the construction of the chapel was completed. Chiocchetti stayed behind to finish the concrete baptismal font. The basin is from a vehicle exhaust (according to Wikipedia), and Carrie noted the base is the shock absorber of a truck. The font moves slightly if you touch it gently,

The little chapel is a miracle, as the information photo below suggests. The local  Orcadians promised to maintain the chapel and have done so for the last 70 plus years. Eight surviving  prisoners returned for a 50th anniversary celebration in 1992. Alas, Chiocchetti was too ill to attend (He died in 1999). A special mass, attended by his daughter, was held in 2014  to celebrate its 70th  anniversary. 

Carrie said that for many years you could just walk up to it and enter, but the site was being damaged (either by overuse or deliberate vandalization), and so a ticket booth was built and the area was fenced. It remains a touching  symbol of hope and reconciliation.