Orkney 2021 – Burray, St Lawrence

Thursday 17 June was a beautiful day. We went to St Lawrence church on Burray, the island we’re staying on. It’s down a lane off the main road at ND492964. I had rather hoped we could get down to the beach, but no. It is a beautiful churchyard – Orkney Islands Council (I assume) care for them extremely well.

First I made a beeline to the War Memorial. I had read the cottage’s copy of “Broch Island, a history of the island of Burray in Orkney”, by J.M. Struthers, 2013, and purchased my own copy from Kirkwall Museum. It lists the WW1 dead on page 144 (13 men died) and gives six from WW2 (I thought there was only one – John Rosie – on the memorial, and I can’t find him in the book).

One of the CWG graves I found was to Thomas Allen, an Able-seaman who died on 12 July 1918 on the hospital ship Karapara in Scapa Flow, a victim of Spanish flu. He had seen service in the Dardanelles but in 1918 he was serving on the submarine depot ship HMS Vulcan. He was 25.

Some stones that caught my eye were James and Betsy Sinclair remembering two children, and William and Catherine Laird remembering Mary, Gilbert and James. “We have to mourn the loss of them we did our best to save. Beloved on earth, regretted gone, remembered in the grave. Yet again we hope to meet them when the day of life is fled, Then in heaven we hope to meet them, where no farewell tears are spread.”

David and Marianne Wylie had to cope with the death of one son, David – he was 22. On the side of the stone you find an engraving to Robert, their other son. He died in Sydney. I’m sure that’s a family with a fascinating story – and, in this age of Zoom, we forget the distance and difficulty of communication.

The cemetery is still in use – as there is no Crematorium on the islands, I assume everyone is buried. Catherine told me that there was one elderly resident who died during this last year, and the island still managed to mourn him – even though no one was able to be with him when he died.

Sadly St Lawrence Kirk is derelict. Apparently it dates back to the C11, probably as a small private church on the Earldom estate – Victorian surveyors found a stone in the west gable dated 1172. It is likely that there was a broch on this site, so the stones would probably have come from this ancient structure. The building was restored in 1621 by the Laird, William Stewart of Mains. The minister, Rev Walter Stewart, described it as “small but very elegant.” The roof fell in about 1800, it was restored in 1852 and given a new roof. In 1874 the final service was held. A new replacement church was built elsewhere on the island, and apparently they built the new church to the original dimensions so they could reuse the roof! Now that is closed as well, and islanders have to cross to the village of St Margaret Hope on South Ronaldsay for worship.

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