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"Picking gorse flowers leaves loads of sharp prickles embedded in the points of your fingers, which is not so good for pipe playing in the days immediately afterwards," Dave Miller, Pipe Major of Kirkwall City Pipe Band, told us in an email from the Orkney Islands.

He had just read a story in last month's edition of this e-book, in which we described how members of the pipe band pick masses of gorse flowers for Britain's most northern winery.

"The gorse wine is pretty potent stuff," said the pipe major. "It doesn't make you play any better - but it makes you think you do. The owners of the Orkney Wine Company, Emile and Marjolein van Schayk, are both members of the band. Our annual trip to pick the gorse flowers has become a regular feature on our events calendar.

"The band has nearly 100 active members, both male and female. The main band consists of 20 pipers and 12 drummers, the No. 2 or junior band is of similar size, and we also have a fledgling novice juvenile band which should make its public debut this year.

"The band performs regularly throughout the year, its main parades being held in front of St Magnus Cathedral, a 12th century building which is the pride of the town.

"Having twice visited Denmark, members of the band are no strangers to foreign travel. Last year they took part in the trip of a lifetime, flying halfway around the world to Japan for a 10-day tour promoting Orkney, Scottish culture and the Great Highland Bagpipe."

Until a few weeks ago we knew next to nothing about the Orkneys, a group of tiny islands off the north coast of Scotland, so we asked Dave Miller about them. He replied:

Being quite a parochial lot we always refer to the main island of the Orkney group as The Mainland, and the Scottish mainland as 'Down South' or 'Doon Sooth' as it is pronounced here. At one time about 1000 - 1400AD Orkney was the administrative capital of the north of Scotland, being under the control of the Scandinavian monarchs, hence the high number of Scandinavian place names in the North of Scotland.

Orkney never had a Gaelic influence at any time, and until the late 19th century an offshoot of Norwegian known as Orkney Norn was still the common language.

The main island of Orkney is about 40 miles long at the two furthermost points, with Kirkwall (the capital) sitting right in the middle. The wine company is seven miles away, and we pick the gorse three miles from town.

  • You can see Dave's portrait by clicking on Kirkwall City Pipe Band. Then, from the navigation, select Photos - Gorse Picking, to see pictures of the plucky pipers picking prickly gorse.


The men from north Galway and the Connemara team had finished level twice, and after extra time at that, in their first round Senior Football Championship clash over the previous two weeks. It appeared that both sides were sticking to their colours in this marathon football saga. I could see Carna's point of view. The yellow jersey is the very same colour as the furze which blooms in abundance in that area underneath the May sunshine. All the same the Carna area is called Iorras Aithneach - the pennisula of the furze and gorse, according to some heritage experts. - Galway Advertiser.




Story first posted June 2004

Copyright 2004

Eric Shackle

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