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South Ronaldsay

A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

This edition is copyright © The Editors of the Gazetteer for Scotland, 2002-2020.

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Ronaldshay, South, an island of Orkney. Most southerly of the Orkneys with exception of the Pentland Skerries, it occupies the SE corner of the archipelago, and is washed on the N by Water Sound, about ½ mile broad, dividing it from Burray; on the E by the German Ocean; on the S by the eastern entrance of the Pentland Firth, 6¼ miles wide, dividing it from Duncansbay Head; on the W by the northern expansion of the Pentland Firth, or the entrance of Scalpa Flow, dividing it from Swona, South Walls, and Flotta. It measures 7¾ miles in extreme length from N by E to S by W; whilst its breadth varies between 1½ and 61/8 miles. It has mainly an oblong outline, diversified with headlands and bays; is mostly low and flat, attaining a maximum altitude of 389 feet in the Ward Hill; and, in the aggregate of both coast and interior, presents a much richer and more generally cultivated appearance than perhaps any equal extent of Orcadian territory. Grim Ness, Stews Head, and Old Head project on the eastern coast at such distances from one another as to divide the entire length of that coast into three fairly equal sections; Brough Head projects in the extreme S, and confronts Duncansbay Head in Caithness; the Wing and Barth Head project slightly in the SW, opposite Swona; Herston Head and Hoxa Head terminate considerable peninsulas in the NW, opposite Flotta; and three of the headlands-two in the E and one in the W -present bold rocky fronts to the ocean, each with an elevation of over 200 feet above sea-level. Sandwick Bay, on the W, is a slender incurvature about 3½ miles long, between Barth Head and Herston Head; Widewall Bay, in the W, between the peninsulas terminating in Herston Head and Hoxa Head, opens in an entrance little more than ½ mile wide, penetrates the land north-eastward and south-eastward to an extent of 2¼ miles, ramifies into baylets at the head, and affords safe anchorage to vessels of 600 tons burden; and St Margaret's Hope, in the NW, is a comparatively small bay, but forms one of the safest and best harbours in Scotland for small craft. The rocks throughout the island are either sandstone or dark blue slate; and the sandstone is quarried in ordinary blocks for building purposes, while the blue slate has the character of flag, and is raised, at Herston and Hoxa, in slabs of from 6 to 8 feet in diameter. Agriculture is practised in the same way as in other prime parts of the Orkneys; and the fishing of cod and herrings is very extensively prosecuted. Remains of Picts' houses are numerous and extensive; some large standing-stones, supposed to be of pre-Scandinavian origin, are near the manse; and ruins of pre-Reformation chapels are in seven places. The parish of South Ronaldshay includes the inhabited islands of South Ronaldshay, Burray, Swona, Hunda, and Pentland Skerries, and comprehends the ancient parishes of St Mary or the South Church (consisting of Swona, the Pentland Skerries, and more than one-third of South Ronaldshay), St Peter or the North Church (consisting of the rest of South Ronaldshay), and Burray (consisting of Burray, Hunda, and the uninhabited island of Glimsholm). Its total land area is 15,062 acres. It is in the presbytery of Kirkwall and the synod of Orkney; the living is worth £250. The parish church of South Ronaldshay, St Peter's, stands on the eastern shore of the island, was built in the 13th century, and contains 273 sittings. The church of St Mary, on the south-western shore, contains 413 sittings, and was raised to quoad sacra status in 1875. Its minister's stipend is £148. Other places of worship are Burray chapel of ease, South Ronaldshay Free church, and the U.P. churches of Burray and South Ronaldshay. Five schools-Burray, Grimness, Hope, Widewall, and Tomisen's-the first four public and of recent erection, with respective accommodation for 130, 60, 140, 110, and 218 children, had (1884) an average attendance of 114, 47, 117, 61, and 85, and grants of £107, 1s., £38, 5s. 6d., £127, 10s. 6d., £78, 18s. 6d., and £83, 8s. 6d. Valuation of parish (1884) £4406, 4s. 7d. Pop. of South Ronaldshay island (1821) 1949, (1861) 2551, (1881) 2557; of the parish (1801) 1881, (1831) 2711, (1861) 3282, (1871) 3228, (1881) 3314, of whom 695 were in St Mary's quoad sacra parish.

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

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