Tribute To George Mackay Brown Planned For Maeshowe

By Graham Spicer | 06 December 2006
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A photo of an entrance to a stone tunnel.

Maeshowe is one of the finest Neolithic sites in Europe. © Historic Scotland

A Neolithic tomb in the Orkney Islands will provide an atmospheric backdrop to a poetry reading celebrating famed local poet and author George Mackay Brown.

The Maeshowe ancient burial ground featured heavily in the writing of Brown, who was often known simply as GMB. Edinburgh-based writer Stuart Delves will be reading from his Northern Lights, which pays tribute to GMB.

It was produced as part of the UK-wide Common Ground project, which asked authors to write about people and places that had inspired them and then to take part in events and performances.

“I first discovered Mackay Brown’s work about 20 years ago but only really became familiar with his poetry around five years later while working in Devon,” said Stuart. “That’s about as far away from Orkney as you can get and still be in the UK, but I found his work inspirational.”

black and white photo of the head and shoulders of a man

Stuart Delves will be reading from his book Northern Lights, which pays tribute to GMB. Photo courtesy Historic Scotland

“After I moved to Edinburgh and started working for some clients in Orkney I realised just how much he captures the essence of the islands. It is a place I came to love and regard as a spiritual bolthole. I have never known anywhere like it.”

George Mackay Brown (1921-1996), often known simply as GMB, was a poet, author and dramatist born in Stromness on Orkney’s West Mainland. He spent most of his life in Orkney and is considered one of Scotland’s greatest 20th century poets.

His central inspiration was from the islands and their long history, and his book Beside The Ocean Of Time was nominated for the Booker Prize in 1994. Maeshowe itself featured in his writing and his funeral cortege passed the ancient site.

photo of a coastline with a neolithic barrows and stone tombs

Maeshowe is part of the wider Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site. © Historic Scotland

Maeshowe is considered the finest chambered tomb in north-west Europe and is more than 5,000 years old. Made of about 30 tons of sandstone, the setting sun shines directly through its entry passage on the winter solstice, briefly and dramatically illuminating the chamber.

The Vikings visited the site in the 12th century and they left one of the largest collections of runic inscriptions in the world there, along with carvings of a dragon, serpent and walrus. Maeshowe is now part of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site, which includes Skara Brae, the Ring of Brodgar and the Stones of Stenness.

The reading will take place on December 16 2006 as part of the 3pm tour - places are free but are on a first-come-served basis.

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