George Mackay Brown: Wikis


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George Mackay Brown (17 October 1921 - 13 April 1996), was a Scottish poet, author and dramatist, whose work has a distinctly Orcadian character. He is considered one of the great Scottish poets of the 20th century.



George Mackay Brown was the youngest of six children, born to Mhairi Mackay and John Brown on the 17th of October 1921. Except for a spell as a mature student in mainland Scotland, Mackay Brown lived all of his life in Stromness in the Orkney Islands. His youth was marked by severe poverty and it was from this time that he was affected by tuberculosis. This illness kept him from entering the army at the start of World War II and it afflicted him to such an extent that he could not live a normal working life, however, it was because of this that he had the time and space in which to write. In 1948, Stromness voted to allow pubs to open again, the town having been 'dry' since the 1920s. Mackay Brown first tasted alcohol, which he found to be "a revelation; they flushed my veins with happiness; they washed away all cares and shyness and worries. I remember thinking to myself 'If I could have two pints of beer every afternoon, life would be a great happiness'"[1]. Subsequently he was to suffer from alcoholism for the rest of his life. As a mature student, he studied at the University of Edinburgh and at Newbattle Abbey College where he met Edwin Muir who would have a great influence on his life as a writer. When he died in 1996, he was buried with a gravestone which bore an inscription from one of his poems:

To have carved on the days of our vanity
A sun
A ship
A star
A cornstalk
Also a few marks
From an ancient forgotten time
A child may read
That not far from the stone
A well might open for wayfarers
Here is a work for poets-
Carve the runes
Then be content with silence[2]


Mackay Brown gained most of his inspiration from his native islands, in poems, stories and novels which ranged through time. He drew on the Icelandic Orkneyinga Saga, especially in his novel Magnus. In 1961, he entered the Roman Catholic Church; he drew much inspiration from the traditional Latin liturgy, monasticism and the history of the medieval Church in Orkney.

He was nominated for the Booker Prize in 1994 for his Beside the Ocean of Time and won the 1987 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for "The Golden Bird: Two Orkney Stories". His autobiography, For the Islands I Sing, was published shortly after his death. A biography George Mackay Brown: The Life by Maggie Fergusson was published in 2006.

Composer Peter Maxwell Davies collaborated with Mackay Brown for many of his Orkney-inspired works.

Selected Works



  • The Storm (1954)
  • Loaves and Fishes (1959)
  • The Year of the Whale (1965)
  • Fishermen with Ploughs (1971)
  • Poems New and Selected (1971)
  • Winterfold (1976)
  • Voyages (1983)
  • The Wreck of the Archangel (1989)
  • Tryst on Egilsay (1989)
  • Brodgar Poems (1992)
  • Foresterhill (1992)
  • Following a Lark (1996)
  • Water (1996)
  • Travellers (2001)
  • Collected Poems (2005)
  • The Unlucky Boat (?)

Short stories

  • A Calendar of Love (1967)
  • A Time to Keep (1969)
  • Hawkfall (1974)
  • The Sun's Net (1976)
  • Andrina and Other Stories (1983)
  • The Masked Fisherman and Other Stories (1989)
  • The Sea-King's Daughter (1991)
  • Winter Tales (1995)
  • The Island of the Women and Other Stories (1998)


  • A Spell for Green Corn (1970)
  • Three Plays: The Loom of Light, The Well and The Voyage of Saint Brandon (1984)


Essays and Autobiography

  • An Orkney Tapestry (1969)
  • Letters from Hamnavoe (1975)
  • Under Brinkie's Brae (1979)
  • Portrait of Orkney (1981)
  • Rockpools and Daffodils: An Orcadian Diary, 1979-91 (1992)
  • For the Islands I Sing: An Autobiography (1997)
  • Stained Glass Windows (1998)
  • Northern Lights (1999) (Includes Poetry)
  • The First Wash of Spring (2006)

Children's Stories

  • The Two Fiddlers (1974)
  • Pictures in the Cave (1977)
  • Six Lives of Fankle the Cat (1980)


  • For the islands I sing a collection of poems and short stories produced in 2006 by Orkney Aye [1] a Young Enterprise Scotland company [2]. It includes previously unpublished recordings of the author reading his own works.


  1. ^ Maggie Fergusson, George Mackay Brown: The Life, John Murray, 2006, ISBN 0719556597 p. 89
  2. ^ George Mackay Brown, A Work for Poets


External links


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