History & Heritage

The Early Story of Christianity in Deerness

The Friends of St Ninian’s now own the Kirk of St Ninian’s situated on the east coast of Deerness, at Skaill. It sits in the Deerness Kirkyard, owned and maintained by Orkney Islands Council.

Drawings of the twin-towered kirk, drawn by George Low in 1774, by kind permission of Orkney Library and Archive Drawings of the twin-towered kirk, drawn by George Low in 1774, by kind permission of Orkney Library and ArchiveThe current building is the 20th Century remodelling of a building completed in 1798 and the story of that 1798 structure and its subsequent renovation is a separate tale. Its predecessor was sketched by the Reverend George Low in 1774 and was, in his view, "the most remarkable country kirk in these isles" 

It had twin round towers at its east end, facing out to the sea. At least one of the towers had a bell, reputedly stolen away by Cromwell’s soldiers during their stay in Orkney in the 1650s. Low records also that the towers commemorated the two sons of Lady Howitt, drowned in a sea accident. She lived somewhere at Skaill or  Sandside but the story is vague - who was she, when did the tragedy take place, where exactly did she live, who was her husband?

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DELDAYS of DEERNESS

My maternal grandmother was Mary Dunnet Delday of Greentoft. Through her memories, the Deerness census returns, the fact that most of the Deldays lived out their lives in Deerness and were laid to rest in the Deerness cemetry, my Delday relatives are well recorded.

I'll start with my ggg g/f George Delday born about 1774, as I know where he lived, whom he married, what family he had, and where, and in what circumstances, he died - a story handed down through many generations of Deerness folk. His parents were John Delday and Beatrix Pottinger, and his grandparents were Magnus Delday and Margaret Ritch who were married on 23-1-1711.

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