Skip to main content

Orkney Islands

Orkney Islands, archipelago and council area (1991 pop. 19,650), 376 sq mi (974 sq km), N Scotland, consisting of about 70 islands in the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea, N of Scottish mainland across the Pentland Firth. About 20 islands are inhabited. Mainland (Pomona), the largest, has Kirkwall, the county town, and Stromness. Other large islands are Hoy, South Ronaldsay, Stronsay, Sanday, Westray, and Rousay.

The climate is mild, windy, and wet. The Orkneys are one of Scotland's richest farming regions. Beef cattle and eggs are the most important produce. Sheep and pigs are also raised. Some fishing, mainly for lobster, is carried on. The discovery of North Sea oil in the early 1970s provided employment for many inhabitants.

The Orkney Islands were settled by Picts. Vikings invaded in the 8th cent. From 875 to 1231 it was a Viking earldom under the Norwegian crown. Details of this period are recounted in the Orkneyinga Saga, a Norse epic. In 1231, the islands passed to the Scottish earls of Angus on the death of the last Viking earl. It became a possession of the Scottish crown in 1472 in trust for the undelivered dowry of Margaret of Norway on her marriage to James III (1469), but the Norse occupation left marked Scandinavian traces; islanders spoke Norn (a form of Norse) until the 18th cent. James V visited Kirkwall in 1540 and made the Orkney Islands a county. Scapa Flow, S of Mainland, was Britain's major naval base in World Wars I and II.

The islands have many prehistoric relics. Stone Age villages have been unearthed at Skara Brae on Mainland and a broch (prehistoric fort) at Rinyo on Rousay. Other relics are the burial chambers at Maeshowe and the standing stones at Stenness. The islands have become increasingly popular with tourists and are home to the St. Magnus music festival, founded by the composer Peter Maxwell Davies.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Orkney Islands." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Nov. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Orkney Islands." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/orkney-islands

"Orkney Islands." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved November 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/orkney-islands

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.