George Mackay Brown


'Carve the runes then be content with silence'


George Mackay Brown is buried in the Warbeth Kirkyard, (overlooking Hoy Sound) Stromness, Orkney, Scotland.

Grave of George Mackay Brown

With the exception of a few years spent as a student in Edinburgh and Midlothian - Mackay Brown spent his entire life on Orkney island. (Orkney lies off the north coast of Scotland).

A severe bout of measles at the age of 12 weakened his lungs and through out his life he suffered from respiratory problems.

In 1950 - while on an adult education course at  Newbattle Abbey College he encountered Edwin Muir - a fellow poet and Orcadian - who encouraged him to write poetry.

Mackay Brown's first collection of poetry The Storm appeared in 1954 and was followed in 1959 by Loaves and Fishes and in 1969 by The Year of the Whale. His final collection  Following a Lark - from which his epitaph is taken -  appeared in 1996.

George Mackay Brown
Photo by Gunnie Moberg

Mackay Brown was inspired by Orkney island life and by the Norse sagas. He sought to protect Orkney's cultural heritage and to re-instill myth and legend into literature. Seamus Heaney said of him that: 'he transforms everything by passing it through the eye of the needle of Orkney.'

Mackay Brown was also a playwright and a novelist.  His first novel Greenvoe was published in 1972 and in 1994  Beside the Ocean of Time was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.

He converted to Catholicism in 1961 and received the OBE in 1974.

Mackay Brown died on 13th April 1996 in his home town of Stromness. His auto-biography was published posthumously.

On Sunday the hawk fell on Bigging
      And a chicken screamed
      Lost in its own little snowstorm.

From The Hawk






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