"Kirkwall, parl. and royal burgh, seaport, and co. town of Orkney, Kirkwall and St Ola par., Mainland, at head of Kirkwall Bay, 51 miles N. of Wick, which is 742½ miles NW. of London by rail, parl. burgh, pop. 3923; royal burgh, pop. 2613; town, pop. 3947; P.O., T.O., 4 Banks, 4 newspapers. The cathedral of Kirkwall (1137), dedicated to St Magnus, the patron saint of Orkney, is one of the three old cathedrals of Scotland that remain in nearly perfect condition. The choir is used as the parish church. ...

Adjoining the cathedral are the remains of the bishop's palace, where Haco King of Norway died in 1263, and the ruins of the earl's palace (about 1600), the hall of which figures in Scott's Pirate. The last remains of the old royal Castle of Kirkwall, a fortress of great strength and antiquity, were removed in 1865. To the E. of the harbour are the remains of a fort erected by Cromwell. Kirkwall has steam communication with Lerwick, and with Leith, by Wick and Aberdeen. The harbour, which has been much improved, is secure and commodious, and the trade, foreign and coasting, is considerable. (For shipping statistics, see Appendix.) Kirkwall was made a royal burgh by James III. in 1486. It is one of the Wick District of Parliamentary Burghs, which returns 1 member."

From John Bartholomew's Gazetteer of the British Isles, 1887



  • The Minutes of the Town Council of Kirkwall in the Orkneys 1669-1700: transcribed by Morris Pottinger. Privately printed 2000. 355pp. In print.
    Fascinating insights into the lives of hundreds of townspeople.
  • Light in the North: edited by Howie N. Firth and H. W. M. Cant. Published Kirkwall 1989. 137pp.
    Personalities associated with St. Magnus Cathedral.
  • Kirkwall Grammar School: by William P.L. Thomson. Published 1976.
    History of the ancient school now attended by most Orcadians.
  • Charters and other Records of the City and Royal Burgh of Kirkwall: by John Mooney. Published 1952 by The Spalding Club, Aberdeen iii,19.
  • The Cathedral and Royal Burgh of Kirkwall: by John Mooney. Published Kirkwall 1943, 1947. 267pp.
    Definitive history of the city.
  • Paterson Church, Kirkwall Tercentenary Jubilee 1796-1946: No author. Published 1946.
  • Kirkwall Congregational Church: by Rev Alexander Goodfellow. Published 1912 Old Lore Miscellany vi,63.
  • The History of the Kirkwall United Presbyterian Congregation from its formation in 1796 to the Union in 1900: by Rev D. Webster. Published 1910.
  • Kirkwall in the Orkneys: by Buckham H. Hossack. Published by Kirkwall Press, 1986 (reprint of 1900 edn. In print. 490pp.
    An Orkney classic, the history of the town's dwellings and their occupants - landed families, merchants and craftsmen. Of great historical and genealogical interest.
  • Curious Incidents from the Ancient Records of Kirkwall: by William R. Mackintosh. Published 1892. 329pp. Companion volume to the next volume:
  • Glimpses of Kirkwall and its People in Olden Times: by William R. Mackintosh. Published 1885. 326pp. Excerpts from Council records, 1691-1834.
  • The Ancient and Present State of Orkney: by George Eunson. Published 1788.
    Full blooded and satirical indictment of magistrates and Councillors of Kirkwall.
  • Description of St.Ola Parish and Kirkwall, Orkney: Author unknown. Published 1726; reprinted by Scottish History Society 1900, pp141-151.



Church Records

Old Parish Records

  • Baptisms, 1657-1854. Regularly kept.
  • Marriages, 1657-1854. No entries May 1679-April 1682, Dec 1701-Sep 1705, and Feb 1726-1728. Incomplete for 1686.
  • Burials, 1666-1853. No entries (except a few for 1708-09) 1681-1783.

Other church records (held at Orkney Archives in Kirkwall).

  • Ref: OCR/KC/14: St. Magnus Cathedral - Communion Roll 1831, 1834-1842, 1857 (including marriages and baptisms 1857-1858), 1876-1950, and 1952-1969, Roll of members 1921, 1935, 1936, List of communicants 1639-1654, Deaths 1670-1672, Marriages 1651-1653 and 1662-1667, Baptismal register 1687-1688 and 1856-1926, Baptismal counterfoils 1831-1837, Proclamations of marriage banns 1855-1904 and 1907-1977, Scroll proclamations register 1861-1873, Burials register 1813-1821 and 1845-1886, Poor's roll 1826-1841.
  • Ref: D66: Albert J. Thomson papers: Copy registers of burials in St. Magnus Cathedral churchyard 1921-1972, Baptismal register 1856-1884, Register of proclamations of marriage banns 1851-1882, Burials 1845-1871.
  • Ref: OCR/FC/16: Kirkwall: King Street Kirk Baptisms 1843-1899, 1911, Marriages 1843-1874, Communion Roll 1911-1913 and 1930-1946.

Civil Registration

The Registrar of births, deaths, and marriages for the parish of Kirkwall and St. Ola.
The Registrar's records extend back only as far as 1st January 1855 when registration became compulsory in Scotland.


Description & Travel

You can see pictures of Kirkwall which are provided by:





You can see maps centred on OS grid reference HY446100 (Lat/Lon: 58.973643, -2.965376), Kirkwall which are provided by: