St Mary’s Kirk & The Wirk

St Mary’s Kirk

This is all that remains of St Mary’s kirk on the Westside. It is variously referred to as the Swandro or Westside kirk, and is the shell of the former parish church of Rousay, going out of public use when a new kirk was built at the Brinian in 1815. Despite buttresses being built against the outer west and inner east walls in the late 19th century, the structure is in a precarious state.

Above are two of the most poignant gravestones in the kirkyard – those of James Sinclair, News, and John Reid, Tratland, who drowned when the mailboat was lost in Eynhallow Sound on October 11th 1893

The Wirk

The Wirk is a square tower associated with a large rectangular building which extended into the field on its landward side. The rectangular building is thought to have been a grand hall along the lines of the Bishop’s Palace in Kirkwall, and the Wirk itself was a bell tower. Excavated in 1929 by Joseph Storer Clouston the tower was compared to those in Norway and Sweden, where bell towers are sometimes separate from the actual churches. The nearby kirk in Viking times would have served its purpose for the lord than his people, and such a prestigious place as Skaill could well have had its own church and bell tower.