Wednesday, 7 January 2009

The Ba' an Orkney tradition

New Years day 2009 and no sleeping off hangovers for Orkney folk. You can find a large crowd gathered together to watch the Ba' which is a long standing tradition which dates back to well before the war. Christmas day and New years day every year gathers together brave (or slightly mad?) to play what can only be described as a giant game of rugby in the streets of Kirkwall. Now obviously I'm a newbee but I will try to explain the basic rules then add pictures so you can see for yourselves. here goes.
1. There are two teams the 'uppies' and the 'doonies' Your team is decided on which side of Kirkwall you live on, or how you first came to Kirkwall (boat or plane)
2. At 1.00pm when the cathedral clock strikes, the Ba' a large leather ball is thrown into crowd of waiting men and never seen again. Well at least not for several hours.
3. The object of the game is to get the ball up the way and touch it on a wall some way down the street or down the way and throw it into the harbour. That decides the winning team. Then follows a further scrabble to get the ball and from that emerges the overall winner who gets to keep the Ba'
4. It appears that the rule is there are no rules. Other than if someone goes down they are supposed to stop until they get up.
I think that's pretty much it but it's great fun to watch. As the two teams arrive to face each other off there is quite an atmosphere. There's a hushed sense of anticipation as the crowd wait for the clock to strike then the place goes mad. You need to stand well back in order to avoid getting caught up in the middle of it and as the scrum breaks and moves up or down spectators can me seen suddenly making a run for it!
All shops bar their doors and windows to prevent someone going through them and team players strap their trousers to their boots with yards and yards of duct tape to prevent losing their steel toe cap boots! (it appears it doesn't matter if your head gets mashed so long as your feet are ok!)
It's generally good clean sporting fun although they occasional fight breaks out and maybe it's an opportunity to settle an old score but I haven't heard of too much damage being done. That said I heard of a man who punctured his lung playing on Christmas day and was back playing on new years day!
The game lasts a minimum of 2-3 hours and the one pictured too 5. A long bath, a decent meal and a good sleep is probably what's needed after. And that's just for those spectating!
scroll through the pictures and note the shops being boarded up, the arrival of the two teams, hands ready to catch the Ba', scrum scrum scrum, and most amusing of all the steam rising from the scrum after just a few minutes. Just be thankful it isn't scratch and sniff!

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