Table of contents:
- Christina M. Costie: A biographical sketch
- The use of dialect in Chrissie Costie’s works
- Real people and places in Chrissie Costie’s works
- Saga inspiration
- Folklore and mythology
- Customs and traditions
- The bountiful and merciless sea
- Man and land
Sample: Excerpt from the chapter “Real People and Places in Chrissie Costie’s Works”
Chrissie must have felt the north wind in her face when she walked down Albert Street on her way to work, for in the poem Nort’ Wind Blues the north wind is personified, along with several of the well-known landmarks of Kirkwall. This creates the overall impression that the town itself is alive, independently of its inhabitants.
The wind comes howlan doon fae the Nort’,
An’ gowsters up tae the Brig,
The aald spoots clatter, the grey slates toss,
An’ the stray cats scutter doon Maxwell’s Closs,
As he dances an Irish jig.
Than awa’ up the street wae a clash an’ a clatter,
He plays for a meenit wae puddles o’ watter,
An’ shouts as he boots at the aald Big Tree,
“Come, wumman, play Lae-lo-ley wae me!”
Bit sheu cheust rattles her branches bare,
An’ haads doon her iron goon,
“Na, michty me, sic a nicht tae be oot,
A’m blide I bide i’ the toon!”
Then aaf again wae a swoosh an’ a brullye,
He says, “Noo, Mansie, wae’ll hae a tullye,”
Bit Mansie rings oot a quarter-tae-three,
An’ quietly says, “Me boy, wae’ll see.
Thoo’re tried thee best for eight hunder year,
Bit thoo’re no shifted me yet!
I wadno meuve for the lik’s o’ thee,
I wadno shift a skrit!”
Sae aaf he gings wae a howl an’ a gowl,
An’ storms t’row the Pally stair,
“Naetheen ava,” says he wae a hix,
“Hid’s aafil ghosty an’ bare!”
Bit dour Earl Pat, hingan on tae his hat,
(For never a rest gets he),
Says, “A’ll be bowled, hid’s cheust as cowld
As Fifteen Ninety-three.”
Sae the peur Nort’ Wind wae a thrumlan chin
Comes shaakan me bedroom fleur,
An’ tirls at the sneck, an’ dirls an’ yells,
An’ greets i’ wir kitcheen door,
Bit he can deu whitever he lik’s, an’ never a hair care I,
A’m sef i’ me bed wae the claes ower me haed,
An’ the Nort’ Wind’s me lullabye!
In this poem, the north wind is portrayed as a frequent and ill-behaved visitor that the old town knows very well. Despite his attempts to cause chaos, the town is not very impressed. He is an unwelcome suitor to The Big Tree on Kirkwall’s Albert Street: In a draft version of the poem, he “boosts at the aald Big Tree” and “yells oot high” “Lass, be na shy! Come thoo an dance wae me!” But the tree “haads doon her iron goon” and refuses him. To Mansie (the Saint Magnus Cathedral) he is like a young boy trying to wind up and fight with an older man who does not take the bait. At the ruinous Earl’s Palace the north wind meets the ghost of the infamous Earl Patrick Stewart, who is portrayed here as a non-threatening and comical figure, holding on to his hat and complaining that it is as cold as in fifteen ninety-three. This was the year when the 28-year-old Patrick succeeded his father Robert Stewart as Earl of Orkney. Throughout his rule, “Black Patie”, as he was nick-named, held Orkney in an iron grip, while he himself enjoyed luxury in his palace in Kirkwall, which is now a ruin.
The Brig is portrayed as the place where the north wind enters the town, as it would have been, for in the old days the town did not extend far beyond St. Catherine’s place, which is the next street behind Bridge Street. Maxwell’s Closs, where the grey cats scutter to find shelter, is either the otherwise nameless narrow passage to the left of what is now the Frozen Food Centre, which is Chrissie’s day was Maxwell’s Shop and in the 1600s Dishington’s Land, or it could be an alternative name for Bridge Street Wynd to the right of it. Maxwell’s shop was famous for its somewhat untidy appearance. The cat, for instance, used to sleep in the shop window, among the glazed cherries that were for sale. Clearly, having a cat did not help against the bluebottles, which also frequented the display window.
In her writing about Kirkwall, Chrissie’s home town with all its history comes alive in a way that no history book can make it do. Chrissie’s enormous compassion and ability to see into the lives and hearts of others also enabled her to empathise with people of earlier periods, who she brought back to life in her stories. It is fun to think that as she was walking around town, Chrissie’s eyes were not just seeing the Kirkwall of her own time, but also the Kirkwall of past times – from its earliest beginnings in the Norse period through nine hundred years of continuity and change.