Introduction / The Island / Island Life
Pharay was a small fairly enclosed community in a time when there were little outside influences. What social activities there were, were mostly derived from within the community itself.
There was never a large number of people hence dances were infrequent. They did happen on the occurrence of a wedding. Bobby Burgar (b. 1898) said that fiddlers mostly supplied the music. In his granny’s day the folk used to sing to the dancing – a song without words. His granny used to say “they used to put a tirl in their tongue and sing to the dancing”. While there were work songs, they weren’t used much. There was a special song for when they were waulking the loom. He recalled a web of cloth coming from a loom in Westray and the folk in Pharay waulking it on the table.
As everywhere, there were opportunities for courting.
The old women of the house mostly did the spinning. Bobby Burgar’s granny would sing hymn tunes when doing this.
In the 1930s, there was a fiddler and two or three accordionists as well as a piper. In the past any gatherings would have been in a barn. Subsequently, these tended to be in the school as the only public building. Religious services were also held in the school.
People visited one house and another, especially in winter when there was less to do on the land. A pattern became established with some, visiting the same house on a particular night of the week. There might be a blether or a game of cards or draughts. Euchre was popular. Stories of the sea, wrecks and fishing were often told about gales that had been.
In the 1930s, there was a weekly get together of the ladies of some group or other, possibly the Women’s Rural Institute (WRI).
After the crop had been cut at harvest time, some farms had a special tea. There was usually lemonade with a small bottle for everyone. This was a special treat then.
Christmas and the New Year stood out from the rest of the calendar.
Eday had a regatta. The Pharay boats were on occasion rigged and carried off some of the prizes. There was also a rowing competition where the Pharay men did well.
The postman, who would take the time to blether as he went around, might pass news from house to house. Again by the 1930s, the County librarian in Kirkwall would send out boxes of books to read. At that time, there was one radio receiver on the island. People were keen for news and newspapers were eagerly read when they arrived. The Orcadian and the Orkney Herald were both published weekly.
Robbie Leslie recalled it as a “thirst for news” and spoke of whenever a boat went to Westray, the old men would be there to greet its return, asking as soon as it touched the shore “Anything new from Westray?” On resting, having got the boat hauled half way up the beach, it would be "Are you sure there is nothing new in Westray?" and on getting the boat right up, "Are you fairly sure there is nothing new in Westray?" People were interested in what was going on.