Time Line for George Mackay Brown
and his family

The boat
       Will take a few summers to build
That you must make your voyage in.

New Child, 1996


Some of the notable events in GMB's life
( more detailed personal history at Family History )

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1874 John Brown born in Stromness to John and Margaret Sinclair Brow, Browns Close, South End of Stromness.
1891 Mhairi Sheena Mackay born to Hugh and Georgina Mackay of  Braal, Strathy, Sutherland. Mhairi spoke only Gaelic until she went to school.
1910 10th June: Marriage of John and Mhairi Sheena [Mary Jane] Mackay of Braal, Strathy, Sutherland.
1911 Birth of John and Mary's first child, Ruby at Victoria Street, Stromness
1913 Birth of Hugh [Hughie]
1915 Birth of John [Jackie]
1917 Birth of Harold who died in infancy from measles
1919 Birth of Richard [Norrie]

May: Ruby was in a party of school children taken out in a small boat to view the German Fleet anchored in Scapa Flow. While they were there, the Fleet was ordered to scuttle. Ruby witnessed the sinking of the ships and the sea full of German soldiers swimming for their lives.
1921 17th October: Birth of George Mackay Brown, Stromness.
Family living at Clouston's Pier.
1923 and 1926: Stromness voted to remain 'dry'.
1926 George joined his brothers at Stromness Academy
1927 Hughie left school at 14, apprenticed to Stromness baker
1928 Family moved to Melvin Place, Stromness
1929 Ruby left home to train as a teacher in Aberdeen
1934 Family moved to new council estate, Wells Park, Stromness
1935 Jimmy Brown's [John's brother] body found in Stromness Harbour.
1936 December: John Brown retired from his job as postman due to ill health. No pension.

George, aged 15, and Norrie contracted measles, which left George with permanent health difficulties.
1937 George, aged 16, stopped going to Presbyterian Church with family, and started going on his own to the Episcopalian Church.
1939 The Orkney Herald published George's sonnet 'The Hills of Hoy at Sunset'

George failed first attempt at Highers.

Outbreak of WW2 - 60,000 service men and women arrived on Orkney.
Hughie got a job as barman in the NAAFI formed in the old Commercial Hotel.

October: Sinking of HMS Royal Oak in Scapa Flow by a German U-boat, with the loss of 800+ men.
German bombers sank HMS Iron Duke, with no loss of life.
1940 George joins Local Defence Volunteers.

: German bombs over Scapa Flow, first air raid casualty of the war as James Isbister was killed at the Brig o' Waithe.

11 July: John Brown died while working on Hoy.
George left school, got a job sorting mail at the Stromness Post Office.

Ruby married Ted Ogilvie.
1941 March: George received his call-up papers. His medical examination revealed TB. He was sent directly to the Eastbank Sanitorium in Kirkwall.

October: George discharged from Eastbank but unfit for work.

Between 1941 and 1945 Italian Chapel built on Lambs Holm by Italian POW's. George's writing at this time shows admiration with him moving towards Catholicism.
1942 Ted Ogilvie, Ruby's husband, killed at the Battle of El Alamein.
1944 Francis Scarfe, university lecturer and published poet, billeted with George, Mary and Ruby at Wells Park.

George became Stromness Correspondent for the Orkney Herald.
1945 George mounted a campaign via his column to re-open public houses in Stromness.
1946 George went to Hoy for the first time; it made a significant impression which lasted all his life.
"The beauty of Rackwick struck me like a blow."
1947 Ruby married John Ross.

Electricity came to Stromness.

George began to have work published by The Shetlander.

Nov: Stromness voted to become 'wet' again.
1948 May: First bar re-opened in Stromness Hotel.

George took first flight Kirkwall to Aberdeen to visit Ian MacInnes who was studying at Grays School of Art. Grays School subsequently published some of George's poems.

Published:  'Let's see the Orkney Islands'  George's first book.
1951 George began evening class.
With grant of 150 from Orkney Council, gained a place at Newbattle Abbey, Dalkeith, Midlothian, one of 22 students under warden Edwin Muir.
1952 Edwin Muir began sending out George's poems for publication.

BBC invited George to read some of his poems on a radio programme about Rackwick.
1953 April: George back in Eastbank [sanatorium] for a year.
Launched and edited hospital magazine 'Saga'.
1954 'The Storm', George's first collection of 20 poems, published by Orkney Press, illustrated by Ian MacInnes. The edition of 300 sold out in 2 weeks.
1956 24 March: Hughie died from a heart attack, aged 43.

Summer: George well enough to go back to Newbattle for the summer term.

Autumn: with a grant from the National Teachers Training Scheme, George started a 4 year course at Edinburgh University, MA Hons in English. [Two years post graduate work on Gerard Manley Hopkins.]

Began to attend mass weekly.
1957 Met Stella Cartwright in the Abbotsford Bar, Rose Street, Edinburgh. She was 20, he was 36.

Norrie taught English at Portobello High School.
1959 Published: 'Loaves and Fishes'  Hogarth Press.
1960 George suffered serious physical breakdown early in 1960, went home to Orkney to recuperate.

Late Spring: proposed to Stella Cartwright. 

Early Summer: George took his finals. Mhairi arrived from Orkney for the degree ceremony.

Autumn: Edinburgh University magazine 'Gambit' published George's 'Four Poems for Stella' alongside Stella's poem 'Parting'.
The engagement was over, although they remained friends for the rest of their lives.

September: George enrolled at Moray House College of Education to train as a teacher, with a placement at Boghall School, Bathgate.

November: George collapsed with chronic bronchitis, sent to the Tor-na-Dee Sanitorium near Aberdeen.
1961 Jan: Orkney Herald folded.

: back to Moray House, but not for long
May: left Moray House.
Back to Orkney by the end of the year

23 Dec: received into the Catholic Church, baptised at the Church of Our Lady and St Joseph, Kirkwall.
1962 Second collection of poems turned down by Hogarth Press.

Started relationship with Sylvia Wishart.

April: Stella Cartwright visit to Wells Park.

Autumn: Post graduate grant to research Gerard Manley Hopkins. Lodged with John Broom in Bathgate, Edinburgh.
1964 June: Norrie died from heart attack during Mary's visit. Mary's health began to fail, loss of memory.

July: George returned to Orkney with his mother.

Sent another collection to Hogarth, this time accepted.
1965 Published:  Aug 'Year of the Whale'

Relationship with Sylvia Wishart ended. Started to drink with renewed vigour.

Dec: Scottish Arts Council offered George bursary of 750 for poetry.
1966 Published:  'Five Voyages of Arnor'  
1967 Feb: 'Calendar of Love' collection of short stories published to critical acclaim.

Robert Rendall, Orcadian poet, died.

Mary suffered a series of small strokes.

October: Mary taken to Eastbank.

November 3rd: Mary died with her family at her bedside.
1968 George received travel scholarship from Society of Authors. In May he travelled to Ireland with the photographer, Paddy Hughes.

Sept: Aged 47, moved to Mayburn Court, the first house he had chosen himself.

Published:  'Twelve Poems' and 'The Wedding: a poem'
1969 Published:  'Time to Keep'  won Scottish Arts Council prize 1,000.

Summer: 'Orkney Tapestry' published with drawings by Sylvia Wishart.
1970 May: Willa Muir died

Summer: George and Peter Maxwell Davies, the composer, met for the first time in Rackwick. Led to many collaborations with words and music. Max decided to renovate a croft house in Rackwick.

Published:  'A Spell for Green Corn'
1971 Published:  February 18 first essay under the title 'Letter from Hamnavoe' in the Orcadian newspaper; 'Fishermen with Ploughs, a poem cycle', 'Lifeboat and other poems', and 'Poems New and Selected'.

Katherine Mansfield Menton short story prize for title story in 'A Time to Keep'.
1972 Published:  'Greenvoe', first novel.
1973 Published:  'Four Poems' and 'Magnus'; 'Poems' in the USA.

Tanker Terminal set up on Flotta for the Piper Oil Field 100 miles to the east of Orkney.

Uranium discovered close to Stromness, Mainland, Orkney
1974 Published: 'Hawkfall and other stories', 'The Two Fiddlers: tales from Orkney' illustrated by Ian MacInnes.

Began to suffer from agoraphobia.

Awarded OBE in New Year Honours list.

Peter Maxwell Davies moved to the renovated Bunnertoon in Rackwick.
1975 Published:  Nov. collection of essays from the Orcadian under the title 'Letters from Hamnavoe'.; 
'Edwin Muir: a brief memoir' 
limited edition.
1976 Honorary MA from Open University.

March: Radio Scotland 2 fictional dialogues.

May: BBC Omnibus about life and work of GMB.

July: Went to Hoy with Peter and Betty Grant.
Also that summer met Nora Kennedy, Viennese jeweller and silversmith.

Resumed essays in the Orcadian after a short gap, now under the title 'Under Brinkie's Brae'.

Published: 'Winterfold', 'The Sun's Net' and 'Time in a Red Coat'.
1977 Elected fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Honorary degree from Dundee University [LL.D]

Beginning of decade long depression. Anti-depressants prescribed.

Midsummer: first St Magnus Festival opened in Kirkwall, Orkney, with 'The Martyrdom of St Magnus', an opera, collaboration between George and Peter Maxwell Davies.

Published: 'Pictures in the Cave', illustrated by Ian MacInnes, 'Selected Poems', and 'Witch and other stories', commentary and notes by D.M.Budge.
1978 Entry in Who's Who lists among his interests 'ale tasting, watching television and reading'.
1979 Published: collection of essays from the Orcadian  under the title 'Under Brinkie's Brae', photographs by Gordon Wright.
1980 Published:   'Six Lives of Fankle the Cat', illustrated by Ian MacInnes.
1981 Published:   'Portrait of Orkney', photographs by Werner Forman.

Bronchial problems so severe that he is given the last Sacrament in hospital.
1982  Invited Seamus Heaney to be the Festival poet.
1983 Published:  'Andrina and other stories', and 'Voyages'
1984 Published:  'Christmas Poems', wood engravings by John Lawrence, and 'Three Plays'.
1985 Honorary Degree from Glasgow University [D.Litt]

Published:   'Christmas Stories', wood engravings by John Lawrence, and 'The Hooded Fisherman' in limited edition, illustrated by Charles Shearer.

Stella Cartwright, George's close friend, died In March aged 48.

After the death of Nora Smallwood, George moved from Chatto and Windus to John Murray Publishers.
1986 Spring: met Kenna Crawford.

Published: 'Keepers of the House' illustrated by Gillian Martin, limited edition; 'Loom of Light' with photographs by Gunnie Moberg and illustrations by Simon Fraser; 'The Scottish Bestiary' with various illustrators, limited edition.
1987 Performed: 20.8.1987 'A Celebration for Magnus'.
Published: 'A Celebration for Magnus' with photographs by Gunnie Moberg and Giles Conacher, paintings and drawings by Simon Fraser, handwritten musical score by Peter Maxwell Davies; 'The Golden Bird', and 'Stone' in limited edition with photographs by Gunnie Moberg.
1988 Cataract operation.

May: Visit to Shetland with Gunnie Moberg, Kulgin Duval and Colin Hamilton.

James Tait Black Memorial Prize for 'The Golden Bird'.

Published: 'Portrait of Orkney' reprinted, photographs by Gunnie Moberg and drawings by George's nephew, Erlend Brown; 'Songs for St Magnus Day'wood engravings by John Lawrence, limited edition; 'Two Poems for Kenna' limited edition.
1989 Visit to London and Oxford with Gunnie Moberg. 
Interviewed by Sue MacGregor for BBC Radio 4's Conversation Piece.

August:  diagnosed with bowel cancer, taken to Foresterhill, Aberdeen.

Published:  The Masked Fisherman and other stories; Tryst on Egilsay: Haakon and Magnus with decorations by Rosemary Roberts, limited edition; Wreck of the Archangel.
1990 Published:  Letters to Gypsy illustrated by Simon Fraser.

April:  two major operations at Foresterhill. In hospital till late June. Worked on sequence of poems which became Foresterhill.

GMB's sister Ruby died 3 March.
1991 Published: In the Margins of a Shakespeare, engravings by Llewellyn Thomas, limited and general editions; The Sea King's Daughter/Eureka illustrated by Alan Watson and Erlend Brown; Selected Poems 1954-1983.

Met Surinder Punjya. 

Celebration of GMB's 70th birthday, Edinburgh Contemporary Arts Trust in Queen's Hall on 8th December.
1992 Published: Rockpools and Daffodils, collection of essays from the Orcadian; Brodgar Poems limited edition with wood engravings by Paul Kershaw; Foresterhill in limited edition; The Lost Village: poems with drawings by Rosemary Roberts, in limited edition; Vinland.
1993 Scottish Arts Council award.
1994 Published: Beside the Ocean of Time [shortlisted for the Booker Prize and judged Scottish Book of the Year by the Saltire Society]; The Sea and The Tower illustrated by Erlend Brown.
1995 Published: Orfeo limited edition illustrated by Rosemary Roberts; Winter Tales.
1996 Contributed to Poems on the Underground.

Published: Following a Lark; Orkney Pictures and Poems text GMB photographs Gunnie Moberg; Selected Poems 1954-92 enlarged edition pub. in Britain and the USA; Water paintings and Drawings by Gyorgy Gordon.

GMB died 13th April 1996, in hospital in Kirkwall, at 5.50pm.
Funeral on St Magnus Day, 16th April, the first time since the Reformation that a Catholic Priest had celebrated Requiem Mass in St Magnus Cathedral.

Dovemarks on Stone, poems for GMB published, various poets.
1997 Published: For the Islands I Sing, autobiography found among GMB's papers after his death; The Sixth Station: a new short story illustrated by Adrian Wisniewski.
1998 Published: The Island of the Women;  Stained Glass Windows with linocuts by Rosemary Roberts
1999 Published: Northern Lights: a poet's sources edited by Archie Bevan and Brian Murray.
2001 Published: Travellers - quote from reviewer in The Orkney View "In a fanciful moment you could imagine that this poem Ikey, His Will in Winter Written written in the year preceding the poet's death is really his own last will and testament to us."; The Rose Tree;  Grain of Dust from the Floor of Heaven, bi-lingual collection of poems.
2002 Published: The Son of the Fisherman; April pb edition Letters from Hamnavoe
2003 Published: March reprint Under Brinkie's Bray
2004 Published: The Poor Man in his Castle, limited edition with linocuts by Rosemary Roberts; Sept pb edition Hawkfall; 

August: 'Interrogation of Silence' published, definitive account of George's writing by Rowena Murray and Brian Murray.
2005 GMB's brother Jackie died 1 May.

Published:  June Collected Poems; Aug pb edition Beside the Ocean of Time; Feb pb edition Time to Keep; May pb edition Vinland

6th October: memorial  plaque unveiled in the Makar's Court at the Writers' Museum, Royal Mile, Edinburgh. The plaque is engraved with words from George's poem Hamnavoe:
          In the fire of images
          Gladly I put my hand
2006 10th April: 'George Mackay Brown, the life' authorised biography by Maggie Fergusson, published to commemorate the 10th anniversary of George's death, 

DVD of A Hamnavoe Man written and performed for the St Magnus Festival.

Published:  October 15th: paperback edition of Collected Poems; June pb edition of Island of the Women;  May pb edition Calendar of Love; Sept pb edition Winter Tales;  August pb edition Under Brinkie's Bray; May pb edition Time to Keep; Dec First Wash of Spring, essays from The Orcadian from 1990's to GMB's death.

Gordon Wright's A Most Likeable Man, an audio, film, video, still photography compilation on George Mackay Brown, premiered in Edinburgh.

Orkney Aye, a pupil business initiative at Stromness Academy, produced a CD to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the death of GMB, poems and stories some read by GMB himself.
2007 Published:  April pb edition Greenvoe; Sept pb edition Northern Lights.

Biog George Mackay Brown The Life by Maggie Fergusson published in pb.
2008 Published: June For the Islands I Sing, pb edition; June pb edition Magnus; Sept pb edition Golden Bird;  Sept pb edition The Masked Fisherman and other stories.

Interrogation of Silence
, Rowena Murray and Brian Murray on George's work, pb edition.


Of course there are many more events and milestones in GMB's life.
Those listed above are the ones that have come to my notice during
8 years of reading and research.
If there are any omitted which you think worthy of inclusion, please
email me at 

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