Christmas is filled with traditions all over the world, and things are no different in Orkney. Read on to find out about the Ba', a unique Orcadian tradition, and Sheila's jewellery collection inspired by the game.

The Kirkwall Ba'

Since around 1850, an annual street ball game called the Ba' has taken place in Kirkwall. Played on Christmas Day and New Year's Day, the Boys' Ba' and the Men's Ba' are played between two sides: the Uppies and the Doonies. Your side was traditionally based on where you were born, but these days people are most likely to choose the same side as family members.

Left - Ba' players at the Doonie Goal, 'the basin' (Kirkwall Bay) | Right - Ba' players at the Uppie goal 'the wall' © Bruce Flett

The objective of the game is to get a hand-crafted, cork-filled, leather ball—the Ba'—to the team's home goal. The Uppies aim to touch the Ba' against a wall in the south-end of the town, whereas the Doonies try to head north and touch water by throwing the Ba' into Kirkwall Bay. The Ba' starts in front of the iconic St Magnus Cathedral, located half-way between each side's goal.

© Adam Grant

While there are no written rules, and the game can be pretty rough, all players look out for one another, no matter which side they are on. As a result, serious injuries are rare.

© Bruce Flett
© Adam Grant
Action shot of a break during a Boy's Ba'! © Bruce Flett

The Ba' has no official end time, so a game can go on for hours. Consequently, spectators should wrap up warm! When finally over, the Ba' itself is awarded to a player on the winning side who has been a significant player over the years.

© Bruce Flett | The Ba' in action around the streets of Kirkwall

Sheila's Kirkwall Ba' Collection

As a child, Sheila was always fascinated to make the special family trip to Kirkwall to watch the Ba’, the unique street ball game played in Orkney on Christmas and New Year’s Day since at least 1850. Played between two sides—the Uppies and the Doonies—who eagerly await the chime of the 1pm bells from St Magnus Cathedral, the Ba’ is a very social event with large crowds of onlookers and supporters.

Orcadians Jill and Derek Robb asked Sheila to create a piece based on the Ba’ to celebrate their Pearl Wedding Anniversary. The design was inspired by a Ba’ made by Garry Gibson and won by Duncan Currie on Christmas Day in 1976.

Derek and Jill Robb collecting their Ba' designs in 2021

Discover Sheila's Kirkwall Ba' collection in-store at the Kirkwall Gallery and The Kirk Gallery.