New Year's Day Ba', Orkney

The Ba' Explained
Event details
Monday, January 2, 2017 - 13:00

It's probably the ultimate hangover cure: join a whirling scrimmage of men, on a windswept Northerly Scottish isle, in a game with shadowy rules, looking for a ball that can be exhaustingly elusive.

At least that's one way of looking at the Ba' Games which are contested in the streets of Orkney each year on or near (as is the case this year) Christmas Day and New Year's Day. For the men involved (women appear to be on the sidelines of this rough 'n' tumble sport) it's a lot more than vigorous exercise. The Christmas Ba' 2017 takes place on Monday 26th December.

Spot the Ba'

The game, in its present form, has been played since about 1850, but is in fact much older. A looser form of football, it appeared a long time before 1850 on the "Ba' Lea".

Classical texts record the Greeks and Romans played ball games. In Kirkwall, capital of the group of islands that make up Orkney, the two sides are the "Uppies" and the "Doonies".

Originally the side you would play on was determined by whether you were born up gate or down gate. Now it is decided by family loyalties.

The Ba' typically begins on Christmas Day and on New Year's Day at 1pm exactly, when the leather ball is thrown to the crowd gathered at the Mercat Cross on the Kirk Green opposite the Cathedral.

A local public figure or an older Ba stalwart and past participant usually throws up the ba, with over 200 players waiting for the throw-up signaled by the chiming of the Cathedrals bells.

The object is for the opposing scrums to move the ball either up the street or down the street. It can take several hours play before a conclusive victory position is reached.

There is a boy's version, which starts at 10:30,and just after the war in 1945-46 there was a woman's Ba game, which they are trying to resurrect.