- RONALDSHAY, NORTH, an island and a quoad sacra parish, in the parish of Cross and Burness, county of Orkney, 30 miles (N. E. by N.) from Kirkwall; containing 481 inhabitants. This island, the most northern of the Orkneys, is bounded on the south by the Frith to which it gives name, and by which it is separated from the island of Sanda; it is nearly five miles in extreme length, and above one mile in breadth. On the south and east sides the coast is low, and the beach shelving and sandy; but on the west and north-west, the coast, though not very elevated, is rocky and precipitous. There are three considerable bays, the bay of Linket on the east, the South bay, and Ness bay on the south-east; none of them afford any shelter for vessels, but towards the north-west the shore is protected by two reefs of rocks called respectively the Altars of Lina and the Shelky Skerry. The surface of the interior is level, with the exception of a portion near the centre, which has a gentle acclivity; the soil is generally dry, from the great proportion of shell-sand with which it is intermixed. About three-fourths of the land are under cultivation; most of the remainder is rendered sterile by the incessant dashing of the spray along the west and north-west coasts, and there is a small tract of waste inland which has not yet been reclaimed. The whole island is the property of William Traill, Esq., whose agent formerly resided here, and under whose direction considerable improvements have taken place in agriculture. The chief crops are oats and bear, of which, on the average, about 1200 bolls of the former, and 1500 of the latter, are raised annually, with turnips and other green crops; the principal manure is seaweed, which is found in great abundance, and which also furnishes a supply of food for the sheep during the winter. The breed of cattle, formerly very small, has been much improved by a cross with the Dunrobin breed, and is upon a par with the generality of the Orkney cattle; the breed of horses has also been improved in size and strength, but the sheep are of the poorest kind, and kept chiefly for their wool.The manufacture of kelp is still carried on, though not to the same extent as formerly; the average quantity was 120 tons annually, and the quality always obtained a preference in the market. It has been lately discovered that kelp made from the drifted sea-weed contains a large quantity of iodine, which renders it of much greater value. The fisheries afford employment to many of the inhabitants. The lobster-fishery engages six boats, of two men each, from the beginning of May till the end of June; and the produce is sent to the London markets in smacks fitted up with wells for the purpose, and which call for the fish weekly during the season, at the adjacent island of Sanda. The herring-fishery, for which the principal station is at Stronsay, is also profitably conducted, and on the average fourteen boats are employed in it, each from twenty-four to twenty-eight feet in length; these boats are built by two men in the island, and are considered as the best of the Orkney boats. The cod-fishery has of late been cultivated with success, as a substitute for the diminution in the making of kelp. Considerable disadvantage in the fisheries is experienced from the want of a sheltered harbour, which renders it necessary for the fishermen to shift their boats in bad weather from one side of the island to the other, or to draw them up on the shore for their protection. The island was for ecclesiastical, as well as civil, purposes formerly united with the parish of Cross and Burness, from which it was separated in 1833, and formed into a quoad sacra district; it is in the presbytery of North Isles and synod of Orkney, and patronage of the Crown. The minister's stipend is £120 per annum, with a manse, and a glebe valued at £3. 10. per annum. The church is a plain building erected about thirty-five years since. A school once supported by the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge, is attended by about seventy scholars; the teacher has a salary of £30 per annum, paid from the exchequer, and the usual fees. A parochial library, containing about 300 volumes, is supported by the inhabitants. On the north-east corner of the island is a lighthouse, which was maintained for several years by the Commissioners of Northern Lights; but the light has been transferred to Sanda; the building is now in a very dilapidated state. There are some remains of an ancient fortress called Burrion Castle, consisting chiefly of the foundations; also an upright stone about twelve feet high, supposed to have been part of a Druidical temple.
A Topographical dictionary of Scotland. Samuel Lewis. 1856.
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