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Orkney Islands, archipelago and council area (1991 pop. 19,650), 376 sq mi (974 sq km), N Scotland, consisting of about 70 islands in the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea, N of Scottish mainland across the Pentland Firth. About 20 islands are inhabited. Mainland (or Pomona), the largest, has Kirkwall, the county town, and Stromness. Other large islands are Hoy, South Ronaldsay, Stronsay, Sanday, Westray, and Rousay.
The climate is mild, windy, and wet. The Orkneys are one of Scotland's richest farming regions. Beef cattle and eggs are the most important produce. Sheep and pigs are also raised. Some fishing, mainly for lobster, is carried on. The discovery of North Sea oil in the early 1970s provided employment for many inhabitants.
The first known Neolithic settlements on the Orkney Islands date to about 3600 B.C.; by the mid-6th cent. A.D. the islands were part of the Pictish kingdom (see Picts) in Scotland. Vikings invaded in the 8th cent. From 875 to 1231 it was a Viking earldom under the Norwegian crown. Details of this period are recounted in the Orkneyinga Saga, a Norse epic. In 1231, the islands passed to the Scottish earls of Angus on the death of the last Viking earl. It became a possession of the Scottish crown in 1472 in trust for the undelivered dowry of Margaret of Norway on her marriage to James III (1469), but the Norse occupation left marked Scandinavian traces; islanders spoke Norn (a form of Norse) until the 18th cent. James V visited Kirkwall in 1540 and made the Orkney Islands a county. Scapa Flow, S of Mainland, was Britain's major naval base in World Wars I and II.
The islands have many prehistoric relics. Stone Age settlements have been unearthed at Skara Brae and Barnhouse Village on Mainland and a broch (prehistoric fort) at Rinyo on Rousay. Other relics include the burial chambers at Maeshowe, the rings of standing stones at Stenness and Brodgar, and the complex at the Ness of Brodgar, all on Mainland. The islands have become increasingly popular with tourists and are home to the St. Magnus music festival, founded by the composer Peter Maxwell Davies.
an archipelago in the British Isles off the northern tip of Scotland; part of Great Britain. Population, 17,100 (1971).
Orkney Islands comprise about 70 islands with a total area of approximately 1,000 sq km. The most important island is Mainland. The Orkneys have an extremely hilly terrain, reaching elevations of 477 m on the island of Hoy. They are composed primarily of Devonian sandstones, overlain by glacial deposits. The climate is temperate maritime, and annual precipitation totals 700–800 mm. Heaths and coppices, mainly birch groves, predominate, and there are meadows, peat bogs, and many lakes. The population engages in fishing (Atlantic cod and herring), sheep farming, and cultivation of fodder grasses. Kirkwall is the major city.