Report on John Rae's Birthday Weekend 2017

This year’s Birthday celebrations for John Rae were considerably more complex that the previous year’s free party with live music. There was a combination of events that all came together which meant that it would be good to combine these into a weekend of celebration of Dr John Rae’s Birthday.

The first of these was a talk by Dr Claire Warrior who is Senior Exhibitions Curator of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich and is responsible for the current exhibition Death in the Ice: The Shocking Story of Franklin’s Final Expedition on the ill-fated Franklin expedition. We invited Dr Clare to give a talk on this exhibition, and this was held on Friday 29th September at the Stromness Town Hall along with singing and the launch of a new CD ‘Hudson Bay Man’ by Geordie McIntyre and Alison McMorland. The event was very well attended, so much so that we had to put out extra chairs as people kept arriving! The evening finished with the ubiquitous raffle, one of the prizes being the now expected donation by our President, of a pineapple!

The next day Saturday, we all arrived in Stromness outside by the John Rae Statue for the Council’s presentation of the Freedom of Orkney being awarded posthumously to Dr John Rae. The weather gods were smiling on us with blue skies and sunshine as the Convener Harvey Johnston read a speech and poem that he had penned about the great man, there was even a chorus to this poem and as every one of the not inconsiderable crowd ended up calling out ‘John Rae’ several time the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. The award was presented to the great-great-great niece of John Rae, Ruth Matches. Link to Video. It was a very emotional service, finished off with Jennifer Wrigley playing ‘Air for Dr John Rae’ on John Rae’s fiddle, I’m not sure whether the wind blowing in the eyes of the crowd was responsible for the tears but I suspect it was more than that!

After the ceremony it was a dash over to Kirkwall for most of us for the traditional Graveside service whilst a few of use went to the Hall of Clestrain to get things ready for the open afternoon. At the Graveside of John Rae a poem was read out and a dram of whisky was poured on the grave whilst a piper Diana Kelday, of the Kirkwall City Band played. Afterwards the Maureen Findlay School of Dance danced the John Rae Reel outside St Magnus Cathedral.

Saturday afternoon was busy with an open day at the Hall of Clestrain where visitors were took around and inside the Hall by our Trustees to explain our plans for its future. We had a great turnout with over sixty people turning up, helped by the amazing weather. Free drinks and cakes were on offer whilst people chatted and looked at the plans and slide show of the project. We were very grateful for the help from couple of volunteers, Kevin and Anne.

Saturday evening we held a film show in Kirkwall of the film ‘Passage’ as we have been given this film by the producer John Walker to help raise money for the Hall restoration. Our Annual Lottery was also drawn this evening.

Sunday afternoon it was back to the Hall for another open day although the weather had by now turned quite nasty with high winds rain and low cloud. Whilst sheltering from the worse of this, we watched the Hills of Hoy and then Stromness disappear from view, there was one point where it look like the Hall would not be visible! Even despite this about twenty brave souls turned up to be shown around the Hall and they were all very interested in our plans and very generous in their donations.

Over the weekend the events were mentioned on BBC radio as well of course in the Orcadian our website and Facebook pages were very busy. Although the whole weekend was lot of work for the small band of people we feel it is safe to say it was very successful.



John Rae


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