Old Norse: "Birgisherað" [Anderson, Joseph (Ed.) (1893) "Orkneyinga Saga". Translated by Jón A. Hjaltalin & Gilbert Goudie. Edinburgh. James Thin and Mercat Press (1990 reprint). ISBN 0-901824-25-9] )is a parishin the north west corner of The Mainland of Orkney, Scotland. Almost all the land in the parish is devoted to agriculture: chiefly grasslandused to rear beef cattle. There are various ancient monuments in the parish.
Two important ancient monuments are maintained by
Historic Scotland, and bring many visitors to the area in summer. These are the prehistoricand Norsesettlements on the tidal islandof Brough of Birsayand the ruinsof the Earl's Palace on the Mainland opposite, at the northern end of the village.
On the western part of Mainland Orkney's north shore there is other evidence of
prehistoricman, including the well preserved ruinsof the Gurness broch.
The late sixteenth century Palace was built by
Robert Stewart, 1st Earl of Orkney (1533-93). Though extensively ruined, it can be seen to have consisted of four ranges round an open courtyard, with small towers at the corners, an unusual form of building in Scotlandat this date, and unprecedented in the north of the country. The date 1574was formerly carved above the main (south-facing) entrance. The building has been uninhabited since the late seventeenth century. It was originally adjoined by walled garden enclosures, an archery range and a bowling green. This building, along with the Earl's Palace in Kirkwall, and Scalloway Castleon Shetland[ [http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/shetland/scallowaycastle/index.html Undiscovered Scotland illustrated feature on Scalloway Castle] ] (all Historic Scotland), were the main residences of the Stewart Earls of Orkney in the Northern Isles.
Near the palace is the church of the parish of Birsay and Harray (
Church of Scotland; open in summer). Architectural fragments in the walls, and archaeological investigation of the foundations, suggest that this was the site of the first cathedral of Orkneyin the eleventh-twelfth centuries, known as "Christchurch", founded by Earl Thorfinn the Mighty (d. "c"1065) after his return from a pilgrimageto Rome. The seat of the diocese was transferred to St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwallin the later twelfth century, though the Bishops of Orkneycontinued to have a residence in Birsay (known by the Latinname "Mons Bellus") into late medieval times.
The nearby bridge may also be medieval in origin.
Point of Hellia
** [http://www.worldtour-of-scotland.com/tour/images-tour/2907-birsay-palace1.jpgPalace Ruins: 1]
** [http://www.worldtour-of-scotland.com/tour/images-tour/2907-birsay-palace2.jpgPalace Ruins: 2]
** [http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/westmainland/stmagnuschurch/images/church-450.jpgBirsay Church 1]
** [http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/westmainland/broughofbirsay/images/churchview.jpgBirsay Church 2]
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