Total population
21,349 currently resident population of Orkney
Regions with significant populations
Mainland, Orkney17,162
South Ronaldsay909
Insular Scots, Scottish English; historically Norn and Pictish
Related ethnic groups
Shetlanders, Lowland Scots, Norwegians, Faroese, Icelanders, Greenlandic Norsemen, and Anglo-Metis

Orcadians, also known as Orkneymen, are an ethnic group native to the Orkney Islands, who speak an Orcadian dialect of the Scots language, a West Germanic language, and share a common history, culture and ancestry. Speaking Norn, a native North Germanic language into the 19th or 20th century, Orcadians descend significantly from North Germanic peoples, with around a third of their ancestry derived from Scandinavia, including a majority of their patrilineal line. According to anthropological study, the Orcadian ethnic composition is similar to that of Icelandic people; a comparable islander ethnicity of North Germanic origin.

Historically, they are also descended from the Picts, Norse, and Lowland Scots.


Orcadian ethnic group formation

An Orcadian ethnicity has developed since around 900 AD. Goethe University's historian, Daniel Föller, describes the Orcadian ethnic group's early ethnogenesis occurring between the 10th and 12th centuries, during the same period in which the Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, and Manx ethnicities emerged. According to historian James Hunter, the "ethnic composition" of Orcadians was then significantly impacted by colonisation from Lowland Scots people between 1494 and 1659.

Anthropologist Agnar Helgason's research in 2001 found that the mtDNA ancestry of Orcadians is around 36 percent "Scandinavian", suggesting an ethnic composition comparable to Icelanders, a modern North Germanic ethnic group. 2003 research found that the majority of Orcadians can trace their patrilineality to Scandinavia, with 55% of Y chromosome DNA relating to migrating North Germanic peoples. In research analysing different European ethnic groups, physician Lars Klareskog and geneticist Peter K. Gregersen have compared the Orcadian ethnicity in relation to other European island-based ethnicities, such as Sardinian people.

Orcadian identity, governance, and nationalism

Orcadians have a range of ethnic or national identities, including Orcadian, Scottish, and British. Swedish artist, Gunnie Moberg, suggests that within the Orkney Islands, "People are Orcadian first, then Scots or British". Historian Hugh Kearney has written that Orkney's historical connection with the North Sea Empire has allowed Orcadians to remain "ethnically distinctive". With regards to self-governance, Laurentian University's historian Daniel Travers has written that Orkney Islands Council has "considerably more influence over insular matters than other counties" in the United Kingdom.

Researcher, James B. Minahan, has described the Orcadian people as a stateless nation, noting their history of seeking independence from Scotland, their opposition to the 1979 Scottish devolution referendum, and a history of seeking "political status that the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, and the Faroese Islands" have in relationship with the sovereign states of the UK and Denmark, respectively.

Colonial era migration

During the colonial era, Orcadians have been documented migrating in search of opportunity. York University historian, Carolyn Podruchny, notes that "freemen" (as opposed to "voyageurs"), involved in the North American fur trade up until the early 19th-century came from a range of disparate ethnic groups and "could be métis, Orcadians, other Scots, English, and Iroquoians from the St. Lawrence valley". Emigrants to London and York, England, also found inland posts related to the fur trade. According to ethnohistorian Jennifer S. H. Brown, "at least twenty-eight Orkneymen became either governors, chief factors, chief traders, or district master between the early 1700s and the mid-1800s".

Well-known Orcadians

People associated with Orkney

See also


  1. ^ Ritchie notes the presence of an Orcadian ruler at the court of a Pictish high king at Inverness in 565 AD.
  2. ^ Robert Frost's ancestors were Scotch-English. His mother was a Scottish emigrant who appears in most records as Isabelle Moody (Moodie); her family was from Orkney.

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