Traditional Halloween mischief in Orkney was a lot more than wee bairns going round houses guising. There’s still a few folk practice the skilled art of ‘devilment’ but episodes of ‘pranks’ on Old Hallows Eve were once commonplace.
In 1928, farmer James Mowat Thomson was not amused at the mischief played on him at his farm, Barrowstoun, Longhope by the young loons of the parish. He was so displeased that he made an official complaint to the police and the case came up in the Sheriff Court.
On the night before Halloween his gig was found at Cantick Head Lighthouse, over 2 miles away from his house. It could have been blown over the cliff but had been taken to a less exposed place by the folk who found it there. So on Halloween, fearing the loons would return he chained his carts and gig up outside his house.
At 11pm on Halloween, James Thomson was on the alert for anything happening, and so it was that he hid behind a dyke when he saw a group of men coming towards his property with a hand cart which they left at the end of his house.
Later on the lads returned and threw peats at his house. according to Thomson, for over half an hour, and that ever since that night his roof had leaked.
He fired several shots at them.
The moon was out and Thomson recognised several of the men. He named these in the court as: Isaac Manson, the Kirkpatrick brothers, James Budge and Sam Johnstone.
Under cross examination, however, Thomson had to admit that these kind of Halloween pranks happened every year and that he himself had taken part in them when he was younger. And when further questioned about shooting at the pranksters he said that he had shot into the air and that his gun was an old one. Now one of these shots may actually have been what caused the damage to his roof and not the peats which the lads were throwing at it.
And it got worse for poor Thomson, because his sister, Robina, who was in the house during all this time, had locked the door. Thomson was locked out of his own house. Robina had been awoken from her sleep by all this commotion and when she looked out the window one of the peats came through it.
Thomson also said that it was not commonplace to throw peats at a house – neeps were used for that.
Constable Robert Wylie, was the Stromness Police Officer, who investigated the incident which he did a few days later on the 5th of November. It was Constable Wylie’s impression that the men accused had formed a pact not to give any information to the Police. Constable Wylie charged George Kirkpatrick with offences concerning the incident but had since discovered that Kirkpatrick had not been there. The Police had not investigated the shooting. George Kirkpatrick had many witnesses to testify in favour of his alibi that he was somewhere else entirely and playing cards.
Summing up, Sheriff Substitute Brown said that there had been ‘a disgusting amount of lying going on’. The charge against George Kirkpatrick was dismissed, he walked away an innocent man due to having such a strong alibi. The other accused men: David Kirkpatrick, Frederick James Groat Kirkpatrick, Albert Kirkpatrick and James Budge, all of South Walls, were found guilty, given the option of a fine of 10/- or 7 days in prison. They paid the fine.
The case was extensively reported in The Orkney Herald and Advertiser on 28th November 1928