As Christmas in Kirkwall approaches, the shops are getting ready to board up their windows. No, this is not the sign of an economic downturn, but a sign that The Ba’ is ready to be played.
The Ba’ is a traditional game played every Christmas Day and New Year’s Day on the streets of Kirkwall, Orkney’s largest town. Once upon a time, street ball games were common across the UK, but only a handful have survived and Kirkwall’s is one of them.
The game is played by two teams of men, known as the Uppies and the Doonies. The team you are on depends on what side of town you are born, or more commonly these days, where your family loyalties lie. The aim is for the teams to try to carry, kick or smuggle the ba’ (or ball to you and me) to their side of town. The ba’ itself is a special hand-stitched ball filled with cork dust.
The day kicks off at around 10.30am when the first ball is thrown up for the boys game. This game is played by local boys under the age of 16. The men’s game, which usually has around 200 participants, begins at 1pm when the next ball is thrown up in the air. A huge scrum usually ensues and spectators should be aware that the scrum often runs into the crowd!
There is no telling which way the scrum will head and often gets caught up in the various dead ends of the town’s closes and yards. However, there are very few serious incidents during the game. There is no set time for The Ba’ to finish, so there is no telling how long a game will last.
When: 25th December 2019 and 1st January 2020
Where: Kirkwall, Orkney