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Handba at Kirkwall Orkney

A traditional Norse ball game

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Scenes from the Handba' festival on New Year's Day in Kirkwall, the last festival to be held until the end of the Second World War. The streets of Kirkwall, Orkney come to a standstill as the "Down the Gates" and the "Up the Gates" battle it out in this traditional Norse ball game called handba or sometimes folk football. Notable shots form this film include; general views of Kirkwall as seen from a distance; shots of roof and gable ends of houses; shots of houses and snow covered streets; a brief explanation of the origin and rules of Handba; shots of shop fronts boarded up; groups of players and shots of spectators; the ball is thrown in at the Mercat Cross; the ball is caught by the players who form a solid human wall around it; more shots of crowded streets as each side strives to push the ball towards their goal; shots of heaving crowds. as the struggle continues for hours; before a man wrestles the ball from the crowd and secures a win for the "Up the gates". This film was the Winner of the Scottish Prize, The Andrew Buchanan Cup at Scottish Amateur Film Festival, 1940.

Questions & Activities


  • How did the filmmaker build the drama of the match?
  • How was this edited (e.g. a dissolve)? How was the text added?
  • What other legacies of the Viking era persist in Scotland?
  • What is the Mercat Cross and what is its significance?


Media Studies: Download the footage, strip out the inter-titles and add a sports soundtrack.

History / PE: Research the history of Handba - where did it originate and is the game played anywhere else.

PE: Name any pastimes or games that are specific to your area?

History: Investigate the influence of the Vikings in Scotland today.

Clip Details

Record Id 007-000-002-109-C
Resource Rights Holder National Library of Scotland
Project Ref 0704
Date 1939
Genre Documentary, Amateur Documentary, Sports Coverage
School Subject Media Studies, History
Subject Matter Sport, Vikings
Who Crast Studio Production (production company), W. Kirkness (filmmaker)
Where Kirkwall, Orkney
Event Festival
Attributes Black and White, Silent
Clip Length 6:04
Film Length 6:04