Orkneys' first official tartan aims to unite the islanders

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The Independent Online

More than 500 years after the Orkneys became part of Scotland, the islanders have been given an official tartan.

More than 500 years after the Orkneys became part of Scotland, the islanders have been given an official tartan.

Until now, the Orkneys have been unlike most other parts of the country in not having their own tartan. The residents are hoping the distinctive new design will become known beyond the Orkneys, uniting Orcadians and encouraging tourism.

The pattern, which is green, blue, purple and orange, was designed by Ronnie Hek, who also created the official tartans for the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly.

Four designs were displayed in the window of a shop on the mainland and the one that was most popular with the islanders was chosen as the official Orkney tartan.

Marlene Bews, an island resident, said she was sure the new colours would be very popular in the Orkneys.

"The green is for the landscape and the grasses and the blue for the sea and the dramatic skylines we get," she explained. "It also features orange for the sunsets and beaches and purple for the wild heather. Everyone I have spoken to seems to like it."

The design has been registered with the Scottish Tartans Society.

The 67 islands that make up the Orkneys lie just 50 miles south of Greenland, and were conquered by the Viking King Harald of Norway AD876. They were later promised to James III as part of a dowry and were annexed by Scotland in 1472.

Mr Hek said he was asked to design the new tartan by a group of women from the Orkneys he met at a trade fair in Aviemore. "The ladies said they had seen the tartan I had designed for the Scottish Parliament and asked if they could use it to compliment their knitwear," he said.

The tartan joins a long list on the official register, including recent designs for Irn Bru, American Express and gay people. The Orkney tartan has so far been used on ties, cuff-links, scarves and teddy bears, and will soon be made into kilts and shawls.

Keith Lumsden, of the Scottish Tartans Society, said the invention of tartans for areas was older than those signifying clans, which were introduced in the 19th century . "As far as I am aware neither the Shetlands nor the Orkneys traditionally wove their own tartans which is probably why they didn't have one, but if they want one now, then why not?" he asked. "Tartan is recognised as a cultural symbol of Scotland and the more tartan there is the better for Scotland."