We were also amused recently when we discovered from the 2nd Statistical Account of Scotland that the island of South Ronaldsay had 16 inns in the 1840s, although "seven would be sufficient" according to the disapproving author.
So we knew that Orcadians of yore enjoyed their drink. It was with great horror, however, that we read Reminiscences of an Orkney Parish by John Firth which was published in 1920.
The enquiry which occasioned our perusal of this book was an enquiry about pregnancy in 19th century Orkney. We turned to the chapter entitled 'Birth' which begins:
"It was no uncommon occurrence at an accouchement for the mother and all her attendants to be the worse for drink",
" One does not wonder that the Orcadian of the time possessed an inherent craving for strong drink, for the first thing given to a baby was a spoonful of toddy, and a dose of the same stimulant was believed to be an infallible cure for all his infantile ailments."
This is then followed by a story of 'groggy' midwives laying a baby thought to be stillborn on a cupboard shelf before more sober visitors discover that the baby is just feeling the effects of their mother's imbibing.
We are then told of a drunken baby falling out of their coverings on the way to their own christening (they have been given some toddy to keep them quiet in the church) and being discovered in a ditch by passers-by who then have to chase the inebriated family members who are still merrily marching up to the kirk with their empty shawl, none the wiser.
As Firth says earlier on in the book:
"the need for some stimulant was much felt by the Orcadian peasant, whose lot forbade him tasting freely even the few pleasures and comforts obtainable in those days"
...and it is later pointed out that home-brewed ale was really the only available substitute for milk during the winter months. Still though... drunk babies.
No wonder these folk were so convinced they were seeing ghosts and witches and elves all the time... they were all just really drunk. All the time.