The Ba' ('ball' pronounced in Orcadian), is a form of hand-ball played throughout the streets of Kirkwall every Christmas and New Year's Day.
The inhabitants of Kirkwall are divided into 'Uppies' and 'Doonies' ('Up-the-gates' and 'Down-the Gates'), teams which are determined by birth or their first entry to Kirkwall. As most children in Orkney are now born in Balfour hospital in Uppie territory (or in Aberdeen meaning a re-entry to Kirkwall from the airport via Palace Road ), Doonie fathers have been known to drive their new-born babes home in a widely circuitous route to ensure their allegiance.
The general idea is for the teams to get the ba' to their own 'goals'. These are designated places in the town. The Uppies are aiming for a wall situated at the meeting of Junction Road, Main Street and New Scapa Road and the Doonies want to immerse the ba' in water along the Harbour front. The players can use pretty much any means necessary and the game is typically long and rough. Open play is unusual and the ba' moves along the streets in the heart of a writhing, sweaty scrum for most of the day. It is not uncommon to see steam rising from the huddle of players as their body heat meets the cold winter air.
There is a boys' ba' played in the morning and a men's ba' which kicks off at 1 0'clock. This means that there can be two games going on at the same time, making the streets of Kirkwall a hazardous place to walk.
A woman's ba' was played on Christmas day 1945 and New Year's Day 1946 and women have been known to take part over the years. The vast majority of players, however, are men and boys.
Spike cartoon, Orkney Archive reference: D1/851