Betty Corrigall's Grave

An isolated and lonely grave, located on the border between the parishes of Hoy & Graemsay and Walls & Flotta within the bleak moorland which forms the centre of the island of Hoy in Orkney, is the last resting place of the unfortunate Betty Corrigall, a native of nearby Rysa. In the late 1770s, she fell pregnant to a sailor who abandoned her to return to sea. At a time when having a child out of wedlock was thoroughly frowned upon, she found it impossible to live with the shame and walked into the sea in an attempt to end her life. She was rescued, but only to hang herself soon after. Her suicide meant she could not be buried in consecrated ground and her sin was such that local landowners refused to give space for her grave. Thus she came to be buried on the edge of the parish, unmarked and without ceremony, remote from settlement and church alike.

However, this was not the end of the story. In the 1930s, men cutting peat for fuel came across a wooden box which they thought might contain treasure. Further investigation revealed it to be the corner of a coffin and Betty's corpse was recovered, having been almost perfectly preserved by the acid nature of the peat which surrounded it. The corpse was examined by the authorities and ordered to be re-buried where it had been found.

In 1941, during the Second World War, soldiers excavating anti-aircraft gun emplacements centred on nearby Lyrawa Hill uncovered the unmarked grave once again. Although it was covered over, word of the discovery spread and morbid curiosity brought further soldiers who repeatedly uncovered the remains. It is even reported that soldiers took the corpse to their Officers' Mess and propped it up at the dining table, an event which ensured those involved were disciplined. Poor Betty's remains were reburied and a concrete slab poured over the grave to prevent further disturbance.

A happy conclusion was brought about through the intervention of a visiting American clergyman, Rev. Kenwood Bryant, who was moved by Betty's story while visiting Hoy in 1949. He said a proper burial service over Betty's grave and marked the site with a simple cross. Further, Bryant extracted a promise from the local Customs and Excise officer, Harry Berry, to erect a proper gravestone. In 1976, after Berry retired, he found time to organise the construction of a memorial. The deep peat would not have been able to support the weight of a traditional stone, thus an unusual fibreglass replica was fabricated.

The site, now surrounded by white picket fence, is a popular stop for tourists, who often lay flowers on the grave. It is said there may be the graves of other suicide victims in the vicinity.

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