'ØY - A festival Of Island Magnetism' has been arranged by artist Saoirse Higgins and Papa Westray's resident ranger, Jonathan Ford. We asked him to share his views on life in the island and to tell us more about the festival.


Why are we attracted to islands, to remote and far flung places? What is it about islands that make them so magnetic? Some people feel the pull to islands, others the push away.

On my first visit to Papay back in the winter of 2013, I really had no idea what life on a small remote island would be like. I came to see where one of the last Great Auks had lived, that was my ‘Papay magnet’.

Beautiful beaches and blue seas bring people back to islands


Having lived in Papay for nearly two years now I have become fascinated with islands, how they work, their natural and archaeological heritage and what makes them so attractive to people worldwide. This attraction may be satisfied by a day trip, but for others they have to make the move more permanent. It could be to escape, to find something or hide something. We all have different reasons.

Artists, writers, thinkers have been especially attracted to islands through history for the solitude and the landscape, and as places to contemplate and inspire. Using this as a starting point, artist Saoirse Higgins and I decided to set up an event which responded to this particular island trait.

‘ØY - A festival of island magnetism’ was born.

Peerie Water in Papa Westray


We invited a selection of artists, writers and film makers to give their own evidence as to why islands are so magnetic in whatever form they like. The contributors to the festival are from local, national and international background working across a variety of art forms, presenting a broad view as a group but very singularly as individuals.

ØY is maybe a mis-translation of the Norse for islands. It is, we hope, a festival of islands, and one that may become an annual event focusing on a different aspect of islands each year.

This year’s festival is a mixture of exhibition, film screenings, live performance and workshops across the weekend - with the traditional Papay ‘Muckle Supper’ as the centre piece for the whole weekend - a magnetic event if there ever was one.

The Kelp Store will play a central part in the weekend - image by Doug Hourston


The exhibition at the Kelp Store forms the backbone of the weekend and we have work in response to magnetism on show from Autumn Richardson and Richard Skelton, Rebecca Marr, Ingrid Budge, Cassia Dodman, Lili Chin, Hwa Young Jung, Louise Barrington, Kevin Quigley, Rik Hammond, Aisling Higgins and Margit Fassbender.

There is a series of special events over the weekend. On Friday night the West Side Cinema from Stromness will be showing ‘Village at the end of the world’ - a documentary about a small isolated Greenland community and the pressures it faces. On Saturday morning we have an embroidery workshop with Canadian fashion designer Heather Martin. She will be looking at the representation of magnetic fields, making the intangible tangible.

In the afternoon there are two talks - one from writer and Papay resident Jim Hewitson, who will be telling us what he thinks makes islands such magnetic places. Then Dan Lee and Antonia Thomas will give us the archaeologist’s perspective on why islands are special to them.

The festival will give visitors the chance to document their own corner of the island


Saturday's programme is rounded off with a showing of Shona Illingworth’s film – ‘Time/Present’. This beautiful haunting film looks at the loss of memory in an island context, in this case St Kilda.

There will be a later start on Sunday morning to allow folk to recover from the Muckle Supper festivities!

First-we have a ‘Walkshop’ with designer Fiona MacLellan. She will lead a group for a circular walk from the Kelp Store, documenting the landscape on their way, and taking time to soak in the island from their portable ‘Rambling bench’.

Bringing the weekend to a close - filmmakers Brian McClave and Dan Mellor will be presenting a 360 degree, virtual reality time-lapse film made over the weekend of the festival. The film will be shot in the sea off South Wick in Papay, with the magnetic pull of the tide…


Find out more about Papa Westray.

The ØY Festival takes place on the 18/19/20 of November. The festival is a Papay Development Trust Project with support from the Coastal Communities Fund.