Papa Stour History & Community Group

Papa Stour Sword Dance

Papa Stour Sword Dance team 2009, photo from ‘Aald Papa I’m Dine’ by George P.S. Peterson

The Papa Stour Sword Dance,

is a linked sword dance involving seven dancers, who represent the Seven Champions of Christendom: St. James of Spain, St Denis of France, St. David of Wales, St. Patrick of Ireland, St. Anthony of Italy, St Andrew of Scotland, and St. George of England.


The dance originated on the island of Papa Stour in Shetland. According to popular tradition the dance was on the brink of extinction by the early 1800s, until Sir Walter Scott wrote a fictional account of it in his novel “The Pirate”.  In his diary entry for 7 August 1814 Scott remarks “At Scalloway my curiosity was gratified by an account of the sword-dance, now almost lost, but still practised in the island of Papa Stour, belonging to Mr Scott (Dr James Scott). There are eight performers, seven of whom represent the Seven Champions of Christendom, who enter one by one with their swords drawn, and are presented to an eighth personage, who is not named.

In 2016, Paul Murton, visited Shetland as part of the BBC's programme Grand Tours of the Scottish Islands

and spoke with dance leader Danny Peterson, grandson of George Peterson, who is credietd with saving the dance from extinction. Danny explains how the Papa Stour Sword Dance is still popular today and at a recent Shetland Folk Festiuval it was esitamted that around 25 dancers are regulary practising across Shetland. Watch the short documentary clip to see how Paul Murton got on when he tried his luck at the traditional Sword Dance.