The Gaels: Alive and Kicking

02 Apr 2015
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From the century old Mod, through the more recent Feisean nan Gaidheal and Hebridean Celtic Festival to the imminent publication of The Great Book of Gaelic, this ancient, indigenous culture is thriving and enjoying a marvellous new flowering in Scotland.

The place of friendship

The Royal National Mod is Scotland's premier Gaelic festival, held every October at a different location in Scotland. The festival is competition-based celebrating the Gaelic language and culture through music, dance, drama, arts and literature.

First held in 1892, the Mod is now the second largest festival in Scotland attracting visitors and competitors from the UK, Ireland, Australia, Canada and the USA. It provides a major economic and cultural boost to the host area and attracts considerable national and international publicity.

Whilst the Mod is a competitive event it also provides the opportunity for Gaels and non-Gaels to gather and renew old friendships and forge new ones. It has evolved organically, responding to changes in the Gaelic world and acting as an incentive for individuals and groups to develop their talents in the public arena. Over the past century, the Mod has been a significant cohesive element in keeping the Gaelic community together.

Since 1912, there has been a Royal association with the Mod whose parent body, An CÌ_munn GÌÊidhealach, has HM The Queen as its Patron. Members of the Royal Family regularly attend the festival, so look out for them.

Provincial Mods take place throughout Scotland every year between May and September and there's an annual gathering of Gaels at the Mod Vancouver in May and the Mod USA in September.

Roots revival

A more recent initiative to preserve and celebrate the culture is the Feisean nan Gaidheal. Fis pronounced (plural Fisean) is the Gaelic for a festival or feast. The word has become associated with the Fis movement: Gaelic arts tuition festivals, mainly for young people, which take place throughout Scotland.

The Fis movement came about in 1981 when a group of parents on the Isle of Barra seeing the local traditions dying out took it upon themselves to teach their children.

As word of the success spread, many other communities across the country followed suit. 18 years on, there are now over 30 Fisean in which more than 3,500 young people participate. Fisean nan Gidheal's work includes running 1,350 community tuition workshops and holding showcase concerts at the Eden Court Theatre in Inverness.

Dancing the long light nights away

Meanwhile, on the Isle of Lewis, the Hebridean Celtic Festival has, since 1995, become one of the most eagerly awaited attractions on the Celtic music calendar. Held in mid July, the Festival is staged in the scenic grounds of Lews Castle, Stornoway and delivers a high quality professional programme featuring major artists from the Celtic music genre. Great emphasis is also placed on promoting Gaelic language and culture within an international programme. The unique location, the friendly welcome, and fantastically enthusiastic audiences make this festival highly attractive and along with Glasgow's Celtic Connections has done an enormous amount to bring this dynamic music to a wider audience.

May the Gael force be with you

Stornoway is also home to Proisneact Nan Ealan (The Gaelic Arts Agency), the key development agency for the Gaelic arts in Scotland. Since its inception in 1987 it has developed and piloted a huge range of arts and cultural initiatives to increase the visibility of Gaelic. Its success is impressive: Gaelic now contributes more than 40m to the economy every year. Its latest initiative is undoubtedly its most ambitious Leabhar Mor na Gaidhlig (The Great Book of Gaelic) a 21st Century 'Book of Kells' bringing together the work of more than 200 visual artists, poets and calligraphers from Scotland and Ireland. With publication by the innovative Edinburgh-based Canongate, a touring exhibition of the 100 artworks starting at the Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow in November and moving to Dublin via the USA in 2003, a 90-minute BBC film by Murray Grigor, a schools pack, a music CD and an events programme stretching over five years this project is set to place Gaelic well and truly on the modern cultural world map.*

*Watch this space for further information on the Great Book of Gaelic.

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