Gaelic Voices from Islay's Past

Gaelic voices from Islay’s past were heard loud and clear when Tobar an Dualchais presented a pot pourri of audio recordings dating from the early 1950s to the 1970s at an open evening in Ionad Chaluim Chille Ile on Wednesday. Over 700 hours of recordings pertaining to Islay and Jura are held by the Kist o’ Riches and these were sourced from the School of Scottish Studies at Edinburgh University, the John Campbell of Canna collection, now owned by the National Trust for Scotland, and the archives of BBC Scotland. Among the raconteurs heard by the 70 supporters attending the open evening were Kilchoman bard Duncan MacNiven, Carnduncan’s Calum (Morgan) MacLachlan, and Port Ellen’s Alastair Logan MacArthur, who was also a noted piper. John Kennedy of Bowmore shared memories of island life, Dugald Smith, Keills, visited fairyland and Lossit ploughwoman Flora MacPhee caused hilarity among neighbours and even reduced the interviewer to laughter. More up to date recordings featured Donald MacFadyen, Carn, on the history of the illfated Port Charlotte creamery, and Bruichladdich’s Katie Johnston remembering her noted father in law and Islay bard Duncan Johnstone. Continue reading....Jura input came from Alex Buie who recalled nettle and whelk broth and the days when his native isle boasted four schools. Among the other topics covered by the speakers - whose fluency in their native tongue was a joy to the ear - were tales of the wee folk, local herbal cures, village history and superstitions prevalent among the local fishing community. Gaelic songs were also included in the collection and among the pleasing voices heard were Mary Livingstone from Kilmeny, Flora MacNiven from Bowmore and John Shaw from Caol Ila who was tragically lost at sea at a very young age.

Ardnahoe singer Alastair Currie, who was also tragically killed in an accident on Jura, was a local mod winner and ceilidh favourite, and his rendering of ‘Sine Bhan’ greatly pleased the audience. Bunnahabhainn piper John MacIntyre’s selections were lively, as was the singing of 11 year old Eric MacKechnie from Bowmore, and of Port Ellen’s Mary Campbell,(Pollock) and now resident in the Cowal area. Live performances during the evening came from Ballygrant singer Libby Morris and from schoolboy vocalist Alastair Currie, a namesake and grandson of the Ardnahoe singer. The Tobar an Dualchais project will eventually digitise the island recordings and these will be available online towards the end of next year. This development is to be greatly welcomed as, to date, many of these recordings were difficult to access and, as a consequence, members of the public were denied an important insight into the social and cultural life of the island in days gone by.

The earliest recordings were collected by Calum MacLean, one of the founder members of the School of Scottish Studies and a brother of the renowned Gaelic poet Sorley. Calum tramped and cycled many weary miles throughout the Highlands and Islands to ensure that a fast disappearing way of life was preserved for posterity. Now, thanks to Tobar an Dualchais, future generations will be given a true flavour of life in the Gaidhealtachd in the closing half of the 20th century through their provision of a resource geared for all who are interested in Scotland’s cultural heritage and that will be invaluable to education at all levels. 'Guthan an sinnsirean a’ tighinn beo tro theicneolasan an latha andiugh.'

This story was published with kind permission of the Ileach Newspaper.

Tag: gaelic recordings

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