Review of the Islay Year 2012

I wrote a wee review of 2012 myself, that was in the last days of December. By that time I already had the Ileach review of 2012 in mind and here it is, just in case you missed out on any news in the last year. It's packed with many interesting snippets and published here on this blog with kind permission of the Ileach Newspaper. If you like to get updates from the Ileach throughout the year, either on paper or PDF, you might want to visit their subscription page. For now much pleasure with the 2012 review.

January will mostly be remembered for the wild start to the month, not only with New Year celebrations, but for the stormy days which arrived right after New Year, with hurricane-force winds causing extensive loss of electricity throughout the island. The storm-force winds brought extensive damage to some properties and many repairs were required all around the islands. The New Year also brought news of the imminent move for Bowmore Surgery up to Islay Hospital, and other large-scale moves included the deployment of the 1 megawatt (MW) Hammerfest StrÅ…m HS1000 device for trials in the seas off Orkney, the same design as will be used by ScottishPower Renewables (SPR) as part of the world's first tidal turbine array in the Sound of Islay. Moving rather less speedily has been a planned rollout of superfast broadband across the whole of the Highlands and Islands. As of last January it was 'progressing according to plan', said the region's development agency. Highlands and Islands Enterprise, which had posted an open tender invitation for a partner to co-invest in next generation broadband in June last year (2011, that is) and were negotiating with BT as the sole bidder. Many households and businesses in rural Islay are still waiting for improvement to their broadband services, or indeed to any access at all to 'phone line' broadband. Continue reading....

Following on from January's storms, it was found that the power distribution network on the Rhinns was in a very sorry state. Westminster Parliament was alerted to the public outrage over the power outages by Portnahaven sub-postmaster Alastair Redman who was invited by Argyll MP Alan Reid to give evidence about local power failures to a Select Committee for Scottish Affairs. The 2012 annual Gaelic teaching festival for young people, Fèis Òigridh Ìle is Dhiùra, took place during the February half term, and as well as fantastic tuition by excellent teachers on a range of traditional instruments, one of this year's innovations featured Islay's historical films shown with live musical accompaniment of the films by the Fèis students and tutors, made possible by support from ScreenHI and Iomairt Ghàidhlig Ìle is Dhiùra. After the anxiety caused to parents and pupils at Keills primary school, the draft budget published by Argyll and Bute Council's ruling administration showed that last year's planned rural school closures were 'completely unnecessary' according to Argyll and Bute MSP Michael Russell. Mr Russell said: 'The financial incompetence of the present administration is now plain to see. The council's own figures predict a budget surplus of £4.5 million yet just a year ago the people of this area were told that the only way to stave off financial disaster was to close more than 20 rural primary schools. The whole island and Gaels everywhere were shocked and saddened by the tragic death of Bowmore resident and National Mod Gold medallist Robert Forrest on February 18th. He was 75 years of age, and had won his Gold medal at the National Mod in Inverness in 1984.

In March, Islay was anticipating the completion of works at and the reopening of Port Ellen's ferry pier, but the date was put back until June 2012 because of difficult weather holding back repair work. Ferry issues chuntered on with three vessels having been damaged, requiring considerable juggling of boats and sailing timetables. NFUS and Islay's farmers were concerned with effects of the incoming RET charges on their transport costs. While Argyll & Bute Council announced that there was extra funds allocated to the Council's Roads budget, very little of the increase seems to have found its way to actually improving the continuing dire state of many of Islay's roads. Port Ellen was pleased to learn of the eight new houses to be built in the village, with Argyll & Bute Council contributing £480k towards the £1m project. The eight rental houses are in the ownership of Argyll Community Housing Association (ACHA) and were built by Lochgilphead- based contractors M&K MacLeod. The island's first St Ayles skiff was constructed by Jack Glover at Portnahaven boatyard for Islay Rowing Club. Between January and March, Islay experienced ten small earthquakes which were recorded by the British Geological Survey. No damage occurred.

Applicants for the long-sought GPs for the Bowmore and Jura practices are to be interviewed in April. A Northern Studies conference 2012 was held in Islay, with themed talks on 'From Gall to Gael and Gallowglas'. The focus of talks was Islay's settlement and society during the Middle Ages, but the lectures given also covered archaeology, history and folklore in the Hebrides and surrounding areas from prehistory until more recent times. A group of both fluent speakers and learners working together using the Gaelic language to attain their John Muir Awards; Lauren MacGregor, Caitlin Marrion, Heather Hope and Mairi McGillivray started a programme of events at the RSPB site with conservation and landscape as the focus. Morvern McPhee of Islay High School was mentoring and providing language support. New fishing boat the scalloper 'Crystal Dawn' was delivered to James Monaghan and Fiona MacFarlane of Islay Crab Exports. Skipper Sean McIlwraith and John Watt of MacDuff Shipyards Ltd were at the naming ceremony for the new 14.95 metre automated scalloper, the biggest commercial fishing boat ever built for Islay. Fiona smashed a bottle of Laphroaig across the ship's bow before the large crowd repaired to Port Ellen's Islay Hotel. WalkIslay outings, all 330 of them, were well attended and enjoyed in quite good weather in 2012.

Keills Primary School Choir were guest artistes when Kilmeny Ceilidh Club launched its 2012 summer programme on 15th May. Keeping last year's successful format, family ceilidhs will be continue monthly through the summer. Deborah 'Heather' Dewar's paintings exhibition was much visited at the Outback Gallery, Sanaigmore. The overwintering geese debate continues, as goose numbers increase, geese linger and spring grazings are left damaged. Dr Kate Pickering was appointed permanent GP for the Bowmore surgery. Councillor Robin Currie retains his seat on Argyll & Bute Council. Islay's young volunteers aged 16-25 received their MV awards, originally known as the Millennium Volunteers Scheme, coordinated by the Islay Volunteer Development Project in conjunction with Argyll Voluntary Action in Oban. Jamie McLellan received the 200 hour Award of Excellence Certificate (highest award – signed by First Minister, Alex Salmond) for volunteer work with Rejig. Craig MacMillan also received this award for helping in the Cyber Cafe in Port Ellen. Melanie McNeil and Chloe Wood received the 100 hours certificate, and Iain Harrison the 50 hours certificate for their work for local sports. Melanie, Chloe and Iain have been a tremendous help to the Active Schools Sporting programme. Kenneth Whiteside received a 50 hour certificate for volunteering with Rejig and Islay House Community Garden. Rhona McLean and Allison Smith both received certificates for volunteering over 50 hours, in the CyberCafé and helping at the new ReJig shop in Bowmore. We can only admire and applaud these young people. Of course, we couldn't leave May without a mention of Feis Ile, the Islay Festival of Music and Malt held during the last week of the month. Personal favourites amongst the wide array of events on offer were two fairly quiet occasions; firstly, the talk on poetry given by Liz Lochhead, Scotland's Makar, and on the same programme the talk on the history and works of the Islay Bards by Margaret Anne MacTaggart. The storytelling session given by traveller Jess Smith at Gortanvogie was also a quieter event for a small audience, but was a very enjoyable afternoon.

Michael Moore MP and Secretary of State for Scotland visited Islay, touring several Islay businesses. Also, together with IET Chair Philip Maxwell, he viewed the Sound of Islay site which is proposed for the tidal turbine array. Mr Moore expressed his admiration for Islay's community spirit and our ability to work together and support one another, but whether he can bring any practical improvements on issues such as high motor fuel prices remains to be seen. Mod Ile, the annual Islay local Mod celebrating the island's musical and Gaidhlig cultural traditions, was held in Islay High School in early June. There were more entrants than for many years, with all the island's primary schools again entering choirs. The array of prize silverware was astonishing! The 6th year of Islay Beach Rugby took place. Islay House Community Garden held a successful Open Day, raising funds and introducing many people to what happens in the garden. And oh, those luscious strawberries...! Islay and Jura schoolchildren went to Oban for a four-day Stramash outdoor adventure sports session, voted a great success by all the participants. Islay High School celebrated the 2011-12 school year's achievements, with Iain Harrison receiving the year's Dux award. June was National Smile Month...did you contribute a grin (with well-brushed teeth, of course)??

Scottish & Southern Energy/SSE set up camp at the Mart field, and began work on renovation of the power supply system in the Rhinns of Islay and elsewhere around the island. Islay lifeboat personnel were honoured at a presentation ceremony in Ionad Chaluim Chille Ile. Coxswain David MacLellan received the RNLI's silver badge in acknowledgement of his leadership and long service to the Port Askaig-based lifeboat. During the same event, Captain Malcolm T Anderson was presented with the RNLI's service certificate to mark his outstanding chairmanship of the Lifeboat committee for over ten years, and his 20 year dedicated service as a management committee member. The Mactaggart Leisure Centre celebrated its 21st birthday with photos and memories, having opened its doors as a community owned business on 29th June 1991. Cantilena's Chamber Music Festival was once again much enjoyed, with performances in a variety of island venues. The reinstated Ellister Show for ponies and sheep takes place with good entries and plenty of local interest. Bruichladdich Distillery is sold to Remy Cointreau Group. The Glasgow Islay Association's Home Gathering finished the month with music and reminiscences galore in Bowmore Hall. The second Festival of the Sea was held in Port Ellen, and one of the highlights of this year's event was the construction on site of an Irish-style sea-going currach.

For many in the island, the big event in August each year is 'Islay Show'. In 2012, Neil MacDonald of Bunnahabhain won the 'Champion of Champions' with his Belgian Blue cross heifer, 'Smarty Swagger'. This year's fine weather brought out the crowds, and made a fun and interesting day out for all who competed, manned stalls or simply spectated. The opening ceremony for the renovated Port Ellen Pier was held at 2pm on Thursday 30th August. T h e new £5million facility was declared open by the chairman of Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd, Grenville Johnston. However, ferry issues continue, with disquiet about the intended move of the 'Finlaggan' to other routes for part of the year, and the knock-on effects on sailing timetables, and threatened strike action against CalMac by ferry crews. Katie McNiven, Ashley Harrison, Stacy Baker and Mairi McGillivray, four dancers from the Ella Edgar Dance School wowed audiences in Switzerland as together with another 28 dancers they made up the Ailsa Craig Dance Team to represent Scotland, performing in 15 live shows to a total of 120,000 spectators. Chefs Paul Rankin and Nick Nairn had a fruitful rummage around Islay House Community Garden. The annual 'Ride of the Falling Rain' was enjoyed by seventy-plus cyclists from Islay, the mainland and further afield. Starting from Debbie's cafe, the circuit totalling a possible 100 miles over some improved stretches of island roads. For the very sporty, the Ardbeg Half Marathon was another good day out and about in the island. And Charles Holyoake wins golf 's Kildalton Cross at the Machrie.

The island's GPs write to the Community Health Partnership (CHP) giving three months notice that they will no longer accept the responsibility for organizing and providing out of hours care, after the CHP wrote to their patients 'out of the blue' and in such a way that misrepresented their commitment to health care on Islay. The GPs were determined to work with CHP to find a sustainable solution for providing out of hours cover, and discussions continued. Islay Book Festival 2012 featured a return visit by Scotland's Makar, poet Liz Lochhead, together with authors Sue Lawrence, Geoff Dupuy-Holder, Catherine Czerkawska and Justin & Linda Ruthven Tyers. Ciara Caskie Allan of Bowmore, who has been suffering from a malignant brain tumour, helped out with recent fundraising. Ciara, Robert and Lloret Allan (who lived in Kintore prior to moving back to Islay), have praised all those who took part in charity fundraisers around the island. Ciara split £800. between Islay & Jura Sick Children's Fund and CLIC Sargent, both of whom have been very supportive during Ciara's on-going treatment. RET (Road Equivalent Tariff) was scheduled to be introduced on the Islay route from October this year, but fares and timetables have yet to be be published by CalMac and it was for a while impossible for travellers to make bookings for the winter period. Michael Russell MSP was unable to give a precise date for the release of the new fares and timetable, but described it as 'imminent'. Goose issues rumble on, with the Islay branch of the NFUS contacting the Ileach to say: 'The terms on offer from the National Goose Management Review Group are to compensate Islay farmers and crofters for feeding half of the 50,000 internationally protected Greenland Barnacle and Whitefront Geese, but the Island farmers and Crofters must feed the other half out of their own pockets.' Well!!

One of the high spots during October for many was the visit by the outreach team from Scottish Ballet, giving demos, workshops with lots of opportunities for participation by all ages. The 'biggie' each year in October is the annual National Mod, which this year took place in Dunoon. Islay's Gaelic choirs and soloists of all ages have been practicing all year for Gaeldom's premier event. In preparation, Coisir Ghaidhlig Ile presented a launch at RSPB Loch Gruinart of the choir's newly commissioned suite of three songs about the Battle of Traigh Gruinart, fought in 1598 between the Islay MacDonalds and the MacLeans of Duart, Mull over the Rhinns of Islay. Clare Jordan did a fantastic job of composing and arranging, setting sections of Islay Bard William Livingstone's poem on the battle to music. Port Ellen Primary's Gaelic Choir had outstanding wins at the National Mod, as did Coisir Og, Coisir Ghaidhlig Ile with their puirt-a-beul, and also many of the island's solo competitors. Mod audiences loved the senior choir's newly composed and beautifully sung 'Traigh Gruinart' pieces, which had an appreciative reception everywhere the choirs performed. Further steps continued to be taken towards closure of Clyde Coastguard, with the local sea area to be covered by Belfast Coastguard after the end of the year. Paramedic Team Leader Joe Hughes organised the Heartstart training, and many in Islay took the chance to learn basic lifesaving skills.

The 'Ileach' at 40, and how many changes the island and the paper have seen during those years! The much anticipated second 'Islay Sessions' were enjoyed by increasing audiences, building on a good start made last year. The music workshops and evening pub sessions were well attended, and the final Saturday night concert was epic! Performers were Maeve Mackinnon, Gillian Frame & Findlay Napier, and bands Rura and Maverick Angels. The Ciara Caskie Allan Appeal starts in earnest with many community fundraisers planned, intending to fund specialist treatment for Ciara which is only available in the USA and to support Ciara's family for the several weeks' duration of the treatment. Positive results so far from IET's weather-recording mast, erected in preparation for a proposed community wind turbine, in due course. SSE continues work on renovation of the power supply hardware for the Rhinns of Islay, sometimes in less than helpful weather.

The island communities have really been pulling out all the stops for the Ciara Caskie Allan appeal with 'Hands Across Islay' amongst other initiatives, and Ciara and family have left for Oklahoma, USA where her treatment will take place. Islay Schools' Wind Band perform in concert to general acclaim, and the schools' panto season sets sail, with a variety of productions which delight and amaze. Bowmore Primary School welcomed Ms Sylvia Law, a Gaelic speaker from Canada, to teach the primary 1/2 Gaelic class while Annchris MacLean is on maternity leave. The Museum of Islay Life was delighted to receive a cheque for £5145. from Graham Holyoake and Douglas Reid of Laphroaig Distillery for the purchase and installation of a new environmentally friendly heating system to protect the museum's priceless collections. Ciara Caskie Allan begins her treatment at the Procure Proton Therapy Centre in Oklahoma City, and initial reports are positive. DP Marine Energy seek feedback from Islay businesses on their proposed West Islay Tidal Array project. Lauries of Islay unveil their new delicatessen extension to their Port Ellen shop. Duncan Ferguson, native of Portnahaven and Rector of Plockton High School writes of an Islay village boyhood. The Ileach also bid farewell to Carl Reavey editor of the paper for the last seven plus years. We wish him all the best in his new career at Bruichladdich distillery. In one sense, 2012 ended as it was begun, with promises delayed of better broadband services in Islay's rural areas. Alan Reid MP said, 'High speed broadband is essential to creating growth, jobs and prosperity. Left to its own devices BT would only bring superfast broadband to cities and some towns, but many small towns and rural areas would have missed out. The Government's aim is to connect 90 per cent of homes to superfast broadband (24MBps) and ensure the rest have access to at least 2Mbps.' We live in hope...for 2013.