Insights on Grounded, Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, Brisbane

More feedback from the comments book in Brisbane can be viewed via this link: Comments from Grounded at Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts. And for a small selection of the feedback from the same show in Glasgow, during Festival 2014, XX Commonwealth Games, you can find comments here.

Brisbane was the second venue in a tour of Grounded to 12 galleries in Australia by Flying Arts Alliance Inc. (The current touring schedule is at the end of this post, with a couple of spaces still available for bookings from end 2017.)

We are looking forward to the next stop – Coalface Art Gallery, Moranbah, opening 28 January 2016 – 29 February 2016.

You can link to information about the exhibition at these links: Introductory panel in English and Introductory panel in Gaelic.

For those new to the blog, the Grounded exhibition, a commission by Glasgow Life for Festival 2014 XX Commonwealth Games, has also shown since at An Lanntair Art Gallery in Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, as a partner event at Hebtember Festival.

The Colour of Language arts educational project came out of Grounded’s showing at An Lanntair in Stornoway, Scotland. The Colour of Language frieze is growing and now almost big enough to cover a wall at An Lanntair Gallery in Stornoway, with the latest additions by some children from Hazelwood North school in Gippsland, Australia. If you are interested in joining in you can contact me through this blog here.

The story of my time in jail in Alice Springs, subsequent lack of conviction in court, and implications of this story for the local Aboriginal population, can be linked to here. Then here for the court process following arrest. And a response to the Alice Springs jail post by Professor Smith can be found here.

Three audiovisuals that were part of Grounded, (Wadlu-gnana; Freumhaichte; Who Cares for Country) can be watched here

The book that accompanied the exhibition can be found at Exhibition explanatory book

Educational workshops run at An Lanntair Gallery in conjunction with Grounded can be viewed here and here.

Joe’s educational video of me talking about the exhibition can be viewed here.

Photos of the Glasgow opening event are here. Glasgow workshops, talks and exhibition details are here. And the Digital Resources pages of the blog for further information are here and here.

An interview about my work with journalist Jim Gilchrist is on the Struileag website which can be read at Jim Gilchrist’s review or linked to here.

A review by Dr Kate Robinson can be found here. And you can listen to a cut down recording of “In Conversation: Connecting through Culture” at this Vimeo link. (16 mins.) (One of our afternoon events at Glasgow Festival 2014 showing). Or listen to some music from one of our Glasgow afternoon events here.

A radio interview with BBC Radio Scotland Voices of the Commonwealth, which explores some of the concepts behind Grounded, is now available for listening to here.

My artist biography can be linked to here and here and my personal website is here

The introductory page for the blog can be found here.

The Grounded residency diary entries begin here in Scotland and then in Australia here. This is a record of my thoughts whilst gathering the material. These thoughts and images inform the production but are not part of the final exhibition.

Some other sites that link to Grounded can be found here

Funder acknowledgements can be viewed here

At this stage the tour schedule is as follows. There are still also a couple of spaces available for further bookings:
John Mullins Memorial Art Gallery, Dogwood Crossing 24 July 2015 – 8 September 2015
Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts 30 September 2015 – 17 October 2015
Coalface Art Gallery, Moranbah 28 January 2016 – 29 February 2016
David Harvey Sutton Gallery, Cloncurry 15 March 2016 – 30 April 2016
Texas Regional Gallery 28 May 2016 – 9 July 2016
Gympie Regional Gallery 23 August 2016 – 29 September 2016
Gallery 107 Dalby 14 October 2016 – 8 November 2016
Tableland Regional Art Gallery, Atherton 14 March 2017 – 23 April 2017
Mundubbera Regional Art Gallery 5th May 2017 – 28th June 2017
Gladstone Regional Art Gallery 20 July to 9 September 2017

Night time views outside Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, Brisbane

At night time the Judith Wright Centre reverses the Hebridean projection from Grounded so that it shines onto the street.

It was lovely to meet and work with everyone in the enthusiastic group of participants at the accompanying workshop on Sunday, there to work on their own photography and have some fun with their cameras. They did some great work. My pleasure to work with you all.

It feels a bit sad to be taking Grounded down in Brisbane now. Will be posting some of the heartwarming feedback comments soon. And looking forward to the next stop – Coalface Art Gallery, Moranbah, opening 28 January 2016 – 29 February 2016.

Brisbane was the second venue in a tour of Grounded to 12 galleries in Australia by Flying Arts Alliance Inc. (The current touring schedule is at the end of this post, with a couple of booking availabilities from end 2017.)

You can link to information about the exhibition at these links: Introductory panel in English and Introductory panel in Gaelic.

For those new to the blog, the Grounded exhibition, a commission by Glasgow Life for Festival 2014 XX Commonwealth Games, has also shown since at An Lanntair Art Gallery in Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, as a partner event at Hebtember Festival.

Feedback on the Glasgow Festival 2014, XX Commonwealth Games exhibition can be linked to here.

The Colour of Language arts educational project came out of Grounded’s showing at An Lanntair in Stornoway, Scotland. The Colour of Language frieze is growing and now almost big enough to cover a wall at An Lanntair Gallery in Stornoway, with the latest additions by some children from Hazelwood North school in Gippsland, Australia. If you are interested in joining in you can contact me through this blog here.

The story of my time in jail in Alice Springs, subsequent lack of conviction in court, and implications of this story for the local Aboriginal population, can be linked to here. Then here for the court process following arrest. And a response to the Alice Springs jail post by Professor Smith can be found here.

Three audiovisuals that were part of Grounded, (Wadlu-gnana; Freumhaichte; Who Cares for Country) can be watched here

The book that accompanied the exhibition can be found at Exhibition explanatory book

Educational workshops run at An Lanntair Gallery in conjunction with Grounded can be viewed here and here.

Joe’s educational video of me talking about the exhibition can be viewed here.

Photos of the Glasgow opening event are here. Glasgow workshops, talks and exhibition details are here. And the Digital Resources pages of the blog for further information are here and here.

An interview about my work with journalist Jim Gilchrist is on the Struileag website which can be read at Jim Gilchrist’s review or linked to here.

A review by Dr Kate Robinson can be found here. And you can listen to a cut down recording of “In Conversation: Connecting through Culture” at this Vimeo link. (16 mins.) (One of our afternoon events at Glasgow Festival 2014 showing). Or listen to some music from one of our Glasgow afternoon events here.

A radio interview with BBC Radio Scotland Voices of the Commonwealth, which explores some of the concepts behind Grounded, is now available for listening to here.

My artist biography can be linked to here and here and my personal website is here

The introductory page for the blog can be found here.

The Grounded residency diary entries begin here in Scotland and then in Australia here. This is a record of my thoughts whilst gathering the material. These thoughts and images inform the production but are not part of the final exhibition.

Some other sites that link to Grounded can be found here

Funder acknowledgements can be viewed here

At this stage the tour schedule is as follows. There are still also a couple of spaces available for further bookings:
John Mullins Memorial Art Gallery, Dogwood Crossing 24 July 2015 – 8 September 2015
Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts 30 September 2015 – 17 October 2015
Coalface Art Gallery, Moranbah 28 January 2016 – 29 February 2016
David Harvey Sutton Gallery, Cloncurry 15 March 2016 – 30 April 2016
Texas Regional Gallery 28 May 2016 – 9 July 2016
Gympie Regional Gallery 23 August 2016 – 29 September 2016
Gallery 107 Dalby 14 October 2016 – 8 November 2016
Tableland Regional Art Gallery, Atherton 14 March 2017 – 23 April 2017
Mundubbera Regional Art Gallery 5th May 2017 – 28th June 2017
Gladstone Regional Art Gallery 20 July to 9 September 2017

Grounded opening night in Brisbane

We had around 200 people for the opening night in Brisbane – open in Brisbane until 17 October (Mon-Fri 9am to 5pm; Sat 10am to 4pm). What a lovely night it was. Wangkangurru Elder Don Rowlands, and his wife Lyn were flown in from Birdsville / Wirrarri by Flying Arts Alliance. Grace Grace, member for Brisbane Central, was also there to talk, as did Stephen, the CEO of Flying Arts. Flying Arts and the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts did a wonderful job of setting up the show. Thank you to Chrissy, Derek, Greg and Geoffrey for taking these photos of the night.

Brisbane is the second venue in a tour of Grounded to 12 galleries in Australia by Flying Arts Alliance Inc. (The current touring schedule is at the end of this post). The accompanying photography masterclass in Brisbane is on Sunday 11 October (bookable through Flying Arts Alliance ).

You can link to information about the exhibition at these links: Introductory panel in English and Introductory panel in Gaelic.

For those new to the blog, the Grounded exhibition, a commission by Glasgow Life for Festival 2014 XX Commonwealth Games, has also shown since at An Lanntair Art Gallery in Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, as a partner event at Hebtember Festival.

Feedback on the Glasgow Festival 2014, XX Commonwealth Games exhibition can be linked to here.

The Colour of Language arts educational project came out of Grounded’s showing at An Lanntair in Stornoway, Scotland. The Colour of Language frieze is growing and now almost big enough to cover a wall at An Lanntair Gallery in Stornoway, with the latest additions by some children from Hazelwood North school in Gippsland, Australia. If you are interested in joining in you can contact me through this blog here.

The story of my time in jail in Alice Springs, subsequent lack of conviction in court, and implications of this story for the local Aboriginal population, can be linked to here. Then here for the court process following arrest. And a response to the Alice Springs jail post by Professor Smith can be found here.

Three audiovisuals that were part of Grounded, (Wadlu-gnana; Freumhaichte; Who Cares for Country) can be watched here

The book that accompanied the exhibition can be found at Exhibition explanatory book

Educational workshops run at An Lanntair Gallery in conjunction with Grounded can be viewed here and here.

Joe’s educational video of me talking about the exhibition can be viewed here.

Photos of the Glasgow opening event are here. Glasgow workshops, talks and exhibition details are here. And the Digital Resources pages of the blog for further information are here and here.

An interview about my work with journalist Jim Gilchrist is on the Struileag website which can be read at Jim Gilchrist’s review or linked to here.

A review by Dr Kate Robinson can be found here. And you can listen to a cut down recording of “In Conversation: Connecting through Culture” at this Vimeo link. (16 mins.) (One of our afternoon events at Glasgow Festival 2014 showing). Or listen to some music from one of our Glasgow afternoon events here.

A radio interview with BBC Radio Scotland Voices of the Commonwealth, which explores some of the concepts behind Grounded, is now available for listening to here.

My artist biography can be linked to here and here and my personal website is here

The introductory page for the blog can be found here.

The Grounded residency diary entries begin here in Scotland and then in Australia here. This is a record of my thoughts whilst gathering the material. These thoughts and images inform the production but are not part of the final exhibition.

Some other sites that link to Grounded can be found here

Funder acknowledgements can be viewed here

At this stage the tour schedule is as follows. There are still also a couple of spaces available for further bookings:
John Mullins Memorial Art Gallery, Dogwood Crossing 24 July 2015 – 8 September 2015
Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts 30 September 2015 – 17 October 2015
Coalface Art Gallery, Moranbah 28 January 2016 – 29 February 2016
David Harvey Sutton Gallery, Cloncurry 15 March 2016 – 30 April 2016
Texas Regional Gallery 28 May 2016 – 9 July 2016
Gympie Regional Gallery 23 August 2016 – 29 September 2016
Gallery 107 Dalby 14 October 2016 – 8 November 2016
Tableland Regional Art Gallery, Atherton 14 March 2017 – 23 April 2017
Mundubbera Regional Art Gallery 5th May 2017 – 28th June 2017
Gladstone Regional Art Gallery 20 July to 9 September 2017

Grounded opening in Brisbane 30 September 2015

Grounded_Invitation

If you are in the Brisbane area we are delighted to be able to invite you to the opening of Grounded I Freumhaichte I Wadlu-gnana at Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts on Wednesday 30 September, 2015 at 6pm. Please RSVP here if you are able to come.

Brisbane is the second venue in a tour of Grounded to 12 galleries in Australia by Flying Arts Alliance Inc. The exhibition is open in Brisbane until 17 October (Mon-Fri 9am to 5pm; Sat 10am to 4pm). The accompanying photography masterclass in Brisbane is on Sunday 11 October (bookable through Flying Arts Alliance ).

You can link to information about the exhibition at these links: Introductory panel in English and Introductory panel in Gaelic.

For those new to the blog, the Grounded exhibition, a commission by Glasgow Life for Festival 2014 XX Commonwealth Games, has also shown since at An Lanntair Art Gallery in Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, as a partner event at Hebtember Festival.

The Colour of Language arts educational project came out of Grounded’s showing at An Lanntair in Stornoway, Scotland. The Colour of Language frieze is growing and now almost big enough to cover a wall at An Lanntair Gallery in Stornoway, with the latest additions by some children from Hazelwood North school in Gippsland, Australia. If you are interested in joining in you can contact me through this blog here.

Feedback on the Glasgow Festival 2014, XX Commonwealth Games exhibition can be linked to here.

The story of my time in jail in Alice Springs, subsequent lack of conviction in court, and implications of this story for the local Aboriginal population, can be linked to here. Then here for the court process following arrest. And a response to the Alice Springs jail post by Professor Smith can be found here.

Three audiovisuals that were part of Grounded, (Wadlu-gnana; Freumhaichte; Who Cares for Country) can be watched here

The book that accompanied the exhibition can be found at Exhibition explanatory book

Educational workshops run at An Lanntair Gallery in conjunction with Grounded can be viewed here and here.

Joe’s educational video of me talking about the exhibition can be viewed here.

Photos of the Glasgow opening event are here. Glasgow workshops, talks and exhibition details are here. And the Digital Resources pages of the blog for further information are here and here.

An interview about my work with journalist Jim Gilchrist is on the Struileag website which can be read at Jim Gilchrist’s review or linked to here.

A review by Dr Kate Robinson can be found here. And you can listen to a cut down recording of “In Conversation: Connecting through Culture” at this Vimeo link. (16 mins.) (One of our afternoon events at Glasgow Festival 2014 showing). Or listen to some music from one of our Glasgow afternoon events here.

A radio interview with BBC Radio Scotland Voices of the Commonwealth, which explores some of the concepts behind Grounded, is now available for listening to here.

My artist biography can be linked to here and here and my personal website is here

The introductory page for the blog can be found here.

The Grounded residency diary entries begin here in Scotland and then in Australia here. This is a record of my thoughts whilst gathering the material. These thoughts and images inform the production but are not part of the final exhibition.

Some other sites that link to Grounded can be found here

Funder acknowledgements can be viewed here

Grounded begins its Australia tour

We had a lovely first night of the Australia tour of Grounded – thank you Flying Arts Alliance and John Mullins Memorial Art Gallery. The exhibition is open in Miles, Queensland from 24 July to 8 September.  The accompanying 1-day Masterclass was lots of fun. A great group of enthusiastic photographers from the surrounding properties and nearby towns were a real pleasure to work with. The exhibition opens next at Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts in Brisbane, opening 30 September (to 17 October). The accompanying masterclass in Brisbane is on Sunday 11 October (bookable through Flying Arts Alliance ).

australia

Jim Crombie, an Elder of Wangkangurru country. He was born here, beside a sacred fish hole. Kunmurri, the Serpent, lives in the fish hole and protects the fish. When the Two Boys from the Thutirla Pula story arrived at Ngalpura-ngura (the Fish Hole), they had a corroboree where they confirmed the places and names and set laws and songs for the country. The serpent was invited to stay.

5B Canon MacQueen

Canon Angus MacQueen with his cat, Mizzy. Alongside her brother Fionn, (named after one of the great guardians of the Celtic people), the cats watch over Canon MacQueen in his retirement. Canon MacQueen is strongly connected with his Gaelic heritage. He says of the Gaelic language, whoever invented it must have been sitting on a hillside watching the ocean and the birds.

For those new to the blog, the Grounded exhibition, a commission by Glasgow Life for Festival 2014 XX Commonwealth Games, has also shown since at An Lanntair Art Gallery in Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, as a partner event at Hebtember Festival.

Feedback on the Glasgow Festival 2014, XX Commonwealth Games exhibition can be linked to here.

Three audiovisuals that were part of Grounded, (Wadlu-gnana; Freumhaichte; Who Cares for Country) can be watched here

The book that accompanied the exhibition can be found at Exhibition explanatory book

You can also link to information about the exhibition at these links: Introductory panel in English and Introductory panel in Gaelic.

Educational workshops run at An Lanntair Gallery in conjunction with Grounded can be viewed here and here.

The Colour of Language frieze is growing and now almost big enough to cover a wall at An Lanntair Gallery in Stornoway, with the latest additions by some children from Hazelwood North school in Gippsland, Australia. The Colour of Language arts educational project came out of Grounded’s showing at An Lanntair in Stornoway, Scotland. If you are interested in joining in you can contact me through this blog here.

Joe’s educational video of me talking about the exhibition can be viewed here.

Photos of the Glasgow opening event are here. Glasgow workshops, talks and exhibition details are here. And the Digital Resources pages of the blog for further information are here and here.

An interview about my work with journalist Jim Gilchrist is on the Struileag website which can be read at Jim Gilchrist’s review or linked to here. And a response to the Alice Springs jail post by Professor Smith can be found here. A review by Dr Kate Robinson can be found here. And you can listen to a cut down recording of “In Conversation: Connecting through Culture” at this Vimeo link. (16 mins.) (One of our afternoon events at Glasgow Festival 2014 showing). Or listen to some music from one of our Glasgow afternoon events here.

A radio interview with BBC Radio Scotland Voices of the Commonwealth, which explores some of the concepts behind Grounded, is now available for listening to here.

My artist biography can be linked to here and here and my personal website is here

The introductory page for the blog can be found here.

The Grounded residency diary entries begin here in Scotland and then in Australia here. This is a record of my thoughts whilst gathering the material. These thoughts and images inform the production but are not part of the final exhibition.

Some other sites that link to Grounded can be found here

Funder acknowledgements can be viewed here

Grounded starts its Australian tour

Arriving at the Gaelic Cultural Space with the photos

Arriving at the Gaelic Cultural Space with the photos

It seems such a long time since we unpacked the photos for Festival 2014, Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, but it is very exciting that the photos have made it to Australia with the wonderful support of Flying Arts Alliance to produce the exhibition again here. The launch is at John Mullins Memorial Art Gallery in Miles, Queensland, opening 24 July to 8 September, with an accompanying 1-day Masterclass on 25 July. Coming next to Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts in Brisbane opening 30 September at 6pm (to 17 October).

big-red-simpson-desert-munga-thirri-national-park2

Munga-Thirri (Simpson Desert)

seaweed-harvest

Lewis on Isle of Lewis; seaweed harvest

For those new to the blog, the Grounded exhibition, a commission by Glasgow Life for Festival 2014 XX Commonwealth Games, has also shown since at An Lanntair Art Gallery in Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, as a partner event at Hebtember Festival.

Feedback on the Glasgow Festival 2014, XX Commonwealth Games exhibition can be linked to here.

Three audiovisuals that were part of Grounded, (Wadlu-gnana; Freumhaichte; Who Cares for Country) can be watched here

The book that accompanied the exhibition can be found at Exhibition explanatory book

You can also link to information about the exhibition at these links: Introductory panel in English and Introductory panel in Gaelic.

Educational workshops run at An Lanntair Gallery in conjunction with Grounded can be viewed here and here.

The Colour of Language frieze is growing and now almost big enough to cover a wall at An Lanntair Gallery in Stornoway, with the latest additions by some children from Hazelwood North school in Gippsland, Australia. The Colour of Language arts educational project came out of Grounded’s showing at An Lanntair in Stornoway, Scotland. If you are interested in joining in you can contact me through this blog here.

Joe’s educational video of me talking about the exhibition can be viewed here.

Photos of the Glasgow opening event are here. Glasgow workshops, talks and exhibition details are here. And the Digital Resources pages of the blog for further information are here and here.

An interview about my work with journalist Jim Gilchrist is on the Struileag website which can be read at Jim Gilchrist’s review or linked to here. And a response to the Alice Springs jail post by Professor Smith can be found here. A review by Dr Kate Robinson can be found here. And you can listen to a cut down recording of “In Conversation: Connecting through Culture” at this Vimeo link. (16 mins.) (One of our afternoon events at Glasgow Festival 2014 showing). Or listen to some music from one of our Glasgow afternoon events here.

A radio interview with BBC Radio Scotland Voices of the Commonwealth, which explores some of the concepts behind Grounded, is now available for listening to here.

My artist biography can be linked to here and here and my personal website is here

The introductory page for the blog can be found here.

The Grounded residency diary entries begin here in Scotland and then in Australia here. This is a record of my thoughts whilst gathering the material. These thoughts and images inform the production but are not part of the final exhibition.

Some other sites that link to Grounded can be found here

Funder acknowledgements can be viewed here

Day 19, Ceòlas music, language and dance school

contract_11320crop

8 July 2013

It is the first day of Ceòlas classes and I feel slightly overwhelmed. I am here to record, absorb and enjoy. So much is happening all around; people re-uniting, a kitchen in full swing with home made baking and giant kettles of tea, classes beginning in piping, fiddle, clarsach, song, reels and quadrilles, step dance, Gaelic language … A hum of anticipation and excitement from those who return each year and know the ropes.

I am surrounded by Gaelic speakers, – of course! But the fascinating thing is that people are also here from many countries of the world – Japan, Romania, Germany, Canada, America, Austria, Switzerland – and they are speaking Gaelic too. My Gaelic consists of what I have learnt from the BBC online class, Beag air Bheag. This has been a great help, and a beautiful language to learn, though I am still in the ranks of beginners. But there is a place for everyone here and I am gradually finding my way to that place.

We have all signed up for two classes, a first choice class, which we do in the mornings and afternoons, and a secondary one, which we do between morning tea and lunchtime. I have signed up for Gaelic song and step dance, but I will try and go to all the classes, as I am here to record too. There are also Gaelic language classes between morning tea and lunch.

At the end of the day there is a crossover class, where classes merge – musicians with singers and dancers, to pull the work together for a final event.

It doesn’t stop there, and each evening there is a ceilidh or a concert – tonight a piping concert, and of course the music continues on in the hotels and the bars well into the night.

I am in the swing of staying up late here but the pace has just cranked up another notch!!

(Links to some Gaelic language lessons, some songs and the Ceòlas site are on the blog Scotland Digital Resources page)

Day 18, Ceòlas music and dance school and festival

9B Dance_11244

7 July 2013

The sun is shining, the air is still and breathless. It is the beginning of Ceòlas, a week of Gaelic language, music and dance events held locally in Daliburgh, South Uist, so I have returned my hire car to be on foot again.

I can’t but help feel pleased; my feet pat-patting on the ground as I walk the couple of miles to Gaelic Mass and Ceòlas registration, past the red clover and deep yellow Iris at the roadside, the hills rolling along the horizon. I could not have managed without the car for all the miles I have driven, the length and breadth of the Hebrides to meet people. But now, without it, I feel instantly more connected, and an air of anticipation creeps through the soles of my feet from the ground on which I walk.

Gaelic Mass – the start of Ceòlas .The church is full, the singing translucently clear. In the church I am captivated by measured movements, children in white passing back and forth in ritual altar duties; and at communion by the solemn procession of the congregation, young and old and everything between. There is a very three-dimensional feel to the ceremony, a community revolving around the central pillar of its faith. I am generously allowed to record this service.

At the end of the service a piper pipes the congregation to the hall across the road. A table inside is laid deep with cakes and scones; pancakes and sandwiches. Large pots of tea are steaming ready. We collect our information folders for the upcoming school. I start to meet some of the participants and I have a feeling of being on the edge of something wonderful – a whole week dedicated to music and dance and language; a celebration of what it is to be a Gael.

After registration I walk the few miles along the country roads to Rona’s family home. I was introduced to Rona in Glasgow as the Gaelic Arts Producer for Glasgow City Council. Without Rona, I wouldn’t be here; and without the support of Ceòlas, I wouldn’t be here.

Rona can trace her family on Uist back to around 904AD, as a direct descendent of the Clanranald section of the MacDonald clan, and we go to chat and sit in Cladh Hallan graveyard where many of her family are buried. It is one of her favourite places to visit. Rona’s lineage connects her to the Lordship of the Isles, and Flora Macdonald is Rona’s great aunty, ten times removed.

Rona left the islands to study in Glasgow and had stopped speaking Gaelic for about 15 years. But with the birth of her first child, she realised she wanted her children to speak Gaelic and started to make the reconnection with her heritage.

I am invited home for dinner with the family and after dinner we head out to the Ceòlas welcome ceilidh, the first song and dance event of many in the week to come. It is a beautiful introduction to the week ahead.

(There is more information on Ceòlas and the Lordship of the Isles on the blog Digital Resources page)

Day 16, Gaelic history, language & cultural devastation; keeping culture alive – spinning and natural dyes

1B bobbins_10324

4 July 2013

The road from South Uist north to Benbecula and North Uist crosses a series of causeways, some short and others long fingers edged with giant rocks, uncurling across the water. The wind is howling across the country, and here on the Western Isles there is nothing to slow its terrible rush to land from the Atlantic. My little car judders and swerves and the rain, when it comes, slashes sideways across the windscreen. But no sooner does it start than it is blown away and the sun appears, dancing on the wet bog cotton that pulls taught against its thin green stem.

I am on my way to visit Flora MacDonald in North Uist. But before I reach Flora, I drop in to visit Tommy, at his bicycle hire and repair outlet in Howmore.

Tommy brings me up to date on much of the history of the area. He says there is a lot they weren’t taught in school. The Lordship of the Isles which lasted 300 -400 years was just ignored at school, he says. I, myself, remember hearing nothing of the Lordship of the Isles when I was at school.

Here is some of Tommy’s conversation:

‘During the era of the Lordship of the Isles the MacDonald dynasty controlled the west coast and islands; the clans were united and lived in harmony. There was a council that made decisions and it was by no means a dictatorship. The people enjoyed peace and prosperity. But this came to an end in the 1400s.

The Lordship was not part of the feudal system. They probably considered themselves kings in their own right. So the Scottish government dissolved this system in the 1400’s, and inter-clan feuds came about as a result of the loss of the strong leadership.

The clans became a thorn in the flesh of the Scottish Government and The Statutes of Iona were introduced, aimed at reducing the power of the clan chiefs. Under the Statutes, the chiefs’ children had to be educated on the lowlands and were distanced from their clan members.

So, says Tommy, the early 1600’s, was the start of the downfall of the Gaelic culture.

The next blow came after the Acts of Union, the defeat at Culloden and the measures taken against the highlanders by the British troops, with the banning of the tartan, their disarming, the massacre of the wounded and the burning of highlander homes, with their cattle driven away.

The British government wanted to destroy the basis of Highland life, and they made it possible, for the first time, for the money economy to enter Highland society. The Anglicisation of the ruling Highland class led to the drop in the numbers of Gaelic speaking lairds. The chief became a feudal landlord for the first time and began to spend more and more time in the manner of London and the south.

So came about the continued devastation of the Gaelic culture, and the Highland Clearances of the 18th and 19th centuries, when Highland estates with large tenant populations were changed to more profitable sheep farming, and the surplus tenants were cleared. There were mass migrations to Australia, New Zealand, Canada and America as a result.

The Education Act of 1872 also led to generations of Gaels being forbidden to speak their native language in the classroom.

Tommy mentions The Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge. The Gaelic language was seen as the cause of the barbarism of the people. It was believed that if they could root out the language they could make the people more civilised and children were punished for speaking Gaelic in the schools.

Consequently a couple of generations were not taught to read and write Gaelic and could not help their children with the language.

This continued up until the Gaelic medium schools were introduced to remedy the situation in the last 25 or 30 years.

By 2008, Highland councillors were being presented with a report outlining the high demand for Gaelic medium schools. In 2013 the Scottish Government outlined a plan for Gaelic to be taught in every primary school in Scotland.

The children I have talked to on the islands are very proud of their cultural heritage and those I met who have not been brought up speaking Gaelic in the home wish that they had. They learn Gaelic at school and say they will bring their children up to speak Gaelic at home.

70% of the population of the Outer Hebrides have Gaelic as their first language. Perhaps in generations to come this number will be even greater.

As I leave Tommy and continue the drive north to Flora, I ponder the history, the influences of the English on the Scots, and the importance of the reversal of the cultural devastation. I remember my own experiences when, not with Gaelic but with a Scottish accent, I went for a job interview in the 1980’s to Pilkington Glass, in the south of England. I was told straight away I would not get the job because of my Scottish accent. I left without objecting. But I never forgot. Is telling the internet some form of redress?!

Aged seventy-six, Flora lives in a stone and thatch, one-roomed cottage in North Uist. Her bed in one corner is pulled over with a woollen blanket, a peat fire burns and her old spinning wheel sits beside the fire. Under a small window, set deep in the stone wall, she has a small table covered in a white cloth for her kitchen, and a little portable gas stove to supplement the griddle on top of her fire.

Flora dyes her wools with the plants around her sheiling. She explains to me about black crotal, used by the Harris Tweed people for distinctive orange/browns in many shades; and trefoil, used for the greens and yellows of the tartans. The green, she tells me, can be made using the water in the ditch, in which the trefoil grows, as it is high in iron. Another favourite of Flora’s is the Iris, which she uses with peaty water for the greens. The roots are pink and the seedpods also give an aubergine colour.

Flora spins at her wheel, sketches and writes poetry. She grew up, she tells me, in a remote and inaccessible part of the east coast of North Uist, And after living in Glasgow, as so many Gaels do, she returned here to the simple life. But it is hard she concedes. The wind is incessant and everything is a battle against the wind.

She serves me pancakes cooked on her griddle on the fire, and tea from the big kettle, and she sings me a spinning song; one of the thousands of songs that went with any activity of the day.

On my way back to Daliburgh, I stop off at Kildonan Museum where a wonderful display shows more on the plants and their uses.

I learn, amongst other things, that the name of the old Black House, taigh dubh, which I had thought originated from the open peat fire on an earth floor, tarring the walls black, in fact perhaps originates from the Gaelic taigh tughaidh, meaning house of turf and stone, but has simply been misunderstood as taigh dubh (black house).

There is so much to learn here and so little time.

Day 15, Warmth under a wild grey sky

5B Canon MacQueen

2 July 2013

The rain is scouring the Uists with horizontal needles, blasted in one raging gust after another from across a swollen Atlantic. One icy exhalation sweeps in, then a brief pause as the lungs of the sky are filled again, in readiness for the next wave of sharper, faster needles of rain than the last.

I am journeying to Barra today – across the causeway from South Uist to Eriskay, traveling the single track road that dips and swells around Eriskay’s coast, to the pier where we catch the ferry for forty minutes over a heaving sea to Barra.

I am going with Neil in his parcels van. He has 80 parcels to deliver to Barra. Deliveries there are Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Some days I deliver the dresses from the catalogues for the ladies, he says, if there is a dance on that night. And the next day I take them back again – wrong size. It keeps you in business, I laugh.

We drive onto the little ferry, and I am buried in parcels on the passenger’s seat, around my feet and balanced on my lap and between us, and all around. The ferry heaves her way into the wind, over a steely grey swell and into a thick veil of dripping cloud. But even so, when we pull into Barra harbour I can see how beautiful she is. The Jewel of the Hebrides, they call it. And despite the heavy lead skies the water is still a cool clear green on white sand beaches, the worn hills lumping and bumping to the shore.

We deliver a few parcels, ducking in and out of the rain, pulling open doors and dropping each parcel inside, before I am delivered to my first port of call with Calum McNeil, and welcomed with warming tea.

Calum is an encyclopaedia of knowledge and history, as are so many here that have lived the stories that they tell. He is also a fisherman and meets my idea of a photo at his fishing boat with an easy smile. We head out once more into the weather, down the garden path to his little boat bobbing at the shore. I am pleased that before I left for the Hebrides I bought an Elements Cover for my camera, and this is my first opportunity to put it well and truly to the test. We slip over wet rocks and make the small jump onto the boat’s deck. I ask Calum to stand in the doorway of the tiny wheelhouse and I scramble amongst the ropes and the slippery wooden planks to position my tripod and my camera in the clear plastic covering, pulling its sleeves over my wrists to operate the camera in the dry security of the cover. All the time I am battered by wind and driving rain and in the back of my mind I am registering what an exhilarating style of photography this actually is. But we don’t waste too much time out here, as the rain gathers and pools around us, dripping off our noses and sliding down our necks, and soon we are back over the edge of the boat and making our way up the path to the house once more.

Back at the house, Calum talks of his childhood and sketches a beautiful picture on my mind’s eye:

“ I was brought up beside the sea and the shore, that was our playground. Even the girls would play at the shore. They would have a make-believe house made up of jam jars and broken crockery. We used to sail small model boats that were made out of dried milk tins, opened and flattened and turned into boats by the older boys. We would sail them along the shore on a piece of string, especially when the tide was in because you didn’t have to slip and fall on the seaweed. We looked forward to the high tide every day”.

His imagery reminds me of a small moss-green wooden boat with a cream sail that my sister and I used to pull along the pebbly shore line of Broughty Ferry, by a piece of worn old string. The taste of salt and seaweed and the stickiness on my skin are instantly back with me; the blue and white cotton frock that my mother sewed for the soft Scottish summers.

It is early afternoon when Neil comes back in his van to collect me and deliver me to my next port of call, Canon McQueen.

At ninety-two, Canon McQueen is spritely and agile, and full of twinkle and life. It is clear that he loves life; and his snowy cat, Mizzy, that purrs around him as we speak. His other cat, Fionn, is named after one of the great Celtic Heroes and guardians of the Celtic people.

Canon McQueen is full of the Gaelic ways, recounting the freedom of life at the shielings as a child, never needing to come home for a meal as he knew which grass he could chew, which berries to pick, which birds he could catch at the shore; never wanting for food as he roamed the hills and the moors. Gaelic is the language of the hills and the birds and the sea, he says. You just have to sit on a hillside and you can hear the language formed in the breeze. “I was taught as a little boy that the ocean speaks, and the Hebridean ocean has much to tell”.

It seems no time until Neil is back again to collect me in his van, but the day is nearly passed and we have a ferry to catch. It has been a day of such warmth under a sky that tried in vain to make it otherwise.

(The story of Fionn and some more information on Barra can be found on the Digital Resources page of the blog)