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2010 Exploring Gaelic Past and Present

After a busy few months of research over the winter we were delighted to finish and present our report in March – Exploring Gaelic in the North West Mainland. This work pioneered new action research methods, involved training a new fieldwork team to undertake research and enjoyed very high praise after its’ release. Sadly Ministerial change in how Iomoirtean are declared meant that this route was closed as a way of following through on this work via the proposed Action Plan. What has been learned is however being applied within other project work and the Scourie pre-school Gaelic club – Nan Dainserain – has forged ahead brilliantly. Next year they are planning a feis too.


Mackay Country was commissioned to develop a mobile exhibition of the Loch Croispol schoolhouse project in Durness. This was displayed on two occasions during the project and has been added to the Mackay Country archive available for exhibitions throughout the area.


During the summer and autumn the bough tent team – Family MacBough – were back out on the road at a range of local events. Our storyteller Essie Stewart and tinsmith Arthur Dutch were at Kinlochbervie Gala and The Durness Games in July. In August the team delivered a rich range of craft, art and Gaelic inspired activities at Belladrum and in Scourie in partnership with local volunteers and Nan Dainserean. At Scourie the team were joined by Ishbel MackAskill who did Gaelic Song workshops with all the local schools and an adults’ workshop on the Saturday. On the schools day Eden Court Outreach kindly sent Roddy to work with us. He introduced all the children to Gaelic animation using one of Essie’s Gaelic stories as a plot. The Friday night ceilidh was a great success and brought people from very great distances.


The Foodlink Stall joined us for Saturday at our base at Scourie Campsite. On Saturday afternoon we were amazed to be visited by Aggie Mackenzie of ‘How Clean is Your House? We were glad we had hoovered the Bough tent that morning! It turns out that Aggie’s mother is from Achriesgill. Saturday night provided another variation of the ever popular archive film night. All of these activities involved films, Gaelic Rock, DVDs, Basic Bough Tent Gaelic sessions, stories, tinsmithing and plenty of craic.


In October Rachel Skene, HIE, ran a very important event called ‘The Business of Creativity’ exploring how arts and craft businesses and voluntary groups might work on into the future. Our Secretary Ronnie Lansley made a thought provoking presentation at this debate. You can see the pdf on the website. A group of 23 Norwegian Tourism operators also requested a Mackay Country presentation and it is to be hoped these kind of links and debates can be built upon.


The Royal National Mod was hosted in Caithness and hard working volunteers mounted a great week long exhibition and events including a Club Mhic Aoidh event hosted in Scanandis and featuring the new dynamic trance outfit – Sketch. During Prince Charles’ visit it was wonderful to have older and younger Gaelic speakers hosting the stall – eighteen year old Natasha, just back from a year at SMO – worked with Essie Stewart at the stall and hosted HRH’s visit. He went off with a DVD of course. The Mod stall led to many interesting encounters and enquiries from Skye and Glenelg for Family MacBough to go peddling there in the future.


The Secretary has worked very hard to secure funding for the development of a plan to take our group into the coming years as a social enterprise – maintaining the zeitgeist that makes all of this diverse work so special but bent on also achieving better commercial income streams and economic impacts for the area. It is no secret that these are difficult times for funding and volunteering so innovation is crucial. This work is funded by LEADER and Awards for All. Strathnaver Museum is a pivotal partner in this work. The contract to do this work was let to UHI Centre for Remote and Rural Research and is being undertaken by a team which also include Tony Harrison from the Moffat Centre for Tourism alongside Amanda Bryan of Aigas Associates, Graham Scott an expert in charitable accountancy and John Cairns focusing on arts development. Three events have been held for local folk, committee and volunteers to think through what they see as the way ahead. Final plan and reporting are due in the spring.


For future years we are working to create a new project focused on the history of education in the north west mainland – ‘Hostel Days – Happy or Hellish?’. This will be explored over the next two years alongside research on the history of the Mackay Country Side Schools. A third important and exciting strand is ‘Moving Times’ – an oral history based exploration and celebration of the many positive impacts that in-migration to Mackay Country has made over the generations. Yet again the Secretary has done a huge amount of work to develop suitable grant applications for this work. These are now submitted and we await the outcome in hope and fear!


Meantime we’d like to thank Comunn na Gàidhlig for a grant to help replace the missing border markers or stone signs with Gaelic and English greetings. These signs will be back in action for new 2011 season.

In the past 2 months Family MacBough volunteers have been out and about on many weekends in east Sutherland cutting new boughs to shape and use for the new season – without that dogged voluntary work there would be no tent at all. The Sutherland Estates Factor has offered to set aside 5 – 6 hectares of ground for growing hazel in order to improve the supply of coppiced hazel in the future. Sourcing suitable hazel is very difficult since coppicing ceased mid 20th century.


A huge debt of gratitude is owed to the very large number of volunteers of all ages who work away in their own way at activities which help Mackay Country to survive and thrive. On the unending paperwork and grant applications are Ronnie Lansley and Frances Gunn. On ceilidhs and such are Sandra Munro, Janatte Mackay, Carol-Anne Mackay and Feis Air An Oir. On Bough Tent activities, Club Mhic Aoidh, exhibitions and installations is the Family MacBough team. In every corner are a whole lot of other people doing baking, providing pans of soup, offering B&B and a hot dinner in their own homes to volunteers year on year. A thousand million thanks to them all – we will continue to work hard and do our best by you all.

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