July 12, 2011 § Leave a Comment
An impromptu duet at a Ceòlas house ceilidh in Boisdale House, South Lochboisdale, by South Uist singers Kathleen MacInnes and Sineag MacIntyre.
Oran na Cloiche (the Song of the Stone) is all about the Stone of Destiny being ‘stolen’ in the early 1950′s – written by the Paisley Bard, Donald MacIntyre, originally from South Uist.
May 11, 2011 § 2 Comments
Guthan Nan Eilean (Island Voices) is a bilingual project that aims to collect video slices of life and work in the Hebrides, with a view to encouraging further community-based recording and language learning. It is run by Benbecula resident Gordon Wells.
The website has a wealth of links (150+) as well as audio and written material on all sorts of topics from Lazy Beds to local residents but if you just want to dive right in, the videos the YouTube channel are very accessible and highly recommended. I’ve spent a fair few hours watching and listening so far.
It’s surprising that there are so few resources / projects of this kind, it really is very valuable for documentation, education and communication of island culture, history and language. I look forward to picking up a video camera (video – how quaint) towards the end of the year as a long mothballed project finally finds some time and energy to get going.
Here’s some of Gordon’s work, film of Benbecula resident Archie Campbell demonstrating and talking in English (Gaelic is also available) about the traditional peatcutting process.
May 5, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Marlinespike: A metal cone shaped tool usually made from iron or steel that is used for separating strands of rope or wire. Marlinespikes typically have a knob on the wide end that can be used for pounding. Alternate spellings include marlinspike, marlin spike, marlingspike.
January 20, 2011 § 6 Comments
Mike Day is the director of a new film documenting the age old Ness tradition of guga hunting on Sula Sgeir. His team recently gained a rare insight into the men, the hunt and the culture that surrounds the annual journey into the Atlantic for food.
Mike kindly took a little time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions for the blog…
TC: How did you hear about the guga hunt and what particularly sparked your interest in making the film about it?
MD: I heard about the hunt from a friend while I was living on my boat and sailing around the west coast making a film about crofting. She wasn’t sure if the hunt still existed and so when I found out that it was still going strong I was very keen to find out more so I came to Ness.
TC: The hunters are normally very secretive or cautious about their tradition especially from “outsiders”, how did you manage to get permission to film the hunt in such detail?
MD: I think there was a lot of trust built on both sides, that and bloody minded perseverance made the film what it is.
TC: Who were your team and did they know what they’d let themselves in for?
MD: The team of five included four sailors and one non sailor, Andy, the producer. Myself and Andy were the only film crew. Andy certainly had no idea what he’d let himself in for in terms of the voyage, it was his first time on a boat and a real baptism of fire to say the least. The four sailors all had a lot of ocean sailing experience but none of us had experienced the continual bad run of weather we got up there on that trip. Confused seas and huge breaking waves swamped us on one occasion and we were knocked over flat in the water. My respect grew enormously for the Niseach men who once rowed and sailed there in open boats, and going right back even without a compass. I regularly thought about that on our 18 hour trips to Sula Sgier.
TC: Could you describe the approach to Sula Sgeir and the island itself? For those who haven’t been it’s hard to appreciate the remoteness and hardships faced by those who hunted there in the past.
MD: The journey isn’t popular with some of the hunters or some of our crew! It is rough up there with the current known as ‘the river’, that’s the first phenomenon you reach, not far north of the Butt. Sometimes it was like hitting a wall, suddenly it all broke lose and the sea just seemed to boil. Then there’s the shallowing bank south of Sula Sgeir within sight of the island, that’s where we found the big waves and the fun usually started. After sailing all night this is also the point where the rock starts to appear through the waves, looking mysterious on the horizon and very desolate. The skies are filled with welcoming guga patrols as you approach and by the time you arrive the skies are thick with birds.
TC: How was the weather and did you sleep on land or on shore? Are there still stone bothies, earwigs and peat fired pots of tea?
MD: I ‘slept’ on our boat, although in reality all I actually did was lie down and get thrown against the wall by the waves for a few hours. We headed for the shelter of North Rona at nights, which it turned out was only sheltered relative to the surrounding seas, which were monstrous. The stone bothies are still there and are well maintained, I heard there were less earwigs now, not sure where they would have gone, I certainly didn’t see one, and there are still peat fired pots of tea.
TC: What are your thoughts on the animal welfare issues raised every year in some quarters? Did you have any issues or reservations with the traditional catch and dispatch process?
The numbers of gannets is rising so I see no conservationist argument against the hunt. As far as the killing method is concerned, I never actually saw it, I’m assured it is swift. I don’t think any method of killing animals is going to be particularly nice, but I’d much rather have my meat free range than from factory farmed animals and mechanised abattoirs.
TC: How would you describe the hunters attitude to their various roles? Does the sense of importance and tradition still remain with them or did it seem like just another job they had to do to earn money?
MD: I think there was a great respect amongst men for the traditions and their ancestors who’ve been there before them. It’s hard to go to Sula Sgier and not be humbled by the history of the hunt and the voyage the men take.
TC: What were your impressions of the Isle of Lewis and the local people in general and did you learn any gaelic along the way?
MD: It was really great to have a chance to spend so much time exploring Lewis and getting to know the people. I didn’t get to learn too much Gaelic unfortunately, but I certainly learnt hardy hardy on this trip!
TC: Now the million dollar question. Did you eat the guga and what did you think?!
I did eat the guga, on Sula Sgeir, and I enjoyed it and ate every morsel of meat, blubber and skin! I was surprised by the meat, it’s really unique and I appreciated tasting this rare flavour.
TC: Finally, will you be back or was it a once in a lifetime event for you?
I’m sure I’ll be back and I look forward to catching up with everyone when I return, it was quite an adventure going on the hunt and making the journey back and forth and we met a lot of great Niseachs along the way.
The Guga Hunters Of Ness will be shown on BBC 2 tonight at 9pm.
January 13, 2011 § 2 Comments
The Guga Hunters documentary film is due to be screened on BBC 2 next Thursday at 9pm.
However, you can view a ten minute clip today via the link below.
I was surprised at just how young the film crew are but, for me, this makes the film all the more important.
This is what it’s all about. A new generation coming through, showing passion and belief, taking an interest, carrying things forward, ensuring a culture continues.
Director and Producer Mike Day, is seen second from left. He is a qualified yacht skipper and his brother Matt Day, second from right, is an ex-GBR Olympic team sailor and RYA Coach. Both have ocean sailing experience but filming the guga hunters proved a stern test of their skills. Aaron Sterritt, far left, has previously sailed across the Pacific Ocean from New Zealand to Panama. The team also included a marine engineer, Will Brown, right, (who came in very handy!). Will has extensive offshore sailing experience. Producer Andy Maas, centre, enjoyed his first nautical experience.
December 28, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Huidh! Coves and blones!
Got your Official Bord Stiureadh na h-AGOFR Calendar 2011 yet?
For those not in the know The Bord is the regulatory body responsible for monitoring the AGOFR industry. They ensure the quality of any “music” is maintained well below tolerable standards and that the subject matter of all “songs” is kept to a narrow range of Leodhasach-centric topics such as sheep, tractors, sgadan ‘s buntata and getting the cuiream.
And chust what is AGOFR?
Well, it refers to Avante Gaelic Obscurist Folk Rock a form of “music”, characterised by blinkered and parochial Outer Hebridean subject matter, combined with “unique” musicianship and “laxay-daisical” production values which arose in the Isle of Lewis in the late 1970s and continues today exemplified by chief exponents of the genre, Stornoway coves the Dun Ringles and Sandwick supergroup The Guireans (Pronounced Goo-thans)
This fantastic but entirely free PDF calendar contains pictyursh of many scenic sights of AGOFRic interest in Sandwick, Stornoway and Parkend. It also tackles the hot topics such a AGOFR fashion houses Smiths and Nazir Bros. as well as listing all significant AGOFR and island-related dates so that you can organise the life that you probably don’t have if you’re reading this.
The Croft predicts that the AGOFR Calendar will be a must-have for the offices of top business movers and shakers across the globe in 2010. And it’s not even next year yet.
If you want one let me know via email@example.com and I’ll pass on your details to the Bord who will do the rest…
December 25, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Spare a thought for our island cousins, the children of Iceland, who last night suffered a traumatising visit from Kertasníkir, or “Candle Beggar”, the thirteenth and final of the strange and somewhat sinister Icelandic Santas, or Yule lads, who are the children of the ogress Gryla. Most of them don’t seem to care if you’ve been bad or good – mainly they want to steal your food and wreck stuff.
Stekkjastaur - “Sheep-Cote Clod” – has peg legs, steals ewes milk.
Giljagaur – “Gully Gawk” – hides in gullies, steals cows milk.
Stúfur – “Stubby” – Steals scraps of food, also known as Pönnuskefill (“Panscraper”).
Þvörusleikir – “Spoonlicker” – Licks spoons.
Pottasleikir – “Pot Licker”, scrapes and licks pots.
Askasleikir – “Bowllicker” – hides under beds to steal food from bowls left on the floor.
- Hurðaskellir – “Door Slammer” – compulsively slams doors all night.
Skyrgámur – “Skyr Gobbler” – devourers vats of skyr.
Bjúgnakrækir – “Sausage Swiper” – devourers sausages.
Gluggagægir - “Window peeper” – He likes to watch.
Gáttaþefur – “Door sniffer” – Smells out your cookies and cakes and takes them.
Ketkrókur – “Meat hook” – Steals meat through the chimney with a hooked pole.
December 6, 2010 § Leave a Comment
An email from a reader of the blog from Nova Scotia, who is currently tracing his roots back to Scotland, prompted me to dig out a copy of Helen Creighton’s collection of Maritime Songs.
Helen Creighton was a renowned folklorist who single-handedly compiled one of North America’s largest collection of folklore and music, much of which would have disappeared forever if not for her tenacity, collecting stories and songs from the Gaelic singers of Cape Breton, French Acadians, the Mi’kmaw, and the Black communities of Nova Scotia.
The maritime songs are remembered by an older generation of Canadians, mainly from Nova Scotia, between 1928 and 1954. Many are home recordings, but what they may lack in quality they make up for in authenticity. In addition to songs of the sea, the unaccompanied singers tell of the supernatural, of love and the beauties of the land.
Her name became a household word throughout the fishing villages, towns, and farms. Though sometimes criticised, Helen ironically, in collecting legends, became one herself.
The links between the Hebrides and Nova Scotia / Cape Breton Island are abundant thanks to waves of mass emigration over the years and listening to the songs, including some in Gaelic, you can hear the connections quite clearly in many of them.