Mary Macinnes

Mary Macinnes is the chairperson of the local committee that organises the summer school each year. She describes the activities of the group through the year and the impact of Ceòlas on the local community.

Ceòlas operates on two levels. The main operation is really the weeklong summer school, but as well as that there is an all year round programme of activities and development. People would most generally think that the most – the school is the most important part, and that’s what I would say as well. That’s quite a big operation because hundreds of people come into Uist at that time. Ceòlas itself brings in about 200 people between the tutors and the actual students, and there are, sort of, followers, families who come, but we are also finding that more and more people are taking their holidays at that time of the year. So it’s quite a busy time for the south end of South Uist.

It takes place in Daliburgh School, and that’s an excellent venue because it’s bang in the middle of a lively community with all the kind of services you need round about. Eh, and leading up to Ceòlas quite a lot of preparation takes place in the community, where accommodation gets booked, people get ready, the school gets prepared, because it happens very quickly after the school closes and, em, it’s a very busy week really, with a big buzz in the whole of South Uist, particularly the Middle District upwards.

We organise quite an extensive programme of community and evening events, from cèilidhs, to dances, to lectures, to walks. We sort of try and put things on that will show to visitors particularly the beauty of our island, and how we value our environment, and how fine the machair looks, and how valuable it is that we have places where Margaret Fay Shaw came, and ruins from Peigi Anndra, and connections with the bards – all these things that are in the wealth of our culture we try and just give a snapshot to people who come.

During the year the Ceòlas board and committee use all the opportunities they can to develop partnerships with other organisations. Particularly we try and work with Benbecula College, who have music and Gaelic students coming into the island. And we also build relationships with other groups like the fèis and the piping groups, to promote tuition. We’re trying to do as much as we can to develop our young people.

As well as that we do promotional events. We work with other individuals and organisations, and preparing for the summer school is really an all year round business, because there are various things that have to be done in stages – booking all the different parties that are involved, and then planning the different things. Em, it’s not just a week thing, although sometimes it can be a bit hidden, and that you think it might just fall out of the sky, but it doesn’t. There’s a lot of preparation involved.

I would like to think Ceòlas is very important to Uist on a variety of – in a variety of ways. To the musicians, particularly, that they see that music is being valued by particularly people who come in. And that helps us to create a culture of change here and getting ourselves to appreciate our own culture. Particularly the language as well – that we see people coming from many parts of the world who are fluent in Gaelic, and wishing to develop their Gaelic. And that can put us to shame and shake us into putting more value on what we have anyway. As well as that we are beginning to look again at the beauty of our island, and also just it’s a time when people can have a good time and have a lot of fun. And I think even God is on our side. He’s starting to give us good weather now.

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