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The Feis movement was founded in the early eighties in response to a resurgence of interest in traditional music. At that time I worked as a freelance photographer and film maker in the Highlands and Islands. Then it was impossible not to be drawn to what was happening at the various Feisean that were springing up all over Scotland.
The first Feis I went to was in Barra in the summer of 1988. As I wandered from class to class in Castlebay school, it was clear that there was something fundamental happening to traditional music. Fiddles screeched, drums beat, children danced – an energy I’d never witnessed before was being unleashed.
It wasn’t just at the children’s Feis, but all around, amongst the tutors and those attending adult Feisean and events: there was a real feeling of optimism.
Over the years since then, a hard core of dedicated enthusiasts from all walks of life around Scotland have ensured that many of the wee ones of the Feis movement have become the big names of the traditional music scene in Scotland and much further afield. The Feis movement is a shining example of people working togther in communities to produce something far larger than the sum of the parts.
These children are playing at a Gaelic medium school in Carnish, North Uist, which lies in the middle of the Hebrides.
Although there are some schools where Gaelic is taught like Carnish, it is not compulsory in Scotland to teach children the language. There are many who see Gaelic as the native language of Scotland, but it hasn’t got the same official status as either Irish or Welsh have in there own countries.
Many parents of children in the Gaelic medium schools that do exist in Scotland are not Gaelic speakers themselves, but prefer that their children learn the language.
An Diugh means ‘today’ in Scottish Gaelic. Some say the writing is in the sand for the language.
Gaels speak of their unique language and culture. But the Hebrides are also populated by many ‘white settlers’. These incomers have been attracted by jobs, cheap property, low crime, fresh air, the surf, empty beaches, or to just escape. To these new locals, Gaelic culture is as valid as any other and can sometimes be exclusive.
Trying to make Gaelic appealing in a modern context is an industry in its own right. This picture was taken for Proiseact nan Ealan, (The National Gaelic Arts Agency) to draw people’s attention to the perilous state of the language.