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6 ways to embrace Gaelic culture in Argyll and the Isles!

6 ways to embrace Gaelic culture in Argyll and the Isles!
The centuries-old language of Gaelic is thought to originate from Ireland, first entering Scotland in Argyll. Though heavily suppressed during the Highland Clearances, this poetic tongue has survived to the 21st century. It’s still spoken by some 60,000 people, mainly in the Highlands & Island including parts of Argyll, and there’s a rich heritage of Gaelic song, music, literature and poetry that’s alive and well today. A visit to Argyll & the Isles is a great way to get closer to Gaelic culture. Here’s how!

1. It’s all in the name
Despite a heavy Norse influence, the majority of place names in Argyll come from Gaelic. The name Argyll is from the old Gaelic word ‘Earraghail’, meaning ‘coastline of the Gaels’. In Gaelic, Oban is called ‘an t-Òban’, which means ‘little bay’ and Iona is called ‘Ì Chaluim Chille’, which means ‘St Columba’s Island’. It’s not just the names of towns that have a Gaelic origin. You’ll find that lochs, mountains, rivers and other features in the landscape have predominantly Gaelic names or names with origins in Gaelic.

2. Meet a Mòd
The Royal National Mòd, organized by An Comunn Gàidhealach (The Highland Association), is Scotland’s leading Gaelic festival, with Gaelic music and song, highland dancing, drama, sport and literature competitions and performances. The event takes place in a different venue every year, often in Argyll towns. Provincial Mòds are also held throughout Scotland annually. In June each year the Oban Provincial Mòd brings a host of Gaelic performers to the town and September sees the Mull Provincial Mòd. Mòds are as much social gatherings as competitive events. They’re a great way to hear Gaelic language brought to life and to hear the language used in conversation. The annual Highlands & Islands Music & Dance Festival, held each May in Oban, is another opportunity to experience the best of Gaelic culture.

3. The Fèis Thiriodh (Tiree Fèis)
This week-long festival of traditional culture is held on the island of Tiree every July. It was set up by the islanders as a way to re-invigorate the old ways of Tiree. With classes for young and old, and evenings filled with dances, cèilidhs, lectures and walks, it’s an unbeatable way to immerse yourself in Gaelic culture. Gaelic language is used as much as possible, but people with little or no Gaelic are more than welcome. This year’s Tiree Fèis takes place from 4th to 8th of July.

4. Cracking céilidhs
A céilidh is a traditional Gaelic social gathering. Originally it was where stories and poems were recited and songs sung, but today it’s much more about the music and dancing! Céilidhs take place across Argyll & the Isles and they’re a fun and accessible way to enjoy traditional Scottish music. Some of the best modern céilidh bands come from Tiree. The Gunna Sound Ceilidh Band, Trail West and Dùn Mòr Cèilidh Band all hail from the island and provide a foot-stomping sound that will have you on your feet in no time! You can’t beat Skipinnish for authentic traditional Scottish music. Skipinnish Céilidh House in Oban plays host to the Céilidh Show, which gives an insight into the best of Scotland’s music, from fiery fiddles and beautiful Gaelic song to céilidh dancing.

5. Fantastic festivals
Tiree Music Festival provides a brilliant mix of traditional and Gaelic performers, contemporary Scottish rock and indie artists. It features bands like Mànran, which melds Gaelic and English, traditional music and funk, jazz and rock to create an unforgettable sound. Hò-rò is another young band that played Tiree Music Festival last year. Their music has traditional roots and features Gaelic songs, but has a number of surprises!

6. Head for the heritage centres
Argyll & the Isles is dotted with museums and heritage centres that give a fascinating insight into Gaelic culture. The Lismore Gaelic Heritage Centre is well worth a visit. The museum is the hub of the centre with displays about the history of Lismore’s landscape, industry, agriculture and population. There’s also a rebuilt cottar’s cottage. At Ionad Chaluim Chille Ìle (the Columba Centre Islay) can learn about Gaelic language and culture through a range of classes, courses and activities.

Header photo: Dùn Mòr Cèilidh Band by Hamish Hepburn
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èis Thiriodh (Tiree Fèis) Ṃd an ̉bain 2015 - photo credit Mod An Comunn Gàidhealach- and Graham Hood PhotographyTrail West
Cottar’s House - Lismore Gaelic Heritage Centre Ḥ-ṛ - photo by Findlay MacDonaldṂd an ̉bain 2015 - photo credit Mod An Comunn Gàidhealach- and Graham Hood Photography
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