Life of Skye Bardess Celebrate in Style

A very successful three day festival celebrating the life and work of the great Skye Bardess Màiri Mhòr Nan Oran took place in Portree between the 20-23rd September. The celebration was organised by The Highland Council, incorporating the Màiri Mhòr Gaelic Song Fellowship, the Dualchas Heritage Service, the Ranger Service and Taigh Na Drochaid Resource Centre, and Portree Historical Society.

The weekend began with the presentation of a short play on Mairi Mhors life by Taigh na Drochaid Resource Centre, in conjunction with The Uiseag Theatre Company and Paragon ensemble from Edinburgh under the direction of Ninian Perry. The play was performed in Aros to an enthusiastic and appreciative audience who all participated in the informal cèilidh presented after the actual play.

Friday saw Fiona Mackenzie, the Màiri Mhòr Fellow undertake workshops in the songs of Màiri Mhòr for Macdiarmid, Uig and Kilmuir Primary Schools and Portree High School.

On Friday evening a new portrait, the first of its kind, was unveiled at Aros theatre. Unveiled by Prof Donald Meek of Edinburgh University, the painting was commissioned by The Highland Council from Dutch artist Fred Schley and will hang for some time in  the Council Building, Tigh na Sgire, Portree before moving on to other Council venues.

The unveiling was followed by a most informative and entertaining talk on Màiri Mhòr herself, by Professor Meek who is the definitive expert.  His talk was illustrated with her songs sung by Fiona Mackenzie.

Saturday morning saw a walk organised by the Council Ranger Service out to where Mairi lived in Sgeabost and also visited some of her other ‘haunting’ grounds. Despite the weather this proved a very popular way of spending a Saturday morning and was concluded with the unveiling of a plaque in Màiri Mhòr’s memory, on the wall of the Rosedale Hotel where she died in 1898. The plaque was erected by the Portree Historical Society and was unveiled by Councillor Hamish Fraser, chair of the Council’s Gaelic Committee.

Saturday evening saw the staging of a major concert in the Skye Gathering Hall in celebration of the songs of Màiri Mhòr and of Skye culture itself. The artists comprised a programme of well known Gaelic singers and musicians mostly from the island itself, including Arthur Cormack, Mary Ann Kennedy whose family hail from Greep, and her cousin Maggie Macdonald, Ronan Martin from Broadford, Anne Martin from Uig, well known pianists James Ross and Irvin Duguid, students from Plockton School of Traditional Music Excellence, Fiona Mackenzie, the Mairi Mhor Fellow and Steve Gwyn Davies and Andrew Crichton.

The concert was chaired by well known Gaelic writer and broadcaster Angus Peter Campbell who kept the audience entertained between sets with his stories of the Bardess and the people around about her. The musicians presented varied sets of songs in a variety of different styles, both traditional and contemporary and the audience joined in with some of the better known songs.

Councillor Hamish Fraser said: “We are very pleased with the way in which the whole Festival has turned out. We had a variety of activities which hopefully included something for everybody and we are glad that we have been able, to leave several legacies for future generations of people interested in the work of Màiri Mhòr nan Oran – namely the plaque and the portrait, and also the songs and the stories of Mairi Mhòr which we have left with the young people of Portree and the surrounding communities.

Fiona Mackenzie said: “It was gratifying to see so many young people showing an active interest in their own culture and language and to complete the Festival with a concert of such high calibre Gaelic music and song has been a fantastic achievement. To stage a Festival such as this has been one of main ambitions since the inception of the Màiri Mhòr fellowship in 2002 and we will hopefully look forward to similar events in the Highlands in the future, perhaps celebrating other icons of Highland Culture.”

During the festival a Màiri Mhòr commemorative booklet was produced and all the proceeds from the sale will go to a learning disabilities amenity fund at Tigh na Drochaid.

The event was supported by Highland Council, HIE Skye and Wester Ross, Bord na Gàidhlig, Dualchas Heritage Service and Portree Historical Society.

25 Sep 2007