Festubert commemoration

Issued on behalf of Skye Remembers Festubert 

Final preparations have begun for the special commemoration events taking place in Portree to mark, on the centenary of the Battle of Festubert, one of the earliest and most appalling of all the battles in World War 1.  

The enormous impact on the communities of Skye, Kingussie and Beauly, and especially on the shinty teams of these areas, is to be marked in Portree over the weekend of May 15-17.  

Events begin on the Friday afternoon with a series of talks being held at the Aros centre, featuring leading Scottish historians Professors Ewen Cameron and Marjory Harper from the Universities of Edinburgh and Aberdeen, amongst others.  

In the evening, a unique show, comprising music, poetry, readings and visual images with a stellar cast, “An Ionndrainn: Remembering Festubert” will pay tribute to shinty’s heroes, many of whom paid the ultimate sacrifice. The school children of Portree Primary School will mark their own connections with the past in the event which is to be held at Portree High School.  

The commemoration is a development of work previously staged over the last two years marking events in World War 1.   Presented by shinty commentator and historian Hugh Dan MacLennan, with musical direction by Gary Innes, the centenary of the battle of Festubert is the fixed point being used to contextualise the massive impact the War itself, but in particular this battle, had on Highland communities.  

Hugh Dan said: “The Battle of Festubert saw nearly 20,000 men slaughtered in a ten-day period.  It is our focus because it was one of the first great killing battles, which saw death on an industrial scale.  Not only that, but its impact on Highland communities is beyond belief. Skye lost nearly 600 men in the First World War. Twenty-eight left Portree alone and only 8 came back alive.  At least 60 men from Kingussie were killed in the Great War and half of them perished at Festubert. All this from a town with a population of 1,000 at the time.”  

One of the most poignant moments of the show is when Duncan MacGillivray of Easter Ross plays a set of bag-pipes retrieved from the trenches at Festubert, with a tune called “The Beauly Shinty Club” composed by one of two Paterson brothers who perished there, having captained Beauly in the Camanachd Cup Final of 1913.  

Former Scotland shinty captain Gary Innes of the group Mànran will lead the musical performance. Amongst the stellar list of guests are Skye’s Donnie Munro, Arthur Cormack, Duncan MacGillivray from Easter Ross, Allan Henderson and Iain McFarlane from Lochaber and singer Linda Macleod from North Uist.  Iain Anderson of the BBC will be assisting with the narration, with Somhairle Macdonald to read his grandfather Sorley Maclean’s poem in memory of Festubert.  

Representatives of Scots Camanachd, including Padre Hector MacKenzie of Skye who will be piping, will take part, as well as play in the shinty matches on Saturday. The soldiers will include one of the most famous piping and military names in Skye history, with Captain Robert Stoddart helping to organise the military contribution.  

Gary said: “There are extraordinary tales to tell and it’s singularly appropriate that we mark the shinty player’s and the shinty community’s contribution to the Great War. And the impact that had on the game. I am delighted that we have such a great musical line-up and we will also have representatives of Scots Camanachd from the forces to help us mark the events. This will be a very moving and memorable event, and in passing we will obviously pay tribute to another set of heroes who brought the Camanachd Cup back to Skye in 1990. We will have it on stage to remind them what it looks like!”  

There will be special shinty matches on Saturday May 16 at Pàirc nan Laoch, Portree involving Kingussie, Skye and the Scots Camanachd teams with the Kaid MacLean Cup amongst the trophies being played for.

On Saturday evening there will be a reception hosted by Highland council and the whole series of events will draw to a close on Sunday morning when there will be a commemoration service in Somerled Square in Portree.

Further details of the full range of the weekend’s events are available at http://www.skyeremembersfestubert.com/

Tickets for the Friday night show, which are selling very quickly, are available from http://www.skyeremembersfestubert.com/, Fraser MacIntyre Newsagent, Portree and The Top Shop, Broadford.


12 May 2015
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