For this blog post I spoke with my Gaelic teacher from school, Shona Cormack. She grew up in Dunvegan, a small village on Skye. She spoke about what it was like growing up in her community, the different festivals and traditions there were while she was growing up and about museums on Skye and what role they have.
Airson an blog seo bruidhinn mi comhla ri mo thidsear Gaidhlig bho’n sgoil, Shona Cormack. Dh’fhas i suas ann an Dun Bheagan, baile beag air an t-Eilean Sgitheanach. Bhruidhinn i mu a choimhearsnachd aice, mu dhiofar feisean traidiseanta a bha ann nuair a bha i nas oige agus mu dheidhinn taighean-tasgaidh agus de cho cudromachd sa tha iad.
*Photo to come*
Introduce yourself (where were you born? where did you grow up?)
“I was born in Inverness in 1965 and I grew up in Dunvegan in the Isle of Skye. For the first 9 years, I lived in Uiginish, a little township on the opposite side of the loch from Dunvegan and from then on in the village itself.”
Describe what it was like in your community when you were growing up. Has it changed? Or is it the same?
“Dunvegan was a very busy and close-knit community – I had a lot of my extended family living in the same area – aunts, uncles, cousins etc. When I was young, there was a lot going on in Dunvegan – Brownies, Youth Club, films, Halloween Parties, Drama, Badminton, cèilidhs etc. As a child, I sang and danced at a lot of cèilidhs and as a teenager, I went to cèilidhs in Dunvegan Hotel every night except Sunday in the summer holidays. They were free and my friends and I taught the boys in Dunvegan to dance and they came with us to all the cèilidhs. We also enjoyed teaching the dances to tourists and people came back every year to spend holidays in Dunvegan. I don’t live in Dunvegan any more but I still think of myself as a ‘Dunvegan girl’! I don’t think it is such a close-knit community now and it no longer seems to be a centre for traditional music. That makes me sad as I feel I had the happiest upbringing I could ever have had there and it gave me a lifelong interest in traditional music. The community still seems to rally round in difficult times – eg when someone in the community is ill or needs support but it isn’t as lively a community as it once was and there aren’t the same number of events in the village or opportunities for people to get together.”
Tell me about a community tradition or festival you were part of. Are you still part of it? What do you think the future of this community tradition or festival will be?
“My mother and all her family were native speakers of Gaelic and it was important to my mother that we speak Gaelic even though my father was from Glasgow and didn’t speak it. My first primary teacher was also passionate about Gaelic and although we didn’t have Gaelic-medium education, we were encouraged to speak read, write, sing and recite in Gaelic. I started going to local Mods when I was five and carried on singing at them until I was in my twenties. (The Mod is a Gaelic festival of song, poetry, music and drama and Mods take place at local and national level). This, and the fact that my father was an accordionist who played at most of the local dances, instilled in me a real interest in traditional music and I still go to the local and National Mod with my family every year. My husband and I encouraged our three children to appreciate their culture and they too are very committed to Gaelic and to traditional music and have attended the Mod every year since they were born. This makes me very proud as I feel we didn’t force this on them – they just automatically felt drawn to the music and culture that surrounded them in the house and in school. I hope in the years to come that their children will have access to Gaelic, Gaelic music and song and Gaelic-medium education.”
What role do you think museums have in communities?
“I think history is important to a culture and, as a high school teacher of Gaelic, I regularly tell my pupils that if they don’t know where they came from, they won’t know where they’re going. Museums are not particularly common in Skye, but I think there is a sense of history surrounding us – placenames, battle sites, ancient ruins of castles, peat cutting, old songs and stories, war memorials etc. There are some interesting museums in Skye – Giant MacAskill in Dunvegan, the Museum of Highland Life where you can experience life in a blackhouse and the Ceumannan museum in Trotternish where you can go right back to when dinosaurs roamed Skye. I feel that local history and local culture should be taught to all children living in the community. I think Portree, the main village in Skye, lacks a museum facility where tourists and locals would be able to learn more about Skye’s past, though the Dualchas Archive Centre in the Elgin Hostel does a good job of providing interesting exhibitions.”
What advice would you give to young people about preserving traditions and the community’s way of life?
“As a Gaelic teacher and the mother of 3 young people, I have spent a good part of my life encouraging young people to access the language and culture surrounding them. I don’t want to ‘make’ them learn, I want them to want to be a part of it and to see the relevance and appreciate what they have and what they might lose if they don’t feel involved. The young people are tomorrow’s community and I think it is vital that they are given the opportunity to speak the language and feel a part of the community. The most obvious way for them to do this would be to continue to use their Gaelic when they leave school, whether formally or informally, and to pass their interest and the language itself on to their children. Research has shown that Gaelic-medium education produces excellent results both academically and socially and I would urge young parents to consider Gaelic- medium education for their children for a huge variety of reasons. I would encourage the young people of Skye to have the confidence and the desire not to forget where they came from wherever they go in the world and I hope that there may be opportunities for them to stay or to return to the island once they have experienced life elsewhere. The new Gaelic school in Portree might prove to be a real focal point for Gaelic language and culture in the future and I hope that the indigenous culture continues to feature strongly in the lives of the young people of Skye.”