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Two Ross-shire exiles feature in BBC feature on island life on Canna

By Margaret Chrystall

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THERE will be some Ross-shire faces featuring in a new programme about the island community of Canna which arrives on BBC iPlayer this week.

Fiona Mackenzie with her husband Donald, the harbourmaster, living on Canna.
Fiona Mackenzie with her husband Donald, the harbourmaster, living on Canna.

The BBC ALBA documentary Eilean Chanaigh/Summer On Canna gives a heart-warming insight into how the close island community lives and works together.

Formerly based in Dingwall, Fiona Mackenzie is the current archivistof The Canna Collection offolklor and pictures at Canna House, but is also a Gaelic singer and musician who freelanced for Feis Rois. Fiona also held the role of Highland Council Gaelic Song Fellow. She lives on the island with her husband Donald, the harbourmaster there.

Archivist Fiona Mackenzie outside her office on Canna.
Archivist Fiona Mackenzie outside her office on Canna.

Fiona said: "Moving here to work was a life-changing experience in so many ways. We both started new jobs when we came here. And for me coming to Canna to work as the archivist was a linguistic and cultural dream. The Canna Collection was my Gaelic song 'bible' for the last 30 years when it came to both performing and teaching. The first book of Gaelic song I bought was Folksongs And Folklore Of South Uist by Margaret Fay Shaw."

Though Margaret admits the only thing she misses on Canna is the theatre and concerts she had access to on the mainland. But she says in the summer normally she likes to invite musicians over for ceilidhs and concerts, as well as artists and writers for residencies.

And there's a first for Margaret in Solas: Margaret Fay Shaw of Canna, the second documentary on Canna, also on BBCiPlayer.

"It's the first time I have presented a TV programme. And our daughter Katie sings and plays the clarsach on the soundtrack!"

Bob Swann from Tain leads the seabird monitoring group.
Bob Swann from Tain leads the seabird monitoring group.

Also now living on Canna is Bob Swann from Tain, a retired geography teacher.

Bob leads the group of Highland-based volunteers who carry out the national seabird monitoring programme on the island.

The island was bought by Gaelic folklorists John Lorne Campbell and his American-born wife Margaret Fay Shaw in 1938 and they lived in Canna House until they died.

The National Trust for Scotland now owns the island and Canna House has a rich collection of historically important archives.

The documentary spends a summer with the residents to find out what life is like for them and how they cope with the challenges island life throws at them, from weather to water supply.

The island is also home to around 2,000 Puffins and 10,000 seabirds.

Both Eilean Chanaigh/Summer On Canna and a second documentary, Canna, Solas: Margaret Fay Shaw Of Canna, are available on the BBC iPlayer for 27 days from today.

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