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New songs added to the Fuaran online song resource by young Gaelic singers from all over the North as part of ongoing Fèisean nan Gàidheal project

By Margaret Chrystall

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A free online service of over 100 songs has just been added to in a project which aims to inspire young Gaelic speakers to engage with the Gaelic culture in their local communities.

The songs are sung by young Gaelic singers from across Scotland, with the latest songs having been researched and recorded during the pandemic.

The Fuaran musicians.
The Fuaran musicians.

Fuaran, the heritage initiative was originally set up by Gaelic arts organisation Fèisean nan Gàidheal – to encourage a new generation of Gaelic speakers and singers to actively engage in the research and collection of Gaelic songs in their local area.

Over the last seven years, over 54 young people aged 16 to 25 have taken part in research, training and song workshops, led by a host of leading Gaelic song and research experts.

Last year, another 18 young Gaels joined Fuaran and 12 have now recorded some of the songs they collected from communities across Scotland.

The project participants first met online in May 2020, taking part in online workshops led by – Gaelic song researcher Jo MacDonald, director of Tobar an Dualchais, Floraidh Forrest and Gaelic singer and song researcher Gilbert MacMillan.

The young Gaels also received one-to-one support via video call from Gaelic singers Christine Primrose and Margaret MacLeod.

It was very heart-warming to read the comments of audience members watching at home

Earlier this year the singers were recorded in various locations across the country including Lews Castle in Stornoway, The Stables in Cromarty, The National Piping Centre and Pollokshields Burgh Halls in Glasgow.

The latest songs to be added to the Fuaran resource include a new setting of a poem by Lewis bard, Murdo MacFarlane, two Gaelic psalms and a satire addressed to Patrick Sellar, infamous factor of the Sutherland estate during the Clearances.

All recordings in the resource are accompanied by translations, background information and videos of the recording process.

The songs were researched and recorded this year by participants from all over the country, from the Isle of Lewis to Glasgow, and include: Finlay MacLennan (Kirkhill), Peigi Barker (Black Isle), Eòin Cumming (Gairloch), Rona Macleod (Bonar Bridge), Rory Cormack (Conon Bridge), Peigi MacVicar (Isle of Skye), Alice MacMillan (Point, Isle of Lewis), Calum Ross (Aberdeen), Donald and Evie Waddell (Stirling), Fergus Munro (Fort William), and Sophie Macdonald (Glasgow).

Finlay MacLennan, (Kirkhill) who chose to research Gaelic Jacobite songs including those in praise of Charles Edward Stewart.

He said: “Fuaran opened a new and exciting door for me; Gaelic songs are like a key to the history of Scotland and are a great way to research particular events such as the Battle of Culloden.”

Brother and sister duo, Donald and Peigi Barker, from the Black Isle, looked at the songs of siblings, Margaret and Donnie Macleod of Na h-Òganaich fame.

They came across a poem, Gille Gu Geingealadh, by the great Gaelic Lewis bard Murdo MacFarlane, a close friend of the Na h-Òganaich siblings.

When they couldn’t trace a melody for the song they put their musical talents to use and composed a brand new melody to set the poem to which Margaret gave her every blessing.

They added: “Taking part in Fuaran allowed us to develop our Gaelic language and research skills.

"We got help with the different aspects throughout the process; our conversations with Mairead na h-Òganaich were so helpful and we learnt lots of new skills which we will be able to implement in future projects.”

Rona Macleod from Bonar Bridge researched songs from Sutherland, including Hò ‘n ceàrd dubh (Hò the black crook) a satire to Patrick Sellar, the infamous factor often viewed to have had a great hand in the Sutherland Clearances.

On the song, Rona said: “This song attracted my attention because it is about the interesting character, Patrick Sellar. As well as that the song mentions some places I know and that are near me.”

Eòin Cumming, (Gairloch), who researched songs of Wester Ross, said: “There are several poets I could have chosen.

"John Cameron is an exceptional poet and I decided to research his life and work because the substance of his songs relates to local things I know well and feel a connection to.

"Fuaran was a brilliant project for developing my researching skills.

"I learnt some beautiful songs, discovered more about their history, and got to know the composer. I’m delighted to be at this stage and for the songs to be going live.”

Rory Cormack (Conon Bridge), researched songs of Ross-shire, particularly those of Gaelic poet, piper and artists, Angus MacPhee.

Rory said: “I began my research on the internet looking for songs from my own area, Ross-shire.

"After a short while I found a book and CD by Fiona MacKenzie both titled Òrain nan Rosach.

"After listening to the songs and reading the lyrics I came to the conclusion that I was particularly interested in Angus MacPhee’s work.

"There was something slightly magical about his writing that affected me and I really like the imagery he created.

"It was obvious that there was a strong connection between Angus and Fiona, so I sent her an e-mail asking for more information about Angus.

"As it happened Angus was a kind of mentor to her!”

Family connections with Easter Ross meant Calum Ross, originally from Aberdeen but now based in Glasgow where he works for DASG, researched songs of Easter Ross with a connection to the sea.

He said: “My forebears and family in Easter Ross were fishermen and farmers and because of that I am interested in stories, songs and anecdotes about the sea, fishing and land-use.

"It was a pleasure to be involved in this project.

"The team was exceptionally friendly and encouraging of us in our research.

"I’m extraordinarily happy that folk will hear the songs being sung anew and that that they will be heard being sung by a new generation of young Gaels.”

Researching songs of religion, Fergus Munro from Fort William commented: “I really enjoyed this project. We have a wealth of spiritual songs in Gaelic and I found two really good examples which shine a light on the kind of faith that people held in Lochaber 150 years ago and the important work that folklorist Father Allan MacDonald undertook in the Highland and his creative skills.

"I’m really happy that these songs are being given new life through Fuaran.”

Fèisean nan Gàidheal Development Officer and project co-ordinator, Karen Oakley said: “It’s with great delight that we can showcase the youngsters’ songs online.

"When the Fuaran participants first sung some of them for a live online concert as part of Blas Festival, it was very heart-warming to read the comments of audience members watching at home.

"Many wrote of the songs reminding them fondly of particular times or places and people in their lives.

"It shows how powerful and uplifting projects like this are to, not just the participants, but those with a keen interest in our Gaelic songs and culture.

The songs feature on the newly-developed Fuaran website which allows users to search for songs relating to a particular area of Scotland. Karen Oakley said: "We hope that it will be a great resource for people wanting to discover more about the people, places and stories and songs in their area and across Scotland.”

Fuaran receives funding via Creative Scotland, Scottish Government, Bòrd na Gàidhlig, Highlands & Islands Enterprise, Highland Council and Argyll and Bute Council.

For more information about Fuaran and to use the resource, please visit www.feisean.org/fuaran

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