New play re-connects young Gaels to Hogmanay tradition of storytelling

Fèisgoil working in collaboration with Bun-sgoil Ghàidhlig Lochaber, Bun-sgoil Ghàidhlig Inbhir Nis and Bun-sgoil Ghàidhlig Phort Rìgh

A newly commissioned Gaelic play, based on the traditions surrounding the old Celtic Hogmanay, has been undertaken by the three Gaelic standalone schools in Highland. Written by novelist, script-writer and actor, Catriona Lexy Campbell, of Theatre Gu Leòr, Oidhche Challainn, rekindles the tradition of visitors first-footing their neighbours and gifting a tale to the household.

Lochaber and Inverness Gaelic primary schools performed their own interpretation of the play as their pre-Christmas show and Portree will reveal their version early in the New Year. The play aims to reintroduce children to the art of storytelling, traditionally a very important part of seeing in the Seann Bliadhn’ Ùr(Old New Year) which falls on 12thJanuary. In each school children are joined on stage by parents who also happen to be professional traditional musicians.

The play was inspired by Bun-sgoil Ghàidhlig Loch Abar’s desire to reconnect with local storytelling traditions. As John Joe MacNeil, headteacher at Lochaber Gaelic school explained:

“We were very excited to see this commission take centre stage and enjoyed showcasing the performance.  Thank you to all who have supported the project in anyway”.

And this was backed up by pupils in the older classes, Shane and Emma who concluded:

“Oidhche Challainn was the best play in which we have been involved. It’s good that we remember the past. It was a fun few months and we would all like to say a big thank you to Lana for all her hard work.”

In addition there is a strong wish in all schools to strengthen traditional craft skills including knitting – a favourite pastime of the play’s festive fairy characters – the show includes newly composed music by Glenfinnan-based musician Ingrid Henderson.  Along with husband, Iain MacFarlane, Ingrid was keen to become involved in this cross-arts experience for children at the school. 

Ingrid said: “I’m delighted to have been involved in writing the music for this new show. It’s always good fun creating music to suit funny and interesting characters in a drama and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my school visits working with the pupils to learn the songs.”

The project has been commissioned and co-ordinated by Fèisean nan Gàidheal, but is very much a collaborative affair. The organisation’s Drama Officer, Angus Macleod, has been on hand to offer advice to class teacher Iain Murdo MacMillan in Inverness and Lana Beaton delivered weekly drama workshops in Portree and Lochaber. Eilidh Macleod and Angus MacKenzie are providing musical support in Portree with that role taken up by Julie Fowlis and Éamon Doorley in Inverness.  Fèis na h-Òige in Inverness provided lighting workshops for the children and Fèis parents and school staff have built an impressive set.  

Eilidh Mackenzie, Fèisgoil Manager, said of the project: “Fèisean nan Gàidheal is delighted to be working with the three standalone Gaelic schools in Highland on a project that draws in community through storytelling and song, expanding the vocabulary of the children involved and encouraging inter-school collaboration. We are extremely grateful to the schools taking part as well as the creative team behind the production and hope the children and the staff enjoy the experience. We were delighted to receive funding from The Scottish Government to put the show together and thank Bòrd na Gàidhlig and The Highland Council for their additional input in Lochaber.”

Creative Scotland The Scottish Government Highlands and Islands Enterprise Bòrd na Gaidhlig Highland Council Comhairle nan Eilean Siar Argyll & Bute Council