More than 1,700 people join free online Gaelic language and music sessions during lockdown so far

Gaelic arts organisation continues to offer range of Gaelic education activities for all ages

Since putting all its usual classroom based lessons and activities online, Gaelic arts organisation, Fèisean nan Gàidheal (FnG) has provided free lessons to 1,718 people across Scotland and further afield.

Activities on offer have included Gaelic song and game sessions, drama tips and games, Gaelic conversation classes, CLPL training for teachers, and fiddle and accordion lessons, with participants from all over Scotland and even a few from Canada.

Fèisgoil, the formal education strand of FnG, reorganised several aspects of the service to ensure youngsters across Scotland were still benefitting from the Gaelic tuition usually provided in the classroom. Through the service it organises music tuition through the Youth Music Initiative and teaches Gaelic language to support GLE and 1+2 languages. Organisers have been overwhelmed at the response to some of the Fèisgoil activities, with demand exceeding expectation and have fully embraced the Bòrd na Gàidhlig hashtag #cleachdiaigantaigh with most of the focus on the GME sector and supporting families with direct access to live interactive sessions.

The Hùb Hàb early years theatre-in-education project is one of those delivered through Fèisgoil. Aimed at the 3-5 year age group but also suitable for young primary school children, during lockdown, the theatre production focuses on lending a helping hand at home, including Gaelic action songs all sung by Ellen Macdonald (singer with Sian and Dàimh), all written by Fèisgoil staff. These were offered to Gaelic Medium Education classes and have been extremely well received, with all slots booked out within a few hours. Around 150 children and their parents are benefitting from one of the 10 online session every week for 8 weeks.

One of the main projects delivered by Fèisgoil, is Blasad Gàidhlig. Blasad Gàidhlig, meaning a taste of Gaelic, was developed to support the 1+2 language part of the Curriculum for Excellence and supports local councils in delivering their Gaelic language plan in nurseries and primary schools. During lockdown, in a bid to encourage speaking the language at home, particularly in those homes where Gaelic is not normally spoken on a daily basis, children in GME have been enjoying song and game sessions with Fèisgoil tutors. Children from Glasgow to Barra and Inverness to Lewis have taken part. Demand was so high for the sessions, additional tutors had to be brought in to meet demand.

Similarly, a waiting list was opened almost immediately following the launch of a brand-new initiative, Caraidean Còmhraidh (Blether Buddies). In response to comments made by several parents, Fèisgoil has undertaken to lead a conversation-based project for groups of friends of primary-age children. These friendship groups are paired with a young adult Gaelic speaker for informal conversation.

Fèisgoil is also collaborating with the National Youth Choir of Scotland (NYCoS) on Wee Summer Sing, a series of song sessions every weekday morning for the next five weeks, culminating in the Gaelic Wee Summer Sing from 29th June – 3rd July, led by Eilidh Mackenzie.

And it hasn’t just been children who have benefitted from the new online offering from the organisation. Glasgow City Council is also engaging with experienced Fèisgoil tutors in one-to-one support for GLPS teachers. CLPL (career-long professional learning) sessions have been running for the past 8 weeks with teachers who have been involved with the Blasad Gàidhlig sessions in their schools, in order to continue their learning of the language.

Fluent secondary pupils and young adults have been able to engage with Gaelic speakers on an international platform through Café Bheairteis. Held every Friday afternoon online, each week there is a new guest to start the conversation and share their stories. Past guests, all fluent Gaelic speakers, have included professional footballers Roddy Macgregor and Calum Ferguson, BBC weather presenter Kirsteen Macdonald and husband, James Graham, CEO of An Comunn Gàidhealach, wild swimmer, adventurer and filmmaker, Calum Maclean, Commonwealth cyclist Kerry Macphee, female singing trio, Sian and fiddler and presenter of BBC Alba upcylcing show, Dreachd Ùr, Shona Masson. Upcoming guests will be announced with Niteworks closing this first term of the online Café and organisers are delighted to have been joined in the Café sessions by young folk living on both sides of the Atlantic. There is also a more formal strand of the project, Beairteas, which sees presentations and Q&As on different topics, offering youngsters the rare opportunity to hear in-depth talks from all walks of life.  To date this has included sessions as varied as the role of Gaelic speaking Highlanders in the First World War, led by Skye man Murdo Beaton and couturier Sandra Murray talking through the processes involved in high-end fashion.

These sessions have not only provided valuable learning experiences for a wide range of age groups across Scotland but have also provided much needed income for many freelance tutors and musicians across Scotland, one of the hardest hit groups of individuals during this pandemic. With no indication of when musicians will be able to get back to work, or when visiting specialist tutors will be able to get back into classrooms, the online work provided by organisations such as FnG, has been very welcome.

Eilidh Mackenzie, Fèisgoil manager, commented: “Every change in circumstance brings new opportunity and at Fèisgoil we have been keen to embrace the potential partnership between not just schools and Fèisean nan Gàidheal but also families themselves.”

“We fully appreciate the difficult circumstances in which many families and individual young people now find themselves and we are determined to help engagement in the Gaelic Arts continue and even flourish through these unusual times.  We are very grateful to the continued support we receive from some Local Authorities as well as our tutor group and individual schools.”

Steven Kellow, Projects and Funding Officer, Bòrd na Gàidhlig added: “We are delighted to see the overwhelming response to Fèisean nan Gàidheal’s online sessions as part of the #cleachdiaigantaigh initiative and to see so many young people engaging in the Gaelic language and culture during this time.  These types of sessions are crucial to young people with Gaelic and who may not have the opportunity to use the language at home out with school hours.”

Other activities offered by Fèisean nan Gàidheal have included song sessions with Calum Alex Macmillan, workshops on the history of songs with Margaret Stewart and learning Gaelic expressions with Alec ‘Bhaltos’ Macdonald. For further information about the schedule of online events please visit www.feisean.org and check out the Facebook page where you will find information about how to book onto upcoming events. If you would like to find out more about Fèisgoil and its offering for schools, please get in touch with Eilidh Mackenzie, eilidh@feisean.scot.

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