fèis, -ean, s.f. Feast, gathering, festival.
Fèis (plural Fèisean) is the Gaelic word for a festival or feast. However over the past thirty years the word has become synonomous with the Fèis movement; a group of Gaelic arts tuition festivals, mainly for young people, which now take place throughout Scotland.
A Fèis is an opportunity for individuals to come together to develop skills in the Gaelic arts – song, dance, drama, and traditional music on a wide range of instruments. Tuition is accessible and fun, but professional and effective. The focus of activity for most Fèisean is an annual, week-long festival, but increasingly Fèisean offer a full programme of year-round follow-on classes to ensure sustained provision.
The Fèis movement came about when a group of parents and other individuals – including Fr Colin MacInnes, Dr Angus MacDonald, Kenna Campbell and Isbhbel T MacDonald – on the Isle of Barra became concerned that local traditions were dying out and that island children were not being taught traditional music in the context of formal education. To address this issue the first Fèis Bharraigh was held on the island in 1981. A video with some of the history of Fèis Bharraigh can be seen to the right from a programme made by MnE Television to mark the 25th anniversary of the Fèis. Morag Stewart is the presenter.
Inspired by the success of this first Fèis, many other communities throughout Scotland established similar events. Today there are 47 Fèisean, each one community-led and tailored to local needs. Volunteers still form the core of most local Fèisean.
The skills taught at Fèisean are a highly-valued aspect of the informal education of young people, as demonstrated by the level of volunteer committment and parental support in local areas. Most importantly, the Fèis experience is valued by the young participants themselves. At national level, the Fèisean are seen by many as one of the most successful arts initiatives in Scotland.
Fèisean represent excellence in youth work in the arts and strengthening of community skills, and offer significant employment opportunities and good value for money. Committment to Gaelic language and culture is central to the Fèis ethos, and Fèisean nan Gàidheal and the Fèisean consistently strive to develop opportunities for the use and transmission of Gaelic language within the Fèisean.