Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 633

Issue # 633                                            Week ending Saturday 18th December 2021
What About the Big Question Boris Didn’t Ask As Virtual Quizmaster? by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

Storm Barra was not named after the island of Barra? That’s going to kill the atmosphere in the bar of the Castlebay Hotel tonight. Barrachs have been partying out on that since they thought that storm had put Eilean Bharraigh on the international map. Sorry. It was actually named after a BBC Northern Ireland weather forecaster called Barra Best.

Mr Best is named Barra after Saint Finbarr in Co Cork, in the southwest of Ireland, his home area. Saint Finbarr was Bishop of Cork and patron saint of Cork city. No one is quite sure how our island got its name. Barra may also represent the name Finnbarr, some say. It seems more likely though the Old Norse influence brought in berr or barr - bare or rough. Others think it comes from the 1,257-foot hill above Castlebay known as Heaval. On it since 1954 is the landmark statue of Our Lady of the Sea.

The Virgin and Child, to give it its proper name, is not so well-known as Christ The Redeemer looking down on Rio de Janeiro. Same idea though. There are other local differences too. A summit in Spanish is cumbre. A summit in Gaelic is barr. Barr? You see, that could also be where it comes from. Ach, who knows? My head hurts.

Like Boris Johnson’s head? No matter what he does, pushy journalists give him a headache by keeping asking him about alleged parties last Christmas in Downing Street with his staff allegedly downing booze all night long. See what I did there?

It now turns out that Boris was at one of the Christmas parties, but only virtually. So he is virtually the prime minister. He may also be virtually an ex-prime minister. Now his excuses have changed. Last week they were that no rules were broken. This week it changed to Boris broke no rules.

Anyone can have their pals and a gallon of booze beside you and you can even be orchestrating proceedings but you are not actually at the party, but there virtually. Boris was indeed conducting proceedings because he was the quizmaster. Well, he wouldn’t have had the faultless delivery of John Humphrys on Mastermind or Jeremy Paxman on University Challenge.

Here’s a question he didn’t ask. Whose turn is it to be PM? Since Boris is faltering, the waiting wannabes are understood to be foreign secretary Liz Truss, home secretary Priti Patel, former health secretary Jeremy Hunt and the favourite by far, chancellor Rishi Sunak, or Dishy. And, it says here, another former health sec, Matt Hancock, has said he would consider the premier role, if asked. Wait a minute, I need to take my eyebrows off the ceiling after reading that.

So it’s either Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak, then. And I don’t think it’ll be Liz Truss. Unless there’s a political earthquake even bigger than the one that gently shook the bejaysus out of some people in Ullapool at the weekend. Let us hope that is not repeated soon.

Like these ancient TV shows are repeated. Why are the TV companies not paying any decent money to make new festive programmes? It’s been the same ones for ages. I have just found an old copy of the Radio Times from 1968. I mention it in case anyone wants to know what is on TV this Christmas.

We still want classic films though. Having just recorded It’s A Wonderful Life for festive showing, I know it wouldn’t be a Yule without George Bailey of Bailey Brothers Building and Loan and the angel Clarence high up on the bridge in Bedford Falls. Besides, that plot really hurt my head when I initially didn’t get the twist about how George wished he had never been born and the angel showed him how things would be if he had not been. Oh yeah, I get it now.   I will flop in front of the telly with a can. Unfortunately, since I had Covid the other week, I still have no taste. So I’ll make it a can of Dulux and paint the living room black.

Well well, Boris Johnson as quizmaster? I can’t get over that. I imagine him saying: “Right, the nature round. This is one for the Civil Service so the Cabinet ministers must sit this one out. Can you name one of the Big Five African animals?” Someone shouts out: “Rhino.” Boris replies: “I know you do, Jacob Rees-Mogg, but it’s not your turn.”

New Research Into Iolaire Maritime Disaster
New research will help guide how the story of the Western Isles' Iolaire disaster is told and preserved for future generations.   The naval yacht HMY Iolaire was carrying home hundreds of sailors after the end of World War One.   The vessel was wrecked on a reef called the Beasts of Holm near Stornoway, on the Isle of Lewis, on 1 January 1919 and more than 200 men died.   The research is for a planned new Iolaire centre on Lewis.  The new project called The Iolaire Impact is being led by the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) and has funding from the Scottish government.   Dr Iain Robertson, Reader in History at UHI's Centre for History, said the research will look at how the tragedy shaped the Western Isles socially, economically and culturally over generations.  Senior researcher on the project Prof Marjory Harper, said: "As an historian of emigration and the Scottish diaspora, I am particularly interested in how the tragedy of the Iolaire contributed to a significant increase in emigration from Lewis in the 1920s, and to the long-term legacy."   Malcolm Macdonald , director and trustee of the Iolaire Centre Charity and author of The Darkest Dawn, a book about the Iolaire, said: "It is still evident that there are many family stories which require further research before memories fade even further.  Most of those who died were from Lewis or Harris, but many communities across the Western Isles were affected.   The last survivor of the Iolaire - which means "eagle" in Gaelic - died in 1992.   The yacht set sail from Kyle of Lochalsh on the west Highlands mainland on New Year's Eve 1918.   Making its final approach into Stornoway harbour on a dark night and in a strong gale, it changed course at the wrong point.  With the lights of the harbour in sight, the ship struck rocks at full speed and immediately began to tilt, filling up with water.   Although the stern of the boat was at one point just six metres (20ft) from land, many of the men onboard were weighed down by their heavy uniforms and were unable to swim ashore.  A public inquiry was unable to establish the reasons for the disaster.

Flying Santa Raises Spirits At Royal Aberdeen Children's Hospital
In Covid times Santa Claus has to find new ways to visit girls and boys in hospital at Christmas.   Safety measures have stopped him being able to go into wards at Royal Aberdeen Children's Hospital (RACH).   With help from the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS), he was able to 'fly up' to wave though the windows.  Fire crews raised Santa up, secured to an aerial rescue pump decorated with tinsel, to meet young patients and staff on Sunday.  SFRS watch commander, Matthew Cowe, said: "Aberdeen firefighters utilised their skills to bring Santa a little bit closer.  It is a very difficult time for the children. We really hope the gifts and the event is a treat for them and that it put a very big smile on their faces and made some great memories."   The crews helped deliver presents donated by Morrisons supermarket and bought by funds raised by the fire service.   Gifts were also provided for youngsters supported by the Archie Foundation's child bereavement service.   The foundation is the official charity of RACH and Aberdeen Neonatal Unit - providing services and support to sick babies and children.  Archie Foundation CEO, Paula Cormack, said: "We are incredibly grateful to Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and our sponsors.  It is so important to raise the spirits of sick children and families in RACH over the Christmas period."

Scots Urged to Limit Socialising to Three Households
People in Scotland have been asked to limit socialising to three households at a time in the run-up to Christmas amid concerns over the Omicron variant.  First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the advice would not apply on Christmas Day and that plans should not be cancelled.   But she said people should reduce their social contacts with other households "as far as possible".   Shops and hospitality venues will also be told to bring back physical distancing and screens.   Ms Sturgeon said that Scotland is facing a "likely tsunami" of new infections of Covid-19 in the weeks ahead, with a "very significant" impact on health services.   She said: "Before and immediately after Christmas, please minimise your social mixing with other households as much as you can.   "However, if you do plan on socialising - either at home or in indoor public places - we are asking that you limit the number of households represented in your group to a maximum of three. And make sure you test before you go."   The first minister stressed that she was not asking anyone to cancel their Christmas plans, and that places of worship would remain open.  But she said that people should try to keep their festive celebrations "as small as your family circumstances allow" despite the new guidance not applying on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day or Boxing Day.   The guidelines on social mixing will not be legally enforceable, but Ms Sturgeon warned: "Although it is guidance, please do not think of it as optional."  The first minister outlined a series of measures aimed at reducing virus transmission.   They include: --- no more than two people to visit a patient in hospital at any one time  --    visits to care home residents should not involve any more than two households at a time – businesses legally required to take steps to reduce the spread of Covid  --- the return of measures to cut down crowding in shops and at bars--- physical distancing and the use of protective screens inside hospitality venues --- a legal requirement for employers to enable staff to work from home where possible.   However, schools are to remain open, with Ms Sturgeon saying it was a "key aim to ensure that schools stay open if at all possible to minimise further disruption to education".   The Scottish government will provide £100m of funding to help businesses in hospitality and food supply chains which have been hit by advice to cancel work Christmas parties.   And ministers are working to identify new mass vaccination centres as part of a push to offer a booster jab to all adults by the end of the month.  Shortly before Ms Sturgeon started speaking, the UK Treasury said it would make extra funding available to devolved governments to accelerate the vaccine rollout and tackle the virus.   An additional 100 military personnel have also been made available to accelerate the vaccine rollout in Scotland, bringing the total number to 221.   The Omicron variant is believed to be spreading very rapidly in Scotland, with the number of cases doubling every two to three days.   The heavily-mutated variant is expected to overtake Delta as the dominant form of the virus this week, with the latest data suggesting it accounts for 27.5% of new cases.  The number of people in hospital has dropped by 20 to 541, but the figure now includes two confirmed Omicron cases.   Ms Sturgeon said that even if the new strain proves milder than Delta, the fact it spreads much faster could still put "significant" pressure on health services.   The Scottish Chambers of Commerce said there would be "disappointment" among firms about the announcement, saying the £100m of funding announced "will not go anywhere near far enough to cover the financial losses being incurred".   And CBI Scotland said the government "must show the same urgency in addressing the economic consequences of Omicron", saying "urgent clarity" was needed on what physical distancing and crowd control requirements would mean in practice.  Ms Sturgeon said the new curbs were needed to slow the spread of the virus while the booster vaccine programme is accelerated.   A target of offering appointments to all adults has been set for the end of the month, with the first minister saying the goal was to complete 80% of jabs by then and complete the others early in January.   Booster appointments will be given priority over the remainder of the flu vaccination programme, and the requirement for people to wait in a vaccine centre for 15 minutes before going home will be dropped.  Additional capacity for "drop in" jabs is to be added, while "additional venues" including new mass vaccination clinics are identified.  As well as extra funding to support businesses, the government has added £100m to the self isolation support grant fund, with an expected increase in the number of people asked to quarantine.  The UK Westminster government has confirmed that extra funding will be made available to the devolved administrations to deal with the Omicron variant.   Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: "We are working with the governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to drive the vaccine rollout to all corners of the United Kingdom and ensure people and businesses all across the country are supported."   Ms Sturgeon's announcement came shortly before MPs voted on new Covid rules for England which saw nearly 100 Conservatives rebel against Prime Minister Boris Johnson.   His proposal to make Covid passes a requirement of entering large venues such as nightclubs - which is already the case in Scotland - has angered many of his own Mps.  Despite the rebellion, the measures were passed into law as Labour supported them.

Farmer Fined for Digging Up Ancient 'Burial Cairn'
A farmer has been fined £18,000 for destroying a Neolithic site on Skye.   Duncan MacInnes used the earth from Upper Tote Cairn to help with a shed-building project elsewhere on his land.   The 59-year-old had earlier pled guilty at Portree Sheriff Court to damaging the protected monument, which is believed to be a burial cairn.  Historic Environment Scotland had written to him on three separate occasions about the existence of the cairn, a grass-covered mound.  The farmer used the soil for a shed-building project.   MacInnes owns the land next to the A855 near Upper Tote on Skye where the 11m (36ft) diameter, 3m (9ft) high Upper Tote Cairn stands.  The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service said MacInnes excavated part of the site between 1 and 12 December 2018.  Andy Shanks, procurator fiscal for Grampian, Highlands and Islands, said: "As the owner of the land this ancient monument sits on, it was Duncan MacInnes' duty to help protect it.  Instead, he showed a complete disregard for its importance when he dug for soil and damaged Upper Tote Cairn."

Rave Cancelled Over Threat to Vaccination Centre
A rave that would have forced Edinburgh's largest vaccination centre to close for more than a week is to be cancelled, Nicola Sturgeon has said.   The first minister was asked by Scottish Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton about Saturday's planned event at the Royal Highland Centre.   He said operators were contractually obliged to begin dismantling the vaccine operation on Tuesday.   But Ms Sturgeon said action was under way to cancel the rave.   In response to the Scottish Lib Dem leader, the first minister said that with the new faster-spreading variant of Covid now in Scotland it was "no longer appropriate" for the event to take place and there would be full compensation for the cancellation.  Ms Sturgeon told MSPs at Holyrood she wanted to increase the facilities for vaccination, not see them go in the opposite direction.   About 3,500 people were thought to have been scheduled to attend the house and techno music rave at the Ingliston venue's Lowland Hall on Saturday, which was to feature DJ Patrick Topping.   Mr Cole-Hamilton, who is the MSP for the area, said he had raised the issue with the health secretary on Monday, who had been unaware of the plan to temporarily move the vaccine hub.   He said: "The RHS wanted to do the right thing but to cancel would cost them more than £60,000 and there was no guarantee of financial support from the government."   Earlier, the first minister had outlined how she wanted everyone over 18 to have booked a Covid booster vaccination by the end of the month.   The vaccination push is being ramped up in response to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.  Ms Sturgeon said that Scotland is facing a "likely tsunami" of new infections of Covid-19 in the weeks ahead, with a "very significant" impact on health services.   She advised that people in Scotland should limit socialising to three households at a time in the run-up to Christmas and shops and hospitality venues will also be told to bring back physical distancing and screens.

Covid in Scotland: Record Day for Booster Vaccines
A record number of booster jabs were given in Scotland on Tuesday, according to Public Health Scotland figures.  Almost 55,000 boosters were administered, bringing the total number to 2,254,406.   However, the figure is still short of the 70,000 boosters a day target set by Health Secretary Humza Yousaf.   A speedy booster programme is considered vital in tackling the threat of the Omicron variant, which is much more infectious than other strains.  A request for military personnel to help Scotland's vaccination programme has now been approved, the Scottish government has confirmed.  An additional 100 military vaccinators will join 100 existing staff and begin delivering vaccinations from next week.   Mr Yousaf said demand for boosters meant people might have to queue at drop-in centres, but urged "everyone to be patient".  "The emergence of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 is adding to the winter pressures usually faced by the NHS," he said.  "Which is why we have again requested military support to complement our existing resources and ensure we can get vaccinations into arms as quickly as possible."   First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told BBC Scotland the Scottish government needed to do "everything necessary" to accelerate the booster programme.    "We know from the early data around Omicron being boosted gives you much much more protection against infection, which is why the focus is getting the booster programme rolled out as quickly as possible," she said.   Yesterday we did about 45,000, today it's over 54,000 so its going up all the time. Yes we need to do more - part of that is about shifting focus from the remainder of the flu campaign because the highest risk groups are already vaccinated there."   The Scottish government is aiming to offer all eligible adults a booster by the end of the month and Prime Minister Boris Johnson has set the same target for England.   The last time Scotland saw a similar surge in the number of daily vaccinations was in February, when the focus of the programme was on first doses.  A total of 58,267 vaccines were administered on Tuesday, almost 9,000 more than the previous day.   There have only been four other days since the start of the programme when more jabs were given.   UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid said a record number of boosters was also delivered across the UK on Tuesday.  There were 4,252 confirmed, probable or possible cases of the Omicron variant in Scotland as of 12 December, a Public Health Scotland report shows.   Cases have also now spread to all 14 of Scotland's health board areas.    It is thought that Omicron will replace Delta as the dominant variant in Scotland in the coming weeks.   An increasing proportion of cases with "S-gene dropout" have been detected in Scotland since last month.   The S-gene dropout can be detected by analysing a PCR test and is considered a good indication the case is caused by the new strain.   This characteristic accounted for 0.2% of cases on 27 November, but has now risen to 22.6%.   Total cases have now been rising in Scotland since the end of November after a relatively long period of stability, with particularly sharp increases recorded in recent days.

Scottish Government May Have Broken Law in Steel Mill Deal
The Scottish government may have broken state aid rules while facilitating the sale of a Motherwell steelworks in 2016, MSPs have been told.   The government acted as an intermediary in the transfer of the Dalzell plant from Tata Steel to Liberty House.   But the deal has been reviewed in light of concerns about GFG Alliance, the parent company of the new owners.  Business minister Ivan McKee said it had revealed a clause in the contract that could have broken state aid rules.  The clause had committed the government to protecting Tata from future costs if Liberty were to go bust.  Mr McKee said this was "no longer valid" and "unenforceable", and that liability could pass back to the previous owners.   However Tata said on Wednesday that it considered the deal to be "valid and binding in all aspects".  The Scottish government has asked UK ministers to refer the matter to the European Commission.  It could fall to European courts to rule on whether state aid rules were broken - and who would ultimately be liable for future costs.   Two steel mills, at Dalzell and Clydebridge, were mothballed by Tata Steel in late 2015. The following year the Scottish government stepped in to facilitate their sale to Liberty House to save local jobs.   The government bought the sites for £1, then immediately sold them on to the new owner, Sanjeev Gupta.   First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was present at the handover, and personally reopened the Dalzell steelworks later that year.  As part of the deal, ministers agreed to protect Tata Steel from potential future costs for the Dalzell site, while Liberty House - and its parent company, GFG Alliance - made a similar commitment to the government.  The government said it was acknowledged at the time that this "back-to-back indemnities" approach was "untested" and "novel", but that it had been advised that it could go ahead.  However a review has now found that the clause granting indemnity to Tata "may represent state aid" - even though, as Mr McKee stressed, no money has changed hands.  The minister said that the clause was "no longer valid", and that if the current owners of the plant were to fold, costs for environmental remediation at the site could ultimately be passed back to previous operators.   Mr McKee underlined that "many varying factors would need to happen before such a scenario would come to fruition", adding that it was "unlikely to materialise".   However, a spokesman for Tata Steel UK said the firm considered the sale contract to be "binding and valid in all aspects", and called for further talks with ministers.  He said: "In March 2016, we agreed the sale for £1 of the two plants to the Scottish government which sold them on to Liberty House.   This enabled steel processing to resume in Scotland. We believe this was a good outcome for the business, employees and local community.  We consider the 2016 sale agreement - which was negotiated in good faith between the Scottish government and Tata Steel on commercial terms - to be valid and binding in all aspects.  We would welcome further dialogue with the Scottish government on this matter to understand its position in more detail."   The deal was re-examined due to concerns about GFG Alliance after its main lender, specialist bank Greensill Capital, fell into administration in March.  This has raised concerns about the future of Liberty's steel operations, but Mr McKee told MSPs that the plant was "operating well, considering the current conditions".   The government has also previously been criticised over another 2016 deal involving Mr Gupta, where he bought an aluminium smelter in Lochaber.   Ministers offered Mr Gupta guarantees totalling £586m as part of the deal, a sum opposition MSPs have called "jaw-dropping". The government stressed that the guarantee had not been called upon.

Dozens of Dead and Ill Puffins Wash Up in Orkney
Dozens of dead and barely alive puffins are being washing up on Orkney's coastline.   Experts are investigating the discovery of the birds at Scapa and other beaches in recent days.   They do not yet know why the birds are dying but they believe it is unlikely to be avian flu.   Surviving puffins are being treated by vets, while the deaths have been reported to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.   Earlier this year a large number of seabirds, including puffins, guillemots and razorbills were found dead or starving along the eastern coast of the UK.   Some of the puffins have been taken to Flett and Carmichael vets to be cared for, and are being given rehydration fluids.   Vet Leah Hunter told BBC Radio Orkney: "Puffins have been found especially on Scapa beach and quite a lot of them have been washed up dead, or very cold or very weak.   After we warmed one up and had given it some fluids it seems to be responding really well.   If you think they are struggling and in need of help I would recommend bringing them down or giving us a call. If you are moving a puffin I would advise strict hygiene, if you've got gloves wear them   There's a couple of different theories, one including the recent storms."    The Scottish Government said it was working closely with a range of organisations to investigate causes of this "unusual and distressing event".   A spokesperson said: "Vessels from the Scottish Government's Marine Scotland Directorate collected water, plankton and fish samples from the east coast of Scotland to investigate the presence of harmful algal species.   These are currently being analysed and we will report the findings in due course. Further work is also ongoing to explore whether changes in prey abundance or quality are a potential factor.   Wild birds can carry several diseases that are infectious to people, so members of the public should not touch or pick up any dead or visibly sick birds that they find along the Scottish coastline."  Prof Mike Harris at the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) is trying to gather data about the puffins, but said the early signs were concerning.  He said they have had earlier reports of dead puffins being washed ashore in the southern part of the North Sea and north east coast of Scotland, but more recently in Orkney area.  "The ones I have seen from Orkney are all breeding adults which is worrying because that affects next year's breeding population," he said.  "I think we can rule out avian flu, having said that we need to test more birds. This year does seem to be exceptional."  There have also been reports of some puffins being washed ashore in Shetland in recent days.

A Tiny Village Reviving Gaelic Culture By Sally Coffey  17th December 2021
Since the 1970s, the town of Eilean Iarmain has been at the forefront of Scotland's Gaelic revival. Now, a new generation of locals are ready to share their culture with tourists.  
The water ripples to the shoreline like a slow yawn as the little village of Eilean Iarmain on the Isle of Skye gently wakes up. There are deliveries for the hotel and pub, dog-walkers stop to greet friends with "Madainn mhath" (good morning) by the pier, and tourists breathe in the crisp air and sea views before deciding on their day's adventure. The atmosphere is unhurried and inclusive, be you a local or visitor, as is the Gaelic way.   Since wealthy businessman and Gaelic language activist Sir Iain Noble became the landowner of a large part of Skye's southerly Sleat Peninsula in the 1970s, the village of Eilean Iarmain has been at the forefront of a Gaelic revival in Scotland. The nearby college of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, founded by Noble in 1973, has grown over the past five decades from a handful of students to become the National Centre for Gaelic Language and Culture, attracting more than 1,000 students a year.  Gaelic, which had been the main language in Scotland for centuries, began to be dismantled from the early 17th Century onwards, beginning with The Statutes of Iona of 1609, under the reign of King James VI, which labelled it "barbaric" and called upon clan chiefs to send their heirs to English-speaking schools. Mass emigrations (some forced, some voluntary) of Gaelic speakers in the 18th and 19th Centuries didn't help, and the language was further undermined in the aftermath of the Battle of Culloden – the Jacobites' failed last stand.   Nevertheless, in rural areas, particularly in the Western Isles and other parts of the Highlands and islands, Gaelic speaking remained strong, though increasingly by the 20th Century it was confined to the home.   Prior to Noble's arrival, a lack of jobs led young people to leave Skye and look for opportunities elsewhere, and the Gaelic language was considered old-fashioned and at odds with this need to progress. Noble's belief, however, was that the Gaelic language could be utilised to stem depopulation in Skye and actually become an economic driver in its own right.   Decades on, Noble's theory has slowly been proven. Sabhal Mòr Ostaig is now one of the biggest employers on the Isle of Skye and a third of islanders speak Gaelic as either their first or second language.    The college has spawned a new generation of Gaelic speakers skilled in TV, business and other industries that have enabled them to create more jobs on the island, but now it's taking a more outward approach and thinking about how it can extend its Gaelic offering to visitors.   As a Londoner with Irish Gaelic heritage, I've long wanted to visit the village of Eilean Iarmain, and as expected it's a picturesque, though unobtrusive place. The restored Victorian whitewashed Hotel Eilean Iarmain and its adjoining pub, Am Pràban, which also forms part of the late Noble's holdings, dominate. If you arrive in daylight, you'll be drawn to the water's edge to look out across the Sound of Sleat towards the hills of Knoydart. It's like a Hollywood depiction of Scotland.   It's hard to imagine, looking at the little pier, but Eilean Iarmain (Gaelic for Isle Ornsay) was once the main port on the south of Skye. In the 19th Century, everything coming into the south of Skye came through here, from coal to the post, fresh fish to the news. People also arrived and, more significantly, departed from here, whether they were heading on short trips to Portree, Mallaig or Glasgow for work or to collect provisions, or to seek new lives abroad. In 1837, the William Nicol ship left here bound for Australia with 332 emigrants onboard. According to the Sleat Local History Society, many of those on board were forced to leave their homeland due to hardship and food shortages.   Spend more than a passing hour in Eilean Iarmain – you can also visit a stony beach, a knitwear shop, a Gaelic whisky and gin shop, an art gallery and a clutch of houses – and Noble's name will surely come up.   Not a native Gaelic speaker, Noble was initially met with some scepticism. Nevertheless, his love for the language shone through and today he is widely seen as the instigator of the resurgence of Gaelic culture in south Skye. This resurgence was no doubt aided by the deep sense of belonging so prevalent among Gaelic communities, passed down through the generations by those who left on the ships as well as those left behind.   "Because he was looking for Gaelic speakers [to teach at the college and work in the hotel], Iain would recruit from Skye and from the Outer Hebrides and then he would headhunt those whose families were from Skye but who, because there were no jobs, were working in Aberdeen, in London and further afield," said Lady Lucilla, Noble's widow. "So, he was reversing the brain drain really."   Today, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig is still the only college in the world that delivers its learning programmes entirely in Gaelic. However, Eilean Iarmain is by no means the only part of Skye where Gaelic culture can be experienced: "Gaelic is strong throughout the island – and certainly in the north of Skye, there are speakers and families that have always spoken Gaelic," Lucilla said.  But she believes the college and the hotel, which both provide a real hub for the community, were catalysts for changing perceptions of Gaelic across the island, which wasn't seen as very progressive, particularly among young people.  "What was amazing about the college and the young people going there, was that Gaelic became cool," she said. "I've seen some really cool youngsters who are very proud of their Gaelic, and they're just full of the usual spirits of young people but absolutely revelling in what they have, which is a heritage going back hundreds of years."  One of those young people is Emily Macdonald, a 15-year-old musician who has grown up around Eilean Iarmain and speaks Gaelic fluently, having attended a primary school in the Gaelic-medium.  As well as playing the bagpipes and the piano and being passionate about Gaelic song, Macdonald regularly converses with friends in Gaelic.  "At the age that we are now, I feel like we're even more wanting to speak Gaelic to each other, just to keep it alive, because it is really important," she said. "And to have this special language that we can speak to each other in, you know, is quite special."  Macdonald's singing voice is pure and melancholic, but it's the art of storytelling through song that seems to particularly drive her. "Most of the songs have been written by bards whose wives have gone away and such things, and they're singing from the place that they come from," she said. "So, I learn quite a few songs from Skye, because I feel like the whole area around me comes through in the songs."  Alistair MacKay, a freelance filmmaker, studied at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig and later returned to the island with his wife, Angela, to work at the college. They are now raising their three children on Skye.  As a student, he recalls many a happy night in the Am Pràban bar, where sometimes it was so packed with revellers that you couldn't open the door. He also told me it was so much the place to be that he remembers a local lad who would walk home at the end of the night down the lonesome Ord Road, a journey of two hours or so that seems treacherous even in daytime.  Sabhal Mòr Ostaig offers week-long Gaelic language courses over Easter and summer. There's also a busy program of music, Gaelic song, song-writing, art and traditional step dance, alongside a social programme of concerts, cèilidhs, lectures and dances.   The Skye-based arts organisation SEALL hosts events across the island, including the autumn Festival of Small Halls and the summer Féis an Eilean.  Nearby Armadale Castle does a lot of work supporting local musicians. Pre-pandemic, it also hosted a Gaelic Arts Week, which hopefully will make a return in 2022.  Few experiences can be more authentic than toe-tapping or foot-stomping along to a traditional music session in the wood-panelled Am Pràban pub adjoined to the Hotel Eilean Iarmain. Hotel Eilean Iarmain is also planning more cèilidhs and can recommend local guides.  MacKay believes the island has so many stories that can help visitors connect to their surroundings and that finding a local guide who can bring the areas alive is crucial.  "Having someone there that says, 'right that mountain there is Ben na Caillich, which means the mountain of the old lady, and legend has it she was a princess, the daughter of a Norwegian king, and she married a Mackinnon chief' and then suddenly you're like, 'right'. You've seen something in front of you and now it means something," he said. "It's connecting the land, the people, the culture and the sense of place, rather than just driving through a landscape and thinking 'oh well, it's impressive but there's no context there'."  MacKay says that though Hotel Eilean Iarmain has long had a Gaelic association and has been rooted in the community, other organisations on Skye, such as Fèisean nan Gàidheal, the Aros Centre in Portree, and SEALL – which runs events such as Fèis an Eilein (Skye Festival), a 10-day celebration of music, literature and theatre – have also long promoted Gaelic culture and encouraged people to slow down and immerse themselves in the island's rich culture.   MacKay isn't the only one to see the potential of Gaelic tourism. Earlier this year, VisitScotland began to advise tourism businesses on how to capitalise on this aspect of their culture. "Gaelic and its rich culture are an important part of Scotland's tourism offer and strengthens the authentic experience we know means so much to visitors," said Rob Dickson,  Now that international travellers are finally able to return to Scotland, having a meaningful visit, particularly one that may tie-in with their own heritage, will help enrich their experiences.  For my part, I left Eilean Iarmain determined to find the time to return for a course in Gaelic song at the college and reconnect with my own Irish Gaelic heritage. I will never be as melodic as Macdonald, but I think I may just be able to find some of the enjoyment in the singing that she does, and if all else fails, it will make a good story one day.

Hampden and EICC to Become Mass Vaccination Centres
Mass vaccination centres are to open at Hampden Park stadium in Glasgow and the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed.  The first minister's announcement came as she told MSPs the Omicron variant would become the dominant strain of Covid-19 in Scotland from today (Friday).   Opposition parties have been pushing for mass vaccination centres to reopen as the new variant cases increased.  Ministers want more than 60,000 people to be vaccinated per day.   However, Ms Sturgeon said that to do this the flu vaccination programme must be de-prioritised.  During First Minister's Questions, Ms Sturgeon listed a number of extra vaccination facilities, including Hampden Park, the EICC, Ingliston and Ravenscraig. She said more centres were also being prepared.  The Hydro and the SEC were previously used as mass vaccination centres in Glasgow - after the SEC had been transformed into NHS Louisa Jordan - however, both venues have since returned to hosting concerts and events.    At the earlier Covid-19 recovery committee, Deputy First Minister John Swinney said that on Tuesday 77,000 vaccinations were carried out - 18,000 of which were flu vaccinations.   "We have got to very high levels of flu vaccinations in the most vulnerable categories," he said. "We believe its a clinically safe risk to take to de-prioritise the remainder of the flu vaccination programme. That frees up capacity within the Covid vaccination programme."  Mr Swinney said he could not rule out the need to introduce stricter rules over the Christmas holiday period.   Derek Grieves, head of the Scottish government's operational vaccines division, told the committee there would be an extra 100 military personnel deployed to help with vaccinations.   He confirmed the opening of the extra facilities and said vaccine centres were extending their opening hours.  National clinical director, Prof Jason Leitch, told the committee the timing of the latest variant was "horrid".  He said: "We're at the foothill of the wave just now, which is why we're asking people to help us control that wave as much as they can. "That would suggest peak in January, that would suggest peak hospitalisations two weeks after that peak."  The number of hospital cases which will lead to intensive care and death are not certain, he said, but he added that early evidence from Scandinavia was "not encouraging".   The first minister said that even if Omicron's impact on individual health was milder than other variants, "many will still become severely ill and die, and the sheer number of people infected will present a massive challenge".   She said 45% of the 5,951 Covid cases reported on Thursday were suspected to be the new variant.

The SAHC still needs a Newsletter Editor. Do you have a love of storytelling or know of someone that does?  If so, we need a newsletter editor.  Please contact me to discuss this very important role for keeping the Scottish Diaspora informed through my email address  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it   I wish you all the very best and to remain safe and well in this troublesome times.
Malcolm Buchanan, President

Coisir  Ghaidhlig Astrailianach (Australian Gaelic Singers) is now back rehearsing on a face to face basis at Macquarie Presbyterian Church in Eastwood.  They are looking for interested folk to join them.  If you’d like to join - the choir is open to all, whatever your background.  The only pre- requisites are willingness to learn, lots of enthusiasm! And are DOUBLE Vaccinated.  A knowledge of Gaelic and/or music is not essential. If interested please contact the Music Director on (02) 9638-2625 or email him on: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Tickets for Brigadoon 2 APRIL 2022 WILL GO ON SALE FROM
9am DECEMBER 10th


Alaistair Saunders, Vice President/Publicity Officer
Bundanoon Highland Gathering Inc.
PO Box 74, Bundanoon, NSW 2578, Australia  Ph: 61 2 4883 7471