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Còmhrachadh 300 bliadhna bhon rugadh Flòraidh NicDhòmhnaill le Stòras Uibhist

2022 marks the 300th anniversary of Uist heroine Flora MacDonald’s birth, and Stòras Uibhist will be hosting a range of events over the summer to celebrate this milestone year.
With funding from Community Land Scotland, the new temporary post of Flora MacDonald Gaelic Officer will oversee the celebrations whist also encouraging the use of Gaelic.
Bornish native Alana MacInnes will be taking on the new role and is looking forward to the summer ahead: “There’s a great programme of summer events happening and we hope to work with our local groups and businesses to support and extend the social summer schedule for the benefit of our community. We would encourage anyone with any collaborative ideas to contact us and come forward with any thoughts that they may have.”
Flora MacDonald is held in high esteem across the whole of Scotland, nowhere more so than in her birthplace of South Uist, where she remains a source of great pride and inspiration. Born in Milton in 1722, she is famous for her dramatic assistance to Bonnie Prince Charlie in his escape after the Battle of Culloden in 1746, an act of great bravery given her family’s alliance with the government and the danger should they be caught.
Flora is celebrated not only for her courage but for her wit and intelligence, disguising the Jacobite Prince as a woman to allow him to leave the island safely. She has remained an important figure within the culture of the islands, with many songs and poems written in praise of her and a dance created in her honour.
A number of events will be held over the next few months in conjunction with local organisations, dance groups, Ceòlas and the Islands Galore Regatta in August. Visitors will get the chance to learn more about this fascinating woman, from her dramatic encounter with Bonnie Prince Charlie to her subsequent imprisonment in the Tower of London and her eventual relocation to America during its War of Independence.
In a world where women’s contributions have largely been ignored by the history books, it is particularly important to highlight and celebrate her role in our nation’s story.
Alana can be contacted at alanacmacinnes@gmail.com

Flowers of the field

Early in June buttercups exploded into a mass of golden flowers, invading the roadside verges, spreading across the machair, proclaiming that summer had started. Brilliant patches of bird’s-foot trefoil and the pom-pom heads of kidney vetch crept along the edges of gravel tracks and paths.

Amongst the grasses and spikes of yellow rattle, frothy clusters of lady’s bedstraw flowers turned yellow and released their honeyed perfume. The days are long, but northern summers are short and change is in the air. The gentle, golden glow of early summer is supplanted by a cavalcade of flowers of a different hue. It begins quietly as a mass of tufted vetch creates a base layer of soft violet amongst the patches of white clover.

As July progresses the pace quickens, swathes of red clover weave through the grasses and the statuesque, creamy umbels of hogweed and angelica add a robust architecture to the floral horizon. The prickly heads of thistles add to the purple tones and their cousins the sow-thistles throw in a dash of yellow as a highlight. On warm afternoons this vibrant tapestry hums with life and a heady fragrance permeates the air. Alas, not for our benefit, as in return for a sip of nectar or a nibble of pollen, a host of pollinating insects help to ensure that there will be flowers next year.

This exuberant display is not limited to the inbye fields and coastal headlands; on the cultivated machair the patchwork of cereal strips is garlanded with the golden drifts of corn marigolds, tall spikes of lemony charlock, scarlet poppies and pale pink fumitory. Wild flowers or arable weeds that have disappeared throughout much of mainland Britain, but survive here because of the persistence of a traditional and sustainable system of agriculture. It is a reminder that our stunning displays of summer flowers are the product of a managed landscape, that requires careful husbandry and an understanding of the importance of maintaining the diversity of our plants and wildlife. You don’t have to know the names of the flowers to enjoy summer’s floral progression, just take the time to lean on the gate and engage with nature.

Christine Johnson Photo copyright: Christine Johnson

www.ohbr.org.uk www.curracag.org.uk

Islanders asked to share their views

Directors of Bòrd na Gàidhlig have been presenting the new draft Gaelic Language Plan 2023- 28 at a series of community consultation events across the Western Isles.

The draft Plan was published at the end of April and will be open for public consultation until 26th July.

This will be the fourth such Plan since the Gaelic Language Act was passed in 2005, and sets out the needs and priorities for the language for the coming five years.

The Plan is formally commissioned by Scottish Government, which directly commits £29million for Gaelic annually, with additional funds supporting the language through education and other public service budgets.

This new Plan will be the first under the leadership of local woman Mairi MacInnes, who took up her role as Chair of Bòrd na Gàidhlig in January 2019. Mairi spoke to Am Pàipear about the importance of the Plan to the Uists:

“Gaelic matters, and it belongs to all of Scotland. That message ringing out from the draft Plan resonates most for us here in the islands, where Gaelic is still very much part of everyday conversation.

“Here in Uist, we can see the value that Gaelic investment adds; we see it in high-quality, Gaelic funded jobs, in the schools, on the sports fields, in our arts and culture, and in the major projects we are developing together, like the new Cnoc Soilleir building that opens its doors this month. “These investments are as a result of the Plans that have gone before. I urge everyone to take this once- in-five-years opportunity to share their views and help us ensure that the next Plan goes further still to realise our ambition, both for the language and for the islands.”

Those who have been unable to attend the consultation events can still contribute their views through an online survey at www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/pl anagaidhlig, or by email to plana@astarmedia.scot, or by letter to National Gaelic Language Plan 2023-2028, Astar Media, 56 Seaforth Road, Stornoway, HS1 2SD.

The Queen’s Uist trip remembered

The start of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee weekend celebrations will be marked by the lighting of a beacon on St Kilda, the most westerly of more than 1,500 such beacons to be lit across the UK.

Her Majesty The Queen has enjoyed a long association with the Western Isles as this photograph, kindly loaned from the Kildonan Museum archive, shows.

The Royal family sailed into Lochboisdale in August 1956, and made a number of visits across the Uists, including to St Michael’s church, Ardkenneth and to the Alginate Industries factory at Orasay.

This photograph was taken at Sacred Heart Hospital, Daliburgh, where the Queen unveiled a special plaque to commemorate her visit, and enjoyed a celebratory meal of local fish, shellfish and lamb. A news clipping form the time quotes Her Majesty describing the feast as ‘One of the loveliest meals I have ever had.’

The same cutting tells that ‘4-year-old triplets Teresa, Mary and Christine Campbell Eochar greeted the Queen as she left and presented her with gifts for the Royal children’, something that Mary, now living in Balivanich, remembers well: “It was an exciting day for us three little sisters. We were all dressed up and transport was laid on to take us to Daliburgh, where we had the honour of walking on the red carpet to greet Her Majesty. We presented her with a length of Harris Tweed, which I believe she had tailored to make a coat for herself. It’s especially nice to think that after all those years, we are celebrating our seventieth birthday in the same year as Her Majesty celebrates seventy years on the throne.”

Glasgow Uni deer and livestock survey

The tick study project, which started in 2019, involves a range of local partners, including NHS Western Isles and NatureScot, members of the local community, as well as researchers from the University of Liverpool.

The project aims to identify the factors that contribute to current problems with ticks and tick-borne disease on the Western Isles, such as how risk varies across different habitats and the role of wildlife. This is done by sampling different environments on the islands of South Harris, North and South Uist, Benbecula and Barra for ticks and testing what proportion of them are infected with the bacterial pathogen causing Lyme disease. In addition, the project is collecting data on the mammalian species present across islands to better understand which of these species are important for maintaining ticks and tick- borne pathogens.

The researchers’ work has so far revealed that the local strain of the Lyme disease pathogen circulating on the Western Isles is associated with small mammals, which has directed their sampling efforts towards shrews, voles, mice and rats.

In addition, the researchers are interested in the role of hedgehogs, an introduced species. Jonathan Yardley, PhD student at the University of Glasgow, explains: “We are keen to collect as many samples from road killed hedgehogs as possible. This will allow us to test whether they are infected with the pathogen and to determine whether hedgehogs might be part of the problem.” The community is encouraged to report sightings of road- killed hedgehogs to the local NatureScot office.

Another piece in the puzzle the researchers are hoping to solve is the role of deer and livestock in maintaining tick populations. To help answer this question, they will over the coming months be conducting surveys of landowners and livestock keepers for the study sites previously surveyed for ticks.

Professor Roman Biek from the University of Glasgow: “The people on the Western Isles have been really helpful and immensely supportive of our research so far. So we are hopeful that people contacted will also respond positively to our invitations to participate in the livestock and deer surveys. Their answers will give us information we critically need to address the problems with ticks and tick-borne disease in the area.”

A local information sharing event to provide more detail about the research project and on how to stay tick safe is planned for late summer.

The MGAlba Director on the value of Gaelic media

It was certainly a moment for myself and colleagues at the end of last year as we oversaw the publication of the Lèirsinn: A Route Map for Gaelic Media outlining a bold and progressive future for Gaelic media, if it is given the tools it needs to thrive. A vision for Gaelic media that is rooted in the important role it has in our communities contributing to language development and engagement, as well as economic growth and a driver of home grown skills and experience. You can find the full vision document at mgalba.com.

Having grown up in the heart of Daliburgh, I took for granted that Gaelic communities and our culture would always be there. My parents had both an urban and island background and instilled in us the importance of the different communities we have. Gaelic was spoken everywhere I thought, in Glasgow streets, on Uist boats, at church and at school. As we grew up in an era of change, I don’t think I really understood the impact the increasingly wide world, not least through the television set, was having on our language. Gaelic programmes, although a highlight, were few and far between, with plenty other English programmes like Blue Peter and Coronation Street to steal your attention.

But those who did the hard work in ensuring we have Gaelic television service are owed a debt of thanks from those of us today. It can’t have been easy, but the digital world is key, and we would have been left behind a long time ago if they had not ensured that we had a Gaelic media service that would result in a dedicated Gaelic tv channel.

We now find ourselves in the position where we must ensure

that all the levers we have are enabled to ensure that our Gaelic communities, new and old, are able to flourish. And I fundamentally believe that one of the foundation stones should be Gaelic media. The impact of the growth of the media has not always been positive for our language. Yet, we can use the media and the changes in the digital world to enhance the future of Gaelic and its communities.

Don’t just take my word for it. A recent economic assessment of Gaelic media shows it delivers 340 jobs in Scotland with 160 based in Skye and the Western Isles. This coupled with a £1.34 return on every £1 currently spent demonstrates that this is an area with real growth potential and should be a focus as a key delivery agent when looking at addressing key issues facing our communities such as language decline, depopulation and economic generation. Figures like these are exciting, and our politicians should all be attracted to how Gaelic media could deliver positive outcomes for all.

What is holding it back is instability and uncertainty. Our Welsh cousins at S4C have stability through legislation which means their funding is determined through the Licence Fee settlement. They benefit from the UK Government’s policy commitment to television services in the Welsh language being enshrined in statute whilst its commitment to Gaelic media is not. The UK Government is committed to a Gaelic language television service but does not provide for one in statute. This insecure status contributes to its underfunded position meaning the Gaelic service lacks certainty, funding, governance and standing.

MG ALBA has been making the case for Gaelic media in order to see this inequality in statute corrected and asking the UK Government to fulfil its legislative duties and include it in the legislation which will be laid in Parliament as the Media Bill.

We are delighted that within the White Paper there is an important acknowledgement of the work of MG ALBA and Gaelic media in protecting Gaelic culture. The White Paper also acknowledges that certainty of funding is important. However, it does not state that it will address these issues in the legislation with indications from the UK Government that it would like to seek to find solutions for the issues we raise outwith the legislative process.

MG ALBA believe that the stability Gaelic media needs can only be provided within the legislation.

It is only fair that as one of the most important indigenous languages of the United Kingdom that it is treated with equality and respect. The result of this would be the recognition that our media will be embedded in our legislation, with the potential benefits which will be felt by our communities, our economy and our language for many years to come.

Agus, nuair a thèid mi dhachaigh a dh’Uibhist a Deas bhon taigh agam ann an Eilean Leòdhais cumaidh mi orm ag èisteachd airson na diofar fhaclan agus fhuaimean a tha a’ fàgail na Gàidhlig na cànan draoidheil stèidhichte sa choimhearsnachd.

If you would like more information on the work being done in relation to the Media Bill, then please email me at ealasaid.macdonald@mgalba.com

Howmore Church refurbishment

The Congregation of the South Uist Church of Scotland held a formal service of rededication at Howmore Church, on Sunday, 22nd May.

Howmore Parish Church was built in 1858 by local crafts people and has Category B Listed Building Status. Set on a small hill, the church is visible from the sea and over the generations has become a reassuring point of reference for local fishermen.

Over the last two years, the Church has undergone a substantial programme of refurbishment works, with facilities made up to modern standards, with a new kitchen and a disabled access toilet. The work has all been completed by a small team of skilled local tradesmen, and although the church was ready last autumn, the rededication service had been delayed by the Covid 19 restrictions. Members of the congregation were welcomed by a selection of pipe tunes played by Liam Crouse.

The service was led by the Minister, the Rev Dr Lindsay Schluter, with contributions from the retired Minister, Rev Jackie Petrie, Fr Michael MacDonald, Martin Matheson, and two of the younger members of the congregation, Catriona and Sine Macleod.

During the service, members were invited to sit at a long central communion table, one of very few such tables still in use nationally.

When the formalities were completed, all were invited to join the congregation and share in a cup of tea and some celebration cake for what was described as ‘a truly a joyous afternoon’.

The project has been made possible by the generosity of the local community who have donated their time, enthusiasm and finance. However, the work could not have progressed without the grant funding provided by a dozen or so grant awarding organisations from Uist, Scotland and the UK as a whole.

One final but important element of the development is still outstanding; a small exhibition to display the Church’s history. Organisers have asked that anyone with stories or experiences that might enhance the exhibition contact Tommy MacDonald on 01870 620283 or email macdomhnaill@gmail.com.

The church building is open once again to welcome all who wish to visit.

New environmental exhibition

North Uist Development Company are pleased to announce the opening of the Àrainneachd Àlainn environment exhibition in the former Lochmaddy School.

Lochmaddy School was taken over by the North Uist Development Company and received the keys for the building in March 2021, and this is the first step of the redevelopment plans to create a community hub.

Lochmaddy School closed along with Carinish School and Paible School in 2016, as all children on North Uist moved to a new single school site at Sgoil Uibhist a’ Tuath.

Constructed in the 1970s, Lochmaddy School sits on the edge of the village, with the original building dating back to the late 1800s.

Scottish Land Fund (Stage 2) funding enabled the asset transfer from Comhairle nan Eilean Siar to North Uist Development Company.

The exhibition will be open to the public on Saturday 4th June 2022, from 12pm – 4pm and details of future opening hours will be posted on the NUDC Facebook page and website.

The exhibition celebrates the diverse environment of Uist, majoring in its unique geology and marine environment.

QR codes will provide visitors with an opportunity to access further information on specific topics and will allow the content of the exhibition to be updated or altered over time.

Screens and boards feature many aspects of Uist, from weather to the coastal lands and the machair. The impact of climate change is also a prominent focus of the exhibition centre.

Diane McPherson, Chairperson at NUDC, said: “We are hoping that lots of visitors and locals will visit the exhibition and

that it will offer opportunities for local school children to learn more about the environment around them. We are also keen on locals, including schoolchildren, to become involved in a wider range of activities at the centre in the future.”

A large part of the exhibition follows the geological makeup of Uist in chronological order, featuring rocks and stones collected over time by Dr Jean Archer.

“The unique geology of Uist is not well-known,” said Dr Jean Archer, a member of the board, “the exhibition provides an opportunity to display some of the most interesting features of the geological landscape”.

Designed and constructed by Da Capo from Leicester after a tendering procurement process, the exhibition received funding from Inspiring Scotland and the Islands Green Recovery Programme.

The latest contribution from our favourite columnist

The local election is now over and those elected have a lot of work ahead of them. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of so much party politics discussed during local elections; I was so happy to see that our two stood independently. After all, their constituents are from different parties so surely the councillors should be independent.

John and Brenda come to Kyles every year and stay in the Bramble’s house. Over the years I’ve got to know them really well and every year they bring me something nice. This time they brought me the most beautiful walking stick. John made it himself. The leg is made of hazel and the hand grip out of beech and shaped like a goose head. The hazel leg has three twists in it which are there naturally and the whole stick is varnished. His own signature is in the wood and a silver stag’s head is below the handle grip. It really is a piece of art, so attractive and unusual. When people come to visit me they see the stick before they see me!!

On the first page of The Scottish Farmer dated May 14th, there was a story about a sea eagle. A farmer on Mull witnessed one attack one of his lambs. First of all he saw two peregrines attacking a sea eagle and the farmer was admiring the defensive skills of the eagle as it went on its’ back and used its’ talons to protect and defend its’ body. The peregrines gave up and the eagle flew away. Then it dived below the cliff obviously seeing a tasty meal. When it reappeared it had a healthy lamb in its’ talons and he could hear the lamb crying. The eagle then landed, obviously to kill the lamb; the farmer had dogs and ran towards it, startling it and making it fly another 50 metres away. The farmer and dogs continued running towards it and when it landed the second time and spotted the farmer, it was distracted and the poor lamb, or lucky lamb, wriggled free and the eagle had to fly away without its’ dinner. The farmer was delighted because the lamb lived and its’ mother, who was nearby and crying for her lamb rushed to it for a very happy reunion. The lamb did have a gash on its’ neck but it was not life threatening. It was so cruel of SNH to reintroduce these birds. Mind you their first reintroduction was in Rhum in the 70s and they came to Uist by themselves. Of course, for ages, SNH tried to convince crofters and farmers that sea eagles would only take dead lambs but now they have to admit that they do take healthy and live ones. On Vallay, three calves have been taken over the years; two white and one red. Some shepherds have lost 50 lambs in a year. You read about the management of sea eagles and compensation for losses; some shepherds have even built sheds for lambing and there has been some money for that. No doubt, in a few years, when the sea eagle population has increased, NatureScot (the new SNH) will probably stop all grants and concentrate on some other species. By then some will have given up sheep altogether and many waders etc will be extinct. It is the same that happened with the geese and now there are thousands too many here.

The calving is doing well, though slowed down a little now with about twenty left to calve. There have been two sets of twins, unfortunately a calf was dead in one set but the other set is fine, the mother has plenty of milk and she loves the two of them. One of them is a male and the other a female; very often the female won’t breed and are called freemartins but about 5% of them will. Anyway, she will be kept and get a chance to breed. Once calving starts, Angus leaves a cattle trailer over on Vallay so that if there is something wrong a cow can be taken home quickly. Carianne was over there and two of the cows had mixed up their calves. Shona was the quietest one so Carianne put her and her calf into a small field and then attached the trailer behind the pick-up. She knew that there was a mistake as she tags them as soon as they are born and each tag is uniquely numbered and after checking knew that she had put the correct calf with Shona. She then had to catch the calf, put it into the trailer so that Shona followed it in and then drive them both back to Kyles. The cows trust Carianne and she has a good way with the animals, Michelle calls her the “cow whisperer”. When she got to Kyles, she got the young ones to help her put Shona in the crush at the pens to allow her correct calf to suck its’ real mother. It took a few days to get mother and calf reunited properly by putting them in the crush twice a day. Carianne and Ryan took the other cow and calf home and the same had to be done for them. Now both cows and calves are perfectly matched and we still don’t know how the mix up happened. We are all so proud of Carianne. She noticed that there was a problem and got the quiet one home first all on her own, knowing that all the men were busy and that the cow would trust her.

Ukrainians are still fighting against the Russians; it’s heartbreaking to watch what is shown on the news. All we can do is pray and give whatever we can afford to them.

I so hope that the weather will get better soon and that the crops will have a good yield.

The Psalms that I choose are 80 and 84 for this month’s reading.

New plans for a safer ‘mile a day

Plans were unveiled for a new safe pathway around Iochdar at a community consultation event held in Iochdar Hall on 17th May.

Co-hosted by Iochdar Community Council and SUSTRANS, the organisation funding the development work to date, the event set out an ambitious proposal to construct more than 3 miles of new pathway running from Iochdar School to Lovats store.

Iochdar Community Council Vice Chair Morag Ann MacAulay-Steele set out what motivated them to start the work:

“We want to change things so that people of all ages and levels of mobility will have a safe route to follow around Iochdar. Right now, the route is exposed and the verges are narrow with water on both sides of the road. There are tight corners, blind summits, and accidents and near-misses happen all the time.”

“Slighe an Iochdair, shows what Community Councils can aim for if they work together with the community. There hadn’t been a Community Council in Iochdar or years, but in 2016 a group of us got together and started looking at ways we could improve the area. It became clear early on that if we wanted change, we had to effect change ourselves.”

The proposed route will run from the east side of Sgoil an Iochdar playground and follow Bualadubh to the junction with the A865, before heading north along the A865 to end at the junction north of Lovats. A spur section of pathway is also proposed running parallel to Ardmore Road off the A865.

The new route will take the form of an off-road 3m wide shared-use path, with a boardwalk installed along those sections prone to flooding.

The project team expects to be ready to apply for funding in December 2022, with a project start date planned for June 2023.

“It is taking longer than we expected but we’re learning a lot along the way. With the continued support of the community and other stakeholders, we are confident that we can get there in the end.”

Morag added:

“We encourage people to support their Community Councils. Anyone with an idea for improving their community can approach their local Community Council and there’s help there from organisations like UCVO to get ideas off the ground and look at sources of funding.”