Singing all the way to the Referendum

September 4, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

The audience was on its feet for the rousing Freedom for All delivered by the entire band of musicians with Alan Bissett centre stage in yellow T.

The audience was on its feet for the rousing Freedom for All delivered by the entire band of musicians with Alan Bissett centre stage in yellow.

A packed auditorium at Oran Mor had the YES campaigners on their feet after a rousing evening of fine music from musicians such as Dick Gaughan, Mary Ann Kennedy, Shooglenifty, Kathleen MacInnes and Eilidh MacKenzie – to name fewer than half of the artistes who donated their time and talents.

Billed as Songs for Scotland and produced by Kevin Brown, it was fronted by Alan Bissett who had some great ‘light bulb’ jokes to illuminate the proceedings with much laughter.

Under the magnificant ceiling art work by Alasdair Gray and the banner reading:  ‘Let us flourish by telling the truth’ world class musicians rooted in Scottish and Gaelic culture played for almost four hours.  From Gaelic hip-hop (Up-Ap) from finely dressed Griogair and DJ Dolphin Boy, to the MacKenzie clan from Lewis, the audience was in tune to the upbeat mood.  Countryside ranger Adam Ross’s catchy ‘ I can’t dance to this music anymore’  had everyone clapping along and echoing the sentiment.

The entire cast of musicians crowded the platform at the end to sing SAORSA – Freedom for All – by Ailean Domhnullach. And as Mike Small, Editor of Bella Caledonia said in his introduction: ‘For this one evening let the lyrics of hope replace the voices of doom. Let the pibroch replace the pollsters.’  There was no doubting the hope of everyone was: ‘We will win!’

This was gently framed with a reminder to stay friends and remain civil with everyone.




Just another Monday

November 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

It was a different start to the week on Monday 21 November.
Despite three people chaining themselves to the entrance gate and one man sitting 20ft up on a tripod at the UK Border Agency premises in Brand Street, Govan, The Home Office said: ‘business is still carrying on.’
All the protesters were highlighting the fact that the UK BA has re-started dawn raids to forcibly remove failed asylum seekers. The demonstration was to ensure that the gates of UK BA remained closed until the end of the working day preventing the vans used to transport people, from coming in or out.
On Monday when this all happened, asylum seekers due to report at the Brand Street office, were escorted into the grounds by a police officer – once they’d negotiated a way through the cordon of 30+ police who sealed off surrounding streets with ‘accident’ signs, incident tape and police vehicles. An ever evolving crowd of around 60 protesters at any one time watched and waited to see how long it would take the police to get the man down from his perch.
Police Inspector Cowley was in charge at the location and said: ‘We’re handling the incident as normal and will monitor till removal.’

Some of the supportive crowd

It took several attempts for the police support team to build a tubular platform from which they would have the tricky task of extracting the man. His dawn to dust vigil ended voluntarily when he descended by himself after 5pm when the UKBA offices were due to close. He was arrested, taken to Govan Police Office at Helen Street and detained for three hours and given a medical examination. Strathclyde Police also stated that a man aged 23 and one aged 18 and a woman aged 32 were arrested after they had voluntarily freed themselves from where they’d chained themselves to the fence.
During the day, the supportive crowd spasmodically broke into songs and chants to keep the spirits of the man on the tripod as high as his elevated position.
Asylum seeker Amadou Diallo from Guinea, took time off from a college course to stand in protest at dawn raids. With his poster reading in English and Gaelic: Justice, Freedom, Unity, he said: ‘People have to understand, where there is no democracy in a country, a person’s life is in danger if they are returned.’
Shelly Davidson is a failed asylum seeker who has been in Scotland so many years she says she is Scottish. She sang some powerful songs praying for God to come and help. ‘Don’t turn away,’ said the words in her first language. ‘We don’t want kids and mothers to be put in detention and deported because we fear it could be us next,’ she said.
Claire Mulholland was one of a group of banner carrying women from the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission. She said: ‘It is an outrage they are carrying out dawn roads. These women and children are not criminals. They will be traumatised for the rest of their lives after being hauled out their beds by strangers who have burst into their homes. And this is supposed to be a civilised country!’
A Home Office spokesperson later said: ‘We consider all cases thoroughly. When both we and the courts agree that families are not in need of our protection, they are given every chance to leave the UK voluntarily. This includes engagement with the family over a period of time, family conferences to offer tailored voluntary return packages to assist them upon their return and self-check-in opportunities to fly home. Unfortunately, when they refuse to take up these opportunities, our last resort is an enforced return. This is overseen by the Family Returns Panel to ensure that the welfare of children is taken properly into account.’
A statement from the Unity Centre, which is near Brand Street and is a volunteer run solidarity centre for asylum seekers and destitute asylum seekers, said: ‘The blockade at Brand Street is a response to the return of the bad old days of dawn raids in Glasgow and the continued practice of detaining children.’ Unity went on to say that the practice of visiting people’s homes in the early morning to surprise them – dawn raids – was a particularly ‘barbaric and inhumane way to enforce Home Office policy.’ They added: ‘This has been the source of anger from communities in Glasgow in the past. We have given the Home Office every chance to end this abhorrent treatment of families, voluntarily. Unfortunately, they have refused these opportunities and our last resort is direct action.’
Last year, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg described the detaining of children as ‘shameful’ and pledged to end the practice by May 2011. However, the Government’s new family returns programme permits children to be lock up at the UKBA’s Cedars pre-departure accommodation near Gatwick Airport. That is where Funke Olubiyi and her five year old son Joseph were taken after a dawn raid on their home in Govan on Thursday 10 November before being removed to Nigeria which Joseph has no memory of. UKBA officials entered the family’s home at 7am. Funke was handcuffed and both were taken to Brand Street where Joseph was allowed to have breakfast before being taken by van to Cedars in England. There they remained for several days before being put on a plane to Nigeria.
The protest at the UKBA’s Brand street building was organised by Unity and No Borders Network which champions freedom of movement for all and an end to all migration controls.

Gales of laughter at Gaelic/Fusion concert

January 13, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Adam McNaughton, writer of the famous ‘Jeelie Piece’ song was the star of the St Mungo’s Bairns gala concert.

No bairn himself – the 70+-year-old came out of retirement specially to entertain the grassroots Celtic/Fusion followers at the St Mungo’s Festival event in St Andrew’s in the Square on Saturday 8 January.

He got a standing ovation and gave two encores following his side-splitting, fabulously funny spot.

In rhyming Glaswegian vernacular he delivered Shakespeare’s Hamlet which one teacher said was the only thing which enabled her students to relate to the Bard’s work. With the same skilled rhyming language he told the truth that no matter what health exercise, better eating or avoidance of bad habits technique is adopted, ‘We’re all gonna dee!’

Compered by Fergus Muirhead who is known as the moneyman for the BBC, but is also a skilled musician well known in these Celtic root circles, the entire evening was a delight.

Starting and finishing with Pipe Major Iain MacDonald and seven pipers and four drummers from Neilston and District Pipe Band showing why they are feted around the world, the bits in between were equally stirring.

AKAYA and the Glasgow Africa Hi Life Band brought in top rhythm from Sengalese and Ghanian masters of their musical instruments and of their voices. Their blending with the pipe band and the ceili band was simply amazing.

The Shamrock Academy from East Kilbride, Cambuslang and Kilbirnie had Megan Donnachy (12), Nicola Rae (15) Kaitlyn Dunsmore (15) and Peyton Dunsmore (12) expertly tap dancing away in their exquisite dresses.

Brendan McHugh, son of the beloved late Jimmy McHugh whose memorial concert will be on Saturday 15 January at Woodside Halls, St George’s Cross, G20 7QF, gave a powerful set with his Four Provinces Ceili Band.

Norrie Maciver Gaelic singer and musician from South Uist was a wonderful last minute stand-in for Maggie MacInnes, award winning Gaelic singer, who was ill and couldn’t make the gig.

The 150 or so people who were able to turn out on a chilly night found genuine heart warming entertainment of the best calibre for an incredibly modest ticket price. The St Mungo’s Festival is setting high standards and people are already asking what can they look forward to next year?! Whatever that may be, the concert proved that we’re all St Mungo’s bairns in our love of a good tune and a good laugh.

Glasgow Gaelic School Head honoured by University

May 7, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

The first head of Glasgow’s pioneering Gaelic School is to be awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Glasgow.

Donalda McComb is one of the most senior and respected practitioners in Gaelic-medium education in Scotland and is being recognised for her contribution to the language and education.

South Uist-born Donalda graduated with a Bachelor of Education degree from Saint Andrew’s College, Glasgow, and took up her first post in Gaelic-medium education as a teacher in Lochboisdale in South Uist.

She moved to Glasgow in 1988 and worked as a teacher in the Gaelic-medium unit in Meadowburn, Bishopbriggs, for the next 11 years before being appointed head teacher of Scotland’s first-ever Gaelic-medium primary school in Glasgow.

In 2005, Donalda was made head teacher of Scotland’s first-ever dedicated Gaelic school – Sgoil Ghàidhlig Ghlaschu – in Glasgow’s west end. The school now has more than 500 pupils across nursery, primary and secondary education.

Graham Caie, Clerk of Senate and Vice Principal of the University of Glasgow, said: ‘The University of Glasgow is delighted to recognise Donalda. She is laying the foundations for Glasgow’s leading position in the world making it possible to be educated through the medium of Gaelic from nursery to post-doctoral level.’

Roibeard Ó Maolalaigh, Professor of Gaelic at the University of Glasgow, added: ‘Gaelic-medium education has been one of the great success stories in Scottish education over the past 25 years, and plays a key part in the revitalisation of the language.

‘Under Donalda’s committed leadership, Gaelic-medium education has gone from strength to strength, not just in Glasgow but throughout Scotland.’



BIRLINN into the Gaelic

December 1, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

 By Alan McCrorie

GalGael Trust has announced plans to build a 50-foot birlinn, the first to be constructed in Scotland in four centuries.

GalGael speakers Soren Neilsen, John MacAulay, Denis Rixson, Maxwell MacLeod and Colin Martin

GalGael speakers Soren Neilsen, John MacAulay, Denis Rixson, Maxwell MacLeod and Colin Martin


 The Govan-based group used their Birlinn: 400 Conference at the Pearce Institute to take the first steps towards restoring a lost piece of Scottish maritime heritage.

Birlinns, or Highland Galleys, were outlawed in 1609 as part of the Statutes of Iona written to undermine, then eradicate, Gaelic culture.

The day-long conference heard from a number of speakers including author Denis Rixson, who told of the evolution of the birlinn and its kinship with other vessels and seafaring traditions along the North Sea and Atlantic that dated back many hundreds of years.


Dr Colin Martin, of St Andrews University, explored the significance of medieval boat finds at Rubh’ an Dunain, a peninsula on Skye. The site features an inland loch and canal that runs to the sea.

The audience, which included boatbuilders, historians and heritage professionals from as far afield as Denmark and Scotland, also heard author John MacAulay’s reflections on the birlinn. Soren Nielsen of the Viking Boat Centre at Roskilde in Denmark recounted the voyage of the Havhingsten, a full-scale reconstructed ship, from his home waters to Dublin in Ireland.

Journalist and adventurer Maxwell MacLeod used his address, titled ‘The relationship between chocolate and birlinns’ to touch upon the boats’ significance as ships of trade.

GalGael Trust raises sail on ambitious boat-building project

November 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

GalGael Trust, the Govan-based marine heritage and community project, will use their forthcoming conference to announce ambitious plans to build a 50-foot birlinn, a small galley common in the waters off north-western Scotland in the Middle Ages.

The Birlinn: 400 Years event, which takes place at the Pearce Institute, 840 Govan Road, on November 28, will map the history of these boats, their construction, design, and use.

Birlinns were a common sight until 400 years ago. Some scholars argue the Statutes of Iona, which in 1609 signalled the twilight of Scottish bardic tradition and demanded the heirs of Highland clan chiefs be educated in Lowland schools using English instead of Gaelic, also meant the end of birlinn building and the demise of a great maritime tradition.

GalGael’s work was recently feted by BBC Scotland in their Video Lab web feature Clydeside Stories. It showed participants of the Trust’s Navigate Life course. The conference will feature an address from Soren Neilsen, head of the Viking Ship Museum at Roskilde in Denmark.

Booking for the event is essential, and can be done by calling 0141 427 3070 or logging on to Postal applications can be sent to GalGael Trust, 15 Fairley Street, Glasgow, G51 2SN. Admission is free.

SPARR Celebrates Govan’s Heritage

December 18, 2008 by · 1 Comment 

Friday Night in Brechin's BarA ship launches down the slipwayGovan’s shipbuilding heritage and historic links with the Gaelic speaking communities of the Western Isles have been celebrated in a dramatic performance called SPARR. Held in the Big Shed in Govan – the former Harland & Woolf engineering shed which has hosted flagship productions such as ‘The Big Picnic’ and ‘The Ship’ the free promenade performance was a year in the making.

Based on the actual lives and stories of Gaels who arrived in Govan to work in the ship yards, SPARR is the Gaelic word for ‘rivet’ and also means ‘to create an opening’.

Cast members in highland garb welcomed the audience into the huge space as the performance started. A wooden boat was being built in one part of the auditorium. A huge screen showing images from Govan’s past provided a backdrop. A two tier scaffold held musicians and the Glasgow Gaelic choir, and the clangs and clamour of the shipyards filled the air. As the evening progressed, the performers moved into and among the audience to tell the story. The audience were led from the crafting of Hebridean boats to the heavy industry of shipbuilding on the Clyde. In one memorable sequence, a local worker is teasing the ‘teuchters’. He is soon put in his place by a Gael who says ‘You just build the boats, but your feet are dry. We build them, sail them and skipper them as well.’

The cast line-up in front of the screen and start hauling ropes. The motion reaches a climax and the ship on the screen launches down the slipway. The workers cheer and throw their hats in the air. It is hard not to share the sense of achievement and pride. The evening closes with the Govan Fair procession led by the currentFair Queen and her entourage. The cast and audience followed the Queen to an area set up as a carnival and everyone sang an emotional version of ‘Flower of Scotland’. The final words spoken were ‘Welcome to the Govan Fair, the bar is OPEN!’

The project began with oral histories and folk memories being gathered from the community. These strands were developed into a narrative and a script. This traced the lives of Gaelic men and women as they arrived in Govan and established themselves in the workplace and in the community in the 19th and 20th century.

Participating groups in the production of Sparr included the Glasgow Gaelic Choir, Galgael, Cran Theatre Company and Theatre Hebrides. The project was led by Fablevision. Frank Miller from Cran Theatre said; ‘Govan has a vibrant, talented cultural community. I have never been let down by their energy and commitment in the telling of their stories. This project is the most ambitious production I’ve worked on so far. It really works and has captured the imagination of Govan as a whole – individuals, groups, communities and organisations. It is a lot of fun discovering a part of Govan’s history which, to some extent, has been forgotten.’

Sparr is designed to be an integral element of the Govan Cultural Hub. This is a vision for a centre of learning attracting local people and visitors alike. They can access traditional cultures and heritage and witness for themselves how Govan has managed to incorporate that diversity into a 21st century community. The cultural hub is co-ordinated through the Central Govan Action Plan which is a partnership aiming to retain and respect people’s roots and knowledge of past times in order to develop a strong community future.


The production of Sparr was developed by a team including: Liz Gardiner, Overall Director, Fablevision; Graham Hunter, Executive Director, set  design/historical advisor; Di Jennings, Project Coordination; Frank Miller, Artistic Director, Govan; Ian Stephen,  Scriptwriter; Peter Wilson, Film/Digital/Media, Govan; Elaine Marney,  Funding Coordinator/heritage resource materials development; Muriel Ann MacLeod Creative Director, Theatre Hebrides.