Outstanding Gaelic singer hosts Derry workshop

Traditional music enthusiasts in Derry took part in a workshop of the highest quality in the Cultúrlann in early December, writes Liam McLaughlin.

The workshop was conducted by Maggie MacInnes, a leading exponent of Scots Gaelic songs. She is the daughter of Flora McNeill, from Barra, ‘unanimously ranked among the finest singers to emerge from Scotland.’

Participants learned a wide range of songs, from ‘waulking’ songs - originally sung by women beating newly woven tweed rhythmically on a work-table – to love songs and laments.

Maggie spoke of her own musical background, with musical influences going back several generations to the islands of Barra and Mingulay. Her knowledge of traditional music is extensive, but she carries this knowledge in a very light fashion.

She illustrated styles and themes with her own voice – not a CD player in sight! The number of questions and comments reflected the huge interest generated in the sessions.

Colmcille,an organisation set up to forge links between the Gaelic communities in Ireland and Scotland, is to be congratulated on providing a first rate musical experience on Saturday. Workshops like these remind us that we are part of a great tradition: historically, the Gaeltacht once stretched from Kerry to Donegal and across to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, and the people shared a common Gaelic language.

The traditional method of purifying tweed has died out. But thanks to Flora McNeill, Maggie MacInnes and others, the vibrant songs associated with the work live on, along with the other great traditional songs of the Scottish Gaeltacht.

Everyone present on Saturday would welcome the opportunity to continue exploring these songs with Maggie.

The year of the City of Culture should raise awareness of the relationship between the Irish and Scottish traditions. Let us hope that Maggie finds her way back to Derry next year for a workshop and a concert. We only had a glimpse of her great talent this time round – she did not bring her harp!