Review of the Islay Year 2013

Another great write-up by Susan Campbell of the Islay year 2013 in the first issue of the Ileach Newspaper in 2014. "2013 was quite a year for Islay, one way and another...While we'll all have had our own personal highlights, there are some events which will have affected us all, and it's interesting to look back in the light of 'where we are now'. Islay has of course been affected by the economic difficulties going on in the rest of the UK and the world, but on the whole seems to be weathering the financial storms fairly well, if with some belt-tightening. And locally some things don't change, which can either be a good thing or a hindrance, depending on one's point of view...

January
January 2013 was welcomed with a bang as Bowmore's and Port Charlotte's fireworks parties began on the stroke of midnight, ‘the bells'. Ciara Allan and family were greatly supported by the island community, enabling them to take Ciara to the US for specialist treatment on her brain tumour. The treatment provided some improvement in Ciara's condition. Bowmore's branch of the Bank of Scotland was unexpectedly closed due to staff illness. And then re-opened, when mainland staff arrived to assist. An effect of staff cutbacks? The bank declined to comment.

Wind farm proposals from DP Energy and SSE Wind Power for the Rhinns of Islay stir up both protestors and a bit of local support; an ongoing debate. And one Christmas snowdrop had been seen by the Sorn at Christmas... Gus Newman's StormPod initiative reached the final in the competitive Scottish Enterprise's, EDGE programme, which encourages business developments. Three generations of a musical family entertained at Kilmeny's Ceilidh an t-Sean Nollaig; Margaret MacDonald on keyboard, Alison MacTaggart on whistle, and Ciara MacTaggart on the box joined to provide a unique and much appreciated performance.

The Clyde Clock, a well kent Glasgow landmark to many travelling Ilich, was repaired and set running again (in all senses!) Port Ellen's Jim MacFarlane gave a fascinating talk in Gàidhlig and English at ICCI on the building of and use of the Irish currach which had been handbuilt at Islay's 2012 Festival of the Sea. Continue reading....


February
Weather or not, indeed, and mostly 'weather' during February month, as it turned out. Torrents and tempests hindered ferry crossings, and much else in the islands. Islay, Jura & Colonsay NFU Scotland branch, together with thirteen local NFUS past chairpersons, met with Michael Russell MSP to discuss farmers' engagement with the Goose Management process and other agricultural issues. Also, the Land Reform review team visited Islay to hear the opinions and ideas of Islay farmers and land managers.

Islay Energy Trust secured funding for a tidal energy study, pursuing plans for installation of tidal energy collection devices in the fast-flowing waters of the Sound of Islay. Scottish Opera came to Islay, with a well-attended 'sampler' performance of opera highlights given by a group of four professional singers. The performance was presented with considerable ingenuity exercised re props and scenery to help tell the stories. Burns Day at Port Ellen Primary on 25th January was outstanding, with recitations, haggis and neeps and even ceilidh dancing for the children and attending friends and family.

Feis OÌigridh week during the school holidays was outstanding this year, with none other than MaÌ€nran's Norrie MacIver as Gaelic singing tutor as well as talented local instrumental and dance tutors. The participating children's achievements and musical development are always amazing. An alternative route around the landslip-plagued Rest and Be Thankful on the A83 has been established. So we'll see what happens next... Calum Murray joins the 'Ileach' team as Editor while Susan Campbell, previously a relief Ed, edits more issues as Associate Editor. Katherine Wells also joins the editorial team, and Hugh Smith continues as a relief Ed.

March
Outstanding progress has been made by participants in Islay's John Muir award scheme, in pursuing the Award through Gaelic language. Coordinated by Iomairt Ghàidhlig Ìle 's Diùra and working closely with RSPB Loch Gruinart, the scheme has encouraged the young people in their interests both in Gaidhlig, nature and creativity. Head Teacher Joanna Holmes, recently joined Islay High School and is starting to make closer connections between the school and the larger Islay communities.

The 151st Islay Gathering was guest-chaired by Kenneth Thomson, enjoyed by all who attended, and featured young Islay singers Kirsten Laurie and Ruaraidh MacKinnon. There was a tremendous turnout by primary-age children in the Big Pedal UK competition, with many youngsters joining in the cycle and scoot to school event. A mention in the 'Ileach' concerning the Machrie bridge on the Low Road where a broken stone paraphet had been left unrepaired for months finally galvanised the Council into action to repair the road-coned eyesore which had been narrowing the two lanes of the road. Popular family-style ceilidhs resumed in Port Ellen, giving local youngsters and not-so-youngsters an opportunity to perform and enjoy the playing and singing of others, not to mention a good ceilidh dance for all.

A reminder was given by local police Sergeant Rae on the dangers and illegality of using mobile phones while driving. A split second's lapse of concentration during phone use could easily cause an accident. Islay's HGV and delivery van drivers, take heed! Pre-Easter snowstorms in the last days of March caused havoc with local power supplies and road transport, and property damage. Kintyre and Arran were particularly badly affected.

April
Duncan Ferguson wrote an interesting piece on Ireland and Islay. The IDEAs activities group again threatened with closure due to financial pressures and lack of support (and this time it really did close, unfortunately. Walk Islay 2013, always popular, went walking for a week with participants hither and yon around the hinterlands of Islay and Jura.

Questions were asked about the Limpet in Portnahaven, but alas it was not to continue in use as a buyer could apparently not be found. Feis Ile 2013 approaches, with community volunteers sought. Also seeking volunteers was Islay House Community Garden, where preparations for for the new growing season were well underway. Islay High School Band and the Primary Schools' Band concert was a resounding success, with much excellent music being made by bands and instrumental soloists, and Ella Edgar's dance team provided a 'struttin' their stuff' Cakewalk crowd-pleaser.

News of funding for roads upgrading and repairs being allocated by Argyll & Bute Council, but only for some stretches of Islay and Jura's roads. Unfortunately, almost without exception all the roads in the islands are in urgent need of resurfacing, as the 'shovelful of stone chips, splash of tar' pothole-filling method currently employed makes only a very temporary repair at best. SNH has renewed the Islay Goose Management program, but the damage done to fields by grazing, paddling geese doesn't seemed to have lessened. Funds were gained for Port Ellen Playing Fields renovation to start; improvements and extension planned.

May
The BBC's 'Hebrides; Islands on the Edge' part one was screened, with the first part largely featuring wildlife in Islay. The general consensus of local viewers seems to have been that while the scenery and wildlife filming was spectacularly beautiful, the programme's narration was much less than inspirational. Islay distilleries won 'Drammie' awards, voted for by whiskyfans rather than industry insiders so much valued by the producers. Bruichladdich were awarded two for Distillery of the Year and Most Innovative Producer, and Laphroaig was reckoned for the second year running to have the best distillery tour. Kilmeny Ceilidh Club starts up again, with trad music in plenty, and as much ceilidh dancing as anyone could wish for...

Primary 7s getting ready to transition to Islay High School after the summer; getting to know you... Kilchoman Distillery had awards as well, for their Machir Bay whisky and Anthony Wills' winning Master Distiller of the Year in the International Whisky Competition. Mark Unsworth of Islay Studios had a prize, too; his photo of a wine cellar in France brought him the award in the Food Photographer of the Year, out of 5500 entries. The Glasgow Islay Association carried out a refurbishment of the 1887 An Comunn Ileach monument at Cnoc na Dala, Bridgend which commemorates Islay's John Francis Campbell, the Victorian polymath known as Iain Og Ile.

Feis IÌe, the Islay Festival of Music and Malt brought the usual distillery open days, and a variety of wellattended musical Gaelic and cultural events. Unique amongst these was 'Blar', a performance of remarkable new music composed by Clare Jordan, based on Islay Bard William Livingstone's poem, 'The Battle of Traigh Gruinart', where the story of dispute and battle in 1598 between MacLeans of Duart, Mull and the Islay MacDonalds over a claim to lands in the Rhinns of Islay was told. 140 Islay musicians/singers of all ages took part, schools and youth groups prepared artwork banners and digital film, presenting an exciting event on a scale rarely seen in Islay.

Islay High School's World Challenge group were preparing for their travels to Ethiopia, fund-raising imaginatively and with flair at a specially hosted dinner featuring local produce. Ella Edgar's dancers enjoyed much success at the Highlands and Islands Music and Dance Festival, Oban, with four young Highland dancers rattling home with large silver trophies and many medals. Well done, Isla MacCalman, Allana Learmond, Rachel Johnston and Ashley Harrison, and to all the others who danced.

June
An intrepid Islay team won the team prize in Jura's famous fell race on a hot and sunny day, benefitting 'Help For Heroes' charity. Marcus Covell completed his twelfth Jura fell race, that in itself has got to be some kind of record! Islay Beach Rugby 2013 was played out on the White Hart Beach, where all participants enjoyed the battles. However, there were a few off-pitch problems caused by visitors having a little too much 'fun'.

Mòd Ìle 2013 was very well supported and attended, and the participation of so many children who, with help from tutors, teachers and parents have been learning Gaidhlig is very heartening. A great day was had by all. Rosie MacPherson deservedly won the Argyll & Bute Young Volunteer of the Year award for her contribution to helping at St Kiaran's Sunday School and the local Rainbows group. Billy (MacFarlane) the Butcher hung up his white hat, as he retired from his shop and business. Alasdair Porter has taken over the business, continuing the butcher shop. Angela MacLeod's homebred Highland pony gelding, Rhinnspoint Niall-a-dendy, won his class for Ridden Highland pony 4-5-6 years old at the Royal Highland Show.

Argyll & Bute Council's Planning Dept. considered an application by SSE to site a met recording mast on Orsay Island offshore from Portnahaven, preparatory to a proposed offshore windfarm in the sea off the SW of the Rhinns. There was enough local dissent expressed that a hearing is to be held in Portnahaven, where residents had an opportunity to express heir concerns and hear from SSE about their proposal. There was considerable opposition expressed by Islay residents, but the planning application was eventually approved. Islay Energy Trust's application to erect a community-owned wind turbine (only one of them!) at Castlehill, above the water pumping station was approved.

July
Lily 'Fish' MacDougall goes to Holyrood, as George Robertson's photograph of her is displayed at the Scottish Parliament. After a lengthy vacancy, the Rev. Valerie Watson is inducted into the joint parishes of Portnahaven, Kilchoman and Kilmeny. Rev. Watson has family connections with Islay.

Islay Rowing Club strokes out in fine style, taking part in the St Ayles Skiff World Championships in Ullapool and coming home as Sprint Champions. Cantilena chamber orchestra revisits Islay, bringing lovely sounds to venues around the island. Anna McArthur is 2013 Dux at Islay High School. A Strawberry Tea and open day at Islay House Community Garden proves fun and informative for the many visitors.

August
Islay Festival of the Sea provides a long weekend of seaside activities for all, both ashore and afloat; the event was very popular with locals and visitors alike. Ardbeg's Islay Half-Marathon had a large entry and great atmosphere, with plenty of local runners as well as visitors. Bowmore. Sports Day had warm and sunny weather to encourage the crowds out, with fun and games for all ages.

Ella Edgar's Highland dancers were outstandingly successful in competitions at Inveraray and Southend Highland Games. On to the Cowal Games next! The Ride of the Falling Rain's 2013 100-mile cycle run stayed dry, mostly; well supported and much enjoyed as usual. Islay Natural History Trust's summertime has been busy, both in the Field Centre in Port Charlotte and in walks and family activities around the island. RNLI's fundraising day held in the grounds of Islay House proved successful and well patronised. The 167th Islay, Jura and Colonsay Agricultural Show was popular and well supported, both by livestock exhibitors, Islay folk and many visitors to the island.

The Horse and Bamboo Theatre Company's production, 'Angus, Weaver of Grass' performed in Bowmore Hall was greatly appreciated by all who attended. Dianne Brown wins the Ladies 'Cross' golf competition. Professor Steven Mithen and his Reading University team visit Islay again to excavate and learn more about human occupation in Islay during the Mesolithic era. Bit by bit, the jigsaw of sites and dates in the Inner Hebrides is slowly coming together, thanks to painstaking fieldwork, research and scholarship. And even the tourists are writing to the 'Ileach' to complain about the state of the island's roads... Kildalton Cross 2013 golf tournament won by David Johnston in a closely contested event.

September
Celebrations for piping successes at the Cowal Games by some of the Islay Youth Pipers, taught by James Carmichael. While it was officially decided that Orsay island would be the site for SSER's met mast, despite public objections, there are still many issues to be addressed and it may yet never happen. Islay and Jura Youth Action has been providing activities for school-aged youngsters over the summer, and the young people are both taking part in the fun and also to help plan and organise for themselves under adult supervision. Timebank continues walking and visiting places of interest in Islay, and oh, those lovely cups of tea...

Islay Community Access Group plans path from Port Ellen primary school to Laphroaig, in Phase 1 of a footpath which is hoped to reach to Ardbeg in future. Doctors' day out at Islay House, at a party hosted by Captain Tom Friedrich as a thank-you to the island's medical staff. Islay and Jura Toy library continues to be well used and enjoyed, with the summer's events much enjoyed by families both resident and visiting. Islay Clinical Services Review sought public views on provision of medical and health services in the island.

2013 Islay Book Festival featured Mairi Hedderwick for the young readers, and Val McDermid and Andy Wightman amongst other authors for adults, another successful and entertaining festival. Bowmore Pri- mary School Gaelic choir wins at Lochgilphead Mòd, and Port Charlotte school's newly re-formed choir were joint winners with Bowmore in the Puirt. Islay Jazz Festival continues to be a big draw to the island, with well-known and also some new faces performing at a variety of well-attended island venues.

October
Gordon Currie's digger was out making a start on the South Distilleries Pathway on the way to Ardbeg. There has also been talk of a possible new distillery at Gartbreck outside Bowmore, but where would enough water for it be sourced? The Mactaggart Leisure Centre reopens after remedial works to some loose tiling at the deep end of the pool. Surveys passed the building as structurally sound.

Keills primary school was awarded an Eco Schools green flag, in common with other island primary schools. It's the 'Ileach 40th birthday this month, and for part of the celebration the 7:84 Theatre Company's 'The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil' was screened in the Screen Machine. Some readers will have seen the play 'live' the first time round in 1973, and many were glad of the chance to view the recorded version. How much, but how little has changed in the Highlands and Islands meantime... The 40th commemorative edition of the 'Ileach' appeared, with a splendid colour cover, on 19th October.

Islay & Jura Dolphins swimming club competed in the Argyll & Bute championship meet at Campbeltown, with notable successes being gained. This year's National Mòd in Paisley was largely 'Islay's Mòd' with the island's young learners nearly sweeping the boards in their competitions, and the senior choir winning the Rural Choirs Puirt a beul and the hotly contested Sherriff MacMasters for rural choirs. Go, Team Ìle! The Islay Post-Mòd prizewinners' concert was an epic night.

November
Kilchoman Distillery required increased storage space for casks, so are pleased to have their new warehouse at Conisby ready for use Fundraising for bringing Santa and his sleigh to Islay with live reindeer to pull it has reached its target, and youngsters are already counting the days... The debate on green power generally, and wind turbines in particular, continues in 'Ileach' issues, with varying opinions expressed. Islay Sessions, the traditional music weekend filled with pub sessions, ceilidh dancing and workshops then a final concert, again proves a popular early winter event.

Paula's Magic of Dance continues to engage young dancers as they learn to perform new stories and old, and also the not-soyoung for fitness and fun... Islay's Big Book Bash was a success in schools and in other community events, much enjoyed by all, And Scotland Reads at Port Charlotte Primary. Cost of living continues to rise in rural Scotland...but we knew that! Alan Reid MP still campaigning for better rural broadband service, but will it ever reach the northern Rhinns? Port Ellen Primary School researched the 'Wonderful World of Work', interviewing people who work in a variety of trades and careers.

The Islay & Jura Toy Library celebrates ten years of toys for tots, and mums' chances to meet up. Affordable housing keys handed over by Councillor Robin Currie at the eight-house Port Ellen development.

December
From the Oa to Cabinet office, Alistair Carmichael, the new Secretary of State for Scotland is interviewed by Calum Murray. Islay Energy Trust prepares to launch a share offer in support of the planned community wind turbine, to be erected at Castlehill.

Gaidlig 'craic' afternoons on Wednesdays at ICCI continue to be of interest to learners and it's great to have folk who like to use their Gaelic and to help others to learn. The Santa and Reindeer parade was a lovely event, seeing the real (4) reindeer and two lucky children got a ride in the sleigh; what a thrill! The 'ice' rink was a huge success too, and there's already talk about doing it all again next year...

The Cunninghames of Neriby farm won the Scottish Winter Fair Commercial Beef Calf class with their homebred heifer, a Limousin x named Ciara. This is the 2nd year that the commercial calf prize has come to an Islay farmer. Finally, on Hogmanay, the New Year 2014 was welcomed in after 'the bells' with fireworks parties in Bowmore and Port Charlotte, and round we go again...


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