The Hebridean Folklore Project
beannachd na grèine, beannachd an uisge
solus na làn-ghealaich air achadh reòta
the blessing of the sun, the blessing of the water
light of the full moon on a frosty field
—Kevin Macneil, from Love and Zen in the Outer Hebrides
The Hebridean Folklore Project began in 1996 as a cultural organization I founded with a mission to help keep Scottish Gaelic folklore alive & accessible.
No song or story shared with me by my generous hosts in these islands was ever recorded or otherwise documented without their permission. If I did not have their permission to document what they shared with me, I did not do so. It is a reflection of their generosity that, from the beginning, most folks that I visited with gave permission to share their stories and the recordings they graciously allowed.
The Hebridean Folklore Project focused on connecting with the tradition bearers and elders from Scotland’s Outer Hebrides islands, in order that those stories would be remembered and continue to be shared in the communities of their origin, as well as with the broader communities. These conversations about the stories and folklore of the islands and how past recordings by academics were not available to those who told them or their descendants were the heart of the wild idea that became the Hebridean Folklore Project, thanks to the grassroots support of so many.
An American, born and raised in Wisconsin, I first traveled to the Hebridean Islands in 1995 out of a desire to experience and learn about Scottish Gaelic culture. Having travelled and lived in Scotland a few years prior I was aware of Scottish Gaelic culture and wanted to know more. I was also inspired by Margaret Fay Shaw Campbell and her work and story.
In 1996 I began visiting with folks living in these islands, and that continued until 2004. Everyone I met with I learn through by word of mouth, "Oh you are looking for some stories, well talk with my Grannie, she has loads of them. Here's her number." It was like that. I would reach out and more often than not a date was made for a visit and usually many more visits followed.
During those years I travelled to the Outer Hebrides for three to five months at a time. In all seasons and all weather I walked, hitched, ferried and bussed over the land, soaking (literally) in the wild weather and always arriving to a warm fire and a moving visit with many of the tradition bearers, olders and elders of the islands. We enjoyed hours of conversation about their home-land, their lives growing up on these remote islands, Scottish Gaelic language, culture and the stories that swam both thick and tenuous through the years and generations.
I listened to the island residents’ stories and, when/if they wished, recorded their stories, songs, poems and memories in Gaelic and sometimes in English.
By 2004 close to forty folks had taken the time to sit with me, offering a story, song, or poem to this Project. Some stories are personal narratives from their own family history, like the story of an extraordinary collie named Fly told by Hugh Matheson of Baleshare. Some are centuries old folklore, like the story of the Beasties Causeway told by Donnie MacRury of Carnish/Stilligarry. At the time the stories were shared, permission was given verbally and in many cases in writing to share their stories and help educate others about the richness of Scottish Gaelic culture. Many of these story carriers and tellers have since passed on, and many of these stories have only lived in the telling, meaning they have not been written down.
The heartiest of thanks to all the people I got to know from the islands, whether they pointed me in the direction of their auntie or grannie ("She has loads of stories!"), or whether they opened their door and shared their rememberings and recollections of life on these islands and stories born of this place. Also thanks to so many from Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin, Iowa, Scotland and beyond for seeing something worthy in this Project and their support in all the ways it flowed. Big thanks also to sound engineer, Tim Britton for his hard work and support in the digitization.
It is such a delighted to be able to send these recordings back to the Outer Hebrides. They have been shared with many of the family members of those who shared their stories. The recordings have also been shared with Ceolas, a Gaelic cultural organization based in Daliburgh, South Uist, who are very keen to receive these unique recordings and in time include them in their archival listening room at some time in the future. In keeping with the Project's mission to help keep Scottish Gaelic folklore alive and accessible it is a great pleasure to also share these recordings with permission from the tellers with the University of Glasgow's Digital Archive of Scottish Gaelic project. Much of body of recordings are available to anyone with an internet connection at the Mothan Archive. I am currently working with the edges of orality and the literary on a possible book retelling these stories bringing them to another life on the page.
Moran taing (Many thanks)