Packed programme of events to celebrate Seanachas tradition

  • Published on: 5th May 2022
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April has heralded the start of An Lanntair’s exciting and unique Seanachas series of events, films, special commissions and more, celebrating and spotlighting the Hebrides as part of Event Scotland’s Year of Stories 2022.

As an arts centre based in a Gaelic speaking community, the native language and culture play an important part in our activities,said An Lanntair Head of Performing Arts, Alex Macdonald.It is then perhaps no surprise that we chose the Gaelic word for storytelling – Seanachas – as the title for our Year of Stories events, as the oral tradition lies at the heart of Gaelic culture, and so the passing of tales and songs from generation to generation is a very natural part of local practice.

We therefore view Seanachas as a valuable part of Scotland’s overall programme this year, however we also thought it important to encourage new ways of looking at Hebridean stories,” she continued.

To that end, there are four main themes to our Event Scotland Year of Stories funded activities, including community residencies, the creation of short films, an outdoor event based on Kevin MacNeil’s novel The Brilliant and Forever, plus some special commissions. The stories we are telling can be ancient or modern, real or imagined, which gives us a broad range of topics.

The first An Lanntair Seanachas Community Residency kicked off recently with author Donald S Murray visiting local storytellers and undertaking events in the community, and in June singer Josie Duncan is set to spend time researching stories connected to the classic Lewis songbook, Eilean Fraoich.

Celebrating 40 years since the (revised) publication of the book, Josie will be interviewing and hearing the stories of a selection of singers and musicians which will then form part of this year’s Hebridean Women concert as part of the Hebridean Celtic Festival.  She will be joined by Micha Macpherson, Alice Macmillan and Isobel Martin to perform the concert on July 15th in An Lanntair.

Children’s tales are focus of the third Seanachas residency, as actress Rachel Kennedy, alongside Anna Murray and Naomi Macdonald from the Young Islanders Network, host a series of community events encouraging young participants to talk about and create their own stories.

And the final Seanachas Community Residency – hosted in partnership with the University of the Highlands and Islands – takes place in October when UHI Lecturer Catriona Murray is set to run a series of ‘Story-Swap’ events, hoping to uncover some lesser-known tales of the supernatural.

An Lanntair’s Event Scotland Year of Stories Seanachas programme has also enabled two special commissions with island creatives – with some exciting new works to be debuted in 2022.

Connected to the themes of climate change, nature and conservation, the first of these is based on the award-winning book The Changing Outer Hebrides by Professor Frank Rennie, Head of Sustainable Rural Development at UHI. Linking with An Lanntair’s hugely successful Between Islands Project, the commission will see Prof Rennie travel to Orkney and Shetland in a compare and contrast study of working crofts and environmental change, culminating in a new film, written work, and public lecture.

Seanachas’ second special commission marries the land and sea, music and art, as marine sculptor Sam Macdonald and songwriter/crofter Colin Macleod join forces. Beginning their journey into the moorlands of Lewis and Harris next month, the pair are focusing on stories which tell of the importance of the salmon’s historical status, whilst underlining the importance of conservation and environmental concerns in particular. A suite of new photography, film, music pieces and an art installation are expected from this innovative project.

I enjoy organising commissions, particularly as quite often we are introducing participants to each other for the first time, as is the case with Colin and Sam,” said Alex.

Their theme is also a modern tale, which is that of climate change and conservation, so it’s a different way of telling a Hebridean story and I am really looking forward to seeing the outcomes of both that, and Prof Frank Rennie’s commission at the end of the year.

A lot to look forward to from An Lanntair in Scotland’s Year of Stories – and perhaps something particularly special from Seanachas this summer will be bringing of writer Kevin MacNeil’s The Brilliant and Forever festival to life!

The annual Brilliant and Forever short-story festival is a much-anticipated event in Kevin’s novel to the same title, with the island he describes in the book very similar to the one we know, except that human and alpaca populations co-exist, usually amicably.

An Lanntair’s Education and Outreach team are therefore working with Kevin to organise an outdoor event based on the book, which will incorporate a short story writing competition and then showcase shortlisted works through public reading this summer. Planned to take place in Lews Castle Grounds, and complete with alpaca guest, full details on this exciting opportunity will be released in May.

Alex said: “Perhaps having Alpacas take part in our Brilliant and Forever event is the most unusual element as it’s something you won’t see in Stornoway every day! So, the element of surprise and discovery for both audiences and participants will be the most enjoyable part of all.

She added: “We hope our Seanachas series will highlight the value of the storytelling tradition locally and make us consider the importance of Hebridean authors in a national context, as it will feature the work of some of our most talented writers. The commissioned works will also offer some legacy, which we felt was important.

In addition, An Lanntair’s main 2022 programme will celebrate the theme of storytelling with complimenting cinema, theatre, music and author events – including play Keepers of the Light (May 28th), based on the Flannan Isle Lighthouse mystery; pre-release screenings of The Road Dance, bestselling author Freya North discussing her latest title, Little Wing, set on Harris (May 11th); international award-winning theatre production Thunderstruck (July 9th), and of course An Lanntair’s book festival, Faclan, in October.

 – This article first appeared in The Stornoway Gazette newspaper –