The Royal National Mòd 2023 is well underway, as a packed day of traditional music and historic sporting competition kicks off in Paisley this morning.
The nine-day festival opened in spectacular style last night, with a concert headlined by MG Alba Folk Band of the Year winners Breabach delighting audiences at Paisley Town Hall. Hailed as one of Scotland’s most skilled and imaginative contemporary acts, the band’s performance was one of the first full-scale concerts at the venue since its reopening.
Last night also saw the unveiling of this year’s Gaelic Learner of the Year and the Friends of the Mòd. Selected by Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the honour is this year given to Louise Brown. Originally from Falkirk, Louise did not have the chance to learn Gaelic when she was young, and despite moving to the United States as a teenager, her interest in Gaelic remained. She returned to Scotland in 2021 and finally enrolled to study the language at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig.
After completing the supported distance learning course online, she enrolled in the Cursà Comais, an intensive and interactive Gaelic language course for intermediate-level learners aiming for fluency in the language. Louise is now in her second year of distance learning and having excelled in her learning, she has hopes of becoming a Gaelic teacher in the future.
A new award for last year, Friends of the Mòd returns for 2023 to recognise the contribution that so many have made, and continue to make, to champion the spirit of Gaelic. The next four recipients to enter a Caraid a’ Mhòid Hall of Fame for their contribution to the community, music and language are Newtonmore Gael Sheila Mackay, Hebridean teacher Mairead Nicolson, Mòd Aberfeldy’s Mary Lorne and awarded posthumously, the much-loved Isle of Skye Gael John Robertson.
Born on Harris, Sheila Mackay established a Gaelic nursery in Newtonmore which paved the way for the first Gaelic medium primary school in the area, for over four decades she has taught Gaelic song and has been involved with the Badenoch Waulking Group since its inception in 1994, renowned for their involvement in Outlander.
Mairead Nicolson was the head teacher of both Staffin and Cille Mhoire Primary Schools, two communities rich with culture and spoken Gaelic. Since 1997, she has supported the local Mòd committee and has played a crucial role in supporting others’ journey to the National Mòd every year.
Broughty Ferry resident Mary Lorne, who was originally born on the Isle of Harris, has supported Mòd Aberfeldy for more than five decades and sings with Dundee Gaelic Choir.
John Robertson’s passion for his island heritage, forged in his formative years, was epitomised by his matchless enthusiasm for traditional Gaelic music. John loved the Royal National Mòd, attending every October, and was a great friend and supporter of many of Scotland’s most celebrated traditional bands.
Today sees the start of the renowned piping competitions, as well as the Mòd Shinty Cup matches and Mòd Football Cup. Taking over the King George V Pitches in Renfrew from 10:30am, young players from across the Central Belt will compete in the Paisley Royal Tournament for the Mòd Shinty Youth Cup.
The women’s match gets underway at 12pm with Alba, the Scottish Gaelic international select, playing against Glaschu, a select team of players from clubs in the Glasgow area including Glasgow Mid Argyll, Strathclyde and Glasgow Universities, and Uddingston, in the Women’s Shinty Mòd Cup in a bid to lift the LearnGaelic Trophy.
The men’s cup match will begin at 2pm, with Glasgow University marking 20 years since they last won a major trophy competing against Strachur, who came together in 2021 to preserve the playing of shinty in their communities. The games come as Renfrewshire primary school pupils get a chance to try Scotland’s national sport, with more than 100 pupils from West, Arkleston, Newmains, and Kirklandneuk Primary Schools opting to take part in the 6-week Shinty taster block delivered by OneRen Active Schools coaches.
The exciting sporting clashes continue with the Mòd Football Cup, which kicks off at 3pm and sees Gàidheil Ghlaschu and Na Gàidheil going head to head as they compete for the coveted trophy. The game will mark the first time two fluent, Gaelic-speaking teams have played against each other in this competition, with the historic match also refereed by Gaelic speaker Fergus O’Hanlon.
Equally fierce competition will be on display at today’s piping competitions, with the Junior Piping Competitions taking place from 9.30am at The Wynd Centre, which will see under 16s and 16-18 year olds compete for national recognition.
The Senior Piping events get underway at Paisley Town Hall at 10am, and will feature Premier A Grade and B Grade competitions, both with a Pìobaireachd and a March, Strathspey and Reel.
The shortlist for the Highland Art Prize has also been announced today, with 12 artworks having been selected by Ishbel Murray, the artist and art teacher based on the Isle of Lewis. They are ‘Crofts at South Dell’ by David Greenall of An Lanntair, ‘Digging For Bait (Thurso Beach)’ by Jackie Newton from the Society of Caithness Artists, ‘571186 degrees Wind Drawing’ by Bronwyn Mackenzie from An Lanntair, ‘Flying to Bass’ by Kittie Jones of An Talla Solais, ‘Lady Of The Flowers’ by Leah Davis from the Society of Caithness Artists, and ‘Locheport, North Uist’ by Margaret Fenton from Uist Arts Association.
They are joined by ‘Napoleon Bay, Shieldaig’ by Sheila Garden from Perthshire Art Association, ‘North Beach, Iona’ by Robert Kelsey from Paisley Art Institute, ‘North Uist Beach’ by Alan B Hayman of Resipole Studios, ‘Ruthven Barracks’ by Bob Kinnaird from the Society of Badenoch and Strathspey Artists, ‘Summer Oaks – Ardnamurchan’ by Liz Green from the Art Society of Inverness, and ‘The Ouse, Westray, Orkney’ by Amy Marshall from Resipole Studios. The winner will be announced at the prize-giving ceremony at The Briggait in Glasgow on Friday 20th October at 12.30pm.
Continuing the Celtic cultural celebrations, Paisley Town Hall will host Our Language, Our Music this evening – a very special show focusing on the thriving traditional music scene of the local area.
A number of celebrated musicians hailing from Renfrewshire are set to put on a show, with young musicians from Fèis Phàislig and the Renfrewshire Schools Pipe Band taking to the stage. The Glasgow Gaelic Association will feature alongside some of Scotland’s finest Gaelic singers including Ainsley Hamill and Joy Dunlop, and there will also be performances from the Kilbarchan Pipe Band, as well as the talented Shetland musical duo of fiddle player Jenna Reid and pianist Harris Playfair.
The music will continue on into the night with lively Glasgow act The Canny Band getting Paisley audiences on their feet at The Sneddon as part of the Mòd Festival Club, while The Old Swan Inn will play host to Stornoway’s Graham McLennan Trio for a Late and Live session.
Tomorrow sees a Gaelic Nature Walk at Paisley’s oldest public gardens and the annual Mòd Church Service will take place at 3pm at Paisley Abbey. A calming and reflective event, the service will be broadcast live around the country on BBC Radio nan Gàidheal.
Gaelic Learner of the Year, Louise Brown said: “It’s really an honour to receive this award. I’m very grateful to the teachers and other students at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig who are always so encouraging and willing to help. I’m especially grateful to the Student Services office because without their important support, I wouldn’t have been able to do the Gaelic immersion course last year.”
James Graham, Chief Executive Officer of An Comunn Gàidhealach, said: “The Mòd is well and truly underway now after last night’s spectacular opening concert. It was heartening to see such a great turnout and to get proceedings off to such a special start. Today, we’re straight into the heart of things with two staples of the Mòd calendar – the piping competitions, and the shinty and football cups.
“The people of Paisley have been so welcoming and it’s fantastic to bring the Mòd back here after 10 years – the atmosphere is just great as we go into the second day of the event. Once the competitions are done for the day we have a wonderful concert to look forward to, showcasing the very best musical talent from the local area and beyond, which is sure to be a treat for locals and visitors alike.”
The Royal National Mòd is supported by EventScotland, Bòrd na Gàidhlig, Renfrewshire Council, EventScotland, The Scottish Government, HIE, Creative Scotland, Caledonian MacBrayne, BBC ALBA, The Reeling and SQA.
The Royal National Mòd runs in Paisley until Saturday 21st October. To find out more about Mòd Phàislig events or to book tickets visit www.modphaislig.com.
Headline image: A photo from Breabach, the opening concert