INVERNESS is set for a multi-million pound boost to its economy under plans to stage the biggest-ever celebration of Highland culture this year.
The city is gearing up for an extended influx of visitors for a bumper two-month calendar of events including a huge Highland Games event, the city’s biggest clan gathering ever and the Royal National Mod.
Scotland’s shinty showpiece, celebrations to mark the 150th year of the city’s historic Northern Meeting Park, and a street theatre festival will also be held under the banner of the Highland Homecoming, part of the £6 million nationwide campaign to capitalise on the staging of the Ryder Cup and Commonwealth Games this year.
More than 20 events will be staged in and around the city from 4 September, when a series of historic piping competitions whose origins date back to 1788 will be staged at flagship arts venue Eden Court, and run until a spectacular show is held on the banks of the River Ness on Halloween.
City leaders have also revealed that Inverness’s Hogmanay festivities will be headlined by Julie Fowlis, the Hebridean singer who graced the soundtrack of Disney-Pixar film Brave, “Gaelic supergroup” Manran and comedian Craig Hill.
Gerry Reynolds, of Highlands Council, said: “When you combine all the events that are being held over the two months, nothing like this will ever have been held in Inverness before. Although we have a rough idea of how many people may come to some events like the Mod, others are free and held outdoors, so it’s difficult to say how many people to expect altogether.”
The city’s autumn celebrations, expected to be worth at least £5 million to the economy, will be built around two centrepiece events – the Inverness Highland Meeting and the Royal National Mod.
More than 3,000 visitors are expected for the first of these, to be staged from 11-14 September. It will feature an inter-clan gathering, a torchlight parade through the city, the Masters World Highland Games Championships, the Camanachd Cup shinty showdown and the grand finale of the Blas Festival, which is held across the Highlands every September.
A further 8,000 visitors are expected in Inverness from 10-18 October for the Royal National Mod and associated events, including a hurling challenge between Scotland and Ireland.
Inverness provost Alex Graham said: “2014 promises to be an exceptional year, with the city’s well-established programme of events and festivals being enhanced with keynote events.
“Residents and visitors alike will all find something with appeal for them, and the large number of outdoor events will provide a real buzz for the city.”
John Morrison, chief executive of the Mod, said: “The economic impact of the Mod over the last three years has varied between £2.1m to £2.5m. It is difficult to forecast economic benefit and visitor numbers but we expect to see all of the figures rise this year.
“In addition to the 2014 Highland Homecoming, this will be the first time since 1997 that the Royal National Mod has been held in the Highland capital.”
Caroline Packman, director of VisitScotland’s Homecoming Scotland project, said: “Highland Homecoming will provide a fantastic opportunity to celebrate Scotland’s rich history and culture through a variety of mass participation and smaller community events.”