THE Mod, Scotland’s annual Gaelic festival, got underway last night with a pledge from ministers for an additional £450,000 for teaching in the language.
The Royal National Gaelic Mod was opened in Largs with a speech from Lord Watson, the minister for Gaelic, at the Vikangar Theatre.
Mr Watson pledged the extra cash for funding support for Gaelic teacher training in Lewis, pre-school education in the Western Isles and materials for Gaelic-medium education. The money will be used to set up the new Bord Gaidhlig an h-Alba.
The minister said: "The profile of Gaelic in Scotland has been raised considerably in the past year by the work of the ministerial advisory group on Gaelic.
"I am convinced these measures together with other Executive initiatives already underway will contribute to our overall aim of securing the future of Gaelic language and culture."
UK energy minister Brian Wilson, the local MP for Cunninghame North and a keen supporter of the language, also spoke at the opening.
In the course of the week, Largs will see a massive influx of visitors as thousands come for the 99th annual celebration of Gaelic.
It is thought between 15,000 and 20,000 people will visit the Ayrshire town as it is transformed into a mecca of Gaelic song.
The Mod, often affectionately referred to as the "Whisky Olympics", is sponsored by the Royal Bank of Scotland and, appropriately enough, the whisky firm Glenfiddich.
It is the third time it has been held in Largs having been previously held there in 1956 and 1965. The first Mod took place in Oban in 1892.
The week-long event celebrates Gaelic culture through organised competitions of singing, dance, drama and literature.
Local Mod Committee Convenor, John Angus Macleod said: "Preparations for the Mod have gone well and we have seen a really tremendous response from Gaelic and non-Gaelic speakers. We have seen a strong interest blossom in North Ayrshire and Arran with the North Ayrshire Gaelic Forum developing projects such as Gaelic playgroups.
"We have two development officers employed in the area promoting the language and we have local primary school choirs competing this year as a result.
"In addition to the 200 competitions to be staged throughout the Mod, there is a comprehensive programme of informal non-competitive events being staged throughout Largs and the surrounding area, Feis a’Mhoid, which has been co-ordinated by the Largs Mod Committee in partnership with the local business community."
Mr MacLeod added: "We see the Mod as a welcome boost to local tourism and have given an added flavour with road signs in Gaelic welcoming people to Largs. We are delighted that so many people have come to the Mod and are aware there is a tremendous pressure on accommodation in the surrounding area."
BBC Scotland traditionally covers the Mod and have given over some of their key radio programmes for Radio nan Gaidheal.
BBC TV’s Gaelic-speaking presenter Cathy Crombie will be presenting the highlights of Mod in a late night resume and a variety of radio programmes which will cover the children’s singing on Monday, traditional Gold Medal competition on Thursday, the Lovat and Tullibardine Shield on Friday.
Mod promotions manager Murdo Morrison said that all the indications were that this year’s event would prove highly successful. He said: "Competitor numbers are comparable to last year in Stornoway so that is very encouraging. We will have strong local representation. I’m quite sure that Largs will not have seen anything like it for some time."
Meanwhile, Angus MacDonald, the president of Mod organiser An Comunn Gaidhealach, will call for more assistance from the public purse in helping to fund future Mods.
The Stornoway-based solicitor will say: "This year the Mod Company considered bids from five venues spread widely throughout Scotland for Mod 2005.
"In most of these, the local authorities were involved because they know the economic benefits attached to a Mod. But for some reason there are those who still remain blind to these advantages and what concerns me is that these are usually Government agencies who are set up for the specific purpose of bringing economic wealth to their individual localities."
Last year’s annual Mod in Stornoway was a major boost to island tourism, generating an estimated 3m. Next year’s Mod will be held in Oban.