Drop in children's entries at Mòd bucks recent upward trend

ROYAL National Mòd organisers expressed surprise yesterday at a year-on-year drop in the number of children's competitors at Scotland's biggest Gaelic cultural festival, being held in Stornoway this week.

Twin sisters Rowan and Rebecca Morris from Port Ellen won the under-13 duet for Gaelic learners.

As events got underway in 33 poetry, drama, song and music contests for young Gaels aged 5 to 19 on day four of the Mòd, it was revealed that the 1,700 children entered this year is a slight fall on last year’s Mòd in Oban, and ends a trend of increased numbers over recent years.

In contrast, adult participants have experienced a slight rise, to 1,400 this year. The unexpected fall in the number of young performers also comes at time of rising numbers of pupils in Gaelic medium education. But this year’s entries in children’s categories are an increase on the numbers recorded when the Mod was last held in Stornoway, five years ago.

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In addition, the last four Mods have been on the mainland, offering easier accessibility for many competitors.

Islay Junior Gaelic Choir, led by choir master Arlene MacKerrell, won three trophies in choral singing competitions.

An Comunn officials admitted the year-on-year decrease in entries was a concern which would have to be examined, but added that the longer term trend of annual increases has set the bar high.

“As usual the (overall) numbers are healthy,” said An Comunn chief executive John Morrison. “There was been a slight decrease in youth numbers but we are not quite sure why and we will have to look at that.”

One of the highlights of the children’s competitions yesterday came in duet singing, when the under-13 learners section was won by nine-year-old twins Rowan and Rebecca Morris, of Port Ellen Primary School, Islay. The Murdo Macfarlane Trophy for under-13 folk music was won by Na Rudhaich, a folk group from Point, Isle of Lewis. The award is named after a Lewis-born Bard whose Gaelic poetry, songs and pipe tunes, has been an inspiration for Gaelic artists and musicians. Chair of the Highland Council’s Gaelic Implementation Group, Councillor Hamish Fraser presented a £300 prize to the winning group.

“It’s been a delight to be present here today to see the young people perform to such a high standard,” said Cllr Fraser. “The standard keeps improving each year and all the young people taking part should feel very proud of their performances. I’ve every confidence that they will all progress and become successful ambassadors for Gaelic in the future.”

Islay Junior Gaelic Choir, led by choir master Arlene MacKerrell, won three trophies in choral singing competitions.

The children’s competitions continue today, and adult competitions begin tomorrow, with this year’s Gold Medal Final taking place on Wednesday evening.

Meanwhile, the National Library of Scotland announced yesterday that historic information about the history of 125-year-old An Comunn Gàidhealach is being made available online, as the Library continues its commitment to Gaelic which has seen more than 1200 Gaelic books, papers and documents made available online via its website in the past few years.

The Library is digitising An Comunn’s publications in its collection, including all the Mòd programmes - allowing people to search for names of competitors in years gone by. The material is available at http://digital.nls.uk/an-comunn-gaidhealach/

The National Library is also hoping to enrich its Gaelic collection by appealing to everyone at the Mòd to consider contributing any publications or material they may have at home. “We don’t have many Mòd programmes from before 1966,” said general collections curator Jennifer Giles, “and it would be great to fill in this and other gaps in our collection. We would be keen to hear from anyone who can help add to the national collection.”

Last week the Library also announced a new partnership with the popular website Wikipedia to recruit a Gaelic speaker to help develop Uicipeid, the online Gaelic Wikipedia.