Outer Hebrides to host isolation-themed arts festival partly inspired by pandemic

The Outer Hebrides is set to play host to an arts festival with a lockdown-inspired theme of isolation to tell stories of island life going back centuries.

The work of Harris-based artist Steve Dilworth will be featured in the festival. Picture: David Eustace

The evolution of remote communities in Lewis, Harris, Eriskay and Berneray will be explored in the four-day event, Faclan, which is run by Stornoway’s arts centre An Lanntair.

Due to be staged from October 27-30, the festival will explore everything from life in Scotland’s lighthouses, moorland history and the music of foghorns to the housing crisis in coastal communities, ghost towns and “post-human landscapes”.

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As well as appearances from guest authors, the return of the Hebridean book festival will also feature film screenings, theatre, poetry, storytelling, visual art and a “Gaelic pop” singer.

The Highlands writer Cal Flynn, whose new book Islands of Abandonment was released earlier this year, is among the special guests at the Faclan festival.

Now in its 11th year, this year’s programme will also feature a guided walk to a cluster of abandoned sheilings on the moor at Ness, in north Lewis.

Guest authors include Gavin Francis, whose new book Island Dreams explores why there is a “collective fascination” with island life around the world, Lewis-born author Donald S Murray, and Highlands-born author Cal Flynn, whose book Islands of Abandonment explores places around the world where humans no longer live and where nature has been allowed to reclaim its place.

David Gang will discuss his book Frayed Atlantic Edge, which charts a year spent kayaking Atlantic coastlines, from Shetland to Cornwall.

Highlights of the festival include archive screenings of a film made of the inhabitants of Eriskay in the 1930s, which is believed to feature the earliest footage of the Gaelic language, and a documentary on shepherds working on Berneray in the 1970s.

The festival will also feature a special event recalling the disappearance of three keepers of the lighthouse on the Flannan Isles, in the Outer Hebrides, in December 1900, as well as a screening of the film inspired by the mystery.

Ian Stephen, Laura Cameron Lewis, Elspeth Turner, Mike Vass and Christine Morrison will feature in a show combining film, storytelling, drama, music and visual art, which will link traditions from Lewis with the oral history of Govan in Glasgow.

Harris-based artist Steve Dilworth will feature in a new documentary and discussing a career spanning more than 40 years, working with local stone, wood, metal, twice and water.

Historian Bob Chambers will host a special event recalling the 13-year saga behind the community buy-out of the Pairc Estate in south-east Lewis.

Festival director Roddy Murray, head of visual arts and literature at An Lanntair, said: “This year’s choice of festival theme is inspired partly by the impact of the pandemic, and partly by Faclan’s spectacular setting in the Outer Hebrides.

"The words isolation and insular have the same Latin root: insula(ris) meaning ‘of or pertaining to an island’.

"Both though, can have negative or pejorative associations – insular being usually a synonym for withdrawn or introverted, while isolation tends to denote loneliness, incarceration or, topically, quarantine. ‘Self-isolating’ has, of course, become a common term.

"In this year’s programme, though, we go well beyond that. We’ll ‘dwell’ on islands as destinations, anchor points, oases of nature and sanctuaries.

“We’ll consider islands inland, portable islands, the romance and mystery of islands, and the beacons that guide and warn us as we navigate our way through fog and the night in these murky times.”

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