Columba’s Calling: Ceilidh Oan

A ceilidh can be many things.

It can be my refined, genteel grandmother, now living in Canada, gleefully recounting when she BROKE HER ARM because the boys back on Islay really knew how to dance!

It can be a friend of mine as we were leaving a concert at the Barrowlands stopping me in my tracks and declaring, with a mad glint in his eye, “I hear jig music” and convincing me that we have to check it out and finding ourselves teaching enthusiastic Czechs how to do the Gay Gordon’s and the Dashing White Sergeant before dashing for the last train home.

It can be hilarious story about an amazing jumping flea that meets his untimely end in the telling.

It can be a beautiful song, sung with friends, all relaxed and cooried in, that brings you to tears and smiles of recognition.

When a rich Highland and Island culture of music and story met a fast paced urban population desperate to go to the dancin’ and mix, the idea of the ceilidh as a big dance grew arms and legs (and got those arms and legs in a twist, and a fankle – and in one notable occasion on Islay, in the 1940s, broken).

Formal Scottish Country Dancing, hearth-side storytelling, Hogmanay festivities, going ‘up the dancin’, uncle Hamish’s party piece, rock and roll, and church socials, all got mixed up to create the contemporary ‘ceilidh’ – often part shindig, part endurance test. But in all the stepping on one another’s toes we could risk forgetting the original lower key ceilidh option.

Ceilidhs originally, were times for local communities to gather together, often in the home, to share simple music and storytelling. Still music, laughter and merriment but less of the callisthenics and a bit more exercising of the soul as well as the limbs.

We love having a wee dance from time to time, but at ColumbaFest we are delighted to be hosting the form traditional form of wee ceilidh – in fact, ‘A Wild Goose Ceilidh Home Companion‘ – in more relaxed mould, on the Saturday evening. We’ll be joined by Mary Ann Kennedy and Pádraig Ó Tuama – who will both be leading workshops earlier in the day and contributing performances for us. With the WGRG at the helm, informally steering the ship, we’ll be able to relax, sing songs, tell tales, refresh ourselves and have a grand old time. Leave the knee brace, ankle supports and icepacks at home, and instead relax, in a comfy informal environment with friends old and new.

Tickets are still available for ColumbaFest! You can book here! And you can find the Full Programme (with timings, venue details, workshop/event descriptions) here … and also details of three FREE events over the weekend, including the Fischy Music gig (and Picnic!) on the Saturday evening for families and children.


James Cathcart


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