How did three men, using only accordion, pipes, mandolin, piano and inventive percussion, manage to make their audience feel like they were on board Para Handy's puffer, The Vital Spark? That is exactly what Allan MacDonald, Iain MacLeod and Russell Hunter (A.K.A. The Crew Of The Puffer) were able to achieve in "Para Handy: A Highland Voyage" - the final event in the Skye Book Festival, held at the Aros Centre.
Originally featured in Neil Munro's short stories, Para Handy was the captain of The Vital Spark - a steamboat that delivered essential supplies around the west coast and Hebridean islands. Allan, Iain and Russell were bringing a musical touch to the stories as they took their listeners on a journey, starting from Glasgow to running aground on the Isle of Skye, and finally to The Grand Ceilidh at Dunoon.
Allan, Iain and Russell put great energy into their performance. Their foot-tapping songs were irresistible, with the audience happily chanting the choruses. If you closed your eyes, you could easily believe you were on The Vital Spark, as the sound of the engine was brilliantly mimicked by the men.
Displayed as a backdrop was an evocative picture of a puffer, dwarfed by the dramatic Scottish scenery. That, and the talents of Allan, Iain and Russell, made the audience feel as if they were just watching three friends playing music and having fun on calmer waters as their puffer carried them home.
(Words and photographs by Roz Skinner)
Gilleasbuig Ferguson, who specialises in selling antiquarian books, has another talent – swimming! When he leaves The Skye Book Festival, where he has been exhibiting his rare and collectible books, he will be swimming from Kyleakin to Kyle. “I'm so glad it's warmer today!” he grins.
Perhaps the swim will help him relax after an intensive three day festival, where visitors were able to enjoy viewing his collection of rare books, many of which are so rare that they cannot be obtained online.
Gilleasbuig has always been interested in antiquarian books, saying: “I love the way they are made, the historical value and the publishing history of the authors. That's all something I'm very interested in.”
Most of what Gilleasbuig sells is non-fiction, as that is his particular field of interest – however, a notable novel for sale is a first-edition of Ian Fleming's The Spy Who Loved Me..
Gilleasbuig became involved in The Skye Book Festival after he heard about it from the Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association and he has very much enjoyed being present. The 2015 festival has been a most exciting event, encouraging visitors to embrace their inner bookworm, celebrate the Gaelic culture and enhance their appreciation for rare books.
To see more of Gilleasbuig's stock, you can visit him at Tigh na Mara, Skeabost Bridge, Isle of Skye or view his website at www.gilleasbuig.co.uk.
Dave McClymont, foreground, with Aros managing director Donald Macdonald, right.
Former local librarian Davie McClymont took emthiusiasts on a tour that contained site-specific poetry such as work by Seumus Heaney, Michael Davitt, Robert Burns, Lawrence Pilkington, Robert Swinburne, William Shakespeare and Wendy Cope.
Fresh air, a relaxing stroll through the history of Portree and poetry – The Skye Book Festival combined all three in a fascinating Poetry Walk.
The group met on Saturday (September 5th) at Portree Square, where Davie McClymont and Norman MacDonald walked them through the area and the history. Mr McClymont said: “Even though this is a very small area, it has changed so much over the years. The locals have generated the history.”
Mr McClymont went on to illustrate this point by pointing to the window of Fraser MacIntyre's shop in Wentworth Street. “Every morning, I would find Sorley MacLean, the poet, sitting on the window sill and he would talk to people who passed by. I think this is one of the most important areas socially.” Seumus Heaney's poetical tribute to Sorley MacLean was then read.
Mr MacDonald pointed to the Portree Hotel, directly in front of his listeners. “A man called Kenneth MacLeod wanted to build the biggest and best hotel on the island. He started building the Portree Hotel, but Neil Nicholson, who owned the building next door, which used to be the butcher's shop, objected and took legal action. Kenneth died during this time. In the end, the building took six years to be built!”
Mr MacDonald brought the story up-to-date by revealing a fascinating experience. “A lady came from Australia and checked into the hotel,” he said. “She was the great-granddaughter of Neil Nicholson – coming to stay in the very hotel he had protested so much against!”
After chronicling a little of the history of the nearby Parish Church, Mr McClymont read from Ecclesiastes in the King James Bible, describing it as “one of the most magnificent works of literature and poetry.”
Readings were made from poems by Shakespeare, Michael Davitt and Robert Burns, to name a few! Locals and visitors alike were enthralled, with each person having something to take away with them – whether it was history they hadn't known, discovering their new favourite poet, or just simply the memory of a lovely day in a beautiful place on Skye.
Photographs and text by Roz Skinner
Some of Friday's events at The Skye Book festival in pictures…the craft of making paper and books with Corinna Krause and unravelling Gaelic place names.
The Skye Book Festival saw the launch of a new book entitled A’ Ghàidhlig air Aghaidh na Tìre: Ainmean-Àite an t-Sratha An t-Eilean Sgitheanach (Gaelic In The Landscape: Place-names of Strath, Isle of Skye).
Strath is one of the seven parishes in Skye and extends from Kyleakin and includes Broadford, Elgol and the islands of Scalpay, Pabay and Longay. Over 100 lesser known place-names from this area have been gathered and recorded in the book. Dr Jacob King, who co-authored the bilingual booklet with Eilidh Scammell, hopes that the book will be a source of reference for years to come.
Both Jacob and Eilidh work for Ainmean-Àite na h-Alba, the national advisory partnership that researches and determines authoritative forms of Gaelic place-names across Scotland. This particular project has been coordinated by Scottish Natural Heritage, which is charged with protecting Scotland's nature and landscapes for people to enjoy.
Robyn Ireland, SNH's Gaelic officer, stated: “Gaelic focuses on the link between the people and the landscape. Launching this book celebrates that link and is a great achievement.”
The process of writing the book involved finding local, knowledgeable informants and recording their opinions and memories. Wells are particularly prone to being forgotten, and a section of the book is devoted to recording the names of wells. Other chapters discuss coasts, rivers and lochs, hills, skerries and stones, as well as man-made areas.
The booklet is available online as a free download.
Even a brief glance at the book reveals that painstaking attention to detail has gone into it, from establishing the correct names, to memorialising the stories behind the names. The Gaelic and English text means it will be of use for many years to come. Glè mhath!
How do you remember going to school? By bus? Maybe you walked, carrying heavy books? Perhaps you enjoyed riding there on your bicycle?
Few people can say they have taken the route that Portree-raised Ian George MacDonald used. Speaking at The Skye Book Festival, he told the audience: "I was in Primary Two and I decided one day to cross the river hand-over-hand on a rope! That took me into what is now the car park in Bayfield, but that time, it was a very wet, muddy jungle. I can still feel the pain of the experience!"
Ian George, commonly known as I.G., was dipping into the past as he discussed his latest book, Memories Of A Portree Kid. I.G. said: "I wanted to write a book for my grandchildren, so that they could know what Portree was like when I was growing up."
Chairman, Alister Ross, remarked that the book will “remind you of things you thought you had forgotten.” In it, I.G. takes his readers on a reminiscent journey through various aspects of Portree living – including school days, shopping, sports, attending church and crofting history.
There was a sense of nostalgia as I.G. talked about his childhood, and especially when he screened photographs of bygone Portree. However, listeners were left with the positive conclusion that the past has not been forgotten. It can be visited in I.G.'s book, where you can share his memories and relive your own.
(Words and photographs by Roz Skinner)