Farquhar Macleod Funeral Directors was established on the Isle of Harris for many years. Thus, it is fitting that one of the quality coffins stocked is a Harris Tweed coffin - made of solid oak and overlaid with a strip of luxury Harris Tweed.
Now, though, owner Farquhar has relocated his independent, family-owned business to the Isle of Skye. Although he still returns to Harris when requested, Farquhar's business is now based in Broadford.
With his mother hailing from Harris and his father from Staffin, Farquhar is familiar with the funeral traditions on both islands and is able to accommodate his clients.
Farquhar devotes himself to customer care, saying that he finds satisfaction in giving the family of the deceased less to worry about. "They have so much on their minds and we are able to take some of that strain away from them," he points out. "Being independent, we can make our service more personal. If someone makes a request, we will do anything for them as long as it's legal."
Being independent also enables Farquhar to keep the expenses down, as much as possible, for his clients. "I'm always conscious of costs and try and keep them to a minimum for people," he explains. "When clients come into the office, we establish what their requirements are and then give them an estimate. They are not going to get hit down the line with a bill for double that estimate. However, if someone thinks they will struggle to pay, that initial meeting is the time to tell us, so we can work on reducing costs and helping them out as much as we can."
Farquhar Macleod Funeral Directors is the only member of the Society of Allied Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF) on Skye. "This is a guarantee of quality and uprightness," says Farquhar. "SAIF are like the VisitScotland of funerals - they inspect our premises and our paperwork to make sure we are doing things correctly. They are there
for the customer and that's a good thing."
Being a member of SAIF means that Farquhar Macleod Funeral Directorscan offer Golden Charter Funeral Plans. "They offer a combination of the best value and the best quality," Farquhar says.
Farquhar's top advice for the family of the deceased is to always have the correct paperwork to hand. "Know where the deceased's birth and marriage certificate is, as you will need them immediately," he advises. "The law has changed and now the death must be registered before the funeral can be arranged. So have all the paperwork in order and choose an independent funeral director who will take all the strain."
Skeabost House Hotel, located just outside Portree, now combines local history with contemporary luxury.
Bought last year by Anne Gracie and Ken Gunn, owners of the Sonas Hotel Group, Skeabost boasts lavish decorations, delightful ambience and relaxing comfort - the result of extensive renovations.
Anne has been involved in hospitality services for a number of years, originally running a guest-house, self-catering and ultimately Quality Grading holiday accommodation.
“The grading background gave me excellent training so that I could evaluate quality,” Anne explains. “Ken and I purchased Toravaig House Hotel in the south of Skye and it became the first hotel in our Sonas Hotel Group.
“Ken had been Captain of Hebridean Princess and he is very driven to provide top service for the guests. Later, Duisdale House Hotel, which is just up the road from Toravaig, came on the market and we bought it in 2007.”
After acquiring Skeabost last April, the team immediately started renovating the 146-year-old hotel.
Anne says: “Our most urgent task was to provide comfort and a welcoming ambience, in the first instance, to guests visiting the hotel before quickly embarking on the refurbishing of the whole hotel along with basic maintenance which had been overlooked.
“The Hotel has such happy memories for people over the years and it was disappointing to see it go into decline. It gives us a great deal of satisfaction to restore it back to its former glory.”
One of Skeabost’s main attractions is its golf course, perfect for a relaxed but active holiday. “We are looking to increase the membership and maximise the course,” Anne reveals.
“We are also promoting the salmon fishing on seven miles of the hotel’s own Skeabost river. Permits are available at the hotel reception or from Derek, the Ghillie, at the site office.”
Guests can also enjoy sailing trips on Anne and Ken’s 50 foot luxury yacht, Solus a Chuain (Light Of The Ocean.) based at Armadale. “The perfect gift for any celebration!” says Anne.
Exciting plans are in development, including improvements to the private road to the hotel. “At the moment, we hope to have the road open by the summer. The gardens have also been lovingly tended and, within the next few years, there should be a blaze of colour from the azaleas and ornamental rhododendrons, which have newly been planted around the gardens,” said Anne.
Now that the Old Chapel, which was used as a billiard room, has been transformed into a small wedding venue and private dining room, the next plan is to install a treatment room this season.
“Together with our offering of sailing, fishing and golfing, a treatment room seemed the next obvious offering,” Anne says. “We will always be developing every year – it seems to be what Ken and I thrive on!
“In this industry, you have to look ahead and be aware of emerging trends. We have visitors from all over the world and we want them to enjoy attention to detail and top quality service levels. This philosophy has enabled us to win many awards with our other two hotels in the south of the island, Duisdale and Toravaig House Hotels.”
Whether you are a visitor looking for an exciting holiday or, if you live locally, Duisdale, Toravaig and Skeabost House Hotels are splendid countryside getaways.
An expert on minority languages will present a free lecture at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig UHI next month.
Conchúr Ó Giollagáin, (pictured above) Gaelic Research Professor at the University of the Highlands and Islands, will explore the local and global challenges faced by minority languages.
He will discuss how features of modern life are threatening the survival of minority language groups and will argue that a new approach is required to address the challenges they face.
Professor Ó Giollagáin explains: “Much of the current debate on minority language diversity is irrelevant and insincere. We need to set out a clear diagnosis of what is happening to Gaelic and to other minority languages as a first step to proposing alternative approaches to our current condition.
"If we are to give communities hope, we need to set out a vision and a strategy that people can believe in.”
Professor Ó Giollagáin’s inaugural professorial lecture ‘Rethinking Our Condition: Language Minorities in Globalised Modernity’ will take place from 5.15pm to 7.15pm on Tuesday 19 April at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig UHI.
The lecture will be presented in a bilingual Gaelic/English format and facilities will be available for those wishing to hear an English interpretation of the Gaelic sections of the lecture.
Hopes for a new local marketing strategy were outlined at a major tourism industry event for the Isle of Skye held at Skeabost Hotel near Portree on Saturday.
The hotel's conservatory was packed with people involved in all aspects of the local tourism - from artists to hoteliers, from shop owners to landowners, from restaurateurs to photographers.
The meeting formed part of the Scottish Tourism Alliances' plan to increase overall earnings from tourism by £1 billion by 2020.
A number of official speakers lauded the Outer Hebrides for the way the Outer Hebrides Tourism group - an industry-led body - had multiplied its membership tenfold and had just been instrumental in the launch of Hebridean Way cycle route from the Butt of Lewis to the Isle of Barra and the Eat Drink Hebrides food trail. The launch had taken place at the new Harris Distillery in Tarbert, itself a major addition to the Outer Hebrides range of attractions.
Marc Crothall, the chief executive officer at the Scottish Tourism Alliance said the Skeabost event was one of a host of local events under the banner Connecting 2020 - the aim is to have at least 2,020 conversations with local businesses although probably 4,000 will take place. He pointed out that the tourism industry employed 220,000 people and involved around 27,000 businesses. This region has highest growth of tourism employment inn the whole country.
The Scottish Tourism Alliance is the tourism industry’s voice and direct link with Government and has a seat on the UK-wide tourism body. The STA 'On The Road' tour, of which the Skeabost event was part, is intent upon connecting with as many small businesses as possible during Tourism Week in the run-up to the two-day Signature Conference in Edinburgh, along with the Thistle Awards, Scotland’s national celebration of top tourism businesses from every region.
The leadership of the local tourism body Destination Skye & Lochalsh - with the slogan Developing All-round Excellence – is changing, the meeting heard, and a new group of tourism businesses is taking the lead with a new venture, which will have a much wider focus upon marketing the area and planning a future strategy.
Among those contributing towards making these changes is Donald MacDonald, Manager of Aros in Portree, who said before the meeting: “This is a real opportunity for everyone in Skye to work together to strengthen the local economy which, as everyone knows, is driven by tourism.
"We need to collectively capture a new spirit of engagement, partnership and drive that will see this iconic destination reach its real potential. This will be the time to look at new initiatives, find effective solutions and help to develop the tourism product on Skye through a quality focused approach. Tourism is not just about beds and food, it engages every other service that is being offered on Skye.”
Shirley Spear, of the Three Chimneys Restaurant, who is also involved in a variety of other national promotional groups, said the new group, including Anne Gracie, of Skeabost Hotel, Donald MacDonald and Rob Ware from Sleat, wanted to create a "brand new conversation" about the future of the tourism industry in Skye and Lochalsh. She outlined the way the structures of the industry had changed over the years, from local tourist boards onwards, to the present model of local industry bodies or DMO's.
However, she said, this area had "not been very successful in pulling together a collaborative working group" and unlike all other parts of Scotland "in recent years…we don't seem to have made a great deal of progress in building a cohesive strategy for our local industry." DSL started its life with a big flourish but "did not develop as many of us had hoped" because it had not been widely enough supported, she said. She praised the work of Neil and Rosemary Colquohoun, who along with Clive Pearson, had been the DSL driving force and had enabled it to achieve the progress which it had made. But the group could not succeed in the future without developing a strategy and a business plan, winning external funding and involving everyone in the industry in Skye and Lochalsh.
(More information about STA, Tourism Week and the Roadshow, can be found here
University of Arizona Gaelic Research Scientist, Muriel Fisher, with Dr Andrew Carnie, Professor of Linguistics and Dean of the Graduate College, and her
2015 Excellence in Community Linguistics Award
The historic, adobe-style Arizona Inn in the desert city of Tucson might seem an unexpected place for two island Gaels to meet (writes Katie Macleod), but then again ‘unexpected’ is a word that describes the career of University of Arizona Gaelic Research Scientist, Muriel Fisher, to a tee.
For the last eight years Muriel – who hails from Feriniquarrie in Glendale on the Isle of Skye – has been a Senior Research Scientist at the University of Arizona in the southwestern USA. She is part of the University’s Critical Language Programme, aiding the Department of Linguistics in their research of Gaelic. It’s one of 14 ‘less commonly taught’ languages in their remit, taking its place in the course catalogue alongside the likes of Kurdish and Swahili.
But how did the language of the Misty Isle find its way into classrooms located in the legendary deserts of the American West? According to Dr Andrew Carnie, Professor of Linguistics and Dean of the Graduate College, it all began as “a happy accident.” “We happened to have a number of faculty [members] interested in Celtic languages and Muriel lived in town. Having access to a native speaker consultant is a critical part of doing research on a language.”
Interaction with the communities who speak the language is essential for successful linguistic work: this is why the faculty journey to Skye annually to conduct experiments and collect data, with Muriel acting as a liaison. “They have a bunch of experiments that I help them develop, and then I act as a liaison between the locals and the linguists.”
“Linguists are like brain surgeons, they want to dissect it [the language], and they write papers about various aspects of it. It’s completely different to what we might think. It’s mathematical... I love all the different bits of Gaelic that they teach me, things that I would never ever have known,” says Muriel.
Andrew, who invited Muriel to join the department, explains that “Linguists are interested in how humans use, produce and understand language, as well as how we acquire it and how we pass it on to the next generation. Gaelic is a particularly interesting language. While it is genetically related to English and Spanish... it has many properties that make it very different in the spectrum of languages we look at. It has all sorts of rare properties.”
In an attempt to understand these rare characteristics, Muriel and her colleagues are currently working on a project involving both the University of Arizona and the University of Nevada; they recently received a grant from National Science Foundation, allowing them to undertake necessary linguistic research into Gaelic on the Isle of Skye.
An official partnership is also in the works between the University of Arizona and Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, where Muriel has been teaching summer classes for more than 16 years. If all goes well, a student exchange will take place, with students from Skye studying in Arizona, and vice versa. “So many people care about the language, culture and traditions and are available to teach us about their language,” says Andrew. “This makes the language a joy to study while at the same time contributing to the science of language.”
As if university classes and linguistic research weren’t enough to keep her busy, Muriel wears yet another hat: she offers Gaelic lessons via Skype to students around the world. Her lessons (both on and offline) are not solely about Gaelic grammar, but Gaelic culture too. “We come from a storytelling culture,” she says. “So I also talk about where we grew up and our culture. You can’t separate them. Out here in the desert I talk about the sheep and the peats!”
Over the years her Skype students have logged on from as far afield as Colorado, New York, Mexico, England, and France. But whether they’re in the Sonoran Desert, in Skye, or around the world, the students always move Muriel with their desire to learn the language.
“They move me to tears,” says Muriel. “That’s what gets your heart. What makes it possible is the people, because the people themselves, they’re so interesting... because they’ve got this desire for the Gaelic. I just get really sentimental about it. There’s something about it that gets them in the heart and in the soul.”
Muriel is modest about her role and her achievements: it is over an hour into our conversation before I discover she has been recognised at the highest level by the Linguistic Society of America (LSA), receiving the 2015 Excellence in Community Linguistics Award. Muriel is only the second person to receive the award, which “recognises the outstanding contributions that members of language communities make for the benefit of their community’s language.”
“I think that’s alright. I’m quite chuffed,” admits Muriel, in that understated fashion typical of islanders. The LSA honoured Muriel not only for her “outstanding work with the teaching, promotion, and documentation of Scottish Gaelic” which has helped people around the world learn (or indeed, re-learn) Gaelic, but also for her contribution to linguistic research and documentation efforts relating to the language.
It’s an impressive achievement, even more so for someone who found their way into teaching via all manner of adventures at home and abroad. Muriel first moved to the USA in 1972, or as she says with a laugh: “When I was young and fabulous.” Having previously worked as an artist in Tuscany and at the post office in Glendale, she soon found herself selling traditional Skye scones in Woodstock and even sheep herding with the Navajo in the Arizona desert.
But it was teaching English in Mexico that opened the door to her current career. “That boots on the ground confidence... I think it helped me a lot,” she says of her two years across the border. It was that experience that saw her start private Gaelic lessons in Tucson almost 20 years ago, begin working with the now-closed Tucson Open University, and graduate into the indispensable role she plays at the University of Arizona linguistics department today.
Muriel couldn’t have done any of it, she says, without her family: her husband, Paul Fisher, whom she affectionately refers to as Darling, and her two children, Alexandra and Jahil, who live in Los Angeles and New York City, respectively. Alexandra’s son, Cole, is even taking informal Gaelic lessons from his Nana.
Through it all, Muriel retains her attachment to Skye. She misses the land, and the sea, and - like so many islanders - still calls it ‘home.’ “Our earth home” she says with a laugh. That sounds so new agey! My home is with my husband, because I love him... but also we go ‘home’ when we go home [to Skye]. You’re connected to the land here, and you back and you recalibrate... You feel recharged, you seriously go back and charge your batteries.”
Muriel will be returning again this summer to teach her regular Gaelic classes at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, as well as a new addition, one centred on ‘The Island.’ She says it will be much more hands on, with students going on trips to the likes of Raasay and Cana, engaging in situations where they will use the language they are learning. As Muriel explains, “When you’re out there and you’re ordering tea, you’re going to remember your ‘bun’ or your ’soup’ or your ‘coffee’ – that stuff - much better.”
“I’m very very grateful to them,” she says of Sabhal Mòr, and the opportunity the role affords her to return to the island. “I don’t know what I would have done without them, because it’s Skye, you know? I would still be grateful if it was on Uist or Harris or Lewis, but the fact that it’s on Skye is just fabulous.”
As we joke and laugh over gin martinis at the Arizona Inn, it’s clear to see that Muriel doesn’t take herself too seriously. She strives to make her Gaelic classes fun and enjoyable, and has a passion for the language and the people who are trying to keep the language of the island alive – even if it’s in the desert on the other side of the world.
(Katie Macleod, who formerly worked for The Skye Magazine, is an internationally recognised travel-blogger based in New York - http://storiesmysuitcasecouldtell.com)