This year we will welcome three highly sought-after instructors in Scottish Gaelic song and language: Catriona MacPhee, Wilma Kennedy, and Màiri Britton.
“I was born Catriona Elspeth MacNeill, to Mòrag and Finlay MacNeill, and spent most of my younger life being raised in a Gaelic-speaking household with my brothers Donald and Calum. My father’s Lewis background, as well as his being a well-known singer and piper, meant that singing and piping were always heard in my home, no doubt being instrumental in spawning my own love of Gaelic singing and piping.
“I attended Glasgow University and then Jordanhill College of Education, followed by starting my teaching career in 1991 back home in Inverness teaching Geography, Gàidhlig and Cruinn-Eòlas. I continued to sing and pipe at all opportunities, being a member of my local Pipe Band and singing at cèilidhs and mòds for many years in my youth, eventually winning the Traditional Gold Medal for singing in the National Mòd in Lochaber in 1999 as well as representing Scotland in the Pan-Celtic Festival in Tralee, Ireland, the following spring. Nineteen ninety-nine was also the year I married James MacPhee and henceforth moved to Glasgow where I continued teaching for nine years until we moved back to Inverness with our children, Angus and Eilidh, who we also raised in Gaelic the same way we had been raised ourselves, as did we also pass on our piping and singing to them! My time in Glasgow allowed me to sing with other talented and inspirational women in the waulking group Bannal as well as with the Glasgow Gaelic Musical Association Choir.
I have been teaching for 28 years, the last 11 of those in Inverness Royal Academy, and I am also the chair of the Gaelic Teacher’s Association, which I find very rewarding. I continue to enjoy singing and piping when I can. I am a member of the City of Inverness Pipe Band as well as having sung for many years with Inverness Gaelic Choir and also with the choir splinter-group Siaban, at more informal events and festivals. Gaelic, teaching, singing and piping have enhanced my life at all stages and I don’t intend to change that any day soon!”
Wilma is an award winning singer and actress who hails originally from Glasgow but whose family roots are in Skye and Tiree. She is a native Gaelic speaker who has sung for as long as she can remember and most recently sang with her family as part of “The Campbells of Greepe.” With them she recorded two albums and contributed to the family book
“Fonn: Music and a sense of place in a Gaelic Family Song Tradition.”
She is one of only a few singers who has won both Gold and Traditional Gold Medals at the Royal National Mod. Her passion for sharing and teaching songs is evident in her career both as a former Gaelic Song Tutor at the National Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music and as conductor the Dundee Gaelic Choir for 12 years.
Wilma retrained to teach Primary School children through the medium of Gaelic and even taught her own daughter for 2 years. Both mother and daughter lived to tell the tale! She currently teaches pupils from age 5-11 in a multi-composite class.
She loves teaching her pupils songs as a way of telling social history and also for pure enjoyment. Wilma is particularly interested in waulking songs and sang for many years with the Glasgow Waulking group Bannal.
Her family are recognised as experts in puirt-a-beul and she will definitely be sharing a few puirt. Most recently she has become interested in the songs collected by Frances Tolmie in the 19th Century as her mother, Kenna Campbell, has been re-editing Tolmie’s book “One hundred and five songs of occupation.”
Wilma is very much looking forward to coming to Grandfather Mountain’s Gaelic Language and Song Week.
Màiri’s love of the Gaelic language was sparked through attending her local Fèis at the age of five, and it has shaped a journey from her hometown of Edinburgh to the Hebrides, Ireland, and now to Nova Scotia where she teaches Gaelic at St. Francis Xavier University.
In her new home of Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Màiri balances university teaching with running community Gaelic classes and immersion days, using the locally developed “Gàidhlig aig Baile” methodology. She is also manager of the Nova Scotia Gaelic song project, “Language in Lyrics” (www.languageinlyrics.com), at Cape Breton University. She spends as much time as she can visiting local Gaelic elders in in the province to learn from their store of songs, stories and cultural wisdom.
A Gaelic singer, step dancer and harpist, Màiri has performed and taught workshops and summer schools in Scotland, Ireland and North America. She is lead vocalist and step dancer in the Gaelic trad group Fàrsan, alongside Elias Alexander (pipes, whistles, vocals), Katie McNally (fiddle) and Neil Pearlman (piano, accordion, step dance). The group released their debut album at the end of 2018 to critical acclaim (www.farsanband.com).