First ‘Oidhche nam Bàrd’ Celebrates Scottish Gaelic Poetry

ACGA director, and Gaelic poet, Barbara Lynn Rice, shares a poem at Oidhche nam Bàrd.
ACGA director Barbara Lynn Rice shares a poem at Oidhche nam Bàrd.

Everyone, practically everywhere, has heard of Robert Burns and Burns’ Night, but what about Scotland’s Gaelic poets?

They got their due and their own night Jan. 27, when 20 people gathered to celebrate centuries of poets and Gaelic poetry and share poems and songs at Oidhche nam Bàrd in Alexandria, Virginia.

Gàidhlig Photomac, the Scottish Gaelic Learning Community in the Washington, D.C., area, organized the special event, held just a few nights after Robert Burns’ big evening Jan. 25. The venue was the snug Fitzgerald room at Daniel O’Connell’s Irish restaurant.

“We felt it was time the contribution of Scottish Gaelic poets to Scotland and, in fact, the world at large, was recognized,” Liam Cassidy, a co-organizer of Gàidhlig Photomac, said.

The evening combined poetry and song with a brief Gaelic class, dinner and drinks, music and a toast to the bards (all of them).

“Many people are drawn to Gaelic by its songs, and the link between poetry and song in Gaelic is strong,” Cassidy said. “We’ve wanted to do something to celebrate and introduce Gaelic poetry to learners for a long time, and this seemed a good way to go about it.”

The evening’s program featured five Gaelic poets from different eras: Lachlann Mòr MacMhuirich from the medieval period, Mòr Chaimbeul from the 1570s, Donnchadh Bàn Mac an t-Saoir from the 18th century, Màiri Mhòr nan Òran from the 19th century, and finally, the great 20th century Gaelic poet Somhairle MacGilleathain.

The poems were read in Gaelic and in English translation and copies and information on the poets were shared with attendees.

After the “formal” reading, the informal sharing of poems and songs began. Out of the 20 attendees, nine volunteered to read or sing favorite pieces they brought with them. “We were pleased with the turnout, but amazed by the number of people who wanted to share poems,” Cassidy said.

Oidhche nam Bàrd drew long-time members of the D.C.-area Gaelic community but also new people, including a family with ties to Lochaber, an Irish-language student, and a few people experiencing Gaelic for the first time. The event was the first this year for Gàidhlig Photomac, which publicized the night through Meetup and Facebook.

While most of the attendees were locals living in Northern Virginia, D.C., or Maryland, three came from New York City and one from Richmond, Virginia. The New Yorkers all enjoyed local hospitality.

There was no charge for the event itself. Attendees covered their own tabs. “The fact that the restaurant did not charge for the room meant a lot to us,” Cassidy said. “That helped us make this a free event.”

Gàidhlig Photomac plans to make Oidhche nam Bàrd an annual event, and hopes other Gaelic Learning Communities will host their own events celebrating Gaelic poets and poetry. “The model would be an easy one to follow, even for small groups,” Cassidy said.


Christine Primrose to hold Scottish Gaelic Song Workshop in NYC Dec. 13

Primrose photo

Scottish Gaelic learners and fans of Gaelic song in the New York area will have a unique opportunity to meet and study with one of the leading exponents of Gaelic song in Scotland this December, Christine Primrose. The New York Caledonian Club will present a workshop with Primrose on Wednesday, Dec. 13, from 7-9 pm, at Studios 353 (353 West 48th Street, Manhattan, 2nd floor) near Times Square in New York City. Admission is $40 for ACGA and NYCC members, and $45 for non-members.

Primrose, who was born and brought up in Carloway, on the Island of Lewis, has been singing for as long as she can remember.  “Singing was an ordinary thing to do,” she said in an interview with ACGA board member Liam Ó Caiside in 2002. “My father’s uncle was always making me sing because he was a singer himself. He’d call me into his shed, saying, “Dè na h-òrain a-nis a tha thu ‘g ionnsachadh?” Which songs are you learning now?”

Her first album, Àite mo Ghaoil, was released in 1982. Primrose is credited with “breaking the mould” that had Gaelic singers performing largely for Gaelic-speaking audiences by taking her songs to audiences in folk clubs and concert halls far from the Hebrides.

Since the 1980s, she has travelled the world singing and teaching, blazing a path that many other Gaelic singers have followed, touring the United States, Canada, Australia, Ireland and Europe. She is Head of Gaelic Song at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, Scotland’s Gaelic College on the Isle of Skye, where she teaches short courses and full-time classes on the BA (Hons) Gaelic & Traditional Music Program. She has won many awards for her singing, amongst them Gaelic Singer of the Year at the Traditional Music Awards in 2009.

Primrose also has been an instructor at ACGA’s Grandfather Mountain Scottish Gaelic Song and Language Week in Banner Elk, North Carolina, most recently in 2014. This year, Primrose was inducted into the Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame.

This fall Primrose and Temple Records released Gràdh is Gonadh – Guth ag aithris (Love and Loss – a Lone Voice), an hour of unaccompanied Gaelic singing “delivered with the clarity and emotional expression of a true and very natural virtuoso,” as the Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame said in a statement. Scottish Gaelic writer Angus Peter Campbell called it “a masterpiece, every note and every syllable here is a note of grace.”

Speakers, learners and friends of Gaelic in New York are fortunate the New York Caledonian Club, which offers Gaelic language classes, will present this unique opportunity to meet and learn from Primrose. Attendees may register and pay via PayPal through the website, or checks may be sent to: Attn: Christine Primrose Workshop, New York Caledonian Club, PO Box 4542, Grand Central Station, New York, NY 10163-4542.

For more information, call 212-662-1083 or e-mail


Briathrachas nan Cèilidhean: Cèilidh Talk!


Going to a cèilidh? You may want to learn or brush up on these phrases, selected and recorded by Fèisean nan Gàidheal.

This vocabulary list teaches you to say where you or someone else is from in Gaelic, how to welcome people, and how to talk about the music that’s being played or songs being sung. And there are some very important incidental phrases thrown in as well.

You’ll especially want to know “Tha na taighean beaga ri taobh an stèids.”

These phrases will come in handy at the ACGA Fèis and US National Mòd Sept. 21-24.




Harper James Ruff to teach at ACGA Fèis

James Ruff with Anne Lorne Gillies at the 2016 US National Mòd.
James Ruff with Anne Lorne Gillies at the 2016 US National Mòd.

Last year, James Ruff won the men’s gold medal for Gaelic song at the U.S. National Mòd. This year, he will return to Ligonier, Pennsylvania, to lead a special harp workshop at the inaugural ACGA Fèis, a one-day program of workshops in Scottish Gaelic culture.

Ruff will lead a workshop Sept. 22 on the role of the clàrsach, the wire-strung harp, in Scottish Gaelic and Irish tradition. The workshop will combine a discussion of the clàrsach in Gaelic culture and songs from the harping tradition, as well as technical advice on ornamentation and technique suitable for wire-strung and nylon-strung harps alike.

“We’re delighted to welcome James to our first ACGA Fèis and back to the U.S. National Mòd,” Liam Ó Caiside, a member of the Mòd and Fèis committee, said.

“James’s workshop is particularly appropriate for this inaugural educational event about Gaelic culture. The harp is perhaps the oldest instrument associated with the Gaels of Scotland and Ireland. This special workshop will offer insights to harp players and those who simply have an interest in Gaelic tradition alike,” he said.

Since 2005, Ruff has researched and performed Scottish Gaelic songs accompanied by the wire harp.  He has performed at festivals and music series such as Boston Early Music Festival Fringe, Gotham Early Music Scene Midtown Concerts in New York, Beacon Hill Concerts in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, Stone Church Arts Concert Series in Bellows Falls, Vermont, and the Vassar College Concert Series in Poughkeepsie, New York.

Ruff has studied Scottish Gaelic song with Kenna Campbell, Mary Ann Kennedy and Christine Primrose, and early harp techniques with noted Irish harpist Siobhan Armstrong.  He has spent two summers studying at the Scoil na gClàirseach Harp School in Kilkenny, Ireland.  He enjoyed a month researching & studying early Gaelic Song in Edinburgh and Glasgow in 2012, funded by a grant from Vassar College.

In 2016, he won First Place/Men’s Division and Highest Overall Score in Gaelic Song at both the North Carolina Provincial Gaelic Mòd and the U.S. National Gaelic Mòd. He was also a finalist in the Silver Pendant Gaelic Song Competition at the 2009 Royal National Mòd in Oban, Scotland.

The ACGA Fèis is a day-long series of workshops on Gaelic song, language, music and culture preceding the U.S. National Mòd. The Fèis is a non-competitive event focused on learning and instruction. The Mòd is a series of competitions in Gaelic language arts, including song, poetry and storytelling.

In addition to Ruff’s harp workshop, the Fèis will feature workshops on Gaelic song by Margaret Stewart and Murdo “Wasp” MacDonald, both of Lewis. Stewart and MacDonald will judge the US National Mòd competitions. The Fèis will also feature a “Cèilidh 101” session that will teach tunes to musicians of all types, and other special events.

Check back here for more information on registration, lodging and costs for the Fèis and the Mòd. The events will begin Thursday, Sept. 21, and run through Sunday, Sept. 24.

Margaret Stewart, Murdo ‘Wasp’ MacDonald to Adjudicate 30th Annual US Gaelic Mòd

Famed Scottish singers Maighread Stiùbhart (Margaret Stewart) and Murchadh Dòmhnallach (Murdo “Wasp” MacDonald) will be adjudicators at the 30th annual U.S. National Mòd, a three-day festival of Scottish Gaelic song, poetry, storytelling and music this Sept. 22-24 in Ligonier, Pennsylvania.

Margaret Stewart, photo courtesy Euphoria Photography
Margaret Stewart, photo courtesy Euphoria Photography

This is the first time in several years that the Mòd will feature two adjudicators, and An Comunn Gàidhealach Ameireaganach is delighted to welcome Margaret and Murdo to the event for the first time. They will also be featured at the first ACGA Fèis, held Friday, Sept. 22.

Both Margaret and Murdo hail from the Isle of Lewis in Scotland’s Western Isles, and Scottish Gaelic is their first language. Margaret was brought up in Coll Uarach (Upper Coll), to the north of the town of Stornoway. Murdo is from Siadar a’ Chladaich, on the west coast of Lewis.

“We couldn’t have found a better duo to join us for the 30th annual U.S. Mòd and our first ACGA Fèis,” said Michael Mackay, chair of the event. “Margaret and Murdo both bring us a deep, rich background in Scottish Gaelic song, language and music that is literally unmatched.”

Murdo "Wasp" MacDonald
Murdo “Wasp” MacDonald

Both Margaret and Murdo have won top awards at the Royal National Mòd in Scotland. Murdo won the gold medal for traditional or sean-nòs singing in 1989 and Margaret the women’s gold medal in 1993. Margaret has performed around the world and has recorded three highly acclaimed albums, and collaborated on many more, particularly with Gaelic singer and piper Allan MacDonald.

In 2008 she was voted “Gaelic Singer of the Year” at the Scots Trad Music Awards and in 2011 was appointed “Musician in Residence” at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, Scotland’s Gaelic College on the Isle of Skye. She has adjudicated competitions at the Royal National Mod in Scotland.

Murdo is best known for his singing, but he is also a highly regarded melodeon player. Both his parents were fine singers and he learned many songs from them as well as others in his community. His father and uncle both played the accordion and he began to learn at age seven.

He won the Traditional Gold Medal at Scotland’s national Mòd in 1989, and his sean-nòs or old-style singing has gained acclaim in Scotland and abroad. He has led workshops in song and music at home on Lewis and elsewhere, recently focusing on the bards of Siadar a’ Chladaich.

In addition to judging the Mòd’s poetry, storytelling and song competitions, Margaret and Murdo will both present workshops during the ACGA Fèis. That will give Gaelic enthusiasts even more opportunity to learn from them and interact with them during the long Mòd weekend.

The US National Mòd, launched in Virginia in 1988, features competitions in Gaelic language arts, starting Friday evening, Sept. 22, and running all day Saturday, Sept. 23. The Fèis on Friday will feature workshops on Gaelic song, culture and instrumental music.

More details on the program for the twinned events, and registration, will be available shortly on this website and at Contact US National Mòd Registrar Liam Cassidy at to reserve a space or for more information.