Britton, Kennedy, MacPhee coming to 2020 Grandfather Mountain Gaelic Week

Three highly acclaimed Scottish Gaelic singers and educators will be instructors at this year’s Grandfather Mountain Gaelic Song & Language Week (GS&LW): Catriona MacPhee, Wilma Kennedy, and Màiri Britton. Registration for the GS&LW is now open, and may be completed online here.

The GS&LW will be held from Sunday, July 5, through Friday, July 10, at Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk, North Carolina. Information on accommodations and costs is available on our 2o2o GS&LW page.

We are delighted to welcome Britton, Kennedy, and MacPhee to this year’s Gaelic song and language week.

Màiri Britton
Màiri Britton

Màiri Britton, a native of Scotland, now lives in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, where she teaches at St. Francis Xavier University.  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.

She also is manager of the Nova Scotia Gaelic song project, “Language in Lyrics” (, at Cape Breton University.

Wilma Kennedy
Wilma Kennedy

Wilma Kennedy is an award winning singer and actress originally from Glasgow but whose 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.” 

She is one of the few singers who has won both Gold and Traditional Gold Medals at the Royal National Mòd. 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.

Wilma currently teaches at a Gaelic Medium Primary School, with 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.

Catriona DEALBH
Catriona MacPhee

As the daughter of Mòrag and Finlay MacNeill, Catriona MacPhee grew up with Gaelic and the Highland Bagpipes, and they have remained lifelong passions. She won the Traditional Gold Medal at the Royal National Mòd in Lochaber in 1999, and represented Scotland at the Pan-Celtic Festival in Tralee, Ireland, in 2000.

Catriona has been a teacher for 28 years, the last 11 of them at the Inverness Royal Academy, and she is the chair of the Gaelic Teacher’s Association. She also is a member of the City of Inverness Pipe Band and has sung for many years with the Inverness Gaelic Choir and the group Siaban. “Gaelic, teaching, singing and piping have enhanced my life at all stages and I don’t intend to change that any day soon!” she said.

Western Isles ‘Gaelic First’ policy a good first step

Photo: Sgoil Lionacleit, Benbecula.

You may have recently learned that Scottish Gaelic-medium education is now the “default” option in Scotland’s Western Isles, the contemporary heartland of the language. What may surprise many outside Scotland is that this wasn’t already the case — after all 52% of people in the Western Isles or Outer Hebrides aged three years or older are Gaelic speakers, according to the 2011 UK Census.

But Gaelic-medium education has been an option in na h-Eileanan Siar only since 1987, and English-medium has been the default. The decision by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (the Western Isles Council) to make Gaelic-medium the default choice, while allowing parents to opt for English-medium instruction, is an important step for a community fighting to keep its language alive.

But it’s only one step. Gaelic-medium education has grown rapidly in recent decades, and that’s given the language and its speakers a big boost in terms of confidence and visibility. The overall number of students enrolled in Gaelic-medium units is still small, however, and the challenges facing Gaelic speakers include a lack of economic opportunities for young people in traditional Gaelic communities.

How many students are in Gaelic-medium education? In 2018, the last year for which data are available, there were 4,343 students receiving Gaelic-medium education throughout Scotland, according to the Scottish Government’s pupil census. That’s out of a total of 693,251 pupils at primary, secondary, and special schools in Scotland. There were another 6,555 students in Gaelic classes, learning Gaelic as a second language.

In the Western Isles, 1,050 out of 3,326 students were in Gaelic-medium units, including 731 primary-school students and 319 secondary school students. That’s just about a third of the total. However, another 2,060 students — 62 percent of the total — were reported to be enrolled in “Gaelic learner classes,” with only 216 secondary school pupils reported in programs with “no Gaelic.”

There’s another key number in the 2018 Scottish Pupil Census, however: The number of students with a language other than English as their main home language. In that census, only 520 students claimed Scottish Gaelic as their main home language — not just in the Western Isles but in Scotland. For those who believe language transmission starts at home, not in school, that’s a bad number.

The Western Isles policy to make Gaelic the default language of primary and secondary education is the right step and corrects more than a century of neglect of Gaelic in the schools at best and outright persecution at worst. But much more attention must be paid to the use of Gaelic in the home, and to the creation of economic opportunities in Gaelic-speaking communities.



Registration Open for Gaelic Singers, Storytellers at Mòd Ligonier 2019


The Ligonier Mòd will take place in the town of Ligonier, Pennsylvania, at the Ligonier Highland Games Sept. 13-15, 2019, as it has many times in the past!

Please click on the following link to download the Mod Ligonier Registration form for competitions and return your entry to Anne Alexander. Prescribed pieces will be emailed after you send in your registration.  You can pay your entry fee at the event.

We will gather Friday night, Sept. 13, for those who wish, for a cèilidh at the Ramada Ligonier, situated in the heart of the town near Fort Ligonier. The competitions will take place at the Ligonier Highland Games Sept. 14. There will be a workshop Sunday morning, Sept. 15, at the Ramada Ligonier as well.

Follow the link above to book a room at the Ramada, or choose a different option, but remember hotels fill up quickly during the Highland games.

Scottish singer and composer Rachel Walker will adjudicate the competitions at the Mòd, which will include poetry, songs, storytelling, and more.

Please email Mike Mackay ( with any questions.