Our story goes back to 1988, when the first U.S. National Mòd was held in Northern Virginia. Since those days the event has grown significantly and relocated to Western Pennsylvania. Each year the Mòd is held at the Ligonier Highland Games, which are attended by about 10,000 people, in the town of Ligonier, one hour east of Pittsburgh.
The inaugural ACGA Mòd was held in Alexandria, Virginia, July 24, 1988, during the Virginia Scottish Games. Donald F. MacDonald, founder of the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games in North Carolina, had long dreamed of organizing a Mòd in the United States. He worked with Gaelic educator Catrìona Nic Ìomhair Parsons, ACGA Regional Commissioner Elaine Ackerson, and a committee that included Gaelic learner and educator Jamie MacDonald, Donald’s nephew, and Christine Saunders to found the Mòd.
That first Mòd set a standard. Thirteen individual competitors sang at the event, which also featured performances by the Dunedin Singers, a Gaelic choir from Scotland. Renowned Gaelic singer Cathy Ann MacPhee attended the event, as did the late Donnie MacLean, Gaelic playwright and former head of An Comunn Gàidhealach in Scotland. Catrìona Nic Ìomhair Parsons was the adjudicator that year and for many years after.
Donald MacDonald and his sister-in-law, Gaelic singer Kitty MacLeod, provided the premier award for women’s singing, the Marietta MacLeod Quaich, in memory of his wife, Kitty’s sister. The premier award for men’s singing, the Herbert P. MacNeal Quaich, was provided by Clan MacNeil Association of America. These awards are still presented today to the male and female gold medalists at the U.S. National Mòd.
Over the years, the Mòd expanded from those roots, adding competitions and attracting new competitors. In 1990, a Mòd Committee was formed, chaired by Joan McWilliams Weiss and Mary Gillies Swope, and the event, then known as Mòd Virginia, was moved to the Alexandria Scottish Heritage Fair.
The Mòd Committee sought to increase participation by emphasizing the beauty and variety of Gaelic music and literature, rather than the competitive aspects of the Mòd. The Mòd continued to welcome special guests, including Cape Breton bàrd Archie Alex MacKenzie in 1991. A distance-learning competition, informally called “the Mail-In Mòd,” was launched in 1992.
ACGA recognized the Mòd as a national event in 1994, the same year the event moved to Ligonier, Pennsylvania and the Ligonier Highland Games.