Behold the Hebrides ~ Then & Now..
Once Upon a Time...there was a woman with a great love in her heart for a land of mountains and sea, of heather and wind and the old ways, a place called Alba...
Living in Scotland for a taste of all four seasons in 1992 – 1993 captivated my heart and soul. The land, the culture, and the characters of this wild country made a deep impression in me. In 1995 I went back for another shorter visit…to find “something purposeful to do.” The pieces fell together as they have a way of doing when I just let go and pay attention.
For part of that journey I was invited up to the Outer Hebrides, with an ornithologist friend who was heading that way to do research. The Outer Hebrides are a remote archipelago or chain of islands in the North Atlantic off Scotland’s west coast. Words can’t really convey the impact the Islands had on me. Life changing is the most suitable choice that comes to me now. I’ll let the photos and the stories express what I cannot.
I will say that on my last night there, my friend and I went out for a pint at a small pub in North Uist. The barman/manager asked what I was doing in the Isles and I told him about my interest in Scottish folklore, my regard for another fellow American - Margaret Fay Shaw, who was such an inspiration to me . I remember his response so keenly in my mind. “Well if you’re interested in the folklore you’ll have to come back and do something about that.”
He went on at length (hours actually) sharing the basic history (his version anyways) of local folklore of the Isles and how things with the rich oral tradition of the Isles were quite desperate now, with the old folks passing and the young folks leaving the Isles and the politics of academia and on and on he went in the most genuine and compelling way. I was very touched and left the next day knowing I’d be back but not knowing how or when.
Out of this inspiring trip I began my life long dharmic role of storyteller, and eventually founded The Hebridean Folklore Project. In the summer of 1996 I returned to the Outer Hebrides. From the unknown – all things lined up in perfect accord. I was made most welcome and this very grass roots venture had begun.
By day I traveled the single-track roads and moors by foot, hitchhiking and sometimes bus, visiting the Gaelic speaking tradition bearers, the elders of these wild islands. I listened, drank loads of tea and gathered and recorded their stories. By night I pull pints as a barmaid at the Dark Island Hotel in Benbecula – making many of my daytime contacts. (“Oh you’re looking for stories, well you’ll have to speak with my auntie…here’s her number, giver a ring”). It was a most auspicious time and bonds were forged that fed me on a very deep level.
The fieldwork and joyful exploration of the Isles continued in the summer of 1997 and then for five months in the autumn and winter of 1998. In all, between 1995 and 2000 a collective year was spent listening to the lore of the Isles, traversing the land and connecting with the language and culture of the Outer Hebrides. Most of the research occurred on the isles of Barra, South Uist, Benbecula, North Uist, Berneray and a bit on Harris. Again words here cannot touch on the iceberg of respect, love and wonder at these remote islands and her people. So many stories….
My first storytelling album, As It Was Told To Me, features many tales shared with me during my time in the Hebrides. These stories, which have been handed down as oral tradition are the sweetest, most precious tale to share.
In 2016 the analog recordings were digitized and cleaned up a bit with the support of many and the talents of sound engineer Tim Britton.
In August of 2018 an edited collection of the body of recordings was made available through the exceptionally hard working and dedicated folk at the University of Glasgow and their Digital Archive of Scottish Gaelic project or D.A.S.G. and the recordings are available for all to listen to via the Mothan Archive. So much gratitude flowing the DASG team - it was quite an undertaking!
Moran taing agus tioraidh an drasda!
PS. There is a vision a foot to bring these stories to the page, if you wish to be kept up to date on this please add your email to the mailing list!