Glasgow National Mòd took me back to my youth.
On returning from holiday last week and catching up on things back home, I found my social media feeds full of the happy smiling faces of friends’ children. The reason for this jollity? Well, many had spent part of the school break at the Royal National Mòd in Glasgow and clearly a good number had been successful in their competitions.
The Mòd, for those not familiar with this long-established fixture of the Gaelic calendar, is the annual festival of music, language and culture organised by An Comunn Gàidhealach (The Highland Association founded in 1891). Although the focus of the Mòd is on competition, for all ages across various disciplines and instruments, it also offers a programme of non-competitive Fringe events featuring some of Scotland’s most acclaimed traditional musicians and singers.
Whether solo competitor, choir member or simply enjoying performances from the comfort of a seat in the audience, going to the Mòd is great fun. To be among thousands of kindred spirits, hear Gaelic spoken everywhere, to renew old friendships and be immersed in music and song, is a heart-warming and cheering experience.
As a youngster, my own involvement at the Mòd was as a member of Inverness Royal Academy’s Gaelic choir, and my memories are not so much of the actual competitions as the fun we had. My first time on a train and the high jinks that ensued from a group of teenagers being let loose on a distant city, all remain indelibly imprinted on my mind!
My eldest sister though was the one who competed seriously in solo Gaelic singing, taking home silverware on various occasions, and seeing all the happy, young faces last week brought me right back to those youthful days of a proud family celebrating our sister Gwen’s achievements.
Although condescendingly, if affectionately, referred to by the tabloid press as the ‘Whisky Olympics’, the Mòd of course serves a serious purpose. Affording a yearly opportunity for Gaels and non-Gaels to gather and celebrate Scottish culture, it encourages children and adults alike, to learn, practice, improve, and perform songs and pieces on fiddle, pipes, accordion and other instruments.
Categories also include Gaelic conversation, poetry recitation, Highland dance, literary composition, sport and drama, with events given a national and international promotional platform of extensive press coverage, television and radio broadcasts, and online presence.
The annual legacy of the Mòd is an increased awareness and interest in Gaelic language and heritage but is also an enviable boost to the profile and economy of the host city and area. It’s estimated that this year’s Mòd brought an economic injection to the city of Glasgow of around £2 million - that’s a lot of beds, meals, drinks, gifts and travel.
And there’s even better news! The event returns to the Highlands next year, with the Royal National Mòd 2020 taking place in Inverness. I’m guessing that local hotels and bed & breakfast establishments are already getting booked up, as Mòd veterans are invariably ahead of the game when it comes to securing accommodation…with over 3000 competitors across 200 events, they have to be.
In 2014, the last time the festival was held in Inverness, £3.5 million was generated for the economy of the city and surrounding area. A surge in trade such as this, at a time when the summer season is drawing to a close, is supremely welcome to local businesses and here’s hoping we can all do as much as possible to support An Comunn Gàidhealach in their efforts to make Inverness 2020 a hugely successful Mòd.
With the strength of our Gaelic community of native speakers, learners and Gaelic organisations, supporters of traditional music and culture, the success and growth of Gaelic-medium education within Inverness and the wealth of Highland musical talent on display at this year’s event, it’s sure to be a bumper year!
(First published by Scottish Provincial Press 1st November 2019)