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A 21st Century Cèilidh

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Calum and Iona, your Harris Cèilidh hosts with the mosts...

Richard and Judy, Phil and Holly, Matt and Alex…the list of legendary British broadcasting couples is a long one. And, last Saturday evening we discovered that our islands have some talent of their own to add to it.

Our first-ever virtual Harris Cèilidh took place last Saturday night as we sent an open invitation to the world to join us online for an evening of music, poetry and song.

It was a chance to celebrate the launch of our Harris Cèilidh project, with its beautiful new half-bottle made for sharing, and the spirit of this age-old Outer Hebridean tradition.

Some of the virtual cèilidh clan joining us from around the world.

Normally, an island cèilidh would involve getting some friends and family around the home fire for a whisky or two, a bit of music, and plenty of craic.

Other times, it could be a full-scale affair in the local village hall, with people travelling from townships far and wide to dance into the wee small hours (and sometime beyond!)

Today, in these strange times of safe social-distancing, the intimate confines of the cèilidh have made it difficult to gather together in the same way we once would.

SIAN: Three of Scotland's finest Gaelic singers, Eilidh Cormack, Ceitlin Lilidh and Ellen MacDonald.

But, thanks to technology we’ve been able to stay connected with our loved ones in other ways, like the new-normal conference call, where a digital dram can be raised with up to 100 people at the same time.

Harnessing the power of the Zoom platform, at around 7.45 GMT the first folk began arriving at our online cèilidh house, waving at each other through the lenses of desktops, laptops and mobile devices.

By 8 pm we had more than 70 people from all around the world with us as our brand ambassadors and hosts for the evening, Iona Cairns and Calum Barker got the night underway.

Author and poet, Donald S. Murray.

Keeping so many people entertained and engaged in this brave new virtual world is no mean feat but we’re proud to say our talented twosome rose to the challenge in fine style.

Their back-and-forth banter flowed as effortlessly as our Isle of Harris Gin as they enlightened us on the culture of the cèilidh as they’d experienced it growing up in their respective Scottish homes.

There were shout-outs to many of the audience who were tuning in from different time zones, including California, Texas, New York, Berlin, Australia and a few places a little closer to home.

Musician Padruig Morrison of the band Beinn Lee.

It wasn’t long before the music was in full swing with a stunning vocal performance from Gaelic trio SIAN live from their Glasgow studio and some good banter from the girls between songs.

After some poems, including a rather saucy one set in St Kilda, read by author Donald S Murray up in Shetland, Calum got his cocktail-making kit in action to create The Hearadh 75 for us. See below for the recipe to try yourself at home.

Then the music continued unabated thanks to accordionist Padruig Morrison who played some classic tunes by his Uist fireside before piper Mìcheal Steele from Beinn Lee rounded things off with a set of reels on the traditional Highland pipes.

Uist piper Mìcheal Steele provided some fine reels.

What was intended to be an hour-long session, soon ran to twice that as Iona and Calum chatted with our new online clan to learn their stories and answer any questions.

But with the night wearing on, it was finally time to draw the cèilidh to a close as our hosts expressed a heartfelt ‘moran taing’ to all who joined us and wished them ‘oidhche mhath!

It was a fun and experimental evening for all concerned, a chance to see if the magic of these much-loved gatherings could still be captured in these difficult days of the coronavirus.

We’re happy to confirm it can, and we’ll be making plans for our second online session very soon. Meantime, we heartily encourage you to hold your own and keep the 21st Century ceilidh alive and well!

The Hearadh 75, see below for the recipe!

The Hearadh 75

You will need:
35 ml Isle of Harris Gin
25 ml Lemon Juice
15 ml Honey Water
100 ml Sparkling Wine

Pour all ingredients, excluding sparkling wine, into a shaker. Add cubed ice, seal and shake hard for 10 to 15 seconds.

Unseal the shaker and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Top with sparkling wine and garnish with a few drops of your choice of smoky malt whisky.

To make the honey water simply dissolve honey in boiling water in a 1:1 ratio.

Enjoy and have a great weekend ahead!

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