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Songs of the Cèilidh House

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Julie Fowlis, Gaelic and folk singer from North Uist.

On Saturday night we’ll be throwing the first virtual Harris Cèilidh of 2021, a chance to enjoy the traditional sounds and spirit of an island gathering, no matter where you are in the world.

While a cèilidh (kay-lee) often just means a visit and a chat with friends and family, more often than not there’s a dram to hand and a tune or two somewhere along the way.

A fiddle might be produced from another room, or an accordion may appear from nowhere to get the music started, but sometimes the voice of a good singer is all that’s needed to get things underway.



Singing is embedded in the Gaelic DNA and has been part of the linguistic and cultural fabric of these islands from time immemorial. 

Songs in our native language have accompanied both work, play, and worship, from the waulking of Harris tweeds and rowing of fishing boats to the rhythms of the road dance and psalms of the Sabbath day.

The lyrics sung have often been passed down through the generations, an oral transmission of spoken word, story, and styles which may span hundreds of years.



Rarely do the songs require accompaniment to move the listener, letting the poetry take precedence and the natural rhythms of the local language define the expressions enjoyed by the ear.

Contrary to opinion, a wonderful voice is not always necessary either, and often it can be the untrained, natural, and relaxed singer which best captures the true heart and soul of a traditional island song.

A perfect performance can be as natural as breathing, an impromptu rendition effortlessly reflecting the mood of the moment and the atmosphere of the people in the room at the time.



Many say the Gaelic language reaches its greatest heights when expressed through music and song. Sorley Maclean, the great Gaelic poet is quoted as saying…

"The songs in which ineffable melodies rise like exhalations from the rhythms and resonances of the words make the thought that the language is going to die so intolerable to anyone who knows Gaelic.”

Most of all, traditional Gaelic singing touches on something intangible, whether the language is understood by the listener or not. There are often indefinable things bound up in the rhythms and rhyme of their words.



For many islanders, the melancholy melodies and memories evoked by old song can move them deeply, stirring the soul in ways that few other art forms can.

Other times, the mouth-music simply gets the spirit in gear and the only thing moved is the feet, as the traditional Puirt à beul gets the toes a-tapping!

Over the coming year, our virtual Harris cèilidhs will be sharing many great examples of such Gaelic singing, from the old 'seinn dùthchasach' to the new, with the help of some of our favourite singers.

We hope you can enjoy us for a tune or two along the way…


The Virtual Harris Cèilidh - January 2021

Time: Jan 30, 2021 20:00 Greenwich Mean Time

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Meeting ID: 982 6552 9379

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