This article by Katie Macleod was first published in EVENTS newspaper (available at www.hebevents.com) on 06/02/2020 

For the young people on stage at the New Auditorium, it was a unique experience. On January 17, they performed for hundreds of people at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, and another 3000 online, as part of Dileab: Air a’ Chuan (Legacy: On the Ocean)at Celtic Connections, celebrating the islands’ rich connection with the waters which surround them.

“We had almost 70 young people with us from Lewis right through to Barra and they really rose to the occasion,” says Rhona Johnson, Project Coordinator for Dìleab. “The audience, which included Deputy First Minister John Swinney, were treated to a varied and balanced programme of music including instrumental and choral contributions both new and old.” On Twitter, John Swinney described the event as “an outstanding performance” and a “beautiful tribute to our Gaelic culture and a fabulous illustration of the strength of Scottish education.”

As the concert opened, Director of Education, Skills and Children’s Services at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Bernard Chisholm, welcomed the audience, saying “The past, place, and culture has provided our young people a unique identity and language… Your support and the opportunity you’re giving them tonight, to share their understanding of their past, and their aspiration for the future, is a memory that’s going to live with them forever. Two planes, hours of rehearsal – this is a special night for them.”

The event took place at the 600-person capacity New Auditorium, and featured local musicians Willie Campbell, Ceitlin Lilidh, and Padruig Morrison performing alongside the young people. It was the latest incarnation of Dìleab, the Comhairle’s multigenerational bilingual project, which covers a programme of work undertaken by the young people of the islands, as well as local musicians, all designed to draw on language, history, and culture as a bridge between generations.

Since its launch in 2018, Dìleab has included school workshops, themed concerts on the Iolaire, the release of a Dìleab EP, and a headline concert with trad band Skipinninsh performing in Stornoway last November. This year, the theme ties in with Visit Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters, and signals a new chapter for Dìleab, which will see young people learning and working on different cultural themes each year as part of the project.

Willie Campbell, a well-known singer-songwriter with bands like Astrid and The Tumbling Souls, was commissioned to write two new songs for the concert, after he wrote five songs for the original Dìleab concerts in 2018. He explains that the new songs – Drawn to the Ocean and Calling Out – were inspired by “islanders being scattered to every corner of the globe, our relationship with the sea, what life is like for children on the island, and our history and place in it… The sea is a strong thread throughout these new songs, from long Atlantic voyages to rough crossings on the Minch and trips to rigs by helicopter.”

The theme of coasts and waters was threaded throughout the 26thCeltic Connections festival, in particular with the launch of the sea goddess, “Storm,” a 10-foot high puppet made entirely from recycled materials that made its way through the streets of Glasgow on January 18. The pupils from Sir E Scott School – fresh from the Dìleab concert the evening before – also performed at the event, singing as Storm rose from the River Clyde and ‘walked’ through the city.

Pupils from Castlebay Community School in Barra also took part in additional events, appearing on the main stage in the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall to open the one-off “Festival in a Day: Coastal Connections” on January 18, and staying to get a taste of the festival themselves, listening to performances from Capercaillie, Julie Fowlis, Daimh, and Skerryvore.

Dìleab: Air a’ Chuan has now been viewed by more than 5000 people online in 22 countries, ranging from Australia to Brazil.“The whole trip was a fantastic opportunity for the pupils involved to take part in such a world class festival and they all had a great time,” says Rhona, adding that “school staff have since reported that the pupils have been having impromptu get-togethers in the schools at lunchtimes to play and sing together.”

“It’s been an unforgettable few days for all the kids involved in Dìleab,” said Willie Campbell on Twitter after the performance. “They got a well-earned standing ovation… The growing confidence, pride and ability is something really special and it’s what Dìleab is all about.”