Gaelic on the Front Lines of Ypres, Christmas 2014

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Amidst the extensive focus on events commemorating the outbreak of World War 1 , this Christmas, the words penned by North Uist bard Domhall Ruadh Choruna, were heard in the town of Ypres in Belgium, on the actual front lines of the battle fields of 1914.

Gaelic singer Fiona J Mackenzie of Dingwall, took part in a series of events this Christmas to commemorate the Christmas Truce of 1914, amongst them a major concert in the city of Ypres itself.

“About two years ago, I was approached by Mercat Tours of Edinburgh and asked if I would like to participate as part of a band, formed especially to play a concert on Boxing Day in the town of Ypres, which saw much of the bloodiest and most horrific action at the beginning of the First World War. I didn’t hesitate of course to take the opportunity to participate in this momentous and extremely emotional programme of events.

“The band ‘called ‘The Christmas Pals’ comprised myself, harpist Patsy Seddon, singer and guitarist Alex Hodgson and keyboards player David Manderson, with jazz musician Michael Brogan as musical director.

“We have been rehearsing and forming the setlist for the last 6 months and the one song I knew I absolutely had to sing was of course, “An Eala Bhàn” by Domhnall Ruadh Choruna.

“He composed the song whilst he was actually in the trenches of The Somme, fighting with the 7th Batallion of the Cameron Highlander and I felt that there could be no more fitting song to sing, to represent the 1000’s of Gaels who gave their lives in the Great War.

“Whilst he did actually return from the war, first invalided out in 1916, his words are filled with the hopeless despair at the horror around him and his desire to see again his homeland of Uist. To have the honour of singing his words at the time of the Christmas Truce commemorations, was something I never ever dreamed I would have the opportunity of having”

‘The Harmonious Truce’ concert took place in Ypres’ Theatre on Boxing Day and was followed by a large ceilidh dance in the famous Cloth Hall, one of the few remaining buildings which partially survived the war.