This year’s Am Mòd Nàiseanta Rìoghail (The Royal National Mòd), kicked off last night (Friday 14 October) in the Western Isles, returning to the islands for the first time since 2011. Scotland’s biggest Gaelic cultural festival is organised by An Comunn Gàidhealach, who celebrate their 125th birthday this year.
The eight day festival will see over 200 competitions and events in highland dancing, sport, literature, drama, Gaelic music and song, with Gaelic speakers of all levels competing.
As well as the competitions, this year’s Fringe showcases the best of Gaelic arts and sport with events for all ages, including the Shinty Mòd Cup, Mòd football, a piping ceilidh, drama and several stunning musical performances.
During the children’s Mòd on Monday 17th and Tuesday 18th, young Gaels will have the chance to enjoy their own ceilidh and take part in puppet-led yoga taking place around Stornoway.
As well as the music and arts, various talks and exhibitions will run throughout the Mòd marking the contributions of Lewis communities to the Great War, and a lecture from Dep. First Minister John Swinney on ‘The Place of Gaelic in a Modern Scotland’.
Marking the opening of this year’s event, was the presentation of the Gaelic Ambassador of the Year, ahead of the annual Torchlight Procession through the streets of Stornoway.
In the evening, the opening ceremony took place at the Lewis Sports Centre, presented by the BBC’s and previous Mòd Gold Medal winner, Kirsteen MacDonald, with sensational performances from Gaelic super group Dàimh and the Mischa Macpherson Trio.
The Scottish Government’s 2016 Gaelic Ambassador of the Year was awarded to Alex O’Henley, for his outstanding work with broadcasting since the early 1990s.
Born in South Uist, he was the first Gaelic Officer employed by the new Scottish Parliament between 2000 and 2002 and has been UEFA’s Scottish Football Correspondent since 2004.
Alex has reported on European Championships and the Champion’s League and regularly contributes to BBC Rèidio nan Gàidheal on Scottish and European football, as well as commentating on BBC ALBA’s coverage of the SPFL. Alex was also part of the team who won two consecutive Royal Television Society Scotland awards for documentaries on Jim Baxter and Jock Stein on BBC Alba.
Maggie Cunningham, Chair of MG Alba, opened the ceremony with an emotive speech.
Ms Cunningham is at the forefront of a campaign to persuade the BBC to extend the hours of Gaelic broadcasting.
This sentiment was bolstered by a stirring opening address from the President of An Comunn Gàidhealach, John Macleod.
The address commended developments in Gaelic-medium education for the rise in Gaelic speakers amid the younger generations.
Mr Macleod also praised the Western Isles for its ability to maintain the Gaelic language in daily use and called for the Isles to be recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
John Morrison, Chief Executive of An Comunn Gàidhealach, said: “We’re delighted that Alex O’Henley has been awarded the prestigious Gaelic Ambassador of the year by the Scottish Government.
“His contribution to the Gaelic language through his work with the Scottish Parliament, UEFA and the BBC for so many years has made him a true role model and influence to Scottish Gaels of all ages. His continuing work in football ensures that thousands of people every week hear Gaelic, and shows Alex’s passion for maintaining the language in Scotland. It’s been a fantastic first day and we look forward to the rest of the 2016 Royal National Mòd in the Western Isles.”
Maggie Cunningham, Guest of Honour, said: “We need to harness the support of everyone in Scotland and the wider world who cares about the survival of Gaelic.
“We need every Gaelic speaker, every politician and everyone who cares about culture and heritage.
“We are talking about the survival of a precious jewel and an important part of the diversity of this country. We need to convince everyone that continuing support is vital for its survival and health.”
Gaelic Ambassador of the Year, Alex O’Henley, said: “I consider this a great honour and one that I did not expect.
“It is always a pleasure to receive an award from your colleagues in the work-place, but it means so much more when an award of this kind comes from viewers and listeners who enjoy and value the work that you do.
“That means a lot to me, especially after a year that has been very challenging, and I would like to thank An Comunn Gàidhealach and the Scottish Government for considering me worthy of this award.”
Paul Bush OBE, VisitScotland’s Director of Events, said: “It is fantastic to be able to welcome back The Royal National Mòd for another year of support through EventScotland’s International Funding Programme.
“The Isle of Lewis is as stunning a setting as any for the event, and I am sure it will provide a terrific backdrop to proceedings.
“Now in its 125th year, this incredibly important annual celebration of Gaelic culture is just as popular as ever and we wish each of the performers across a wide variety of competitions taking place over the next week all the very best.”