An Taigh Ceilidh planning to be self sufficient

An Taigh Cèilidh is aiming to be fully self-sufficient within two years, says one of the directors behind the new venture.

By Eric MacKinnon
Friday, 25th February 2022, 1:29 pm
Two of An Taigh Ceilidh founders, Tearloch Wilson and Maggie Smith, in conversation
Two of An Taigh Ceilidh founders, Tearloch Wilson and Maggie Smith, in conversation

Teàrlach Wilson is confident the new Gaelic meeting place and cultural centre, due to open in Stornoway in April, can run entirely from the income generated from a coffee shop and bookshop and produce an entirely Gaelic corner of the town.

Located on Church Street, it is intended to be a not-for-profit social enterprise that aims to provide a dedicated space for the language and culture, with regular events for speakers and learners of all levels.

He said: “We're hoping to open in April and we hope the first few years will be our pilot stage and show there is a demand for Gaelic spaces. We want to nurture Gaelic in a designated area.”

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Statistics suggest that more than 58 per cent of Lewis residents can speak Gaelic which prompted another of the An Taigh Cèilidh directors to lead some on-the-ground research of her own into the use of the language around different districts.

Dr Wilson continued: “Dr Ingeborg Birnie, who completed her PhD in Gaelic and public spaces, was interested in that statistic so she went out and spent a lot of time sitting in public spaces all over Stornoway recording how often she heard Gaelic being spoken and found it was only around nine per cent.

“We want to bring this up and show there is demand for a breathing space for Gaelic and this will improve the use of the language in public spaces, improve people's confidence with it.”

Following the initial pilot stage, An Taigh Cèilidh have ambitious plans to move to a bigger site with the facilities for a dance floor for ceilidhs and a much larger bookshop and space – again geared towards becoming self sufficient.

Dr Wilson continued: “We don’t want to be dependent on grants which is why we have a coffee shop and bookshop on site. We also plan to host events which some will be ticketed and others free.

“Other ideas we have to encourage the use of Gaelic in the coffee shop is by offering a ten per cent discount off drinks to anyone who orders in Gaelic. There will be a blackboard helping people say it and we will also train all staff to be patient and help.

“We have something in the works called ‘copan is còmhradh’ where customers can buy a meal deal sandwich and hot drink and that will be valid between 12pm and 2pm on one or more days through the week and we will have a big table where people can have a Gaelic conversation circle to practice in.”

Interns could also be sought from Lews Castle College from both Gaelic and tourism courses to showcase how the two can work together to help promote the language and culture.

But Dr Wilson is aiming to ensure An Taigh Cèilidh can go even further with full immersion in Gaelic: “Within a year we hope we will be a completely Gaelic business. At the moment we can’t but soon we aim to be fully Gaelic with all our staff meetings, staff training, all literature, and even legal documents such as contracts, which may only be a symbolic gesture because Scottish courts don’t recognise Gaelic, but it will at least give visibility to the language. We need to do more locally instead of always looking at national policy.”