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Glasgow has feast of Gaelic culture

Teaching in a Gaelic medium school, where lessons, conversations and even games are conducted in the ancient language, is no harder than teaching elsewhere for a native speaker. It is more challenging if the teacher is learning the language.

"My kids speak Gaelic more fluently than I do," says Frances McEachern, the newly-appointed music teacher at Sgoil Ghaidhlig Ghlaschu, Scotland's first 3-18 Gaelic medium school which will open in Glasgow in August.

"Right now I'm immersing myself in the language. It's one of the reasons I'm so pleased to be taking part in Feis Ghlaschu."

The third annual Glasgow feis, which has been running all week, ends tomorrow. A feis is a festival or feast, but the word is now most often heard in the context of the Feis movement, a set of Gaelic festivals of music, drama, dance and language aimed at young people.

"The feis is growing every year. Glasgow has the highest concentration of Gaelic speakers - about 10,000 - anywhere in the world," says the city's Gaelic arts officer, Rona MacDonald.

"Feis Ghlaschu is for kids aged 3 to 11, who choose one instrument to specialise in during the week and two others to try. We have tuition in clarsach, fiddle, accordion, drumming, singing, dancing, storytelling, art and drama.

"They get to play shinty at the cricket club. There are Gaelic language classes for parents and anybody else who wants to drop in. There are also events like theatre, piping and a ceilidh."

While the feis provides six days of tuition in Gaelic, any resemblance to school ends there. "It is very child-friendly," says Ms MacDonald. "A lot of these kids go to the Bunsgoil Ghaidhlig Ghlaschu, the Gaelic medium primary school in Glasgow, so we want them to hear the language in a fun environment outside school."

During the feis, prominent musicians and singers, such as Kenna Campbell, Maeve MacKinnon and Kathleen MacInnes, have been sharing their love of Gaelic music and culture.

The aim is to be inclusively Gaelic, to embrace diversity, while celebrating the distinctive, traditional aspects of our native culture, explains Ms MacDonald.

"It is open to everybody. We have had Spanish families, Asian children, friends of Gaelic speakers. All our tutors speak Gaelic but will support those who don't, and music is international."

Glasgow, which launched a Gaelic arts strategy in November, plays a leading role in promoting Scotland's ancient culture, says Ms MacDonald. "The feis is one of our core activities. We also have a monthly Gaelic club and a flagship event each year. We link with key partners and support research and we respond to projects like the Year of Highland Culture, which will be 2007.

"We're interested not so much in preserving the culture as in how it can survive and prosper in a contemporary and urban environment."

At the feis, Ms McEachern has been using Gaelic to teach children how to play the djembe, the West African hand-drum, showing them basic rhythms for the traditional music they learn in fiddle and clarsach classes.

"This is part of an increasingly popular fusion between Scottish and world music," she says. "A hand-drum is easier for kids to learn than a drum-kit.

But it does take time to become proficient."

The same is true of Gaelic, she is learning.

Feisean nan Gaidheal, the National Association of Gaelic Arts Youth Tuition Festivals www.feisean.org

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