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The glory of Gaelic

There could not be a better time to introduce a festival of Gaelic to the city of Edinburgh. The 100th Royal National Mod, in Oban, finishes tomorrow, a draft Gaelic Language Bill was published last Friday and a new Gaelic arts strategy is due to be announced in November. Gaelic seems to be the topic of this term.

Tomorrow sees the start of an exhibition and festival of the Great Book of Gaelic, Leabhar Mor na G...idhlig, which will run until January and highlight the Gaelic arts, including poetry, storytelling and music.

The Great Book project, led by the Gaelic Arts Agency in partnership with Poetry Ireland, has taken three years and involved 30 living poets, 100 artists and a small team of calligraphers, from Scotland and Ireland. The aim was to create an illustrated anthology of the best of Gaelic verse as it stands at the start of the third millennium, about 1,200 years after the Book of Kells, compiled on Iona, established a distinctive Celtic artistic style.

Mairi MacLeod, project manager for the Gaelic Arts Agency, says part of the idea was to forge links between Ireland and Scotland. "We hope to show how much of a shared heritage we have."

The artists, including Alan Davie, Rita Duffy, Will Maclean, Brian Maguire, Anna MacLeod, John Byrne, Alastair MacLennan and Alasdair Gray, were commissioned to respond to 100 poems. These were nominated by leading poets and writers, such as Seamus Heaney, Hamish Henderson and Alistair Macleod as well as the contributing poets. The selection features the earliest known Gaelic verse and work from almost every century since the 6th.

The City Art Centre will be exhibiting the 100 works of art, which first went on display last November at the Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow. More than 24,000 people visited the show during the five months it was on.

A wide educational programme has been planned, supported by a pack that has been sent to all schools with Gaelic departments.

"There are so many aspects of the book that you can tie into areas of the curriculum, for example, visual arts, music, literature, history," says Ms MacLeod.

The series of public events features lectures relating to the book, talks about the impact of Gaelic, drama workshops, storytelling, Gaelic broadcasting, theatre productions and a host of music events, including a conference.

The Great Book of Gaelic exhibition will go on tour internationally next year. Thereafter, the plan is to bind the works into one volume for display in Ireland and Scotland on alternate years.

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