29th August 2008 at 01:00

Scotland's first Gypsy Arts Festival launched in Edinburgh on Monday at three venues, and events are taking place throughout this weekend.

"This is a real celebration of Romany Gypsy and Traveller culture in Scotland, with emphasis on storytelling, a tradition that is very strong within both groups north of the border," says Ros Green, a spokesperson.

Supported by Heritage Lottery Funding, the organisers have staged similar projects in England and hope the festival will be held annually. The Spiegel Garden in George Square is the setting for a wagon and old-style bender tent, where there will be displays of peg making and basket weaving, as well as fortune telling.

The programme at the Scottish Storytelling Centre in the High Street includes a tribute tonight to the late Duncan Williamson, one of Scotland's best-known Travellers, whose autobiography The Horsieman was published earlier this year, only months after his death.

The tribute, "Night of Fire", will be presented by singer Sheila Stewart, awarded an MBE for her work as the recognised ambassador for Scottish Travellers, and singerstorytellerauthor Jess Smith, who has written extensively about her life as a Scottish Traveller. The Edinburgh Mela, opposite the Ocean Terminal in Leith, is the venue for international Gypsy bands and flamenco groups on Saturday and Sunday.

A rich source of information about Scottish Gypsies and Travellers is the website of the Scottish Traveller Education Programme, which gives brief descriptions of the groups, potted histories, legal status, reading and educational materials plus links to other sites. In addition, the Highland Folk Museum and Inverness Museum and Art Gallery hold significant collections relating to Travellers.




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