International Cultural Connections

Guest blog by Jack Wilson.
I am fortunate to be spending 3 months here in Scotland escaping a usually dreary winter in Melbourne, Australia, to work with Fèis Rois and take part in this year’s Commonwealth Ceilidh Trail.


Guest blog by Jack Wilson. 

I am fortunate to be spending 3 months here in Scotland escaping a usually dreary winter in Melbourne, Australia, to work with Fèis Rois and take part in this year’s Commonwealth Ceilidh Trail.

I have grown up playing Scottish and Irish music in Australia, playing in community music groups, going to folk festivals and playing in pub sessions long before I was old enough to be in a pub. In 2013, I was named the Face of the National Celtic Festival in Portarlington, Victoria and have had the opportunity to work closely with the festival director, Una McAlinden, to develop an international partnership with Fèis Rois to foster cultural exchange between Australia and Scotland.

Thus far, Fèis Rois has visited Australia twice, in 2013 and 2014, with CEO Fiona Dalgetty leading two groups of past Ceilidh Trail participants to perform at the National Celtic Festival in Portarlington and at a number of events with local groups and organisations in the lead up to the festival in June. Under the musical direction of James Ross and John Somerville respectively, Fèis Rois also collaborated with young local musicians in group work-style workshops in the lead up to the festival, culminating in feature performances at the festival.

In January 2014, five young Australian musicians representing the National Celtic Festival performed in collaboration with Fèis Rois’ 2013 ceilidh trail groups in a sold-out gig at Celtic Connections. We then spent a week in the Highlands, learning about the work that Fèis Rois does in schools and communities throughout the region.

My time here at Fèis Rois is a new stage in this partnership. I have the fantastic opportunity to go on tour with the Commonwealth Ceilidh Trail and perform at Cambridge Folk Festival, Edinburgh Festival Fringe and in many different communities around the UK. Australia has a lot to learn from models of community music-making and engagement in Scotland, particularly that of the fèisean movement, which Fèis Rois exemplifies. We hope that through my experiences here in Scotland we can pilot new ways to develop traditional music and strengthen the community in Australia.

My internship with Fèis Rois also has a language focus, which relates to my university studies. I am currently in my final year of the Bachelor of Arts at RMIT University in Melbourne, majoring in International Studies and focusing on languages. I have studied French and Italian in my degree, and I will complete my Diploma of Languages (Chinese) at Tianjin Normal University in China later this year. I have taken a particular interest in language policy and planning, looking into managing language diversity in organisations and language policy and planning for minority languages.

In my first month at Fèis Rois, I have been working on a number of language and music-related projects. I have been reviewing the organisation’s Gaelic Language Policy, looking to develop a strategic plan to strengthen our work in promoting the Gaelic language and encouraging its use at Fèis Rois into the future. I have also been working with Fiona Dunn, the Gaelic Officer at Oilthigh Ghlaschu to co-ordinate an upcoming Gaelic immersion fèis weekend for university students across Scotland, which allows fluent speakers to come together to hang out, speak Gaelic and take workshops in Gaelic song, drama, step dance and group work.

The Ceilidh Trail also plays an important role in language promotion; in addition to its role in young musicians’ professional development and growing Scotland’s cultural tourism, it is a great way to showcase Gaelic language and culture on a national scale.

The centrepiece of this year’s Ceilidh Trail programs will be our performance at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where the 3 trails will come together on the 5th of August to perform the new piece of music Fèis Rois commissioned John Somerville to compose in celebration of this, the 15th anniversary of its ceilidh trail program. The suite of music is inspired by themes of emigration and homecoming, and commemorates the journey of the Hector, which sailed from Ullapool to Pictou, Nova Scotia in 1773 carrying 189 passengers. We performed the piece just a few weeks ago in its world premiere at the National Celtic Festival in Australia, and it will be performed again in Pictou, Nova Scotia, in the very harbour where the Hector landed, as part of Celtic Colours International Festival.

Celtic Colours joined the partnership in January 2014 after festival director Joella Foulds saw the joint collaboration at Celtic Colours. Two young musicians from Cape Breton Island joined the musicians from Fèis Rois at the National Celtic Festival in Australia this year, and one of those participants, guitarist Maxim Cormier, will also be taking part in the Commonwealth Ceilidh Trail this year.

I have learned so much already in my first month of the internship. I’ve had the opportunity to meet with the Gaelic Officers at the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow and with the Arts and Culture Development Officer at Glasgow-based An Lòchran to discuss issues around language planning and policy for Gaelic, and I’ve jumped in the deep end at Fèis Rois looking at the work that they and the other fèisean do to get people playing and engaging with traditional music, language and culture. It has been fantastic and I can’t wait for the next few months.

If you’d like to follow Maxim and me on the Ceilidh Trail, and indeed the development of this exciting international partnership, please check out our website at