Traditions Still Thriving: Burning the ‘Calleach Nollaigh’ in Lochinver

There’s tales afoot in North West Scotland, where there’s a thriving community enjoying connecting with place through the stories its landscape holds. Ahead of his involvement in a new documentary, which is set to explore communication and traditions in the Highlands past and present, Greg Dawson Allen (Griogair MacAillean) gives us a taste of traditions just carried out as old year turned into a new one.

‘Atween the Yules’ was an evening of music, storytelling and feasting held in the ‘An Cala Café’, Lochinver on 20th December 2018 – the day before the winter solstice.

The celebration of ‘Yule’ and the solstice beckon the returning Sun closer to the Earth, encouraging new growth for fields and livestock.

The ‘Calleach Nollaigh’ is the name given to a wood sculpture made during Yule. It represented an old woman and was burned in the household hearth or community bonfire to ensure bad luck and death would bypass the house or village during the coming year.

On this occasion the ‘Yeel Carlin’, as it was also referred to, was burned on the shore of Lochinver overlooking the village and Suilven mountain on the last day of ‘Yule’, 6th January 2019.

The ceremony of ‘Blessing the Community’ through the burning was conducted by Storyteller and Folklorist, Griogair MacAillean and Ann O’Keefe, owner of ‘The Elphin Tearooms’.

The custom of retaining a piece of the ‘Yeel Carlin’ to reignite at the following ‘Yule’ was kept, with the piece stored until next year to ensure the tradition continues.

‘Oh, that more of the old ways should be commemorated across Parishes, East, South, West and North of this country… and beyond!’ (Griogair MacAillean)

A new monthly community event is kicking off on 25 January.
Get along to the Assynt Centre, Kirk Road, Lochinver (IV27 4LT) for an informal gathering of musicians, storytellers and poets, as well as those who just want to listen, from 7pm – 9pm.

Option plate of Stovies (£3.50).

For further information, contact the event organiser and Assynt Centre Manager Bill Smith on 01571 844 144, who will take to the floor as a musician himself.

Griogair MacAillean is a passionate ambassador for traditional culture, providing guided walks and sharing the culture of the Highlands through stories that are informative, educational and historical, with references to family heritage, clan friendship and conflict.

TRACS are passionate about ensuring everyone has access to tradition and the stories of their community. By bringing together local activists and organisations, The People’s Parish hopes to encourage and inspire participation in community life, while gathering and giving voice to every communities songs, stories, dances, traditions, visuals, histories and fictions.

Visit People’s Parish Website

Image Credits to Anne O'Keefe