Uncovering Treasure Troves of Scottish Tradition

TradFest 2016 is an Edinburgh-wide celebration of culture, with events taking place all over the city. Amongst the highlights of this year’s programme includes Treasure Troves of Scottish Tradition, a series of five events taking place at the National Library of Scotland from Monday 2 – Friday 6 May. Combining storytelling, music and talks, these free sessions provide a fascinating insight into various aspects of Scottish culture, focusing on tales and traditions from the Borders, via Fife and Argyllshire, all the way up to Caithness.

The Province of the Cat – Storying Caithness
Mon 2 May, 2pm

The most northerly mainland area of Scotland, Caithness has a unique blend of Norse and Celtic inheritance, and a landscape quite unlike anywhere else. In his new book Province of the Cat, George Gunn follows in the footsteps of his namesake, fellow Caithness native Neil Gunn, producing an evocative storytelling masterwork that is both inspiring and challenging. This event opens up the cultural riches of the region through storytelling, music and images, and is one of several TradFest events inspired in part by Neil Gunn – fans of the writer should also see Mike Vass’ In the Wake of Neil Gunn or Adrift, performed by Owen Pilgrim with music from Susanna Orr Holland.

The End o’ the Shift – Working Lives in Fife & Perthshire
Tue 3 May, 2pm

The great industries that made modern Scotland and helped shape the world of technology are rooted in traditional skills, ingenuity and natural inventiveness. This session gives voice to former workers from Fife and Perthshire who served in textile mills, bleachfields, shuttlemills, engineering works, coalmines, brickworks, railway stations, and hydro-electric schemes. Their stories have been collected for an oral history project, The End o’ the Shift, paying tribute to the enormous contribution Scottish workers have made to science, technology, art and culture.  This illustrated presentation by folklorist Margaret Bennett shares highlights from the project and introduces some of the contributors.

The Silent Page – William Macmath & the Songs of Dumfries & Galloway
Wed 4 May, 2pm

William Macmath (1844 – 1922) was a Gallovidian with a passion for songs, dedicating some 30 years to the research and collection of Scottish tunes – a hugely knowledgeable, well-read man whose contribution to our musical heritage was unequalled. In this presentation, Ali Burns opens up the pages of Macmath’s 19th century collection of folk songs and brings it back to vibrant life with help from Alison McMorland. The event is linked to a full concert featuring Emily Smith, Robyn Stapleton and other top musicians from Dumfries & Galloway, held at The Caves on Sat 30 April.

Workin the Sea – Port Seton & Cockenzie
Thu 5 May, 2pm

The revival of small boat making and sailing in East Lothian take us back into the life of these traditional sea-going towns. Archie Johnstone and Martine Robertson guide us into the stories, songs, traditions and customs of these coastal communities with the help of pictures and music, asking what a revival of small boats can offer them for the future.

The Unbroken Circle – Helen Fullerton in Argyll
Fri 6 May, 2pm

Helen Fullerton was the first person outwith the Travelling community to take a serious interest in Scottish Traveller culture, recording the traditions of Argyllshire ‘tinkers’ including the family of Duncan Williamson. She lived and worked alongside dam builders from Donegal, pioneered organic farming and has left a unique legacy of songs, recordings and diaries, much of which has not yet been fully studied or archived. In this session, her friends Geordie McIntyre, Alison McMorland and Kirsty Potts open up afresh her ‘window on the west’.

All events take place at the National Library of Scotland and are free but ticketed. Please book at