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The second week in October: the week of the Royal National Mòd. In simpler times, I would be wakening up this morning in an Inverness hotel room, pulling on my kilt – perhaps having discarded it only a matter of hours earlier – and heading downstairs for a cooked breakfast to try and cure the tiredness, to give it its polite name, that follows a late night of singing, dancing and craic.
In truth, I’m sitting in my flat in Glasgow missing out on the usual joy of reconnecting with folk I haven’t seen in a year. Nevertheless, I am thoroughly enjoying the Virtual Mòd that An Comunn Gàidhealach has put together in place of the real event. A cup of tea may not be my usual beverage of choice during Mòd week, but it is not all doom and gloom for Gaelic’s flagship event this strange year. Far from it.
The ease with which competitors can enter without having to travel has led to a significant increase in overseas entries. And I don’t just mean the Western Isles! I adjudicated an adult’s competition with American entrants, a Dutch entrant and a German entrant. All of them gave lovely renditions of great Gaelic songs and seemed delighted to be part of the event in a way that may not have been possible for them in previous years. I am guessing it was easier for them to film their performance in their own living room than flying all the way to Inverness.
There was also a high turn out of Scottish entrants and it was great to see some familiar faces.
The junior section I adjudicated had dozens of competitors. Two girls from the Nicolson Institute in Stornoway were absolute stand-outs, but the overall standard was very high. I was relieved not to have to pick a winner because, in this unique year, the competitors are not being placed in the conventional first, second and third. I think this is the correct decision by An Comunn. Much like footballers playing in empty stadiums, singers and musicians often need audiences to inspire their best performances so, while I thoroughly enjoyed sitting back and watching the competitions in my flat with my cuppa, I don’t think picking a winner would have been particularly fair.
Instead, it is just a great chance for youngsters who might feel uncomfortable singing in public to showcase their talent in an international competition and I witnessed a great many of them doing just that. One thing Covid hasn’t managed to change is the talent and commitment of all the youngsters taking part. It seems to me, therefore, that there are silver linings to a virtual Mòd – not that I hope we ever see one again.
When, God willing, the Mòd goes ahead in 2021, it will be held in Inverness as was intended this year. I hope to goodness that, come next October, I’m looking out my kilt again. The novelty of drinking tea at the Mòd may have worn off by then.