‘There were no midges virtually’: Mull’s online Maclean gathering boosts membership

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Organisers say the Macleans’ first virtual gathering last week has increased membership and interest in the clan and its ancestral lands on Mull.

Wherever, and however isolated, clan members were in the world during the Covid-19 pandemic, they could connect with their kinfolk and Mull via online videos of stories, music, talks, tours, interviews, and quizzes. Access to the website remains free for all to enjoy until August 22.

‘The Covid pandemic having forced the postponement of our 2022 gathering until 2023, we have decided to break with tradition and hold an extra virtual gathering this year, on 22 to 26 June, to remind us of our common bond of family and fellowship in these difficult times,’ explains the Clan Maclean Association’s (CMA) website.

The five-day gathering was topped and tailed by a welcome from the 28th clan chief Sir Lachlan Maclean of Duart and Morvern, plus a Welcome Song by Duncan Staffa MacLean, and finally a farewell and thanks from the chief’s elder son and heir, Malcolm Maclean Younger of Duart.

In between came many stories and storytellers, such as Scot AnSgeulaiche telling of Eoghan a’Chinn Bheag (‘Ewan of the Little Head’), and gripping tales of clan war like the Battle of Traigh Ghruinneard (Gruinart Strand), told by BBC Alba broadcaster Brigadier John Macfarlane. Dr Alasdair Whyte from Mull recited The Spartans of the North, a poem written by the clan’s seanchaidh (‘bearer of old lore’) Sorley MacLean for their 1992 International Gathering.

Presentations include those about great clansmen like Sir Harry Aubrey de Vere Maclean, commander of the Sultan of Morocco’s Army, and less praiseworthy ones such as Donald the spy, James the highwayman, Roderick the assassin, Buddy the mobster, Jack the ‘super thief’, and the Wild McLean Boys.

There’s also a chat with whisky experts Charlie and Hector MacLean, and tours of the Isle of Mull Cheese Factory, Tobermory’s Mull Museum, and Duart Castle’s private quarters given by the clan chief, who also updates on its restoration. Singer Dougie MacLean, composer of Caledonia, also returns to his family croft and reminisces, and the Maclean Rowers, Jamie, Ewan and Lachlan MacLean, relate their record-breaking row across the Atlantic.

Add to all this music from the chief’s bagpiper Pipe Major Calum MacLean, Tobermory High School Pipe Band, five Maclean brothers called The Kilmartin Pipers, the Isle of Mull Gaelic Choir and Junior Gaelic Choir, the kids charity Mull Music Makers, and Mull musicians Sorren Maclean and Hannah Fisher.

‘Clan Farquharson did a virtual clan gathering, and, being Clan Maclean, we have done it bigger and better – or at least we think,’ said CMA President Anne Maclean of Dochgarroch. ‘Our contributors stepped right up to the plate, giving amazing content.

‘We made a decision we were not going to charge: we wanted it to be PR for Clan Maclean, Duart Castle and the Isle of Mull. We had more people viewing it than could possibly come to Mull – at least 3,000. We had an uptake in membership. It has drummed up enthusiasm for the 2023 gathering. I would like to continue to use online as a way to keep in contact with the clan and drum up interest.’

‘I was a bit hesitant about the “virtual” part,’ said one Canadian attendee, Ian MacLean of Tidnish, Nova Scotia, but ‘it was far better than I dreamed. I loved it and admire all the hard work put into it by so many people. The one thing the virtual gathering did, that real gatherings don’t allow, is for a person to experience all the events. Further there were no midges virtually! It would be nice to see such virtual events in the “midterm” between in person gatherings, but I suspect that is too much to expect of even the keenest volunteers. You can’t beat in person gatherings for making connections with new or old friends.’