Two gold stars for Gaelic teacher John Joe

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A teacher from Barra has scored the highest marks in a test of Gaelic singing at the Royal National Mòd for the second time, making him a rare double gold medalist.

John Joe MacNeil, the former head teacher of the Gaelic primary school in Caol and now a senior teaching fellow in Gaelic education at Edinburgh University, impressed the judges again to win the coveted Gold Medal at Inverness’ Eden Court Theatre, after winning the Traditional Gold Medal in the Lochaber Mòd four years ago.

‘I don’t think it’s quite sunk in yet,’ said John Joe, a tenor in Oban Gaelic Choir, ‘but I’m just delighted to have won the Gold Medal this year, and the Traditional Gold Medal in 2017 and to be a double gold medallist. I’m particularly proud of the fact I can take that home to my island of Barra. It’s just brilliant.

‘I was very fortunate growing up to be immersed in such a wonderful culture of Gaelic song and of Gaelic music, particularly thanks to my grandparents who were very involved in passing on stories and songs. I’m just delighted to be taking this medal home.’

Oban Gaelic Choir congratulated their singer: ‘Our choir is bursting with pride for our incredible tenor John Joe, winning the Gold medal in Inverness at the Royal National Mod in fantastic Barra style!’

Màiri Aisling Callan from Annathill near Coatbridge took home the women’s Gold Medal.

Young singer Màiri Aisling Callan from Annathill near Coatbridge put on a show-stopping performance to claim the the ladies Gold Medal. A music student at Edinburgh University, Màiri’s principal study is the lever harp clarsach and her family is originally from North Uist.

‘It was really lovely to perform in front of a very friendly audience again,’ she said. ‘I’ve really enjoyed singing again and I’m delighted to have won. This is my first time competing in the adult competitions, having competed in the juniors previously.

‘I was brought up listening to songs so singing in Gaelic is part of my heritage and there’s something very special about continuing the tradition. I’m lucky to have such great tutors including Savourna Stevenson and Kenna Campbell.’

The chairperson of Highland Council’s Gaelic Committee, councillor Calum Munro, said: ‘It’s now two years since the Gold Medal and Silver Pendant were last competed for so it was fantastic to hear these premier competitions taking place ‘live’ in Eden Court. I would like to congratulate all the winners on their success and commend them for the high standards they reached.’

Shona MacLennan, Ceannard, Bòrd na Gaidhlig said: ‘During lockdown, Gaelic language and culture provided continuing opportunities for communities to meet online and maintain a sense of community, at times across the globe. The importance of Gaelic to people’s sense of wellbeing and belonging has been demonstrated very clearly and its importance to Scotland as a nation has been strengthened.’

The Gaelic word ‘mòd’ means ‘a gathering of people’. The festival was first held in Oban in 1892, and it has grown to become Scotland’s premier Gaelic festival, famous for celebrating our Gaelic linguistic and cultural heritage.