A new book investigating and linking the cultural backgrounds of a Scottish and an Irish island to the ongoing conflicts over proposed marine conservatin areas and fishing restrictions was published yesterday.
The book – Dùthchas na Mara (‘Belonging to the Sea’) – highlights the role that traditional knowledge of the sea plays in maintaining Gaelic speaking island fishing communities in Scotland and Ireland.
It also suggests that traditional knowledge may be an important cultural source for the current campaign on Barra against Scottish Government proposals for two European marine conservation areas in the waters around the island.
The huge audiences for the series based on Barra – An Island Parish, saw a hilariously wonderful public meeting on Barra on the proposed Marine Conservation Area.
Angered residents, filling the island hall – who lives are directly and immediately governed by the natural world and who knew what they were talking about – eyeballed and dismissed a couple of besuited young civil servants beamed in from Edinburgh with their power point display and no knowledge beyond what someone else had told them.
Dùthchas na Mara is a product of the Connecting Coastal Communities project and has been supported by the Colmcille Partnership that seeks to forge contemporary connections between the Gaels of Ireland and Scotland.
Dùthchas na Mara also features photographs from the Glasgow-based visual artist Stephen Hurrel who himself has Barra connections. It had its Scottish launch on Barra yesterday (15th August) in Castlebay Hall as part of a ceilidh to celebrate the Clan MacNeil Gathering.
The book reveals similarities in practices and beliefs that exist between traditional knowledge holders on Barra and on Arranmore, a Gaelic speaking island off the west coast of Donegal in Ireland. There fishermen have been campaigning for the last five years against what they say are crippling restrictions on their ability to fish. Drawing examples from both islands, the work describes some key aspects of the fishermen’s close and enduring relationship with their local waters and the role that this sense of belonging to the sea plays in the life of island communities.
Scottish Crofting Federation vice-chair Fiona Mandeville said that in many Highlands and Islands’ coastal communities fishermen are also crofters, or belong to crofting families. She said: ‘While it is true that aspects of traditional knowledge are being lost, this book shows that there are crofters and fishermen who, because of the way they choose to work on land and at sea, are helping to keep alive important aspects of indigenous culture.
‘The book takes a small part of what remains of this traditional knowledge and puts it into its primary context as working knowledge. It also shows how Government has the opportunity to support this knowledge through a raft of international legislation which exists to protect it.’
SAMS Director, Professor Laurence Mee, congratulated the authors and the photographer. He said: ‘The Atlantic shores and islands have been populated for thousands of years and have shaped and been shaped by people. This beautiful book shows how Gaelic island communities express this cultural symbiosis through their language and customs but also how they respond to the extraordinary pressures of modernity. It is a rare insight on a world of hugely knowledgeable people, steeped in tradition but struggling to adapt to the harsh realities of a planet under unprecedented social and ecological pressure.’
Head of Gaelic Usage at Bòrd na Gàidhlig, David Boag said: ‘The linking of communities in this way is the primary purpose of the Colmcille programme and this book reminds us of the vital part that the sea has, and continues to play in connecting and supporting Gaelic speaking communities in Scotland and Ireland.”
Wednesday evening’s ceilidh in Castlebay also marked the beginning of Sgeulachdan na Mara (Sea Stories), a project to develop a dynamic digital map containing images, sounds and stories that inform the Barra people’s relationships with the sea. Sgeulachdan na Mara will be undertaken by the researchers in collaboration with Voluntary Action Barra and Vatersay.
Note: An electronic version of the book Dùthchas na Mara is available here and also at: http://www.crofting.org/uploads/news/CCS_ebook.pdf