FEIS AN EILEIN
Perhaps you’d like to brush up on your Gaelic this summer? Then you might want to visit Christmas Island in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. That’s the site of the annual Feis An Eilein, a community-based festival promoting the Gaelic language and culture. The event includes workshops in Gaelic language and song, step dancing, and fiddle and chanter playing. Alison MacKenzie, who has been involved with the feis since it began, says the festival is an annual homecoming for the community. “The feis provides intimacy with Gaelic language and culture through educational and social activities for people of all ages, and it is instrumental in keeping our Gaelic language and heritage alive,” she says.
The first feis took place on the Isle of Barra in 1981 and today, in Scotland, the feis movement comprises 36 community festivals. When Christmas Island launched its feis in 1991, it became home to the first one outside Scotland. Now, four others also take place on Cape Breton. MacKenzie notes that the Comunn Feis An Eilein works towards creating a Gaelic economy. Over the past 15 years, it has hired approximately 35 student instructors and the organization has generated and invested more than $1 million in the Gaelic community.
The feis is particularly important for young people, MacKenzie declares. Otherwise, they might not have knowledge and understanding of where they came from. “The family and societal values inherent in Gaelic culture are made accessible to them. It is a system of values which they own and share, and which will connect them to their heritage no matter where life leads them,” MacKenzie says, adding that without the necessary funding they can only do so much. “I often think we could be doing so much more if we had access to the financial resources.”