Item Posted: Monday 19th June, 2006


Although the Fiddle Workshop does not hold classes or arrange concerts over the summer, there is a great deal on in the area which should be of interest to our web site visitors.

(DO PLEASE GIVE US FEEDBACK AS TO WHETHER THIS SORT OF LOCAL INFORMATION IS USEFUL AND INTERESTING – if it works for YOU we will try to update COWAL EVENTS in the future. Please email your feedback to
Our pub sessions at the Stagecoach, Cairndow should continue over the summer, and all local and visiting musicians (or just drinkers/listeners!) are welcome. First Friday of each month from 8.30 p.m. AND a new session should be starting soon at the Village Inn (Arrochar), but firm dates have not yet been fixed. The Shorehouse in Lochgoilhead holds a very informal cross-genre session each Thursday from about 9.00.
There is other trad music in the area we know about over the next few months that we thought members and web site visitors would be interested in. For some reason Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham and Blazin’Fiddles turned down our generous offer to play in Loch Goil or Strachur in return for one of our famed musicians’ lasagnes, and choose the Queen’s Hall in Dunoon instead! Not being bitter types we thought we would give them the (needed?) publicity!
Other events in the area worth checking out (extra info/press articles on the events follows the listings)

30th June- 2nd July Swamp Soccer

1st July Dunoon Youth Football League (25th Anniversary event)

4th August 7.00 p.m. Traditional Music Concert, Cairndow Village Hall
(see forthcoming events on this site)

19th August Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham, Queen’s Hall, Dunoon

23rd August Kirn Gala

24th to 26th August Cowal Highland Gathering.

9th September Blazin’ Fiddles, Queen’s Hall, Dunoon

16th September Shinty The Camanachd Cup Final

23rd September Fiddle and Mandolin Workshops, Cairndow Village Hall
(see forthcoming events on this site)

24th September Traditional Music Concert, Lochgoilhead Village Hall
( see forthcoming events on this site)

30th September Dunoon Highland Festival of Dance, Queens Hall

6th to 15th October Cowalfest..

6th October Traditional Music Concert, Highgate Halls, Strone
(see forthcoming events on this site)

7th October Traditional Music Concert, Memorial Hall, Strachur
(see forthcoming events on this site)

Theatre at Cowalfest

13th to 21st October Mòd. 13th
More details, mainly taken from edited articles written by the Workshop in the Press and Post Newspaper, covering the National Park area.


30th June- 2nd July Swamp Soccer

Never heard of it? Join the club! I met with an apparently sane Stewart Miller, from Innellan, who has introduced this zany, messy and fun sport to the UK. Played until recently mainly in Scandinavian countries, the pitch is made intentionally muddy and wet, so might be thought to be ideal for Argyll! Each match lasts only 24 minutes, teams of six players splash it out in a spectacle that it is fun to watch and very wet to play. Sideline comments might abound - ‘boys will be boys’ (or even ‘ girls will be girls’). Others may say ‘at least this is one football tournament Scotland can win’, but there is also good, and seious, business sense behind the tournament being help in Dunoon this July.

The annual tournament in Finland attracts 300 teams, and Stewart Miller and his co-organisers are confident that at least 50 teams - from Scotland, England and overseas countries such as Finland, Germany and Sweden will attend the Dunoon this year, and that by year three it will be the second largest Swamp football event in the world.

‘Football is extremely popular in Scotland and a unique fun event like this should capture the public’s imagination. There has recently been a growth of outdoor activities and extreme sports, especially in Argyll. We established that there is a very high level of media interest in this event, partly at least because it was something different, new and visual’ Stewart told me. Certainly the media seem to be rallying around. Eurosport and Futbol Mundial wish to film the tournament should be seen in 130 countries and a possible audience of 300 million.

It hardly needs to be said that if this takes off, and gets the right level of support from local businesses and authorities the potential impact on tourism, and income for local businesses, could be dramatic.

Stewart, a local marketing consultant, is not just the brains behind the event, he also plays, representing Team Scotland in the last world championships. He told me: ‘The atmosphere at this tournament was excellent. There were teams from all over the world, there to enjoy this fun football tournament. It was very tough playing in Finland. I was in goal, and I was knackered. The Finns are fit, living in the outdoors, but the same could be said of Argyll folk. You have to keep moving, jumping and running, or you just sink into the mud. Exhausting but fun.’

Clearly the organisers are thinking of it as a spectacle for the public, not just for the players. There will be food and drink available all day, and stalls selling merchandise. In the evening there is entertainment at the Hunters Quay Village. World Cup football can be watched on a giant screen, and this will be followed each night by either live music, a disco or a ceilidh
On the same weekend the Dunoon Youth Football League is organising a football tournament to celebrate their 25th anniversary, so it will be a real football weekend extravaganza for Dunoon.

Tickets tel: 01499 600260 or email:
(This event is a joint promotion by Cairndow Arts Promotions and Lochgoilhead Fiddle Workshop)

Archie McAllister's fiddling, steeped in west coast dance tradition, carries a frankness of tone that is extremely effective on slow airs and down right exhilarating at full tilt." (Living Tradition magazine). Archie started playing the fiddle when he was 13 years old in his home town of Campbeltown under the tutorage of Maurice Duncan. He is a well known face in the traditional music scene and his distinctive, driving and versatile style earned him a nomination for best instrumentalist in the Trad Music Awards 2004. "Archie is arguably the Scottish folk scene's most exciting live fiddler." (Living Tradition magazine). He has travelled and recorded with many groups, including the Jura Ceilidh Band (featuring the twin fiddles of Archie and Jerry Holland together on one album) and with Ross Kennedy as the duo Kennedy and McAllister. Together they made three albums. Their Gathering storms album received QMagazines ' best folk album of the year'. More recently he has played with the Black Rose Ceilidh Band, Skipinnish, Ian 'Stretch' McFadyen to name but a few. He has also made appearances on TV and radio broadcasts such as An Tular Ur and Take the Floor. As well as passing on his skills through teaching he is currently working on his own album which he is going to make with Skippinish Records.

Ron Pirrie has been accompanying traditional music for 20 years now. He has played in informal traditional music sessions and at Folk Festivals, from Unst in Shetland, down to Kerry in Ireland, as well as occasional trips south of the border, into England and over to the continent. Ron has also played in a number of “cèilidh” dance bands up in Aberdeen, and in a traditional line up with the tongue in cheek name, of “The Moving McClouds”. Ron’s style of playing, ranges from the gentlest tickling of the strings through to powerful driving accompaniment.

August 23rd Kirn Gala

…..Major events in Cowal this August include the Kirn Gala and Cowal Gathering. Now seen as an opening event for the games, the Kirn Gala focuses on being a showcase of local talent, with local pipe bands and musicians to the fore. The organisers do their best to make it a day out for all the family, and this year are expanding the attractions for children to include disco dancers and cheerleaders, as well as the ubiquitous bouncy castles and face painting –always popular side-shows.

The Gala also has twenty charity stalls, so you will have the opportunity of helping masses of good causes at the same time as enjoying yourself! Entry to the Gala is free, and hopefully your presence will help them beat last year’s record of 3000 attendees….

August 24th to 26th Cowal Gathering

….The Cowal Highland Gathering has come a long way since its inception in 1894, when the total gate receipts were £60! It now attracts over 3500 competitors from all over the world, many from Scottish communities-in-exile from Canada, USA, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Considered to be the premier Highland Games, it also attracts vast numbers of residents and visitors to the events. Shinty, dancing, piping, and athletics are obvious components of any such gathering, but they add in classic car displays and a wonderful fireworks finale.

Widely recognised as the Highland Gathering, the event hosts the World Championship Highland Dancing Competitions. Last year’s Adult World Champion, Colleen Rintamaki, reminisces; ‘Being up on the stage at Cowal is the most amazing feeling. Seeing the grandstand filled and all the other activities going on around you is just overwhelming. Cowal is definitely a very special games! There are so many great memories from Cowal but I think my favourite is the fling that I performed at the end of the day. Having just won you are bombarded with so many emotions and then dancing the fling with the whole audience clapping along and cheering you on is amazing.’

Malcolm Barclay, the Gathering’s secretary, is understandably upbeat about this year’s events ‘We expect to have about 700 competitors from around the world, and already have entries from dancers from America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa the UK and Ireland.’ But the gathering is clearly not just about competition: ‘Last year saw our largest entry for the Classic Car Rally and we hope to top this number this year, and we also are expanding the food hall which last year acted as a showcase for local businesses and was very well attended.’

The event is very much geared for spectators, who vary from the highly knowledgeable to the novice, but if you have not been before, hopefully in future years you will be one of those who add this event to their calendar at the beginning of each year. If you see nothing else you have to catch the finale - the unique and spectacular massing of the bands which sees 3,000 pipers play "Highland Laddie" in unison! …..

(From another article)

…There are masses of Highland Games in the Park area over the summer - as you can see from our Highland and Other Games listings in this issue. Without taking away anything from the attractions of all these games, the Cowal Gathering is certainly special and deserves a visit.

The Cowal event can fairly be described as the largest and most spectacular Highland gathering in the world. From the very first event in 1894, the Cowal Gathering has become a world famous institution and has gone from strength to strength. Now Cowal attracts more than 3500 competitors - many from Scottish communities-in-exile as far flung as Canada, the United States, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
Hundreds of dancers and thousands of pipers and drummers come to compete at Cowal, and many thousands of spectators flock to enjoy this fabulous display of talent.
The Gathering hosts the World Highland Dancing Championships and also the Cowal Pipe Band Championships, with over 150 bands - one of the biggest and most prestigious contests of its type. All the other events traditionally associated with Highland Games feature: solo piping, shinty, track and heavy events all help draw the spectators, and those with a more artistic bent can enjoy the fleet-footed bravura of traditional Scottish dancing.

The "heavy" events - shot-putting, hammer-throwing and caber-tossing - feature large men in tartan sweating profusely as they hurl large objects as far as they can. For teams of heavies there is a five-a-side tug-of-war competition.

The Cowal Gathering has an extra dimension to the "heavy" events - in the form of the Cowal Stone. The Gathering's Convenor spent many years combing the beaches of the Clyde for a suitable stone for a different "putting" competition. The resultant find was a stone weighing in at around 32lb, and the Cowal Stone putting competition is unique to these games.

The event culminates in the spectacular sight and sound of the massed bands - 3000 pipers playing in unison is something you will always remember…

16th September Shinty – the Camanachd Cup

…Staying with sport in Cowal, another important international event will be held this year.

Shinty is played particularly in the areas of Scotland related to the Gaelic population as well as in the cities and the universities. But it is in the midst of a substantial revival and expansion, with many schools re-starting it, and a healthy club scene. Its value as a spectator sport has now been recognised, and it is to be introduced in the Commonwealth Games as a demonstration sport in 2014, which will further heighten its international appeal.

Evidence of the key role played by the Camanachd Cup itself is that it was one of the few trophies and artefacts chosen as part of an exhibition sent to New York in March this year as part of the Tartan Week exhibition held to boost US tourism to Scotland. As Hugh Dan MacLennan, the vice-president of the association that runs shinty said,
‘We believe the cup is a national treasure which deserves to be part of a display about Scotland. The cup is going overseas for the first time in its 110 year history. The association is also a partner in the Highland Year of Culture 2007 – our ancient sport is a key plank in the marketing strategy for the celebration.’

The Cup final will be a gala event. Hugh Dan MacLennan told me that they were hoping for displays from the Strathclyde Fire and Rescue Pipe Band and the Dunoon Grammar School Pipe Band, and there will be a dance in the evening, ensuring a good day out for everyone, not just the sport enthusiasts!

Camanachd, or shinty, the sport of the curved stick, demands of skill, speed, stamina and courage made it the perfect exercise of a warrior people. The qualities of body and mind it developed, clearly contributed to the just fame of the Highlander in battle, not only those long ago but up until to the World Wars. It is also these qualities that make it an exciting spectator sport, even for the uninitiated, so hopefully you will come to Cowal to join in the spectacle – even if you want to stay safely on the touch line!

The Dunoon Annual Highland Festival
Dunoon has a long association with Highland Dancing, the World and Scottish Championships are held each year at the Cowal Highland Gathering, which attract the cream of the Highland Dancers from around the world.

You should also check out the Dunoon Annual Highland Dancing Festival. Organised by the Christina Cairns School of Highland Dancing in Dunoon, the festival has now been running for sixteen years.

Christina is a former champion dancer and coaches over eighty pupils from around the Cowal area in Highland Dance. The Christina Cairns dancers are asked to perform at many community and charity events throughout the year and can be seen at many local hotels putting on entertainment for their guests throughout the season. They have appeared in cabaret with some of Scotland’s top entertainers, on television and even in a film directed by Michael Winner which starred Michael Caine and Rodger Moore.

In 1990 Christina and husband Ronnie thought it would be a great idea to hold an indoor Highland Dancing Festival in Dunoon to give an opportunity for the dancers who are unable to compete at Cowal Gathering to dance in Dunoon, and to help develop Highland Dancing in the area. Over thirty trophies were donated by individuals and local businesses, all of which are still competed for annually.

This event has built on the success of its first year and now firmly has its place in the Highland Dancing event calendar. In 2005 over 180 dancers took part in the competitions and dance their way through Flings, Jigs, Hornpipes and Reels. The Festival attracts dancers from all over Scotland who return year after year commenting on how enjoyable and well organised the event is.

Through the success of the Dunoon Annual Highland Festival the organisers have, over the years been able to become involved in other events and displays which have include workshops promoting the art of Highland Dancing to a wider audience. They have also been asked to help other organisations, Ronnie Cairns is shortly travelling to Nothern Ireland to facilitate a workshop which has been organised by Belfast City Cultural Society and will be a speaker at the World of Highland Dancing Conference in Las Vegas.

Cowalfest 6th to 15th Oct

….. While both the Highland Gathering and the Mod have been well established for years, a comparative newcomer to the scene, Cowalfest, is only three years ‘old ’, but has already established itself as the largest Walking Festival in Scotland. Last October more than 80 guided walks were arranged, and the festival attracted has attracted increasing numbers of tourists from Europe, Australia and the US, making it one of the prime events for tourism in the Cowal Peninsular, yet it is still sparsely funded.

Now far more than a Walking Festival, it encompasses the arts, drama, crafts and music. The attractions of the festival to visitors are that it a community event involving a large number of groups from around the area, and the enormous variety of things to do.

Music has played an increasingly important role in the festival. Last year a key
sell out concert in Strachur was summarised by Scottish Music magazine:
‘The audience left with murmurings of ‘ world class act’, and ‘the best we have
ever seen’, outstanding memories, and encouragement to the organizers to put
on still more quality line ups in a corner of Argyll quickly establishing itself on
the traditional music circuit.’

As one visitor from Dundee wrote afterwards ‘Everyone I talked to thought that Cowalfest was outstanding, and that having a range of other events such as your traditional music concerts added enormously to their overall enjoyment of the festival. The increased variety of events must be good for tourism and local businesses - as well, of course, as being a great benefit to the local communities.’

The Cowalfest committee clearly do not want to rest on their laurels, and just repeat the successes of last year. Successful innovations from last year, such as the Window Gallery (where 60 shops each display cutting edge art and incorporating guided walks by the artists), will be expanded. But the organisers are also looking at the possibilities of incorporating puppetry, Kathakali (an internationally renowned Indian dance and drama troupe), a film festival, drama walks, poetry, and an environmental conference….

(from another article)

….. All over Scotland there are Walking Festivals, Arts Festivals and Music Festivals, but it is rare to get all of them at the same time and in the same place. Cowal is the focus for a major event in October, which can genuinely claim to provide something of interest to everyone, and has now established itself as the largest Walking Festival in Scotland, with over 80 guided walks.

This year the increasing involvement of theatre groups and traditional music concerts should put Cowal even more firmly on the ‘out of season’ tourist map, as well as providing a wider range of cultural activities for residents of the National Park.

The Walking Theatre Company, Cowal’s own professional theatre group, creates innovative theatre, often in the open air, and presents dynamic narrative interpretations of both established and new writing that are set within the stunning natural environment of Argyll, using heritage woodland, exotic flora & fauna, and the diverse landscape to heighten the experience of theatre. This year, during Cowalfest, they will perform Prospero’s Walk, a new interpretation of Shakespeare’s Tempest; A Cut In the Rates, a modern playlet, with a twist in the tale at the Council’s expense; and are developing The Forgotten Lady of Argyll, a local folktale sourced from the Glen Massen Manuscripts, which was such a success at last year’s festival.

The manuscript is an important part of Cowal’s heritage, so it is appropriate that the tale should be retold at Cowal’s own festival. Deidre of the Sorrows came to Cowal with her lover and lived on its shores for seven years, and her 4th-century life parallels life in 21st-century Cowal, a journey of trade, communication, religion, isolation, inclusion, exclusion, romance and betrayal!

Cowalfest has also managed to contract top Scottish traditional musicians Calluna, with guest singer Christine Kydd for two key concerts during the festival.

Calluna is an exciting Scottish band whose approach to Celtic music is fresh and spirited. The classic combination of clarsach, fiddle and flute weave a colourful blend of traditional and original music. Formed in 1996, Calluna have delighted many audiences with their beautifully sympathetic ensemble playing and engaging presence. Calluna’s debut CD was described as ‘Refreshing new music’ by The List and ‘Spirited and immensely talented’ by The Scotsman.

The band is fronted by fiddler Anna- Wendy Stevenson, who is well known locally. She was tutor to Lochgoilhead Fiddle Workshop for two years, has toured Cowal and Argyll with the leading young pianist James Ross, and played with another of her bands ‘Fine Friday’ locally. Her composition for Celtic Connections was heralded as one of the highlights of the festival, and her solo cd was described in the leading music magazine Living Tradition as ‘polished and beautifully moulded fiddling. Anna-Wendy's playing tends often to hide its dynamism beneath a finely-honed technique and a laid-back, easy virtuosity. The programme mixes traditional tunes with modern compositions in decent proportion. The arrangements are sensible and cool (though not in the sense of unemotional), and textures are at all times intelligently managed; for Anna-Wendy doesn't need to show off by frenetic note-spinning and there's evidently no lack of fire or energy within. Her intuitive feel for phrasing is always impressive’

By teaming up with Christine Kydd, one of Scotland's finest traditional vocalists, Calluna have broadened their repertoire to include a selection of stunning vocal settings including two, three and four part vocal harmonies. Christine is one of Scotland's great singers. A renowned interpreter and champion of the Scots song tradition, she has performed and recorded with many others to produce some of Scotland's finest and often award-winning harmony vocal sounds. Having collaborated with most of the top Scottish traditional musicians Christine is renowned for her ability to ‘re-mint traditional material sensitively and imaginatively, and sounds wonderfully fresh and different, buzzing with new and arresting dynamics and syncopations.’ (Scotland on Sunday) ….

The Mòd

Cowal hosted the Mòd in 2000, and it returns to Dunoon this year. The largest indigenous music festival in Scotland, and is established as Scotland's premier festival of the Gaelic language, arts and culture. The Mòd is a competition-based festival which celebrating music, dance, drama, arts and literature. But you do not have to be a Gaelic speaker, or a competitor, to appreciate and enjoy the events.

Fund raising and planning for this year’s events are well under way. A local committee of volunteers, under the chairmanship of local councillor Dick Walsh, know well what is at stake, as hosting the events can provide an enormous boost to local businesses and the economy. Visitors who travel from all over the world not only spend money on their visit, but if they are taken with the area and the reception they receive, will return again. As Murdo Morrison, the Promotion Manager or the Royal National Mod said, ‘ The Mod relies on the support of the local community in the different locations each year… Dunoon can certainly claim to be a cultural hotspot in 2006.’

Although the Mod is essentially a competitive event it also represents an opportunity for Gaels and non-Gaels to gather and renew old friendships as well as forging new ones. It has evolved organically, responding to contemporary changes in Gaelic education and the wider field of the Gaelic arts, acting as an incentive for talented individuals and groups to develop and refine their talents in the public arena. The Mod has been a significant cohesive element in keeping the Gaelic community together over the past century, but is also working at expanding the appreciation of Gaelic language and culture to a wider range of people. This may be thought to be particularly valid in Cowal, where the percentage of locals who have some understanding of Gaelic is the lowest in the Highlands. Joy Dunlop, the Gaelic Development Officer for Argyll and Bute, is working with a number of local schools to prepare children for competing in the events, and this in turn should lead to an increased involvement of schools in the resurgence of Gaelic in the area.

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