Homesick for Helmsdale
We’re into the fourth day of the Translocation Festival which is marking 200 years of the Kildonan Clearances. For years I’ve always meant to catch the 1947 movie The Silver Darlings based on the 1941 classic novel by Neil Gunn. I’m sure the GFT have screened it but it was well worth the wait to join the capacity crowd for the special screening at Timespan in Helmsdale where much of the action takes place.
The black and white movie is part of the I know where I’m Going genre and while it is very much of its time,with crofters and fishermen speaking in cut glass accents and a leading lady, Catrine, who looked like model Jerry Hall in a headsquare, it was both funny and moving.
With much of it filmed in Latheron, it was as beautiful as it was authentic, and who could forget the immortal lines ‘I’m homesick for Helmsdale’. Plans are in the pipeline for a remake of the movie by Skye based producer Christopher Young.
Shinty as an art form
As the most unsporty person ever (I’m the idiot who called sports journalist Graham Spiers in the middle of a Scottish cup final), it is a tribute to the hyper-magnetic community artist Anthony Schrag, that I am now clued up on the history of shinty and the common cultural roots of the Scottish Diaspora!
On Friday 9 August at 5pm, Timespan is hosting a Canadians v Locals game at Helmsdale’s Couper Park, featuring the Canadian descendants of those who left during the Clearances and the descendants who stayed on.
When the evicted tenant moved to Canada, they started playing shinty on ice, and this is where ice-hockey originated. Ironically ice-hockey is now a bigger sport in Canada than shinty is in Scotland.
If you would like to take part or spectate, turn up on the day or contact email@example.com.
While Timespan historian Jacquie Aitken was leading a guided walk to the township of Learable on Kildonan, Anthony, Camanachd in hand, gave a lunchtime lecture on shinty. Earlier this year, Timespan had invited Anthony to do a project on the Kildonan Riots.
“I wanted to bring different ideas about the history and different ways of recalling, talking and thinking about it,” explains Anthony who worked with both local adults and children on event such as reimagining of the Kildonan Riots.
“Shinty was always played on 6 January, the old New Year, and when Major Clunes organised a match not long after the Kildonan Riots, the locals played a trick on him when it came to the inscription on the trophy. Clunes made himself unpopular during the Riots, was not a Gaelic speaker and the inscription which should have read ‘sons of Gaels, shoulder to shoulder’ had a spelling error which loosely translated means ‘bollock to bollock’.
That trophy, the world’s oldest shinty trophy is still in Helmsdale to this day. I also discovered that shinty originates from the time when the clans were preparing for battle. Rather than using swords, they used the stick which is why the camanachd is used to protect yourself in the same fashion as a sword.
Coming up at Timespan tomorrow: Visit to Strathnaver Museum in bonny Bettyhill, a writers’ workshop by Ellie Gunn 10 until 12 and a talk on Fighting & Fur-trading in the Canadian North West by Dr Elizabeth Ritchie at 7.30
Visit www.timespan.org.uk for more info.