Island Voices Galore

Barra leaflet copy

A section of a leaflet from our visit to Barra many years ago. We were so taken by it and the wording, despite it being hand done rather than a printed glossy brochure, that we kept it.

One of the projects that’s kept me busy recently, along with finishing the first draft of my next novel, is the publication by Twinlaw Publishing ( of a new book – not mine, but one by Janice Ross. Janice has been a busy lady, juggling the demands of publication with putting together her doctoral thesis on the art of blethering.

Voices Galore_Front Cover_web copyAfter a six month supply teaching post in Benbecula Janice found her spiritual homeland in Barra where she ran a light entertainment programme for Siar FM called Barra Island Discs. Barra is one of the islands in the Outer Hebrides, bounded by the Atlantic on the west and the Minch on the east, a place of rocks, long sandy beaches, a machair glowing with wild flowers, and scattered communities.

Many years ago my husband and I visited Barra, spending a week there in glorious June sunshine, cycling round the island to visit beaches where we were the only people to leave footprints in the sand. In fascination we watched the small plane from Glasgow land on the beach that served, and still serves, as an airstrip. We smiled in amazement as cattle were moved away by a large yellow and brass fire engine to allow the plane to land and take off. The only airport runway washed twice a day by the tide, we were told.

My beautiful picture

The plane on Barra beach.

Being so near midsummer the days were long, still light at eleven in the evening with only a few hours of half-darkness. A magical time of year.

My beautiful picture

Kisimul Castle in the bay of Castlebay is the home of Clan MacNeil. In the background is the old ‘Clansman’ ferry that transported us from Oban on Scotland’s west coast. If I remember correctly it made the journey three times a week, connecting the island with other islands in the Outer Hebrides and with the mainland.

As luck would have it, a few of the slides I recently scanned were taken on Barra, and on our trip on a fishing boat to Mingulay, located 12 miles to the south and known for its seabirds, especially puffins, black-legged kittiwakes and razorbills which nest on the sea-cliffs, amongst the highest in Britain.

My beautiful picture

The fishing boat that took us to Mingulay (some of you might have heard of the Mingulay Boat Song), at anchor in the bay. As there was no landing place we had to decant into a small boat that landed us on the shore.

One of our fellow visitors at the guesthouse where we stayed was a guy whose mother was one of the small clutch of inhabitants evacuated from Mingulay in 1912 due to its remoteness and the difficulty of getting supplies to it because of the lack of sheltered landing. Mingulay is now in the care of the National Trust for Scotland.

A fishing boat took us, and we had to transfer from it to a dinghy to reach the almost white sand of a horseshoe-shaped bay. Around it could be seen the ruins of houses, piles of stones where people had once eked out a living, now silted up with sand. Sand also piled around gravestones of those who lived and died on the island. On higher ground stood a slate-roofed building (homes would presumably have been heather-thatched) that housed school and church, one on the ground floor the other on the first. On a calm sunny day with glittering sea and shimmering sand it was very beautiful, though extremely moving and heart-wrenchingly sad to view the few half-submerged remains of what had once been a community.

My beautiful picture

The ruins of homes silted up by sand and on the left the school/church building. A remotely beautiful place.


Janice Ross of Barra Island Discs, author of the book Voices Galore. Compton Mackenzie, who had a house on Barra, is remembered for his book ‘Whisky Galore’ which was made into a memorable film with the same title.

Author Christopher Brookmyre; poet Donald Murray; the late trade union leader, Bob Crow; Professor Sir William Stewart, Chief Scientific Officer to the UK Government 1990-1995; Alasdair Allan MSP, Iain McColl of the Screen Machine; and Donnie MacNeil, Drummer of The Vatersay Boys, are a few of those Janice interviewed on her programme. Though selection of the thirty stories in Voices Galore was not easy, Janice chose those that helped create her view of the island during the years the show has been running, reflecting Barra’s make up in terms of those who live there all year round, and those who visit.

My beautiful picture

Barra has some beautiful beaches where the only company is the wildlife.

Voices Galore presents the story of an island community at the beginning of the twenty first century as told by itself. With humour and a pinch of ‘derring-do’, Janice and her guests share life-stories, providing a glimpse of the rich cultural history of the remote island community. Themes such as identity, community, family, employment and education, common to all communities, can be found, along with a fierce defence of the Gaelic language.

My beautiful picture

We arrived in rain, but had a week of scorching sunshine with miles of sand to ourselves.

In her interviews Janice strives to convey a sense of the uniqueness, the individuality of each person’s life and their contribution to the island community. They conjure up a way of life that is now receding into history. Janice believes channels of communication like community radio, sharing memories and experiences and recording voices for historical and cultural purposes, offer new ways of retaining knowledge of that life.

My beautiful picture

Kisimul Castle was restored at the beginning of the 20th century by a clan chief who was an architect and American citizen. The current chief is also an American, dividing his time between Edinburgh and Barra.

The launch of Janice’s book was to be on 28th of April but, due to the untimely and sudden death of one of the people whose interview forms part of Voices Galore, this was postponed.

My beautiful picture

Rocks, sea, sand and breathtaking views.

However, is seems fitting to have this post on Janice’s book and on Barra to celebrate my first blog post, four years ago, on 8th May 2012.

My beautiful picture

Away from the madding crowd.

So much has happened in the past four years, much of it commented upon in my blog.

My beautiful picture

It was because of our wonderful memories of our trip to Barra that we were so keen to publish Janice’s book which really catches the flavour of life on a remote island.



About jingsandthings

I am me. What do I like? Colour Shapes Textures Paintings, photographs, sculptures, woven tapestries, wonderful materials. The love of materials probably comes from my father who was a textile buyer, and I grew up hearing the names of mills and manufacturers which sounded magical and enticing. Glass in all its soft and vibrant colours and flowing shapes, even sixties glass which makes its own proud statement. A book I can immerse myself in. Meals with family or friends with lots of chat and laughter (and probably a bottle or two of wine). The occasional trip abroad to experience the sights, sounds, food, conversation, quality of light and warmth of other countries. To revel in differences and be amazed by similarities. I like to create and to experience, to try and to achieve. And then there are words – read, heard, written at my keyboard, or scrawled on sticky notes, or along the edges of dog-eared supermarket receipts excavated from the unexplored nooks of my handbag. What do I dislike? Cold Snow Bad design Fast food Condescension
This entry was posted in Books of Scottish interest, Dorothy Bruce, Places of interest, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Island Voices Galore

  1. lenathehyena says:

    Loved reading this. Never been to Barra, nor Mingulay which looks completely wonderful. Unfortunately I’m not keen on boats although your photos make boats and water look so enticing. I’ll certainly look out for Janice’s book and yours. Will you be blogging about it?

    • Quite a lengthy boat journey to Barra, though you can fly from Glasgow. I’d love to do that, flying up the west coast over craggy shorelines and islands, and landing on the beach in Barra. Must be quite an experience. Although many of the islands are now linked by causeways, Mingulay can only be reached by boat. Very many years since we were there, but it was totally unspoiled. Not too many places like that remain.

      I may well do a piece on my book when it gets to the publication stage. I’ve changed the title which is like renaming a child. To me, though it has a new name, I’ll probably always think of it as the original which was the title of the short story that I took as the basis for the book.

  2. Mama Cormier says:

    Congratulations on your 4th anniversary of blogging. Doesn’t time fly? I can’t believe i’ve been doing this just as long.

    • Yes, difficult to believe four years have gone by. Been great to make new acquaintances and learn about life in other countries. And it has been a spur to make me write, though recently I haven’t posted as often because of lack of time.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.