During a year, and leading up to the Royal National Mod in October, various towns hold a local Mod, like a Welsh Eisteddfod, where choirs and individuals can compete for trophies or just for the sheer prestige of it all. Our choir generally goes to Stirling, and later in the year to the Isle of Mull, Tobermory, to be precise.
So, on Friday 9th September choir members gathered at Oban for the 4.00p.m. ferry to Craignure. It was somewhat late in arriving from Mull, but before long we were all on board and raring to go. The crossing was calm, with good views all the way, past the island of Lismore with its lighthouse – I’ve been up at the top of this lighthouse! When I was a child, on frequent holidays in Oban my parents would take my sister and me across to Lismore where we often walked out to the lighthouse. These were the days before automation of all the lights around the coast, and the Lismore lightkeeper would take us up the long spiral stair to where the great beacon was housed. We even got to walk around the outside platform right up the top there. I remember it was pretty exciting…. and windy!
Just a bit further on, the boat passes Duart Castle, home of the chief of the McLean clan, Lord McLean (McLAYn), quite an impressive building on its rocky knoll by the sea. I have never visited the castle itself, though I have stood outside it at the end of the little road off the main road crossing the island on its way to the Iona ferry.
Craignure is only a little way further on, so we were soon recalled to our cars on the car deck to prepare for disembarking. From Craignure it is about a 45 minute drive north to Tobermory, along a sometimes very narrow single track road, with passing places, to allow overtaking and principally to let cars coming in opposite directions to pass each other. Always a friendly wee wave as acknowledgement is given to the driver who has stopped to let you through – and of course he/she will return the compliment!
Eventually you reach brightly painted Tobermory, model for the kids’ TV programme, Balamory. Only the main street is at sea level, and everywhere else is up above the cliff. I had found a B&B for Morag and me, up the hill at the far end of the village, so we headed for that and got settled in before returning to the main street and the pub where we were meeting fellow choir member, Rena, for supper. In the end Lyn and Chera came too so we were a lively group of diners.
We weren’t singing till the next day, meeting first for a practice at 1.00p.m, so in the morning Morag and I took a little run in the car to Aros Park, once the grounds of a big house, now demolished, where a short walk up beside a river afforded us great views of the waterfalls. We had been told – tongue in cheek - that Niagara had nothing on the top falls! After all the rain recently I was almost inclined to agree!
Further into the park we came to the clearing in the trees where the old house once stood. A notice board showed what the place had looked like. What a shame so many of these old places disappeared before Conservation was the buzzword! Did it face the lochan (small lake), I wonder?
We sat in the car to eat our sandwiches, just admiring the view, before heading back into Tobermory for choir practice and our competition. There’s a lot of hanging around before you sing, getting moved from one place to another as you get nearer to the stage in the Aros Halls!
Here we all are just before it was our turn to sing, and after we’d had another run through our songs.
Not long after we were called to the hall next door – along corridors and up stairs… we were finally behind the curtains on the stage. The curtains opened – and we were on! Three songs – one was the prescribed piece for the National Mod; the second, our own choice, and the third the Puirt a Beul (Poorsht uh Bail), literally mouth music or tunes for dancing sung rather than played on instruments. The words are usually a lot of nonsense, and this one was no exception – something about a man eating a big bannock “I saw it myself and it wasn’t small”. The music is in two sections, first a slower strathspey, followed by the faster reel. “There’s a hole in the big boat” it begins!!
Eventually it was all over and we felt we had done quite well, so it was a bit of a disappointment to find we came in at 6th equal (with the Oban Choir), or to put it another way – last! Just one more point would have put us at 5th equal –not last! However, conductor Jackie seems to think we did OK! We just have to tidy up a few bits for the National Mod next month – in Stornoway, in the Outer Hebrides! There are bigger and better choirs competing in the ‘big’ Mod, so I don’t fancy our chances, but please don’t let us be last again! Whatever, it will be a lot of fun!!!!!
Talk again soon.