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Historical Notes

The Glasgow Skye Association recently celebrated it's 150th anniversary in 2015. The following text is an extract from the 150th Annual Gathering Programme titled, 'Glasgow Skye Association Historical Notes.' Our thanks go to the authors, Archie Fraser, Kenna Kennedy and Calum Ross.

Glasgow Skye Association Historical Notes


The Glasgow Skye Association was formed at a meeting in the Trades House, Glassford Street, on the 21st April 1865, one hundred and fifty years ago.

Those present at the meeting recognised the need for such an Association and drew up a constitution, which, despite many minor amendments over the years, remains largely the same today as the original. Its main objects were: to provide opportunities to meet socially; preservation of local knowledge of people and events; relief for those in distressed personal or financial circumstances who were looking for work, or for a roof over their heads, or both; and of course, preservation of the Gaelic language and its music.


Over these last 150 years many family connections have been maintained across generations, not least that of the MacLeods of Breakish and latterly of Skeabost.


After the inaugural meeting in April 1865 in the Trades House, there followed a variety of venues: Dewar’s Temperance Hotel, Bridge Street; Aitken’s Hotel, Argyle Street; Fleming’s Temperance Hotel; the Windsor Hotel, Union Street; The Highland Institute, 234 Sauchiehall Street; the Charing Cross Halls, 486 Sauchiehall Street; the Religeous Institution Rooms, Buchanan Street; the Albany Galleries, 341 Renfrew Street; the Masonic Halls, West Regent Street, and various other halls until, in 1925, the Association met for the first time in the newly established Highlanders’ Institute in Elmbank Street, Which from then provided the regular meeting place.


Even the most superficial examination of the records of the Association cannot fail to inspire admiration for these early pioneers, their forethought and imagination, their passion and concern to make their aims effective and, although we now live in a vastly different world, there is nevertheless a feeling of kinship with those stalwarts of the past in being able to continue, to some extent, the work which they vegan a century and a half ago.


To us, living in a Welfare State, it is difficult to appreciate the importance of the Association’s benevolent activities, especially in the early years. Thankfully, cases of destitution are rare today, but charity in one form or another, be it simply hospital visits or small gifts to the housebound at Christmas, still remains a central plank of the constitution.

From the outset, the chief event of the year, and the main fund raising event, was the Annual Gathering. In 1874, the committee appointed to find a hall for the Annual Gathering reported that they had secured the Queen’s Rooms, La Belle Place, for the first Friday in December. The first Friday in December has continued to be the Skye Annual Gathering night ever since. In 1922 the Glasgow Corporation Halls Manager tried to persuade the Association to use another date at the time, John A. Nicolson was instructed to reply that no other date was acceptable, an no change was made!


The Annual Gathering, started from modest beginnings, grew from being a soiree – or tea – for everybody, to a Dinner, Concert and Dance (or Assembly as it was called) which extended to two nights and grew to such a size that it was necessary to move the concert to the largest Halls in the City, the ST Andrews Halls, where, apart from the wars, it continued to be held from 1901 till the disastrous fire in 1962 which destroyed this magnificent suite of halls.


It was an aim of the members to “… to extend the Association’s sphere of usefulness…” and, in addition to the main Association, provision was made for a number of other associated activities. The Literary Society, for instance, operated independently of the main Association having its own separate membership and program of events. A leading light in the Society, and also a founder member of the Association, was the brilliant young student, Magnus MacLean from Glendale, later to become professor of Electrical Engineering at the Royal Technical College (now University of Strathclyde) from 1899-1923. Professor Magnus MacLean is one of the major Skye-born figures features in The Great Book of Skye. His work for the Association is fittingly commemorated in two prizes founded by the Glasgow Skye Association in 1948:

The Magnus MacLean Memorial Prize, awarded annually “to the most meritorious student in the final year of the course in Electrical and Electronic Engineering…” at Strathclyde University; and The Magnus MacLean Memorial Prize awarded annually to: “…the most distinguished student in the Ordinary class of Celtic…” at Glasgow University where Magnus was, for a time, Celtic Lecturer, an indication of the breadth of hi scholarship. The Maclean room in the university’s Gaelic and Celtic Department is named after Magnus Maclean and enables postgraduate students in Gaelic and Celtic to have access to the research archive.


The game of shinty received consistent and generous support from the Association for many years. A minute of 2nd April 1880 refers to “…the Skye Shinty Club.’ It appears that this club ceased to exit by the end of the century to be replaced in 1903 ‘Glasgow Skye Cammanachd Club’, which continued to have a vigorous existence for over fifty years during which it maintained a close liaison with the home Island, and with Portree School.


A Badminton Club, under the auspices of the Glasgow Skye Association, but supported by other territorial Associations, notably the Uist & Barra Association and Lewis & Harris Association, continued to flourish after the Second World War up until the late 70s. Instances of cooperation of this nature were frequent. For example, at the mammoth Bazaar that raised money for the first Highlanders Institute, the ‘Skye’ shared a stall with the Lewis & Harris and Uist & Barra. But despite such ready co-operation on an occasional basis, attempts on at least two occasions, to sept up a Federation of Highland Societies, were signally unsuccessful.


The mid 50s saw the burgeoning of Community Drama and, under the guidance and support of the Scottish Community Drama Association (SCDA), a Gaelic Drama Festival was established in Glasgow with teams coming from far and near to compete. There were at least 6 teams in Glasgow itself, including the Glasgow Skye Players who emerged as a force to reckoned with. Co-operation and collaboration were not unknown in this field of activity and there was one occasion on which the Glasgow Skye Players ‘borrowed’ an actor from the Lewis and Harris Players who, to this day, still complain that a transfer fee had not been paid!

From its inception, the Association has taken a practical interest in education in Skye. In 1887 money was set aside for prizes in Skye schools. In addition to thirteen schools in Skye this was in time extended to include the four Secondary Schools in Glasgow that offered Gaelic as a subject. More recently the list has been increased to include the children in Gaelic Medium Education. The most esteemed award for proficiency in Gaelic at Portree High School has for many years been the John A. Nicolson Memorial Prize. More recently, as a permanent memorial of the centenary of the Association in 1965, a sum of money was set aside to fund a Dux Medal to be presented annually to Portree High School.


In the wider community, awards for renderings of Skye songs and poetry, essays and collections of stories, at local and National Mods, were given and, since 1926, a gold medal has been awarded annually for the best overall performance in the oral section of the National Mod. 


It is not every organisation that can boast its own pipe band! According to the minutes of the 1968 AGM, the most significant venture of the session just concluded, had been “…the sponsoring of our own pipe band.” Pipe Major Jimmy MacLeod PM of the recently disbanded Clan MacRae Society Pipe Band, looking to regroup under a new name and sponsor, made and appeal to the ‘Skye’. The Association obliged, aided with further sponsorship from Duncan MacLeod and MacLeod Hotels. Thus was born the Glasgow Skye Association Pipe Band. The band features every year at the Skye Gathering Concert. Its own annual concert, their main fund-raiser, held in August in The Royal Concert Hall, and involving a guest band, continues to be a stellar occasion.

The Glasgow Skye Association has been at  the heart of Gaelic Glasgow for the last 150 years. During that time, the Association has been involved in many social, political and cultural causes affecting Skye folks at home and further afield. The cause of the Gaelic language in education has been taken up in a number if ways during these years. In the late 1870s, the Association lent its support to the proposed Chair of Celtic at Edinburgh University, raising £252 towards the project. A hundred years later, in 1975, it responded, with characteristic commitment, to the request for help to establish a Gaelic College at Sabhal Mor Ostaig. In the same year, a student demonstration march to the BBC in Queen Margret Drive to protest at the lack of Gaelic on radio and Television, was led by the Glasgow Skye Association Pipe Band. Further, on 1st October 1983, Prompted by one of its own members, the pot Aonghas Mac Neacail, the Association, supported by all the other major Highland and Island Associations in the city, convened a 'One Day Conference on Gaelic in Glasgow Education' in the Third Eye Centre (present CCA), addressed by an impressive roll-call of educationalists and academics, including Professor Derrick Thomson, Professor Nigel Grant, Murdo Macleod HMI and Dr Malcolm Green. The rest, as they say, is history. Scotlands first dedicated Gaelic-medium primary school was established in Glasgow in 1999. Provision was extended to include secondary level education in 2003: Sgoil Ghàidhlig Ghlaschu/ Glasgow Gaelic School, stands testament to the commitment of Glasgow to the Gaels, and of the Gaels to their language and culture. 

Glasgow City Council recognised this year's landmark birthday of the 'Skye' with a Civic Reception on the 21st April, 150 years to the day the Association was formed. This Civic Dinner, held in the magnificent surroundings of Glasgow City Chambers, marked the beginning of the Associations celebratory year, to be followed in December by the Annual Dinner and Annual Concert and Dance. Completed in only 1888, it is interesting to note that the City Chambers, now for over a hundred years the headquarter of successive councils serving City of Glasgow, was not yet in existence when the Glasgow Skye Association was established. As well as following the usual monthly events throughout this commemorative year, it was felt that such a special anniversary should be marked with some additional attention, something that would connect the Association to its homeland roots. And so, to round off a year of celebration, a tour home to Skye is being planned for April 2016.

In retrospect, undoubtedly the most significant ventures undertaken by the Association  in the last 50 years have been,

* The adoption and support of its own, very successful, pipe band, the Glasgow Skye Association Pipe Band - the only Glasgow Highland association to maintain its own band; 

*Playing a lead role in the campaign for Gaelic Medium Education in Glasgow in the early 19080s. which ultimatley lead to the establishing of Sgoil Ghàidhlig Ghlaschu/ Glasgow Gaelic School.

The importance of the assistance and support provided to earlier generations of Skye folk, in aPre-Welfare State era, cannot be overestimated, and the present-day Association members continue to aspire to live up to the ideals and principles of their founding fathers. Today, in a world that tends to be impersonal and socially disconnected, what is of vital importance is that the Association provides Skye people with the opportunities to meet together socially. The supreme achievement and contribution of organisations such as the 'Skye' is the continuation of the aspirations of the founders, their passion and their zeal and concern for their fellow islanders and countrymen. 

Archie Fraser, Kenna Kennedy, Calum Ross.

18 November 2015


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