Hebridean Celtic Festival 2011 – Stornoway Shines

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by Martin McDonald

The highlight of the Western Isles social and cultural year took place at the weekend with the 16th Hebridean Celtic Festival. A special added highlight this year was the presence of the Tall Ships, bringing even more colour and variety to an already spectacular event.

Nobody particularly travels to Lewis for the weather, but this year the conditions were, for the most part, more than acceptable. Saturday shone particularly, and a walk up Gallows Hill in the grounds of Lews Castle provided an opportunity to view Stornoway bathed in summer splendour.

The town itself seemed particularly busy and vibrant over the course of the weekend. Street markets and craft fairs bustled. Cafes, pubs and restaurants did roaring trade. The appearance of the town centre area looked fresh and bright, with a number of newly opened delicatessans and cafes providing luxury local produce and welcome opportunities for relaxation and refreshment.

Stornoway’s arts and culture hub, An Lanntair, was host to music performances from Wednesday to Saturday, both in the afternoon and in the evening. Music is, of course, the defining element of the “Heb Celt Fest”, and the Big Tent in the Castle grounds was supplemented this year by a smaller tent, allowing for some smaller, lesser known acts to show off their respective talents, including promising local act, Boy Who Trapped the Sun.

Friday night on the main stage had established performers such as Eddi Reader and folk favourites The Peatbog Faeries to enjoy, but it was the energetic, barn-storming performance of the super-talented KT Tunstall on Saturday which will live longest in the memory. Her Harris Tweed jacket seemed to go down particularly well with the warm and enthusiastic local crowd, which was made up of all age groups and all walks of life.

This year’s Hebridean Celtic Festival can only be considered another success. Areas remain of course for the organisers to work on. Once again, the queues for the bars in the main music area were far too long, especially considering there was a token system rather than cash bars in place. And perhaps one or two slightly bigger names music wise might lend the event a little more gravitas.

Overall, it feels very much like the people of Stornoway and the Isle of Lewis have a sense of real optimism at the moment. Moves to refurbish Lews Castle are finally gathering momentum, and what better symbol of a bright new era in the story of the Island?