Na h-Eilthirich: The Emigrants
at Nova Scotia Highland Village,
Iona, Cape Breton
(10 October 2005)

The Celtic Colours International Festival holds an incredibly diverse wealth of options for exploring the Celtic influence upon the local culture. It can be difficult to decide what to do and what's worth passing up. Most attendees seem to spend the week in a dervish of frenzied activity. There really is nothing you would want to miss; it's all fabulous.

Music is, of course, the focus, and you could spend all your time just following it around to all of the many venues across the island. However, if you are able to drag yourself out of bed after partying all night at the Festival Club, check out the various selections from the Visual Arts Series: workshops, art, crafts and lectures offered in both Gaelic and English.

I tried to hit a few of these each year, and this time I think I've hit the jackpot. Iona's Highland Village is a living history museum situated in the central area of the island. As well as being a fascinating place to spend a day, quite a few of this year's day events were held right at the museum's office, making it a convenient site around which to plan your schedule.

My first visit to the village was timed perfectly. Having stayed up way too late the night before, I was ready for some wind-down time. Not knowing what to expect I set out from Baddeck to Iona, about an hour's drive.

After checking in with the helpful and friendly ladies in the visitor's centre and gift shop, I slipped in (just slightly late) to view the movie in the small room, almost an alcove, in which the video series is presented.

There is no introduction or lecture following the videos; it's a very casual arrangement. About 20 people were seated to view Na h-Eilthirich (The Emigrants), a BBC film from the 1990s, narrated in Gaelic with English subtitles.

The film is informative and mostly interesting, although a bit like a history class filmstrip. It covers the basics of the Scottish immigration to Nova Scotia, then into Cape Breton in the late 1700s. As a first introduction to Cape Breton history, it's very straightforward and lacks that overly dramatic quality of so many historical documentaries.

Several other video viewing options were also on the schedule throughout the week, and it's a nice, relaxing way to spend some spare time -- not to mention that it's free, so your wallet gets a much needed break as well! Other titles included "Am Posadh Hiortach (St. Kilda's Wedding)," "Eilean Cheap Breatainn (A Gaelic Special)" and "The Cape Breton Gaelic Show."

Once at the village you may be tempted to do some exploring, as the museum is well laid out and couldn't be set in a more beautiful location. It's also a great place to take kids if you're making a family event of the festival. Kids are free to get in to the museum, adults are only $8.

I enjoyed the village so much I had to head back the next day, convincing my husband Tom to come explore it with me. I attended a spinning (yarn) workshop, a review of which can be found elsewhere on this site.

by Katie Knapp
14 October 2006