Reflection: Sandy Moffat picture unveiling and Seinn sa Ghàidhlig

Gillebride MacMillan, 2020

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND – JANUARY 08: Artist, Sandy Moffat, is pictured at the Glasgow Mod, as he puts the finishing touches to the painting he completed as a result of his residency. The painting is inspired by the festival of the Gaelic arts, and by the flourishing nature of the Gaelic language and culture in Glasgow. This image was taken on January 08, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

On 18th January 2020 a special event was held at City Halls as part of Celtic Connections in Collaboration with The University of Glasgow. The event focussed on the unveiling of a new painting by renowned Scottish artist Alexander ‘Sandy’ Moffatt, which was specially commissioned by Glasgow Life to celebrate Gaelic in Glasgow.  The commission was supported by The Huntarian Museum and Glasgow University and marked a special year for the city when the Royal National Mod was held in October 2019 and also the GUGA: Exploring Gaelic Identities exhibition at The Hunterian. This painting offers a celebratory legacy for the growing generations of Gaels in Glasgow and the place in the city for the Gaelic Language and Culture and at the unveiling it was appropriate that children from Sgoil Ghàidhlig Ghlaschu were there to perform the unveiling. Speeches from Dr Katherine Forsyth, Celtic & Gaelic, and Glasgow Life’s Rona MacDonald were followed by a poetry recital by Bàrd Baile Ghlaschu, Glasgow’s Gaelic Poet in Residence, Niall O’Gallagher. One of O’Gallagher’s poems was particularly thoughtprovoking with its reference to St Mungo, who as well as being the patron saint of Glasgow is also the patron saint of those who suffer from bullying. O’Gallagher’s poems tells of how St Mungo was accused of stealing by those who were bullying him. The poem was dedicated to all who suffer or suffered from any form of bullying.

Just prior to the unveiling of the picture Sandy Moffat gave a speech about what inspired him for the picture. As can be seen from the picture itself, the role of Gaelic medium education in the revival of the language is particularly important and the painting has a teacher surrounded by pupils at its heart. There are various other aspects of Gaelic culture in the picture – some of which may be lost without the prior explanation. The top left-hand corner  of the painting has an allusion to some of the 18th century’s foremost Gaelic poet, Duncan Bàn MacIntyre, with  Ben Dòrain with its steep slopes. There is also a sea-scape alluding to the Gaelic strongholds on the Hebridean West coast, the areas where Gaelic has survived longest as a community language. Sandy Mofatt gave further insights into the almost hidden aspects of the painting, as he gave details of some of the images that are to be found on some of the pendants and books in the painting. One of those is John MacLean’s mother. MacLean, a school teacher, Socialist and Red Clydesider was one of the most ifluential Glaswegians was a Glasgow Gael whose mother had moved to Glasgow from Mull.

Following the unveiling of the painting and the poetry reading, a group of students from the Seinn sa Ghàidhlig/Gaelic Song in Performance gave an wonderful recital of Gaelic song. The Gaelic Song in Performance course is an Honours course which is available to Celtic & Gaelic and Music students. The students analyse aspects of Gaelic song and there is a recital of Gaelic songs as part of the assessment. For this performance, the Hons students were joined by Eilidh Cormack, a professional singer who also studied the course with a previous cohort. The students sang solo and as part of a group with wonderful harmonies adding to the rich vocal textures of the students. Songs such as Griogal Cridhe (MacGregor’s Lament) and Sìos dhan an Abhainn (Down to the River) were performed to a highly professional standard and there was a buzz about the room about the quality of the performers.

This event was therefore a showcase of some of the best aspects of the University. The painting was commisioned by Glasgow Life in partnership with The Hunterian Museum and The University of Glasgow and featured a strong connection with Gaelic education andthe wider Gaelic community in Glasgow. The  Gaelic Song in Performance students were a credit to the University and showcased the diversity of teaching and assessment available to students.

Special thanks to University of Glasgow’s School of Culture & Creative Arts committee and also UofG Gaelic for funding and supporting this event. Sandy Moffat’s painting will tour in art galleries and museums in Glasgow with a programme to be unveiled in due course.