Royal Celtic Society ArmsThe Royal Celtic Society

For nearly 200 years, the Royal Celtic Society has been at the cutting edge of activity to support the language, literature, music and culture of the Highlands and Western Islands of Scotland. The Society holds regular events for members, awards medals for excellence in music and literature and sponsors a wide range of organisations dedicated to the traditions, language and arts of the Highlands and Islands.

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Callanish Stones Aurora 880Calls for UNESCO protection to be extended to the whole of the Western Isles were endorsed by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (the Western Isles Council) after John MacLeod, the President of An Comunn Gaichealach, made a pitch for the move, as the Royal National Mod got underway in Stornoway in last month.

In his opening address to the iconic Gaelic festival, Mr MacLeod said: " I firmy believe that the Western Isles should be specifically supported as a language preservation and development area.

"That does not mean that it is the only area where Gaelic will survive.  Gaelic will survive elsewhere in Scotland where the number of speakers continues to increase, but if the special envioronment that still exists in the Western Isles is lost, the very heart of the language will be lost.

"I have previously called for consideration to be given to seeking a UNESCO World Heritage designation for the distinctive language and culture of the Western Isles.  Since 2008, nearly 400 cultural traditions throughout the world have been listed by UNESCO as meriting support to maintain their unique 'intangible cultural heritage' ranging from oral traditions to performing arts, traditional dances and craftsmanship.  Interestingly, none of these is in the United Kingdom.

"I believe that the distinctive 'seann nos' of our Gaelic heritage in Scotland, and in particular in the Western Isles, deserves to be recognised alongside these other cultural traditions"

Norman Macdonald, Convenor of the Western Islands Council, agreed: "Anything that can be done to preserve, enhance and develop Gaelic as a language is to be warmly welcomed."

The Callanish Stones in Lewis already benefit from such UNESCO recognition.  St Kilda is the only site in the United Kingdom to enjoy dual World Heritage protection, both for culture and for the environment.  Mr Macdonald said: "Such a designation as is being proposed for Gaelic would ensure that the heritage and culture of the Hebrides is put on a par with similar cultures and traditions around the world."

The Royal Celtic Society will consider at its Council meeting next month how it might support the proposal.

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