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Last Updated: Friday, 22 June 2007, 09:07 GMT 10:07 UK
Gaelic song echoes in Düsseldorf
Teàrlach Quinnell
BBC Gaelic News Service

Opera dress rehearsal in Düsseldorf. Picture by Andre Loessel
The dress rehearsal in the Theater Kontra-Punkt in Düsseldorf

On a recent trip to Düsseldorf, I attended the rehearsal of an opera.

It was just like any other June evening, with people sitting out on the pavement eating and drinking, with tobacco smoke rising through the trees.

As I turned a corner, trying to see through the smoke, I stopped in front of a billboard.

Was the cigarette smoke affecting my vision, or was that Gaelic written up there?

'Hiort - Mac-Talla nan Eun', it said, and underneath, 'Insel der Vogelmenschen', 'L'ile des Hommes Oiseax',' 'The Echo of Birds'.

Though I knew about the event it advertised, it took me by surprise.

When a Gaelic speaker goes abroad, he doesn't expect to see Gaelic there, but that was what I was going to see: a Gaelic opera.

An opera with Gaelic in it, being performed in five European countries.

As I went through the revolving door in a huge glass wall, I saw a dress rehearsal for it - people climbing down ropes from the ceiling, singing in Gaelic and speaking in German about St Kilda.

The same thing will happen in Austria, Belgium, France and in Stornoway.

Vertical dancers on St Kilda. Picture by Brian Hall
The film also includes a performance by a company of "vertical dancers" from Paris called Retouramont, who dangled from ropes on St Kilda's cliffs, performing a ballet

Gaelic is playing a major part in a European arts project.

The history of St Kilda will be told in front of a backdrop of a screen on which a film made last year on the island, with Gaelic singer Anna Mhoireach singing as one half of a love story, will be shown.

The film also includes a performance by a company of "vertical dancers" from Paris called Retouramont, who dangled from ropes on St Kilda's cliffs, performing a ballet.

Each venue in the five countries will stage the performances simultaneously with live high-speed media links to St Kilda.

One only needs to take a look outside this building, which is beside the old harbour in Düsseldorf, to see why this should not be a surprise.

There are vessels from many countries sailing up and down the Rhine.

They're used to a mix of cultures here and they include Gaelic in that mix.

There is, indeed, widespread interest in Germany and in other countries on mainland Europe in Gaelic and in all things Celtic.

This opera is proof, if proof was needed, of the place the Gaelic language has in modern Europe. It is an international language

In the town of Hallstatt, where the Austrian performance shall be held, many archaeological finds have been found from a Celtic civilisation.

As St Kilda was only abandoned as recently as 1930, leaving ruins all over the island, it's easy to see a link to those with an interest in Celtic civilisations.

A Celtic culture was once prevalent in much of Germany, and in France, and German academics have been responsible for much of the research into the Celtic languages.

It was indeed a German, one Werner Kissling, that made the first film to contain the Gaelic language - Eriskay: A Poem of Remote Lives - in 1934.

This opera is proof, if proof was needed, of the place the Gaelic language has in modern Europe. It is an international language.


SEE ALSO
In pictures: St Kilda
02 Mar 07 |  In Pictures
Seabirds dilemma for scientists
14 Aug 06 |  Highlands and Islands
St Kilda rubbish sold on internet
26 Jun 06 |  Highlands and Islands

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