Scottish Gaelic scholar receives National Folk Fellowship

A doctor, academic and Scottish music expert, Ronald McCoy, of Melbourne, will use the folklore and music collections in the National Library of Australia to explore a largely hidden part of Australian immigrant culture.

A speaker of Gaelic, who also sings and plays the fiddle, Dr McCoy is the recipient of 2007-08 National Folk Fellowship, offered jointly by the National Library and the National Folk Festival. He aims to reappraise the contribution of the Scots and Gaels to Australian folk culture. Dr McCoy is well known in Scottish Gaelic circles as a performer and prizewinner at the Royal National Mod, Scotland’s annual premier festival of Gaelic language, arts and culture.

Dr McCoy will focus on the collection of Dr Emily Lyle, of the School of Scottish Studies in Edinburgh, who visited Australia in 1976-1977 to collect songs, stories and folklore from a wide range of Scottish settlers and their descendants.

“I think people will be surprised at the depth and breadth of the materials that Emily collected. Not only are there representative materials of what you might expect – such as pipe tunes, dance music and folk songs – but there is a wealth of children’s songs, and a considerable number of Gaelic language songs and stories,” Dr McCoy said.

“The aim is not to recreate materials as they were recorded but to make the music of the past available for the future. I want performers to put their contemporary spin on the material, so that audiences can see how fresh and wonderful this material is.”

The annual Fellowship, which includes a four-week residency with access to research facilities, collections and a sound-recording studio, culminates in a performance at the National Folk Festival, to be held in Canberra during Easter 2008.

Dr McCoy, together with the Melbourne Scottish Fiddle Club under the musical direction of Judy Turner, will perform songs, tunes and stories at the Festival. Workshops and translations of Gaelic language materials will also be made available for audiences.

“Dr McCoy’s project will bring special meaning to next year’s Festival with its focus on Celtic culture,” said Dave O’Neill, Artistic Director of the National Folk Festival.

The Library’s Curator of Music, Robyn Holmes, said the impact of the Scots on music in Australia had not been well documented and this project would allow their contribution to be brought to life.

“Now in its fifth year, the Fellowship was established with the aim of making accessible the myriad of traditional songs, tunes, dance and spoken-word gems held in the National Library’s folklore archives. This project will have a lasting legacy,” she said.

Media contacts: Yvonne Kennedy, Tel: 02 6262 1353; 0411 753 891; ykennedy@nla.gov.au
Ellen Peterson, Tel: 02 6262 1571; epeterson@nla.gov.au
Jan Nary, Publicist National Folk Festival (07 3379 4178; jnarypr@gil.com.au