This emotionally charged evening was one of the highlights of the 2013 Celtic Connections Festival. A set put together and told by Flora MacNeill’s daughter Maggie MacInness was one of sheer delight.
To a backdrop of personal family pictures being displayed on a large screen Maggie, accompanied by Brian McAlpine on piano, Anna Massie and her son Calum on guitars, started the show singing and playing the clarsach, songs she grew up with on the Island of Barra.
She went through her family history starting on Mingulay to Barra to Edinburgh and then the world stage for Flora MacNeill.
Flora loved her gaelic singing and grew up on a croft on Barra. Such was her popularity and talent, inhabitants of the island used to phone her at her work in the island’s telephone exchange asking her to sing over the phone. Maggie MacInnes beautifully sang these same songs to a packed audience. You did not have to be a gaelic speaker to understand the emotion in the songs.
Joining Maggie on stage were family friends, the evergreen Anne Lorne Gillies and Arthur Cormack who again sang some of Flora’s favourite songs. It transpired that with all the countries Flora visited she always had a special affinity with Ireland. On her visits there she became friendly with Peadar O’ Riada and the Cuil Aadha Choir who again were privileged to be special guests on
this special night in the Mitchell Theatre.
Other guests on the night included the legendary Boys of the Lough whom Flora toured with in the early 1970s.
Throughout the evening, Maggie MacInness regaled us with stories of her childhood and how the whole family grew up with the songs and stories of Flora MacNeill. There were frequent impromptu parties where bands and singers would end up in the family living room with their instruments. It was declared that a party is not a party unless there is lots of music. Saturday night was as though over four hundred people had been invited into their living room for a party.
We all shared the family pictures and enjoyed the fantastic music being sung and played.
Such was the influence of Flora MacNeill to many gaels and singers and such was the fondness of her Mother that was so transparent in Maggies wonderful portrayal of her music during the night that when Flora was introduced to the crowd and took her rightful place in centre stage the entire audience stood and gave a rapturous and lengthy ovation. There was hardly a dry eye in the house. How Maggie managed to keep her emotions in check in this wonderful moment belies belief.
The entire cast, including a sprightly Flora MacNeill gave us a further couple of songs to even more standing ovations. Each cheer and clap was richly deserved for this show and the way it had been put together by the very proud and talented Maggie MacInnes. Flora was equally as proud seeing two of her grandsons on stage with them, Calum who had been playing guitar and Donald Joseph MacInness who had played a pipe solo (the first piper in the family!).