Shed­ding the light on the fu­ture for beau­ti­ful is­land of Canna

The Oban Times - - Community News -

WE HAVEN’T heard much about Canna in The Oban Times re­cently un­til the week be­fore last when it fea­tured in two places and both on the sub­ject of light.

The first was an in­ti­ma­tion that an ap­pli­ca­tion had been re­ceived by High­land Coun­cil to build six large wind tur­bines on San­day and the sec­ond, an in-house ad­vert, an­nounc­ing that any­one tak­ing out a sub­scrip­tion to this news­pa­per would re­ceive, a free, lux­u­ri­ous, hand- crafted and or­ganic can­dle from the Isle of Canna. If you think I am in dan­ger of be­com­ing flip­pant read on. This is se­ri­ous.

Canna is one of the most beau­ti­ful of all the Scot­tish is­lands and has played a prom­i­nent part in the story of the He­brides for more than 1,000 years. In 1938 it and the nearby is­lands of San­day, Heisker and Humla, was bought by the Gaelic-speak­ing John Lorne Camp­bell (JLC) a dis­tin­guished Celtic scholar and lin­guist whose writ­ings changed for­ever our knowl­edge of the his­tory and cul­ture of th­ese parts.

JLC was also an environmentalist long be­fore Scot­tish Nat­u­ral Her­itage (SNH) was in­vented. He com­bined farm­ing with con­ser­va­tion and showed what could be achieved by an egal­i­tar­ian laird on an is­land free from the an­gli­cis­ing in­flu­ence of what is known as ‘the Big House’ which usu­ally goes hand in hand with land own­er­ship in Scot­land.

In 1981 JLC gen­er­ously gave Canna and his unique schol­arly col­lec­tions to the Na­tional Trust for Scot­land (NTS). It was a con­di­tion of the gift that the trust main­tain a flour­ish­ing He­bridean com­mu­nity through a vi­able and sus­tain­able agri­cul­tural regime, pre­serve the spe­cial na­ture of the prop­erty, par­tic­u­larly its ar­chae­ol­ogy, flora and fauna, but­ter­flies and moths and most im­por­tantly, es­tab­lish a cen­tre for ad­vanced stud­ies for Scot­tish Gaelic and lan­guage based in Canna House.

Thirty four years later it is not un­rea­son­able to ask if any of th­ese con­di­tions have been ful­filled and what ben­e­fits, if any, this par­tic­u­lar de­vel­op­ment will bring.

The ap­pli­cant, Isle of Canna Com­mu­nity De­vel­op­ment Trust, has com­mis­sioned Wind and Sun Lim­ited, a Here­ford­shire com­pany spe­cial­is­ing in re­new­able en­ergy so­lu­tions, to up­grade the ex­ist­ing elec­tric­ity sys­tem on the is­land.

The de­sign re­port, which forms part of the ap­pli­ca­tion, based on a two- day visit, ticks most of the right boxes, ex­cept for ex­am­ple, the num­ber of na­tion­ally im­por­tant ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites that could be de­stroyed if it goes ahead. More wor­ry­ingly, lit­tle in it sits com­fort­ably along­side any of JLC’s as­pi­ra­tions.

The de­vel­op­ment trust says it is ex­plor­ing op­tions to en­able the lo­cal com­mu­nity to ex­pand and max­imise the is­land’s po­ten­tial as a vi­able tourist des­ti­na­tion and as a lo­ca­tion for ed­u­ca­tional and ac­tiv­ity retreats. If that is the case why, in 2010, did its res­i­dents re­ject Marine Har­vest Scot­land’s plans for a large new fish farm off its shores by eight votes to seven?

Had it gone ahead it would have pro­vided long-term, all-year-round em­ploy­ment, kept the school open - which has just closed for the sec­ond time in re­cent years - and al­lowed the build­ing of sev­eral new houses - all of which any other small is­land in Scot­land would have wel­comed with open arms.

Where ex­actly is the Na­tional Trust for Scot­land in all this? As the own­ers of Canna, they should be work­ing with JLC’s trustees and tak­ing the lead in en­sur­ing that the con­di­tions of their wind­fall are met or are they back-ped­alling in the hope that one day they will be able to ab­ro­gate their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties al­to­gether in favour of a com­mu­nity buy­out?

What of the cen­tre for Gaelic stud­ies which was to be cre­ated around JLC’s li­brary and archive of un­par­al­leled rich­ness in the field of Gaelic cul­ture and lan­guage?

For­tu­nately the NTS, with help from the Na­tional Sound Archive, has at least seen to it that much of the 18,000 hours’ worth of sound record­ings and pho­to­graphs dat­ing from 1935- 69, have been scanned and trans­ferred to dig­i­tal for­mat while the li­brary and man­u­script col­lec­tion is be­ing fully cat­a­logued.

Canna was spe­cial while John Lorne Camp­bell and his wife, the dis­tin­guished mu­si­cian and folk­lorist Mar­garet Fay Shaw, lived there and dis­pensed their leg­endary brand of hos­pi­tal­ity to vis­i­tors and friends from around the world.

When they passed away a light went out on the is­land which can never re­ally be rekin­dled.

Per­haps the time has come for NTS to trans­fer the Canna Col­lec­tions, on loan if need be, to Sab­hal Mor Os­taig, the Na­tional Cen­tre for Gaelic Lan­guage and Cul­ture, on nearby Skye?

Here they would be­come part of the Univer­sity of the High­lands and be more eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble to a far greater num­ber of stu­dents of Celtic his­tory than they will ever be on Canna. I un­der­stand only eight peo­ple have vis­ited Canna to study JLC’s pa­pers since his death in 1996. Does that not tell us some­thing?

If The High­land Coun­cil ap­proves the con­struc­tion of this huge de­vel­op­ment and its ugly in­fras­truc­ture, which I note will be de­ter­mined by an of­fi­cial with del­e­gated pow­ers and not the full plan­ning com­mit­tee, the sheer beauty of Canna’s del­i­cate, cul­tural land­scape as well as its unique at­mos­phere, which is the envy of the He­brides, will be se­ri­ously com­pro­mised. It de­serves bet­ter. Iain Thorn­ber iain.thorn­ber@bt­in­ter­net.com

CELTIC SCHOLAR: John Lorne Camp­bell of Canna.

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