Scottish Gael embarks on epic musical pilgrimage

Celebrated Scottish Gael Mary Ann Kennedy is following in the footsteps of St Columba, embarking on an epic journey of musical discovery as part of a landmark collaboration with Scotland’s singing festival, St Andrews Voices.

 In the 1500th anniversary year of the Celtic Saint’s death, Mary Ann will journey along the historic 200-mile pilgrimage from Iona to St Andrews, honouring the route inspired by the legendary missionary and marking a welcome return to singing for communities across the breadth of Scotland.

The first leg of the project entitled Triall – Gaelic for journey – takes Mary Ann from Iona to Tyndrum and over the course of five days the acclaimed Scottish singer is visiting and reconnecting with fellow singers, composers and musicians.

Mary Ann visited the island of Iona on Sunday, recording a special version of her song Eadar-Thìr(Between-Lands) on voice and harp at the sacred Iona Abbey – the first Celtic church built by St Columba (Colum Cille in Gaelic). The song is inspired by the island, described by the founder of the Iona Community, the Rev. George MacLeod, as a ‘thin place’.

Next she will travel back to Mull by boat, courtesy of local musician Sorren Maclean, to undertake a vocal workshop with Mull Gaelic Choir. From there she will pass through Oban to Taynuilt, visiting long-time collaborator and friend and the leading choral director and composer Sileas Sinclair of the Oban Gaelic Choir to record the song Taynuilt (Taigh an Uillt).

Later in the week Mary Ann will head to the banks of Loch Awe to meet broadcaster and musician Andreas Wolff of Taynuilt Gaelic Choir to reflect on the magical lochside section of St Columba’s Way. Andreas has written a lockdown travelogue on the St Conan’s pilgrimage route which forms the first part of this journey.

Mary Ann will then continue by bike to Glen Orchy before finishing the final section to Tyndrum by walking along the West Highland Way.

The singer and writer will undertake two further legs of her journey between now and October, travelling exclusively by boat, rail, bicycle and on foot between Tyndrum and Perth in September, before finally sailing up the River Tay to the Fife seaside town of St Andrews in October.

Mary Ann’s pilgrimage is being captured by Nick Turner and Reece Mackay from Watercolour Music and will culminate in a stunning concert as part of this year’s St Andrews Voices. It is the first performance of the festival’s diverse programme to be unveiled.

Themes of pilgrimage and journey will be at the heart of the festival, celebrating the process and voyage singers undertake to come together, explore and share music.

Mary Ann Kennedy said: “It’s such a joy to be back out meeting singers and to see them finding their voices again as we come out of lockdown. So many of us have been desperate to start singing again and there is something profoundly spiritual about connecting with musical communities across the breadth of Scotland, taking in spectacular Scottish scenery and culture as we go.

“It’s truly special to be undertaking this momentous journey with St Andrews Voices and I am looking forward to seeing how it unfolds as we look towards the festival this October.”

Amanda MacLeod, Festival Director at St Andrews Voices, said: “This unique project and collaboration with Mary Ann is all about celebrating the invaluable community connections that are forged through singing, and paying homage to the process and development singers undergo between first meeting and performing to an audience.

“The route from Iona and St Andrews has a significant place in Scottish history and it’s wonderful that we’re able to mark the anniversary of St Columba’s death with this musical pilgrimage. It’s an exciting prospect to think the people Mary Ann meets and the experiences she has along the way will shape the festival performance this October and we can’t wait to share that with everyone.”

St Andrews Voices is Scotland's only festival of vocal and choral music, showcasing some of the finest singers from across the UK and beyond. It will take place between 14th – 18th October, with more details of this year’s programme to be unveiled in the coming months.

You can follow the pilgrimage across St Andrews Voices and Mary Ann Kennedy’s social media channels / Facebook @ StAndrewsVoices / Instagram @standrewsvoices / Twitter @StAndrewsVoices / Facebook @NicUalraig / Twitter @NicUalraig / Instagram @MaryAnnKennedy_NicUalraig