excerpt from 'Travelling Players: The Story of the Arts League of Service' pp. 200-202 (401 words)

excerpt from 'Travelling Players: The Story of the Arts League of Service' pp. 200-202 (401 words)

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Travelling Players: The Story of the Arts League of Service

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In the summer of 1923 Hugh Mackay, Judith [Wogan], and myself were on holiday in the island of Barra.  During our visit it was arranged by some of Hugh’s friends there to give a “Waulking” in our honour.  “Waulking” is the manual method employed by the island women in shrinking their homespun tweed.  It is made an occasion for song and dance… Column met us at the door with a Gaelic greeting as we entered a fair-sized room with a newly sanded floor which had been cleared for dancing… At one end of the table a blanket was lying folded lengthwise, and round it the women who were going to shrink it were sitting.  When they began it was clear that it was the older amongst them that were the experts at the work and at the songs that accompanied it.  They were full of vitality, and the rhythm of their songs was grand… The team work was excellent, the leader, a little old woman with a reedy voice, sang a line of the song, and the others, seizing a piece of the material before them, began a rhythmic beating and rubbing of it on the table as they took up the chorus, passing the blanket on from time to time, so that it travelled round the table until every part of it was treated in the same manner…

As the work went on, the songs changed from a slow to an ever-increasingly quick tempo, until at the end of the process there was a shout which left them breathless and laughing, although this was only the prelude to other songs that followed.  The whole evening was a triumph for age; the only signs of self-consciousness came from the group of young people who stood round the doorway and looked on.

Finally, at a late hour, the dancing began in which our three old ladies took part.  Hugh, with Morag our hostess as partner, challenged one of them to a duel as to who could keep going the longer. They with a reel or she with her song, for mouth music is what they dance to.  She vowed that she would “put him off the floor”, but in the end lack of breath and laughter defeated dancers and singer alike, and they finished amid the applause of the assembled company.


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excerpt from 'Travelling Players: The Story of the Arts League of Service' pp. 200-202 (401 words)


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