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Oban is the well-known birthplace of the National Mod and An Comunn Gaidhealach. An Comunn Gaidhealach branches were formed all over the country and by 1913 there were almost one hundred. Aberfeldy & District came into being in 1912.
In January 1923, the General Secretary of An Comunn, Neil Shaw, attended a meeting of the Aberfeldy & District branch, chaired by president Major John Scott. Mr Shaw informed the meeting that the Executive committee of An Comunn had recommended that a Mod be held in Aberfeldy, sometime in June, which would be open to competitors from all over Perthshire. The date was set for 29th June 1923 and Aberfeldy Mod was formed.
At the first Mod there were six oral and six vocal competitions for juniors, and three oral, five vocal and three instrumental for seniors. There were also two dancing competitions. Since then, the Mod has continued to grow year on year; we are now in our 94th year (minus a few Mods during the war years) and competitors come from all over Scotland to compete in some of our open competitions. The Mod has expanded to include seventy-six competitions spread over two days and we receive in excess of five hundred entries annually.
Alexander Stewart Memorial Prizes
In the 1892 National Mod prize list appears amongst the results the following: ‘Translation from Gaelic Poetry: 1. A Stewart, Glenlyon 2. Rev. N Campbell, Kilchrenan.’ Alexander Stewart was a shoe-maker from Woodend, Glenlyon and the author of “A Highland Parish”. He and his daughters were stalwarts of the Gaelic cause in Perthshire. He is worthily commemorated in the Alexander Stewart Memorial Prizes for our junior literary competitions each year.
Netta MacLellan Cup/MacLellan Weem Cup
Netta MacLellan was the wife of the minister at Weem Parish Church, Iain MacLellan. Netta and Iain married on 3rd Sept 1923 in the Glasgow area. In 1924 they moved to Weem to take up Iain’s first post as a fully ordained minister. At the time, it was a requirement that the minister be a Gaelic speaker (this requirement continued for Weem Parish Church up until the 1960s). The MacLellans had four daughters and during their time in Weem, Netta organised both the Brownies and the local Gaelic choir. The Netta MacLellan Cup is awarded to the winner of the children’s poetry recitation competition 6b(i) and the MacLellan Weem Cup is awarded to the winner of competition 49, the senior solo singer of a Perthshire song. A photograph of the MacLellans can be seen on our gallery page.
The MacDonald Cup
This boys’ solo singing cup (competition 11) was presented in memory of Christie and Peter MacDonald, who were both born in the late 1890s. Both attended Kenmore Primary School and lived in Acharn, and were great supporters of the Mod in Aberfeldy.
The Alma Coull Memorial Cup
Mrs Alma Coull was a founder member of the Aberfeldy & District Gaelic Choir. She was a talented soprano singer who won many competitions at the Aberfeldy Mod. Her name graces almost all of the senior solo and duet trophies.
The Kathleen Gerrie Memorial Cup
Kathleen Gerrie was another founder member of the Aberfeldy & District Gaelic Choir, along with her husband, Bill. Kath was a lovely singer, and she and Bill were also part of a smaller ‘concert party’ group of choir members who would go out and entertain around local ceilidhs and highland nights. A former primary school teacher in Dunkeld, she took a great interest in junior competitions and conducted the Royal School of Dunkeld Primary Choir in the 1970s.
Petrine, Thomas and Iain Stewart
Below is an extract from the Breadalbane area ‘Comment’ magazine in 2010 which speaks of Iain M R Stewart (Competition 42 Cup) and his parents Petrine Stewart (Competition 12 Trophy) and Thomas M Stewart (Competition 46 Trophy). As you will see, Petrine was a National Mod Gold Medallist in 1937. Her son Sgt Iain Stewart was killed in in WWII in Holland on 5th September 1942 aged just 20. We are grateful to ‘Comment’ for allowing this reproduction in the 90th commemorative issue of the Mod programme.
‘A copy of the December 2009 issue of the ‘Comment’ was sent to Sandy McLaren in Hawick, a descendent of Sgt Stewart’s uncle. He in turn provided a contact with Sgt Stewart’s 87-year old aunt Sheila, who currently lives in Dundee. Originally from Pitlochry, Sheila (whose father was janitor at Breadalbane Academy) married Sgt Iain Stewart’s brother, Struan, in 1949. From her it was learned that Iain had attended Breadalbane Academy and went to St Andrew’s University (she cannot remember what he was studying there). He and two other Aberfeldy men, B A Mathieson and McGregor who were also at St Andrew’s, all joined up together. Mathieson’s plane was lost over the jungle and never found, and McGregor was also killed. Iain had a small dog called Whisky which – against all regulations – he apparently took with him on some missions. But in 1942 he knew he was about to be moved to another airfield and so he left the dog with his parents on his last visit home, to be collected ‘next time he was on leave’. After his fateful last mission the dog lived with his parents and was much treasured by them.
Iain’s plane was hit and the crew began to bail out in rotation. Seemingly, the order in which this was conducted was changed with each flight. Iain had managed actually to bail out, but the plane exploded, and it is thought that he was still close enough to the plane to be killed by the blast. Iain’s mother, Petrine, was startled awake from her sleep at that moment, convinced that something had befallen her son. Iain’s body was discovered at the front door of a household in the town and the occupants buried him. Later he was reinterred in an official grave.
Petrine Robertson, a Gaelic speaker and singer of reknown, was born in Kinloch Rannoch and in 1937 was Gold Medal winner at the National Mod. She had married Thomas Stewart, who was a plumber in Aberfeldy. Tom’s father had seen memorable service during WW1 when he was driver for T E Lawrence ‘of Arabia’ in Palestine. In one episode of derring do, it is reported that he drove a truck under the second floor window of an hotel in Jerusalem, enabling Lawrence to leap onto its roof to escape capture. Petrine and Tom named their house in Aberfeldy’s Alma Avenue ‘Rouveen’, after the cemetery where Iain is now buried.
Immediately after the war Sheila and Struan Stewart visited Iain’s grave in Holland with his parents. Sheila and her husband subsequently travelled over on several occasions. Sheila believes there are photographs and documents about Iain which she will get her son to look out when he next visits her.’
The Michael Drury Memorial Trophy
This ornate trophy was presented to the Mod in 2002 by Michael’s wife Isobel Rutter, Cumbernauld Gaelic Choir and his many friends. He was a great supporter of the choir and was especially fond of ‘Ceòl nan Allt’, the Cumbernauld choir quartet. He particularly enjoyed listening to the various quartets singing in competition.
Gifted in memory of the Aberfeldy & District Gaelic Choir’s former Gaelic tutor, Helen T MacMillan, this trophy is awarded to the choir in competition 58 with the highest Gaelic marks. Helen T (as she was always known; the T was for Taylor) was one of nine children; six girls and three boys. Her father was headmaster at Dervaig public school on the island of Mull, which she attended before going to Oban High School. From there she progressed to Glasgow University, graduating with an MA in English and Geography. Helen T taught at Knightswood School in Glasgow until she ‘retired’ in 1967, then took the big step of leaving the family home in Glasgow. She went to Aberfeldy where she took up a post at Breadalbane Academy, initially teaching English, but very soon teaching Gaelic as well.
Helen T’s love of Gaelic music was ever present in her life. Individually, she reached the pinnacle of Gaelic solo singing early on in her career, winning the Gold Medal at Dingwall National Mod in 1931. She returned there sixty years later in 1991 to present the gold medal to that year’s winner. Two of her sisters, Annie and Margaret, also won the gold medal and this is the only time in the history of the National Mòd that three siblings have achieved this. Neil Gunn wrote in his book, ‘Silver Darlings’ that “the beautiful Helen T MacMillan had the voice of an angel”.
Helen T was the first conductor of the Glasgow Islay Choir, which was founded in 1944. This choir is still going strong, having had many successes at the National Mòd since then. Helen’s first association with the Aberfeldy Gaelic choir was as a chorister in it’s early days – she sang with the choir at Oban in 1970 where the choir won the Sheriff McMaster competition for the third year running.
In 1980 she was appointed Gaelic tutor to the choir, a post she held for twelve years. The choir won the Margrat Duncan competion in her first year as tutor and went on to win the coveted Lovat and Tullibardine Shield in 1988. Helen T’s teaching skills were clear to all who were fortunate to be exposed to her expertise – she did not accept anything less than perfect pronunciation from every single chorister. It took a strong nerve to endure the undivided attention of this Gaelic tutor as she insisted on repetition upon repetition of a single word or phrase until it was right!
Helen T thought of Aberfeldy as her second home and was disappointed not to be able to fully retire there, instead returning to Glasgow to care for her sister Margaret. She spent her last years in Balmanno House in Glasgow.
The Ernest J Clark Memorial Cup
A well-known piper, Ernest J Clark tutored many children in the Strathtay and Aberfeldy area. He had a particular interest in Pibroch (or Ceòl Mòr). The trophy for competition 67 was presented by his family in 1979 after he passed away in 1978.