I know I've already told some of you about this already, and I've promised at least one person that I will tell them all about it, but so far we've not had a chance to speak to eachother. But I want to record it in my livejournal for my own future reference, if nothing else.
Tiree is the furthest out of the Inner Hebrides, and getting there from the East coast was... interesting. What should have been the simplest part of the journey, taking a train from Dundee to Glasgow, was almost the worst, as the train was 80 minutes late for a 90 minute journey, meaning that I missed the only bus and train to Oban in the evening.
Anyway, thanks to a bit of luck and an lot of people being helpful beyond the call of duty, I managed to meet up with the coordinator who, being even more of a sucker than I am, was proposing to drive to Oban, setting off at around half past ten for a two hour journey. So thankfully I was able to get a lift with her. It was quite a drive, too, alongside Loch Lomond.
It was a miserable night, but even so it wasn't properly dark for most of the journey; it was very dramatic with all the hills looming out of the drizzle and half-light. Kudos to the coordinator's daughter for getting us there safely in rotten conditions and not a brilliant road! We got to Oban at about 1 am, slept for a few hours and got up early to get the ferry to Tiree itself. The ferry crossing is supposed to be four hours; it actually took nearer five, due to a headwind most of the way. It wasn't too bad while we were in the relative shelter of the sound of Mull, but pretty rough once we were out in the open sea. I was even slightly seasick, to my great embarrassment.
Tiree itself is pretty amazing. As we approached it I saw it was bright yellow and assumed they were growing rape there, but it turns out in fact that the place is absolutely covered in buttercups. (They don't actually farm much except sheep.) Unlike most of the Hebrides, it's mainly flat, and its coast has the most amazing white sand beaches. There are just under a thousand people living there, at least four hours from the mainland, and that is when they're not completely isolated.
The first part of our visit was spent at the school, which has about 80 pupils from 5 to 16, and about half of them are in a Gaelic language stream, which I thought pretty amazing. Anyway we didn't really have much time there, since we were late getting in anyway, and had to move on to the next part of our itinerary.
This was the dedication of two chapels dating from the 13th and 14th centuries. The islanders have recently completed a project to restore them and provide disabled access. And the person in charge thought it would be nice to invite lots of people from different religions to the dedication ceremony. TBH this was pretty fluffy; we had to light different wicks of a big candle and say vague things about how it's important to be nice to eachother. Still, it's a gesture, and taking that first step towards tolerance is something, especially considering the pretty nasty history of religious bickering in Tiree itself and the whole region.
What I found most interesting was the fact that a lot of the local dignitaries who took part were clearly more comfortable in Gaelic than English. Talking to some of the locals, it's pretty clear that the island community has no real future; kids leave at 16 to complete their education, and they don't come back because there are no jobs, essentially. Still, people seemed pretty upbeat about it, there is a huge communal effort to create an economy out of nothing, trying to attract more tourists, build up Tiree as a windsurfing centre and so on.
I also appreciated the accents: that very soft Western Isles dialect that is so musical it almost has a Welsh lilt. And I could even hear differences between the accents of visitors from different neighbouring islands, which impressed me.
As a bonding exercise for the future Young Interfaith committee, it was highly successful. Whether we achieved much for the world I don't know, but I certainly had fun and I'm very glad I had the opportunity to go on this little trip.