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Posted on: 4th January, 2019
Mike (and Mara), Isle of Scalpay, January 2019.
“ Is fhearr na’n t-òr sgeul air inns’ air chòir.”
“ Better than gold, is a tale well told.”
- Gaelic Proverb
For me, stories are everything. From our earliest years they help us make sense of a confusing world, they allow us to share important experiences and understand hidden truths about each other. They preserve our histories and pass on life's key learnings and lessons from one generation to the next.
In the Gaelic-speaking communities of the Outer Hebrides, with our strong oral traditions, the storyteller or “an sgeulaiche” has always been a crucial part of cultural life. So, for the last few years it’s been a privilege to undertake this role for the distillery.
I'm now delighted to have moved to Scalpay, a small island just off Harris, joining the distillery team full-time. In a world where businesses and brands often need to concoct fiction to fulfil a contrived marketing brief, I’m blessed with an embarrassment of riches from which to write about this young enterprise in Tarbert.
Most are just simple stories, about ordinary people working in a special place, making beautiful spirits in the heart of an island they love. But, like the Isle of Harris itself, there is always much to uncover and many quiet moments to explore.
There is also a freedom many writers will envy, to be able to write unfettered and without fear. As the words Esse Quam Videri, found hidden beneath every bottle of Isle of Harris Gin imply, our stories are always open and honest, a rare thing in a world filled by fake news.
Perhaps the most important thing to be honest about is the role the distillery is playing in helping the community here to survive and thrive. It can be a tricky topic to tackle, but my following of the road south from the far north-west of Lewis, perhaps exemplifies this success in some small way.
Having returned home to my native island in 2011, it proved to be a struggle to set down roots as I wrestled with the economic challenges of crofting, Harris Tweed weaving and freelance life. The work from the distillery has been vital in keeping me here and without it I would have retreated to mainland city life once more.
But here I remain, still able to live and work in place I feel deeply connected to and inspired by. With a long history of islanders leaving these shores in search of a better life, it’s heartening to be one islander who has come back again, seeking just the same.
Mine is just a single page in a story we trust will continue to be written for generations to come. I look forward to sharing more of our words, images and film with you in 2019 and beyond, and hope they will help connect you further to the wonderful work of the Isle of Harris Distillery with every well told tale.
- Mike Donald, Distillery Storyteller
You can follow Mike's stories here on the Journal every Friday evening, across our social media channels and at more distillery fireside events in 2019.