GalGael Trust

Birlinn: 400

400 years ago this year, 2009, the Birlinn was outlawed along with bards and other bearers of traditional culture. GalGael propose to engage communities throughout Scotland in building a 50-foot Birlinn, a Hebridean galley.

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In 2009, GalGael are launching plans to construct a 50-foot Birlinn - the first to be built in Scotland for 400 years. The Birlinn will open sail training opportunities to the local community, link urban and rural communities and enable access to Scotland’s unique natural heritage. Many were destroyed and today nothing remains, no remnants unearthed. All we have left are the evocative lines on carved stones, most notably at Rodel on Harris. Only by celebrating our past can we navigate our future. Over the years GalGael have built a number of traditional clinker-built boats. Most notable of these is Orcuan, our loose interpretation of a Hebridean Galley. We now plan to build a full-size, more historically accurate Birlinn. Birlinn: 400 is a unique participation project that aims to involve people throughout Scotland and breathe life into our heritage. Why boats? “It has to do with the ritual,” said the late Colin Macleod, “of involving the community in building something that has part of them in it. All these planks somehow go together and make a boat. And that boat somehow can hold us, take us all on a voyage. The voyage of a busted-up community to better future.” On our emblem you can see the image of a Birlinn, connected with the GalGael of history. The tree of life rising from the mast and spreading its branches is a potent symbol of renewal. When we started out, we soon realised we could achieve much of our social, cultural and ecological objectives by actually involving communities in building boats. The rest as they say is history. Timber for the Birlinn has already been donated by the Forestry Commission including larch from Appin. We hope to engage wider involvement in the Birlinn through tree-planting projects to replace these and more. There will be plenty of ways to be involved from milling the wood, steaming planks, shaping ribs and hammering in rivets. Together we will create a beautiful, sculptural vessel that will take us on a big journey. We anticipate the entire project will take 12-18 months from keel laying to launch and estimate costs at £250,000. This will include interpretation and schools involvement. In today’s culture, where sense of community has often given way to individualism, we see the Birlinn as an icon of hope, a beacon around which we can reconvene a sense of people-hood; deep roots for an identity that builds resilience, embodies shared values.