Our story goes back to 1988 when the first U.S. National Mòd was held in Northern Virginia. Since those days the event has grown significantly. From 1994 through 2017, the U.S. National Mòd was held at the Ligonier Highland Games, in Ligonier, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh. In 2022, the event will be held online, through the medium of Zoom, Nov. 12-13.
The inaugural ACGA Mòd was held in Alexandria, Virginia, on July 24, 1988, during the Virginia Scottish Games. Donald F. MacDonald, the founder of the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games in North Carolina, had long dreamed of organizing a Mòd in the United States.
He worked with Gaelic educator Catrìona Nic Ìomhair Parsons, ACGA Regional Commissioner Elaine Ackerson, and a committee that included Gaelic learner and educator Dr. Jamie MacDonald, Donald’s nephew, and Christine Saunders to found the Mòd.
Jamie, at that time a member of ACGA’s board, was a strong advocate for a US Mòd, and he won approval from the board for the event. He recalled that many people in ACGA at the time were unfamiliar with the Mòd in Scotland.
That first Mòd set a standard. Thirteen individual competitors sang at the event, which also featured performances by the Dunedin Singers, a Gaelic choir from Scotland. Renowned Gaelic singer Cathy Ann MacPhee attended the event, as did the late Donnie MacLean, Gaelic playwright and former head of An Comunn Gàidhealach in Scotland. Catrìona Nic Ìomhair Parsons was the adjudicator that year and for many years after.
Donald MacDonald and his sister-in-law, Gaelic singer Kitty MacLeod of Lewis, provided the premier award for women’s singing, the Marietta MacLeod Quaich, in memory of his wife, Kitty’s sister. The premier award for men’s singing, the Herbert P. MacNeal Quaich, was provided by Clan MacNeil Association of America.
Over the years, the Mòd expanded from those roots, adding competitions and attracting new competitors. In 1990, a Mòd Committee was formed, chaired by Joan McWilliams Weiss and Mary Gillies Swope, and the event, then known as Mòd Virginia, was moved to the Alexandria Scottish Heritage Fair.
The Mòd Committee sought to increase participation by emphasizing the beauty and variety of Gaelic music and literature, rather than the competitive aspects of the Mòd. The Mòd continued to welcome special guests, including Cape Breton bàrd Archie Alex MacKenzie in 1991. A distance-learning competition, informally called “the Mail-In Mòd,” was launched in 1992.
ACGA recognized the Mòd as a national event in 1994, the same year the event moved to Ligonier, Pennsylvania, and the Ligonier Highland Games.
Since 1998, ACGA has partnered with An Comunn Gàidhealach, which organizes the Royal National Mòd in Scotland.
Until COVID-19, the Gold Medalists from the previous year’s Royal National Mòd travelled to the U.S. National Mòd as cultural ambassadors. This exchange has deepened the ties between Gaelic learners in the U.S. and the Gaelic community in Scotland.