The 34th US National Mòd held by An Comunn Gàidhealach Ameireaganach (ACGA) brought more than 30 Gaelic learners and speakers from both sides of the Atlantic together Nov. 11-12 for memorable competitions, workshops and a cèilidh.
Participants in the online event came from 15 states and Canadian provinces, including Alberta, Arkansas, California, the District of Columbia, Illiniois, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Nova Scotia, Ohio, Texas, Virginia and Washington. Our adjudicators, Lyle and Kerrie Kennedy, joined us from Scotland, as did many guests at our online cèilidh.
“This may have been one of our most diverse and enjoyable Mòds since we went online in 2020,” said Liam Ó Caiside, head of the ACGA Mòd Committee and president of ACGA. “We had 27 registrants and 12 competitors from across North America. The standard of the performances in the competition was very high, as confirmed by the adjudicators.
The “gold medalists” of the US National Mòd this year were Adam Dahmer of Calgary, Alberta and Kentucky and Penny DeGraff of Seattle, Wash. The top award in Poetry Recitation, the Donald F. MacDonald Award, went to Barbara Lynn Rice of New York City, and Róisín Newton of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, won the Duais Daibhidh Mhic Risnidh for Storytelling.
As typical, the US National Mòd drew more attendees than competitors, with many registrants listening in during the competitions, joining the cèilidh and attending the workshops. This year the workshops, led by the Kennedys, explored songs of Argyll and Gaelic choral singing.
“We were just so delighted to see such love and enthusiasm for everything Gàidhlig over the weekend,” said Kerrie Kennedy.
This year, as since 2020, competitors received one of three grades for each performance: Ri Moladh (Commended), Air Leth Math (Highly Commended) and Sònraichte (Exceptional). Competitors are no longer ranked 1st, 2nd, or 3rd.
Out of the 22 individual performances by competitors, 10 were awarded a grade of Air Leth Math, nine were Sònraichte, and three were Ri Moladh. In 2022, when there also were 22 individual performances, 12 were graded as Air Leth Math, six as Sònraichte, and two as Ri Moladh. The increase in the number of performances graded Sònraichte is encouraging.
“In a sense, this has everyone competing against themselves, rather than each other, which we think is more in line with the mission of the Mòd — to educate and encourage learners,” said Ó Caiside.
Competitions were held Saturday morning in poetry recitation (Ag Aithris Bàrdachd), storytelling (Ag Innse Sgeulachdan), sight-reading (Leughadh air a’ Chiad Shealladh). Three competitors read poems, two told stories in Scottish Gaelic, and one competed in sight reading, reading prose selected by the adjudicators that hadn’t been read beforehand.
Among the highlights were Barbara Lynn Rice’s reading of Donald Meeks poem Tramaichean Ghlaschu (“Trams of Glasgow”) and Róisín Newton’s telling of the Gaelic story O Àdhaimh! (“Oh Adam!”).
The afternoon Saturday saw four singers compete in the beginner song competition and four in the advanced general song competition. But the songs chosen by all competitors were quite advanced.
One of the participants in the beginner song competition, Michelle Hughes, chose a difficult “Gold Medal” level song, Bidh Seumas Leum A-Nochd. Another, Jennifer Lecompte, sang Sheatadh Cailleach, a complex puirt-à-beul (mouth music).
The singers in the advanced General Song competition, who had to perform two songs each, also chose diverse and atypical pieces, including a pìobaireachd, rowing song, and an intricate lullaby, as well as songs of love and emigration.
Among the pre-recorded competitions, Penny DeGraff’s performance of O Thoir a-null am Botal stands out, along with her Seattle choir Seirm’s performance of several puirt-à-beul. Sheena Geiger, formerly of Nova Scotia and now in North Carolina, recorded a choral rendition of the Christmas Carol Ciùin an Oidhch’ (Silent Night). And Cathleen MacKay and Liam Ó Caiside as a duet performed Mac Iarla nam Bratach Bàna, following the style of Flora MacNeil and Calum Johnstone.
Portions of the performances will be available on YouTube.
Here are the results of the Mòd, followed by our special awards:
Aig Aithris Bàrdachd / Poetry Recitation
- Barbara Lynn Rice: Air Leth Math
- Cathleen MacKay: Air Leth Math
- Liam Ó Caiside: Sònraichte
Bàrdachd Ùr / Original Poetry
- Mìcheal Mac an tSaoir: Ri Moladh
Ag Innse Sgeulachd / Storytelling
- Róisín Newton: Sònraichte
- Liam Ó Caiside: Air Leth Math
Leugadh air a’ Chiad Shealladh / Reading at First Sight
- Liam Ó Caiside: Sònraichte
Òran Neach-Tòisichidh / Beginner’s Song
- Sheena Geiger: Air Leth Math
- Michelle Hughes: Sònraichte
- Jennifer Lecompte: Ri Moladh
- Róisín Newton: Ri Moladh
Farpais nan Òran / General Song (two songs, two marks)
- Adam Dahmer: Air Leth Math / Sònraichte
- Iain Grimaldi: Air Leth Math / Sònraichte
- Will Collings: Ri Moladh / Air Leth Math
- Penny DeGraff: Air Leth Math / Sònraichte
Òran Fhèin-Taic / Accompanied Song (one song, pre-recorded)
- Penny DeGraff: Sònraichte
Seinn Còmhla / Singing Together (one song, pre-recorded)
- Sheena Geiger: Air Leth Math
- Penny DeGraff & Seirm: Sònraichte
- Cathleen MacKay & Liam Ó Caiside: Air Leth math
Duaisean Àraidh a’ Mhòid / Mòd Special Awards
- The Marietta MacLeod Memorial Quaich / Cuach Mharietta Nic Leòid: Penny DeGraff
This award goes back to the founding of the U.S. National Mòd in 1988. The award is presented in memory of the late Gaelic singer Marietta MacLeod, or Màiri Oighrig nic Choinnich MhicLeòid, and her sister, Kitty MacLeod, to the outstanding female singer.
- The Herbert P. MacNeal Memorial Quaich / Duais MhicNèill: Adam Dahmer
This award was originally presented by the Clan MacNeil Society in 1989 in memory of the late Herbert P. MacNeal, a founder of the Council of Scottish Clans Association and former president of the Clan MacNeil Society, to the outstanding male singer.
- The Donald F. MacDonald Award / Duais Dhòmhnaill F. Mhic Dhòmhnaill: Barbara Lynn Rice
This award is presented each year for outstanding poetry recitation at the Mòd in honor of the late Donald F. MacDonald, who along with his nephew James MacDonald and Catrìona NicÌomhair Parsons was a co-founder of the U.S. National Mòd.
- John MacRae Award / Duais Iain Mhic Mhurchaidh: Mìcheal Mac an tSaoir
The John MacRae Award is presented for the best original poem submitted to the Mòd. Iain Mac Mhurchaidh was an 18th century bàrd who emigrated to North Carolina.
- David MacRitchie Award / Duais Daibhidh Mhic Risnidh: Róisín Newton
The David MacRitchie Award is presented by former U.S. National Mòd chair Neacail Freer in memory of his great-uncle for the best traditional story told during the Mòd sgeulachd competition.
- The Joan McWilliams Weiss Award / Duais Sheònaid Nic Uilleim Weiss: Michelle Hughes
First presented by the ACGA Mòd Committee in 2022, this award goes to the best competitor in the beginner’s song category in honor of Joan McWilliams Weiss, who organized and led the US National Mòd for nearly two decades.
- Duais Leòdhais agus na Hearadh: Jennifer Lecompte
The Lewis and Harris Award is presented by the Lewis Highland Dance Society in memory of Donaidh M. MacIlleathain, Gaelic playwright and activist from Bac, Lewis, for best presentation of a Lewis and Harris song.
- Duais Albainn Nuaidh: Sheena Geiger
The Nova Scotia Award is presented by ACGA for best presentation of a Nova Scotia Gaelic song, whether composed in Nova Scotia or a recognized part of the Nova Scotia tradition.