Today the Government in the UK are looking at Communities to be more self reliant. Islay is obviously well ahead in this department. We learned many years ago that if we want things done we get on with it ourselves. In 1984 a committee was formed to revive the Gaelic Language & Culture as people were concerned that the Gaelic Language was under threat as it had ceased to be taught as part of mainstream education. The first Gaelic Drama Festival took place.
The Fèis Ìle evolved originally as part of the Drama Festival local Mod, with extra events being introduced like workshops for traditional instruments. Fiddle, Flute, Tin Whistle as well as Gaelic Singing. The extra workshops were led by a young Scottish Band Capercaillie followed by a weekend of Concerts and Ceilidhs. The talent of local people, young and not so young on Islay was recognised.
Visionary people at that time realised that a Gaelic, Music and Culture Festival would attract people to the Island. With unemployment being so particularly high the Island need a boost. With the assistance of a Steering Group from the Islay Arts Association a new Committee was formed, The Islay Festival Association, the first Festival Logo was designed in 1985.
The early days of the Festival were very exciting with Communities competing for the Best Dressed Village to the culminating Carnival Day. Decorated floats, stalls and entertainment. Two weeks were filled with music, drama, workshops, talks, walks, Ceilidhs, Concerts and Dances in the evening. There was even a Carnival Queen from each Parish Kildalton, Kilarrow and Kilmeny & the Rhinns. Capercaillie, Run Rig, Aly Bain & Phil Cunninghame, Wallochmore, Dougie McLean, Sileas have all been to Islay.
The Committee members were exhausted! But oh so enthusiastic for more. By 1986 The Festival was well routed in the Bi-Lingual Community. In 1990 the first whisky tasting event took place which interestingly was won by a local man, Dougie McDougall, our current Chairperson Florence Grey was runner up! In 2000 the Distilleries became more involved and introduced their special Open Days and ultimately their Special Fèis Ìle Whisky.
The Fèis Ìle is the charitable organisation from which this now huge Festival of Music & Malt has evolved. The Voluntary Committee work collaboratively with the Distillery Community together with local Musicians and other interested people to Showcase Islay. We add to this mix a number of visiting artists. The Island population triples during the week of the Festival which means everyone now works flat out to accommodate and make the visitor experience so memorable. The interest in all Islays’ Culture & Heritage has been spread now into many different groups like the Feis Oigridh, Book Festival, Jazz Festival, Festival of the Sea etc.