Mermaids, seals and big ugly eels: the Gaelic fishing film that’s a feast for the ears

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Seventy years ago, ethnologists captured the sounds of a culture that was dying out. Now Iorram – the first big-screen documentary in Gaelic – revives that archive to show fishing communities keeping that tradition very much alive

A bob of seals wriggles through the turquoise waters facing a Hebridean beach as an unseen speaker from decades past explains how a mermaid once forecast a storm. Lobster creels plop off the side of a boat as a fisherman elsewhere catalogues the seasonal catches of skate, herring and “big ugly eels”. A jellyfish balloons and pulses through cloudy water as the words of the Scottish Gaelic poet Sorley MacLean are spoken: “The incomprehensible ocean fills with floodtide and a thousand sails.”

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Watching Iorram (Boat Song) can be a disorienting experience. This first theatrically released documentary entirely in Scottish Gaelic blends archive recordings of voices, stories and songs from the past with visuals of contemporary island life.

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