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.”
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.