WITH Hogmanay fast approaching, it’s time to look out the kilts and get ready to dance the night away at ceilidhs all over the country.

One of the best known is the ceilidh under Edinburgh Castle but there are many more including the biggest free Hogmanay fling in Scotland in Inverness, the capital of the Highlands.

Nowadays ceilidhs are commonly associated with dancing but originally it was a name for a social gathering of any kind.

The term is derived from the Old Irish céle (singular) meaning “companion”. It later became céilidhe and céilidh. In Scottish Gaelic reformed spelling it is cèilidh (plural cèilidhean) and in Irish Reformed spelling it is céilí (plural céilithe).

Traditionally it was a word for a social visit which, in the days before television, radio and social media, would develop into an evening of storytelling and singing with poetry and musical instruments added to the mix, depending on who was present.

Interestingly, ceilidhs in Scotland and Ireland are similar to the Twympath and Troyl traditions in Wales and Cornwall and the veillée of Lower Brittany.

Ceilidhs often had a romantic element as they were an opportunity for young people to get to know each other better even if it was under the watchful eye of their elders.


THESE days, the dancing and musical elements of a ceilidh are the most emphasised although the tradition of telling stories and reciting poetry is still maintained in some rural areas along with the music. The phenomenon has also been internationalised by the Scottish and Irish diasporas in New Zealand, Australia, the United States and Canada where ceilidhs are common throughout Nova Scotia and can be found in some form in most of the small communities.

In Scotland, having once been seen as old-fashioned, ceilidh music and dancing is now popular for weddings and other celebrations and there has been a growth in ceilidh bands in recent years in response to the market.

The first band believed to have been deliberately put together to perform at ceilidhs was in 1926 in Ireland when Seamus Clandillon, the director of music at Radio Eireann, organised a band to play dance music for his studio-based programmes.

Now ceilidh bands all over Scotland can be hired for dances, both formal and informal. It’s a popular option as a wide age group can enjoy a ceilidh and even novices can take part as many of the dances are easy to learn and there is often a “caller” who can talk the dancers through the steps. Scottish schools often teach the dances to pupils and the universities hold regular ceilidhs.

The oldest ceilidh in Edinburgh is the long-running Highland Annual organised by the Highland Society, An Comann Ceilteach.


IT wouldn’t be Hogmanay without some Scottish music and dancing and revellers who live in, or are visiting Edinburgh, will be able to take part in the Ceilidh under the Castle which is at the heart of what is now the biggest New Year celebration in the world.

This year, three of Scotland’s finest ceilidh bands will take to the stage to lead the dancers through a fun night of Strip the Willow, Canadian Barn Dances and Eightsome Reels — stopping only to welcome in the new year at the Midnight Moment as fireworks lift-off from Edinburgh Castle overhead.

The bands playing include the Occasionals, who have been driving ceilidh capers for over 30 years and comprise some of the best traditional musicians in Scotland.

There is also the 10-piece band, Kipper Ceilidh, complete with accordion, fiddles, banjo, whistle, drums, bass, guitars and brass as well as Heilan Crew, a five-piece band fronted by the sound of the bagpipes. They will be playing all the favourite ceilidh dances, but with a funky twist.

Food and drink will be available to keep up energy levels.


ELSEWHERE in Edinburgh there will be a ceilidh at Lauriston Hall with live music from Willie Fraser and caller Ken Gourlay while over in Glasgow there is a Hogmanay Hootenanny at the National Piping Centre which includes music, dancing and a four course meal.

Scotland’s biggest free Hogmanay celebration can be found in Inverness.

The family-friendly Red Hot Highland Fling will be celebrating its sixth edition this year on the banks of the River Ness in Northern Meeting Park, with music and fireworks entertaining the crowds.

This year the show will feature The Elephant Sessions, Scooty and The Skyhooks and multi-award winning folk-rock band Skerryvore.

The night will be compered by Scottish comedian Craig Hill and the top billing is on stage before 10pm so that families can get home to see in the bells.

A traditional ceilidh with dinner and entertainment at the Albert Halls and a family ceilidh at The Tolbooth are both part of Stirling’s New Year celebrations along with a Hogmanay parade and fireworks displays.

In Pitlochry, New Year’s Day is welcomed in style by the closure of the main street to traffic for a free afternoon ceilidh. Vale of Atholl Pipe Band will open the event at 1pm with Jack Delaney’s Ceilidh Band providing the music for the reels and jigs. There will be a hog roast for those building up a hunger from all the dancing.

Hotels and bars around the country are also holding ceilidhs to mark Hogmanay so there is plenty of choice for anyone keen to dance off the festive excess.