Animate Lands: Mythic Celtic Tales

Aug 6 2023 | By More

★★★★☆     Accomplished storytelling

Scottish Storytelling Centre (Venue 30): Sat 5 – Thu 10 Aug
Review by Allan Wilson

Animate Lands: Mythic Celtic Tales at the Scottish Storytelling Centre is a fascinating hour of stories from Scotland’s Celtic heritage presented by Dougie Mackay and Freya Rae.

Dougie Mackay is a skilled and accomplished storyteller who quickly establishes a welcoming and relaxed atmosphere that encourages the audience to engage with the stories. He is accompanied on stage by Freya Rae, whose carefully chosen whistle tunes provide perfect links from one story to the next as we move through the afternoon.

Animate Lands – Dougie Mackay and Freya Rae. Pic: Huia Takau

To begin, the kilted Mackay invites the audience to come up with answers to a series of riddles, such as, “What is more numerous than leaves of grass?” A member of the audience offered, “Midges”, to general approval, and Mackay suggests that there are no ‘correct’ answers to the riddles, though some may be better than others.

He emphasises that traditional stories have often been used to pass on important survival skills from generation to generation and wonders if the ‘old knowledge’ might still be useful in 2023 when we face a crisis of disconnection.

Today’s stories focus on the myths surrounding the legendary hero Fionn mac Cumhaill, the posthumous son of the leader of the Fianna, who was killed in battle. Fionn is raised in secret by his aunts in a forest, developing skills of nature, and, as he grows older, the arts of hunting and war. These are further enhanced as he acquires the Thumb of Knowledge, allowing him access to deeper insights into leadership. Eventually he is able to avenge his father’s death and become the leader of the Fianna.


Mackay moves on to tell how Fionn rescues his true love, Sadhbh, from an enchantment as a deer, only to lose her again, years later, carrying his unborn son. Fionn eventually found his son, Oisin, who would later become a great poet and leader of the Fianna.

Oisin becomes the main focus as Mackay’s story continues, falling in love with a fairy woman, Niamh, marrying her and living with her in Tir na nÓg, the land of eternal youth. Oisin feels drawn back to his home with the Fianna arranges with Niamh to allow him to make one last visit, only to find he has returned to a land 300 years into the future, where trees are scarce and there are no children. He becomes trapped and accidentally ages by 300 years.

There are many variations of the Fionn mac Cumhaill tales, and Mackay makes an excellent job of capturing their essence and distilling a choice selection into a form that can be delivered within an hour that has the audience engrossed throughout.

Animate Lands: Mythic Celtic Tales is well worth a visit if you are looking for a quiet, but entertaining escape from some of the more frenetic offerings on the Fringe.

Running time: One hour (no interval)
Scottish Storytelling Centre (Netherbow Theatre), 43-45 High Street, EH1 1SR (Venue 30)
Saturday 5 – Thursday 10 August 2023
Daily at 12.30pm
Tickets and details: Book here.

Dougie Mackay links

Facebook: @storyconnectionDM
Instagram: @dougie.mackay.story



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