Members of the City of Bradford Pipe Band at a recent Barbados Celtic Festival.

The 2020 Barbados Celtic Festival takes place on May 19-24. The festival has been held annually in the Caribbean island for 24 years and has grown to involve local schools learning Scottish and Gaelic culture through music and dance. 

Scotland has strong historical links to Barbados, with the purging of many Scots after the Battle of Culloden to the West Indies and into indentured servitude in the sugar industry. There are many Andrews and Gordons, MacLeans and Grants etc. and street names with the names Culloden and Strathclyde in them. 

The island lies at the south eastern area of the Caribbean and is an independent British Commonwealth nation. We asked Carol Anderson, a director of the festival, to tell us more about this major cultural event:

“The festival was first held in 1996 and has grown considerably since then. Over the years we’ve enjoyed performances from some of the best folk talent in Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Nova Scotia, such as Eddi Reader, the Peatbog Faeries, the MacKenzie Brothers from Mabou, Seudan, John McCusker, and much more. 

“Last year’s festival ended memorably with a Welsh choir concert that featured the Barbados Celtic Festival Pipe Band (BDF). The band was made up of a wide range of visitors to the festival, including pupils from Strathallan School led by their instructor, Craig Muirhead. Earlier in the week, Craig introduced the local army cadet musicians in the BDF band to the pipes, seeking a group who would take on the task of learning the pipes and creating a pipe band within the defence band.

“The Barbados Celtic Festival is always held towards the end of May every year. It has expanded to include an annual street parade where all visiting pipers and drummers take part, to the delight of local west Indians who line the streets of capital, Bridgetown on the Saturday afternoon. Individual players and mini bands can join in the Big Band made up of visitors who rehearse together and play at several events.

On the beach with local schoolchildren at the 2019 festival.

“This event has grown and is part of a wide-ranging programme that includes introducing local schools to the pipes as well as Scottish and Gaelic culture through song and dance. It also includes a performance at the SOL Motor Rally Show, where rally drivers and their teams from the Caribbean and the Celtic countries have their vehicles on show ahead of two big races – King of the Hill, during the Celtic Festival, and the SOL Rally the following weekend. The festival pipers are one of the highlights of the Rally show, which is organised by an ex-pat Scot. Pipers take to the field to share Scottish music for the delight of the drivers and visitors.

“As I mentioned earlier, the festival enjoys performances from some of the best folk talent. Recently, Fara from Orkney played together with local musicians and worked up a reggae rendition of the Scottish song, Wild Mountain Thyme, and in 2018 we enjoyed a performance from Hamish Stuart (from the original Average White Band) and Molly Duncan and their band.

“Last year, a male voice choir – the Gwalia Singers – of some 44 men from Wales, made the made the trip with their partners and families. They performed in the new Barbados Museum Walled Garden theatre. It’s an outdoor venue, as so many here are. The choir sang a local song, Beautiful Barbados, to the delight of the audience and a clip of it went viral on social media when the choir sang it at the airport Departure Hall on the way home. A clip of the choir singing it on the beach can be seen here:

“The finale of the Welsh Choir Concert included the Barbados Celtic Festival Pipe Band performance of Amazing Grace with the choir singing. The band was made up of a wide range of visitors to the festival, including pupils from the piping classes at Strathallan School in Perthshire, Scotland. They were led by their teacher, Craig Muirhead. Craig, no stranger to Barbados, had earlier in the week introduced the local army cadet musicians in the BDF band to the pipes, seeking a group who would take on the task of learning the pipes and creating a pipe band within the defence band.

“The school pupils performed at the assembly of pop singer, Rihanna’s ex-school. It was a great experience for the young pipers so far from home, and generated considerable interest in their Scottish heritage for the young Bajans.

Scottish pipers playing at the Coconut Court Hotel in Bridgetown.

“Away from concerts and music, visiting pipers have enjoyed the local scuba diving, great sailing on many of the local catamarans who offer a wonderful cruise up the west coast complete with lunch and drinks on board and the chance to snorkel with the local sea turtles, a day to remember.

“Eating fresh fish at the Friday night ‘Fish Fry’ on the south coast is popular. Local food includes freshly caught fish such as mahi mahi, tuna and king fish alongside great pork and beef, with plenty local vegetables including egg plant, tomatoes, sweet potato and avocado. There’s a great collection of fine dining restaurants – Barbados wins awards for its culinary talents – and you can eat street food from the local fish fry or in a rum shop at the other end of the spectrum.

“It’s all about the bass.” Fraserburgh Pipe Band’s bass drummer with school pupils.

“Equally tasty but very affordable are the local Banks beer and the island’s rum. The rum made famous by Mount Gay is offered to visitors as rum punch on arrival. They say there are as many little rum shops (equivalent of our pubs) as churches, and there are plenty of those, for all denominations.

“There is plenty of history to find including St Nicholas Abbey with its own rum distillery in St Lucy in the north, the Unesco world heritage site at Garrison, an important synagogue and most importantly the wonderful local people – the reason why so many people say they return to Barbados many times.”

Barbados is easy to get to from the UK and Europe and from America and Canada with daily flights from London Gatwick with British Airways and Virgin Atlantic.

If you are interested to visit or to take part, visit or email to register your interest or find out more.