Sarah and I were very excited about having the opportunity to visit Ionad Naomh Moluag on the Isle of Lismore. We’d both heard a lot about their activities as one of the case study museums in our Cornerstones of Communities research report and the subsequent advocacy document, and we were really keen to see the museum for ourselves. So on Tuesday last week, sustained by some roasted cashews and a bag of sherbet lemons, we broke free of the city and headed off through the extremely picturesque Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park to Oban. After a reviving cup of tea at the Caledonian Hotel, we caught the ferry. This involved a slightly nerve-wracking first experience of backing down a rather steep slipway onto a rather small ferry. (Well done Sarah!) The weather was cool but clear as we sailed across the Firth of Lorn, so we had beautiful views of the Isle of Mull and the land around Oban.
We’d booked into the Old Schoolhouse for the night, where we both slept like logs. It must have been all that fresh air. The next morning, fortified by a good cooked breakfast, we headed over to the award-winning heritage centre, where we received a very warm welcome from everyone. Wow, what an amazing building! It’s a great space, and the sense of community ownership is apparent throughout. We loved the designs of island flora and fauna by local school pupils which had then been incorporated into the windows. We had a tour of the site which includes a rebuilt thatched cottage as well as the heritage centre. In addition to the museum, the centre has an archive, library, shop and café. We were also very privileged to meet two of the founding members of the heritage centre, who told us tales of the island, giving us a real flavour of the history of the place. My favourite object in the museum was the pair of tackety boots. The island has a few famous connections, including Alexander Carmichael, folklorist and the author of the Carmina Gadelica, who was born on the island and also buried there. We really appreciated the time everyone made for us, as this is a busy time of year, with preparations for re-opening for the new season well underway.
Sarah and I selflessly did our bit for staff training by making sure the person in the heritage centre shop got plenty of practice using the till. Tasty fudge, beautiful birch knitting pins, tea towels with a design drawn by one of the museum founders, and a book of island stories were some of the lovely things available which we snapped up, before deciding that maybe we should leave some items for other visitors.
The cafe at the heritage centre is a real community hub, the shared space is clearly appreciated as a gathering place. The very delicious tea and cake were an added bonus! We were very sad to leave, but Edinburgh beckoned. After another slightly nerve-wracking experience of backing down the slipway onto the ferry (well done Sarah!), we headed back the way we had come, both of us determined to visit again.