National Celtic Festival of Australia

Australia’s premier Celtic Festival, National Celtic Festival of Australia, attracts over 15,000 people to Portarlington, 90 minutes from Melbourne, over the three-day long event each June. The festival has become an annual event for families and friends to gather, offering time to relax and experience the depth of Celtic culture.

Since 2013, a partnership between Fèis Rois and the National Celtic Festival has provided unique collaborative opportunities for over 100 young musicians and 30 professional musicians, from both Scotland and Australia. Through this partnership life-long friendships have been formed, high profile performances have taken place on both sides of the world, skills have been shared and new musical arrangements and creative projects have been created. We give a timeline of the collaboration below.


In 2013, Fèis Rois Chief Executive, Fiona Dalgetty, travelled to Australia with Caithness composer and pianist, James Ross and emerging musicians Amy Henderson, Conal McDonagh, Innes White and Mischa Macpherson. They worked with a group of Australian emerging musicians to create an ensemble piece to present at the National Celtic Festival. This short film explains more:


Director of the National Celtic Festival, Una McAlinden, travelled to Scotland with five emerging Australian musicians, Tolka and fiddle player, Jack Wilson. The Australian musicians spent time collaborating with young musicians from Fèis Rois before appearing together at a huge Burns Night celebration at the Hydro in Glasgow as part of Celtic Connections. Listen to them perform with the RSNO below:

2014 was a busy year for the partnership with Fiona Dalgetty then travelling to Australia with accordionist and composer, John Somerville, along with emerging musicians, Ali Levack, Mary MacGillivray, Megan Mackay and Siannie Moodie. They were joined by musicians from the Celtic Colours festival in Canada. John taught a large ensemble of Canadian, Scottish and Australian musicians his Fèis Rois commission, The Voyage of The Hector, which was performed at the National Celtic Festival in Australia in June and in Nova Scotia, Canada in October of that year.

Australian fiddle player, Jack Wilson spent several months over the summer on placement with Fèis Rois in Scotland before performing with young musicians from Fèis Rois at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.


In June 2015, former Fèis Rois participant, Fraya Thomsen, travelled with her musical duo partner, Gillian Fleetwood (The Duplets) to perform at the National Celtic Festival. They were joined by Fèis Rois participants and emerging young musicians, Cameron MacDougall, Chloe Bryce, Joseph Peach and Katie MacDonald. The Scottish musicians once again used the Fèis ‘group work’ model to create a collaborative piece with Australian young musicians that was performed at the festival.

In September 2015, Fèis Rois welcomed the Melbourne Scottish Fiddlers on a trip to Scotland with an informal session in Tulloch Castle in Dingwall, and performances in Ullapool and Inverness.

After the first three years of the partnership, it was decided that it was neither financially nor environmentally sustainable to continue to work annually, and the project became biennial.


In 2017, Fèis Rois Community Classes Coordinator and former youth participant, Catriona Ramsay travelled to Australia with young musicians Ailis Sutherland, Kaitlin Ross and Robbie MacKenzie. They were joined by Adam Sutherland and Marc Clement. Again, the Scottish musicians spent a week collaborating with Australian musicians, and touring the Bellarine Peninsula, before performing together at the National Celtic Festival.


Fèis Rois Board member, Duncan Chisholm travelled to Australia with film maker, Graeme Roger. They were joined by musicians, Conal McDonagh, Innes Watson, Josie Duncan, Charlie Grey and Joseph Peach.

For a number of years, Duncan worked on a project with Fèis Rois called Kin and the Community. The project supported young musicians to explore the music and stories of the place in which they live. Working with Duncan and Graeme Roger, young musicians researched the archives at the School of Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh to find recordings of someone in their community. They would then find living relatives or community members to interview and create a 20-minute film bringing to life the individual’s story. The young musicians composed soundtracks to their films, which were then performed live.

In 2019, Fèis Rois took its Kin and the Community project model to Australia and the Scottish musicians collaborated with Australian musicians to tell the story of Charlotte Ferguson, the daughter of a couple who emigrated from the Isle of Skye to Victoria, Australia in the 1800s. Enjoy this beautiful film here:


The partnership was impacted by the global Covid-19 pandemic. However, young Australian musicians, Caleb Anderson (fiddle) and Quin Hames (harp), met online several times with the Fèis Rois Ceilidh Trail cohort for 2020 and 2021, and the recordings they made together remotely can be heard throughout this short film where young people talk about the impact of the pandemic on their personal and creative lives:


The National Celtic Festival nominated emerging young musician, Caleb Anderson, to come to Scotland for five weeks to take part in the Fèis Rois Ceilidh Trail. Caleb shared Australian tunes with his Scottish peers, as well as learning lots of Scottish music too. This Ceilidh Trail group will be reunited at Festival Interceltique de Lorient in Brittany, France in August 2024.

Image credit Paul Campbell


It has been five years since a group of musicians from Fèis Rois travelled to the National Celtic Festival and we are delighted that the current BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year, Calum McIlroy will perform at the festival this year, along with his trio featuring Chloe Bryce from Tain (a Fèis Rois Board member) and Megan MacDonald from Lairg. The three first met as participants on the Fèis Rois Ceilidh Trail in 2016 and, earlier this year, they won ‘Battle of the Folk Bands’ at Celtic Connections in Glasgow in January 2024. Details of their National Celtic Festival performance can be found here.

This valued partnership has enabled young people from Australia to exchange and nurture cultural traditions. This is vitally important in our current context when access, distance and resources can be a barrier to furthering their learning in the Scottish tradition.

Una McAlinden, Director, National Celtic Festival (Australia)

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