Media release: Documentary gives viewers heartwarming insight into the close-knit community of Canna


A NEW BBC ALBA documentary, Eilean Chanaigh/Summer on Canna, gives a heart-warming insight into how the close community of Canna lives and works together.

With only 16 residents living across ten households, no schoolchildren and a lack of easy access to the mainland, Canna is a fragile community.

This documentary spends a summer with the residents to find out what life is like for them and how they cope with the challenges island life throws at them, from weather to water supply.

The harbour is the heart of the community, bringing yachts, ferries and visitors, and there’s even a priest who comes four times a year on ferry from Mallaig to celebrate Mass in the chapel.

Midas Media producer, Patricia Macleod, who made the programme for BBC ALBA, said: “Tourism is a vital part of their economy and they attract around 15,000 visitors each season from around the world. Ferries come five times a week in the summer and only twice a week in the winter.

“At the height of summer, there can be upwards of 30 yachts per day coming into the sheltered bay.  There is a community shop with an honesty box because there’s no shopkeeper, one café, a B&B, a campsite, and a handful of self-catering accommodation and a very strong community spirit.”

The island was bought by Gaelic folklorists, John Lorne Campbell, and his American-born wife, Margaret Fay Shaw, in 1938, and they lived in Canna House until they died. The National Trust for Scotland now owns the island and Canna House has a rich collection of historically-important archives.

The current archivist at Canna House, Fiona Mackenzie, is featured in the programme with her husband, Donald, the harbourmaster and they carry on a tradition started by Margaret and John – to fly an American flag at Canna House on July 4th Independence Day every year.

The programme also features Anna Rothach who moved to Canna six years ago from near Fort William. Anna is postmistress and delivers to all ten houses by foot. She also runs a graphic design business, Graficanna, and sells Gaelic merchandise. Anna won the ‘Gaelic as an Economic Asset’ award at the Scottish Gaelic Awards in 2019.

She met her schoolteacher fiancé, Martin Merrick, when he came to be the teacher in the tiny school on Canna. But when the one family with children moved away, the school shut and Martin found work on the neighbouring island of Eigg. He returns to Canna to be with Anna as often as he can. Martin says the school is at the heart of the community and it would be fantastic if more families decided to move to Canna.

Other people featured include Geraldine Mackinnon, the farm manager (who was born on the island) and her partner ,Murdo Jack, National Trust for Scotland Rangers, Mike Butler and Gillian Gibson, the owner of Café Canna, Gareth Cole, who came from Aberdeenshire and lives in London off-season, and Fiona Hutton, originally from Motherwell, who manages the only B&B on the island on her own.

The island is also home to around 2,000 Puffins and 10,000 seabirds that are part of the national Seabird Monitoring Programme which is carried out by a team of Highland-based volunteers that have visited Canna twice a year since 1969.

Eilean Chanaigh/Summer on Canna is on BBC ALBA on Thursday, July 30 at 9pm and will be followed by another programme about Canna, Solas: Margaret Fay Shaw of Canna, the same day at 10pm. Both programmes will be available on the BBC iPlayer for 30 days afterwards.

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