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Historic Highland church set to be transformed into major new Gaelic language and cultural centre

By Alasdair Fraser

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Inverness East Church. Picture: James Mackenzie
Inverness East Church. Picture: James Mackenzie

A community-owned Gaelic language and cultural centre is to be created “for the benefit of future generations” at a historic church in the heart of Inverness.

In a significant step towards realising the vision of campaigners, agreement has been reached in principle with the Church of Scotland for purchase of the East Church building on Academy Street.

The property closed in March and was placed on the market at offers over £230,000.

The charity Cultarlann Inbhir Nis has set up a crowdfunding appeal to help secure the purchase and running costs.

Maggie Mulholland, chairwoman of Cultarlann Inbhir Nis, said: “This is incredible news for Gaelic language and culture in Inverness.

“We are extremely grateful to the 600 individuals who contributed to our crowdfunder campaigns, and we are privileged to have been given the opportunity by the Church of Scotland and the East Church congregation to become custodians of this beautiful and historic building for the benefit of future generations.

“In addition to individual donations, our campaign to date has been backed by a range of funders namely Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Bòrd na Gàidhlig, Inverness Common Good Fund, the Architectural Heritage Fund and Enterprise Scotland.

“Quite simply, we wouldn’t be where we are today without their backing.

“Their support clearly demonstrates the valuable social and economic contribution that Gaelic language and culture makes to Inverness and the Highlands.

East Church on Academy Street, Inverness.
East Church on Academy Street, Inverness.

“We still have plenty of hard work to do in the weeks, months, and years to come but for the moment we are celebrating this important milestone.

“We are grateful for the faith that hundreds of people have shown in what we are aiming to achieve.”

A spokesperson on behalf of Highlands and Islands Enterprise said: “Gaelic is an important part of cultural, economic, and social life in the Highlands and Islands, so this is great news for Gaelic speakers and learners in Inverness as well as for visitors to the city.

“The Gaelic cultural centre will provide a space where Gaelic speakers and learners of all ages can meet, enjoy, celebrate and showcase every aspect of the language and culture, offering an authentic experience.

“We’re really pleased to support this project and we look forward to working with Cultarlann as it develops.”

Donald MacVicar, who was session clerk at the East Church in the years leading to its closure, said: “Following the major reorganisation of the Church of Scotland the East Church on Academy Street, Inverness closed on March 5 this year.

“The congregation has united with Inshes Church and is now to be known as Inshes East Church.

“The East has a very interesting history going back for 225 years and has held so many memories for so many people in Inverness and beyond.

“For 60 years the church has held a tradition of holding Gaelic services to cater for the many fluent speakers in the congregation – a tradition that continued right up to lockdown.

“We are pleased to hear of the ambitions that Culturlann hold for the building and there is no doubt a cultural centre promoting the Gaelic language and traditions will be a real asset to the city and wish the new owners well.”

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