Photography, artefacts, archives and videos are being used to bring the historical collections of the Outer Hebrides to life.

That's how Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s Heritage Service has been busy of late.

Those with an interest in history, culture and Gaelic language have had plenty to watch, see and hear on the Museum & Tasglann nan Eilean social media pages as part of its response to COVID-19.

In common with museums across the country, the doors to Museum & Tasglann nan Eilean in both its venues are currently closed - but staff have been busy cataloguing, archiving, and photographing objects and archives. 

They are then sharing some of this work on social media to provide people with access to collections that are in storage and - in some cases - too fragile to be on permanent display.

With an increasing awareness of mental health issues during lockdown, it’s worth remembering that heritage has a role to play in raising people’s spirits - especially during the current crisis. Nostalgia and looking back on our own lives can help, as the past can teach us how to cope or manage different situations in the present. Our heritage can also make us feel connected to people even if we aren’t physically present with them as we still have shared memories. Talking about that with others in phone calls or video chats can brighten our days with everyone stuck at home.

Looking at the history of previous pandemics can also inform today’s scientists about what to do and what not to do. Before the discovery of disinfectant, burning clothing and furniture was needed to stop the spread of infections. That was a common sight outside the houses of tuberculosis (TB) sufferers and victims across the Islands until the 1950s when antibiotics came into action against that ancient scourge.

Some of the most popular posts have been the old milk bottles from local dairies, the two hand grenades, people creating their own mini museums, the Gibson letters and posts relating to the Dualchas na Mara/ Heritage of the Sea project, in particular the piratical ‘piece of eight’ and the fisherman’s jumper.

Visitor Services Officer Isabel Maclachlan said: “There is something for all the staff to get involved with; the Visitor Assistants who would normally welcome people to the museum have been working on a project to transcribe hundreds of letters from the Gibson collection, so that we can make these fascinating resources available to everyone, and supporting the Dualchas na Mara project by creating colouring pages for children.”

Through the Dualchas na Mara project, funded by Bòrd na Gàidhlig and Museums Galleries Scotland, people with an interest in maritime heritage can find out more about the Museum and Archive’s maritime collections - including the work of the herring gutters and the local fishing boat, ‘The Muirneag’. The project has had to move to create online content, which includes retelling old Gaelic traditional stories and creating a video about Gaelic sea-related words for those learning.

‘Hebridean Connections’ -  already an online digital archive - has seen many more people using its website for family history enquiries and our archaeology service continues to provide advice and guidance on planning and archaeological sites. The Museum and Archive service are also still providing general advice and answering enquiries.

While the museums and archives remain closed, keep up to date with what the Heritage Team are working on by following Museum & Tasglann nan Eilean on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. A new YouTube channel has also been launched where you can find all the videos created.

Gibson Collection web page http://blogserver.cne-siar.gov.uk/wp-archivist/