Islay life in the 1960s

23 May 2016 by

‘There’s a charm about Islay that captivates,’ explains Scottish newsreader John Toye. It’s been over 50 years since those words were recorded in this documentary about the Hebridean island, and they still ring true.

It’s part of the reason why thousands of visitors flock to Islay every year for the Islay Festival (or Fèis Ìle), a celebration of the island’s music, dance, drama and culture that was first conceived in 1984.

It took 16 years before all eight of Islay’s distilleries established their own open days and annual festival bottlings, all of which are exclusive, limited edition single malts. Whisky fans are expected to queue for hours outside their favourite distillery each day, hoping for a chance to purchase a bottle or two.

‘Islay whisky by itself is rather too powerful for most people, though some people do like it as a liqueur whisky, but it’s very good for blending,’ says Bessie Williamson, then managing director of Laphroaig. If only she had known that, 50 years later, whisky fans would be queuing outside her beloved distillery in their hundreds for a bottle of her single malt.

She continues: ‘The secret of Islay whisky is the peaty water and the peat, which we can get on the island. It’s been tradition in Islay to make whisky for hundreds of years.’

Whisky Island, a Scottish Television Production, charts island life and its charms as a tourist destination. While the Sound of Islay ferry from Kennacraig at West Loch Tarbert on the mainland hadn’t quite launched at the time of filming, residents were split in their opinions of its impact on island life.

Says one resident of the plans to launch the ferry service: ‘There will be absolutely no comfort, there will be no convenience, we shall waste time and money and we shall put transport right back not only 15 years, in my opinion 30 years; it will be very bad thing for the island indeed.’

Visitors to Fèis Ìle can now judge the merits of the ferry for themselves, though one thing is clear from Whisky Island: so much – and so little – has changed for the island in the last 50 years.

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