THE ILEACH :: THE INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPER FOR ISLAY + JURA

Excerpts from issue 51/04 2 December 2023

Derry girls
ella edgar highland dancers

Ella Edgar with the seventeen dancers who travelled to Derry last weekend to successfully participate in the Sollus Dancing Competition.

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In this week's issue:

Derry girls - Islay & Jura dancers succeed in Ireland, A&B Council votes to double council tax on holiday homes, Council to benefit from levelling up funding, Trouble with future electrical connections, Lochgilphead - Oban road closed until December, IHS girl's rugby, Port Askaig Pier, Machrie combines with Another Place, Bump to Birth, Portnahaven Church problems, Update on Islay's striving for carbon neutrality by 2040, New committee at the Rhinns Hall, Book Review: Faking It by Toby Walsh, Origins of the Saltire, This is Islay receive Co-op funding, Port Ellen and Small Isles primary schools combine on climate change, Craig Walker looks at winter wildlife, Ramsay Hall soft-play.

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Port Askaig pier

Following on from last issue's concerns that there was little, if any, news concerning the upgrading of the council-owned Port Askaig pier to accept the new ferries, Islay Community Council Ferry Committee representatives met with the council's Marine Manager, Mr Scott Reid on Wednesday 22 November to be provided with an update regarding Port Askaig development.
According to a Ferry Committee spokesperson, "We were told that discussions are ongoing within the 'Islay Project Co-ordination Group', led by Transport Scotland which was established some months ago and includes Argyll & Bute Council, CalMac and CMAL. A report by consultants, SYSTRA, is under consideration and details will be shared with the community when agreement in principle is reached."
A community 'drop-in' event is planned for 10 January at Bowmore's Gaelic Centre to discuss plans, take questions and provide answers. This will include representatives from the council, CalMac and CMAL. (Further details on timing etc., have yet to be be advised).
It is expected that Port Askaig will be close to CalMac for around six weeks, while works are carried out. During this time, all sailings will be routed via Port Ellen. Timing for this has yet to be agreed, but the Ferry Committee made the point that if it impacted upon capacity, there would have to be a conversation with CalMac to ensure adequate provision.
The committee also re-stated the need for all essential work to be completed in good time, to fully enable the port to handle the new ships and their increased vehicle capacities. It was emphasised that since Port Ellen upgrade works will not be completed by that time, there is added pressure on Port Askaig being 100% ready.
Mr Reid gave an assurance that the port would be fully ready, with October 2024 being the due delivery time for completion.

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Portnahaven Church
portnahaven

Neil Gillespie writes:
"What’s happening with Portnahaven Church?" Good question! And one which has been asked by a lot of Ileach readers over the past months. We thought it was high time we tried to share our ideals and aspirations with you all.
'We' are the trustees of The Friends of Portnahaven Church. This group was set up by Maggie and Liz Alexander, of Nerabus, to raise much needed funds for Portnahaven Church, way before any notion of closure was on the horizon.
They invited people to become 'Friends', and these people, Ilich from home and away, and people from all over the world, donated money to support the continued workings of the church.The most successful venture they ran was 'T in the Church', which, over the years, raised tens of thousands of pounds.
This allowed 'The Friends' to pay for new heating, roof repairs, new paths, new doors, new windows, repairs to damp ingress, etc - a list too long to detail here. But just as importantly, it opened the doors of the church to visitors from all over the island, and from much further afield, and allowed us to have a sense of community, providing people with a chance to chat, enjoy tea and cake, and give some folk the only chance they had in a week to talk to other people.
The sum spent by 'The Friends' was in the region of £75,000. Further improvements were planned, and had been agreed by the council; for example, providing off-street parking, adding disabled access, the installation of sewage and running water.
Then came the bombshell! The Church of Scotland had to save money and would 'dispose' of many churches in Scotland, one of which would be Portnahaven.
This important Thomas Telford Church, one of only three 'Parliamentary' churches left standing in its original form, fast approaching its 200th anniversary (2028), was to be closed. At first it was indicated that it may be possible to 'give' it to the community. That hope was short lived.
With this in mind, Maggie and Liz approached a few of us to form a board of trustees, with a view to attempting to secure the ownership of the church for the community.
It was felt, not just by us, but by many in the local surroundings and further afield, that it would be a tragedy for the villages of Portnahaven and Port Wemyss to lose the building at the centre of both villages.
Of course we are hugely lucky to have the Rhinns Hall and its hard-working committee, who provide an enormous scope of events throughout the year, not just dances, classes, receptions of all sorts, ceilidhs, concerts, etc, but exciting new ventures like the recently started 'Movie Nights'.
But it was felt that, by retaining the use of the church building, we could provide a smaller, more intimate and adaptable venue to provide all manner of activities. Alongside retaining occasional church services, baptisms, funerals and weddings, all manner of things have been discussed.
But we are at pains to assure you, this would all be run alongside the hall, not in competition with it, and we hope even to run things in tandem, weddings in the church and receptions in the hall, immediately spring to mind!
The Friends of Portnahaven has now become a registered charity, and it is our hope to eventually start some fundraising. However, we felt it important that we obtain ownership of the church for the community, before thinking about that.
'The Friends' have some small savings left over from 'T in the Church', and are lucky enough to have been offered some grants on the understanding that we do own the building. But in spite of us keeping the church standing by spending many thousands of pounds over the last few years, and various noises of "wanting to keep ownership in the community", the Church of Scotland has placed a valuation on the church (a supposed 'market valuation') which is way beyond the reaches of our collective community pocket.
We will continue to strive to save this building, which is very dear to many of us, and which could become a cherished and valued community asset. The last thing any of us want to see is a crumbling, roofless, relic - resembling Kilchoman Church - looming over Portnahaven and Port Wemyss.
We will keep you posted - watch this space!

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Book review
faking it - toby walsh

Faking It. Artificial Intelligence in a human world. Toby Walsh. Flint Publishing hardback. 233pp £22.99
Earlier this year, The Ileach featured an article by the late Calum Murray, for which he had made use of OpenAI's 'ChatGPT' to compose an article about Islay, a task that it handled remarkably well, making only a couple of noticeable errors.
Following publication of said article, a number of Ileach readers commented on how easily they were initially fooled by the article, expressing their concerns over the continued development of such technology.
In this, they are hardly alone. UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, recently hosted a conference in London to discuss any regulatory safeguards that may need to be put in place by national governments to prevent Artifical Intelligence posing a real threat to humanity.
Author of 'Faking It', Toby Walsh, has impeccable credentials for appraising the subject of AI, as a professor of the subject at Australia's University of New South Wales, and chief scientist at its new AI institute.
Despite the subject being a complex one, Mr Walsh manages, for the most part, to highlight the subject in easily comprehensible prose, and largely without the 'doom, gloom and fear' that has seemingly accompanied many writings on AI.
However, given the rate at which the science is currently developing, his opening sentence "This book is out of date", perhaps does not bode well for anyone wishing to be kept abreast of the latest state of play.
However, the author does provide many examples of where humans have effectively 'faked' the existence of so-called machine learning, or machine intelligence.
Much of the negative hype surrounding AI is brought at the behest of our habit of anthropomorphising its abilities. In other words, we have an innate need to apply human traits to technology that is anything but.
"...large language models like ChatGPT don't actually understand what they are talking about."
Throughout the book, Mr Walsh provides many examples of where the current state of the art (as of when the book was published) still fails spectacularly.
Asking Meta's (Facebook's parent company) 'Galactica' to provide a biography of himself, information which is already widely available on the internet, returned an entirely fictitious answer that cast him as an international, and very successful poker player. Though he admitted he would dearly like to have earned the winnings ascribed by Galactica, "There's only one claim in this biography that is correct. I am indeed married, happily so."
However, despite his downplaying of the peril and alarm fostered by the speed at which the technology is being developed, he does agree that it will likely be necessary to instil international safeguards.
Firstly, Generative AI, capable of writing, drawing or painting to fulfil simple text prompts has no regard for intellectual property law. He then cites the proposed new European 'Artifical Intelligence Act' as potentially the first law on AI by a major regulator anywhere in the world.
Artificial Intelligence is and should be a concern, but perhaps less so (at present), than the media would have us believe. This is a worthy attempt by an expert to place it all in greater perspective.

bp

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This is Islay
this is islay podcast

A monthly podcast featuring individuals, personalities and features of Islay and Jura. Listen now at https://anchor.fm/thisisislay

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NEXT ISSUE ON SALE, Saturday 16 December 2023

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