Nuala Gormley (nee Bryce)
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Nuala Gormley (nee Bryce) - Loch Eil, Scottish Highlands, 1983

I had never even been in a plane before, but travelling to Loch Eil as part of the Northern Ireland Bell's Whisky sponsored cohort for 1983 started with this thrill. It was only a wee plane, but compared to our usual family summers in neighbouring Donegal, this was a pretty big deal for me, 16 and from Derry. I didn't really know what I'd applied for, but it sounded like fun and I managed to get through the application process. Once in Loch Eil, I found myself in a clann of 10, with folk I would never have met, let alone spent time with, in my home town. I was from a close-knit family and community, attended a huge Catholic Girls' Grammar school and barely encountered boys let alone very many protestants (and wasn't even aware folk might somehow be neither). My clan contained people from all over the UK, and some from Europe, several ethnic identities were declared, amid backgrounds of every class and creed. There were organised individuals and chaotic ones, brave ones and cautious ones, a footballer, a soldier and a few mountain types. The one other Irish person in the clann had a personal history so far removed from my own that we would never have collided at home; here we became best friends.By the end of the course, after all of the hairy, scary and funny adventures (that only we witnessed) the clann felt like family.
Tony Simpson the leader got more out of us than we ever individually imagined was possible, but as a group, by the end, we felt invincible.
When I returned home, weather-beaten, midge-bitten and fairly scruffy, I found it hard to describe my experience. In time, I realised this marked the first time when I had to present myself, as an individual, to a range of people very different to myself. I had to decide, in some ways, who I was.
I learned that everyone has gifts and skills to offer a common endeavour, if encouraged properly. I learned that leadership can be quiet, and that silence can be perfect. I learned to love wildness.
In time, the confidence grown at Loch Eil allowed me to try other, bolder expeditions, and eventually to become a volunteer in Africa for a few years. My belief in everyone's value and potential imbues both my personal and professional life. In many ways I'm still recognisable as the girl who flew for the first time to Scotland in 1983 (still asking where Mass is on a Sunday), but I'm more used to boys now. I have 4 sons of my own; the eldest is currently attending his Classic course in Wales, figuring out his own gifts and how to present himself to the world.