Thursday, 26 February 2009

Tha Gaidhlig agad - siuthad lorg i!

Gaelic - it's in the blood!

The Gaelic language was once spoken across much of Scotland - Alba. Shakespeare's MacBeth would have plotted murder in Gaelic and Robert the Bruce would have rallied the Gaelic-speaking clans to his banner through his mother's native tongue.

The history of Gaelic and its speakers, the Gaels, since their arrival from Ireland before the 6th Century, is one of rapid increase and success followed by gradual decrease and decline.

Gaelic began to lose ground in the early Middle Ages as the Scots language took hold in South-East Scotland but the Scots language was, at one time, so rare in places like Glasgow that, for instance, Scotstoun in Glasgow is so called because they spoke Scots in that area.

After the Jacobite rebellion steps were taken to eradicate Gaelic in an attempt to crush the rebellious clans and the use of Gaelic was harshly discouraged and this got so engrained in the educational system that until very recently children were disciplined for speaking Gaelic in school.

Gaelic books, including Bibles, were destroyed and the scarcity of Bibles has led to the present day tradition of a "precentor" singing Psalms line by line and the congregation repeating his words.

Remarkably, after years of neglect and repression Gaelic is still spoken by around 65,000 people in Scotland. It is strongest in the Western Isles but there are substantial Gaelic communities elsewhere and in the nation's cities. There remains a strong and increasing Gaelic awareness in Canada and New Zealand in particular.

Gaelic is currently enjoying a revival in its fortunes with more interests being shown in the language and this is illustrated by the fact that Gaelic Medium schools and Gaelic play-groups are over-subscribed. The advent of a Gaelic TV channel, although attracting criticism in some quarters, can only help to bring more attention to the language.

At the same time there has been a healthy and growing interest in Gaelic music and arts and events like Celtic Connections and Trans-Atlantic Sessions help to bring the language to a larger audience.

Gaelic has been spoken in Scotland for more than sixty generations and the current generations of Gaels are united in their resolve that Gaelic remains a vital and vibrant language.

The heading to this postings means you have Gaelic within your soul and in your blood - look for it and you will find it!


  1. brownlie enjoyed reading your post. Gaelic is important to Scotland, all of Scotland, as it plays a huge part in our history and Heritage.

    It is a shame the language was discouraged in Schools right up until not so long ago. I think from 1920 till 1970 the language lost almost 70% of its speakers.

    I am really interested in Gaelic and although my Gran hails from the borders, both her parents were from Lochaber and native Gaelic speakers.
    We still have relatives who stay in the area and on my Grans side i can trace our family back to the Cameron's of Locheil.

    My Grans parents were from a little place called Macomber, just at the south west shore of Locheil and the croft they used to live in is little more than a lazy bed. In fact one of my Great Grand parents neighbours was the Mighty Macomber, one of Scotland's strongest men.

    Sorry about that little bit of slavering.

    Although Gaelic is enjoying a bit of a revival i think the problem it faces is the lack of a hinterland. Whilst the language might be growing in the towns and cities, its the hinterland where the language is in decline.

    If we are not careful then the language may well be one spoken by many but not a language of communication. In Wales welsh is growing but in the heartlands the language is in decline. I do hope they arrest the decline in the Gaelic heartlands of Scotland as well as encouraging other people to learn it because if they don't then as a language of everyday communication, it will cease to be.

    Nevertheless, the language is all around us in place names, names of lochs and just about every mountain has a gaelic name. Ah long white Shepperd, now what mountain is that.

    Oban, Gaelic for little bay, Uig, Bay,whisky, water of life, the list goes on.
    Brownlie at one time Gaelic was the 4th most spoken language in North America, hard to believe i know but its true. I think now only cape Breton Island has any significant Gaelic speaking communities left. I read a lot about the history of the language in Canada and Prince Edward Island used to be a stronghold but the language died out some time ago, although Scottish culture is very strong. Over 50% of the island claim to be Scottish.

    This link will show you how strong the language was at one time and even as recent as 1940, some people who lived in Oban could only speak Gaelic.

    Even in 1970 some people could only speak gaelic in areas of Ardnamurchin. If you have not already seen this website then you are in for some fascinating facts on Gaelic in Scotland. The census data with maps is amazing, you will be hooked on it, i promise..

    Tìoraidh an-dràsta

  2. Alrighty brownlie, oh yeh Gaelic is in my blood and my Gran often says i have the Cameron smile, lol i don't think i have the crooked nose though!!

    Never new about smashing or Jessie, you see Gaelic is used more than most people ken.

    "His theory was that before the land-mass split up tribes used to roam about the top of the world and would leave traces of their languages and customs behind them. The Kurdish language spoken in Northern Iraq also sounds similar to Gaelic."

    I have read about this before and its a valid point, most languages can be connected in some way or another and this theory backs its up.

    The basque language in Spain is a language isolate and is unique in that it is not connected to any other language.

    I think i might have posted this before...

    The distinctive psalm singing had not been brought to America’s Deep South by African slaves but by Scottish émigrés who worked as their masters and overseers, according to his painstaking research. Ruff, 71, a renowned jazz musician who played with Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie, is convinced the Florida congregation’s method of praise - called ‘presenting the line’, in which the psalms are called out and the congregation sings a response - came from the Hebrides.

    Im proud to be Scottish and i have a Scots speaking Granny who had Gaelic speaking parents, bit sad , the last Gaelic speaker in our family died in 1957. Think its time to fix this..!!

    Catch you later and have a good weekend..

    Tapadh leat Tìoraidh an-dràsta

  3. Super posts you two. My grandmother was a Gaelic speaker although I only ever heard her speak it when she was visiting her sister in Aberdeen (it had been their first language throughout childhood before each moved; one to Aberdeenshire and one to Dundee).

    Because Dundee was Gaelic-free mainly, she started studying Scots and was a great Scots reader and speaker. For a woman with little education she was very well read and encouraged us to read everything we could lay our hands on.

    I've never managed to acquire a great deal of interest for the language but I can understand people's fascination with it as I've a couple of good friends who plod to gaelic classes year in and year out.

    Personally I think German is a much easier language to learn and that's my second language. Of course, if I'd spent years working in a Gaelic community as I have a German one, then I would have been forced to learn and that's no bad thing.

  4. Gaelic was last spoken in my family in my great grandparents generation, and although my grandfather could speak it - he rarely did. As a child he would use the odd phrase with me - shut the door, bring me my boots - that kind of thing.

    My daughter's in-laws are from Harris, and although they are all gaelic speakers the children play together in English. It seems by choice Gaelic is being abandoned.

    I know folks from Cape Breton and it's the same story there. People my age have a few phrases, but the fluent speakers died out with their grandparent's generation.

    As for similarities between languages, I once had a conversation with a native in British Columbia - I think a Shuswap - and was surprised at similarities between words in his language and Gaelic. This could be explained, however, as a result of the first traders - both Hudson Bay Company and Whalers - being Gaelic speakers. Natives learnt Gaelic to trade with them and, no doubt, some of the words crept into their own languages.

    But then most languages are derived from the same source - Proto Indo European:

  5. Here's a better link to PIE:

  6. subrosa,

    Interesting that all three of you, from different parts of Scotland, who posted on here have Gaelic connections in one way or another.

    The problem with most Gaelic classes is that they try and teach learners how to read and write Gaelic which is a tad difficult but more and more classes are now teaching conversational Gaelic which is easier and a lot more effective.

    An initial difficulty my wife found in learning Gaelic was that all my relatives would, out of politeness, only speak English in her presence and that seems to happen a lot in the Hebrides. However my brothers quite quickly taught her some choice Gaelic expressions. She can now understand me when I talk in my sleep!

  7. scunnert

    Thanks for the links, much appreciated.

    I agree about children in Harris playing together and speaking English. There is a play-park opposite my house up there and my foster-daughter who is seven play there with Gaelic speakers and out of courtesy they speak English for her benefit. There are also quite a few families from the main-land and the same courtesy is afforded to them.

    I think the advent of TV led to lots more children relating to those on the box and consequently speaking English and using slang expressions. When I was a child the TV would be switched off and the adults would tell stories, in Gaelic, about island life and traditions but, sadly, nowadays the conversation is more likely to be around Coronation Street or Big Brother.

    As I said to subrosa it is quite revealing that you all have, in one way or another, some Gaelic connections. All I need now is for Nikos to come on singing "I've just come down from the Isle of Skye" and reveal himself to be Donald Macleod and my theory will be complete.

    I think that the connection to native North Americans is more apparent in the manner of singing than in the actual words.

    Incidentally, I assume it was you reading my thing about Iraq on Scotland Calling which you did really well. I don't know where you come from but your accent is very similar to mine.

  8. Aye - it was me reading and Ah'm fae Hamilton.

  9. scunnert,

    My wife came from Ferniegair (?) which, if I remember right, is near Hamilton.

  10. Brownlie - aye it is. My daughter lives just up the road towards Lanark.

  11. This is a very interesting and intriguing blog post and an overall good blog. I much enjoyed reading it.

    Did you know that Gaelic now has a Wiki Browser? Check it out here: Gàidhlig wiki browser