Not a member?
Register and login now.

Issue 48 - Experience the resurgence

Scotland Magazine Issue 48
December 2009


This article is 8 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

Copyright Scotland Magazine © 1999-2018. All rights reserved. To use or reproduce part or all of this article please contact us for details of how you can do so legally.

Experience the resurgence

Scottish Gaelic is having something of a renaissance as Scots affirm their national identity. So how can you find out more about it?

Never has cultural identity meant more to the Celtic fringe countries than it does now.

As the world becomes more globalised and international brands become more common the world over, scores of people have been motivated to seek out their own heritage and history.

The Celtic communities of Scotland, Cornwall, Isle of Man and Britanny in Northern France have all witnessed revivals in their cultures and language.

For Scotland the changes have been pronounced. Road signs in Gaelic are now common-place, and children’s television includes Gaelic language programmes as well as translations of children’s favourites such as Bob The Builder. Gaelic courses and classes are becoming much more common.

Scottish Gaelic is derived from Irish Gaelic, and the two languages have much in common. They are both from the Goidelic tradition, distinct from the language spoken in Wales, Cornwall and Brittany. It is widely accepted that the language first arrived in Scotland from Ireland in the 4th century AD and rapidly established in the western region of Scotland known as Dalraida. By the 11th century it was spoken across the whole of Scotland, and it flourished in the Lordship of the Isles, a semi-autonomous state of Scotland’s west coast, from the 11th to the 15th century.

From that time, though, the language went into serious decline, discouraged by the political seats of London and Edinburgh.

Over the centuries its speakers retreated to the North West Highlands and to the Western isles, though pockets of speakers could be found in other parts of The Highlands.

Today it is thought that 60,000 to 70,000 people speak Scottish Gaelic in Scotland, just over one per cent of the total population.

Although the total number is small it is not unusual to hear Gaelic spoken as a first language in the Hebrides, on islands such as Islay, Lewis and Skye, and there are a growing number of writers are returning to the language and there has been a surge of Gaelic works, poetry, songs and music.

There are also a number of speakers in Canada, particularly Cape Breton, in Australia, America and New Zealand.

Among the centres for Gaelic’s resurgence is a Gaelic college on Skye.

THE MOD One of the most respected Gaelic organisations is An Comunn Gaidhealach.

It was founded in Oban in 1891 and has been a leading focus for the teaching and use of the Gaelic language and the study and cultivation of Gaelic literature, history, music and art.

It has the Queen as its patron and among its many roles it organises the world famous annual Royal national mod and 20 regional mods. These are celebrations of Gaelic language and music, drama and Highland dancing and each year hundreds of Scots compete with each other in a range of different cultural events.

The 20 regional events are mainly held over the summer period and are competitive in format. Each mod normally includes a number of fringe events outside the main competitions. Winners go through to compete in the Royal national event, which this year took place over a few days in October in Oban.

The mod has gained a worldwide reputation for being a colourful and impressive celebration of Gaelic culture and is as good a place as any to experience Gaelic at its most vibrant.

WHERE TO LEARN GAELIC OR FIND OUT ABOUT COURSES Gaelic is not an easy language to learn, and regular access to hearing it spoken is essential.

There are now a large number of books and on-line course offering Gaelic instruction, though as with all language courses it’s important to find a good course with audio aids if you are intent in learning the language properly.

As a starting point you could try: BEAG AIR BHEAG Beag air Bheag means ‘little by little’ and this site is the BBC Gaelic site for absolute beginners. It is easy to follow, has some sound advice, and offers some solid leads for further research. SCOTTISH GAELIC LEARNERS’ INFORMATION SITE This is a listing of lots of different courses, from basic pronunciation to whole course and including courses in grammar, traditional writings and songs, and storytelling If you’re not so much interested in speaking the language but reading translations of a rich seam of mythology and legend, and of poetry and song lyrics, most good bookshops in Scotland will stock material.

If you just want to hear the language being sung or read, and increasing number of outlets how hold Gaelic evenings.

VisitScotland should be able to provide you with more details.