This is a thirteen year old version of me, beside my grandfather’s grave. I want to explain how important he is to me and to my relationship with Gàidhlig.
My name is Dòmhnall Iain Dòmhnallach and I was named for my grandfather, Dòmhnull Dòmhnullach – a poet, schoolteacher, politician, scholar, crofter, fisherman and general islander. Because of this, I was always fascinated by this man, who everyone on the island spoke about in an almost awed voice. He had died five years before I was born, drowned, fallen of a pier. As I grew up, and discovered a love of Gàidhlig and history and poety, can increasingly found myself compared to him. It fell to me to do things like translate his poems, or transcribe his papers, or speak on the radio. So when I was in thirteen, I wrote a big fat biography of him, pages and pages of impenetrable Gàidhlig, and handed it around the family, and that was that. But about two years ago, I did another big fat study of his poems, which nobody has read, and I never finished, but which made me realize he was in fact very significant as a baird-baile and as a religious poet of nature. I felt proud to call him my grandfather.
But my interests have now completely drifted, and my Gàidhlig lies unused. To do anything Gàidhlig is ultimately futile, unless one talks to one’s mates or one’s kids in it. It’s sad, but I think I’ve made a lucky escape. One of the problems in minority languages is that the people whose work is the language often end up becoming all there is to the language. It would be a hard (yet strangely easy) future to let Gàidhlig become me, to obsess over the past, to dedicate my life to the language. But the language can only become truly living again if we embrace the example of men like my grandfather. He did Gàidhlig-related work – he wrote poems, novels and plays; he translated the Latin mass to Gàidhlig; he collected folklore – but he also had a life: he fished, worked in local politics, taught, ran a croft, went shooting. If you speak a minority language, you might feel a duty to dedicate yourself to preserving it. Don’t! The language belongs to you. You don’t belong to the language!