The 2011 Scottish Census was released today. The Western Isles population increased by ~1500, a 5.6% rise. The Highland population increased by ~23,000, an 11% rise. Compare this to the 4.6% rise recorded for Scotland as a whole, and you get a crude indication that the image of a dying periphery isn’t as accurate as the naysayers would hope.
If a Welshman’s language is at the heart of his national identity then, linguistically, Scotland must suffer from a broken heart. In 1138 David I fought the English at the Battle of the Standard leading an army made up of “Normans, Germans, English, Northumbrians and Cumbrians, men of Teviotdale and Lothian, Galwegians and Scots.” Historians agree that these disparate peoples created a united national identity during the Wars of Independence. Yet at Stirling Bridge the spearmen most definitely did not shout “FREEDOM!” – Gaelic, Scots, French and Norse would have been heard; none of which were collinear to the realm. In fact, anthropologist Anthony Cohen says that Scottish identity did not arise from a unifying Scottish language but from the certainty that whoever the Scots were they were most definitely “not-English.” Thus, the Declaration of Arbroath, Scotland’s birth certificate, conceived national identity as ultimately that which was distinct from England.
Early modern attempts to form a national linguistic identity for this not-England failed for the precise reason that, unlike Welsh, neither Gaelic nor Scots has historically been spoken all over Scotland. Mirroring the religious aspects of Hindi and Urdu, Gaelic and Scots, according to Celtic historian Victor Durkacz, came to represent respectively a Highland Catholic and a Lowland Protestant identity. Neither encompassed Scotland the nation; thus, civic national identity, as exemplified by the SNP, though not-English in design is thoroughly English-speaking in character. Because Scotland’s not-Englishness was asserted through the medium of English, the poet Edwin Muir claimed “Scotland can only create a national literature by writing in English.” Neither Scots nor Gaelic was a feasible means to form a modern Scottish national identity that bridged the Highland line. Even Hugh MacDiarmid, ardent proponent of Lallans as a synthetic national Scots, wrote:
“Scotland small? Our multiform, our infinite Scotland small?”
French, Spanish and Chinese national identity was built from a Platonic form of the language. In the same way, in 1921, the Irish Free State quickly set about standardizing Gaelic, transforming it into a national language of education. But in Scotland, Standard English united the “multiform” languages of Scotland into a united not-English national identity. Scotland proves the historical picture is not always as simple as that of French or Mandarin. The Scotsman can know that his language, whether it is Gaelic, Scots or English, is independent of his national identity.
This is a ridiculously mundane post, but I have to do something to stay sane while I work on this literature review. I’m doing a research paper on patterns in Ethnolinguistic Vitality and Language Maintenance in native linguistic minorities in the UK. In normal, I-have-a-life words, I’m basically trying to figure out why Welsh is getting more popular and Gaelic is declining. The major factors of an enduring language seem to come from these four, for almost every researcher:
- Prestige of Language
Use at respected institutions, perceived legitimacy, use by “cool” people, taught in schools or not.
Landweer, UNESCO, Karan
- Relationship between language minority and majority
Government policy, tension or lack of tension between the two groups, etc.
UNESCO, Karan, Ehala, Landweer
- Ability to use language for economic reasons
presence or absence of the language in the public and business sectors, continuity or discontinuity of the majority language economy with the minority language economy.
UNESCO, Landweer, Karan, Ehala.
- Significance of Language to minority
How important it is to them that the language continue on, any sentimental or nationalistic meaning for the language, whether the language makes a statement about specifically not belonging to the majority.
UNESCO, Landweer, Karan, Ehala.
Is this Scottish or Irish Gaelic? I’m fluent in Scottish Gaelic. My own feeling is that one of the ultimate reasons behind the different fortunes is that the Welsh language is seen by most Welsh people to be intimately connected to their country and culture but Scottish Gaelic is seen by the vast majority of Scots as being something ‘teuchtars’ (scottish ‘hicks’, means thicko) speak on those windswept, alcoholic, bible-bashing islands at the edge of nowhere.
In Wales, every schoolchild is at least exposed to Welsh - most Scottish people will go their lives without hearing a word of Gaelic. This can be seen as a symptom of the differing fortunes, but it can also be viewed as a cause. There was a resurgence in both Welsh and Scottish nationalism in the 19th and early 20th century. The Welsh embraced Welsh as a defining marker of Welshness and the thing they would be fighting for - they weren’t too bothered about political independence. The Scottish national parties were founded by Lowlanders who had never met a Gaelic speaker in their lives and who were focussed on getting home rule. If there was a lingusitic element at all, it was of the Hugh MacDiarmid variety - trying to craft the various Anglo-Saxon idioms, already in decline, into a Synthetic National Scots. They were basically arrayed against Gaelic - which to these Protestant lowlands represented Irishness and the Pope.
So the national movement in Wales was united by Welsh and faught for it. The national movement in Scotland ignored Gaelic, because, well it was never really a language of all of Scotland anyway, and focussed on fighting for home rule. It was left to the Gaels themselves to preserve Gaelic, and being the poorest, most downtrodden, inhabitants of Scotland, is it any wonder they were willing to abandon their language in order to move to the lowlands where the streets were paved with gold, and they could look forward to a better English-speaking future.
The money Dr Alasdair Allan is spending in his new post as Minister for Learning, Science and Scotland’s Languages on forcing an obligatory Scottish text on every Higher English pupil (just after we all having been forced to study a Scottish topic in history), and on inventing some daft new course called ‘Scottish Studies’, would be better spent on making it more rewarding for young Gaels to go into teaching as opposed to the media, or on supporting Gaidhlig classes throughout the country, or maybe on giving important companies in his own constituency the right to benefit from RET…
A long sentence I know, but a proper commitment from the Scottish government on improving the status of Gaidhlig has to be explicity tied into improving the Western Isles economy. Our last gaidhealtachd will die between being denied fishing rights in our own waters and having our only forward-looking industry (namely, Arnish renewable technologies) gathering dust despite the Scots gov’s supposed desire to become green!
Turning Gaidhlig into a toy language to be studied (i.e. learning ‘ciamar a tha thu’) as part of some vapid Scottish studies Int 2 course is the road to extinction. Isn’t the SNP’s attempts to Scottishize the curriculum reminscent of Michael Gove’s attempts in England to turn History GSCSE into ‘Our-National-Story Indoctrinating’ class…
…I love Scotland, I’ll vote YES in the referendum, but the way the SNP gov is treating Gaidhlig and the Western Isles makes me worry we’ll be worse off post indepedence…
I am reblogging this, because you’re saying exactly what I am thinking.
While I don’t think making Gaelic mandatory is wrong per se, but not if what mandatory Gaelic amounts to is ‘ciamar a tha thu’ and nothing else. We have two examples of how to barely save a dying language and how to successfully save a dying language on our own doorstep; in Ireland Irish has become politicised to a point where Gaelic is what is spoken in European courts but not in the homes of Irish citizens, whereas 21.4% of all people living in Welsh could speak Welsh according to the last census. Compare that to the state Gaelic’s in; 1.793% of all Scots speak Scottish Gaelic and of the 6 million people living in Ireland, the government claims that 1,7 million speak Gaelic, when the reality is that Irish Gaelic is in an even worse state than its Scottish sister, with perhaps less than 30,000 native speakers (numbers range from 20-60,000 native speakers at the most). And the difference between the numbers are down to exactly what Dòmhnall is pointing out: turning a language into a subject, rather than a culture, a toy, rather than a tool is a certain way of killing it.
A change might be on its way though. When talking to CLÌ Gàidhlig earlier this week, I was informed that ‘substantially more funding will be made available for teaching the language next year’ and it seems like people are starting to realise the importance of an intergenerational transmission of the language which takes place outside of a strict class room. Worth noting here though is that neither CLÌ, nor the people who are currently starting Gaelic toddlers’ groups are funded by the state (well, CLI gets some support from the Highland Council so while it’s a charity it’s perhaps not an NGO …)
And as for the Scottish Studies course and the introduction of Scottish literature and history in our schools, I do not think this is going to cost as much as he is claiming it will. To exchange e.g. Virginia Woolf for Meg Bateman, or Rudyard Kipling for Iàin Crichton Smith, George Mackay Brown or perhaps Hugh McDiarmid is not actually going to create more fuss than just keeping what ‘we’ve always studied’.
I think it is paramount that the people of a nation is taught its own history, languages and literature and I do not think that introducing a subject called Scottish Studies is a bad thing. On the contrary, if it is created in a way which distances itself from a tartanised version of Scotland, I think it has the potential to be a good thing.
What is bothering me though is the complete and utter lack of any mentioning of Gaelic in the documents the government has published so far about the independence referendum; I’m smelling a Scottish 1872 Education Act all over again, sans perhaps the actual physical abuse of Gaelic students …
I didn’t know the Irish were in such a bad state. If what you say is true, then I have been sucked in by their propaganda… do you have any references?
Oh I know it won’t cost very much, but I’m just a bit annoyed at Alasdair Allan atm. There is generally a lot of bitterness in the islands about Dr Allan and Angus Brendan’s cowardice. The SNP are a political machine, and our MP and MSP don’t have the balls to stand up to the Party when they try and bring in policies that are very damaging to the island… Qinetic, SNH, RET…
And also, doesn’t in say a lot about how much the SNP values ‘minority languages’, ‘education’ and ‘science’ if they’re all lumped into one minor ministerial post!!?
Ah, regarding Scottish Studies, my worry is that it will be exactly that - tartanized propaganda. They are introducing it to craft a national consciousness of scottish history and literature, just as Gove wants to do in England. A critical look at Scottish history would be beneficial, but it isn’t that - the Higher Scottish topic is for the sources paper, so no essays are written, you just spew out facts to show that the source hasn’t fully explained something. (its very dull)
The Scottish topics are Wars of Independence, Reformation, treaty of Union, Migration and Empire. Irritatingly, these are topics everyone has studied at least once before in the lower school…
Its a general problem with teaching history. I’ve done three or four topics on 20th century Germany, some repeated. Teachers want to stick to what they know, what’s easy, and not what’ll challenge people…
In English, I don’t see anything wrong with teaching ICS or Edwin Morgan or whatever, but if this was done at the expense of doing, say, at least one Shakespeare play in school, then I’d feel the kids were missing out on something important for ideological reasons…
…Anyway, to return to Gaidhlig and independence. Isn’t it interesting how the anti-Gaidhlig tabloids like the Daily Record condemn Gaidhlig using the exact same reasoning the English Daily Mail condemns Scotland. Gaels are criticized as subsidy junkies, keeping their dead language alive and getting privileges like tv and school at the expense of the good lowland taxpayer. Similarly, Scots are criticized as scroungers paying for their benefits like free prescriptions with English hand-outs…
I remember my Gaidhlig teacher telling me when I was in S1 that we Gaels ought to be careful what we wished for - independence might just make things worse.
Tbh I don’t know what would be worse - the gov completely disregarding Gaidhlig or the gov completely politicizing Gaidhlig. I just think we need to try and have Gaidhlig thriving naturally in a healthy Highlands and Islands. I often feel like the Western Isles play second fiddle in terms of funding to the mainland - e.g. why the hell is there no Gaidhlig school on Lewis? May be they coulda made the new Nicholson into a Gaidhlig school???
Anonymous asked: Tell me about Scottish history! (In particular, your favourite parts of the parts that you think more people should know).
There is no such thing as Scotland.
Historically, at least, Scotland is a mish-mash of different peoples, languages and even governments, fused together by necessity.
I provided a nice long answer, but I’ve had to simplify alot, so apologies to any history experts who think its a little cartoonish.
In 1138, David I ‘King of Scots’ fought the English at the Battle of the Standard leading an army made up of “Normans, Germans, English, Northumbrians and Cumbrians, men of Teviotdale and Lothian, Galwegians and Scots.” This battle was in Yorkshire, and it was as a result of the King of Scots desire to rule over the north of England. He had Cumbria already and wanted Northumbria too, so he just invaded whilst the English were in the middle of a civil war. We were beaten, but that’s not why I bring it up. That eyewitness account of the composition of the King of Scots’ forces is helpful in showing the disparate people that have created Scotland.
We’ll start with the last on the list – Scots. Historians think ‘Scot’ comes from a Latin word meaning pirate, which was used to refer to the Irish raiders who attacked the west coasts of Britain during the AD 500s and 600s. (Indeed, the Romans called Ireland Scotia!) These pirates were Celts and they spoke a language called Old Gaelic, which is the ancestor of the language I speak ‘gaidhlig.’ During the Dark Ages, these Scots settled all over the Western Seaboard of Britain, but especially in Argyll. They called it Dalriada, named after their home in Ireland. In the 700s the Kings of Dalriada shifted from Ireland to their new territory in Scotland, which had been colonized by thousands of these Old Gaelic speakers. At that time the north of Scotland was under the control of a mysterious people called the Picts, who we only know from stone engravings, their language having been lost. In 843AD King Kenneth MacAlpin of Dalriada is supposed to have conquered these Picts and hence became the first King of Alba, or King of Scots. No one knows if the Picts were killed in genocide, or by plagure, or if (I think more likely) they were just absorbed into the Scots’ population. So, at MacAlpins’ death Scotland consisted of a Kingdom, north of the River Forth, uniting the Gaelic-speaking Scots (henceforth, we’ll call ‘em Gaels) and the unknown-speaking Picts.
I’ll sketch where everyone else was at that time, working back the way on our list from Scots. First – Galwegians. They were settlers of Norse origin living on the south coast of Scotland, who picked up the Gaelic language from the Scots and came to be know as Gall-Gaels, or ‘Foreign Gaels.’ The intermixing of Gael and Gall (i.e. Norseman) happened all the time in medieval Scotland. For instance, the Gaelic for Hebrides is Innse Gall (‘Foreign Isles’) because in the middle ages this now most Gaelic of places was brimming with Norsemen. The clan MacDonald is descended from Norse-Gaelic warrior called Somerled – he wrested control of the north-west coast of Scotland as well as the Hebrides from the Earl of Orkney (a Norwegian – this is confusing isn’t it?!) and set up the Lordship of the Isles. The Lordship of the Isles persisted as in independent state (or thorn in the side) to the King of Scots until well into 15th century and indeed, was the only truly Gaelic state in Scotland, because as we shall see the King of Scots was quick to abandon his Gaelic roots during the Middle Ages…
So, carrying on, our men of Teviotdale and Lothian, as well as our English and Germans, and Northumbrians, are representatives of the Anglo-Saxon speaking people that lived in the south-east of Scotland when MacAlpin united the kingdom. They weren’t under his rule yet though. King Malcolm the second grabbed them in the 1000s, and they were added to the Kingdom of Scots. However, they had a far higher population than the Gaels, and being on the east-coast were richer as they had better trade links with Europe. Their language – a variety of Anglo-Saxon – came to dominate urban life and Gaelic was gradually relegated to the countryside, and then to the wild Highlands, and then just to the islands. The Anglo-Saxons’ language came to be called Scots as most Scots spoke it, while Gaelic was disparaged as Erse (‘Irish!’). It’s interesting to note that this Anglo-Saxon language is not a dialect of English – English and Scots in fact share a common ancestor in Old German: they divided apart while still in Europe and came to Britain with different tribes.
The Cumbrians mentioned refer to the Britons (Welsh-speaking Celts) who lived in the south of Scotland during the Dark Ages. Their most important kingdom was Strathclyde, built around the River Clyde, but they were quickly absorbed the new Scots kingdom, and their language was wiped out, so they don’t much concern us here.
The Normans, however, are the same Normans who conquered England in 1066. They carried on to Scotland and made the king swear an oath to recognize Wiliam as his overlord – this was the basis all the subsequent English claims to the Scottish throne. Even after the armies withdrew, many Norman knights stayed in Scotland, and became the feudal aristocracy. Other Norman and Breton knights were induced to move there later thanks to generous offers from the King of Scots. Under Queen Margaret and these knights, Scotland was slowly Francophied, and it abandoned Gaelic. The last Gaelic king of Scots was old macBeth. After that, Anglo-Normans dominated. Even William Wallace was of Norman stock!
And speaking of Wallace, historians agree that these multifarious peoples I detailed above created for themselves a united national identity during the Wars of Independence. At Stirling Bridge the spearmen most definitely did not shout “FREEDOM!” – Gaelic, Scots, French and Norse would have been heard; none of which, however, were the universal language. There was no united Scottish culture when the English invaded at the end of the 13th century – there was no such thing as Scotland. Anthropologist Anthony Cohen says that Scottish identity did not arise from a unifying Scottish language but from the certainty that whoever the Scots were they were most definitely “not-English.” Thus, the Declaration of Arbroath, Scotland’s birth certificate, conceived national identity as ultimately that which was distinct from England.
We started off with the Battle of the Standard, but that was the personal ambition of a feudal king - it wasn’t enough to create a nation.
But in 1314 at Bannockburn, under Robert the Bruce, a descendant of norman knights, we have Normans, and Anglo-Saxons (Scots?), and Gall-Gaels, and Norse, and Gaels fighting. And with that battle, and the many others, the lowland Scots become a nation. They become the Scots. And we have a Scotland…
But, interestingly, it’s from this century – the 14th century – that the Scots turn against the Lordship of the Isles, and against the Gaels. And from then on the Highland Line becomes a chasm and we have two Scotlands – Highland and Lowland.
But that I think is a story for another day.
This was written for a historical society exhibition. It’s basically a short essay from which we took out good captions for photos etc. It’s far more breezy than my usual style, and lacking in any historical analysis. I had to write for an audience - namely, the religious and fact(as opposed to analysis)-loving average Eriskay person…
(WARNING: You will notice I assume religious faith is a good thing. Again this is called ‘selling-out’ and is sometimes necessary when writing with someone else in mind)
Who was Father Allan, the man? Allan MacDonald - priest, poet, and folklorist - was born on the 25th October 1859 in the luxurious surroundings of Fort William Hotel. Despite having indeed been fortunate enough to obtain a room at the proverbial inn, from a young age his dream was to serve Christ as a member of the priesthood. At first, he studied at Blairs College, Aberdeenshire, and thence to Vallodolid in Spain where he undertook most of his training in the San Ambrosio College.
Following ordination he was sent Oban as assistant priest. The people were fond of this young and popular priest yet, in 1884, he was transferred to Daliburgh parish which, at the time, was the poorest parish in the poorest diocese in all of Scotland. The people depended on him as an educated person to represent them in matters temporal as well as religious. He laboured for ten happy but hardworking years in South Uist. However, A School in South Uist tells us it was always his desire to minister to and then die with “the simple fisher folk of Eriskay,” When, due to exhaustion, the Bishop relieved him of the burden of the St Peters, he crossed the sound to the island of Eriskay. An island he loved despite it being “bare of barley!”
The impact he had on this little island at the edge of nowhere can hardly be exaggerated. But Fr Allan’s greatest legacy )of many) is - of course - the church, which stands imposingly alone atop the hill known as Cnoc na Sgrath.
Prior to Fr Allan’s arrival on the island, the people of Eriskay worshipped in a damp and smoky blackhouse, situated where the statue of Our Lady is now. The roof was full of holes and the visiting priest literally did have to walk on water in order to say mass. There were no seats, therefore the congregation all stood in cramped and crowded conditions. It was obvious to Fr Allan a new building was required, for how could he minister to his flock if the Chapel wasn’t even a worthy home for sheep?
Funds were needed and fast. This was mostly raised from subscriptions paid by Fr Allan’s rich friends plus, most importantly, the pious fisherman donated the takings from one catch a week to the appeal. On the designated day, the people gathered to pray for fruitful fishing, and it is claimed that these Church catches were far larger than the rest of the week’s. The faith of the Eriskay congregation was such that the construction of the church became a community endeavour, with sand being carried by the schoolchildren during their break and the men giving up their time to shift the large stones up the Rubha Ban.
The Church’s positioning on Cnoc na Sgrath was inspired in that it can be seen from all corners (of the populous part) of the island, as if it were a kind of beacon to the people, a physical focal point for the isle and also as a lighthouse shining to the sailors in the sound. Although some might argue it could just as easily be called a watchtower surveying the island!
As well as the Church, Fr Allan’s legacy to Eriskay includes the bringing of the telegraph line, which in turn led to telephone and electricity lines. He also led the people in the construction of a road out to Bun a’ Mhuilinn. This was the first road in Eriskay; “An Rathad Ard,” and it is still used today by walkers. With one road, people demanded more, a desire eventually manifesting itself in the causeway, built in 2000. One could argue Fr Allan, in building the first road, sent us down the road of crossing the sound by causeway. I imagine he would be very pleased to see cars driving across the causeway, thinking of the days he spent by the fire at Taobh a’ Chaolais awaiting a boat to ferry him over to say mass.
Fr Allan was a community leader who loved his community. He loved their Gaidhlig language and his book, Gaelic Words And Expressions From South Uist, demonstrates the meticulous detail with which he recorded the fading Hebridean culture. His notebooks are a treasure trove of observations of the distinctive Eriskay way of life. As a priest he wanted his congregation to understand the message of God and, therefore, years before Vatican II, he decided to translate the mass into Gaidhlig. He composed many hymns which are still heard at mass to this day.
As a collector of folklore Fr Allan was renowned throughout Scotland. However, being a generous man, when Anna Goodrich Freer visited him he quite happily gave her free-reign with his note-books. Years later she published his work under her own name. Fr Allan’s many friends were angered. Fr Allan was upset that people were arguing and, to the loss of Gaidhlig scholarship, he ceased collating folklore for fear of causing more controversy.
Fr Allan is easily the most celebrated person every to call themselves an Eirisgeach His impact is such that it would be remarkably difficult to find someone living on the island today who wasn’t aware who Fr Allan was, even if they were aware only that he built the Church. In his time, Fr Allan was regarded as a kind of father to the isle, ministering to all the needs of the people, be they spiritual, medical or social. But the nature of his work wore him out before his time. Fr Allan died of Acute Pneumonia in October 1905 when he was only 46 years old. In his short life he did more for the people of Eriskay than anyone ever had or will. Despite more than one hundred years having passed since his death, he lives on in St Michael’s his pride and joy, in the hymns sung and mass said every Sunday, and in the great Celtic Cross (erected by the people) which guards his grave. Finally, every summer the boats are blessed in Acarsaid Mhor, a tradition began by Fr Allan for which he received a special papal dispensation. The priest blesses the fishermen’s boats so they will have a safe year at sea, and Fr Allan, that lover of the “simple fisherfolk of Eriskay”, himself a great fisher of men, would be very proud to see that this unique tradition has continued for more than a century. A fitting legacy for a man who braved howling winds to cross the sound every Sunday to say mass.
… The fatal flaw in my cunning plan is that I don’t speak your native language so you could be bullshitting me for all I know…
Well, I made the word up, but from the root “niceil” (nickel) and “cachdadair” (pooper)…
““For the Scots, this is going to be decided 80 percent from the heart and 20 percent from the mind. I tell ye, I’m not the kind to wear a kilt at weddings, but I am Scottish before I am British. and I know a good many of us want our rightful independence back.””
Alistair Hunter, a 54-year-old Scottish nationalist working for the city of Edinburgh, commenting on Scotland’s drive to re-establish its independence, in “Scotland Moves Toward Vote on Independence.”
I’m voting YES just to see what happens!