The Role of a Scholar in Gaelic and other Marginalized Cultures

This is a difficult, sensitive, complex, and multilayered topic. It’s hard to write about and it’s not surprising that so few people have tried (“I am a ‘white linguist’” by Dr. Cassie Smith-Christmas being one of the few examples). I am only human, as are the members of the communities I’ve worked with, so we…

Cattle Raiding and Gaelic Rites of Passage

Cattle were at the very heart of life in the old Scottish Highlands, be it calendar customs, rites of passage, past-times, food, clothing and place of residence. The central role of cattle is explored in great detail in a very impressive recent book that I’ve just acquired, Ri Luinneig mun Chro: Crodh ann am Beatha…

Interview with Dr A. R. MacKinnon about Gaelic in Bruce County

The Charles William Dunn Collection of Scottish Gaelic Fieldwork Recordings from Gaelic Canada contains an extensive and invaluable set of audio recordings from the mid-twentieth century. Although most of the fieldwork was conducted by Prof Dunn himself, one set of materials – recorded in Bruce County, Ontario, between 1958 and 1964 – was done by Dr….

Dances with Fairies and Witches

“Fairylore” in Gaelic tradition, like that of many other peoples, is a complex web of ideas that no singular theory can contain. Wish fulfillment, the rhetoric of social and psychological norms, and layers of older cosmology can all be found in these materials, making it a rich and sometimes perilous trove of material to analyze. Amongst…

Interview with Elizabeth MacDiarmid on Loch Tayside in 1996

[An article I originally wrote in 1996] Perthshire is the heartland of Scotland, the centre of the country.  Although I have met many Perthshire people who spoke Gaelic at home before going to school, the usual story is that once they went to school they had to learn English and were strongly discouraged from speaking…

Interview with Prof Charles Dunn of Harvard in 2002

Professor Charles W. Dunn (1915-2006) taught Celtic Studies at Harvard University for many years and is probably most celebrated for his fieldwork amongst Scottish Gaels in North America. See biography here. Interview with Professor Charles W. Dunn In his home in Cambridge, MA By Michael Newton, 4 April 2002 (beginning at circa 9:30 PM) MN: Would…

Further Thoughts on the History of Dance in Scottish Gaeldom: Part 2

An Appalachian Detour Anyone wishing to produce an account of vernacular dance in North America would do well to read the recent volume Hoedowns, Reels, and Frolics by Phil Jamison (2015, University of Illinois Press). Jamison integrates a huge amount of information and personal experience into this book: the various distinctive genres of dance in Appalachia;…

Further Thoughts on the History of Dance in Scottish Gaeldom: Part 1

I’ve been collecting new ideas and materials about the history of dance in Scottish Gaeldom for months – things I haven’t had time to articulate and elaborate since my last significant essays which are  accessible on this blog and on my academia.edu webpage – and some of which are in response to my reading of…

An Athollman’s Bagpipe Song in Defense of Gaelic

Gaels all over the Highlands, even as far east as Strathardle, managed to cling resiliently onto their language and culture until the tumultuous changes of the nineteenth century. English pushed aggressively against Gaelic during the nineteenth century, but not without some resistance. One of those Perthshire Highlanders who defended his native language and urged others…

A Paean to the Bagpipe in Nova Scotia, 1816

The “Great Highland” bagpipe is now an iconic symbol of Scottishness in Scotland and abroad, but inadequate attention has been paid to how Highlanders themselves perceived, described and discussed their musical traditions and instruments amongst themselves. The following poem is, as far as I know, the earliest surviving commentary in Gaelic – thus composed by…