The Fading, Untranslatable Words of the Gaelic Mindscape

Robert Macfarlane has been exploring two very interesting and inter-related phenomena in recent years: words that are tied to features or perceptions of the landscape that are highly culturally specific, and the extinction of those words from common usage because of the changing relationship between people and the landscape that they inhabit. Such words are…

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…

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…

The Ballad of Diarmaid and the Wild Boar in Glenshee: Some Speculations

One of the most poignant and memorable episodes in the Fenian/Ossianic cycle of Gaelic literature is the death of Diarmaid from the venom of the wild (and enchanted) boar which his uncle, Fionn, entreated him to hunt, knowing that this would cause his death. This episode was cast in verse form, probably in the late…

The Earliest Gaelic Dances

What kinds of dance did Gaels do before the European dance trends of the Renaissance (and later) came to Ireland and Scotland? It was only then that the jigs, reels, and so on, now considered “traditional,” came into being. Is there any evidence about what bodily movement they did to music, when, why and by whom? How…