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…

18th-Century Praise of Gaelic by Iain MacGriogair of Glenlyon

As I’ve said in a previous blog post, it is exciting to see a resurgence of interest in Gaelic in Perthshire, a region of Highland Scotland that was once home to thriving Gaelic communities and prolific Gaelic scholars and poets. I have a large collection of Gaelic literature from Perthshire that I would like to…

A 1828 Plea on Behalf of Gaelic in Scotland

Anyone who studies sociolinguistics knows that languages live or die not according to their own merits, but according to the circumstances of the communities that speak them. Communities that are marginalized, denigrated, and denied the ability to govern themselves and access resources also see their languages and cultures compromised. This has long been the case…

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…

Stealing the Soil and Soul of the Highland(er)s

In an address to the 1920 Celtic Congress, Malcolm MacLeod, who had done a great deal of work in editing and producing volumes of Gaelic literature, remarked on the resilience of the Highland people in surviving, as a culture and linguistic group, generations of attack and stigmatization from the anglocentric state. “If Gaelic could have…

Lament to Scottish Highlands from New Zealand

Dr. Sheila Kidd has a wonderful new article providing a general overview of the Gaelic poets and poetry of Australia and New Zealand, entitled “Kangaroos and Cockatoos: Gaelic Literature in the Nineteenth-Century Antipodes” in Scottish Literary Review 9.2 (2017).  It offers very useful material for comparison with the sources created by Scottish Gaels in North America…

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…

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;…