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;…

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…

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…

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…

Gaelic Song on Culloden’s Carnage

There are quite a few Gaelic song-poems that provide us with eyewitness testimony about the 1745 Jacobite Rising and its tragic conclusion on Culloden Moor. These texts are extremely important in relating the Highland point of view on these events, especially because texts written by anglophones predominate and they generally convey rather negative, biased and misleading…