Speaking freely – my own personal Gaelic renaissance

Blog
Publication Date
22/02/2023

ENGLISH

“Maybe he’ll be a doctor”, said my grandfather. I was three years old at the time and he was ninety-four. I don’t remember the conversation myself, but according to my father, that’s what he said. No one in my family had ever been a university student. My Gillies grandfather was a crofter in Strumore, Lochmaddy in North Uist, but perhaps he had planted the seed in my mind. I came out of the university as a doctor.

Professor John Gillies OBE FRSE, Honorary Professor of General Practice, Co-Director, Global Compassion initiative, University of Edinburgh

When we lived in North Uist, we would speak Gaelic at home, with friends, and out playing with other children. At the Primary School in Lochmaddy, however, we couldn’t speak any at all—only English. Even at five years old, I thought that was very strange. Why weren’t we allowed to speak Gaelic? I knew the teachers spoke it too.

In any case, our family left Uist for the mainland when I was eight years old, and we didn’t speak much Gaelic after that. In the sixties, English language proficiency is what mattered.

I worked as a GP in Malawi in Africa, in Galloway, and then the Borders where I now live. I remained cognisant—and frankly a wee bit sad—that I only knew a little Gaelic, particularly as my parents and all my grandparents were fluent. When I was working in Galloway, I noticed that in that area most of the place names were from Gaelic: Stranraer (Sròn Reamhar), Glenluce (Glenn Lios), and so on. Once I had time, I started to learn Gaelic again with online conversation classes and at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig through distance learning. Now I am in the middle of a Diploma in Gaelic and Related Studies. I would highly recommend the course; it’s opportunity to learn from experts about Celtic languages, culture, and history.

There are several key issues affecting both Gaelic as a language and its speakers, predominantly in the islands. I am often in Uist on holiday visiting relatives and friends and on every visit, I feel the islands need more attention and different policies from the government on housing, transport—particularly the ferries—and support for the economy. The islands, from Lewis to Islay, are the foundation of Gaelic.

It is also important to say, however, that many things are better than when I was younger. There is more confidence in the language and its national profile is becoming more pronounced. Isn’t it great to see so many talented young people speaking and singing in Gaelic on radio, TV, and social media? There has been renaissance in traditional music, supported by the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and many local Fèisean. Gaelic Medium Education is moving forward with vigour.

And last but not least, it’s World Gaelic Week—Seachdain na Gaidhlig—now!



GÀIDHLIG

A’ bruidhinn gu saor – an t-ath-bheothachadh Gàidhlig agam fhìn

Is dòcha gum bi e na dhotair’ thuirt mo sheanair. Bha mise trì bliadhna a dh’aois agus bha esan ceithir-deug air ceithir fichead. Uill, chan eil cuimhne agam-sa air a’ chòmhradh, ach dh’inns m’ athair gur b’ e sin a thuirt e. Cha robh duine sam bith nam theaghlach na oileanach aig oilthigh a-riamh. Bha mo sheanair Gilliosach na chruitear air an t-Sruth Mhòr, Loch nam Madadh, Uibhist a Tuath. Ach ’s mathaid gun do chur mo sheanair an sìol nam inntinn; thàinig mi a-mach mar dhotair.

An t-Àrd-ollamh Iain MacGillIosa, OBS, FRSE, Àrd-ollamh Urramach ann an Dotaireachd Teaghlaich, Co-stiùiriche Iomairt Tròcair na Cruinne, Oilthigh Dhùn Èideann

Nuair a bha sinn a’ fuireach ann an Uibhist a Tuath, bhitheamaid a’ bruidhinn na Gàidhlig aig an taigh, le càirdean agus a-mach a’ cluich le clann eile. Ach, aig a’ Bhun-Sgoil ann an Loch nam Madadh, cha b’ urrainn dhuinn a’ Ghàidhlig a bhruidhinn idir, dìreach a’ Bheurla. Eadhon aig còig bliadhna a dh’aois, shaoil mi gun robh sin air leth neònach. Carson nach robh cead againn a’ Ghàidhlig a bhruidhinn? Bha fios agam gun robh Gàidhlig aig na tidsearan.

Co-dhiù, dh’fhàg an teaghlach againn Uibhist nuair a bha mi ochd bliadhna a dh’aois dhan tìr mòr, agus cha do bhruidhinn sinn mòran Gàidhlig às dèidh sin. Carson? Anns na seasgadan, b’ e fileantas sa Bheurla a bha cudromach.

Dh’obraich mi mar dhotair-teaghlaich ann am Malawi, Afraga agus ann an Gall-Ghàidhealaibh agus anns na Crìochan, far a bheil mi a’ fuireach a-nis. Gidheadh, bha mi an-còmhnaidh caran fo bhròn nach robh agam ach beagan Gàidhlig. Bha mo phàrantan agus a h-uile seann-phàrant fileanta! Nuair a bha mi ag obair ann an Gall-Ghàidhealaibh, mhothaich mi anns an sgìre sin gun robh a mhòr-chuid de na h-ainmean-àite às a’ Ghàidhlig—Stranraer—Sròn Reamhar, Glenluce—Gleann Lios agus mar sin air adhart. Nuair a bha ùine agam, thòisich mi air Gàidhlig ionnsachadh a-rithist le clasaichean còmhraidh air-loidhne agus aig Sabhal Mòr Ostaig air astar. A-nis, tha mi ann am meadhan Dioplòma Gàidhlig agus Cuspairean Co-cheangailte. Mholainn na cùrsaichean gu mòr; ’s e cothrom a th’ ann ionnsachadh bho eòlaichean mu chànanan, cultar agus eachdraidh Cheilteach.

Tha grunn chùisean mòra a’ toirt buaidh an dà chuid air a’ Ghàidhlig mar chànan agus air a luchd-labhairt, gu sònraichte sna h-eileanan. Bidh mi gu tric ann an Uibhist air saor-làithean a’ tadhal air càirdean agus caraidean agus air a h-uile cuairt, bidh mi a’ smaointinn gu bheil feum aig na h-Eileanan air aire nas motha agus poileasaidhean eadar-dhealaichte bhon riaghaltas a thaobh taigheadas, còmhdhail — gu sònraichte na h-aiseagan — agus taic dhan eaconomaidh. Tha na h-eileanan, bho Leòdhas gu Ìle nam bun-stèidh dhan Ghàidhlig.

Ach tha e cudromach a ràdh cuideachd gu bheil iomadh rud nas fheàrr na bha e nuair a bha mise na b’ òige, mar a sgrìobh mi gu h-àrd. Tha misneachd nas motha anns a’ chànan agus tha a pròifil nàiseanta a’ fàs pailt nas motha. Nach eil e math torr daoine òga tàlantach fhaicinn a’ bruidhinn agus a’ seinn anns a’ Ghàidhlig air rèidio, TBh agus meadhanan sòisealta? Tha ath-bheòthachadh ann an ceòl traidiseanta, le taic bho Chonservatoire Rìoghail na h-Alba agus tòrr Fhèisean ionadail. Tha Foghlam tro Mheadhan na Gàidhlig a’ gluasad air adhart le spionnadh. Agus an-dràsta, tha Seachdain na Gàidhlig ann!

An t-Àrd-ollamh Iain MacGillIosa, OBS, FRSE, Àrd-ollamh Urramach ann an Dotaireachd Teaghlaich, Co-stiùiriche Iomairt Tròcair na Cruinne, Oilthigh Dhùn Èideann


Professor John Gillies OBE FRSE, Honorary Professor of General Practice, Co-Director, Global Compassion initiative, University of Edinburgh / An t-Àrd-ollamh Iain MacGillIosa, OBS, FRSE, Àrd-ollamh Urramach ann an Dotaireachd Teaghlaich, Co-stiùiriche Iomairt Tròcair na Cruinne, Oilthigh Dhùn Èideann

This article was written for World Gaelic Week 2023.

The RSE’s blog series offers personal views on a variety of issues. These views are not those of the RSE and are intended to offer different perspectives on a range of current issues.