Land tenure and Deeside Gaelic

Pictured above is Rob Bain of Ardoch, Deeside, Aberdeenshire who died in July, 2010. Rob was the son of Jean Bain, the last native speaker of Deeside Gaelic who died in 1984. In an interview with Sheena Blackhall, Rob said, of his mother’s Gaelic,

Feasgar math..I canna mynd a lot o’t. I niver pickit up a lot o’t, like… Funny thing wis, the last puckle years fin she wis dottlit, she widna spik onything bit Gaelic. She wis five year auld afore she could spik English, an she wis born in London. Her folk wis doon there wirkin wi toffs…they war frae Mar Lodge. She wis born til’t. She could write it an spikk it an aathing. Bit I canna..(…) Ciamar a tha sibh..fit wye wid ye spell that noo! There’s a lot o’t back tae front, tee. Ardach, here, that’s high place. Delnabo’s the haugh o the cow. Fin ma mither wis doon at Abyne in the last two year o her life, there wis a nurse there that spoke it. That’s the only wye they could makk heid nor tail o her, Campbell, the banker’s wife, she come frae the islands like.

Jean Bain was “discovered” by Adam Watson during research for his magesterial work, The Place Names of Upper Deeside (Aberdeen University Press, 1984)

Rob and his parents before them lived in the croft of Ardoch above Crathie. Unlike most of the rest of the Highlands, Aberdeenshire was never included within the scope of the Crofters’ Holdings (Scotland) Act 1886 because the powerful lowland landowners refused to countenance such a move. As a consequence, vast swathes of the Highlands in the non-crofting counties have lost their people, their language and their culture as the tenants of the land were never more than one year away from eviction. This includes the “other” Ardoch which features on the cover of my book, The Poor Had No Lawyers, more images of which can be seen at James Dyas Davidson’s portfolio here.

Had things been different, highland Aberdeenshire might today be home to a thriving gaelic culture. Places like Ardoch would be occupied by crofting tenants with secure, heritable tenancies.

As a result of this failure to provide legal protection to tenants, Deeside Gaelic is now extinct and Ardoch was put on the international property market by Savills on behalf of Invercauld Estate last year. It was sold earlier this year for £212,500.

Ardoch overlooks Balmoral Estate – another anachronism of Scottish landownership.

There is no other country in Europe that would allow this sort of thing to happen.

First published at Andy’s amazing Land Matters blog, with thanks.

Comments (9)

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  1. Ron Fowlie says:

    Enjoyed this, we should have more Doric in print. Perhaps the ‘Independent’ map should have ‘Confused’ over the blank space which represents England.

  2. Alasdair Nicholson says:

    Over 30 years ago as a history student at Aberdeen University we were told that gaelic had died out, outwith the highlands, in the middle ages. At a seminar I asked the tutor why then was there still a native speaker of Aberdeen dialect Gaelic still alive in Upper Deeside? He was unable to answer. My own informant was the good Gaelic scholar and friend Seumus Grannd.

  3. Tocasaid says:

    Interesting article and a reminded of the lie that ‘Gaelic only belongs to the west and islands’.

  4. Eric says:

    Makes me sad and angry. The land issues need to be sorted out… But the Monarchy is one of the biggest culprits and an obstacle to reform.

  5. Jacqui says:

    I remember reading an article about this lady in the Scots magazine many years ago. The ruling classes, of course, made Gaelic speakers out to be barbarians, – all part of their insidious power play, the legacy of which is still seen in the “too poor, too wee, too stupid ” attitude we read of today.

  6. George Gunn says:

    There is a similar “myth” here in the far north that Gaelic was never spoken in Caithness. This is dangerous ill-informed reactinary mis-information. The Norman ascendency which is represented here by the Sinclairs and the Gordons hated everything Celtic and were engaged in a centuries long struggle to destroy it. The cultural and social damage done by land enclosure and clearance was done by the 1790’s, well before 1886, although Gaelic still was spoken in Latheron and West of Thurso throughout the nineteenth century and into the 20th. We must recognise that a denial of Gaelic as a living language outhwith those designated areas of the north west Higlands is a political act. I remember Hamish Henderson telling me that Perthshire Gaelic was considered to be the most beautiful but that a century previously the old folk considered Ayrshire Gaelic had that claim.

  7. Txortakua says:

    “There is no other country in Europe that would allow this sort of thing to happen”

    Oh yes…. Spain with the Basque language over generations and France as I write it!

  8. Akerbeltz says:

    Txortakua, that’s not entirely right. While Franco was a really bad episode, the Basques never really went through the same barbaric dispossession compared to the Irish and Scottish Gaels. Up until the French revolution, both in Hegoalde AND Iparralde, the vast majority of farmland was *owned* by the baserritarrak themselves as feudalism did not penetrate anywhere nears as much in the Basque Country as it did elsewhere.
    The French Revolution wreaked havoc in the north a different sense as it legally entitled ALL children of a baseritarra to a share in the baserri, leading to holdings shrinking in size (unless the family fudged around the law). This led to unsustainably small farms and as a result, large-scale emigration.
    The influx of non-Basque speakers during the industrial revolution did not help of course but on the whole, the erosion of Basque was of a gradual kind, nibbling away at the edges. Not the kind we’re talking here, of dispossessing an entire people of its land and rights and causing mass emigration without leaving behind a sustainable population base.

  9. Eoghann says:

    There is an episode of “Weir’s Way” called “Royal Deeside” that features interviews with Jean and Rob Bain at Ardoch. I think it available on DVD now.

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