Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites
“It’s an exhibition that covers a huge sweep of European history over 200 years. We are telling a broad story of the attempts by the Jacobites to restore the Stuart dynasty. It’s not a Scottish story, or a narrow Gaelic-related story.”
– Dr Gordon Rintoul CBE, Director of National Museums Scotland
In reality the story is indeed primarily that of the Stewart Royal Family, European to the extent that they were based abroad through the period. Despite Mr Rintoul’s slight in suggesting that Gaelic is neither a European Language nor one fit to tell an international story, we noted numerous points through the exhibition where greater use of Gaelic would have been beneficial in communicating context and authenticity through the multi-national, multi-language presentation.
In truth Gaelic was minimised to the extent that the few times it did appear were without explanation or remark. The bilingual quotes and titles which appear throughout, along with the Gaelic singing, were used as background flavour rather than as part of the story. Discussing the tartan tunic said to have been worn by the prince, it is noted that he adopted highland dress to ingratiate himself with the clans. A perfect opportunity to mention his need to learn the language of the highlands in order to communicate with his subjects. Indeed staff present when we visited were unaware that the Prince himself had any knowledge of the language.
Gaelic’s role in this European story is so integral that its omission would leave visitors with no knowledge of the language and culture to question why the Prince landed in Eriskay and moved through the Highlands, and why from Derby he again made his way there, and again to Skye and beyond to Uist after defeat at Culloden. It also raises the question as to why these important locations were omitted from the ‘Jacobite Trail’ which accompanies the exhibition. Visitors are left with their stereotypes of these places as remote, at the edge of the world, rather than, as they had been for centuries, an important link between the Highlands of Scotland, Ireland and beyond.
The video playing at the Battle of Culloden segment was particularly jarring, the lament of a highland woman over her husband lost in the battle. Choosing to put English words in the mouth of someone who would have been unlikely to have herself chosen that language was the most obvious slight within the exhibition presentation. We would have expected, as the volume of Gaelic verse and story relating to the battle testify, for this to have been in Gaelic. A perfect opportunity, given the availability of sub-titles, to integrate the language in an authentic manner while not detracting from the experience of monolingual English speaking visitors, or the story itself.
On this point also, it would have been greatly beneficial for the Gaelic song which follows the English monologue, to have been given subtitles in order to communicate the meaning to non-Gaelic speakers. As presented, the song is nothing more than a pleasant background flavour as visitors move on through the exhibit. ‘Mo Rùn Geal Òg’ is a fantastically expressive song, frequently heard to this day, which eloquently reflects the feelings of the widow lamenting the loss of her husband at Culloden. For us this was perhaps the most powerful piece in the exhibition and makes reference to the suffering which followed the Prince’s campaign, the significance of the words strengthened by the haunting tune. However, English speakers were denied this experience completely, something evident for the way they rose from their seats as soon as the singing started.
As is common practice in Europe, we would expect to see bilingual exhibition texts as standard within our ‘National’ Museums. This notwithstanding, your own commitment, in what is a particularly weak Gaelic Language Plan, notes “We will continue to provide side by side English and Gaelic interpretation based on demand, cost and relevance.” If this is not the case for major exhibitions on the Celts and Jacobites, then are there any subject matters which will qualify for side by side interpretation? A Gaelic translation has been created, and as you note is available online. However without even providing images or context within this document, it is of extremely limited use. We attempted to make use of the download, but were restricted to following the exhibition in the order prescribed by the PDF, or searching through the PDF translation for the correct piece of text. This document furthers the impression that the bare minimum is being done to satisfy the requirements of the Gaelic Language Act.
We would urge NMS to employ a Gaelic Development Officer to ensure that correct consideration is given to the language in the workings of the Museum. We would encourage NMS and Bòrd na Gàidhlig to look at strengthening the provisions within your ‘Gaelic Language Plan 2017-2022 (Draft second iteration)’ and to move towards some level of side-by-side interpretation and bilingual signage within the Museum as standard. As we have highlighted on social media, we are in a situation where greater respect is given to Gaelic by private companies such as Homebase and by American authors and TV production companies (Outlander) than is given by Scotland’s National Museums under the Gaelic Language Act. Gaelic is in a frighteningly weak state in Scotland today, in part as a result of the Jacobite period and subsequent persecutions and clearances. This will not change while the young generation of speakers who took part in our protest on Saturday 24th of June grow up in a Scotland where a basic level of respect and visibility of their language is denied to them by officialdom.
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