MAIM (Gaelic word meaning panic; terror; alarm; an outburst, pronounced like mime)

An gabh neach àrachadh le eilean? Can someone be raised by an island?

This line from MAIM is inspired by a Gaelic song composed in the late nineteenth century by a man from the island of Muile / Mull who was known within his community as Dòmhnall Eachainn and, within an English-speaking milieu, as Donald MacGillivray. The song, whose title is ‘Gur fad ’am thàmh mi gu tostach sàmhach’ (‘Long have I remained silent’), begins:

“Gur fad ’am thàmh mi gu tostach sàmhach

Mun eilean àghmhor a dh’àraich òg mi”

(‘Long have I remained silent

About the blissful island that raised me’)

The idea of the island raising the man is a profound one, particularly within the context of Gleann Forsa / Glen Forsa, the part of central Muile about which Dòmhnall specifically composed his song in 1896. Dòmhnall felt the need to break his silence about the effect of the Clearances on a glen once home to hundreds of Gaelic-speakers and now populated only by their ruined settlements. It had been sixty-two years since Clann Phàil, the MacPhails of Gleann Forsa, had been able to call the glen home, as Dòmhnall tells us in one of his verses.

If you haven’t heard of Gleann Forsa or Clann Phàil, I’m not surprised. They have been all but eradicated from memory by cultural genocide. Gleann Forsa symbolises the systematic persecution of the Gaelic language, those who spoke it and their culture, locally. I was brought up in An Sàilean / Salen, a village around a mile west of the mouth of Abhainn Forsa / River Forsa at the foot of the glen. I didn’t hear Gleann Forsa’s story in school but, gradually, growing up singing local Gaelic songs with the encouragement of my mother, hearing my father talking about gathering cattle in the glen as a young man and, later, through my research of its place-names at the University of Glasgow, I’ve got to know this story. I’ve sung about the MacPhails of the curly hair; I’ve heard about cattle grazing in Bradhadal; I’ve learnt about the settlements of Corrachaidh, Gaoideil, Ròthaill and Teamhair and what their names mean. I’ve found out about the Clearance of these settlements when the glen was possessed by Lachlan Macquarie, later the celebrated governor of New South Wales in Australia.

Local songs and local place-names tell us about the symbiotic relationship the Gaelic-speakers of Gleann Forsa held with their land. They tell us about agricultural practices passed down through the generations. Where crops were once grown and animals once reared, there are now large plantations of non-indigenous Sitka spruce and bracken. In some places, like Corrachaidh, the spruce has been planted on top of ruined settlements: symbolic. Bracken is at its pervasive and pernicious worst on the most fertile ground.

I’m not sure how many people in Muile know about the dark history of Gleann Forsa but what I do know is that very few local people now speak the language the people of these settlements spoke natively. Their songs are rarely heard. The names of their places are foreign. MAIM is in some ways an homage to the people of Gleann Forsa and similar glens across Scotland but MAIM is not defeatist. It is a call to action to make sure that children across Scotland have every opportunity to learn about the depth and wealth of Gaelic culture in the place they call home. It is a call to place more emphasis on ionad-eòlas: local studies. Teaching of the Gaelic language cannot exist in isolation from its songs, stories and place-names. The Gaelic language cannot survive without the connection to previous generations of speakers. Within and outwith the classroom, we must grasp the opportunity to foster connections between Gaelic-speakers and their local environment. Where possible, this must include the strengthening of ties between generations of Gaelic-speakers. In areas where this is no longer possible, we must make the most of recordings of local, native Gaelic-speakers and present them and their content in innovative ways and by using the latest technology. The Gaelic place-names that exist in almost every part of this country, in particular, provide us with a unique opportunity to achieve something of global relevance: to reconnect local people with their environment and re-establish something of the respect the people of Gleann Forsa had for their land. We can learn much from them and their stories. Our survival no longer depends on living off the produce of local land, as it once did, but, intellectually, we have an opportunity to feed off the land and the stories it holds. This should go hand in hand with learning to live more sustainably by returning to local produce.

As a Lord Kelvin/Adam Smith Research Fellow in Celtic Onomastics at the University of Glasgow, I have a responsibility to exchange knowledge and engage with local people about the place-names of Muile and Ulbha / Ulva. I will be doing my utmost to bring the story of Gleann Forsa and other areas like it to as wide and as diverse an audience as I can. These are stories which I believe have profound local and global significance and relevance. MAIM is one opportunity I have to work towards achieving that objective and I’m thrilled to have it.

Can someone be raised by an island?

I think so. My island continues to nourish me with its songs, stories, names and perspectives therein.



An Dr. Alasdair C. MacIlleBhàin / Dr. Alasdair C. Whyte is the Scottish Government’s Tosgaire na Gàidhlig 2019-2020 / Gaelic Ambassador of the Year 2019-2020, a member of the Gaelic-language band WHɎTE and a writer and cast member of MAIM.

Tickets are available here:

Tour Dates:

Cinn-latha Cuairt / Tour Dates
Am Màirt / March 2020 
6 – 7th March – previews, Tron Theatre, Glasgow
10th March – press night, Tron Theatre Glasgow

11 – 14th March + Saturday matinee, Tron Theatre, Glasgow


Then touring to Edinburgh, Inverness, Aberdeen, Skye, Lewis, Uist, Barra, Oban and Mull. 

17- 18th March – Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
19th March – Eden Court, Inverness 
20th March – Lemon Tree, Aberdeen 
21st March – SEALL, Sleat, Isle of Skye
24th March – An Lanntair, Stornoway 
25th March – Uist
26th March – Barra
27th March – The Rockfield Centre, Oban
28th March – Mull Theatre, Tobermory 


Comments (6)

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  1. Robin Turner says:

    I am English and am not aware of any connection with Scotland. However I do connect with the concept of having been deprived of any earlier language than the English I speak. There are probably many more languages that my ancestors spoke.

    This process of loss is carrying on in Derby where I have lived since the age of 16 years. I know a number of Punjabi speakers who also live in Derby and when I ask them will their children be able to speak Punjabi they are doubtful if that will be the case.

    Probably it is more important that all ethnic groups are treated well by the society we live in and by the government.

    1. John says:

      Interesting perspective. Scottish people in Scotland should be considered like migrants from former colonies of the uk whose families now reside in the uk ?
      It does seem to be the preferred view of the those with most influence over the UK.
      I agree that all minorities should be considered by our rulers , but there seems little chance of that given England’s current plans for the uk.

  2. babs nicgriogair says:

    Taing airson seo Alasdair – pìos prìseil agus fiosrachail bho d’eachdraidh muileach fhèin. Tha mi de’n bheachd cuideachd gun do dh’àraich eilean mise – Leòdhas ‘nam chasaid fhéin. / Looking forward to seeing MAIM. Alasdair, and thanks for contextualising it in such a moving way. Islands do raise us islanders! Donald MacAulay’s Comharra Stiùiridh is always my go-to, and may accidentally fit into the climate emergency theme of MAIM : “chaidh esan ( an t-eilean) fodha o chionn fhada , a chuid mhòr dheth fo dheireas is ainneart; ‘s na chaidh fodha A
    annam fhìn dheth, na ghrianan ‘s cnoc eighre, tha e a’seòladh na mara anns bi mi, ‘na phrìomh chomharr stiùiridh , cunnartach , do -sheachaint , gun fhaochadh./ The part that submerged in me of it ( the island) sun bower and iceberg, sails the ocean I travel, a primary landmark, dangerous, essential, demanding. Sin agad e.

    1. Iain MacKinnon says:


  3. Iain MacKinnon says:

    Tha an dealbh-cluich seo a coimhead fior mhath; gur math a theid leibh.

    Some of the ideas bubbling up here also made me think of Angus Peter Campbell’s very under-rated book ‘Invisible Islands’. The island can uphold us because in our raising it was running all through us, even as we ran through it.

    Lachlan Macquarie called his estate on Mull ‘Jarvisfield’, after his first wife who died shortly after were they married. She was the heiress of a wealthy Caribbean plantation owner and left Macquarie a lot of money; so it’s likely he bought his land on Mull using, at least in part, money that had come from slavery exploitation. All these genocidal tendrils of British imperialism – another dimension in the desolation of the glen and of the Gaels today.

  4. Donald MacDonald says:

    I’m not really sure the ‘NOUVEAU GAELS’ get any of this. They all just want jobs – management jobs- and they got them. Like for example on Bord na Gaidhlig. They went to evening classes and are now managing public money and Highlanders. (For those who holiday in the Highlands sorry to burst your bubble but Capitalism is everywhere!) This is merely a manifestation of money. In a recent conversation with family we said ‘Hate Brexit but cannot wait until they cut the Gaelic money” because all that has happened is that it has gone to middle class Lowland graduates who lecture Highlanders on their own culture. They will disappear when the money has gone and none of us will be sorry.

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