Gaelic and the Hebrides are Valuable – Let’s Strengthen Them

Charles (Teàrlach) Wilson argues that the Hebrides are not a remote archipelago with nice views and old-fashioned ways of life: they are a crucial and important part of Scottish society, identity, history. If we reconceive the problems of Gaelic as not a crisis of language but a crisis of how we see rural and Highland Scotland we can re-frame the whole issue.

Over the past 24 hours, we’ve seen media outlets across Scotland, UK, and the world publish details about the death of Gaelic within 10 years. I think it’s time to change the tone of the conversation. Here, I express my views on the negativity, the potential of positive, and what I think we need to do to save Gaelic.

I know that, in these dark times, it’s not just easy to catastrophise – it seems natural to. With COVID-19 and Brexit, Black Lives Matter and #MeToo, Trump and Bolsonaro, climate change and the threat to animals, plants, and humans alike, it is all too easy to be attracted to the dark negativity in our news sources. Apart from the fact that it can’t be good for our mental health, I don’t think it’s helpful in finding solutions, either. So, when I saw the headlines that said ‘Gaelic to die within 10 years’, my first thought was not, “Oh no! We must save it!”. It was, “How does this inspire our confidence in anyone?!!”

The media – on both sides of the political spectrum – were all too eager to pounce on the overall message in the recently released book, which suggests that Gaelic will no longer be a community language in the Hebrides in about 10 years’ time, if nothing is done to help it. Unfortunately, the message was lost in translation, with cries that the language will die, as the media either inadvertently or deliberately misrepresented the research findings. At best, this is due to the reporters’ own misunderstandings – at worst, it’s a form of story manipulation to make the research more sensationalist and doomsaying. Given that the Guardian reporter said that Gaelic was spoken in Wales, I will be charitable, and suggest that it’s the former: incompetent journalism. The message in the media seems to be that Gaelic will die, when many of us hope to live on for more than another 10 years(!), and when 48% of Gaelic speakers live in the Lowlands (National Census 2011). The conversation, then, is really about the Hebrides.

This negativity is concerning for two reasons.

(1) It feeds the Gaelic-hating trolls, who already think that bilingual signs are costing millions and depriving NHS hospitals of beds (even though bilingual signs are not made of gold and diamonds, and hospitals don’t have beds because of public underfunding).

(2) How is it supposed to galvanise Gaelic-speakers? Imagine being told over and over again that your language is dying. Gosh, why would you even try? I think the linguist, David Crystal, in his fascinating book (hypocritically or ironically titled ‘Language Death’ [2006: 86]):

“It is difficult to instill enthusiasm for preservation among community members if they are continually being told that their language is ‘dying’ or even already ‘dead’”

In fact, the reports coming out over the past 24 hours are nothing new for Gaelic-speakers. I have been a speaker of Gaelic for the past 5 years or so, and I have heard it so often – imagine how often a Gaelic-speaker of 60 or 70 has heard it. Yes, yes, we’re aware that Gaelic is dying. Next! It’s old news for us.

I have no doubt that the book on which the media are reporting is full of interesting statistics, reported experiences, ideas, and solutions. So, my beef is really with the media, and the tone of the articles. We should be more enthusiastic about the value of the language and what can be done, if we act now. And, as Crystal says, community members must be engaged – even leading those conversations and initiatives. Some of the good ideas for initiatives are coming out from the campaign group, Misneachd.

Misneachd and others, including the many islanders I interviewed as part of my PhD fieldwork, point to a more important revitalisation campaign that will provide certainty for Gaelic: the economics and community vitality of the Hebrides. Once a seafaring community, islanders were connected to each other and Scotland by the sea. In our land-based society, the sea has transformed from connector to barrier, and successive governments have done little to help the Hebrides keep up with modern developments. (Does the Islands Plan go far enough?) I’d go so far as to say that successive governments have done little to support rural communities in general, on whom so many of us urbanites depend for food and energy. This means that the Hebrides are not viewed as a dynamic and important community for Scotland’s identity and well-being. In the near-empty corner of every map lies the “remote” islands: more of a pretty jewel than a land- and seascape of potential.

The result of this is the depressingly-apparent-during-COVID-19-lockdown reliance on tourism. All the AirBnBs (also an issue in urban areas), campervans, and second homes point to a fundamental concern of preserving the Gaelic heartland: preserving the Hebrides. Gaelic cannot survive in an AirBnB and campervan wasteland. We want rural communities to thrive. I’ve always viewed diversity as a strength in every context, and this is certainly true of community economics! Diverse industries, different ages, access to resources, services, education… And Gaelic has so much to offer in terms of cultural and agricultural knowledge, and I’m sure a lot more than I am missing out. ‘Death’ dismisses and overshadows the benefits Gaelic can bring: how to irrigate fields, where to get the good langoustine, how to bring people together, what to do in a storm, where are there good, clean energy sources. In sum: sustainability. Sustainability is the key to all these discussions. Environmental sustainability, energy sustainability, community sustainability… language sustainability. If we think of Gaelic-speaking islanders as a marginalised minority, who are custodians of the Hebrides, we can think of their contribution and importance to Scotland and the world in terms of postcolonial concerns over biodiversity and how we treat the planet:


I would, personally, love to move to the islands. But the cost of housing, the dependency on a car, the huge costs and travel times to get back and fore to Edinburgh, and the fear over job security makes me very hesitant. Then, I speak to my Gaelic granny who grew up in her village in Lewis surrounded by an almost entirely Gaelic-speaking community, full of different generations with diverse roles, and vibrant cultural activities, including a dance hall. And she tells me about how hardly anyone now speaks Gaelic, and how so many of the houses in the village are empty for much of the year (second homes or AirBnB). And don’t get me started on land ownership in the Hebrides! It’s also depressing looking at funding application forms, which are like the bureaucratic versions of James Joyce’s most inaccessible writing. How are islanders supposed to get anything done when funding, policy, and bureaucracy in a foreign language (English) are a talent you learn in middle-class schools and families? There is something uncomfortably patriarchal about funding applications and their inaccessibility to the people who need funding (which goes for many people in such circumstances).

So, this is what I’m trying to persuade you and the reporters for future reference: We need to change the tone of the conversation. We need to celebrate Gaelic and we need to be talking about diversifying the economy and strengthening the community in the Hebrides. We need to excite everyone about Gaelic and the Hebrides, not depress them or pit islanders against other communities for scraps of funding. The Hebrides are not a remote archipelago with nice views and old-fashioned ways of life: they are a crucial and important part of Scottish society, identity, history, and food and energy sources. They are a potential leader in environmental and rural community sustainability, a potential leader in the combat against capitalism and climate change. It’s time to invest in the Hebrides for their survival and for ours.



Comments (43)

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  1. John Macleod says:

    My commitment to the gaelic language is extensive .My forebear Norman was a key player in the writing of one of the first gaelic dictionaries, was regarded as being instrumental in giving the language dignity during the Victorian era and I see it as having a role as we re-imagine our global cultural objectives in the light of concerns about global warming.
    But enough of the re-writing of old conclusions and observations. What we need as we enter this era of economic blight is a hard nosed business plan that will provide the communities that are the noosts of the survival of the language with rock solid incomes based on servicing market needs and not the fragility of the assumption that the soon to be economically hard pressed central belt will continue to pour millions into the places on the edge. There are four ways that this can be achieved. Firstly the development of coastal granite quarries based on the highly successful Glensanda model that has helped bring financial sustainability into its area and whose visual impact and marine pollution has proved to be negligible, secondly the development of the Hebrides as an internet led educational resource for the world thirdly and in co-ordination with the latter the development of high end eco-tourism, and finally the development of the windfarm industry in the outer hebrides in co-ordination with new initiatives in energy storing hydrogen. All will require huge sacrifices and high energy initiatives from the local people on the ground. I have little faith in the development of heavily subsidised agriculture initiatives in the light of the forthcoming economic downturn and our withdrawal from Europe.

    1. John Macleod says:

      Let me quickly assure you that the John Macleod comment above is in fact, through a technical gliche, by Maxwell Macleod.
      Whilst the hugely talented John and I both have the same initials and are the sons of the leading clerics of our respective churches our shared positions on almost everything could probably be written on the back of a stamp. I wish him well.

  2. Sharon Gunason Pottinger says:

    There are some great efforts being made to make learning Gaelic (Scottish, which differs from Irish Gaelic) accessible. DuoLingo (online and free) is brilliant. I’ve spent 183 days (the computer tells me so…) learning. I can speak baby sentences and can understand some of what I hear around me. There is also Glossika –another online learning program also free. I saw on BBC Alba last night about the publication of the state of Gaelic. I could not understand it all but certainly the tone was very different from what has apparently appeared on other media. Teenagers who had studied it in school and considered themselves fluent tended not to speak it, and there seemed to be a lack of materials for family learning. Another great resource for insights into the language and the landscape (and a relatively easy way into Gaelic) is James Miller’s book, Reading the Gaelic Landscape.
    Now the most important element to my mind re the islands (and where I live as well in the far north of Scotland) is people. More of them. The islands have much of what people admire in a good way of life. Many of the important elements of permaculture–a sustainable, equitable way of life–are already embedded there. One idea is to offer courses taught in Gaelic on various subjects in situ–renovate a cottage or two and host courses taught by ‘experts’ and local people about language, art, knitting, chicken rearing, kaliyards, crofting law, the differences between feudal and udal law, history of the Islands (they used to be Norse speakers…).

  3. Diarmid Weir says:

    Absolutely. The community, co-operative spirit, and history of standing up to wealthy landowners in the Hebrides needs to be an inspiration to us.

  4. Jacob Bonnari says:

    First a confession I’m no fan of Gaelic. It has no place in my family’s history nor my sense of Scottish identity. My contact with it (and Welsh) has always been exclusionary and that made me hostile towards it. However as I’ve learned how English supplanted Gaelic in Scotland and Ireland my hostikity has waned and I now have a curiosity for understanding the Gaelic origins of place names.

    With that out of the way:

    Turning the Hebrides and Gaelic into a thriving language is going to require everyday situations where the language is preferred over English, and gives the speakers everyday reasons to use it. That means challenging current structures in the media, publishing, education and economics. Supporting it through niche and often very middle class arts and culture projects is not the way. It means having Calmac’s and Loganair’s web pages, tickets and signage default to Gaelic over English. It means having policies which give preference to businesses which operate in Gaelic, even in such enterprises as the steel fabricator at Arnish Point.

    But it can’t be exclusionary.

    That means that in the wider Scotland there has to be a mass education programme for children and adults on where Gaelic fits in to 21st century Scotland. The most obvious place is in the landscape. There should be booklets for children and adults explaining the origin and pronunciation of place names at our own local council level and new streets should have Gaelic as a preference. The anglicised place names have to gradually go and we should revert to the original Gaelic and Norse ones. After all, we’ve managed to adapt easily to saying Beijing rather than Peking and Kolkatta rather than Calcutta.

    This would be an immense challenge politically and it needs to take the public with it.

    In order to grow the language and Hebrides you need to give the people a reason to use it in preference over English.

    1. Hi Jacob, its interesting that you say “you’re no fan of gaelic” but don’t really explain why that is other than its been “exclusionary”. It’s worth noting that your hostility isn’t shared in the general population. In fact all the recent polling shows significant support for gaelic language and culture right across Scotland. So while it may well be a good idea to have a mass education programmme about gaelic its not required to overcome the sort of views that you hold in others.

      I’m not sure about your characterisation of arts and culture being inherently middle class either.

      1. Jacob Bonnari says:


        Thanks for the reply.

        I’m a bit puzzled as to why you pick up on the minor point of my own position on Gaelic rather than the other points that I made about what I believe is necessary to halt the decline the language and the communities in which it is spoken. I was only trying to convey my own context before providing a response to Teàrlach’s article.

        To answer your comments directly:
        I’m no fan because it’s not relevant to me, my family history or my Scottish identity. As for exclusionary then that derives from visits 20y ago to the W.Isles and Wales where English conversations changed to Gaelic or Welsh upon my entry to the shop or pub identified me as “not local”. While people can speak in whichever language they wish, it’s still a bit rude. Those experiences contrast to Norway and the Netherlands where groups would generally answer you in English when you try (badly) to order in the local language. That was 20y ago and now I’m indifferent. I can understand that it’s important to others, especially in the context of their Hebridean communities.

        On the arts part, then the reports around the natural cultural strategy 2y ago and also Darren McGarvey’s observations would suggest the arts in Scotland is middle class. The Gaelic element is no different. What is needed is something which is in Gaelic but yet is accessible and relevant to a wider audience – a decent comedy or action movie being made each year. Something like the Bill Forsyth movies for the comedy or Black 47 for the action.

        To get back to the main point of Teàrlach’s article:
        Sharon, Diarmid, John and Dennis have all made good points their responses. I think that we’re mostly in agreement that in order to thrive there needs to be a coming reason to use Gaelic over English in day to day communication and transactions.

        1. Jacob Bonnari says:

          Whoops. “Coming reason” should be “compelling reason”.

        2. Hi Jacob
          I picked on your own attitude to gaelic because I suspected it would reflect exactly the position you then go on to describe in this comment, namely that you would got to an area where you think people speaking their own language is ‘rude’. This conveys a sense of language privilege you seem completely unaware of.

          “Those experiences contrast to Norway and the Netherlands where groups would generally answer you in English” – such good obedient people.

          When you say “I’m no fan because it’s not relevant to me, my family history or my Scottish identity” – the thing is that it’s a part of our collective national identity and history. Not the whole part, by any means, but a significant part, so your individual get-out doesn’t really hold water.

          The statement “the arts in Scotland is middle class” is just so sweeping and profoundly stupid – you need to think again.

          Is there a problem in rooting gaelic cultural and language revival in the arts? Yes. Is there a problem that this process can be seen as a distraction from social issues and drivers and ignore working class rural highland cultural? Yes. But the idea that all art or cultural work is essentially, inevitably “middle class” is lazy.

          I look forward to the Gaelic action move you recommend, maybe ‘Monoglot Fights the Rude Natives’ as a working title?

        3. Jane says:

          Why does every tourist think that if we’re speaking Gaelic it’s only because they’ve come in to the room. We were all happily chatting in English until then. It’s nonsense. Get over yourselves, not everything is about you.

  5. Dennis Smith says:

    Charles, I would be interested to hear the reasoning behind your negative views on land ownership. Large parts of the Outer Hebrides are now owned by community land trusts – essentially, owned by the crofters themselves. I was at an inspirational talk last year (partly in Gaelic) given by a young woman (a native speaker) now involved in running a Lewis estate recently taken over by the community. From a language-retention angle, I can see the structural problem here. A project like this must aim to involve the whole community and its communications need to be as accessible as possible. So if even 10% of the community lack fluency in Gaelic there is an obvious incentive to use English rather than Gaelic as the default for communication.

    The failure of transmission from Gaelic-speaking parents to children has been a known issue for a century and a half. Historically the decline of Gaelic was enforced through the education system. Over the past two generations these policies have been reversed, without making much difference to the language’s decline in its traditional heartlands. One problem lies in the history of the 19th-century land movement. The crofters’ resistance to their landlords often expressed itself in religious terms, through forms of Presbyterianism that were politically radical but socially and theologically conservative. As a result, Gaelic came to be seen in many eyes as the language of the Wee Frees. (The sermon is one of the great genres in Gaelic literature.)

    The result is that for many younger people Gaelic became the voice of narrow, old-fashioned and bigoted attitudes. All too often, rejecting those attitudes involved rejecting the language as well. There is no simple answer to this. As an older generation of Gaelic speakers die, these attitudes are likely to die with them and the dynamic of rejection will fade. Whether Gaelic will survive in the isles or anywhere else as a language of everyday use is anyone’s guess.

    1. Teàrlach Wilson says:

      Sorry that I wasn’t clearer there. I just wanted to change the tone of the conversation, rather than get into detail about some of the points I was making. Your comments make me realise how I should have been clearer here, though.

      I am trying to talk about the Hebrides in general: Inner and Outer. We need to embrace the Gaelic communities who also reside in Skye, Tiree, and Islay (just as examples). And there is no denying that huge swathes of Scotland are owned by absentee landlord aristocrats. The Duke of Argyll, the Duke of Buccleuch, and the Baron Margadale, to name a few.

      When my Gaelic granny tells me that she pays rent to a landlord in England, and to see how she says it with such “sin man a tha e” stoicism, grateful for their benevolence rather than horror at the system, I can only get worked up.

      In some, admittedly unclear, way, I was trying to make connections between these absentee landlords and the frustrating property market elsewhere. My parents could afford a house when they were my age, and I don’t know if I will ever be able to buy a house.

      I hope this clarifies. I love community land ownership ideas, and would be excited to learn more from you 🙂

      1. Dennis Smith says:

        Thanks for the clarification. I think and hope that community land ownership offers a way forward for established crofting communities, certainly in the Outer Hebrides and maybe elsewhere. Whether it also offers a way forward for community use of Gaelic, we can only wait and see. There are some grounds for hope. The woman speaker I mentioned earlier went to university on the mainland, returned home with an English husband and is now bringing up a Gaelic-speaking family.

        In general I agree about the land ownership problem but I don’t see any easy answers. Community ownership won’t take us far with large sporting estates built for a century or more round deer stalking and grouse shooting. They have few residents apart from gamekeepers and second-home owners and not much infrastructure to build on. They’re also often ecologically impoverished. There may be some hope in greening the economy. Anyway, this takes us a long way from Gaelic.

        1. Teàrlach Wilson says:

          To some extent, that’s my point, though. Gaelic won’t thrive unless we’re looking at how to rejuvenate the ecology, economy, and community more generally. We can’t pour louds of money into a language plan for an area that is just hunting area. And it’s funny you should mention hunting areas – they’re the areas I was thinking of most and with which I have the most beef! The idea of exclusion goes through me. The only thing stopping people from using land should be for environmental or agricultural concerns. In my view anyway.

        2. Teàrlach Wilson says:

          PS. I am glad to hear about your friend! I am sure her kids will grow up to be intelligent and confident people with all the new pushes for bilingualism and Gaelic!

      2. Anna Chaimbeul says:

        There’s a lot that I could say. But I’ll tell you something I’m one of the people in the ‘language group’ of the study. In 1992 in my school 40 pupils sat the Native Gaidhlig Standard Grade in my old school.(ina school where the Catholic Gaelic speakers were despised) particularly by lowland teachers who brought their Lowland sectarianism to the island) In 2020 1 pupil sat National 5 Gaidhlig despite widespread introduction of Gaelic Medium Provision in every primary school on the island. (In the 80s we had zero Gaelic until the 90s despite what the council say) I will also say this- of the media voices speaking on this issue very few are from from the ‘language group’ described in the study. (Hush yer mooth Alasdair Allan) You have to ask – do people from Gaelic speaking communities feel excluded by the perhaps ‘organisational capture’ of the language by new speakers from cities that appear not to share or respect the opinions of people from Gaelic speaking communities? However, I have ordered the study to read before commenting further. I think there is a lot more that I could say but absolutely feel that as a Native Gaelic speaker I am not alone in feeling very excluded from Gaelic ‘developments.’ I accept that middle-class hipsters project their niche agendas. (Wicca, paganism, anti-Christian wokeism, war footing radical language promotion, (why would I just talk about Gaelic when it is just a language I speak) expecting people to perform like actors in a history museum preserved in aspic, helicoptering in a politician because they ‘speak‘ “Gaelic Because if the solution is a bunch of Gaelic learners getting more people to ‘ learn’ the language, take all the jobs and control all the initiatives it is already finished. If I attend any event I think oh God what is this now? I heard a man from my island say: They are waiting for us to all die so they can take it over. We laughed but I find that comment to be very true. The aggressive lobbying by nouveau Gaels is very off putting and a sneaking suspicion abounds that they aren’t just promoting Gaelic but themselves. This is confirmed by every Gaelic institution full ofGaelic learners from the Lowlands. These are actual words spoken by a Gaelic language ‘activist.’.: “You see you’re just not educated enough to understand.” Really? You (Gaelic learners from a city- and not working class Highlanders) are not in the target group in the study and it is about power. It is about who has a voice. It is about who has the purse. I’ve been speaking Gaelic my whole life. Gaelic learners went to few evening classes. But they feel qualified to take on ‘radical initiatives. For real? Gloicean. .’Now I’m sitting in a corner being spoken over. The lobbing behaviour by Gaelic groups easily turns to aggression. I have personally been on the receiving end of this aggression for being too ‘uppity.’ Because why would a highly educated native speaker have any kind of opinion on anything they should just bow down before our middle class betters …yes? So on islands people see this and they are sickened and see their language being stolen to create an entirely new version. . We are nothing and the wokeratti who did formal courses are everything. Hence the death of GAELIC.

        1. Maglocanus says:

          At this late stage, it’s probably best to accept that Scottish Gaelic belongs to everyone who has an interest in it, and celebrate the diversity of this group of people, whether they be Hebridean crofters (digital or analogue), American punk rockers, German homosexuals, hip wokesters, weegie beat poets, or mad nats. By far the most offputting aspect of saoghal na Gàidhlig is the endless round of grumpy public opinionations we have to put up with every couple of years.

        2. Jane Macleod says:


  6. Stuart says:

    Not sure putting the core national culture into just another minority group would help, itemizing it to shuffle on the cultural shelf would set it back years. Gaelic is what it fundamentally means to be Scottish, no Gaelic no Scotland just a husk of brand labeling rolled out for special occasions and tourists.
    If you can’t identify with that then there as to be a major revaluation of what your about Scotland is not america or the UK, it’s a nation state with a core national culture, the fact that you can’t identify with that show’s more about how colonized we are than anything else. In fact it already is as far as politicians and policy makers are concerned. The acceptance of it as a national issue is there now as well as a large number of people wanting to learn, except for the sever lack of infrastructure to augment the developments like duolingo, or tie it to community that have a vested interest in it’s survival. I think that there are a lot of options available to the future of the culture with this but that’s political.
    Not one that the SNP seems to be facing up to even though there are Gaels prominent in the government now for the first in a very long time, it would be good to get there views on the discussion. an interesting incite into some of the crux of the problem might be to do with certain social political cultural attitudes this might be seem a bit out of kilter with the subject but listen to what he has to say on the social contract, . not a big fan of the show in a lot of respects but it’s good to see whats out there.

  7. James says:

    am aw fir dain mair fir gaelic, but we dae eff all fir scots

    dae mair fir both an theres mair chance o success

  8. Greatgrannieonwheels43 says:

    I have lived in Scotland now for 26 years and I am in my late seventies. Like Sharon Gunason Pottinger, I am learning Scots Gaelic using DuoLingo and am now on my 176th day. I think it is sad that the learning and speaking of Gaelic has been declining both in schools (where it was normal at one time) and in many homes. I like listening to the language and set myself the challenge of learning it, partly to keep my brain active and alert. The learning of this language (and others) in this programme requires the use of memory – this is achieved by much repetition and practice, which must be done on a daily basis. It has been a massive challenge but I have stuck with it and am slowly beginning to recognise words, phrases and some simple sentences, especially when I watch BBC ALBA programmes for both adults and children. Much may be learned from watching programmes such as Celtic Connections and The MOD – a language is easier to learn when sung. Even “Postman Pat” and other children’s programmes in Gaelic are a joy to watch!

    Hopefully, with the introduction of Gaelic language learning programmes such as DuoLingo and Glossika, more people will learn Scots Gaelic. There is a very good supplementary programme which is useful – – I use it quite a bit for the translation of phrases. I hope that, now Gaelic is being introduced in some schools, our children and young people will learn the richness of this language. Recently I asked some of the local neighbourhood children if they learned Gaelic in school – they do not. It is obvious that this is not being re-introduced in all schools in Scotland.

    I would like to see this being taught in ALL the schools in Scotland. Maybe the Scottish Government Education Secretary will consider this in the not too distant future.

  9. Gordon Benton says:

    “… it’s time to invest in the Hebrides”. Of course; but where is the overall plan? Where would this admittedly essential concept fit into the development for the whole Scottish Nation? We will leave the present PM for the U.K. to shoot from the hip (“We will build, build, build”): but we must plan, not for the next 5 year parliamentary term but for the next 25 and 50 years at the very least.
    Minority languages have a disastrous history of, well, history; essentially civilisations are left behind and lost on such as islands and underpopulated areas. Multi-lingual nations I suggest thrive culturally with ‘connectivity’. Archipelagic nations just find that difficult; nation-building is often impossible and eventually leads to divorces. Denmark (1950s), Japan (1980s) and the wee Faroe Island (today with 19 inter-island bridges and tunnels and a further 20 planned) each knew they had to connect up physically and bring together their outlying citizens to enjoy the full benefits of nationhood.
    Many, many Scottish Islanders and Highlanders value their relative isolation and quiet. I understand that. But with this goes, I’m afraid, the fight for the survival of cultures, not to say an increasing lack of doctors, investment, and local languages.
    The Scottish Nation must now decide whether it values itself, whether it feels it must set out a complete framework for the development of its full potential for the health, happiness and wellbeing of every citizen. Gaelic will be in the mix.


  10. Colmcille Ó Cathasaigh says:

    Many points equally applicable to Ireland’s Irish language speaking islands and Gaeltacht areas.

  11. Margherita Muller says:

    Thank you for writing this. Much needed.

  12. Jane MacKinnon says:

    Mo bheannachd ort. Nach e do sheanabhair a’ bhios leomach asad.

    1. Teàrlach Wilson says:

      Ceud taing, Jane! Tha mi a’ smaoineachadh gur e! Dh’ionnsaich mi Gàidhlig bhuaipe agus bidh i an-còmhnaidh ag ràdh rudan leithid “tha do chuid Ghàidhlig nas fheàrr na mo chuid-sa”. Chan eil sin idir idir fìor, ach tha i cho taiceil is moiteil! Tha mi a’ smaoineachadh gu bheil i a’ tuigsinn dè cho cudromach ‘s a tha a’ Ghàidhlig a-nis agus chan e ach Gàidhlig a bhios sinn a’ bruidhinn còmhla ri chèile a-nis! Tapadh leibh a-rithist airson na sgrìobh sibh. Mo bheannachd air ur ceann fhèin agus air ur teaghlach 🙂

  13. Mark Shannon says:

    I’m a fourth generation New Zealander and a descendant of Gaelic speakers. I have been learning the language and am now passing it on to my children. Though I share the sentiments in this article, I do not agree that “capitalism” is the, or even a, problem. I have no solutions to the problem of language decline, but I adore the language, and will continue to learn it and pass it on to my children, alongside my teaching them of the benefits of capitalism. Making the issue political is most certainly not the way to save the language and culture.

  14. Preston Parkes says:

    It is a nice language and it needs to stay in the Hebrides and not disappear and that’s part of there history aswell

  15. Mary Mulligan says:

    Go hán -mhaith. Is é Gaelic ár n-oidhreacht. Níor choir dúinn ligean dó bás a fháil.

    Very good. Gaelic is our heritage. We shouldn’t let it die.

    1. Teàrlach Wilson says:

      Tha mi a’ dol leibh gu tur.

  16. Toby Clark says:

    I would thoroughly recommend reading ‘The Frayed Atlantic Edge’ by David Gange (paperback version coming very soon). It is not specifically about gaelic but unpacks other British and Irish languages. If anyone is interested in finding out a wee bit more about the book and its author, I interviewed David last year for the John Muir Trust

  17. babs nicgriogair says:

    Timely article. Gun teagamh sam bith feumaidh barrachd taic a dhol gu iomairtean gàidhlig anns na h-eileanan.
    The gaelic language in the islands originates in a unique way of life that honours both people and planet i’d say.
    Here’s a link to a couple of short films made by a friend that illustrates this
    le gach dhùrachd dhuibh uile, cùm gàidhlig beò!

    1. Kathleen Richardson says:

      Loved the video. Thank you for sharing.

      1. Teàrlach Wilson says:

        Chòrd am bhideo tha sin rium cuideachd! I enjoyed the view, too! Tapadh leibh, Babs.

  18. William Ross says:


    Thanks for your article. I am the grandson of Gaelic- speaking grandparents on my father`s side. My father who was from Ross-shire was not a fluent Gael but he used lots of Gaelic words in his English speech and he also used Gaelic idiom extensively in English. A knock at the door ” Who is in it?” (Co-tha`ann?)
    I became conscious of the great cultural loss of Gaelic in the Eastern and Northern Highlands and I tried to learn though there was absolutely no encouragement for this during the 1970s. I struggled in my efforts but I was helped by meeting fluent speakers mainly from North Uist in my university days.
    Tha gaol agam air a Ghaidhlig, ach cha neil mi gle fhileanta.

    Congratulations on your career path. Gaelic must be kept alive and must flourish.

    Nonetheless, I find your article a bit bizarre. Let me quote:

    ‘Death’ dismisses and overshadows the benefits Gaelic can bring: how to irrigate fields, where to get the good langoustine, how to bring people together, what to do in a storm, where are there good, clean energy sources. In sum: sustainability. Sustainability is the key to all these discussions. Environmental sustainability, energy sustainability, community sustainability… language sustainability

    Is there a Gaelic way to “irrigate fields” or is there is Gaelic way to find the best lobster territory on the sea bottom? How would the Gaels find “good clean energy sources”? Lets go back 100 years. The Highlands and Islands were not electrified then. Energy came from peat, wood and imported coal and oil ( for transport in the latter case)). Nothing to do with language. Can there be “Gaelic Physics”? Wind and solar power are a pointless and costly waste of money. The truth is that the Highlands and Islands are energy poor and need cheap abundant energy more than any other area.

    You would love to live in the Western Isles but cannot do so because of lack of job prospects and high costs. Is that not interesting? In that sense you are like so many youngsters who leave home for the Central Belt or London. What you are actually saying, is what I said in the 1980s. I loved Ross- shire and could have stayed with poor economic and personal prospects. I succumbed, as many did, to the “Dance called America”, but I would never forget the ” Songs remembered in exile”.


    1. Teàrlach Wilson says:

      Sin sibh, Uilleim.

      Tapadh leibh airson na sgrìobh sibh. It was a tough job balancing “let’s be positive about Gaelic”, “let’s think about the Hebrides”, why we should do those things, and word count. People get tired of long articles, so you have to make a point and move on.

      Yes, Gaelic speakers do have that knowledge about their islands. They understand the islands far better than incomers and their knowledge is held in Gaelic because it was the language they were brought up with and trained in. They know how to look after the land, and where to find food. And, with concerns about climate change, wind and tidal energy from the Hebrides could provide so much electricity that it could even be sold abroad. We might even be able to harness the water supplies. I don’t want us to reach the point that water is scarce, but that’s a possibility.

      If you’re interested, there are documentaries on these sorts of issues on BBC Alba. Also, Google “Muir ar n-athraichean” for a short documentary giving some info on fisher community, knowledge and identity.

  19. Kathleen Richardson says:

    Not only is Gaelic a beautiful language, it is an historically valuable part of your heritage that should never be forgotten. The corrupt media would like nothing better than to see that their negative influence worked. Hang on to your ancestral language!

    1. Teàrlach Wilson says:

      Thank you, Kathleen! I do feel like my heritage was robbed of me and that’s why I returned to an older generation to get it back!

  20. Gordon says:

    why do so many folk not get it that Gaelic signing in inappropriate contexts is just rude; promoting one tongue by disrespecting another, Scots, which has its heartlands too, is surely not the way ahead. perhaps better to look at the failures of a statutory, top down, subsidy led approach, and the poor performance of Bord na Gaidhilg.

  21. Padraig O Gallachoir says:

    A Thearlach a Chara, you use a word , which has regretfully been the victim of much hypocracy and misuse., the word is remote.The good news is that the meaning of words is a political struggle, and that politics is not only for those with power. Political struggle is not a contest of weapons, arms or economic strength, but a contest of wills for the hearts and minds of all people. Words can only be a force for good in the mouths of good people. I was born in Perthshire when Gaidhlig was the vernacular of much of the rural hinterland. I have lived in Donegal ,Ireland most of my life. I have been a Gaelic speaker since infancy.
    According to the government of any givin day ,be it Dublin or Westminister, a place is remote if it far from the seat of power.
    Regarding the language , I can speak only for Ireland. It is a common error by parlimentarians and civil servants, that many Gaels of my aquaintance have been the victim of, to equate fluency in the native language with remoteness.

  22. SleepingDog says:

    One of the questions posed by the BBC documentary series The Art of Persia is: why did Persia alone keep its language (Farsi) when it became part of the Arabic empire?
    Modern Iran looks back through a history of many incursions and upheavals, yet it has maintained a shared culture based around pre-Islamic resources like the text of the Shahnameh by Ferdowsi, written around 1000 CE and collecting many much earlier myths (I gather). And a bunch of poets whose work is apparently still considered relevant and read by ordinary people. So, looking for modern efforts towards keeping these relevant, I find a set of graphic novels, an animated feature movie, and a mobile computer game based around one cycle of stories involving the character Jamshid:
    The first four graphic novels (I have not seen the film or played the game) are available English translation and targeted at the Teen+ age group, and touch on the kind of perennial political issues that keep such stories relevant (building walls, relentless warmaking, hunger, breaking promises, refugees, corruption and so on). Indeed, I gather that a feature of the Persian myth cycle is rulers who start off bright and good and descend into dark and evil ways.

    My take on this is: if you are going to interest the younger generation in your language and culture, you need to make it relevant, available in formats they like, and couched in the language of dissent, not compliance with status quo and obediance to elders. Whether Scotland once harboured such texts as were used by Persians amongst other resources to preserve their culture, I do not know. My impression is that Christianization was significantly more destructive to culture in Scotland than Islam was in Persia, taking these two examples, so the success of Farsi seems more favoured than that of Gaelic. But I do not hold out much hope for Gaelic unless the language is used to argue the momentous issues of the day, across generations and other divides, with at least some store of common stories to provide symbolic resonance.

  23. Dafydd Gwylon says:

    A valuable insight indeed. Some of the observations are also relevant to Cymru /Wales and reporting about the Cymraeg language.
    Both Gaelic and Cymraeg contain plenty of relevant material for modern living just as much as endangered species in nature.
    Yes, a positive attitude towards Gaelic and Cymraeg is important.

    1. Teàrlach Wilson says:

      Diolch yn fawr iawn i ti, Dafydd! Tapadh leat, a Dhàibhidh! I like your species analogy a lot.

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