Gaelic as Social Justice, Part 4: Promoting Gaelic as an Anti-Racist Action

In previous articles in this series, I have argued that the Scottish Gaels – the cultural group to which the Gaelic language belongs – have for centuries constituted a persecuted minority in Scotland and the UK more generally; and that promoting their language, Scottish Gaelic, is a question of social justice. Some people feel uncomfortable with the idea of the Gaels as a minority ethnic group, thinking that because the majority of Gaels are considered to be white, the promotion of their language must be racist rather than anti-racist. This view is incorrect, for two reasons. In the first place, not all Gaels are white. Membership in the community of Gaelic identity has historically depended not on genetics or blood-quantum, but on being raised by Gaels in a Gaelic community. The child of a Gael, if raised with Gaelic traditions, is a Gael – whether born or adopted, and whatever the colour of their skin. In the second place, it should be noted that the historical relationship between Gaels and ‘whiteness’ is far from straightforward. For much of their history, the Gaels – even if phenotypically pale-skinned – were not considered white. In fact, for much of the time that there have been Gaels, the concept of ‘whiteness’ simply did not exist, as I will explain.

It was only in the late seventeenth century – when Gaelic culture had already been exterminated in the Lowlands, and the government of William of Orange had begun its campaigns of state-sponsored terrorism and military occupation in the Highlands – that the construct of ‘whiteness’ begin to take its modern shape. Whiteness was concocted by wealthy English-speaking landowners in English colonies in the New World, largely to prevent uprisings by slaves and working-class freemen in colonial North America. Traditionally, the distinction between slaves and freemen had been a religious one, with Christians as the owners and non-Christians as the owned, but – as more and more slaves underwent religious conversion to Christianity – it seemed necessary to distinguish slave from master on a different basis. At that time, European servants felt tremendous sympathy for the plight of Afro-Caribbean slaves and vice versa, and the threat of uprisings by the collective colonial underclass against their exploitative bosses and masters constantly loomed. By dividing the exploited workers among ‘whites’ and ‘blacks’, and constantly giving the ‘whites’ preferential treatment while insisting that ‘white’ people had more in common with one another than with ‘Black’ people, the colonial elite succeeded in undermining worker solidarity before it could cast down their unjust authority.

Before the invention of whiteness, the idea of ‘race’ had mostly to do with nationality in the sense of linguistic and cultural affiliation. It was possible to speak of the ‘French race’, for instance, or the ‘English race’ – or, for that matter, the ‘Gaelic race’ – in a way that no longer makes sense according to the modern construct of race. Even when the idea of whiteness began to gain traction, not all people who are today considered ‘white’ were initially perceived as such. At first, the right to be ‘white’ was limited to pallid Protestants who spoke English as a first language, with other light-skinned Europeans still thought of as belonging to lesser ‘races’. The Scottish Gaels began to be considered ‘white’ only in the mid-to-late 1700s, when – after the Jacobite defeat at Culloden – they ceased to pose a military threat to the constitutional arrangement of the United Kingdom. Only when the British state had conquered them and begun to culturally assimilate them did their status in the eyes of the elite change from ‘savage’ to ‘white’.

Thus, being the language of the Scottish Gaels does not make Gaelic a language of ‘whiteness’. If anything, the recognition of the Scottish Gaels and their language as indigenous goes a long way toward dismantling the construct of whiteness. When cultural groups who have been labelled ‘white’ refuse to play the role of the white oppressor – that is, refuse to feel solidarity with other ‘whites’, but, instead, embrace the long-suppressed indigeneity of their forbears – they make cracks in the edifice of whiteness that might one day help bring the whole decrepit construct crashing down.

The end of whiteness would be a very good thing, because destroying solidarity among whites would mean they could no longer mobilize to oppress non-white people. For instance, If the so called ‘identitarians’ currently cruising the Mediterranean to murder hapless refugees didn’t think of themselves as ‘white people’ or members of ‘Western culture’, they suddenly wouldn’t feel so eager to defend the ‘European homeland’ from African and Middle-Eastern incomers, because the ‘European homeland’ (read ‘white homeland’) wouldn’t exist for them anymore. In a world where culture mattered more than colour, they would have little more in common with other Europeans than they would with the migrants they currently fear and despise, and would see no reason to seek common cause against them. Similarly, in the United States, racist mayoral cabinets, police departments, and zoning boards could no longer look out for the interests of ‘the white race’ if they ceased to believe that there were such a race. By this, I don’t mean the old neo-liberal trap of ‘colour-blindness’, wherein people pretend to observers that there are no races so that they can pursue policies of white supremacy without seeming overtly racist, but rather to the wholesale destruction of whiteness – the conceptual dividing of white people into distinct cultural groups based on their current or ancestral regional and cultural affiliations until the white race itself has been dismantled.

In the age of whiteness, a Gael is perceived as being basically the same as a Welsh person, who is perceived as being like an English person, for the simple reason that the nations to which they belong are thought of as being majority ‘white’. For the same reason, all three are looked on as being somehow more similar to each other than to a Berber or a Khoi-san (who are ‘Black’), or to a Shawnee or a Cherokee (who are ‘Native American’). Before the construct of whiteness existed, however, each of these people – the Gael, the Welsh person, the English person, the Berber, the Khoi-san, the Shawnee, and the Cherokee – would have been seen as representatives of equally distinct nations, none of which (aside from their situation within or outwith Christendom) had any special relationship to any other. Each of these nations – and any of the thousands of other nations throughout the word – had a particular set of cultural traditions, including language, and it was usually possession of these cultural attributes, rather than appearance or genetics, that defined one’s membership in the nation.

So, in conclusion, I say to those who insist that promoting a British language in Britain is racist that I agree with them – but only if the language in question is English. The English language is, and has been for at least 300 years, a language of whiteness, empire, settler colonialism, and cultural genocide – not only in Britain, but throughout the world. English was the language of Indian Removal and Black slavery in North America; the military conquest, occupation, and resource depletion of much of Africa and Asia; and the murder, rape, and cultural degradation of the indigenous peoples of Australia and Oceania. ‘English-language-only’ was the explicit policy of the soul-destroying compulsory state schools to which indigenous people in every conquered land of the British and American Empires – including the occupied Scottish Highlands – were forced to send their children in order that they be divested of their ancestral cultures. The promotion of Scottish Gaelic in Scotland is therefore not at all comparable to the promotion of English in Scotland. The former is an example of social justice activism, whereas the latter – if undertaken to the exclusion of the promotion of other languages – only furthers imperialism and cultural assimilation. Therefore, while the suggestion that Scottish children should be taught English in school and be encouraged to speak English on the playground ought to meet with grave misgivings and thoughtful caution, the idea that the same children should learn and speak Gaelic should be entirely uncontroversial – especially if the children in question are, in fact, Gaels. To deny the Gaels the right to use and propagate their own language in the country in which they live and in which that language originated – a country which was, historically speaking, wrested from them through coercion, and which was largely built on lands stolen from them by the state – is to actively will their destruction as a people, and to callously and unconscionably deny them the justice they are due. Conversely, to stand up for Gaelic and Gaelic speakers in Scotland is to strike a blow against global English-language hegemony and white supremacy – not only for the Gaels, but on behalf of minoritized communities throughout the world.


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  1. Foghorn Leghorn says:

    Now you’re talking! Anyone who would resist a hegemony must dwell in the margins.

    I particularly applaud your deracialisation of ‘whiteness’.

    But who’s unjustly denying ‘the Gaels the right to use and propagate their own language in the country in which they live’?

  2. Calum H says:

    In a previous article you stated that Gaelic was eliminated from the Lowlands by the 1300’s, in this article you ambiguously claim is was eliminated ‘by the late 17th centuy’. In fact both of these assertions, despite potentially being wildly different, are still wrong.

    In the late 17th Century, Gaelic had not even been eliminated south of the Forth Clyde line. It was still spoken – and would continue to be spoken within a few miles of the border – for another century at least! The same goes for Lowland areas of the North East.

    You seen to ignore the facts because they refute your desperately polarised portrayal of Scotland, and spoil the special, exclusive status you are seeking for those Scots who still speak Gaelic.

    The racism in your articles comes not from promoting a “white” language or culture, but would – if it were not so absurd – come from your attempts to “other” the rest of the Scottish nation and deny them participation in their own cultural legacy by claiming they are an excluded and utterly different “people” to the Scots of the modern Gàidhealtachd. The racism comes from the fact that these ideas you espouse have their roots in the theories of racist Germanicists of the 18th and 19th centuries, who concluded that the Scots simply must be Teutonic – the master race – because they were far too capable and successful (the Scottish ‘genius’) and they could speak English. The Highlanders were not accorded the same appalling “honour” and so the highly destructive “two nations” myth was born. I haven’t heard anyone espouse this racist “two nations” myth quite so extremely and vehemently as the author of this series of articles in a long time.

    If that were not bad enough, the stance he advocates would be lethal to Gaelic speaking communities and to the preservation of the Gaelic language if they were taken up and would greatly accelerate their decline.

    It would almost literally be cutting of your nose to spite your face.

    1. Graham says:

      I agree, for some reason the author thinks of Gaels as a distinct and separate ethnic group. Isn’t it more likely that the so called lowlanders and highlanders are the same people speaking different languages because of geography and history?

      I too lament the slaughter and cultural genocide that happened. I too would love to see the rise of the Gaelic language across Scotland, but this article doesn’t help. I’m sorry but the author needs someone with more intellect. The narrative simply isn’t realistic nor relevant. It’s as if it has been dreamed up by someone with very little life experience or knowledge of the real world. For example the conflation of race and skin colour.

      I really want an alternative to the trans hating wings, it’s disappointing that this site is so childish if not downright ludicrous. Are there any others where I can read articles based in fact?

      1. Calum H says:

        Yes, the Lowlanders and the Highlanders are the same people. The Scots – that is to say original groups who make up the Scots prior to modern times – are an amalgam primarily of the Celtic Britons, including the Picts, the Scots (who gave their name and language to Scotland), and the Norse (especially in the far north and the Hebrides). Recent DNA studies have revealed that the Angles, despite extending military and ecclesiastical authority into parts of southern Scotland, did not settle in any appreciable numbers north of the Tyne in Northumberland, an ‘English’ area which has even less Anglian DNA than accepted ‘Celtic’ regions such as Cornwall. The Anglo-Normans came merely as an elite minority and formed some of the ‘great houses’ of Scotland including a number of ‘Highland Clans’.

        So the Highlanders are descended from Scots, Picts, Britons and Norsemen and so are the Lowlanders, although the balance leans more towards the Norse in the north and west of Scotland than it does in the south and east, where it leans more toward the Celtic British in place of the Norse.

        The racist notion of a Teutonic Lowlands and Celtic Highlands – the “two nations” myth of previous centuries – has been thoroughly debunked by modern DNA evidence and less fanciful, politically motivated interpretations of history.

        1. Graham says:

          Divide and conquer.

          1. Calum H says:

            Precisely. And it worked spectacularly.

    2. Michael says:

      Calum H you’ve totally misunderstood the article. The author writes of previous ages understanding of race as more associated with culture, language and religion rather than the modern preoccupation with skin colour. You can see this historically e.g. the othering of Gàidhlig speakers on the east Caithness coast into the 20th century. Don’t think the author was promoting this sort of division just reporting a historical phenomenon

      1. Calum H says:

        The author believes and promotes the idea that the Gaels, today, are a separate “people” a separate “nation” to the Scots. He’s not reporting that, he’s insisting that it’s true.

    3. Stiubhart says:

      Quite agree good points made calum even if a bit late in the day.

  3. Liz Summerfield says:

    I was temping for the Scottish Qualifications Agency during the exams in the early 70s. In some parts of the Western Isles, there were more people with the surname Patel sitting Gaelic Native Speakers than there were Mac-somethings.

  4. SleepingDog says:

    I feel this article again falls short of basic journalistic standards. The unsubstantiated claim that European servants were en masse in a mutually-sympathetic relationship with Afro-Caribbean ‘slaves’ (we might nowadays prefer ‘enslaved persons’) is an ahistoric absurdity which undermines the whole critique of the extreme hierarchy of the British Empire. There were collaborators (perhaps viewed as traitors) in each group. There were privileged positions set above other enslaved people or servants, sometimes for individual advantage, sometimes they used their positions to help others. Silvia Federici wrote that islander proletariats were in competition with the enslaved women who brought plot-crops to market, and sometimes robbed or cheated them (although I have not seen her evidence). The Jamaican Maroons had a very complicated relationship with slavery, sometimes freeing or helping enslaved persons, sometimes returning escapees to slaveholders, sometimes even aspiring to enslave others. British imperial divide and rule tactics were essential for elite classes to keep control over stratified societies.

    And to claim that promoting English in the UK is racist? English is a language enriched by many cultures. It is one of the most international languages (one of six official languages of the United Nations), and perhaps the premier language of science papers. It is also a literary language with many users: I recently watched a BBC documentary presented by historian David Olusoga on the African novel which became a worldwide phenomenon in English:
    and the basis of many computer languages.

    What is the current basis of the fulmination: “to deny the Gaels the right to use and propagate their own language in the country in which they live”? Who is doing this denying, who are the nameless people making these suggestions? What is the relevance of whiteness, which seems rather shoehorned into the piece?

    Historically, in much of these islands, Norman French was the colonial language of court and castle, and Anglo-Saxon English the language of the oppressed (considerable merging happened). Monks wrote about their oppression by Vikings in English (more merging from Scandinavian languages happened). Yet this article would seem to split the world’s languages into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ on a highly selective criteria of dubious historical sense depending on whether it was used by ‘oppressors’ or ‘oppressed’. I much prefer the jolly presentations from Horrible Histories on Words We Got From [X,Y,Z].

    I would have thought it would be quite difficult to write a series of articles promoting Scottish Gaelic that would leave me with nothing new in the plus column. Has the series really been that negative, over-stated and problematic? Quite an achievement.

    1. Foghorn Leghorn says:

      I think Adam’s remarking of ‘whiteness’ as originating in the early modern period (earliest attestation is to the 1670s), as a designation of moral purity rather than of skin colour, ‘white men’ being honourable people of whatever race or ‘nation’, is percipient. The association of moral impurity with people of colour can be attested only to 1852, and only then in American English.

      Thus, the Gaels have not until very recently been considered ‘white men’ or an honourable people in Scotland, at least since the time of their ‘othering’, which began with the anglicisation of the kingdom’s aristocracy from the 11th century onward.

  5. MacNaughton says:

    I’m afraid that the author of these articles is really not at all versed in Scottish history and is writing an account of the highlands which is of his own device. There is no history in his history, he writes in the present to account for the decline of Gaelic with no regard for the facts of the past and the tangled truth of the highlands and islands of Scotland.

    One of the most infamous scenes of highland history is the massacre of Glencoe, a particularly spectacular landscape in the highlands and a byword for the worst treachery. There, the MacDonalds of Glen Coe were massacred in their beds by men of the Campbells, that is to say, the Duke of Argyll, who they had shown hospitality to, making the crime even worse.

    But the MacDonalds weren’t killed because they spoke Gaelic. They were killed because they refused to swear an oath of loyalty to William and Mary, the new king and queen in London after the ‘glorious revolution’ of 1688, and for still harbouring sympathy for the old Stuart dynasty and “the king across the water” then in exile. Such widespread sympathies for the Stuarts (originally Stewarts) would see major rebellions in 1715 and most famously in 1745.

    Most probably, the men who killed the MacDonalds of Glen Coe spoke Gaelic too. In short, the politics of the period are completely absent from these articles. Everything is presented as an attempt by southerners to liquidate the Gaels. But that’s just not how it was. The oppression of the Highlands really starts after 1746 and peaks in the 19th century, so well after the death of William and Mary.

    Bella is doing no one any favours by publishing a string of articles by now which are simply historically and factually wrong…

    1. Foghorn Leghorn says:

      No, MacN. Bella is doing YOU no favours by publishing a string of articles that YOU don’t like.

      1. Calum H says:

        Make that “we” Foghorn. In fact, I think yours was the only positive reaction so far.

        1. Calum H says:

          As an afterthought, the author himself engages in considerable “othering” in that, unlike all the other indigenous group that he compares the Gaels to, he would see the Gaels be the only group to discard and exclude members as they lose their language and culture due to external pressures.

          This would apply to almost the entire population of Scotland, every region of which had native Gaelic speakers at one time. If we divide Scotland simply into Highlands and Lowlands (a ridiculous, arbitrary division, originally designed to serve political purposes) then the Lowlands only finally lost Gaelic within the last 200 years, at which time parts of the Highlands had also already long been English or Scots speaking. This makes a mockery of the term Gàidhealtachd being seen as synonymous with the Highlands, and exposes a racial – would-be racist – myth at its root . But because, with the loss of Gaelic language, the author also proclaims a loss of indigeneity, then former Gaelic communities are discarded, othered, and falsely proclaimed to be among the ranks of the “oppressors” rather than the “oppressed”, thus forever preserving the purity of “the Gaels” – until they are extinguished. For any group which excludes those members who no longer speak it’s language, yet it’s language is in terminal decline, is guaranteed to disappear in short order.

          The author uses whiteness to accomplish this sleight of hand. For if Gaels were “a people” in the same way that those other indigenous groups he compares them to are, rather than simply a linguistic group, and if they were brown or black, then Scotland as a whole would be seen to be considerably dark complexioned, and witholding the Gaelic identity from the Scots in general would be impossible and patently ridiculous. Not least because much of the Gaelic heartlands of today, outside former Dalriada, and long subject to the settlement and rule of a Germanic people, would also be revealed as being considerably paler skinned than many other parts of Scotland which no longer speak Gaelic.

          1. Graham says:

            Calum, this is a brilliant observation. I enjoyed it more than the article.

          2. Calum H says:

            Thanks Graham. I’ve really enjoyed reading the replies in this debate this article prompted too.

      2. MacNaughton says:

        No, some of these articles will actually mislead people and would never have been published by a serious publication…

        If you run a website dedicated to Scottish politics and culture, you can’t just publish something which is historically wrong. That’s unethical.

        The author of these articles compares the clans to the American Indians, and that might works as a comparison at the very end with the Clearances, but Highland Scotland produced a treasure trove of art – poetry and music especially – which the Indians never did as far as I know. Sorley MacLean, the last Scot in contention for the Nobel Prize, described the Gaelic music repertoire as “the single biggest Scottish contribution to world culture bar none”.

        In terms of the clans, clan MacDonald fought on the extreme right flank (or left, I can’t recall) of the Scottish army at every single battle from Bannockburn in 1314 up to Culloden Moor in April 1746. In fact, the failure by the Bonnie Prince to assign clan MacDonald to their rightful place on that flank at Culloden Moor was seen by some as the reason why the Jacobites suffered such a terrible defeat that day – a superstitious reasoning…

        History is always open to interpretation and in is always a bit of a fiction, but there are certain facts which we know about for sure…documentary evidence for example… You can’t just rewrite Scottish history to suit your agenda…

        1. SleepingDog says:

          @MacNaughton, no need to dis Native American cultures. By the way, I notice there appear to be more Navajo wikipedia articles than Scottish Gaelic ones:

          1. MacNaughton says:

            I’m not dissing native American culture.

            I am merely pointing out that Gaelic Scotland was always part of the Christian west, and like all of the Christian West, it had an elite who were literate and used patronage to create highly valued artworks for reasons of prestige.
            The word “bard” comes from Gaelic, each clan chief would have his bard and his piper of course.
            If you read Murdo MacDonald’s History of Scottish Art you will get a flavour of some of the artworks produced there over the centuries.

            Remember, Christianity enters Britain from Ireland to Scotland and then works its way down south!!!

            The Indians of North America were nomads and they had not developed a literate culture, they did not read or write. So, the cultural comparison doesn’t stand up at alll…

          2. SleepingDog says:

            @ MacNaughton, you wrote “Indians of North America were nomads”. Oh dear, that seems to be European invader propaganda, according to chapter 4 (Red Eyes) in Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, by James W Loewen. The indigenous people were typically settlers before being driven from their settlements by European invaders (and some of their settlements still bear original names). The Europeans were the migrants. At time of these first invasions, Scottish Gaelic also existed in a primarily oral-tradition culture, as far as I know. I really don’t see the point of these rather dubious comparisons, and I repeat that it seems like a lost opportunity to cover other languages still spoken within the British Empire, which gets far less coverage than proper democratic scrutiny demands.

            Loewen would like USAmerican schoolchildren to understand how contested and uncertain parts of their histories are, although the archaeological record contains clear evidence of pre-Columbian settlements. Perhaps Wikipedia gives a flavour:
            “Numerous pre-Columbian societies were sedentary, such as the Pueblo peoples, Mandan, Hidatsa and others, and some established large settlements, even cities, such as Cahokia, in what is now Illinois. The Iroquois League of Nations or “People of the Long House” was a politically advanced, democratic society, which is thought by some historians to have influenced the United States Constitution, with the Senate passing a resolution to this effect in 1988. Other historians have contested this interpretation and believe the impact was minimal, or did not exist, pointing to numerous differences between the two systems and the ample precedents for the constitution in European political thought.”

            By repeating the ‘nomad’ myth, you just give more credence to the land claims of European invaders and their descendants (see also Terra nullius), some of whom were Scottish Gaelic-speaking oppressors etc.

          3. MacNaughton says:

            You will forgive me for not being an expert on native American culture. This tendency to see every comparison as a slight on some people or nation is just suffocating, asphyxiating and sterile..

            There were two great civilizations in the Americas when the Europeans arrived: the Incas in what is today Peru and Chile, and the Aztecs in what is Mexico. The capital of the Aztec empire, Tenochtitlan, what is today Mexico City, was a city of canals and waterways comparable to Venice. The conquistadors razed it to the ground.

            But there was no great native american city in North America on record as far as I know.

          4. SleepingDog says:

            @ MacNaughton, by your logic, as there were no great Scottish-Gaelic cities then all Scottish-Gaels were nomads too? You either have a great city or you are all nomads? You criticise the article for historical accuracy yet you are happy to argue from ignorance and inaccuracy and peddle racist myths about unsettled pre-European-colonial North America?

            Where do you think all those North American crops came from? Did nomads grow maize (corn), beans, squash (such as pumpkins), sunflowers, tobacco, plums etc.? No, it was North American indigenous farmers whose settlements were often taken over by invading Europeans on the coast or further inland.

            While you are lumping all these North American ‘nomads’ together and robbing them of their culture, denying them poetry (of course they had poetry) and art, what do you think the British museum is filled with? See examples of visual art:

            James Loewen quotes (LMTTM p100) the Grand Council Fire of American Indians from 1927:
            “What is civilization? Its marks are a noble religion and philosophy, original arts, stirring music, rich story and legend. We had these. Then we were not savages, but a civilised race.”

          5. MacNaughton says:

            Look, can you please tone it down? I’m not an expert on indigenous America, and what I do know is mainly about the Spanish conquest. To accuse of me all the things you do is just hysterical and fanatical behaviour which is completely uncalled for. You’re being aggressive.

            We are talking about Gaelic Scotland. The author of these very poor articles compared the Scottish Gaels to native North Americans for which I see no real basis, except in their expulsion from their ancestral lands which takes place in the 19th century. It was a passing reference I made.

            Gaels would have founded numerous towns over the centuries in both Scotland and Ireland. The natives of the Inca empire or the Aztec empire had acquired enough technology to do the same, for example at Macchu Picchu. As far as I know, there is nothing comparable in North America. Or am I wrong?

            Whatever the case, whatever the technology this people or that might have acquired,or not have acquired, it does not justify the way they were treated by European colonists or settlers…Obviously….

          6. Foghorn Leghorn says:

            Aye, but he didn’t compare the Scottish Gaels to the native North Americans, did he, MacN? He only pointed out that the two peoples were ‘othered’ in the same way.

          7. Calum H says:

            Foghorn, to be fair, the authors comparisons in this series of articles (and in his replies on the comments section) between Gaels and Native Americans went considerably beyond a shared experience of being othered. I can quote if you like, but I’m sure you can see for yourself.

          8. MacNaughton says:

            Exactly Calum H, I wasn’t referring specifically to a comparison between Gaels and native Americans in this article but over all the articles and the author’s comments on the first article…likewise the massacre of Glencoe is mentioned in the third article as an example of ongoing cultural genocide, but not in this one here….

          9. Foghorn Leghorn says:

            And to be fair I’m only pointing out what he doesn’t say in the article on which we’re commenting here. If he made in earlier articles such comparisons as MacN claims he makes here, then hell mend him for that. Here, Adam only likens them with regard to their othering, and not – as MacN mistakingly/misleadingly claims – with regard to their respective cultural productions.

          10. Calum H says:

            Foghorn, this is “Part 4” – the fourth part of one thing. Of course people are going to reply to the series of articles as the whole that they truly are. It seems like you’re more interested in picking a fight with McNaughton than addressing the issues raised.

          11. Foghorn Leghorn says:

            I certainly am. I’m taking issue with MacN’s claim that Adam ‘compares the clans to the American Indians’.

            No, he doesn’t; at least, not in the sense that MacN implies. What Adam’s comparing isn’t the relative productions or ‘achievements’ of different peoples, but the moral status of so-called ‘First Peoples’ before and after the invention of ‘whiteness’ in the 17th century.

            Sure, he gets some of his facts wrong. In relation to the Glencoe Massacre, for example, he mistakenly refers to ‘the UK’, which of course didn’t exist at the time. And such mistakes are inexcusable.

            But isn’t his primary point in essence correct? Wasn’t Argyll acting as an agent, if not of the UK, then of the revolutionary and increasingly anglicising Scottish state in its ‘othering’ the counter-revolutionary MacDonalds of Glencoe, particularly in response to the latters’ involvement in the suppression of the Conventicles in 1678-80 and in the bloody and brutal Atholl Raid that followed Argyll’s rising in 1685, an ‘othering’ that culminated in the final revolutionary victory over the Jacobites in 1746 and the repression of that ‘form of life’ – Gaelic culture – from which the counter-revolutionaries drew their greatest military support?

          12. Calum H says:

            So, ‘he does and he doesn’t’ compare Gaels with Native Americans? I don’t think MacNaughton is claiming that the author is comparing the ‘achievements’ of Gaels and Native Americans. He is, as I understand it, pointing out that the comparisons already made by the author are spurious and is then expanding upon the many other differences, which include material culture and early and close interconnection with the Christian European tradition.

            Basically the author really has no business comparing the Gaels to the Native Americans based on any criteria. All are unfounded. This practice began with the whole “Noble Savage” nonsense of previous centuries which was steeped in racial myths. It has a very poor provenance and arose out of the same racism he is claiming to oppose.

            No, Argyll was not acting as some agent of othering of the Gaels. Gaels othering other Gaels as agents of some foreboding Scottish State because they hated Gaels? Really? It’s ridiculous, and takes complex internal dynamics, among Gaels themselves and among Scots in general, based on power, politics and religion and ham-fistedly
            and self-servingly tries to render it simply as Gael hate.

            The culmination you speak of was likewise no culmination of the ‘othering’ of the Gaels (Catholics perhaps) for the Jacobite rebellions were no exclusive Gaelic or Highland – nor even Catholic – affair. The author describes an “occupied Highlands” following Culloden. In fact Scotland in its entirety – not just the Highlands – was under British military occupation for a decade after Culloden, because the threat was national, not regional.

          13. Foghorn Leghorn says:

            Yes, he did. His rant was about how the Gaels and the Native Americans aren’t comparable because the Native American didn’t produce any great cities, art, or literature; because the Gaels were Christian while the Native Americans were not; etc. & etc. Where did Adam make any such comparisons?

            And where on earth does Adam appeal to the myth of the Noble Savage? He only points out that, like the Native American tribes, the Gaels would have been one ‘nation’ among many had they not been demonised as ‘savages’ or ‘barbarians’ by an ascendent hegemony that distinguished itself as ‘white’ or morally superior.

            And until I’m disabused of the prejudice, I’ll continue to view Argyll as an agent of the Glorious Revolution, whose actions against its enemies contributed to the further ongoing decline of Gaelic culture in Scotland, whatever their motives or intentions.

          14. On this subject see James Hunters wonderful Glencoe and the Indians (Mainstream Press,1996) which traces a family from Glencoe to Missoula in Montana and tells the tale of how the McDonald’s became integrated into the Nez Perce tribe.

            In it he writes:

            “James VI was typical of Lowland Scots in thinking Highlanders ‘utterly barbarous’ – not least in their conspicuous lack of enthusiasm for the Protestant faith which had been firmly established in southern Scotland in the course of the sixteenth century. Because Highlanders lacked ‘religion and humanity’ King James commented they were “void of all fear of God”. Some were “cannibals”. Others were collectively responsible, or so it was alleged by the kings and his ministers, for the “most detestable, damnable and odious murders, fires, ravishing of women, witchcraft and depredations.”
            These sentiments have a great deal in common with the views which a number of King James’s English subjects were just then beginning to express about the native Americans they had encountered in the course of England’s early colonising ventures in places like Virginia and Massachusetts. It is not at all surprising therefore that there are striking similiarities between what was done to Highlanders and what was done to American indians on the orders of Scottish and English politicians who were looking to gain more and more control of both these sets of ‘savages’.”
            p. 52

          15. Calum H says:

            As wonderful as James Hunter’s books are, on this point regarding ‘Lowlanders’ he displays not only ignorance but prejudice. There is such thing as a ‘typical’ Lowlander. This is the language of bigotry. James Hunter has not the slightest clue what ‘Lowlanders thought’ and mind-reading has no room in the writing of history. There is no such thing as ‘Lowland’ thought, beliefs, or opinion regarding ‘Highlanders’ – nor has there ever been – because, surprise, surprise, ‘Lowlanders’ are and were human beings, and have many varied opinions and attitudes. They were not some homogenous faceless lump with one single opinion. There was also nothing typical about James VI as a Scot. The idea a King is “typical” of Lowlanders is absurd in the extreme. He and his class were as alien to most ordinary Lowland Scots as they were to Highland Scots. The only group we have any knowledge of in terms of their opinion of Highlanders are anglicized Scottish elites, not ordinary Scots. As soon as we see any vaguely authentic ordinary Lowland Scottish voice, such as is revealed through the words of the common poets such as Burns and Hogg, we see nothing of the supposed Lowland ‘hatred’ of Highlanders.

            Perhaps it is easier to imagine that all those we have othered as “gall” uniformly despised us in order to justify our own prejudices? Even if those prejudices are originally born out of pain, it is bigotry to hold an entire section of the population to blame for the actions of a privileged minority and assign them all the same negative beliefs. If we do this to another race it is rightly described as racism.

            Here is a reflection of the 16th century Scottish Elites view of the Clans of the Scottish Borders (yes, that is both how they referred to themselves and how the were referred to in official records). Tell me, after reading this curse on them by the Archbishop of Glasgow, what special disdain was reserved for Highlanders rather than Lowlanders.

            “I curse their head and all the hairs of their head; I curse their face, their brain (innermost thoughts), their mouth, their nose, their tongue, their teeth, their forehead, their shoulders, their breast, their heart, their stomach, their back, their womb, their arms, their leggs, their hands, their feet, and every part of their body, from the top of their head to the soles of their feet, before and behind, within and without.”

            “I curse them going and I curse them riding; I curse them standing and I curse them sitting; I curse them eating and I curse them drinking; I curse them rising, and I curse them lying; I curse them at home, I curse them away from home; I curse them within the house, I curse them outside of the house; I curse their wives, their children, and their servants who participate in their deeds. I (bring ill wishes upon) their crops, their cattle, their wool, their sheep, their horses, their swine, their geese, their hens, and all their livestock. I (bring ill wishes upon) their halls, their chambers, their kitchens, their stanchions, their barns, their cowsheds, their barnyards, their cabbage patches, their plows, their harrows, and the goods and houses that are necessary for their sustenance and welfare.”

            “May all the malevolent wishes and curses ever known, since the beginning of the world, to this hour, light on them. May the malediction of God, that fell upon Lucifer and all his fellows, that cast them from the high Heaven to the deep hell, light upon them.”

            “May the fire and the sword that stopped Adam from the gates of Paradise, stop them from the glory of Heaven, until they forebear, and make amends.”

            “May the evil that fell upon cursed Cain, when he slew his brother Abel, needlessly, fall on them for the needless slaughter that they commit daily.”

            “May the malediction that fell upon all the world, man and beast, and all that ever took life, when all were drowned by the flood of Noah, except Noah and his ark, fall upon them and drown them, man and beast, and make this realm free of them, for their wicked sins.”

            “May the thunder and lightning which rained down upon Sodom and Gomorra and all the lands surrounding them, and burned them for their vile sins, rain down upon them and burn them for their open sins. May the evil and confusion that fell on the Gigantis for their opression and pride in building the Tower of Babylon, confound them and all their works, for their open callous disregard and opression.”

            “May all the plagues that fell upon Pharoah and his people of Egypt, their lands, crops and cattle, fall upon them, their equipment, their places, their lands, their crops and livestock.”

            “May the waters of the Tweed and other waters which they use, drown them, as the Red Sea drowned King Pharoah and the people of Egypt, preserving God’s people of Israel.”

            “May the earth open, split and cleave, and swallow them straight to hell, as it swallowed cursed Dathan and Abiron, who disobeyed Moses and the command of God.”

            “May the wild fire that reduced Thore and his followers to two-hundred-fifty in number, and others from 14,000 to 7,000 at anys, usurping against Moses and Aaron, servants of God, suddenly burn and consume them daily, for opposing the commands of God and Holy Church.”

            “May the malediction that suddenly fell upon fair Absolom, riding through the wood against his father, King David, when the branches of a tree knocked him from his horse and hanged him by the hair, fall upon these untrue Scotsmen and hang them the same way, that all the world may see.”

            “May the malediction that fell upon Nebuchadnezzar’s lieutenant, Olifernus, making war and savagery upon true christian men; the malediction that fell upon Judas, Pilate, Herod, and the Jews that crucified Our Lord; and all the plagues and troubles that fell on the city of Jerusalem therefore, and upon Simon Magus for his treachery, bloody Nero, Ditius Magcensius, Olibrius, Julianus Apostita and the rest of the cruel tyrants who slew and murdered Christ’s holy servants, fall upon them for their cruel tyranny and murder of Christian people.”

            “And may all the vengeance that ever was taken since the world began, for open sins, and all the plagues and pestilence that ever fell on man or beast, fall on them for their openly evil ways, senseless slaughter and shedding of innocent blood.”

            “I sever and part them from the church of God, and deliver them immediately to the devil of hell, as the Apostle Paul delivered Corinth. I bar the entrance of all places they come to, for divine service and ministration of the sacraments of holy church, except the sacrament of infant baptism, only; and I forbid all churchmen to hear their confession or to absolve them of their sins, until they are first humbled / subjugated by this curse.”

            “I forbid all christian men or women to have any company with them, eating, drinking, speaking, praying, lying, going, standing, or in any other deed-doing, under the pain of deadly sin.”

            “I discharge all bonds, acts, contracts, oaths, made to them by any persons, out of loyalty, kindness, or personal duty, so long as they sustain this cursing, by which no man will be bound to them, and this will be binding on all men.”

            “I take from them, and cast down all the good deeds that ever they did, or shall do, until they rise from this cursing.”

            “I declare them excluded from all matins, masses, evening prayers, funerals or other prayers, on book or bead (rosary); of all pigrimages and alms deeds done, or to be done in holy church or be christian people, while this curse is in effect.”

            “And, finally, I condemn them perpetually to the deep pit of hell, there to remain with Lucifer and all his fellows, and their bodies to the gallows of Burrow moor, first to be hanged, then ripped and torn by dogs, swine, and other wild beasts, abominable to all the world. And their candle (light of their life) goes from your sight, as may their souls go from the face of God, and their good reputation from the world, until they forebear their open sins, aforesaid, and rise from this terrible cursing and make satisfaction and penance.”

          16. SleepingDog says:

            @Calum H, it seems that Faithbook’s policy was to leave such hate-posts up for five hundred years. Sorry is for heathens and heretics, eh.

        2. Foghorn Leghorn says:

          ‘Misleading’? Does this mean that it leads to conclusions with which you disagree?

          What ‘certain facts’ does it rewrite? Name one!

          You say that the article ‘compares the clans to the American Indians’. No, it doesn’t; at least, not in the sense that you imply. It asserts that ‘before the construct of whiteness existed’, groups like the Gaels, the Berbers, the Koi-san, the Shawnee, etc. would have been considered to be distinct nations, each of which ‘had a particular set of cultural traditions, including language’, the possession of which ‘defined one’s membership in the nation’. What it’s comparing isn’t the relative productions or ‘achievements’ of different peoples, but the moral status of so-called ‘First Peoples’ before and after the invention of ‘whiteness’.

          Let’s be charitable and say that you’re misreading rather than misrepresenting Adam’s article.

          1. MacNaughton says:

            The 17t century in Britain is the century of Revolution and the war of the three kingdoms., a very turbulent time in our history.

            William of Orange (Protestant) king of Britain from 1688, uses Clan Campbell, headed by the Duke of Argyll (also Protestant), who is loyal to the new dynasty, against those Scottish clans – by no means all the others -, like Clan MacDonald, who are loyal to the Stuarts (more Catholic than Protestant and more at home in France than England), the old dynasty of Scotland (and of Britain too from the year 1603 when James VI of Scotland inherits the throne of England from his Aunt Elizabeth “the virgin queen”.)…

            To portray that very complicated and violent time as “cultural genocide” against Gaels is ludicrous, or even as an attempt to reduce Gaelic Scotland.

            It’s a dynastical power struggle… William of Orange’s interest in Scotland is limited to snuffing out any possible Stuart rebellion which would unseat him from the British throne – rebellions which eventually came about in 1715 and 1745. You can’t talk about the history of the 17th century Highlands without going into the politics and make out it’s all about southerners trying to wipe out Gaels… it’s a false representation of our history…

            And that’s my last comment on this thread….

          2. Calum H says:

            “What ‘certain facts’ does it rewrite? Name one!”

            That Gaelic was eliminated in the Lowlands in the 1300’s (or the 1600’s, depending on which in this series of articles you read)

            This is either wrong by 600 years or 200 hundred years – either way it’s wildly wrong, but it served the polarised, “othering” narrative.

          3. Foghorn Leghorn says:

            But William, king of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, Stadholther of the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands, Prince of Orange, Count of Nassau, Defender of the Faith, etc., was never the king of Britain, for the simple reason that Britain didn’t then exist as a single sovereign state. His sister-in-law, Anne Stuart, became the first British head of state in 1707. James VI and I proclaimed himself ‘King of Great Brittaine, France and Ireland’ by Royal Proclamation when he ascended the throne of England, but this attempt to unify England and Scotland by the back door wasn’t accepted by the English Parliament, which wasn’t keen on the idea.

            There are certain facts which we know about for sure…documentary evidence for example… You can’t just rewrite history to suit your agenda…

            …only, you can. History is a retrospective narrative by which we seek to make sense of past events from the traces of them that remain (documentary evidence, for example) in order to justify some future course of action. All history is written to suit an agenda; all history is ideology. Adam, as a self-styled Gaelic Revitalist, wants Gaelic to enjoy a more privileged status than it currently does among the language communities of Scotland; the narrative he writes is intended to promote that agenda, in this instance by portraying its speakers as victims of social injustice.

          4. MacNaughton says:

            The idea that Archibald Campbell, First Marquees of Argyll, a fanatical and ferocious Calvinist and a ruthless and brilliant warlord was actually “othering” Gaelic Scotland throughout his bloody and bellicose life as opposed to raising hell and fire wherever he went, is just hilarious to my ears…

            It’s seriously flawed thinking to project backwards with our concepts into the past. These people believed in God above all, they believed in the Divine will and retribution in the afterlife. God could even read their thoughts, so to even think outside of their own doctrine was a sin… Some Calvinists still say the Pope is the devil today, so god knows what it must have been like four centuries ago…

            All European countries have gone through bloody dynastical power struggles like Scotland, England and Ireland did back in the 17th century. In fact, Scotland and England had already had their own dynastic power struggles in centuries before the 17th unleashed decades of unprecedented mayhem. To mix it up with terms like “cultural genocide” and “othering”, which are terms of our era, makes no sense to me.

            As for the native American theme, it’s been blown out of proportion on this thread. My point was merely that the author – who hasn’t understood even the massacre at Glencoe – is misunderstanding the history of Scotland, and Gaelic Scotland, if he thinks the Gaels were like the Maoris in New Zealand, which he also says somewhere, or native Americans, with the rest of Scotland being like the British colonists who turned up on their shores.

            Gaels were always much more integrated than that, as they are today, and culturally they are indistinguishable from other Scots, unless, that is, they specifically go out of their way to tell us about their Gaelic background or identity. But unless they choose to do that, no one would ever know the difference between a Gael and a Lowland Scot…

            There is a strong case, once you get to the 19th century, which is the century of racial theories, Darwin and British imperialism, to say that the Gaels are treated like colonial subjects, like other conquered peoples and the Highlands, certainly, looks to my eyes like a British colony.

            But that doesn’t mean that culturally they were like those other peoples. In fact, 19th century Gaels had everything in common with the Scots like Patrick Sellar who basically goes up to the Highlands, with a racist theory about the superiority of Lowland Scots in his head and goes down in the black book of History for his evil actions…

        3. Calum H says:

          Don’t worry MacNaughton, I get where you’re coming from. Highlighting difference where an article had claimed close similarity is not a “diss”. Some people are just knee jerk reactionaries.

          Your comment about the the Gaelic world early being part of the “Christian West” is an accurate and pertinent one. It was part of a close knit European tradition, producing art that can only arise in a hierarchical society of literate elites who offer patronage to highly skilled artisans, just as elsewhere in Europe. That is not to say it is “better”, just different and different in ways the articles above gloss over or avoid entirely.

          1. MacNaughton says:

            Thanks to you and William Davidson.

            The history of Gaelic Scotland, of the Highlands in 17th century Scotland, is absolutely fascinating. The huge figures of Scottish history, so important to generations of Scots over the centuries, are all but forgotten today: the rivalry between the Marquees of Montrose and Argyll, Archibald Campbell, or John Graham, “Bonnie Dundee”…also known as “bloody claivers”…. Fascinating,larger than life figures who lived incredibly violent, tumultuous times…

            The clans were very important in the history of Scotland, right up to 1746 and the defeat at Culloden, nothing like the American Indians.

            But by then, their time was over. They were a feudal relic from the past. Capitalism and modernity arrived and the great clan chiefs, were suddenly turned into owners of the clan’s ancestral land, which they sold to third parties, leading to the mass eviction of the clansmen.

            The chiefs did very well out of it, moved to London, invested in the stock market, got drunk, and formed the Highland Society. The clansmen were in some cases forcibly shipped to America, or else abandoned to their fate. Many changed the names when they came down to the lowland cities looking for work. All those MacFhergais surnames became Fergusson, all the Mac a Ghobainns became Smiths….Most Scots will have hieland blood in them…

            The history of the highlands has been suppressed and omitted, but maybe it is slowly coming back. In any case, a sense of grievance such as shown by the author really helps no one…

          2. SleepingDog says:

            @Calum H, you offer no substantiation for your extremely elitist claim about “producing art that can only arise in a hierarchical society of literate elites who offer patronage to highly skilled artisans”, which is bizarre not only because it confuses literacy with the products of artisans, but illogically attributes the art to patronage rather than artists. EH Gombrich, in The Story of Art, has a more critical view of the role of patrons, who wanted their “whims and fancies” satisfied, and were usually a conservative dead weight holding back artistic innovation. And presumably also as selfie-obsessed as modern teenagers are claimed to be. In fact, patronage was and still is one the Filters that smother divergent and critical views in a society’s culture.

            Different theories of cultural innovation look at the cross-fertilisation that comes with ideas passing freely across previous boundaries, or idea commons (as Marx and Engels regarded bourgeois world literature). It is patronage that has given us the Scottish Shortbread Tin Art Style. Gombrich describes a tension between artists and patrons, sometimes the power balance shifted and artists were freed. Or they pursued their own independent path, like Vincent van Gogh, perhaps. Hierarchy is a really odd thing to throw into a discussion about artisan culture. Sure, organisation is often needed for complex artworks requiring different specialists, and sometimes for training and publication. But art has exploded in the democratic digital age of mass access to tools and publishing platforms. Why would Homer need a patron? Why would any wandering bard? And legend has it that the bards retained power in these arrangements: if the lord failed to pay up in full for services rendered, the bard would compose a terrible satire (probably building on the theme of tightfistedness and ratcheting up to character assassination).

          3. Calum H says:

            Hi Sleepingdog. Perhaps you could wait to see if their is justification before condemning it as wrong and elitist.

            Is there confusion between literacy and art when the two are inextricably linked? I was thinking in particular of illuminated manuscripts – artistic writing – such as the Book of Kells and the Lindisfarne Gospels, both of which have direct connections to Iona. I would encourage you to just Google both of those works and look at images of their pages. Every element that I mentioned, was – and had to be – present for their production

            A hierarchical society of literate Christian elites whose patronage allowed for highly skilled artisans to produce works that would not otherwise be possible.

          4. SleepingDog says:

            @Calum H, your assertion is elitist because it claims that only elites can produce certain forms of high art.

            Your assertion that “literacy and art … are inextricably linked” is demonstrably false. Indeed, various artforms precede known literacy by vast timescales (around 40,000 years perhaps for cave painting). And pre-literate human children and illiterate people and cultures can produce many forms of art. In the context of this discussion, you are making a completely fabricated and false distinction between cultures “with art” and “without art”, perhaps pursuing a Christian-supremacist-racist agenda. Which is puzzling because Christianity was a net destroyer and represser of ‘pagan’ art and culture around the world, and even when it by necessity incorporated local or ancient culture, as it did in Scotland, it usually purged various cultural heresies when it was able to.

            One set of the oldest extant cultures in the world is Australian Aboriginal:
            but according to your espoused elitist, racist, Christian-supremacist views, they have no Art.

          5. Calum H says:

            So it’s ‘elitist’ to say that only literate people can read and write? Really?

            That was my claim. And yes, only in a strongly hierarchical society in which elites have aggregated huge amounts of power and wealth can there be the patronage which allows the creation of artworks such as the illuminated manuscripts of the Gaelic church.

            That is why we don’t have a single case of a complex and richly decorated illuminated manuscript produced by some wandering monk.

            You’re not making any sense. You’re taking specific comments completely out of context and treating them as generalizations. It’s knee jerk nonsense. I have to wonder if you’re even really reading what is written or noting the context before you decide everyone is an elitist racist who needs a damn good telling off. You did the same thing with MacNaughton.

            I didn’t say literacy and art were always inextricably linked. We were talking about the Gaels and their art. In this case – the example I gave of illuminated manuscripts – which also happens to be one of the earliest defining manifestations of Gaelic art, they most certainly are inextricably linked. They bring together hierarchical society, powerful literate elites, patronage, highly skilled literate artisans who reach staggering heights of artistry precisely because they’re not itinerant and are generously supported to dedicate their entire time, training and talent for their entire lives to a single goal, and all in a tightly interconnected European Christian tradition and community.

            This could not be more different than the indigenous peoples referred to by the author. These are huge differences. It doesn’t make one culture better than another, or their art better than anothers. It just very, very different.

            That difference is why the Aborigines could never have produced the book of Kells. Not being Christian would be a significant obstacle for a start, don’t you think? The other obstacles I have already referenced. Does that make the Aborigines lesser? Of course not. I’m surprised you might assume it would – I certainly haven’t suggested that.

          6. SleepingDog says:

            @Calum H, I tried politeness, then explanation with evidence, and finally rebuke. The essence of anti-racism activity (as I understand it) is reflecting on one’s own privilege and the biases it brings, educating oneself, and challenging racism when you encounter it. We are commenting on this anti-racism article, and every commenter should expect that such rules will be applied.

            Your blustering is unhelpful, your claims are absurd. Clearly it is an elitist society where only the privileged few can read and write. Perhaps Church Latin inhibited Gaelic script in Scotland. According to Wikipedia, the first translation of the New Testament into Scottish Gaelic was as late as 1767 (the entirety by 1801), and previously the people had to make do with Irish Gaelic translations:
            As far as I know, the Book of Kells was written in Latin. You bang on about integration into Christian Europe, all the time diminishing any argument that Scottish Gaelic is interesting and valuable because of its pagan origins, difference from European languages. And the Church in Scotland must have destroyed so much (associating pagan culture with ‘devil-worship’ and the like) that Scotland does not have the equivalent of the Welsh Mabinogion or the Irish epics (the Táin Bó Cúailnge, for example, is set in pre-Christian times).

            You still do not offer any evidence or working model of how “only in a strongly hierarchical society in which elites have aggregated huge amounts of power and wealth can there be the patronage which allows the creation of artworks such as the illuminated manuscripts of the Gaelic church”. The idea that (modern or ancient) more egalitarian societies with mass literacy cannot produce art that these old ‘strong hierarchies’ could is obnoxious, stupid and plainly wrong. The ancient Greek poetic arts such as theatrical drama (tragedy, comedy and so on) emerged and flourished in the democratic period alongside the most egalitarian (if still limited) polities.

            Also, you don’t seem to know what ‘reactionary’ means. Please educate yourself.

          7. Calum H says:

            Sleepingdog it’s like you’re replying to someone in your imagination and responding to things not said.

            Let’s try this again.

            You said “clearly it is an elitist society where only the privileged few can read and write.” Yes! Now you’re getting it! Gaelic society was elitist, that is to say strongly hierarchical, with a privileged, literate, Christian aristocracy, which is exactly – precisely – what I and others have been saying! These are huge and crucial cultural differences to the other indigenous peoples the author references.

            Your error is that you said I was elitist – simply for accurately describing an elitist or strongly hierarchical society. That, my friend, is absurd. Take it up with the early medieval Gaels, don’t blame me.

            The Gaels wrote in Latin and Gaelic, the Book of Deer, from the Aberdeenshire coast, for instance, contains both Latin and Gaelic. in fact, Gaelic clergy were at the forefront of preserving pagan Gaelic mythology and putting it down on paper. You would know practically nothing of pagan Gaelic society were it not for the labours of Latin writing Gaelic clergy. So your ‘perhaps’ doesn’t really stand scrutiny. And even if it were the case that the early use of Latin somehow inhibited Gaelic (it didn’t), this was the choice of the Gaels. It was not imposed upon them by some oppressor, unless that oppressor was their own hierarchical society.

            Sleepingdog, this is where your reading comprehension lets you down and you end up insulting – sorry, “rebuking” – others when you haven’t even understood what they’ve written.

            I have never, not once, ‘diminished” pagan Gaelic society or even hinted that it wasn’t interesting or valuable. Where do you get that ridiculous notion? The only reason I and others are mentioning Christianity is because the Gaels were Christian extremely early – earlier than the Anglo-Saxons – and so this is a defining feature of Gaelic society for most of its known history and, most importantly for our discussion – remember, context – it’s a major difference between the Gaels and the indigenous peoples the author referenced.

            While it’s represents a massive difference to these peoples, it represents an equally significant point of similarity to other European peoples, with whom the Gaels had extremely close connections.

            What makes you think Scottish Gaelic has “pagan origins”, at least any more so than the language of any other European peoples? As I said, the Gaels were Christian long before the English.

            I agree that the Church destroyed a lot of Gaelic material in much later times. But then I’m not arguing that the Church was “good”, just that the Gaels were Christian. The Táin Bó Cúailnge was written down in Gaelic and carefully preserved in manuscripts by Christian Monks living in monasteries, by the way. Credit where credit is due.

            Illiterate societies cannot produce illuminated manuscripts – because they can’t write. Non Christian societies cannot produce Christian illuminated manuscripts – because they’re not Christian. Non hierarchical societies where wealth is not concentrated among a wealthy elite cannot produce Christian illuminated manuscripts such as the book of Kells or the Lindisfarne Gospels simply because it takes staggering wealth, and enormous levels of patronage to house, feed, protect and train artists to reach, over generations, the levels of mindbnding mastery that is displayed in the impossibly complex interlaced designs of the manuscripts of the Gaels.

            These are not opinions. They are facts. Bang your head against them if you wish.

            None of this is to say that Gaelic society was better in any way than the indigenous peoples the author referenced. Just very, very different.

          8. SleepingDog says:

            @Calum H, your example of the Book of Kells as somehow substantiating a positive influence of the Scottish Christian Church on Scottish Gaelic-speaking culture is so abysmal as to utterly defy critique. Was this book on public display in Scotland, did primary-school boys and girls look at it with awe and aspire to be illustrators and wonky scribes when they grew up? Or was the book largely invisible and unreadable to the general (public) culture? For the most part in Ireland? Wow! Book of Kells then a thousand years of cultural stagnation (or worse)! But your elite society excluded so many people no wonder there was no-one to build on it.

            How likely is it that future Scots will pick the Great Tapestry of Scotland as our greatest cultural achievement over the past thousand years in the year 3000 CE?

            Yes, of course large sections of society were oppressed by the power relations of their own hierarchical society, including by elite establishments and patriarchy, something that your eagle eye seems to miss. It actually does not take staggering wealth to create art (this may shock you: there is a common notion of artists producing work while starving in garrets). It might take free time for amateurs, which exists for more people in more egalitarian societies. It may also surprise you that art is generally what a lot of people do, paid or unpaid. William Morris’ essays on art and society stand in complete contradiction to your professed views:

            Sure, there were selective examples of Christian preservation and adoption of what came before, it was not quite a cultural genocide. I have repeatedly asked for examples, so thanks for yours. But these selections are likely to have been on the same basis as elsewhere, the female characters with enormous agency that appear in pre-Christian European cultures being reduced, written out, turned into witches and so on. Anything too contrary to gospel judiciously pruned. Gods demoted to fairies.

            Your slightly pompous response on your use of ‘reactionary’ is unfortunate. In your favoured sense, every comment on the article or every response to another comment is ‘reactionary’, rendering its powers of distinction null and void.

            Anyway, you seem to be rewriting your own comments in your head, perhaps you don’t read them. You have indeed made several sweeping generalisations that I find quite bigoted. Perhaps I am doing you a service in pointing these out; perhaps a disservice. At any rate, you have chosen to largely ignore my substantive points, so this disagreement seems destined to remain unresolved. So: Merry Christmas.

          9. Calum H says:

            PS. Thanks for deigning to encourage my further education Sleepingdog. I had hoped that by putting the word “reactionaries” within the phrase “knee jerk reactionaries” that you and others would understand that it’s a play on the phrase “knee jerk reaction”. It was remiss of me to forget that you pay no attention to context and would simply use it as an excuse to act like a condescending ass.

            Seeing as you are given to thoughtless reaction I considered the word, in that context, acceptable.



            of, pertaining to, marked by, or favoring reaction, especially extreme conservatism or rightism in politics; opposing political or social change.”

            Especially. Not exclusively.

          10. Calum H says:

            Sleepingdog, you don’t need to “critique” the notion of the “Book of Kells as somehow substantiating a positive influence… on Scottish Gaelic-speaking culture”, as that’s not something I’ve suggested. You seen to be assuming motivations that are not present. I’ve never suggested the Gaelic Church was a “positive” or a negative influence on Scottish Gaelic culture, only that Christianity and the Church (not the Book of Kells specifically, which was merely an example) were a truly massive part of Gaelic society for most of its known history – an aspect of society that the indigenous peoples the author referred to do not share, while other Europeans do. That’s the relevant point.

            I haven’t said it takes staggering wealth to create art – just certain kinds of art. One of those “kinds” that requires huge wealth was prominently present in Gaelic society, which again differentiates Gaelic society from the indigenous Societies the author referred to in comparison. That’s the point.

            I’m rewriting my comments, Sleepingdog, because I’m hoping at some point you will simply read them as they are written, without imputing all sorts of motivations and beliefs that are not present or expressed.

            But I agree, were not getting anywhere. To you in a hopeless bigot. To me, you’re not actually hearing what is being said.

            Merry Christmas to you too, Sleepingdog.

          11. Graham says:

            McNaughton, your insights are insightful, but you clearly lack knowledge of the world of art. No offence but you come across Eurocentric as a result. What generates exceptional art is not always wealth. Nor is it literacy. There is a tribe on the west coast of Canada, they traditionally caught all their years worth of fish etc. in a very short time. They have very intricate carvings which undoubtedly qualify as art as worthy as any other culture’s. This is distinct from other tribes who worked all year for sustenance and have less material art. They were all illiterate and had no money – zero – currency didn’t exist. What led to their generation of art was the satisfaction of their other needs with time to spare. Not wealth, not literacy; just time. None of this matters of course, because only the ignorant hold up Michaelangelo as evidence of supposed superiority. Some of the people with no material art culture have the most wonderful communities, the kind European idealists could only dream of in their infested crime ridden selfish hell holes called cities you seemed to hold up as evidence of superiority.

            I don’t think you were being deliberately derogatory and I doubt you have deeply held racist conceptions of what qualifies as art with Europe being the benchmark against which all others are judged, but, when you make tenuous comparisons you open your argument and your worldview to challenge, and thereby distract from your actual point. If you are no expert on First Nations then probably best not to invoke them as evidence. All the best.

          12. Mike Williams says:

            @SleepingDog. Scotland has more than the equivalent of the Mabinogion. These ancient Brythonic stories (with many links to Goedelic legend too) were part of the oral traditions of Yr Hen Ogledd, the ‘Welsh’ or more correctly ‘Cumbric’ speaking Old North that stretched from The Mersey to the Clyde. Much of the Mabinogion is rooted in the country now known as Scotland. The stories were possibly first written when Cumbric was still a living language. The Mabinogion is part of Scotland’s tradition as much as it is Wales’s

          13. SleepingDog says:

            @Mike Williams, I was told by a Glasgow University academic that there were far, far fewer surviving Scottish Gaelic texts than those in Irish or Welsh, and that seems to reflect the relative amounts ever created, as far as can be determined. Quality can be subjective, but surely there is some reliable source that can put the question of quantity to bed.

          14. Calum H says:

            Well said Mike. Also, Y Gododdin, the oldest Cumbric poetry in Britain belongs to Scotland. It is about the Celts of Lothian (The Gododdin) and their allies who rode out from Edinburgh to attack the Angles at Catterick. This poem, as well as the others of the likes of Taliesin and Aneirin, poets of Scottish Kingdoms such as Lothian and Rheged, belong to Scotland and are shared with Wales.

        4. MacNaughton says:

          Foghorn, at the top of this mini thread, the first line of my first comment of December 15th refers to the author’s articles in the plural… Maybe you’re going blind? You’re certainly tone deaf to others around you on this and other threads!

          I think Adam Dahmer is well intentioned and his heart is in the right place. But he doesn’t seem to know Scottish history…

        5. MacNaughton says:

          The idea that Archibald Campbell, First Marquees of Argyll, a fanatical and ferocious Calvinist and a ruthless and brilliant warlord was actually “othering” Gaelic Scotland throughout his bloody and bellicose life as opposed to raising hell and fire wherever he went, is just hilarious to my ears…

          It’s seriously flawed thinking to project backwards with our concepts into the past. These people believed in God above all, they believed in the Divine will and retribution in the afterlife. God could even read their thoughts, so to even think outside of their own doctrine was a sin… Some Calvinists still say the Pope is the devil today, so god knows what it must have been like four centuries ago…

          All European countries have gone through bloody dynastical power struggles like Scotland, England and Ireland did back in the 17th century. In fact, Scotland and England had already had their own dynastic power struggles in centuries before the 17th unleashed decades of unprecedented mayhem. To mix it up with terms like “cultural genocide” and “othering”, which are terms of our era, makes no sense to me.

          As for the native American theme, it’s been blown out of proportion on this thread. My point was merely that the author – who hasn’t understood even the massacre at Glencoe – is misunderstanding the history of Scotland, and Gaelic Scotland, if he thinks the Gaels were like the Maoris in New Zealand, which he also says somewhere, or native Americans, with the rest of Scotland being like the British colonists who turned up on their shores.

          Gaels were always much more integrated than that, as they are today, and culturally they are indistinguishable from other Scots, unless, that is, they specifically go out of their way to tell us about their Gaelic background or identity. But unless they choose to do that, no one would ever know the difference between a Gael and a Lowland Scot…

          There is a strong case, once you get to the 19th century, which is the century of racial theories, Darwin and British imperialism, to say that the Gaels are treated like colonial subjects, like other conquered peoples and the Highlands, certainly, looks to my eyes like a British colony.

          But that doesn’t mean that culturally they were like those other peoples. In fact, 19th century Gaels had everything in common with the Scots like Patrick Sellar who basically goes up to the Highlands, with a racist theory about the superiority of Lowland Scots in his head and goes down in the black book of History for his evil actions…

          1. Foghorn Leghorn says:

            You’re perfectly entitled to find hilarious the idea that Argyll’s actions on behalf of the Scottish state contributed to the ongoing decline of Gaelic culture in Scotland.

            ‘It’s seriously flawed thinking to project backwards with our concepts into the past.’

            No, it’s not. All history is retrospective (projecting backwards) and perspectival (from our present concepts or predispositions). Our present mindedness furnishes the interpretative horizons that make any understanding of the past at all possible. That’s why every age has to revisit the same events and produce its own history of them, and why every historian worth the name has to be continually revising their understanding of the same events as each subsequent reading of them shifts their interpretative horizons/alters their perspective on those events.

            And to move the Native American dispute along: Adam’s contention – that, in common with the other marginalised cultures he adumbrates, the Gaelic language community would have remained one ‘nation’ among many had it not been ‘othered’ by the state – is problematic not insofar as it makes false comparisons between different cultures, but rather in that, as a counterfactual claim, its truth or falsity can never be determined, which makes it literally nonsensical as a historical claim.

            I’ve made this criticism several times before, in relation to other counterfactual claims, and it’s been roundly rejected; so, I’m not expecting it to be received with anything other than dismissiveness in this instance either.

          2. MacNaughton says:

            You didn’t say that “Argyll’s actions contributed to the decline of Gaelic Scotland”, which is arguably true, you said he was “othering” Gaelic Scotland. It’s what you posted further up this page.

            I seem to recall that you were on another thread about Gaelic not long ago saying it should have the same status as Polish and Spanish in Scotland, that its status as the national language in the past is an irrelevance.

            Now you are saying it has been “othered” into the margins since the mid 17th century. Which is it?

          3. Foghorn Leghorn says:

            Where did I attribute that motivation to Argyll? Quote me, please!

            Here’s what I said:

            ‘Wasn’t Argyll acting as an agent, if not of the UK, then of the revolutionary and increasingly anglicising Scottish state in its ‘othering’ the counter-revolutionary MacDonalds of Glencoe, particularly in response to the latters’ involvement in the suppression of the Conventicles in 1678-80 and in the bloody and brutal Atholl Raid that followed Argyll’s rising in 1685, an ‘othering’ that culminated in the final revolutionary victory over the Jacobites in 1746 and the repression of that ‘form of life’ – Gaelic culture – from which the counter-revolutionaries drew their greatest military support?’

            Argyll was a feuding opportunist, who hitched his wagon to the rising star of the revolutionary Covenant. However, a (no doubt unintended) consequence of his opportunism (and no doubt of that of others like him – Dalrymple, for example) was to hasten the decline of Gaelic culture in Scotland, which became associated with the counter-revolutionary Jacobitism that the revolutionaries, having captured the Scottish state, were determined to stamp out.

            And, yes, my ruminations on this thread are a continuation of my defence of the claim on another that Gaelic is entitled (only) to the same consideration and respect that contemporary Scotland’s other language communities are entitled under a purely civic nationalism.

          4. MacNaughton says:

            OK, so, under a “purely civic nationalism”, your only official language would be the English which “the anglicizing Scottish State” adopted at the expense of Gaelic back in the 17th Century (though actually, that is not historically the case)…

            …you do see that to exclude Scottish Gaelic as an official national language – when it is still spoken by tens of thousands of Scots – sounds to my ears like British nationalism, a continuation of the same project of “the anglicizing Scottish State” that you denounce? A continuation of the “repression” of the “counter revolutionary” culture from which resistance to the “Anglo Scottish State” has traditionally come?

            Any State, for all that it is founded on the principles of civic nationalism, must choose (a) national language/s to conduct government business in, for the courts and the law to work in, for teachers to teach in.

            English is not neutral. It’s a language too. It’s the language of the British Empire.

            Your denial of that right to Scottish Gaelic speakers to have the affairs of State conducted in Scottish Gaelic today makes you, for all your fancy footwork, just another British nationalist oppressor who is trying to strangle Scottish Gaelic in the land where it was born…

          5. Calum H says:

            Gaun yersel! Spot on, MacNaughton. That’s a point that has been rattling around in my mind throughout this discussion.

          6. Foghorn Leghorn says:

            No, you’re putting words in my mouth again, as is your wont. Civic nationalism requires that there is no ‘official’ language, in much the same sense and for exactly the same reason that there should be no ‘official’ religion. Civic nationalism requires that all citizens and their communities enjoy equal consideration and respect, with none being privileged over any other. The fact that English is the majority language within the jurisdiction of Scotland today doesn’t entitle it to be privileged within the state, any more than does the fact that Gaelic was once-upon-a-time the prestige language of kings and the majority language of their subjects.

            Adam argues throughout his articles that Gaelic should be treated as a special case when it comes to Scotland’s languages. I don’t think it should.

          7. Calum H says:

            Foghorn, an official language is a matter of policy, an indigenous language is a matter of fact.

            Gaelic is recognized as an indigenous Scottish language. It is also recognized as endangered. Those facts are responded to with policy in Scotland, as they should be becaue this is Gaelic’s ‘natural habitat’ and realistically the only place it can be preserved.

            None of this contradicts civic nationalism.

          8. MacNaughton says:

            There has never been a modern State that I know of without an official language…how would laws be drafted, or trials in court heard, in which language?
            Which language would the Constitution be written in?

            If the PM wanted to make an address to the nation, he would have to use a language surely? You can’t fudge it,and it is hardly a minor question. If a British PM addressed the nation in French or German what do you think would happen?

            Often these days, States have several official languages. Catalan and Basque are both official languages along with Spanish in the Basque Country and Catalonia for example.

            But there must be a language, and civic nationalism is not dependent on the language question. Civic nationalism is about giving equal rights to those from outside the national group (and often, majority language).

            Ethnic nationalism makes rights dependent on belonging to the majority ethnic group.

          9. Foghorn Leghorn says:

            Why should it be preserved? Language communities come and go; that seems to be the nature of things. Perhaps Gaelic is simply dying out of the population and will eventually no longer feature in a plurilingual Scotland.

            And even if, despite this, it should be preserved – as ‘heritage’, say – then it could be preserved, anywhere, digitally, even in Kentucky, like heritage plants are preserved in those seed banks.

          10. Calum H says:

            Foghorn, now you’re sounding more than ever like a British Nationalist. Why should Gaelic be preserved? Let it die?

            Perhaps this is one of those situations where the phrase “if you don’t already understand, then I can’t explain it to you” is most appropriate.

          11. MacNaughton says:

            What do you mean “languages come and go”? LOL!/You just said Gaelic was ferociously “othered” by Argyll and the Anglo-Scottish State for four centuries man….!!!

            No, but seriously, we should try to grow Gaelic because so much of our literature and history is in Gaelic, and because languages are wondrous and amazing things, built up in all their richness over the centuries by generations of normal working people… Most of Scotland was named in Scottish Gaelic and it contains the Scotland of centuries past…

            If you lose a language, you lose a whole world….and as George Steiner said, “there are no.minor languages… “

          12. Foghorn Leghorn says:

            @ Calum

            So, there’s no articulable reason why Gaelic should be preserved; only reasons of the heart or the blood or whatever image of visceral ethnicity we choose to employ.

            @ MacNaughton

            And that literature and history would still be in Gaelic and available for any Scot to access, whatever their ethnicity. Indeed, this would be the ‘seed bank’ in which the language would be preserved.

            (In fact, I’m beginning to wonder how else a language can be preserved other than in the form of its literature and recorded orature.)

            And George Steiner, following the likes of Wittgenstein and Heidegger in their constructivism, was right about the world-making function of language. That’s what the passing of Gaelic would mean: the passing of the Gaelic world; the extinction of a form of human life, all such forms being transient.

            But there are other worlds to be made and continually being made. That’s history.

            ‘Not traditions – Precedents!’ as the sluagh-ghairm goes.

          13. MacNaughton says:

            Ok, so you have an Empire mentality. You say you are a classical Marxist and you show all the worst signs of the now defunct magazine Marxism Today.

            You have a Marxist view of history, which is summed up by Hegel’s metaphor of a few daisies inevitably being crushed by the side of the path in the great march forward called ‘progress’…. And too bad if you are a daisy, or from a culture which is a daisy on that road, like Gaelic Scotland…

            MacDiarmid’s battle cry of “precedent not tradition” was a call for Scottish artists not to slavishly follow the official tradition but instead to create their own predecessors or his own case, to extol the 15th century poet Dunbar (Lament for the Makers) and denounce the national poet Burns… T.A Eliot said something similar, and so did Borges…

          14. MacNaughton says:

            Correction: T.S Eliot…

          15. MacNaughton says:

            MacDiarmid, by the way, never failed to denounce the utterly deplorable state of our two national languages… ‘re the Scots he wrote, ” they have allowed their two national languages to lapse almost entirely, and when this is pointed out to them, they merely grow indignant… “

          16. Calum H says:

            “Perhaps Gaelic is simply dying out of the population and will eventually no longer feature in a plurilingual Scotland.”

            On that point, and as you have already acknowledged, Gaelic is not “simply dying out”, but was artificially sidelined by the Scottish ruling class, beginning with the creation of linguistic colonies dotted around Scotland in the form of the burghs which seeded the English language, and then the active suppression of Gaelic, first in the Lowlands, then in the Highlands.

            This is no natural passing away of a language which should be “allowed to die” it was an artificial, intentional process, so it is a legitimate response to attempt an equally artificial and intentional reversal.

          17. MacNaughton says:

            Or just take the huge amounts of money spent by the BBC on programming in English and then look at the pittance spent on Gaelic, Scots or Welsh over 80 years, radio and TV? I mean, non English language programmes have probably received something like 0.000000000000000000000000000001% of the total BBC budget since it was founded.

            Or just look at how the anti-Gaelic lobby are always quick to say, usually factually incorrectly, that “Gaelic was never spoken there”, but nobody ever, ever says, “English was never spoken in Inverness or the Western Isles till recently, but that doesn’t stop it being shoved down the throats of everybody in Scotland morning, noon and night”…

            The British elite’s idea of “diversity”, and this includes Sturgeon and the SNP, is deeply flawed. The UK establishment have made the enormous leap forward of including people from different backgrounds, but always, always, always in English…the idea that anything be sponsored by the British State in anything other than the language of the Empire is anathema to them… it’s an Empire State of mind….they still think like imperialists..

            Foghorn reveals his deep seated prejudice against Gaelic in his own words…

          18. MacNaughton says:

            Why are the British ruling class, and the British middle class for that matter too, so obsessed with killing linguistic diversity in these isles?

            Apart from just ignorance, what is behind this obsession with killing off Gaelic and Scots, and forever side-lining Welsh, a relative success story in all of this?

            One suspects that the answer is that the class system is embedded in language in the UK, a highly unusual state of affairs. You can’t tell the social class of an American or an Australian or a Canadian, by his accent. Class there is expressed in other ways.

            But in Britain, social class is written into the language thanks to the elite public schools and RP. Therefore, if the British ruling class were ever to speak a language other than English, their class status would vanish before their eyes. Their privilege would vanish before their eyes.

            It is no insignificant matter that Boris Johnson goes on about his days studying ancient Greek, or Rees Mogg is fond of quotes in Latin. The only time they reach for anything in a foreign language is when it shows yet again, by recourse to the classical world and all its upper class connotations, their elite status, privilege and insatiable sense of entitlement…

          19. Foghorn Leghorn says:

            Yes, MacNaughton: ‘Not Traditions – Precedents!’ was the motto of modernism, to which movement all the guys you mention belonged.

            And, yes, Chris Grieve appropriated Gaelic to his modernist cultural project, which he reckoned would rescue it (but only incidentally – this was not his ultimate purpose) from the decadence into which it had fallen.

            Empires rise and fall for many reasons. State persecution did undoubtedly play an important part in the long decline of Gaelic in Scotland, as did conquest, diplomacy, and colonisation play a part in its comparatively rapid rise back in the early medieval period. You’re right, Calum: there is no ‘natural’ passing away of a language; its a quasi-natural ‘historical’ process.

            Like I’ve said: if Gaelic isn’t going to die out altogether, it needs as a language community to generate more speakers. Claiming a privileged status on ethnic nationalist grounds only marginalises it further within what is now a postmodern cosmopolitan and multilingual (though not yet plurilingual) Scotland.

          20. MacNaughton says:

            No, yet again you’re talking out your hat.

            “Precedents not traditions” wasn’t the cris de guerre of Modernism in general, it was specifically Hugh MacDiarmid’s. If Modernism has such a battle cry, it was “make it new!” which was coined by Ezra Pound.

            And Borges was no Modernist, he was, if anything, a seminal figure in Post Modernism. But what can you expect from a guy who claims to have read Gellner while in the next breath doubting that States have official languages, which is absolutely the central conflict which Gellner identifies as being pivotal in the rise of nationalism in multi-ethnic States?

            I think you are one of those Marxism Today type who I remember from my youth.. You certainly have that Marxism Today tendency to justify reactionary positions using the torturous language of the Marxian Left. But they are still reactionary positions…

          21. Foghorn Leghorn says:

            I know, MacNaughton; I’m an awfie b*gg*r. But what’s that got to do with the state of Gaelic in Scotland today?

          22. Foghorn Leghorn says:

            Anyway, I was never one of those new times/popular front Eurocommunists (or the Magic Roundabout Tendency, as we called them – the Kickers-and-stripey-jumper brigade. I was a ‘Tankie’ up until I left the party following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the defeat of the Neue Verfassung der DDR, when the prospect of revolution retreated into the brave new world of bourgeois identity politics.

          23. Foghorn Leghorn says:

            And do you really want to lead us tangentially into a diversionary digression anent ‘the naming of the parts’?

            Well, I’m game if you are; so, here goes:

            You said that guys like Eliot and Borges said something similar to MacDiarmid’s ‘Not Traditions – Precedents!’ I replied that this family resemblance was due to their shared modernism. Now you say that there is no family resemblance, that ‘Not Precedents – Traditions!’ was an exclusively MacDiarmidean sentiment… Make up your mind, man! Was the motto of MacDiarmid’s Scottish Chapbook an expression of the modernist mission or not?

            And here’s my view on Borges:

            Borges was rooted in the modernism that was predominant in the culture of his early years; he was particular influenced by the symbolist movement within modernism and had a special affinity with Kafka, Joyce, and Nabokov. He shared many of modernism’s characteristic concerns: the expansion of his ‘native’ culture into broader ‘global’ perspectives, multilingualism and linguistic inventiveness, the social aspect of art driven by emotion, art as praxis, for example. He was also, as you point out yourself, a precursor of postmodernism, in common with many modernist writers and artists.

            But, ultimately, whether we label Borges a ‘modernist’ or not is a trivial matter and one that contributes nothing to the present discussion. It’s a smokescreen, in fact, isn’t it?

    2. William Davidson says:

      The massacre at Glencoe was carried out by a company of the Earl of Argyll’s regiment under Robert Campbell of Glenlyon, most of whom were Gaelic-speaking highlanders, John Prebble publishes a list of the members of the company in his book on Glencoe and highland surnames predominate (MacCallum, MacKellar, MacIvor, MacNaughton, etc). Campbell of Glenlyon was related to the MacDonald’s of Glencoe, through the marriage of his niece to one of the family, but had reason to have a grudge against them, as they had previously raided Glenlyon. I agree with MacNaughton’s comments, you simply cannot made current race theory fit neatly into a complex and nuanced past.

    3. Graham says:

      MacNaughton, I love reading about history and how it relates to the present. Would you kindly write an article for us?

  6. Mary McCabe says:

    Some of the commentators have claimed that nobody is stopping the Gaels speaking their own language in their homeland.

    That is true now, but the practice of punishing children for speaking Gaelic in school lasted into the 1970s; so well into living memory. This policy encouraged an attitude towards Gaelic within the Gaeltachd which still prevails today amongst those who grew up in it and amongst their descendants. A common experience amongst people of my age (born in the mid-20th century) with Gaelic-speaking parents was that the parents kept Gaelic as a secret language for when they didn’t want the children to know what they were discussing, but spoke only English directly to the children.

    The result of this is that as more and more peoplewithin the Lowlands want to learn Gaelic, and the growth of education through the medium of Gaelic can’t keep up with demand, within the geographical Gaeltachd it is decreasingly spoken as a language of everyday use.

    I witnessed an early indication of developments at an O Grade Gaelic Learners class I attended in the late 1970s. The class divided itself into a minority who really were learners, with no prior knowledge of the language, and the majority who were older native Gaelic speakers, fluent in the spoken language but unable to read or write it. These people were attending the Learners’ class because they thought it would be easier to get the O Grade in the Learners’ paper than if they sat the “fluent Speakers'” paper.

    The teacher sat us “real learners” at one corner of the room with a tape recorder working through a text book, while he sat amongst the natiive speakers up the back gossiping with them along the lines of “And whereabouts in Lewis do you come from? Do you know so-and-so…?”

    Today a lot of the people putting their children into Gaelic medium education are doing it for political reasons. However the native speakers up in the Gaeltachd hardly seem to appreciate their language in cultural terms, never mind in political terms. This is possibly because of the depoliticisation of many of the native Gaelic songs which took place in the 19th century when songs with fiery political lyrics were rewritten to focus harmlessly on the charms of a particular island or of a cailleag bhreagha.

    If we don’t want Gaelic to end up as a dead academic language like Latin we have to encourage its growth within the Gaeltachd: make it normal amongst children, cool amongst teenagers and versatile amongst adults.

    1. Calum H says:

      “If we don’t want Gaelic to end up as a dead academic language like Latin we have to encourage its growth within the Gaeltachd: make it normal amongst children, cool amongst teenagers and versatile amongst adults.”

      Agreed. I also think that one of the ways to do that is for kids growing in the Gàidhealtachd to also feel like they have something precious that Scotland highly values and wants, and that they have a key role, if they want it, as stewards of the language to their fellow Scots outside the Gàidhealtachd who wish to learn. The tight fisted, exclusive approach the author of these articles advocates would, in my opinion, rob them of that opportunity and also drive away the Scots who wish to learn as supposed “foreigners”.

      1. Foghorn Leghorn says:

        One should note that Adam, who has since returned to the US, states his mission in his professional profile as a ‘Revitalist of Scottish Gaelic’ as being ‘to one day reintroduce the intergenerational transmission of Scottish Gaelic to my native Kentucky, where it was once widely spoken by the Scottish immigrant community’.

        Maybe the future of the Gàidhealtachd lies in the Bluegrass State.

        1. Calum H says:

          Amazing. He wants to “revitalise” Gaelic in Kentucky in the US, but would exclude the vast majority of Scots from his Gaelic vision. I presume this intergenerational transmission will be because he’s been anointed by some Gaelic shaman and has this “become” a true Gael and so has the right to transmit an authentic Gaelic tradition in Kentucky. Jeez.

          I’ve got nothing against Gaelic in Kentucky though. Sounds great.

    2. MacNaughton says:

      One thing I’m pretty sure about is that Gaelic Scotland is pretty fed up of people in the Lowlands telling them what to do.
      It was people from the Lowlands who went up there 100 years ago and told them not to speak Gaelic at school because it was barbaric (or a throwback, or, and again the author fails to mention this, being bilingual was actually bad for your mental health).
      Now, we have people from the Lowlands going up there and telling them they must speak it so the language can be saved.

      I think it’s a political question.
      I think you have to politically empower the Highlands and Islands by giving them as much autonomy within an independent Scotland as they want.
      Let the Gaels decide their own affairs…

      ***It’s also important to keep in mind the European context in other countries when considering historical events in Gaelic Scotland. The emergence of the modern State from the French Revolution of 1789 onwards sees all European countries becoming increasingly homogenized.
      France for example, propelled by the energy and the ideology of the Revolution, basically wipes out most of the regional variations in France. Occitan, in the south of France, a great poetic language, the language of the troubadours, is virtually wiped out. France’s huge regional varieties and languages are obliterated. Why? Because the modernizing, centralizing process in France is much more successful due to the new revolutionary ideology…
      It’s really important to keep a European perspective I think…****.

      1. Calum H says:

        Come on now, there were enough people from the Highlands in education discouraging Gaelic speaking too. The “outsider” narrative is appealling I know, but hardly the whole truth and can easily become an excuse for bigotry, No one should be telling anyone what to do. My own view is that the Scottish Government should basically be throwing money at this problem of Gaelic’s decline wthin the Gàidhealtachd and letting those who speak the language decide how best to deploy it while also
        encouraging the support of and participation in Gaelic outside the Gàidhealtachd.

      2. Keith MacDonald says:

        Re “The emergence of the modern State from the French Revolution of 1789 onwards sees all European countries becoming increasingly homogenized.”

        That’s a good comparison.

        As Graham Robb has eloquently explained in “The Discovery of France”, France (as we know it now) is a recent invention. By recent, I mean from the French Revolution onwards. Only after that was French imposed (by the State) as a single language on the whole region. It had not always been one country, and for many centuries had existed with several different languages and many different dialects.

    3. SleepingDog says:

      @Mary McCabe, I completely agree about the generational aspect; each generation must be able to converse with other generations about topics which are important to them. It may be that a national epic is neither written in one language, nor primarily text. The Great Tapestry of Scotland is a contender:
      which I viewed when it toured locally. But whether as a graphic novel (wall-mounted or otherwise), computer game, website (ahem), feature-length animation or whatever, if Scottish Gaelic is to form part of future national epics then collaboration and interoperability, inclusivity and fair representation, as well as digital literacy and cultural diplomacy, and above all accessibility (hey, subtitles) seem key. Well, the quality of storytelling is perhaps above all, but that won’t stand alone.

  7. Jerry says:

    It would be better if Native America was left out of this conversation unless the writer has more than a cursory knowledge of indigenous culture in North America.

  8. Dave Ward says:

    We are being told today that the Stuarts were black as were, if we can believe the BBC Ann Boleyn and Queen Charlotte.
    It’s interesting to see that the genocidal William of Orange was also a Stuart, by birth and by marriage. So I’d be interested to know who were the white people in Britain if all of these people were black.
    After all we are also told that the Cheddar gorge man was black.

    When did any of us become white? Or is whiteness just an illusion?

    1. Keith MacDonald says:

      “Is whiteness an illusion?”

      In the Western Isles (and my) case, it might well be.

      There’s much confusion about who the Gaelic &/or Celtic tribes were, with short dark people and tall fair-haired people all being lumped together as “Celts”. Some might wonder how or why there are tall blonde Celts as well as short dark Celts.

      According to the DNA profiling and blood haplogroups, the “short dark” Gaels/Celts came from the Iberian peninsula (or share the same origins). Personally, as one of the “short dark” Gaels, I suntan so easily that while working in India I was mistaken for “local” by a very pink “English” couple, who spoke in the classic manner (loudly and slowly).

      Just as DNA is adaptive (not fixed), the new Overlords stayed indoors and stayed white, with the lower class “black” Scots/Celts/Gaels may simply be the folks who were outdoors working for a living, and staying well suntanned.

      I’m reminded that :
      <> (JRR Tolkien)

      1. Keith MacDonald says:

        My attempt at a quote from JRR Tolkein somehow got cut off.

        The relevant quote:

        “Celtic” is a magic bag, into which anything may be put, and out of which almost anything may come. Anything is possible in the fabulous Celtic twylight, which is not so much a twylight of the Gods as of the reason.

        It appears to apply equally to everything called “Gael” and/or “Gaelic”.


    I found that very interesting and also sad. I am Welsh , born and bred in Wales . My parents were also born and bred in Wales with dad from a family of slate quarry men . I was born in 1937 in north wales in Llan Ffestiniog part of Blaenau Ffestiniog and we all spoke welsh as our first language. However in 1939 with th beginning of the 2nd world war the government arranged for the National Treasures to be brought from London and all its Galleries and museums to be housed in in Ffestiniog . The slate was quarried on the ouside but also mined , creating huge deep caverns. One called The Cahedral . Thats where the largest of the Old Masters were carefully driven in and stored in secret.
    My taid (grandfather) had worked as miner in what was known as Manod mine so now ws out of work . As was my father so he moved to a factory making grenades for the war, and mam helped him better in English, A a child he worked only on a slate board in welsh , If a child spoke welsh in school they were punished by having to wear the writing board around their necks, WELSH NOT, written on it. However, my 3 children, 6 grandchildren and now 2 great grandchildren all speak, learn and work through the medium of welsh.

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