First ‘Oidhche nam Bàrd’ Celebrates Scottish Gaelic Poetry

ACGA director, and Gaelic poet, Barbara Lynn Rice, shares a poem at Oidhche nam Bàrd.
ACGA director Barbara Lynn Rice shares a poem at Oidhche nam Bàrd.

Everyone, practically everywhere, has heard of Robert Burns and Burns’ Night, but what about Scotland’s Gaelic poets?

They got their due and their own night Jan. 27, when 20 people gathered to celebrate centuries of poets and Gaelic poetry and share poems and songs at Oidhche nam Bàrd in Alexandria, Virginia.

Gàidhlig Photomac, the Scottish Gaelic Learning Community in the Washington, D.C., area, organized the special event, held just a few nights after Robert Burns’ big evening Jan. 25. The venue was the snug Fitzgerald room at Daniel O’Connell’s Irish restaurant.

“We felt it was time the contribution of Scottish Gaelic poets to Scotland and, in fact, the world at large, was recognized,” Liam Cassidy, a co-organizer of Gàidhlig Photomac, said.

The evening combined poetry and song with a brief Gaelic class, dinner and drinks, music and a toast to the bards (all of them).

“Many people are drawn to Gaelic by its songs, and the link between poetry and song in Gaelic is strong,” Cassidy said. “We’ve wanted to do something to celebrate and introduce Gaelic poetry to learners for a long time, and this seemed a good way to go about it.”

The evening’s program featured five Gaelic poets from different eras: Lachlann Mòr MacMhuirich from the medieval period, Mòr Chaimbeul from the 1570s, Donnchadh Bàn Mac an t-Saoir from the 18th century, Màiri Mhòr nan Òran from the 19th century, and finally, the great 20th century Gaelic poet Somhairle MacGilleathain.

The poems were read in Gaelic and in English translation and copies and information on the poets were shared with attendees.

After the “formal” reading, the informal sharing of poems and songs began. Out of the 20 attendees, nine volunteered to read or sing favorite pieces they brought with them. “We were pleased with the turnout, but amazed by the number of people who wanted to share poems,” Cassidy said.

Oidhche nam Bàrd drew long-time members of the D.C.-area Gaelic community but also new people, including a family with ties to Lochaber, an Irish-language student, and a few people experiencing Gaelic for the first time. The event was the first this year for Gàidhlig Photomac, which publicized the night through Meetup and Facebook.

While most of the attendees were locals living in Northern Virginia, D.C., or Maryland, three came from New York City and one from Richmond, Virginia. The New Yorkers all enjoyed local hospitality.

There was no charge for the event itself. Attendees covered their own tabs. “The fact that the restaurant did not charge for the room meant a lot to us,” Cassidy said. “That helped us make this a free event.”

Gàidhlig Photomac plans to make Oidhche nam Bàrd an annual event, and hopes other Gaelic Learning Communities will host their own events celebrating Gaelic poets and poetry. “The model would be an easy one to follow, even for small groups,” Cassidy said.