Gaelic Legends in the Landscape: A Weekend Course with Roddy Maclean

The Field Studies Council's Kindrogan Centre in the Scottish Highlands.
The Field Studies Council’s Kindrogan Centre in the Scottish Highlands.

The connection between the Gaelic language and the landscape of Scotland (and Ireland and Man) runs deep. “The land speaks to us through our language,” Ruairidh MacIlleathain or Roddy Maclean said in “Gaelic in the Landscape,” a study of place-names in the Northwest Highlands.

“The backbone of our place-name heritage is Gaelic and, for a better understanding of our landscape, it is necessary to understand our language,” MacIlleathain said.

The Gaels did not literally “create” their landscape when they named each beinn and gleann, allt and cnoc, but they did create a lens through which they perceived the landscape in which they lived and expressed their relationship to it.

Place names that translated or transliterated into English might leave a traveler bemused or indifferent can resonate with meaning for a Gaelic speaker, especially one who has lived in intimate contact with the local landscape and environment.

But landscape as perceived through the Gaelic language is about more than just moorland and machair. It’s the bedrock on which accretive layers of history and legend have been laid that tie people to place together in ways fast being forgotten.

MacIlleathain hopes to illustrate this connection in a weekend course June 16-19 in Kindrogan, Scotland. The Inverness-based Gaelic journalist (creator of the popular Litir do Luchd Ionnsachaidh podcast for Gaelic learners)  will take participants to locations associated with legends of Fionn MacCumhail and his warrior-band, the Fèinn or “Fingalians.”

Attendees will “explore some of these stories (through English translations) and visit places where they are rooted in our landscape in place-names, old manuscript records and oral tradition,” according to the course description.

The course includes visits to sites in Glenshee associated with the story of the doomed lovers, Diarmaid and Gràinne, as well as Aberfeldy, Killin (Finn’s Grave), and Glen Lyon.

More information on the program is available here from the Field Studies Council. This is a wonderful opportunity to gain a deeper appreciation of the Gaelic language and culture and the Scottish landscape — and how truly intertwined they are.