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.

 

 

 

US Mòd Prescribed Songs for Men and Women

Two classic Scottish Gaelic songs — Gillean Ghleann Dail for men and A Fhleasgaich Òig as Ceanalta for women — were chosen as prescribed songs for the Gold Medal competition at the U.S. National Mòd this September. These are both highly popular songs that have been recorded by several artists, including Arthur Cormack, Flora MacNeill and Maggie MacInnes.

The men’s prescribed song, Gillean Ghleann Dàil (“Lads of Glendale”) was composed by Iain Dubh MacLeòid, known as Iain Dubh Dhòmhnaill nan Òran (Black Iain son of Donald of the Songs). The song is a warning to the young men of Glendale on the West Coast of Skye about the hardships of life at sea in the 19th century. Iain’s brother Niall MacLeòid is a famous 19th century Gaelic Bàrd or poet, best known for his collection Clàrsach an Doire (1893), which may contain some songs by Iain Dubh. The works the father and both sons are featured in “The Glendale Bards,” edited by Meg Bateman and Ann Loughran (Birlinn, 2014).

Download a PDF copy of the song at mod-2017-mens-prescribed.

Here’s a recording of Scottish Mòd Gold Medalist Darren MacLean singing the song. More recordings may be found on Tobar an Dualchais.

The women’s prescribed song, A Fhleasgaich Òig as Ceanalta (“O Young and Gentle Lad”) allegedly was composed by one Ceit NicFhionghain of Tobermory on the Isle of Mull. Our version has the object of her affection being a MacPhàil from Mull, though there are several different but closely related versions.

Download a PDF copy of the song at mod-2017-womens-prescribed.

Here’s a YouTube video of the Gaelic group Cliar performing the song:

We hope you enjoy these songs, and we hope to hear many people singing them at the U.S. National Mòd, Sept. 23!

Gaelic Periodicals from the Nova Scotia Archives

Teachdaire

To those always looking for new reading material in Gaelic, especially from North America, we recommend a visit to the website of the Nova Scotia Archives. There, in a section on historical newspapers, you’ll find four Scottish Gaelic periodicals, all published in Sydney, Cape Breton, in the first half of the 20th century: Teachdaire nan Gaidheal (1924-1934), Fear na Céilidh (1928-1930), Mosgladh (1922-1933) and An Solus Iùil (1925-1927).

These newspapers followed Mac-Talla, a biweekly newspaper published by Jonathan MacKinnon from Sydney between 1892 and 1904. The entire corpus of Mac-Talla is available online through Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the Scottish Gaelic university on the Isle of Skye. Some issues are also available through the Nova Scotia archives.

The periodicals are only part of the records preserved by the Nova Scotia Archives that document the province’s rich Gaelic roots and continuing Gaelic-language culture, heritage, and traditions. Some additional links to resources are collected under the archive’s Gaelic Resources: Goireasan Gàidhlig page.

The archives presented these four Gaelic newspapers in partnership with the Beaton Institute, Cape Breton University, and Nova Scotia’s Office of Gaelic Affairs.

 

Baltimore-DC area Gaelic Learning Groups plan June 5 Picnic

CarderockTwo East Coast Gaelic Learning Communities plan to meet up on Sunday, June 4, from 1-5 pm, for a picnic and Gaelic hike at Carderock Recreation Area just outside Washington, D.C.

Gàidhlig Photomac, a group of Gaelic learners in the DC-Northern Virginia-Southern Maryland area, will join with Sgoil Ghàidhlig Bhaile an Taigh Mhòir, the Baltimore Gaelic School, for càirdeas, ceòl, cluichean agus coiseachd (fun, music, games and walking).

The outing will start at 1 pm (try to get there a bit early), with a short class and a game, followed by the hike (which should be an easy one). We’ll learn appropriate Gaelic phrases and vocabulary on the way, and return for our picnic by about 3 pm.

This is the first joint event sponsored by the two groups, and a sign of growing interest in linking Gaelic Learning Communities throughout North America in social activities as well as language learning.

ACGA recently completed an initial survey on Gaelic Learning Communities and is looking for ways to actively support and encourage them and connect them.

For information on the picnic, visit Sgoil Ghàidhlig Bhaile an Taigh Mhòir’s Facebook page, or the Meetup page of Gàidhlig Photomac.

— Liam Ó Caiside

30th US Mòd to Feature First ACGA Fèis

choir

This year will be the 30th Anniversary of the U.S. National Mòd or Mòd Naiseanta Aimeireagaidh, an event born in Alexandria, Virginia in 1988, when An Comunn Gàidhealach Ameireaganach launched what was then called Mòd Virginia at the Virginia Scottish Games.

The event will take place over four days this year, from the evening of Thursday, Sept. 21 through Sunday, Sept. 24, at Ligonier, Pennsylvania.

We’ve grown from small beginnings, adding competitions over the years and expanding to cover Scottish Gaelic language arts such as poetry, storytelling and drama as well as song. And we’re still growing. This year we will be adding special competitions to mark our 30th anniversary. Most important, we’re adding an entire new event that broadens focus on Gaelic culture beyond language arts alone and competitions: the First ACGA Fèis.

What is a Fèis, and how is it different from a Mòd? Both feature Gaelic song and music. Both provide opportunities to develop skills in the Gaelic arts. But while mòdan or mòds feature competitions, fèisean do not. A fèis includes classes and workshops, rather than competitions. By adding a fèis to our Mòd, we can open doors to those who want to learn about Gaelic culture, learn to play a tune, or sing a song, without entering a competition.

In Scotland, the Fèis movement got its start in the 1980s. Today there are 47 local fèisean throughout Scotland, focused on local needs and providing infor- mal education.

The First Annual ACGA Fèis will be held all day Friday, Sept. 22, at the Antiochian Village in Ligonier, Pennsylvania, which has been home to the U.S. National Mòd since 1995. That means participants will be able to arrive Thursday night, Sept. 21, for dinner and an opening event at the Village. We’re still planning our day-long program for Friday, but it will certainly include presentations on Gaelic tradition, song and instrumental workshops.

Keep an eye out for more information about this year’s adjudicator, online registration, and the Fèis and Mòd program, soon. ACGA members receive an electronic newletter, An Cuairtear Ceòlmhor.