Monday, 17 April 2006


<![CDATA[ Gaelic is an old language, still widely spoken in the Western Isles. The culture of the place is intimately interwoven with the language, which has undergone a major revival in recent times.

Following the ill-fated rising under Prince Charles Edward in 1745, which ended in the defeat at Culloden, the victorious party went out of its way to crush the culture of the vanquished foe. Until very recently, no Gaelic was taught in schools and its use suppressed. Nonetheless, I have met quite a few people who did not speak a word of English when they enrolled at primary school. These days, the role of the languages in their lives is reversed: they speak only English and Gaelic has receded into the background.

At the opening of last year's Royal National Mod in Stornoway, the event was highlighted as a major boost to Gaelic culture and the language. The Inverness MSP, who opened the Mod, warned people to take advantage of the openings currently being given to the language. It has recently been recognised as an official language of Scotland, a position laid down in law.

Many visitors to the islands wish to learn the language. I have to admit that I haven't done so. I read a few chapters in a 1970s textbook, and found myself floundering in the grammar. Important as it is (with the grammar and 2% of the vocabulary you can make yourself understood), it can be offputting. There are excellent courses available through the UHI Millennium Institute. UHI stands for University of the Highlands and Islands, but a formal University status has as yet not been awarded. The Isle of Skye hosts the famous Sabhal Mor [Big Barn] College at Ostaig, 5 miles north of the Armadale ferry. You don't need to go there to learn Gaelic; you could even do it on-line.

Residents of the Highlands and Islands are able to attend courses at the various campuses of UHI; Lews Castle College in Stornoway is one of them. ]]>

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