Thursday, 19 March 2009

Observations on a sunny spring day

First day of springlike weather - officially, spring will commence on Saturday 21st. A couple of things caught my eye in recent days.

Firstly, it appears we won't be getting a Sunday ferry service for another three years. The noise of heels being dragged along the corridors of Calmac and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar is deafening.

Secondly, the Arnish Fabrication Yard is set to reopen in April (seeing is believing), and if reports from this week are to be believed, the Yard will revert to its original purpose of servicing oil rigs. That's how it started out in the 1970s. The fabrication of renewable energy assets will discontinue.

I look back over the four years I have been in this island, and the first three echoed with the repeat drumbeat of Arnish being the salvation of the Lewis economy, by virtue of the fact that it would supply the hundreds of turbine towers for the windfarms in North Lewis (now disallowed by the Scottish government) Eishken and Pairc. Well, that is all out of the window. Sometimes, when my usual cynicism really gets the better of me, I compare candidates at elections to tomcats in March. Caterwhauling about everlasting fielty and what not, but when the evil deed is done, all those promises are nowhere to be found.

I have so far steered clear of the subject of Gaelic, as I do not speak the language. I can make out the odd word or two, and take in interest in the origins of local placenames. The Western Isles have a fairly large percentage of people who can read, write and/or speak the language. It is part of the area's cultural heritage. I do not agree with the steady stream of correspondents to a certain mainland paper who say Gaelic is dead and a waste of money. Having attended the National Mod here in Stornoway in 2005, and two editions of the local mod in subsequent years, I find the language and its attendant culture very much alive.

The discussion in recent weeks, particularly in the mainland press, has been about bilingual roadsigns - both in Gaelic and in English. Some people say that these could potentially confuse motorists. When I first visited these islands in the 1990s, I was greeted by Gaelic-only signs at the ferry terminal. Found it less than helpful. It is not clear to everybody that Gearraidh na h-Aibhne is the same as Garynahine, to quote but one example. Local people probably do not need roadsigns at all, but visitors (the mainstay of the local economy) do. I welcome the introduction of bilingual signs therefore.


  1. Balallan/Baile Ailein, Barvas/Barabhas, Bayble/Pabail, Callanish/Calanais, Carloway/Carlabhagh, Gravir/Grabhair, Habost/Tabost, Shawbost/Siabost, Tarbert/Tairbeart, Tong/Tunga, Bac/Back, Ness/Nis, Park/Pairc...

    Tricky stuff. Thought most signs were bilingual anyway? Wonder how the "towrists" manage in Europe...

  2. Signs were turned bilingual a few years ago. I met someone who managed to get lost at Barvas because of the example I quoted in my post. Yes, I know.

  3. Pretty obvíous that the yards can't build wind turbines when people make sure that they cannot be erected.
    I attended a meeting of our municipal council yesterday, which was debating wind turbine sites, possibility of, in said community. A modern wind turbine produces 2 MW compared to 0,25 MW for a unit built 10 years ago. 2MW is a useful quantum of energy and should give about 10 GW per annum (using figures from a Danish site). Reactor 1 at the now-discontinued atomic power station of Barsebeck (about 5 km as the crow flies from my home) produced 7 TW per annum. So now we are talking about 1000 wind turbines to replace 1 atomic reactor instead of 1000 0000. Think about the consequences for Lewis. Get the contract right and imagine what income that would provide for the islanders, without them having to lift a finger. "You can't eat a view" (Local Hero). Quite apart from the fact that such an output of electricity would benefit the global village as well as the local community. What do you want, O people of Lewis? To end up like the red Indians or to be part of a thriving modern world? Oh, Arnish, I'm sorry to have put the cat amongst the pigeons on a sunny spring day but surely one should be prepared to modify ones views as the world around changes? (Ask the dinosaurs).

  4. They are just the easy ones Mike :wink: What I'd prefer to know is how to pronounce the Gaelic words without the English accent. Not easy to learn when you are not there but it's something that I will be striving to learn as soon as I can. Doesn't seem to be much online on Gaelic pronunciation and most of what is there is Irish. Ad in that the accent in the Western Isles is somewhat unique and it gets more complicated.
    I used to go to Teneriffe every year and wanted to learn Spanish only to find that the Spanish evening classes I went seemed to teach a totally different dialect!

  5. I've got news for you Arnish, I believe it is Comhairle policy to only use Gaelic signage on the highways, not bi-lingual!

    The bi-lingual arrangements are principally for Highland and Argyll & Bute Council areas.

    My own view is that its a lot of fuss about nothing on the mainland. I actually really like the bi-lingual signs and find it hard to imagine how anyone finds them confusing. Once your brain is attuned to yellow or green being Gaelic, and black or white is English, when you subsequently glance at a road sign your brain registers automatically to the Gaelic or English variant and you proceed or act according to the information displayed.

    I completely agree with you that in the Western Isles bi-lingualism of highway signage is highly desirable. The official council policy on dual language is that Gaelic should be the primary language and English secondary. Thus all council communications should (but generally don't) be dominant 'larger (usually bold) Gaelic, smaller (non-bold) English'.

    I know this because I produced the promotional materials for the service access point at Stornoway Town Hall.

    Finally if you're interested in learning some Gaelic, sign up for one of the Ulpan courses at Lews Castle College, they're supposed to be great.

  6. In reply to Barney, the reason why windturbines were thrown out for the North Lewis project was that they were at variance with European wildlife directives applicable to the site in question. You have to also bear in mind the proportionality: Lewis is an island with about 20,000 people in it, of whom 7,000 in Stornoway. The island's natural beauty is a major draw for tourists, so it IS possible to make a living of the view! Over the past three years, I have made my opposition to windfarms in Lewis crystal clear, including the reasoning for that opinion.

  7. For heavens sake Barney ...!
    We don't mind you opening up a debate, but we do object to you dis-informing people ...!!

    Nothing in the *least* similar to what you describe was *ever* going to happen with the Barvas windfarm ...

    Do you think we're all idiotic dinosaurs ...?
    Have you not retained a word that has been said during all these 'discussions' on windfarms ...?

    Or have I over-reacted to your post, which you meant only to be playful/sarcastic/ironic or just plain amusing ...?

    If so, then you'll just have to woo me all over again ...

  8. and yes, you *can* eat a bloody view ...!
    Everybody in the tourist trade does that every single day, in season anyhow, as they make sure visitors have a good holiday ...

    They may not eat it till later though ... perhaps in the winter when visitors are scarce ...

  9. For the life of me I can't see why anyone would object to bilingual road signs. It's pretty easy to tell the difference between Gaelic and English :-) Gaelic-only signs are a different kettle of fish and seem unnecessarily churlish. Since English is an official island language, not putting English on the signs seems rather hard-line.

  10. can always "eat a tourist"

  11. My only problem with Gaelic is the orthography. The sound values accorded to the letters make little sense to an English speaker, unlike most of the european languages. I can put sounds to French and German I can cope with the extra letters in Norwegian and Swedish but the written Gaelic eludes me. Funnily enough I do not have the same degree of difficulty with Welsh. Perhaps it's the Brythonic/Goidelic split. Must mind the Ps and Qs.

  12. Fourth para down Soaplady...well, with certain caveats, possibly yes. I have no doubt there is a strong degree of Nimbyism involved. Its the same here. But on the other paw, the number and size of windylights proposed for Barvas seemed disproportionate to the area.

  13. Not really nimbyism, I suspect that many those who objected had some degree of common sense and a world view and would have also objected to plastering the Galapagos Islands with turbines.

  14. " Since English is an official island language "

    Ah, but Gaelic is THE official island language a ghràidh.

  15. Subliminal learning/familiarisation occurs when road signs and other material displays dual language.....? I tried watching loads of BBC Alba stuff to see if I could learn any Gaelic but the honest truth is I gave up very quickly as Gaelic not that easy to pick up..abject apologies to any offended but English will have to do in my dealings with fellow Islanders.....RJG

  16. Plenty of courses, both at Lews Castle College / Sabhal Mor Ostaig and for self-education