Am Bratach No. 238
August 2011

Group wins funds for Gaelic training
by Mandy Haggith

“I look forward to the day when you hear Gaelic spoken around the place.”

Adults in Assynt who are keen to learn Gaelic have received a big boost as a result of the local Gaelic organisation winning funds for training which they are distributing to local people, writes Mandy Haggith. Còmhlan Gàidhlig Asainte has received funding from Bòrd na Gàidhlig and Commun na Gàidhlig to support the revival of Gaelic in the community, where very few people still speak the language.

Earlier in the year, the opportunity for support for Gaelic learning was advertised locally and people were invited to submit applications. Bursaries towards a wide range of courses of study were offered, including support for evening classes in Lochinver and Stoer, and week-long residential courses on Lewis and Skye. The application forms also asked what lucky recipients of support would do in return to encourage the development of Gaelic in the community.

James Graham, pictured at the recent Lairg Music Festival.

James Graham (Seumas Greumach), well known in the area as Mod gold-medal winning Gaelic singer, has been helping to organise the distribution of the funds. “We can’t always be reliant on funding to support Gaelic so we wanted to try to create a system to make it sustainable. So we asked people what they could give back to the community. Once the funding has run out, what happens after that? That was the thinking behind it.”

Some of the suggestions include Gaelic conversation coffee mornings and helping with conversation classes. Some parents are offering to run Gaelic playgroup events, and other folk are organising Gaelic poetry and literature reading evenings.

Mr Graham said: “If everyone can do a little bit, it will all add up”.

About twenty people have been successful in their applications. Some of these are taking Ulpan classes in one of the two courses that are running in Stoer and Lochinver, in collaboration with Assynt Learning and Leisure. These classes seem to be going from strength to strength. They are attended by a mixture of incomers and people who were born in the area, some of whom had older family members who spoke Gaelic. Often if a Gaelic speaker married someone who did not speak Gaelic then it was not spoken much in the home, and so the children grew up without being able to speak the language. Yet, by overhearing grandparents or aunts and uncles speaking and because the song tradition has always been strong in the area, these children still had some exposure to the language. James Graham, who is one of the Ulpan tutors, comments that often these students actually know a whole range of expressions and colloquial turns of phrase and they can remember the local way of speaking and thus pronounce their Gaelic with an Assynt accent. This helps the whole class to learn a more authentic Gaelic.

One of the Ulpan tutors, Claire Belshaw, said: “I’m very impressed with the perseverance and the commitment of the students.” She can already see a change in the community since just a year ago. “The support for Gaelic learning is definitely making a difference,” she said. “I look forward to the day when you hear Gaelic spoken around the place.”
Maureen Shannon is one of those being funded to go away for a residential course. In mid-August she will spend a week, living with a Gaelic-speaking family, at the Ravenspoint Centre on Lewis. “It’ll be complete immersion in Gaelic,” she said. “If I survive the first two days, it’ll be great!”

Clarinda Chant is also going to Ravenspoint, where there will be Ulpan classes in the morning, followed by cultural events in the afternoons and evenings. “I’m looking forward to the music and songs, psalm-singing and trips around the countryside. It should be good,” she said. In addition, Ms Chant will be going to Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the Gaelic college on Skye, and taking their Level 8 course in Gaelic.

Other students will be going to Urras Baile Fhlòdaigearraidh in Staffin, Skye in September. Several other learners are taking Sabhal Mòr Ostaig courses and one, who wished to remain anonymous, has already been and returned, enthused. “I did Level 3 Gaelic,” she said. “We did masses of grammar, which made my brain hurt, but I think it was a good complement to the Ulpan course we do each week here. I’d definitely love to go again. I learned a lot and it was good fun.”

One of the “paybacks” to the community is also getting underway, with a Gaelic poetry session being organised for the evening of Wednesday, August 3, in Stoer Hall. The idea is for people to come along with a poem or song to share, with or without English translation, to enable the sound of the Gaelic language to be appreciated and to help people’s reading skills.

Gaelic is in a desperate state in Assynt, with only a few native speakers left and no Gaelic medium-classes in local schools. There are several parents with young children in the Ulpan classes, so it will not be long before the debate again gets round to Gaelic medium-education for children, without whom the language has no chance of long-term survival. It can only be hoped that the adult learners will be able to bring Gaelic back from the brink.


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