Am Bratach No. 221
March 2010


Progress on Gaelic

Lisa MacDonald (pictured) has written an article (below) about Gaelic, the advantages it brings and what’s going on around Sutherland in Gaelic.

Mrs MacDonald, who regards her home country to be Southend in Argyll, is married with a young family (aged 3 years and 1 year), and has lived in Scourie for nearly five years. She studied Gaelic at university level. “I got the chance to take Gaelic as an arts subject while studying divinity, and loved it so much I changed to Single Honours Celtic Studies, and it has all snowballed from there.

“I’m heavily involved in choirs, the Mòd scene, competitions etc and am very interested in Gaelic-medium education.

“I am very hopeful that this will happen here so that our local children can benefit, both in terms of access to culture and in terms of bilingual education with its demonstrable and hugely positive impact on cognitive development.”

In Scourie, she runs Na Dannsairean, a Gaelic-medium parent and toddler group, on Thursdays (see back page for details). As well as play-leader, Mrs MacDonald chairs the group. Other office holders include Amanda Amos, Achfary, and Lesley Cherry from Unapool.

Raising cash to run the group is still at the early stages, but Lisa MacDonald has been impressed by the help she has received so far, particularly from Councillor Linda Munro. “It was she who put me onto all the right people and really got the ball rolling, especially putting me in touch with the early years development officer, a wonderful lady called Mary Morrison, whose enthusiasm, knowledge and practical help made all the difference.”

Mrs MacDonald also told us that a workshop is to be held in her local area (venue to be confirmed) in the very near future, bringing together all possible sources of assistance, information and encouragement, in order to try and raise local awareness of the benefits of Gaelic and the possibilities for the future. Details will be posted as soon as available.


A new dawn for Gaelic

Have you ever wondered about all those Gaelic placenames all around us? Do you wish you could pronounce them or know what they mean? Do you enjoy Gaelic music and wish you knew more about the words to the songs? Or do you already speak Gaelic and want to keep it going or even improve your skills?

We seem to be at the beginning of a very exciting time for Gaelic right here in Sutherland. A number of initiatives are coinciding and fitting together like pieces of a puzzle, revealing an appealing picture for those interested in the native language.

As has become clear through the positive and articulate letters in recent press, there is a great deal of interest and a strong feeling of attachment to Gaelic, despite the occasional voice to the contrary.

It is very sad to hear, time and time again, people of a certain age and generation talking about their deep regret at not being taught Gaelic by fluent parents who were told the language would hold their children back. It is very encouraging, though, when those same folk express their strong desire to finally overcome this regret and to start learning now!

There are a number of interesting adult education classes. Farr High School, for example, is offering beginners’ classes in Gaelic (if interested please contact Jim Johnstone at  Farr High School.) More classes in other areas are expected to be announced shortly, including Ulpan, a very promising new initiative based on a Hebrew model.

Wherever children are exposed to Gaelic, they take to it enthusiastically and learn very quickly. They are always thrilled to bits when they discover older people with whom they can share what they learned. They enjoy becoming immersed in the rich culture through music, drama, poetry and other explorations of past and present.

Added to that are the very real benefits of acquiring a second language very early in life — not just in terms of cultural enrichment and employment opportunities but in terms of its powerful effect on brain development itself, leading to a real cognitive advantage.

As far as Gaelic-medium education is concerned, there are already excellent units in Tongue and Bonar Bridge (who even run a Gaelic after-school sports club), as well as another one just “over the border” in Ullapool. There has so far been a gap along the west coast of Sutherland but that could be set to change.

Last year, the Mackay Country Community Trust conducted a large-scale research effort into the state of Gaelic in the parishes of Eddrachilles and Durness which saw questionnaires sent to every household and “kitchen ceilidhs” being held in Scourie, Kinlochbervie and Durness. The response was very encouraging indeed, demonstrating clearly that there is a deep interest in the language and a will to see it strengthened and revived in these areas.

A very productive and promising meeting, An Cruinneachadh (The Gathering), was held at Rhiconich last month to bring together the various groups who have been working for years to encourage and advance Gaelic. It was agreed that an effort to try and establish an Iomairt Gàidhlig status for Mackay Country and Assynt would be the most promising way forward. With funding we could see a full-time development officer based in our midst who would work with a local steering group to advance any cause of local merit. The main aims of the initiative are broad: to increase the number of Gaelic speakers and to increase opportunities to use Gaelic.

This could be achieved through adult classes, fèisean, pre-5 groups, summer schools, weekend workshops, Gaelic-medium education and any number of other initiatives chosen. Existing local groups would then be linked in their efforts and a far more coherent and strengthened approach, backed by considerable funding, would become possible.

Còmhlan Gàidhlig Asainte have been working enthusiastically in Assynt for over a year now to provide adult classes, fèisean and more and are continuing to gain support. (Please contact Grahame Perrie on grah, if interested.)

At the same time, a new group has been established, drawing support from Durness to Unapool and everywhere in between. Simply named Gàidhlig san Iar Thuath (Gaelic in the North West), their aim is to involve a wide range of ages through Gaelic education, fèisean, adult classes, summer schools, weekend workshops etc.

The Gaelic parent-and-toddler group, Na Dannsairean, meet every Thursday at Scourie village hall and all are welcome, lack of Gaelic being no hindrance at all. (The name means “dancers” but also refers to the Northern Lights.) (Anyone wishing to become involved or kept informed in any way can contact Lisa MacDonald on

Both groups are very encouraged by the superb work of the well-established Taigh na Gàidhlig Mhealanais, whose Melness-based Sgoil Shamhraidh, an annual music and Gaelic summer school for children and adults, is rightly regarded as excellent. (Please contact Catriona MacLeod on caor for details). Their wonderful production, Ùrachadh, will be appearing in Melness Hall, March 19 and Ardgay, 20th, featuring music, song and photos from Duthaich MhicAoidh and Assynt.
Fèis air an Òir is another extremely inspirational initiative. Their musical tuition must be unrivalled both in terms of quantity and quality. Many of their former pupils are now first-class adult musicians, proving what can be achieved with dedication and imagination.

The Caithness and Sutherland Provincial Mòd has been a very successful event for many years now but this year also sees the Royal National Mòd heading north. Many will remember with great fondness the year it was hosted by Golspie, but this October it will be held in Thurso.

Melvich and Lairg choirs are well-established names on the Mòd circuit and great things are expected of them. A new choir will be joining them as Còisir Ghàidhlig an Iar Thuath (North West Gaelic Choir), now in its fourth year, have decided to make their Mòd debut in Thurso. They are keen to attract new members and anyone with an interest in Gaelic song (not limited to Gaelic speakers or the musically gifted) should email

With so many different opportunities to become involved in the preservation and celebration of our heritage as well as the sharing of a modern, vibrant language and culture, things have never looked better for Gaelic in Sutherland.

— Lisa MacDonald

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