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Gaidhlig (Gaelic)

I shall journey with my prepared song to the king of the Gael, the man who keeps his house crowded happy and plentiful. (16th c Mull bard)

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Gaelic is an ancient and exotic jewel in Scotland's cultural crown mined from the myths of bygone ages by a heart beating strong in the Gaidhealtachd; the Scottish Highlands and Western Isles. It is a Celtic language brought from Ireland before 500 AD that has survived into modern times due to a strong oral tradition from which it's sentiment and form have been passed down through generations. It conveys stories of epic battles and of heroic attributes of ancient heroes such Cu Chullainn, Fionn MacCumhail, Ossian and Somerled. As well as retaining the history and achievements of patron and kin, the description of their landscape, loves and life; Scotland's ancient society is preserved in the tradition of Gaelic music.

Vocalisation, harping and piping are strong indicators of Gaelic character. 'Port-a-beul,' mouth music for dancing is ancient and in the 12th century Gerald of Wales wrote that Highlanders played on tympanum and chorus (a simple form of bagpipe). Harps were the chosen instrument of the Lords of the Isles and their Bards and the music, 'Luchdtheau' (Folk of the strings) provided accompaniment to bards recitations like the 'Brosnachadh Catha,' the incitement to battle. Harpers like Mac o Senog in Kintyre held hereditary offices with Gaelic nobility that were rewarded with tributes of land but as Clans developed in the 16th-17th centuries patronage fell to a new type of music - pipes. In the 17th century the fiddle, a popular instrument for dancing, began to make it's way in the Highlands and song, a feature of life and work, allowed Gaelic verse to come to the fore when widespread popularity of Ossianic ballads elevated the folk song tradition.

Throughout the Gaidhealtachd were musicians and poets and though much of the material in circulation is by known authors, there are many compositions by anonymous men and women still being recited. The most popular being those that accompanied and gave rhythm to work where more than one is employed e.g., Luinigs 'Waulking Songs' generally sung by women fulling the cloth after weaving and; 'quern songs' for grinding grain, or 'milking songs: Men sang 'Rowing songs' (iorrams) and 'shearing songs' for cutting crops all had words of great importance that reinforced community and rhythm to keep the pace of work consistent. James Boswell on his journey through the Western Isles in the 18th century related how the voices of boatmen, singing as they rowed him to Raasay, blended with the song of the reapers on shore.

Gaelic music made no contribution to the rest of Scotland where contemporary Highland music was either unknown or unimportant and to Gaels English was an alien tongue. After the battle of Culloden in 1746 Lowland Britain attempted to eradicate Gaelic culture. Gaels displaced from their ancestral land emigrated seeking a better life or moved to fishing settlements on the coast, or to find work in the industrial Lowland cities. Though dispersed the culture was helped by societies organised to preserve aspects such as piping and song. Collectors travelled the Highlands collecting songs, others like violinist Simon Fraser derived their material from the singing of kin, but many popular songs then differ from those sung today as Gaelic has been swamped by Lowland conventions.

An exception is Gaelic Choirs whose psalm singing uniquely echo an ancient devotional form. 'Society' sponsored festivals like the 'Highland Games' and more recently the 'Mod' preserve something of the old music but though entertaining it is a fabricated memory of a golden age where competitors are judged on performance by a standard of excellence. The modern idea of 'ceilidh' in Scotland is mainly a gathering for singing, dancing and having a party but it originally focused on recalling the old tales. Today a new appetite has grown for tradition and new life has been injected into what appeared to be a dying culture hopefully this will allow 'Gaelic music,' that precious jewel in Scotland's crown, to shine a light from the past to safely guide future generations. Buideachas.

Gaelic Artists
  1. Run Rig
  2. Capercaillie
  3. Calum Kennedy
  4. Julie Fowlis
  5. Karen Matheson
  6. Mairi MacInnes
  7. Marjory Kennedy Fraser
  8. Ann Lorne Gilllies
  9. Mary Ann Kennedy
  10. Flora MacNeil
  11. Alyth McCormack
  12. Murdo MacFarlane
  13. Mhairi Morrison
  14. Kathleen MacInnes
  15. Frances Tolmie
  16. Alexander Campbell
  17. Cathy Ann McPhee
  18. William Ross
  19. Margaret Bennet
  20. Mary McNiven
  21. Ishbel MacAskil
  22. Neil MacLean
  23. Christine Primrose
  24. Maggie MacDonald
  25. Fiona MacKenzie
  26. Maggie MacInnes
  27. Sgorrabreac
  28. Mary MacLeod
  29. Ian Lom
  30. Alexander MacDonald

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