Sunday, October 2, 2016

Gaelic Class – Part B – Rambling Recollections of my Schools and School Days

Article XV written by Alexander Gunn was published in the Northern Ensign on 1 September 1881 Part B

“There was a Bible lesson every day, the first in the forenoon, and there was also a class for Gaelic, in which a lesson was given once a day. We had second, third, and fourth books in Gaelic. We were taught to translate the Gaelic into English, and the English into Gaelic, and also to spell Gaelic. I have in my bookcase a Gaelic Bible I got as a prize for Gaelic reading and spelling, and on it I find the inscription - “General Assembly School, Berriedale, 1st April 1833.”
Gaelic Bible

Empty-headed, Brainless Beings

“This is a branch of education, I am sorry to say, which is entirely extinct in the district, and I suppose it is not taught in the parish. I consider this a great mistake, and an injustice to the Gaelic-speaking portions of the community. The parish of Latheron is, or was till very recently, a Gaelic speaking community entirely. I am aware that many of the youths of the parish are getting so big and so refined as to think the acquisition of speaking Gaelic a very questionable accomplishment. Well, there have been mean proud spirits in all ages, and we need not to be surprised to find a few of them in our own days, but there is no man so contemptible in my estimation as a man born in the Highlands, and reared under a thatched roof having the fire in the centre of the house, and going in and out of the same door as the pigs and cows, and who is too proud to learn and speak Gaelic. Away with such a degenerate race of empty-headed, brainless beings! “

The Berriedale School must have been somewhere near the Grave Yard

Ancient as Paradise

“Show me the man, no matter where he is born, whether in a mansion or a stable, who speaks the language of his sires, and is proud of it too, as well he may, for according to wiser men than Professor Blackie, the Gaelic language is as ancient as Paradise. But let that be as it may, I never lose an opportunity of using my mother tongue, and I consider it a gift bestowed upon me by my Maker which he expects me to use, as I do any other gift he has bestowed upon me. I know of no other race who have given up the use of their native tongue, and have adopted another in its place, except where it is forced upon them by the arm of oppression. We are not so very bad as that in the Highlands yet. There is no compulsion to give up our mother tongue.”

A Mystery

“The Welsh race stick firmly to the language of their ancestors. There are not less than eleven newspapers published in Welsh throughout Wales. The Irish, too, notwithstanding all their other defects, hold firmly by the Irish language, and are as bent on retaining it as they are on obtaining “Home Rule.” How the Scottish Highlanders should be the only race, we may say in the world, who seem ashamed and tired of their mother tongue is to me a mystery.”

A Native of Badbea
(To be continued.)

My Comments:

Dating back centuries, Gaelic was the founding language of Scotland. In the late 18th century, the language was heavily suppressed following the Battle of Culloden and the Highland Clearances.

Despite its decline Gaelic remains spoken by some 60,000 people in many parts of Scotland. There are lots of Scottish places and landmarks such as mountains with Gaelic names. There are also bilingual road signs in some places, with Gaelic on official buildings, and tourist venues. There are many Gaelic/English websites, including Am Baile an on-line learning and research resource of digitised archives for the language, culture and history of the Scottish highlands and Islands.
Source: geograph-741617-by-Nicholas-Mutton

Professor Blackie

On 14th October 1874 Professor Blackie of Edinburgh delivered a spirited lecture arguing for “The Teaching of Gaelic in Highland Schools and Universities.” The Aberdeen Free Press reported the lecture which was published in the Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness, Volumes 3-4 He said it was the duty of School Boards to support this language on grounds of patriotism, religion and sentiment.

At one point in the lecture Blaikie commented that “Gaelic was old but he had no reason to believe that Gaelic was the language of the prayer-book by which Adam and Eve were married in Paradise” Prompting laughter from the audience “This was said by a great poet of their own – Alastair Macdonald  - Mac Mhaighstir Alastair – but it was calculated to do more harm than good to the cause of Gaelic.”
Source: Pg 132

Alexander Gunn had a bit of a dig at Blaikie over this comment but in fact both men were clearly passionate about the teaching and speaking of Gaelic 

Blackie was a Radical and Scottish nationalist in politics, of a fearlessly independent type; possessed of great conversational powers and general versatility, his picturesque eccentricity made him one of the characters of the Edinburgh of the day, and a well-known figure as be went about in his plaid, worn shepherd-wise, wearing a broad-brimmed hat, and carrying a big stick.

John Badbea Sutherland

The tombstone of Alexander Gunn's dear family friend John Badbea Sutherland in the old Berriedale cemetery has both English and Gaelic.

Erected to the memory of John Sutherland, Badbea, a native of Ousdale, who feared the Lord from his youth and was a lover of good things, sober, just, holy, temperate, holding fast the faithful word as he had been taught. He was a councellor and comforter of many and an example to all. He died on 31 August 1864 aged 76 years. The memory of the just is blessed. “Ach cumbn is ionmahd maith a chaoidh bidh air an thir ear choir” (Literal translation, “The memory of the kindly just (man) will ever be in high repute.) Source:Patricia Ross

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