seaboardgàidhlig

bilingual blog dà-chànanach

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Òrain an ròin

Bha an ròn riamh na chreutair fìor shònraichte do mhuinntir sgìrean a’ chladaich, le iomadh sgeulachd mu ròin a thilgeadh am bian air an tràigh, a’ nochdadh ann an cruth fhear no bhoireannach brèagha. Bha fiù cuid ann a phòsadh clann-daoine, ged aig a cheann thall bhiodh iad a’ tilleadh gu muir, air an tarraing air ais le cumhachd an t-saoghail aca fhèin – coltach ris na maighdinnean-mara anns na sgeulachdan againne.

Aig an aon àm bha an ròn mar bheathach gu math cudromach dha na dearbh choimhearsnachdan seo, a sheilgeadh ròin airson na feòla, a’ chraicinn agus gu sònraichte an ola. Bha seo uabhasach prìseil, is e ga chleachdadh ann an lampaichean ach mar leigheas cuideachd. Agus marbhadh na h-iasgairean iad cuideachd gus àireamhean bhradan a ghlèidheadh.

Mar sin bha dàimh dhà-bharaileach eadar na daoine agus na ròin, an dà chuid an sealladh prataigeach agus an doras fosgailte fhathast dhan t-seann chreideamh os-nàdarra. Mar a mhothaich sinn roimhe san sgìre againne, cha robh riamh dragh sam bith do dh’iasgairean a bhith fìor chràbhach agus anabarrach saobh-chràbhach aig an aon àm.

Seo dà òran tradaiseanta glè bhrèagha mu ròin às na h-Eileanan Siar. Anns a’ chiad fhear, tha maighdeann-ròin a’ mineachadh cò às a thainig na ròin. Anns an dàrna fear tha ròn eile a’ gearan gum bi iasgairean a’ sealg agus ag ithe daoine eile, leis nach e beathaichean a th’ ann an ròin, ach daoine cuideachd.

Tha an dà chuid rin cluinntinn air YouTube amsaa, le Julie Fowlis is eile, ceanglaichean na ìsle. An dòchas gun còrd iad ribh!

Seal songs

The seal has always been a really special creature to the people of coastal areas, with many tales of seals who would cast their skins on the beach and appear in the form of beautiful men and women. There were even some who married humans, though in the long run they would return to the sea, drawn back by the power of their own world – just like the mermaids in our own stories.

At the same time the seal as an animal was extremely important to these very communities, who would hunt seals for the meat, the skin and especially the oil. This was exceptionally precious, being used not just for lamps but also as medicine. And fishermen also killed seals to preserve the salmon stock.

That meant there was an ambivalent relationship between humans and seals, on the one hand the practical aspect and on the other hand still a door left open to the old belief in the supernatural. As we’ve seen before in our own communities, the fisherfolk never had any trouble being both sincerely devout and highly superstitious.

Here are two lovely traditional songs about seals from the Western Isles. In the first, a seal-maiden explains where the seals came from. In the second, another seal complains that fishermen are hunting and eating other people, as seals aren’t animals but people too.

Both songs can be heard on YouTube etc, sung by Julie Fowlis and others – links below.  I hope you enjoy them!

An Ron

“Mise nighean Rìgh-fo-Thuinn
Fuil nan rìghrean na mo chrè –
Ged a chì sibh mi nam ròn
Tha mi mòrail nam thìr fhèin.

“Tìr-fo-Thuinn mo dhachaigh dhùint’
Innis dhùthchasach nan ròn;
Caidlidh mi air leacan sàil’,
Mi fhìn ‘s mo bhàn-chuilean òg.”

A Bhana-phrionns’ a’ chuain shiar,
A bheil sgeul agad ri luaidh?
Nach inns thu dhuinn mar a bha
Mun do ghabh sibh tàmh sa chuan?

“Chaidh na geasan a chur oirnn
Rè ar beò bhith le luchd-fuath,
‘S ged a tha sinn snàmh nan caol
‘S e nàdar daonnd’ tha dhuinn dual.

“Aig tràth-marbh air oidhche fèill
Tilgidh sinn ar bèin air tràigh,
‘S cluichidh sinn nar n-òighean suairc’
A’ crathadh ar cuaillean bàn.

“Ach a-nochd tha mi nam ròn
Air an lic an còrs’ a’ chuain:
‘S e mo nàdar bhith toirt gaol,
‘S do chlann-daoine thug mi luaidh.”

“I am daughter of the King-under-Sea,  Royal blood flows in my veins – Though you see me as a seal I am noble in my own land.

“Land-below-waves my prison home, Hereditary domain of the seal; I will sleep on a salt sea slab, Myself and my white-furred pup.”

O Princess of the western ocean Do you have a tale to weave? Will you tell us how it was Before you came to live at sea?

“Spells were laid upon us During our human lives by foes – Though we now swim the straits Human nature is our heritage.

“At the dead of feast-day night We cast our sealskins on the sand, Playing there as gentle maids Shaking our blonde tresses.

“But tonight I am a seal On a rock beside the sea; It is my nature to give love, And mankind I hold dear.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Òran an Ròin

Hò i hò i hì o hò I, Hò i hì o hò i ì
Hò i hò i hì o hò i
Cha robh mi ‘m ònar a-raoir.

‘S mairg san tìr seo, ‘s mairg san tìr
‘G ithe dhaoine ‘n riochd a bhìdh;
Nach fhaic sibh ceannard an t-sluaigh
Goil air teine gu cruaidh cruinn.

‘S mise nighean Aoidh mhic Eòghainn,
Gum b’ eòlach mi mu na sgeirean;
Gur mairg a dhèanadh mo bhualadh
Bean uasal mi o thìr eile.

Thig an smeòrach, thig an druid
Thig gach eun a dh’ionnsaigh nid;
Thig am bradan thar a’ chuain
Gu Là Luain cha ghluaisear mis’.

Hò i hò i hì o hò I, I was not alone last night.

Pity to be in this place where people are eaten as food
See the chief of the people Boiling hard on a fire.

I am the daughter of Aoidh son of Ewen
I was knowledgeable about the reefs
Pity the person who would hit me
I am a noble woman from another land.

The thrush comes, the starling comes
Every bird returns to its nest
The salmon comes from the sea
Until Doom’s Day I will not be moved.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Julie Fowlis , An Ròn: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-pmeyFOZSfQ

Julie Fowlis, Òran an Ròin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7DbEDIKh0hI

Emma NicLeòid,  Òran an Ròin:  https://www.feisean.org/fuaran/gd/oran-an-roin/

This month we’re having a look at how directions and points of the compass were traditionally used in the Gaelic Highlands, and therefore in Gaelic-influenced Seaboard English, which also carried over into behaviour patterns still familiar to some people today.

If you look at the map, it’s clear that the Seaboard coast runs roughly north-east to south-west, but I’ve never heard anyone refer to the ends of the Villages except as east and west. In Hilton you went, and still go, east to the burn or the chapel, not north-east. So-and-so’s house, on the same NE-SW street, might be “a bit west” of someone else’s. This might seem just shorthand for the more exact orientation, but there’s more to it than that.

Nowadays we’re used to seeing, and giving, directions in terms of the usual map view – north is up, south is down. For distant places this was to a large extent also true traditionally, in Gaelic or English – you’d sail up to Orkney, or people went down to Glasgow or London to work. At a more local level, however, this was very different. Maps were not what people used, or even possessed, until relatively recently, so a map’s view of up and down was irrelevant. What mattered, and what people who lived from it were intimately familiar with, was the lie of the land. The main point of reference was direction of water flow. Up (Gaelic suas, pronounced /soo-as/) was upstream, and down (sìos, pron. /shee-as/) was downstream. So up could be north, south, east or west, depending on geography. This meant that there was nothing odd in a north-facing community in telling someone to go suas gu deas – up south (southwards upstream) to a place. Roughly south or south-east-facing communities, like Easter Ross, had coincidentally upstream to their north or north-east, so they could say suas gu tuath – up north, for local directions, coinciding more or less with the map view. There are examples all over the Highlands and Islands of place-names echoing the changing geography.

This Gaelic-influenced feature has even been continued over in Nova Scotia. Cape Breton natives are famous for saying “Down North” – there possibly related to wind and therefore sailing direction (upwind and downwind in relation to their prevailing winds). They also say they’re going up and down to places which are east and west. In Easter Ross we can do the same.

While it’s logical for us to say “I’m going up to Fearn” (up the hill) we also still say things like “I’m going up to Dingwall / Inverness”, even though they’re not to the north or uphill – but they’re “up the firth”, i.e. upstream from here.  Travel was largely by water until relatively recently in our history, as roads were poor and people didn’t have vehicles, so sea and rivers were dominant in people’s lives. It was also common in the East Highlands to refer to a westerly / easterly wind as gaoth à shuas / à shìos – a wind from upstream / downstream, as the mountains were west of the coast.

So far, so good. That meant in our area that if you had your back to the hill (where upstream was, roughly north), and were facing the sea (roughly south), the natural orientation of fishing villages, then on your left you had east, and on your right you had west. Thus east and west came to be used for left and right when speaking English.  And that’s why older folk like my granny always talked about going east to the kitchen, or west to the (good) room. East – west was the most important orientation for communication and daily movement in the Villages, so these terms, rooted in the landscape-based Gaelic language, were absolutely normal. It was also, significantly, the path of the sun, visible in its arc over the sea every day.

The sun itself was another natural element that was reflected in Gaelic words for directions. As in probably all cultures, the sun was seen as life-giving, its light eagerly awaited and its progress determining daily and seasonal activities. The most propitious way to face in the morning was eastwards, and you’d turn to follow the sun southwards and westwards throughout the day. West to north to east again was the night, the dark and dangerous time and therefore direction.  South came to mean good luck and prosperity, north bad luck. This is what has led to all the folklore and superstition that calls for doing things “sunwise”, or clockwise. The opposite, called “widdershins” in Scots (which literally means “against the sun”), was really unlucky. Seaboard fishing boats (despite being full of good Presbyterian seamen) always turned sunwise – taking no chances! Superstition was rife among the fishermen despite their sincere religious beliefs – I think of it as a belt and braces approach. They also always said “12 plus one” when counting, instead of 13, hence the numbering of this article!

The word for south in Gaelic is deas (pron. /jess/), and this is also the word for right, as in right-handed. South would be on your right-hand side when facing the rising sun in the east, the starting point for the “good” hours of the daytime. Again, many cultures consider right good, left bad. On the Seaboard it was considered bad luck to have the spouts of jugs and teapots facing left on the shelf. From deas Gaelic has the word deiseil (/jesh-al/), which means sunwise, moving in the same direction as the sun. It also means ready, prepared, based on the idea that you’re set on the right course. Katy Ross told me that to was customary for the fisherman who lived furthest from the boat to go round in the morning making sure the others en route were up and about by calling at their window “Am beil thu deiseil?” – a much more loaded and promising word than the English “ready”.  She heard it called to her father every morning.

So when you next hear what seems to be an odd use of up and down, or east and west, or left and right, just remember there will have been a perfectly logical reason for it in the Gaelic it came from. Enjoy them, and treasure them!

And as usual, let me have any more examples you hear or remember yourselves!

This month we’ll be looking at how some Gaelic language forms, such as diminutive endings, were simply carried over naturally to English or Scots words in local speech, particularly in people’s names.

If you have the newest edition of Down to the Sea (2018), you’ll have seen the wonderful long list of by-names at the back. It’s much more than a list – it’s a mini social history of each of the Villages, so well worth a read or a re-read! Among them are many of my relatives and family friends, or neighbours of my grannie’s, or unknown figures who featured in local stories, and it brought back a lot of childhood memories to read that list when it was first published. So many thanks to all who contributed – an invaluable resource of local knowledge that otherwise would have disappeared.

But it’s also a great resource for those interested in language, like myself, as it’s full of examples of the often mutual influence of Gaelic and Scots.

In Gaelic, if you add -ag or –an to a word, it conveys a smaller version of the original (with things), or a more familiar or affectionate version (especially with names). A lochan is just a small loch, a boyan is a small boy, a young lad. You may know them in the Gaelic words sliseag (sleeshack) and tuircan (tourcan), still common locally. When applied to names, David might become Dave-an (=Davie), for example, or Anne or Anna might become Annag (=Annie). Classically, –an was for masculine words and –ag for feminine, but this was not closely adhered to locally, with men’s names sometimes getting the -ag treatment too. –ag is pronounced -ack, so that’s what usually got written down.

Examples of the -ag/ack ending in my own family history include Jimmack Oliver, my uncle, and Davack Ross, my grandfather. Other male names I remember were Buiyack, Johnack, Danack and Willack, and lots of female ones: Bellack, Dollack , Nanack, Curstack (Kirstie), Kateack. The -an ending was definitely used more for males – Jockan, Willican, Toman.

It’s worth pointing out that the pronunciation of these names was usually, and often still is, very Gaelic – the first part is stressed and generally longer, and there’s a wee gap before the –an or –ack.

The lack of stress on that ending also led to it being eroded – sometimes the -ag or -an would become just -a. Examples I recall: Kate-a, Doll-a, Wull-a, Dan-a, John-a, Kenn-a.  Very Gaelic intonation!

Some female names ending in -an are actually Ann/Anne as the second half of a double name (another very Gaelic thing). The most famous example in the Villages is probably Bellan (Isabelle Ann /Bell Ann / Bel Ann etc) MacAngus, mother of Dolly, or Dollack. When this is spelled together as one word, saying it aloud helps to establish what kind of –an it is – the diminutive –an ending (unstressed), or the name Ann (usually stressed equally with the first part). I also had an Auntie Christan, the -an part unstressed, but I am not sure if that was a diminutive Christine, or the remains of Christine Ann.  There were also Johndans on the Seaboard – whether John + an with an extra D, or John + Dan (double name), I don’t know. Anyone? EDIT: as a relative informs me, just a diminutive of John, no double names. And there were several in the family. And Christan was Christine Ann, but her mother used the pet name Christan after hearing it used elsewhere.

It wasn’t just names that got these -an and -ag endings – sometimes they were added to things as well, e.g. shop-an, skirt-an (Gaelic sgiortan), and cutag or guttag for a gutting knife. But with the English names of things, the Gaelic endings were less common than the Scots -ie, as often already attached to the words when they were brought to the area by Lowlands and Moray farming folk at the time of the agricultural “Improvements”. There is a Gaelic word-ending – aidh, pronounced  “ee” (e.g. Ciorstaidh = Kirsty), so it was an easy transition for Gaelic speakers to make.  A baggie and a listie for the shoppie, a boatie, a bairnie are the sort of thing that caught on. People also got the –ie ending, sometimes combined with the Gaelic –ag: Nanackie, Willackie.

Occasionally the ending -ach would be used instead, either as a variant on the pronunciation of -ag, or the Gaelic ending -ach used for turning a noun into an adjective, eg. Sasainn/Sasann (England) > Sasannach (English). So we have Sandach (for Sandy), the Alachs, the Morachs etc.

The prevalence of the same first names as well as surnames throughout the Villages led to plenty of by-names to help distinguish them, and often these by-names would get carried down through the generations, their original reference getting lost en route. Names are more varied nowadays, but traditionally in the Villages, and in fact still in the main Gaelic-speaking areas today, it’s always been hard to break the pattern of calling first sons after fathers and daughters after mothers etc. So adding a distinguishing term was not only a good Gaelic tradition but a necessity. Until, of course, the by-name became attached to each generation, so that grandfather, father, son and grandson might all once again have the same name! The William “Chats” Ross family are a good example of this. (I learned from the list that this came from a Charlotte further back in the family who was known as Chattie.)

The by-name might be the person’s job – Thomas Vass the Post, Jimmy the Van, or where the family originally came from – the Woods from Cellardyke got the by-name “the Dyker” or “the Decker”, and there were also Rosses known as Morach / Morrach – probably from the Gaelic for someone from Moray. There was even a Johnny-up-the-hill Ross, who worked on Hilton farm. Other by-names were less clear, such as Buzz, or the Claws, or the Roggles, or Jockan and Ali “the Bolt” Vass, and usually had a story attached. My Latin teacher was Johnnie “Leekie” Ross from Balintore, himself from a Ross family called the Cuppies. These by-names could also be Gaelic words, like my father’s (Sutherland) family, the Alachs, or the “Raws” and “Roos” (possibly from ruadh – red-haired).

But there was one very Gaelic way of distinguishing between multiple William Rosses etc, and that was by saying who their mother or wife was: that’s how we get “Jock Kate” for John Skinner, or “Billy Nanack” Ross, or “Geordie Minnie” Mackay, or a family of Vasses all given “Ethel” as a kind of surname. And of course the “Chats” Rosses, from Charlotte. Women might also get distinguished by their father’s name, such as Bella Danack, or Bella Davack.

Gaelic also has a common method with “aig” (= at) for saying who you belonged to, and this led to things like “Dolly at Bellan”, “Joan at Curly”, and I got called “Davine at Hughie” more than once. (Which I objected to in my teens as I wanted to be myself, not some else’s appendage!)

So keep collecting the by-names and their stories, and maybe they’ll feed into any future editions of Down to the Sea. Our names, their stories, and our rich local language are as much our heritage as the Pictish stones, and the objects we display in our museums. Let’s keep them alive and kicking!

This month our look at the Gaelic influence on Seaboard English will focus on some particularly Gaelic grammar structures that got carried over in translation, leading to non-standard English expressions that gave and still give our local English its particular flavour.

The first one, and probably for most people the most noticeable one, is the use of the -ing form of verbs that are usually just the simple form in English; for example, instead of “I need”, it was often “I’m needing” that you’d hear. “It’s a good skelp she’s needing”, as we saw before.

English does use the -ing form a lot itself – it kept the form from the Celtic languages that were spoken in Britain before the Germanic, Viking and Norman influxes led to the development of modern English. But in English the -ing form is usually used to emphasise that something is happening now, and the simple form for regular activities or facts. “The sun is setting right now – come and see it! “versus “The sun sets much earlier in the winter.” Certain always-factual verbs are virtually never used in the -ing form in standard English, e.g.  hear, see, think (for opinions), believe, want, need.  Gaelic is not nearly as strictly divided and uses the -ing form much more, and this made its way into Seaboard (and indeed Highland) English.  Here are some examples I’ve collected from my own experience and from my various contributors.

You’ll be needing a good dinner after that!

I’m thinking it’ll rain tomorrow. I’m no thinking she’ll be coming more the night.

I’m no hearing you! Are you no seeing it?

It’s Jessie you’re meaning, is it?

What is it you’re wanting? You’ll no be wanting that any more.

You won’t be breaking that window with your ball, now, will you?

Don’t be waking up the bairn, now!  Don’t you be telling lies!

Another thing I’ve often noticed is the use of “till” where standard English would have a sentence with “so that”: instead of “so that I can see you”, you often hear “till I see you” This is because in Gaelic the little word gus is used for both so that and till/until. English uses “till” for time only, not for purpose.

Come here till I tell you / till I straighten that tie / till get a better look at you!

Take it to the window till you see better.

The word “since” also gets used in the Gaelic way. In English, it’s normal to use “since” with a fixed point in time: “We’ve been doing that since Monday, since 1950, since the bridge was built.” If we want to say how long we’ve been doing it, i.e. a period of time, we use “for”: for ages, for 10 years, for a week etc. The Gaelic word for “since”, o chionn, can be used for both of these, leading to “since” being used for both in Seaboard English.

I’ve been here since 6 o’ clock / since hours!

They’ve been saying they’ll mend that road since years!

I’ve known him since ages / since we were at school.

And one more of these for today.  You’ve probably heard and quite possibly said “No nor me!” when you say that you also wouldn’t do something, e.g.

I can’t stand that so-and-so! No nor me!

I won’t be going back there! No nor me!

Standard English would be “Neither can I / Neither will I”. That handy wee expression “No nor me!” is a direct translation of the Gaelic “Chan eil no mise”.

Do keep an ear open for more examples of any of these, and also anything else that catches your attention, and let me know. I hope you’re all listening out for all the Seaboard specialities we’ve already looked at! And even better, actively using them. Let’s keep our local linguistic colour!

At the ploughing – ploughing match Udale, Black Isle, Feb 2020

We continue our look at the influence of Gaelic on local usage of English with another wee word that may well not be noticed – “the”.

One obvious Gaelic use of “the” is in expressions of time. How often you say, or hear someone say, “We’re off to Tain the day”?  Or “We’ll no get it done the night”?

The Gaelic for today and tonight is an-diugh and a-nochd, and as “an” is the main word for “the” in Gaelic, that’s what Gaelic speakers used when trying to equate their terms with the English. I also recall “the week” and “the year” used for “this week” and “this year” by my grandparents’ generation, another Gaelicism.  E.g.

Oh, I doubt we’ll be going anywhere the year! We’ll do it the week yet.

It’s dreich the day. Where’ll we go the day? I’ll no do it the night now, it’s too dark.

We also hear “the“ used with items of clothing, when it’s meant generally not specifically. “Oh, he’s got the suit on – there must be a funeral!” Not a specific suit, but the fact that he’s wearing a suit at all, not jeans and a pullover, is the point being made. Again, this is Gaelic usage. E.g.

He looks good in the jacket. Oh, he wouldn’t go out without the bonnet!  The trousers were hanging off him. (Never “his jacket/bonnet/trousers”.) 

OK, I’ll put on the jacket, but not the tie! Will you be wearing the hat to the wedding? Not many women are wearing the hat in the church any more. (not “a jacket/tie/hat”.)

This use remains common in “He looks good in the kilt”.

Gaelic also uses the definite article “the” in places where English has no article at all, not even an “a”, especially institutions. You still hear the occasional use of “the” here in local speech, though I’ve noticed it’s less common than it was. (The Scots language too tends to use “the” more in this context, whether under Gaelic influence or from its Germanic roots.) E.g.

The bairns are all going to the school/ the nursery now. She’s in the hospital. He’s at the university / the college. It’s 12 o’clock – they’ll be at the church now. Those folk in the parliament!

The same applies to languages – Gaelic tends to use “the” before them, and traces of this remain. E.g.

Does she have the Gaelic? He’s very good at the French. They translated the Bible into the English.

The sheep are at the turnips

There’s another way “the“ is used that’s very Gaelic, and you certainly still hear this one a lot – when saying what activity or occupation someone is engaged in, especially when it’s a common one, usually with “at the….”, in Gaelic “ris an..”, such as ris an iasgach – at the fishing. E.g.

What’s Iain up to these days? Oh, he’s at the fishing / painting / building. He’s still at the crofting / farming / teaching.  They’re at the spreading / ploughing / planting now.

And by extension: at the turnips, at the barley, at the creels, at the lobsters, at the lug.

The bairns are at the taties. It’s a good drying day – everyone’ll be at the washing.

We’ve got visitors coming – it’s at the baking I’ll be the day, I’m afraid! She’s always at the pancakes.  I see you’re at the gardening / weeding again.

He’s always at the golf / football / bowling etc.  The girls are at the dancing.

My childhood passion for books was well-known – people would often ask my parents “Is she still at the reading?”. (And I still am. 😉 )

So we’ve added another wee word to look out for in Seaboard English, along with the “in it”,  “on” and “after” we looked at before. Keep sending me examples of such local turns of phrase, as well, of course, as any local words for things. Thanks in advance!

.… you’ve been at the baking the day!

Thanks to Jim Mackay for the photo of the ploughing match at Udale Farm Feb. 2020.

Continuing with the influence Gaelic has had on the way English was and still is spoken on the Seaboard, in sentence structure and turns of phrase, this time I wanted to look at one wee Gaelic word, air (pronounced “err”), meaning “on”, which crops up everywhere.

In English this is mainly used to say where or when something is – on the table, on a winter’s day, etc, but although used that way too, in Gaelic it covers a much wider range. One area is parts of the body: rather than saying someone has a face, head, hair etc, these things are “on you”.  This shows up directly translated into English, especially if emphatic, in expressions like:

Look at the face that’s on him! That’s awful long legs on her! What a nose is on him! Och, it’s no a bad head that’s on you! (Meaning I’d shown some sense!)

This might be transferred to related items:

Have you seen the clothes on her? She has an awful boos on her! (pout, sulky expression)

Air is also used in Gaelic for external influences on us, things that are landed on us by fate, as it were. Often unpleasant or at least unasked for, like strong emotions, or illnesses, that group also includes our names, as we didn’t choose them ourselves. In Gaelic all these things are “on you”. The Gaelic for “What’s your name?” is Dè an t-ainm a th’ ort?  What’s the name that’s on you? (= landed on you by your parents).  Tha gaol agam ort, I love you = I have love on you (whether you want it or not). So we also see this use of air = on:

That’s an awful cough that was on her. What’s the hurry on you? That’ll put the worry on him! Oh, the rage that was on him!

A related use is when you shift the blame for something bad to fate, or your wee brother:

He went and broke it on me! The fire went out on me. The train left on me! These are all direct translations from Gaelic uses of air.

There’s one other important use of air in Gaelic, where it means not “on” but “after”, along with verbs. This is used where English uses the perfect tense, i.e. you “have done” something. In Gaelic you are “after doing” it.

Will you have a cup of tea? No, I’m just after having my dinner.

I was just after coming in the door when the post came.

I’m just after feeding the hens.

He was no long after coming out of the Navy when he got a job in Tain.

So if you find yourself, or hear someone else, using expressions with “on” and “after” that don’t sound quite English, you know where they come from now. And I’d be delighted if you made a note of any other examples for me.

More next month!

It’s a cold day that’s in it, right enough!

Gaelic on the Seaboard 8: Oh, it’s you that’s in it!

In our series so far on Gaelic as used on the Seaboard (7 articles already!) I’ve looked mainly at Gaelic words and phrases that were and often still are used in otherwise English conversations – things like strawlyach (stràileach) for seaweed, or eeshun (isean) for wee rascal, or porstan (portan) for a small crab.  (Feel free to keep sending me these!)

This time and in the next one or two articles I’ll look at how the way Villages people speak or spoke English shows the influence of Gaelic too – in sentence structure or turns of phrase.  Gaelic looks at the world slightly differently, reflecting the mindsets and lifestyles of our forefathers. Languages all do that, that’s the beauty of knowing at least bits of other languages – you realise there’s more than one way of seeing things.  People learning a new language take time to absorb these differences, and often simply translate word for word from their mother-tongue, and that’s what happened with Gaelic-speaking generations picking up English – in my case, the generation of my grandparents.  My granny’s speech was full of Gaelicisms that seemed quite normal to me as a child, and many of them were also used by the next generation (my parents), and some have continued up to now. It was only when I moved away from the Highlands that others pointed out how odd some of my turns of phrase were.  As Gaelic lasted longer in the fishing villages than in the towns, these borrowed expressions also lasted longer in places like the Seaboard. They are what give local colour and richness to our way of speaking, so I’d hate to see them die out altogether.

In what???

I’m sure most locals, those of a certain age anyway, will remember the older folk opening the door to you and saying “Oh, it’s you that’s in it!” It never occurred to me to wonder “in what?” until non-Highlanders questioned it. In fact this is one of these Gaelic translations. The Gaelic for “in it” is “ann” (pronounced like the –own in down), and this word is also used for “there”. When there’s no specific place meant, the “in it” is actually “in existence” or “being”, so the Gaelic ann is used for here, there, present, available etc. It roughly does the same job as the English “There is….”, e.g. there’s plenty of tea. (English learners often ask, But where is “there”?) Gaelic would say Tha tì gu leòr ann, literally, Plenty of tea is in it/there/here/available.

Other typical examples of what you might have come across are: “Look at the mess that’s in it!”   “It’s the truth that’s in it.”   It’s a cold wind that’s in it.”  “I thought it was thunder but it’s a plane that was in it.”

And a Black Isle resident told me her Culbokie grandparents would say things like “What’s in it for dinner?” And another Black Isler, musician Anna Massie, posted a love song on Facebook “for the day that’s in it”, Valentine’s Day. https://fb.watch/3EPF5pejuB/

I also remember my dad saying of someone making a mess of some woodwork: “It’s no a joiner that’s in him!”  Another direct translation from Gaelic. Gaelic defines someone’s identity, profession or nationality etc as being in them, part of their being. ‘S e saor a th’ ann. It’s a joiner that’s in him

It’s a nurse that’s in her.  It’s Americans that was in them / in it. It’s a lovely kind woman that was in her/in it. It’s nothing but a rogue that’s in him!

In other words, scratch their skin and underneath you’ll find a joiner/nurse/American etc inside.

It’s… that….

You can see a pattern emerging here too in the sentence structure: It’s … that….. 

Gaelic doesn’t just use this format with ann, in it etc, to define things or say what’s there, but to give the key element more clarity or emphasis. ‘S e motor-baic a th’ aige, chan e càr. “It’s a motorbike that he has, not a car.” Instead of the more neutral “He has a motorbike, not a car”. Similarly, “It’s the creels that he’s at just now.” “It’s Aberdeen he’s in, isn’t it?”

Here’s one I heard fairly often as a child: “It’s a skelp that she’s needing!”  And I was also given these: “It’s only lining his pockets he was.” And “It’s the truth I have!” – a story-teller defending herself against disbelief.

Yourself, itself

Sometimes you’d hear “Oh, it’s yourself that’s in it” as a more emphatic recognition at the door. Gaelic doesn’t stress words by increasing their volume as in English, but by placing them in an emphatic position, e.g. after It’s…”, and / or by adding an extra element to them, usually “self” (fhèin). “It’s yourself that’s the daft one!”  “It’s himself that told me.”

This was also applied to things, not just people, usually in the sense of “even”. “He wouldn’t wear the jacket itself to church!” – he wouldn’t even wear a jacket. “You couldn’t get butter itself in the shop.” Another one I was given: “he couldn’t sleep in the house itself,” – not even in the house.

That will do for this time, but I’d be delighted if it jogged any memories or made you keep your ears open for similar examples, and for other expressions that maybe sound odd to non-local ears.  Keep them coming! Thanks!

It’s a lovely day that’s in it!

Smeuran

Leis an t-sìde bhrèagha a th’ againn a-nis (tha mi a’ sgrìobhagh seo gu deireadh na Sultaine), bidh mi a’ coiseachd a-muigh air an dùthaich cho tric ‘s a ghabhas.  Agus gach uair, chan urrainn dhomh gun a bhith a’ buain nan smeuran agus ag ithe mo làn-shàth dhiubh. Tha iad cho pailt am bliadhna, agus cho blasda! Leugh mi gu bheil atharrachadh na h-aimsir a tha air a bhith againn o chionn beagan bhliadhnaichean – samhraidhean fliuch agus foghair ghrianach thioram – sònraichte math do smeuran (agus chan ann math idir do shuibheagan). Fàsaidh iad mòr sòghmhor leis an taiseachd, agus milis fo ghrian an fhoghair, agus cumaidh iad a’ dol fad mòran seachdainean.  

‘S e dearcan iol-chomasach a th’ anns na smeuran. ‘S urrainn dhut an ithe amh bhon phreas no ann am mìlseanan fuara, no silidh a dhèanamh, no crumbles is pàidhean (blasda cuideachd còmhla ri ùbhlan), no fìon no liciùr-sine … liosta gun chrìoch. Ach bha iad riamh aithnichte mar chungaidh-leighis cuideachd, gu h-àraidh mar fhìon-geur a tha math airson an tùchaidh, a’ chasaid agus thrioblaidean-gaillich, ach cuideachd airson na buainniche, ann an daoine agus crodh.

Ach bha taobh aig na smeuran nach robh idir cho fallain, a-rèir beòil-aithris: cha bu chòir dhut am buain ro fhadalach sa bhliadhna, air sgàth’s gur e measan an diabhail a bhiodh annta às dèidh na Samhain, no fiù ‘s às dèidh Fèill Mhìcheil. B’ urrainn dhut cuideachd duine no beathach a chur fo gheasaibh olc aig an t-Samhain le pìos dris-mheòir.

Tha na meanganan deilgneach den dris gun teagamh cunnartach gu leòr iad fhèin, gun draoidheachd sam bith eile. Dionaidh nàdar a mheasan gu math, agus bheir na drisean fasgadh do h-eòin is beathaichean beaga, fhads ’s a bhios na blàthan, na dearcan agus na duilleagan a’ còrdadh ri seilleanan agus dealain-dè.  Agus na dearcan rinne cuideachd! Is fhiach daonnan e dèiligeadh ris an droigheann gus an toradh milis a bhuannachadh.

Seo seann tòimhseachan:

Is àirde e na ‘n t-each

Is lugha e na ‘n luch

Is deirge e na ‘n fhuil

Is duibhe e na ‘m fitheach.

Dè a th’ ann? Smeuran air dris!

++++++++++++++++++

Brambles

With the weather being so beautiful just now (I’m writing this towards the end of September), I go for walks out in the country as often as possible. And every time, I can’t resist picking brambles and eating my fill. They’re so plentiful this year, and so delicious! I read that the change in weather patterns the last few years – wet summers and dry, sunny autumns – are particularly good for brambles (and not good at all for rasps). They grow big and luscious with the humidity, and sweet under the autumn sun, and they keep producing for many weeks.

They’re really versatile berries. You can eat them straight from the bush, or with cold desserts, or make jam or jelly, or crumbles and tarts (tasty in with apples too), or wine or gin liqueur … it’s an endless list. But they have also always been known as a medicine, especially as a vinegar, which is good for sore throats, coughs and gum troubles, but also for diarrhoea in humans and cattle.

But there was a much less healthy side to brambles too, according to folk tradition: you shouldn’t pick them too late in the year, as they were supposedly the devil’s fruit after Halloween, or even after Michaelmas.  You could also put people or animals under an evil spell with a piece of bramble branch at Halloween.

The thorny branches of the briar are certainly dangerous enough on their own, without any other magic. Nature protects her fruits well, and the briars give shelter to small birds and animals, while bees and butterflies love the blossoms, berries and leaves. And we humans love the berries too! It’s always worth coping with the thorns to win the sweet harvest.

Here’s an old riddle:

It’s taller than a horse

It’s smaller than a mouse

It’s redder than blood

It’s blacker than a raven.

What is it? A bramble on its briar!

Although the Villages were primarily fishing communities, and held themselves to a large degree apart from the farming ones, there were of course overlaps. The women would carry fish to the countryside and bring back eggs, vegetables and other foodstuffs, or firewood and tourcans, and some village folk worked on the local farms either all year round or seasonally, e.g. tatie-lifting. Some of the words I have collected reflect this activity, and also the fact that family vegetable gardens were important for a more varied diet.

Go to the tuath – the countryside. Tuath (too-a) is a loaded word in Gaelic. It covered the land itself, but also the people living and working on the land, the ones who made it what it was. This is reflected in the motto chosen for the Highland Land League, who campaigned for land reform in the 1880s: Is Treasa tuath na tighearna – the (lands)people are mightier than the lord. Although mainly representing crofters, this movement was quite strong in Easter Ross, a high-level champion of Highland tenants’ rights being Thomas Nichol of Resolis and Dingwall.

A key crop, in fields and garden, was the buntàta (boon-taa-ta), potato. Usually shortened to buntàt’, which is probably a step on the way to the Scots word taties, pronounced with a long A, as in sgadan is buntàt’, herring and taties. A favourite childhood meal of ours was salt herring and taties, as we were allowed to eat it with our fingers because of the bones, and always a mug of milk on the side because of the salt.
A dreel was clais (clash), a furrow, ditch, hollow. We still see this word today living on in the local place name Clashnamuaich, clais nam maigheach – ditch of the hares.
The flower on the potato plant was barra-guc, local pron. barra-kook.

After the potato harvest was over came the “laachoo”, làmhachadh – handling. This was the word for the lifting by hand, after the fields had been harvested and harrowed, of the remains of the potato crop – a kind of gleaning. By the time of our parents this was probably more a historical word than still something that was done. The poorer people would be the ones who took part. But the word has also been given to me as one that continued in use for the regular lifting of taties.
A “cappan” was a sort of fork for lifting taties in the garden, possibly from cupan, anything curved or cuplike, or from Scots coup/cope – overturn, spill. Can anyone tell me if that is the same as a hawk?
And one more tatie word: “runnach” – dry bracken to cover taties. raineach / roineach – bracken.
And once you had your taties, you of course needed a plocan, a wooden chapper, to mash them!
The turnip too was a staple: snèap (snape), as was the onion, “eenyan”- uinnean, or Scots ingan.

Another word that came up a few times is “mawchoo”, manure. This is the local pronunciation of mathachadh – improving (math = good), and in a farming context manuring to improve the soil. As one of my sources said, “ If there was a whiff of ordure in the air, the diagnosis was, ‘They are putting mawchoo on the fields’. Mawchoo was also dug into the gardens of the village.”

Iochal – a load, was another farm-related word, probably a Gaelicisation of yoke. I remember a packed lunch being called a “half-yocheen” by my uncle who worked on a farm. i.e. the break halfway between re-yoking the horses.

In the garden the beairt (byarst, byarsht) was used for a garden frame for laying seeds (line and sticks) . It was also the word for a square frame round which a handline was wound. In Gaelic it refers generally to equipment or tackle, or a contraption, or frame. Beairt-iasgaich – fishing tackle; beairt-fhighe – a loom.
Another useful item was the corran, or sickle. Some people told me the Scots word heuk (related to hook) was used instead.

Of course animals were kept too, including pigs fattened on scraps for selling on. It’s probably muc, a pig, in the name Balmuchybaile nam muc – the pig settlement/farm.  “Coolan”, cuilean – puppy, whelp, cub, was used of the young of the pig, referring to the sow and her coolans. My source here says: “Presumably should be ‘cuilean muice’ (pig whelp), but maybe many young animals were referred to like that. Strangely, I don’t remember anything but puppy for a young dog.” Does anyone else remember anything about the names used locally for young animals, or indeed any other animals, like goat or cow?

Hens were also kept – I remember having to feed my grannie’s ones, kept down at the sea end of the garden, where nothing else would grow. The cockerel was “callach”- coileach, and young hen or chicken was “ayrack”, èireag. Eggs were “oo-yan” – uighean. I don’t remember the hens themselves being called cearcan, just hens, but I vaguely recall hearing taigh-chearc for henhouse. I also recall the hens being described as “goggling”, which I took then to mean the way they looked at you (especially the rooster), but in fact I realise now it must have been from Gaelic gogail, clucking or cackling.

I hope this wee trip down the collective memory lane (thanks, as ever, to all my sources!) might have sparked some more Gaelic or local words used in the Villages in living memory. And as ever, all additional memories gratefully received! Mòran taing!

Perhaps not surprisingly, it’s words for seabirds that I’ve been given most of in this category, but there are some animals and other bits and pieces too.  (Not fish – we did them earlier in the series.) As ever, please get in touch via the Hall if you think of any more – on this or any subject. Mòran taing!

Eòin – Birds

Fuillack, foolack – a seagull.  Faoileag, pron. approx. fuil-ak

scraicheach – tern.    Sgreuchach (pron. sgraych-ach), screeching, and sgreuchag  – a generic term for a screeching or hooting bird, esp. jay, nightjar, owl, gull.  From sgreuch – to screech, hoot.

glooter – young gull.  Probably from sgliùthach (sgloo-(h)ach) – Seaboard Gaelic often seems to lose an initial S  – a young gull. Also meaning a fish rejected for poor quality, leading to the use of it as an insult.

corragan-creach, corra-creach – heron.  corra-ghritheach  (corra-ghree-ach).  corra = old word for point < beak

skarav, scarrow – cormorant.  sgarbh (sgarav).

sgarbhach (sgaravach) – abounding in cormorants, hence our rock Skaravak.

feadag – wee bird on seashore, plover.  feadag (fettack) – a whistle, flute; a plover

Beathaichean – animals

gimmach –lobster.  Giomach (gimmach)

porshtin, porstan – small crab   G. portan, partan (porstan, parstan) – (green) shore crab. From port, pron. porst, with -an, a diminutive ending: “a wee port creature”.

spoag – claw of lobster or crab.  spòg (spawg)

crasgag – starfish

gullichan, gullican, gullach – earwig.  Gòbhlachan (go-lach-an) – anything forked, esp. earwigs, from gòbhlach – forked

gyar – hare .  geàrr (gyar)

luch – mouse.

tollifeenach – woodworm. “Full of the tollifeenachs.” From toll, a hole , and fìneag (fee-nack), a cheesemite.  (One of my favourite words! 😉)

mowan– a bear. Only used in the phrase referring to something big and frightening, “like a big mowan”, or referring to someone in an uncomplimentary way, “as fat as a mowan”.   From mathan  (ma-han / math-am / maw-an)

mada-rohi – fox.   madadh-ruadh (matta-ruagh) red fox. From madadh – any wild animal of the dog family.  Madadh-allaidh – a wolf (“wild dog”).

Lusan – plants

tourcans or dourcans – pinecones. Durcan (doork-an)- cone

crottal or crochal – the bit where the kelp was attached to the rocks, edible when peeled. From  crotal, a generic name for the varieties of lichen, especially those used in dyeing

runnach – bracken.  Raineach or roineach (ran-yach/ ronn-yach).

sherkan – sticky burr plant.  Searcan  (sherkan) -burdock

guaran, gurachans – “sticky willies” – burr or burr-bush (large sticky burrs you threw at each other). Possibly from glòdhran (glaw-ran) , a clinging/sricky object such as a burr, or maybe related to giùran (gyoo-ran)- hogweed, or from guirean (gooran) – pimple, spot, scab, swelling – either as they looked like these, or caused them? Any better ideas?