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Rubha an Tairbeirt agus na ‘Lighthouse Stevensons’

P1310958[1]‘S e aon de na comharran-stiùiridh as ainmeile ann am Machair Rois a th’ ann an Taigh-solais Rubha an Tairbeirt. Le a thùr àrd geal agus a dhà bhann dearg, agus a shuidheachadh fàbharach air ceann creagach an leth-eilein, tha e a’ cumail faire air Linne Mhoreibh agus Caolas Dhòrnaich. Tha e ri fhaicinn bho mhìltean a-muigh air a’ mhuir agus air feadh na h-oirthir, sealladh a thogas inntinn mharaichean, muinntir an àite is luchd-tadhail. Ach dè cho eòlach a tha sinn air an taigh-solais agus a eachdraidh? Cò thog e, agus cuin, agus carson?

Gu ruige toiseach an 19mh linn, cha robh ann an taighean-solais – ma bha iad ann idir – ach tùir no càirn le teine air am mullach. Cha robh iad idir feumail ann an sìde fhliuch fhiadhaich, nuair a bha am feum orra a bu mhotha. Chaidh àireamh ana-mhòr de luing fodha gach bliadhna timcheall air oirthir Bhreatainn, gu h-àiridh ann an Alba, agus barrachd dragh aig na marsantan agus an luchd-seilbheachd mu am bathar chaillte na mun chriutha. Le leasachadh sgilean innleadaireachd aig deireadh an 18mh linn – smaoinich air Telford agus a shlighean-uisge is a dhrochaidean aige, chunnaic an luchd-seilbheachd cothrom an call malairteach sin a lughdachadh le taighean-solais na b’ fheàrr agus ann an barrachd àiteachan, agus beathannan a shàbhaladh aig an aon àm. Chaidh impidh a chur air an riaghaltas gun cuideachadh iad sin a chuir air dòigh agus a mhaoineachadh, agus rè ùine chaidh Bòrd Thaighean-solais a’ Chinn a Tuath a stèidheachadh.

‘S e aon de na rionnagan am measg luchd-togail taighean-solais tràth a bh’ ann an Robert Stevenson (1772 – 1850), a thòisich mar neach-cuideachaidh dhan oide aige, Thomas Smith, e fhèin innleadair-taigh-sholais ùr-ghnàthach den chiad ghinealach (thog esan solas Kinnaird Head ann an 1787), agus às dèidh sin mar a chom-pàirtiche. Fhuair Robert an cothrom na sgilean agus an leanailteachd iongantach aige a dhearbhadh anns a bhith a’ togail an taigh-solais drùidhteach air Creag a’ Chluig, sgeir làin-mhara chunnartach taobh a-muigh inbhir Linne Tatha (1805-1811) – euchd do-dheànta, a-rèir beachd na mhòrchuid aig an àm. Bha an dà chuid, an tùr agus an lampa casta fhèin, nam mìorbhailean den linn. Bho sin a-mach bha an-còmhnaidh fèill mhòr air, agus thog e mu fhichead taigh-solais timcheall air Alba airson a’ Bhùird, bho Linne Foirthe gu Sealltain, cuid mhòr dhiubh ann an suidheachaidhean cunnartach dùbhlanach. Agus nam measg bha Rubha an Tairbeirt.

Swallows' nests Tarbat Ness

Swallows’ nests Tarbat Ness (photo W. Huggan)

Thàinig an co-dhùnadh a thogail às dèidh caill de 16 luing ann an stoirm làidir ann an Linne Mhoireibh ann an 1826. Bha farpais ann eadar Covesea (Inbhir Lòsaidh) agus Rois an Ear airson togail taigh-sholais, ach choisinn Rubha an Tairbeirt. Bhathar an dùil gum biodh e riatanach do shoithichean a bhiodh a’ cleachdadh Sligh-uisge a’ Ghlinne Mhòir, a bha dìreach air a crìochnachadh le Thomas Telford. Thòisich an taigh-solais ag obrachadh ann an 1830, le lampa cumhachdach paireafain agus lionsaichean iomadh-fhillte – bha Robert na eòlaiche a-nis. Mhair seo gu 1907, nuair a thàinig lampa-dealain na bu làidire na àite. Cha deach an t-inneal-solais fhèin ath-nuadhachadh ach ann an 1892, le David Stevenson, ogha Robert, agus mhair seo gu fèin-obrachadh an taigh-sholais ann an 1985. (Tha an solas sin ann an Taigh-tasgaidh na Mara ann an Greenwich a-nis, agus ‘s e sealladh drùidhteach a th’ ann, ri fhaicinn air YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K6AZ0wnjwms ) Thog na h-innleadairean Bhictorianach obraichean a mhaireadh gu bràth, agus bha na taighean-solais Albannach nam buill-sampaill do chàch air feadh an t-saoghail.

Fhuair Covesea an taigh-solais aige fhèin cuideachd air a’ cheann thall; chaidh a thogail ann an 1846 le Alan, mac Robert, a thog taigh-solais Chrombaidh cuideachd. ‘S ann a nochd rè ùine sreath sàr-innleadairean san teaghlach Stevenson, mic is oghaichean, a thog na ficheadan de thaighean-solais timcheall air oirthir na h-Alba, is iad an-còmhnaidh a leudachadh crìochan teicneolas an latha. ‘S e ogha Robert, mac Thomas, a bhrìs an tradisean sin: an sgrìobhadair Robert Louis Stevenson, a bha an toiseach na bhriseadh-dùil mòr dha na pàrantan. Ach tha an ceangal ris a’ mhuir a bha cho buadhmhor ann an eachdraidh a theaghlaich ceart cho làidir anns na sgrìobhaidhean aige fhèin, leithid Kidnapped, Treasure Island:
Whenever I smell salt water, I know that I am not far from one of the works of my ancestors. When the lights come out at sundown along the shores of Scotland, I am proud to think they burn more brightly for the genius of my father!’

‘S urrainn dhuibh a h-uile rud mun deidhinn a leughadh anns an leabhar The Lighthouse Stevensons le Bella Bathurst, agus am film aithriseach BBC fhaicinn air YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R_tSajYoqe8
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Tarbat Ness and the ‘Lighthouse Stevensons’

P1170826[1]One of our most famous landmarks on the Seaboard is the lighthouse at Tarbat Ness, with its tall white tower with the two red bands, and its advantageous position at the craggy head of the Fearn Penisula, watching over the Moray and the Dornoch Firths. It’s visible for many miles out to sea and along the coast, a cheering sight to mariners, locals and visitors alike. But what do we know about the lighthouse and its history? Who built it, and when, and why?

Up until the early 19th century, lighthouses, where there were any at all, were simply towers or cairns with a fire on top. They were at their least useful in stormy wet weather, just when ships needed them. Huge numbers of ships and their crews were lost each year round the British coast, especially in Scotland, the merchants and investors more distressed about the loss of goods and ships than about the men. As engineering skills evolved in the late 18th century – think of Telford and his canals and bridges, investors saw a chance to cut their losses with more and better lighthouses, and save lives into the bargain. Pressure was put on the government to help organise and fund this, and in due course the Northern Lighthouse Board was founded.

One of the rising stars among early lighthouse builders was Robert Stevenson (1772 – 1850), first assistant then partner to his engineer step-father, Thomas Smith, himself an innovative lighthouse builder of the first generation (he build Kinnaird Head light in 1787). Robert got the chance to prove his extraordinary skill and tenacity by building the amazing Bell Rock lighthouse on a dangerous tidal reef outside the Tay estuary (1805-1811) – a feat previously considered impossible. Both the structure and the complex lamp itself were marvels of the age. After that he was always in demand, and built around 20 lighthouses for the Board around Scotland’s coast, from the Forth to Shetland, many in dangerous and daring locations. And one of them was Tarbat Ness.

P1060816_zps5f6eab3c[1]

Spring flowers Tarbat Ness (photo W. Huggan)

The trigger for its construction was the loss of 16 vessels in a storm in the Moray Firth in 1826. There was competition between Covesea (Lossiemouth) and Tarbat Ness for a lighthouse. Tarbat Ness won, as it was considered essential for traffic from Telford’s Caledonian Canal, newly finished at the time. Tarbat Ness entered service in 1830, with a powerful paraffin lamp and complex lenses – Robert was an expert by then. This was only changed in 1907 to an incandescent pressurised lamp, and the lightroom machine was updated in 1892 by Robert’s grandson, David, lasting till the automation of the lighthouse in 1985. (The optic is now in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, and is a wonderful sight – see it on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K6AZ0wnjwms ) Victorian engineers built to last, and Scottish lighthouses served as models around the world.

Covesea also got its lighthouse in the end, built by Robert’s son Alan in 1846, who also built Cromarty lighthouse. In fact there was a whole dynasty of Stevensons, sons and grandsons, who built scores of lighthouses around Scotland’s coasts, always pushing the limits of the technology of their time. The one who broke the tradition was Robert’s grandson, son of Thomas, the writer Robert Louis Stevenson, who was initially a great disappointment to the family. But his writing – Kidnapped, Treasure Island – was inspired by the same sea that inspired his light-house-building family:

‘Whenever I smell salt water, I know that I am not far from one of the works of my ancestors. When the lights come out at sundown along the shores of Scotland, I am proud to think they burn more brightly for the genius of my father!’

You can read all about them in Bella Bathurst’s book The Lighthouse Stevensons, and see the BBC documentary about them on YouTube:

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7c/Robert_Stevenson_%28lighthouse_engineer%29_-_Google_Book_Search_-_Biographical_Sketch_of_the_Late_Robert_Stevenson.jpg

Robert Stevenson (Creative Commons)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R_tSajYoqe8

Robert Stevenson: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Stevenson_%28civil_engineer%29#/media/File:Robert_Stevenson_%28lighthouse_engineer%29_-_Google_Book_Search_-_Biographical_Sketch_of_the_Late_Robert_Stevenson.jpg

Bell Rock Lighthouse (Creative Commons)

Facebook 24.03.15

https://www.facebook.com/highlandarchives/photos/a.346470258814219.1073741827.246320848829161/678128252315083/?type=1&theater

Ordnance Survey, Sheet 94 ( 1 inch = 1 mile), 1878

Our featured Parish for the next two week is Tarbat, Ross & Cromarty. The Statistical Accounts of Scotland describe the Parish and derivation of the name as;

“The Parish of Tarbat occupies the eastern promontory of the shire of Ross, being bounded on the south and east by the Murray Firth, on the the north by the Dornoch Firth and terminating in a narrow point called Tarbat Ness on which of late an elegant lighthouse has been built.”

“From the local circumstances the Parish has its name – Tarbat, being a Gaelic word expressive of the peninsular situation of the place and its having the appearance when viewed at a distance of a body stretched out in the sea and nearly surrounded by it. ‘Tar’ signifying a belly or prominence and ‘bart’ drowned or immersed by water.”

Na Cruithnich

Calf Stone,Tarbat Old Church Museum

Clach an Laoigh / Calf Stone

Tha ùidh shònraichte aig muinntir Machair Rois anns na Cruithnich, is an sluagh àrsail seo na phàirt den dualchas againn. Tha sinn mòiteil – mar a thuigear – às na sàr-eisimpleirean de leacan snaighte Cruithneach a tha againn ann am Baile a’ Chnuic, Seannduig agus Neig, agus ‘s ann am Port mo Cholmaig a tha làrach den chiad mhanachainn Chruithneach a chaidh riamh a lorg. Chaidh iomadh criomag obair-cloiche Cruithnich eile a lorg anns na cladhaichean le Màrtainn Carver an sin, nam measg pìosan brèagha is luachmhor, ri fhaicinn ann an Ionad Taisgealaidh an Tairbeirt. ‘S e ‘Clach an Laoigh’ am pìos as ainmeile, le tarbh agus bò ag imlich laogh air an snaigheadh oirre, a’ toirt fianais air cho sgileil agus ealanta ‘s a bha na Cruithnich anns an obair seo.

Tha an fhianais-chloiche seo gu sònraichte cudromach air sgàth ‘s nach eil eachdraidh sgrìobhte aig na Cruithnich fhèin (ach corra sgriobt Ogham air cuid de na leacan) – chan eil againn ach beagan aithrisean mun deidhinn air an sgrìobhadh le sluaghan eile, mar na Ròmanaich, a bha na nàimhdean aca, gun teagamh le cuid mhath de phropaganda ann. Tha fios againn gun robh iad cumhachdach ann an Alba aig àm nan Ròmanach ann am Breatann agus fad beagan linntean às dèidh sin. Pictland mapBha cliù aca gun robh iad nan làn-ghaisgich air blàr catha. Dh’fhàs na leacan na bu sgileile, na b’ ealanta, agus na bu sgeadaichte, agus nochd eileamaidean Crìosdail orra anns na linntean na b’ anmoiche; ach chan eil fìor fhios againn dè tha na samhlaidhean tillteach Cruithneach orra a’ ciallachadh no a’ comharrachadh – na slait-V, na cearcaill dhùbailte, na slait-Z amsaa.

Ach às dèidh dhaibh binnean an cumhachd a ruigsinn, anns an t-seagh chultarach co-dhiù, chaidh iad à sealladh mar shluagh air leth (a thaobh aithrisean eachdraidheil agus clachan a bharrachd, air a’ char as lugha) nuair a thàinig an sluagh Albannach, le àite-suidhe ann an Dùn Ad, taobh Iar-Dheas na h-Alba, gu cumhachd, bhon 9mh no 10mh linn a-mach. Tha e coltach gun robh na Cruithnich a’ bruidhinn cànan Breatannach, ‘s dòcha ceangailte ri seann-Chuimris, ach nochd Gàidhlig nan Albannach an àite sin cuideachd anns na sgìrean far an robh na Cruithnich làidir roimhe.

Shandwick Stone

Clach Neige / Nigg Stone

Chan eil fhios againn ciamar a thachair an t-atharrachadh-cumhachd seo anns an da-rìribh – an robh e gu sìtheil, m.e. tro chaidreachas an aghaidh nan Lochlannach, no tro cho-choslachadh ceum air cheum, no an deach na Cruithnich a cheannsachadh tro bhuaidh-làrach nan Albannach? Bha agus tha fhathast beachdan eadar-dhealaichte am measg an luchd-eachdraidh.

Ach anns na bliadhnaichean a dh’fhalbh lorg na h-arceòlaichean barrachd làraichean agus iarsmadh Cruithneach drùidhteach anns an sgìre againne, agus ann an Taobh an Ear-Thuath na h-Alba san fharsaingeachd, eadar Tairbeart Machair Rois, Siorrachd Mhoreibh, m.e. Am Broch (Burghead) le dùn Cruithneach, agus Siorrachd Obar Dheathain, m.e. Roinnidh (Rhynie) leis na clachan ‘Rhynie Man’ agus an Craw Stane. Tha na ceanglaichean eadar na làraichean – am biodh seo deas-ghnàthach, poiliteagach no eaconamach – a’ fas nas inntinniche agus nas cudromaiche cuideachd. Tha e a’ fàs nas soilleire gun robh ionad smachd cudromach nan Cruithneach againn ann Alba an Ear-Thuath, ‘s dòcha fiù ‘s rìoghachd ainmeil Fortriù fhèin. Bha na h-eòlaichean a’ creidsinn ro sin gur ann ann an Siorrachd Pheairt a bha Fortriù, ach mar thoradh air obair le Alex Woolf mu 2006, tha coltas gur ann an sgìre Linne Mhoireibh a bha e.

Rhynie axe reconstruction

Tuagh iarainn aig ‘Rhynie Man’ with axe reconstruction

Tha cladhaichean arceòlais nas ùire a’ toirt taic ris a’ bheachd seo, m.e. ann an Roinnidh fhèin, far a bheil Gòrdan Noble bho Oilthigh Obar Dheathain den bheachd gur e ionad rìoghail Cruithneach a bh’ ann, air sgàth an ainm fhèin (Rhynie, bho rìg = rìgh ann an Celtis tràth) ach cuideachd on a lorg iad nìthean luachmhòr ann, leithid pìosan cuaich-glainne mhìn bhon Fhraing, nach cleachdadh ach na h-ìrean sòisealta a b’ àirde aig an àm sin. Chaidh meatailt a leaghadh an sin cuideachd, a rèir choltais – lorg iad uidheam agus pìosan beaga obrach-iarainn grinn, agus tha tuagh aig ‘Rhynie Man’ air a’ chlach ainmeil. Ann an Gaulcross (Banbh), mu 20 mìle bho Roinnidh, lorg iad mòr-ulaidh iongantach le airgead Ròmanach air an ath-chleachdadh leis na Cruithnich, nam measg seudraidh ealanta.

Faodaidh sibh mòran de na nìthean seo fhaicinn a-nis, gus 31 den Chèitean, aig taigh-tasgaidh beag King’s Museum ann an Obar Dheathain. Bha mi ann agus ged a tha e beag, ‘s e taisbeanadh math dèanta a th’ ann, le mineachaidhean glè shoilleir, mapaichean feumail, bhideo agus eisimpleirean de dh’obair-iarainn air an dèanadh le ath-chruthachadh fùrneis Chruithneach, ‘s an leithid sin. Tha e fìor inntinneach – gu h-àraidh do dhaoine à Dùthaich nan Cruithneach mar a tha sinn fhèin. B’ fhiach dhuibh a dhol ann.

Ceanglaichean agus gailearaidh gu h-ìosal!

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The Picts

Hilton Stone

Hilton Stone reconstruction

Seaboard folk have a special interest in the Picts – after all, that ancient race is part of our heritage. We’re understandably proud of the prime examples of carved Pictish stones we have in Hilton, Shandwick and Nigg, and Portmahomack is the site of the first Pictish monastery ever found. Many pieces of Pictish stone-work were found in Martin Carver’s digs there, among them some beautiful, precious items, which can be seen in the Tarbat Discovery Centre. The most famous of them is the ‘Calf Stone’, with a bull and a cow licking her calf carved on it, bearing witness to how skilful and artistic the Picts were in this craft.

This witness in stone is all the more important because we have no written records from the Picts themselves (apart from occasional Ogham script on some of the stones) – there are only a few accounts about them written by other peoples, such as the Romans (their enemies), no doubt with a fair bit of propaganda included. We know that they were powerful in Scotland at the time of the Romans in Britain, and for a few centuries after that. They had a reputation as fearless warriors on the battlefield. Their stones grew more skilful, more artistic, and more decorated, and Christian elements appeared in the later centuries; but we don’t really know what the recurring Pictish symbols on them meant or commemorated: the V-rod, the double disc, the Z-rod etc.

Burghead Pictish fort (image)

Burghead Pictish fort (image)

But after they had reached the peak of their power (in the cultural sense at any rate), they disappeared from sight as a separate people, certainly as regards historical accounts and further stones, when the Scots, with their headquarters in Dunadd, in the south west of Scotland, came to power, from the 9th-10th century. It’s possible that the Picts spoke Brittonic, perhaps related to Old Welsh, but the Gaelic of the Scots appeared in its place too in the areas where the Picts had previously been strong.

We don’t know how exactly this power-change happened – was it peaceful, e.g. through an alliance agianst the Vikings, or via gradual assimilation, or were the Picts conquered on the battlefield by the Scots? The historians are still out on that one.

Gaulcross Hoard 2

part of Gaulcross Hoard

In recent years, archaeologists have found more sites and impressive Pictish remains in our own area and in the North East of Scotland in general, between the Tarbat Peninsula, Moray, e.g. Burghead with its Pictish fortress, and Aberdeenshire, e.g. Rhynie, with the ‘Rhynie Man’ stone and the Craw Stane. The links between the sites – whether ritual, political or economic – are becoming more interesting and more important to the archaeologists too. It’s becoming clearer that we had an important centre of Pictish power in the North East, possibly the famous kingdom of Fortriù itself. Until recently experts had believed Fortriù was in Perthshire, but after work published by Alex Woolf around 2006 it seems likely that it was in the Moray Firth area.

reproducing ancient iron metal smelting

reproducing ancient iron metal smelting

More recent excavations support this theory, e.g.in Rhynie itself, where Gordon Noble of Aberdeen University believes it was a royal centre, because of the name (from rìg = king in early Celtic), but also because they found very precious items there, such as pieces of a fine glass goblet from France, which would only have been used by the highest social class at that time. Metal was also smelted, apparently, as they found moulds and examples of fine metal-work there, and Rhynie Man himself is depicted carrying an iron axe. In Gaulcross in Banff, 20 miles from Rhynie, they found an amazing hoard of Roman silver recycled by the Picts, including fine jewellery.

You can now see many of these items (especially from Rhynie and Gaulcross) until 31 May at the little King’s Museum in Old Aberdeen. I was there myself, and although it’s small, the exhibition is very well done, with clear explanations, useful maps, a video and examples of iron-work made in a recreated Pictish furnace, etc etc. It’s really interesting – especially to those of us from the land of the Picts. It’s definitely worth a visit!

Links and gallery below!

part of Gaulcross Hoard

part of Gaulcross Hoard

Ceanglaichean / Links:

Tarbat Discovery centre: http://www.tarbat-discovery.co.uk/ ; Sculpture catalogue: http://www.york.ac.uk/archaeology/staff/sites/tarbat/stonecat/sculptureCatalogue.html

Groam House Pictish Museum, Rosemarkie:  http://www.groamhouse.org.uk/

Crafting Kindoms Picts posterThe Northern Picts project: http://www.tarbat-discovery.co.uk/index.php/archaeology/archaeology-fortriu/    Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/417334508372858/?fref=ts

Exhibition till 31 May 2015 in King’s Museum, Old Aberdeen – Crafting Kingdoms, the Rise of the Northern Picts:  http://www.abdn.ac.uk/museums/   Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Kings-Museum/139642292752093?fref=photo

 

Gailearaidh / gallery (briog airson dealbhan nas motha /click to enlarge):

Sgairbh

Skaravak

Skaravak

Ach a-mhàin an fhaoileag uile-làthaireach, ‘s e an sgarbh – còmhla ris a’ cho-ogha aige, an sgarbh-an-sgùmain – an t-eun as ceangailte ri Machair Rois nam inntinnse. Fiù ‘s nuair a bha mi glè òg, bha e na treat a dhol cuirt a-nall gu Skaravak. Bu sin crìoch den t-saoghal a b’ urrainn dhomh ruigsinn air cois, agus bha na h-eòin dubha ana-mhòra (dhomhsa) air a’ chreig, mar sheann draoidhean crotach rògach, an dà chuid eagalach agus tarraingeach.

‘S ann bho ainm Gàidhlig no Lochlannach (torskarv) air an eun a fhuair Skaravak fhèin an t-ainm, ainm a chleachdadh a h-uile duine fiù ‘s nuair nach do chleachd duine Gàidhlig air an Seaboard ach na h-iasgairean. Ann an Arcaibh agus Sealtainn tha ‘scarf’ aca air na h-eoin, agus ann an Gallaibh ‘scarfies’.

Nam bheachdsa tha barrachd dhiubh ann a-nis, agus chì thu iad gu tric nan suidhe air creagan sa Phorst, a’ sìneadh na h-amhaich fhada agus a’ tiormachadh na sgiathan aca sa ghrèin, no a’ gobaireachd ann an sreath air balla-calaidh Bhail’ an Todhair. Bidh sgairbh ag ithe iasg agus easgannan, agus chithear iad air sgèith thairis air uachdar na mara agus a’ daibheadh a-steach gus biadh a ghlacadh. San là an-diugh tha coltas gu bheil mòran sgarbh a’ fuireach a-staigh san tìr cuideachd, a’ neadachadh ann an craobhan agus fiù’s ann an cruinn-dealain, ach ann am Machair Rois bidh iad a’ cumail ris na creagan mar a bha iad riamh.

Sgarbh-an-sgùmain / Shag

Sgarbh-an-sgùmain / Shag

Tha na sgairbh-an-sgùmain caran nas lugha, agus ann an seusan a’ bhriodachadh bidh dath uainealach orra, agus cìr bheag (‘sgùman’, Beurla ‘shag’) air a’ bhathais chas aca. Tha an sgarbh inbhich dubh-ghorm, uireannan le làraichean geala air sliasaid is amhach, agus gun chìr. Tha iad ri fhaicinn le chèile air an aon chreag no bhalla, ach tha na sgairbh nas cumanta.

B’ àbhaist do dhaoine sgairbh a shealg agus ithe – ‘s e biadh sònraichte a bh’ ann, mar ghuga, agus bha feòil gu leòr orra gus teaghlach a bhiadhachadh. Leis na sgilean iasgaich a tha aca faodaidh iad a bhith nam farpaisich do iasgairean ann an iomadh àite, ach ann an dùthchannan eile, mar Shìona, thèid an trèanadh an luchd-iasgaich a chuideachadh.

Gu tradiseanta chithear iad mar shanntach agus gun iochd, na dh’fhaodas a bhith air cùl a’ chliù mhì-shealbhach aca. ‘S dòcha gur ann air an adhbhar sin a chleachd W.W. Gibson sgairbh anns a’ phìos bàrdachd aige ‘Flannan Isle’ (1912), ag innse an sgeul mu thriùir chiopairean-taigh-sholais a chaidh air chall gu dìomhaireach – aon de na pìosan bàrdachd a b’ fheàrr leam aig an sgoil:

And, as into the tiny creek
We stole beneath the hanging crag,
We saw three queer, black, ugly birds—
Too big, by far, in my belief,
For cormorant or shag—
Like seamen sitting bolt-upright
Upon a half-tide reef:
But, as we neared, they plunged from sight,
Without a sound, or spurt of white.

 

Cormorants

P1010905

Caladh Bail’ an Todhair / Balintore harbour

Apart from the ubiquitous seagull, the bird I associate most with the Easter Ross seaboard is the cormorant, along with its close relative, the shag. Even in my early childhood, the promise of “a walk over to Skaravak” was a treat. Skaravak was the limit of the walkable world, and the (to me) huge black birds on the rock, like spooky old wizards with hunched shoulders, were something scary but fascinating.

The bird’s name, sgarbh in Gaelic (pron. ‘skarav’), and torskarv in the Norse languages, gave the landmark ‘Skaravak’ its name, used by everyone even after Gaelic was no longer much spoken on the Seaboard apart from by the fishermen. In Orkney and Shetland they are still called scarfs, and in Caithness scarfies.

It seems to me that they are even more numerous now than they used to be, and you often see them sitting on rocks by the Porst, stretching their long necks and drying their wings in the sun or wind, or gossiping in lines on Balintore harbour wall. Cormorants mainly eat fish and eels, and can be seen flying low over the water and diving for food. Nowadays there are apparently many inland cormorants, known to nest in trees or even pylons, but on the Seaboard they keep to their traditional rocks and cliffs.

Sgarbh / Cormorant

Sgarbh / Cormorant

The shag is a slightly smaller bird, and in the breeding season has a greenish tint, whereas the cormorant is more blue black, and often has white patches on thigh and throat. The shag can also have a small tuft on its steeper forehead. You find them both on the same rock or wall, but the cormorant is more common.

People used to hunt and eat cormorants – they were a delicacy, like guga, and had enough flesh on them to feed a family. Skilled at catching fish, the birds are competition for anglers in some places, but in some other countries, e.g. China, they were actually trained to help catch fish.

They are also traditionally regarded as greedy and ruthless, hence perhaps their reputation for being unlucky. Perhaps that is why the poet W.W. Gibson used them in his 1912 poem ‘Flannan Isle’ about the mysterious disappearance of 3 lighthousemen – one of my favourite poems at school.

Dealbh sgairbh-an-sgùmain le J. Datchens, le cead. Na dealbhan eile leam fhìn.

Shag photo by J. Datchens, with permission. The other photos my own.

Rionnagan na Nollaig – Christmas Stars 

Seo reasabaidh airson bhriosgaidean-Nollaig tradiseanta Gearmailteach: ‘Zimtsterne’ – rionnagan caneil. Guten Appetit!

Here’s a recipe for traditional German Christmas biscuits: ‘Zimtsterne’ – cinnamon stars.

 P1080740Rionnagan Caneil

4 gealagain-uighe

beagan sùgh-liomaid

300 gr. siùcair mhìn ‘icing’ (+ beagan airson a’ chlàir)

2 spàin-tì caneil

350 gr. chnòthan-almoin agus/no chnòthan-calltainn air am bleith (+ beagan airson a’ chlàir)

Buail na gealagain-uighe gu math gus am bi iad rag, gleansach agus aotrom. Ris an sin cuir 3 – 4 boinnean sùgh-liomaid, agus às dèidh sin an siùcar mìn tro shìoltag – measgaich gu socair e, beag air bheag. Thoir 4 – 5 spàinean-bùird a-mach às a’ mheasgachadh airson a’ chomhdaich-shiùcair, agus cuir gu aon taobh seo ann an àite fuar. A-nis cuir an caineal agus na cnòthan ri na tha air fhàgail den mheasgachadh, gu math faiceallach.

Crath an siùcair agus cnòthan a tha air fhàgail air a’ chlàr-obrach agus rollig an taois a-mach gu 1/4 òirlich de thiughad. (Ma bhios i ro steigeach, cuir pàipear-cèire no film claonach oirre mus rollig thu a-mach i.)

Dèan rionnagan beaga le gearradair-pastraidh agus cuir iad air sgàl-fuine air a chrèiseachadh. Slìob na chuir thu gu aon taobh de mheasgachadh gealagain-uighe orra agus fuin anns an àmhainn iad aig 150°C mu 15 – 20 mionaidean (Chan fhaod an uachdar fàs donn.)

 

Zimtsterne – Cinnamon Stars

 4 egg-whites

a little lemon juice

300 gr. icing sugar (+ a little for rolling out)

2 teaspoons cinnamon

350 gr. ground almonds and/or ground hazelnuts (+ a little for rolling out)

 Beat the egg-whites well till stiff, shiny and light. Add 3 – 4 drops of lemon juice, then add the icing sugar through a sieve, mixing in gently, little by little. Take out 4 – 5 tablespoonfuls for the icing and put aside in a cool place. Now carefully fold the cinnamon and the ground nuts into the remaining mixture. 

Sprinkle the remaining icing-sugar and ground nuts onto the work-surface and roll out the dough to about a quarter-inch thick. (If it’s too sticky, lay waxed paper or cling-film over it before you roll it out.) 

Cut out little stars with a pastry-cutter and put them on a greased baking tray. Brush with the egg-white mixture you put aside ealier. Bake in the oven at 150°C for about 15 – 20 minutes. (The icing should not get brown.) 

A’ Mhaighdeann-Mhara / the Mermaid

Seo òran tradiseanta gu math freagarrach do Mhachair Rois agus dhan t-sìde stoirmeil a bhios againn cho tric aig an àm seo den bhliadhna.

mermaid_stormyweather

 

Òran na Maighdinn-Mhara

A-mach air bhàrr nan stuadh ri gaillinn

Fuachd is feannadh fad’ o thìr

Bha mo ghaol dhut daonnan fallain

Ged is maighdeann-mhara mi

 

Sèist:

Hù-bha is na hoireann hù-bha

Hù-bha is na hoireann hì

Hù-bha is na hoireann hù-bha

’S ann le foill a mheall thu mi

 

Chan eil mo chadal-sa ach luaineach

Nuair bhios buaireas air an t-sìd’

Bha mi ’n raoir an Coire Bhreacain

Bidh mi nochd an Eilean Ì

 

Seall is faic an grunnd na fairge

Uamhan airgid ’s òir gun dìth

Lainnearachd ’s chan fhaca sùil e

Ann an cùirt no lùchairt rìgh.

 

Song of the Mermaid

 Here’s a traditional song that’s very appropriate for the Seaboard and the stormy weather we so often get at this time of year.

 

Out on the top of the waves in the storm,

The cold flaying my skin far from land,

My love for you is eternal and strong

Although it’s a mermaid I am.

 

Chorus:

Hù-bha is na hoireann hù-bha

Hù-bha is na hoireann hì

Hù-bha is na hoireann hù-bha

It’s with treachery that you deceived me.

 

My sleep is but restless

When the elements are turbulent.

Last night I was in Corryvreckan,

Tonight I’ll be in Iona.

 

Look and see at the bottom of the ocean

Silver and gold caves in abundance,

Glittering radiance no eye has ever seen

even at the court or palace of a king .

 

Seo Isbeal NicAsgail mhìorbhaileach nach maireann ga sheinn / here’s the late great Ishbel MacAskill singing it.

http://youtu.be/tBzd3HVE8Uo

 

P1170770

 

Dealbh den Mhaighdeann-Mhara: Seaboard Memorial Hall, le cead /Mermaid pictiure  with permission SMH            
Dealbh de chaladh Bail’ an Todhair leam fhìn /Balintore harbour: my picture.

Obair-ghrèis Mhòr na h-Alba (2) – eachraidh nan Albannach

Am mìos sa chaidh chuir sinn sùil air cuid de na pannalan a tha ceangailte ri taobh an ear na h-Alba: an turas seo bidh sinn a sealltainn air taghadh ìomhaighean à eachdraidh na h-Alba san fharsaingeachd. An rud a tha cho tarraingeach san obair-ghrèis, ‘s e am measgachadh de thachartasan agus cuspairean a tha ri fhaicinn innte – tha politigs, saidheans, creideamh, cultar, nuadh-innleachdan agus foghlam uile ann, ach tha uinneagan ann cuideachd air dòigh beatha daoine na h-Alba fhèin air feadh nan linntean, le mòran dealbhan beaga taitneach agus beò-ghlacmhor ri taobh nan prìomh-chuspairean.

Chì sinn na gaisgich mar am Brusach agus Uilleam Uallas, agus iomadh rìgh agus banrigh, ach iasgairean is croitearan is luchd-obrach ola cuideachd. Tha na h-Albannaich ann a fhuair an cliù thall-thairis – taisgealaichean mar Dr John Rae ann an Canada a Tuath no Livingstone ann an Afraga, saighdearan agus luchd-malairt anns na h-Innseachan agus miseanaraidhean ann an Sìona. Agus chì sinn mar a dh’fhuiling an sluagh fon Phlaigh Dhuibh (agus na deargannan a’ leumadaich air na radain), fo chogaidhean agus fo na Fuadaichean.

Bha an creideamh riamh cudromach ann an Alba – tha Naomh Calum Cille ri fhaicinn, agus John Knox, agus cuideachd na Cumhnantaich agus ìomhaighean an Dealachaidh. Tha ar cultar ioma-fhillte ann – Gàidhlig agus Scots, bàrdachd is ealain is feallsanachd, agus dealbhan luchd-ciùil agus ionnsramaidean ann air feadh na h-obrach-grèis.

Seo taghadh beag de na pannalan, agus chithear mòran ìomhaighean eile air làrach-linn na h-Obrach-grèis Mòire: http://www.scotlandstapestry.com/ agus anns an leabhar àlainn a tha ri cheannach an sin, ach ma bhios cothrom idir agaibh san àm ri teachd, feumaidh sibh an rud fhèin fhaicinn. Is fhiach e e. Tha plan ann togalach sònraichte a thogail dhi, sna Crìochan, agus anns an eadar-àm bidh taisbeanaidhean ann ann an àiteachean eadar-dhealaichte. (m.e. New Lanark 20.10 – 22.11.2014)

Great Tapestry of Scotland (2) – History of the Scots

Last month I had a look at some of the panels which had links to the North East; this time we’ll be looking at a selection of images from broader Scottish history. The thing that’s so fascinating about the Tapestry is the mixture of events and themes that can be seen in it – politics, science, religion, culture, inventions and education are all there, but there are also windows on the way of life of ordinary Scots themselves down through the centuries, with many delightful, captivating details alongside the main subjects.

We see the heroes like Bruce and Wallace, and plenty of kings and queens, but also fishermen, crofters and oil workers. There are the Scots who made their names abroad, explorers like Dr John Rae in Northern Canada or Livingstone in Africa, soldiers and merchants in India, and missionaries in China. And we see how the ordinary people suffered under the Black Death (and the fleas jumping on the rats), wars and the Clearances.

Faith has always been important in Scotland – St Columba can be seen, and John Knox, and also the Covenanters and scenes from the Disruption. Our rich and varied culture is also shown – Gaelic and Scots, poetry and art and philosophy, and pictures of musicians and instruments all over the Tapestry.

This is a tiny selection of the panels, and you’ll see a lot of other images on the Tapestry’s own website: http://www.scotlandstapestry.com/ and in the beautiful book you can buy there, but if you have a chance at all, you have to go and see the real thing. It’s really worth it. There is a plan to house it in a specially-built museum in the Borders, but until then it will be displayed in various locations (next in New Lanark, 20.10 – 22.11.14).

Cameron in Ross-shire
Meal do naidheachd, Cameron!

Taing dhan Ross-Shire Journal airson na naidheachd maithe seo!

Artaigil:
http://www.ross-shirejournal.co.uk/News/Easter-Ross-piper-bags-prestigious-prize-10092014.htm

 

Obair-ghrèis Mhòr na h-Alba (1) – Taobh an Ear-Thuath

Nuair a bha mi a’ tadhal air mo cho-ogha ann an Dùn Èideann seachdain no dhà air ais, chaidh sinn a dh’fhaicinn Obair-ghrèis Mhòr na h-Alba, a tha air ais ann an togalach Pàrlamaid na h-Alba, a’ comharrachadh 15 bliadhna den Phàrlamaid. Abair euchd! Tha i drùidhteach gu leòr mar obair-dhealain, le cho brèagha, cruthachail is mionaideach ‘s a tha i, ach rud fiù ‘s nas drùidhtiche, ‘s ann gur e fìor iomairt-choimhearsnachd a th’ innte. Dh’fhuaigheil mìle duine bho aois 4 gu 94 agus bho Shealltainn gus na Crìochan na 160 pannal, a’ glacadh eachdraidh fhada na h-Alba bho Linn na Deighe gu fosgladh na Pàrlamaid ann an 1999. Agus ged a bha gach pannal air a dhealbhadh (gu àlainn) le neach-ealain, Andew Crummy, bha beagan saorsa cruthachail aig an luchd-fuaigheil agus chì sinn seo, mar eisimpleir, anns na h-ìomhaighean beaga mionaideach air an oir no anns na h-oiseanan de na pannalan.

Ged a tha an Obair-ghrèis Mhòr (143 meatair) nas fhaide na am fear aig Bayeux – ‘s e an grèis-bhrat as fhaide air an t-saoghal a th’ innte – tha i cho tarraingeach ‘s gu bheil thu ag iarraidh coimhead air gach pannal gu mionaideach. Thog mi iomadh dealbh, agus tha mi airson cuid dhiubh a shealltainn dhuibh.

Bha ùidh shònraichte agam anns na pannalan le ceangal ris a’ phàirt againne den dùthaich, taobh an Ear-thuath na h-Alba, agus ‘s e an fheadhainn sin a tha ri fhaicinn san artaigil am mìos seo. Bheir mi sùil air taobhan inntinneach eile an ath thuras.

The Great Tapestry of Scotland (1) – the North East

When I was visiting my cousin in Edinburgh a couple of weeks ago we went to see the Great Tapestry of Scotland, which is back in the Scottish Parlament building commemorating the Parliament’s 15th year. What an achievement it is! It’s impressive enough as a work of art, beautiful, imaginative and detailed, but what’s more impressive is that it’s a real community effort. A thousand people from 4 to 94, from Shetland to the Borders, stitched the 160 panels, capturing Scotland’s history from the Ice Age to the opening of our Parliament in 1999. And although each panel had been designed by artist Andrew Crummy, the sewers had a bit of creative freedom, which we can see, for example, in the details of the wee images at the edge or in the corners of the panels.

Although the Great Tapestry (143 metres) is longer than the Bayeux one (it’s the longest tapestry in the world), it’s so fascinating that you want to look at every panel in detail. I took a lot of photos and would like to show you some of them.

I was particularly interested in in the panels with a connection to our part of the country, the North East of Scotland, and these are the ones seen in this article. I’ll have a look at other interesting aspects in the next one.

A’ Ghàidhlig ann an Eachdraidh Machair Rois Pàirt 4:

An Darna Cogadh gu ruige seo: Ginealaich na Beurla

P1030172Aig àm an Dàrna Cogaidh thàinig Feachdan na Dùthcha dhan sgìre, gu h-àraidh leis na raointean-adhair a chaidh a thogail anns a’ Mhanachainn agus Tairbeart (‘the dromes’). Cuide riutha thàinig mòran bhall-seirbheise agus luchd-obrach à pàirtean eile den Rìoghhachd Aonaichte, agus bhiodh daoine na sgìre ag obair còmhla riutha, m.e. air làraich-thogail no anns na h-ionadan-bìdh (bha fear ann faisg air far a bheil an Seaboard Hall an-diugh).  Dh’fhàg mòran daoine òga an sgìre leis na Feachdan cuideachd, na h-iasgairean na b’ òige nam measg. Cha robh a’ Ghàidhlig feumail no freagarrach idir anns a‘ chonaltradh an-sin – agus ‘s ann sean-fhasanta a bha i mar-thà.

Le còmhdhail na b’ fheàrr (m.e. rathaidean leasaichte san sgìre, bus-sgoile gu Acadamaidh Bhaile Dhubhthaich, agus seirbheis-trèana math air feadh na h-Alba), agus barrachd ùidh ann am foghlam agus ann an trèanadh (agus rè ùine tabhartais-chuideachaidh cuideachd), ghabh barrachd daoine òga cothrom falbh dhan oilthigh no dhan cholaiste ann an Obar-Dheathain no Dùn Èideann. ‘S e saoghal gu tur eadar-dhealaichte a bha anns na bailtean-iasgaich a-nis, gun mòran chothroman aig luchd-labhairt na Gàidhlig an cànan a bhruidhinn, agus iad gu tric gun chomas litrichean Gàidhig a sgrìobhadh gu càirdean sna Feachdan no aig a’ cholaiste; bha na sgoiltean gu h-oifigeil an aghaidh na Gàidhlig, mar a chunnaic sinn.

Ann an cruinneachadh Scottish Gaelic Dialects Survey, leughaidh sinn aiste à 1958 mu tè ann an Seannduig: “Aged 70, born Shandwick, brought up Shandwick, parents Shandwick. A very good informant, fluent in Gaelic, though with a somewhat limited vocabulary. No knowledge of written Gaelic. Used to speak the language regularly with an uncle until he died fairly recently. ”  Bho na 50an agus na 60ean a-mach bha cothroman-cleachdaidh na Gàidhlig a’ lùghdachadh, fiù ‘s am measg luchd-labhairt fileanta.

Anns an darna leth den fhicheadamh linn, mar sin, cha robh Gàidhlig anns na sgoiltean tuilleadh, cha robh mòran mhinistearan ann leis a’ Ghàidhlig, agus bha an luchd-labhairt fileanta a bha air fhàgail gu math aosta, gun a bhith air mòran Gàidhlig a thoirt seachad chun na cloinne. Ach anns na bailtean-iasgaich tha daoine ann fhathast an-diùgh aig an robh na pàrantan a’ bruidhinn Gàidhlig mar chiad chànan, ri chèile agus am measg charaidean den aon aois, a-nuas chun nan trì-ficheadan co-dhiù, agus feadhainn eile chun nan seachdadan, mar Isbeil Anna bean MhicAonghais, màthair Dolaidh againn fhìn. Rinn Seòsamh Watson, na ollamh ann an Baile Àth Cliath, cruinneachadh beòil-aithris Ghàidhlig ann an Baile a’ Chnuic agus Seannduaig aig an àm sin (ri leughadh ann an Saoghal Bana-mharaiche). Tha co-dhiù cuid bheag de Ghàidhlig fhathast aig “clann” a’ ghinealaich sin (is iad fhèin nan naochadan an-diugh).  A rèir cunntas-sluaigh 1971 bha Gàidhlig fhathast aig 4.8% ann am Paraiste na Manachainn, ach mar a tha fios againn bha a’ Ghàidhlig riamh na bu treasa sna bailtean-iasgaich agus mar sin tha e coltach gun robh ìre na ceud na b’ àirde ann an sin fhathast.

P1040580Leis a’ ghnìomhachas ùr agus na cothroman-obrach a thàinig gu Ros an Ear o chionn nan seachdadan (taigh-staile agus leaghadair alùmanuim ann an Inbhir Ghòrdain, gàrraidhean chruinn-ola ann an Neig) dh’fhàs an uimhir de cho-obraichean à ceann a deas na h-Alba, mar a thachair roimhe leis an luchd-obrach air na tuathanasan, agus lùghdaich a’ chuid de luchd na Gàidhlig anns a’ pharaiste gu 3.8% ann an 1991. Bhiodh sinn an dùil gum biodh lùghdachadh mòr eile ann an cunntas-sluaigh 2001, ach ‘s e 3.3% a bha ann fhathast, agus bha fiù ‘s meudachadh beag aig Baile an Droma agus Bhaile Dhubhthaich (Chan eil figearan mionaideach ionadail ri fhaighinn bho chunntas-sluaigh 2011 fhathast.)

Carson a bha meudachadh anns na pàirtean far an robh a’ Bheurla na bu treasa – baile ‘mòr’ Bhaile Dhubhthaich agus baile tuathanais Bhaile an Droma? Ann an coimhead air na sgilean-cànain Gàidhlig san sgìre anns na cunntasan-sluaigh 1971, 1991 agus 2001, chithear an fhreagairt: foghlam. Bha Gàidhlig anns na sgoiltean a-rithist. Eadar 1971 agus 2001 mheudaich àireamh dhaoine le comas-leughaidh agus comas sgrìobhaidh na Gàidhlig ann an Rois an Ear le barrachd air 50%. Tha fios againn cuideachd mu chomas Gàidhlig a rèir aois ann an 2001. Chithear gun robh barrachd Gàidhlig aig na sgoilearan à Baile Dhubhthaich (7.5%) na aig na pàrantan (4.1%), ach bha (beagan) barrachd Gàidhlig aig na pàrantan ann am paraiste na Manachainn (leis na bailtean-iasgach).

‘S ann anns na h-ochdadan a thòisich cròileagan ann an Ros an Ear agus ann an 1987 dh’fhosgail a’ chiad Aonad Gàidhlig ann am Baile Dhubhthaich. An uairsin fhuair am baile sgoil-àraich Ghàidhlig agus foghlam tro mheadhan na Gàidhlig ann am bun-sgoil Craighill, agus foghlam Gàidhlig anns an Acadamaidh cuideachd. Nuair a dh’fhaighnich mi ann an 2012, bha a’ mhòr-chuid de na sgoilearan Gàidhlig à Baile Dhubhthaich, Baile an Droma agus Port Mo Cholmaig – chan ann às na bailtean-iasgaich fhèin, ach san fharsaingeachd ‘s e comharra brosnachail dhan Ghàidhlig anns an sgìre a th’ ann. Uaireannan ‘s e daoine à taobh a-muigh a chuireas luach an toiseach air an dualchas againn fhèin.

P1040668Ann an dòigh tha e ìoranta  gu bheil an dòchas a tha againn airson Gàidhlig san àm ri teachd stèidhichte ann am Baile Dhubhthaich – a’ phàirt as “Beurlaichte” den sgìre fad linntean, agus anns na sgoiltean, far an robh Gàidhlig air a mùchadh cho fada. Chan e dualchainnt nam bailtean-iasgaich a bhios ga cluinntinn anns a’ pharaiste tuilleadh, ach Gàidhlig “mid-Minch” (measgachadh Gàidhlig nan Eileanan agus Gàidhlig na mhòr-thìr), a rèir coltais, mar a bhios ann an sgoil sam bith san latha an-diugh (rannsachadh le William Lamb 2012). Mar a thachras ann an Eurabol (rannsachadh Helen Dorian 1981), nuair a chaochlas daoine as aosta na paraiste le an cuid glè glè bheag de Ghàidhlig ionadail, cha bhi Gàidhlig Mhachair Rois ann tuilleadh ach ann an leabhraichean sgoilearach, mar Saoghal Bana-mharaiche le Seòsamh Watson.

Ach mu dheireadh thall tha Gàidhlig ann. Bidh soidhneachan ùra dà-chananach ann, tha an colbh dà-chànanach seo anns an Seaboard News, agus leis an ùidh a tha ann a-rithist ann an dualchas iasgaich agus eachdraidh Mhachair Rois (m.e. sreath thachartasan Dualchas anns an Seaboard Hall), tha e coltach gum bi àite ann don Ghàidhlig san àm ri teachd.  Mar a sgrìobh neach-rannsachaidh Karl Duwe ann an 2005: “Taobh Sear Rois is on the brink of language viability”. Ann an 2014 chan eil seo cinnteach fhathast, ach faodaidh sinn a bhith dòchasach.

Dealbhan bho àm a’ Chogaidh an seo: http://seaboardhistory.calicosites.com/gallery/war/

Dealbhan raon-adhair na Manachainn an seo: http://www.28dayslater.co.uk/forums/military-sites/26057-fearn-drome-accomodation-camp-easter-ross-16-01-08-a.html

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Gaelic in Seaboard History Part 4:

From World War 2 up to now: the English-speaking generations

P1030198During World War 2 the Armed Forces had a strong presence in the area, especially with the building of the airfields in Fearn and Tarbat parishes (the ‘dromes’). With them came numerous service and ancillary personnel from other parts of the UK, and locals would work alongside them, e.g. on the building sites or in canteens (there was one near where the Seaboard Hall is now), speaking English. Many young people also left the area to join the Forces, including the younger fishermen (who would still have been using at least some Gaelic with the older ones). Gaelic was no longer useful or relevant for communicating there, and it was already seen as old-fashioned.

With better transport (e.g. improved roads, school buses to Tain, and good rail connections throughout Scotland), more interest in education and training, and in due course the availability of grants for this too, more young people took advantage of the opportunity to go to college or university in Aberdeen or Edinburgh. The world of the Villages was quite changed now, with few opportunities to speak Gaelic, and often no Gaelic writing skills to correspond with relatives in the Forces or at college – the schools had long been against Gaelic, as we saw.

In the collection Scottish Gaelic Dialects Survey we can read a fieldworker’s report from 1958 about a typical elderly lady in Shandwick: “Aged 70, born Shandwick, brought up Shandwick, parents Shandwick. A very good informant, fluent in Gaelic, though with a somewhat limited vocabulary. No knowledge of written Gaelic. Used to speak the language regularly with an uncle until he died fairly recently.” From the 1950s and 1960s on, opportunities to actually use Gaelic were decreasing, even among fluent speakers.

P1040579In the second half of the 20th century in Easter Ross, then, there was no longer any Gaelic in the schools, fewer ministers spoke Gaelic, and the fluent speakers were growing old without having passed on much Gaelic to their children. But in the Villages there are still residents today whose parents spoke Gaelic as their first language, to each other and among friends of the same generation, up until the 1960s anyway, and some into the 1970s, notably such as Bell Ann MacAngus, our own Dolly’s mother. Professor Joseph Watson of Dublin University collected Gaelic oral traditions from her and others on the Seaboard at that time, which can be read in his book Saoghal Ban-mharaiche. Some of the ‘children’ of these speakers (in their 90’s themselves now) still have at least a bit of local Gaelic. According to the 1971 census 4.8% of the population of the parish of Fearn were Gaelic speakers, but given that Gaelic had always been much stronger on the Seaboard, figures there were likely to be higher.

With new industries and jobs coming to Easter Ross in the 1970s (the distillery and the smelter in Invergordon and the oil-related work at Nigg), the number of workers coming up from the south of Scotland grew again (as with the farmworkers in the 18th and 19th centuries), and the census of 1991 showed a decrease in Gaelic speakers in Fearn parish (3.8%). We would have expected a greater decrease again in 2001, but in fact it stayed fairly steady at 3.3%, with even a small increase in Tain and Hill of Fearn. (So far we don’t have a detailed analysis of local figures from the 2011 census.)

Why would there be an increase in traditionally the least Gaelic of communities in the area – the ‘big town’ of Tain and the inland farming settlement of Fearn? If we compare the census reports of Gaelic reading and writing skills between 1971 and 2001 (major increases in ability of over 50%), we see the reason – education; Gaelic was back in the schools again. Looking at the ages of Gaelic speakers in the 2001 census we see that children in Tain had more Gaelic (7.5%) than their parents (4.1%), although the parents in Fearn parish (i.e. including the Villages) still had a little more Gaelic than their children.

Gaelic playgroups started in Easter Ross in the 1980s and the first Gaelic unit in Tain opened in 1987. Over time the town got Gaelic preschool provision, Gaelic Medium Education in Craighill Primary School, and Gaelic education in the Academy too. Although when I enquired in 2012 it seemed that most of the pupils came from Tain, Fearn and Portmahomack, not from the Villages, i.e. not the traditional heartlands, it’s nevertheless an encouraging sign for Gaelic in the area. Sometimes it takes outsiders to appreciate what we take for granted.

P1040567In a way it’s ironic that the hope for Easter Ross Gaelic in the future is based in Tain – the most “anglicised” part of the area for centuries, and in the schools, which had suppressed Gaelic for so long. Neither will it be the old Seaboard dialect of Gaelic that future generations will hear, but probably ‘mid-Minch’ Gaelic, as researcher William Lamb has called it – the sort of standardised mixture of Islands and mainland Gaelic that is emerging from schools across the country. As happened in Embo (documented over decades by Helen Dorian), when the old folk with their remnant of the  local dialect die, there will only be records left in books and field recordings, like those by Joseph Watson.

But Gaelic is at last more visible on the Seaboard. There are the bilingual signs, this column in the Seaboard News, and with the renewed interest in local heritage and history, as demonstrated in the ongoing series of ‘Dualchas’ events in the Seaboard Hall, it looks as if there will be a place for Gaelic in the time to come. As researcher Karl Duwe wrote about Easter Ross in 2005: “Taobh Siar Rois is on the brink of (Gaelic) language viability.” In 2014 we can’t yet confirm that, but we have grounds for hope.

Wartime photos here: http://seaboardhistory.calicosites.com/gallery/war/

Photos of Fearn airfield here: http://www.28dayslater.co.uk/forums/military-sites/26057-fearn-drome-accomodation-camp-easter-ross-16-01-08-a.html