Almost every corner of Scotland has got some evidence of Gaelic in its place-names. Sometimes this is really obvious, other times it’s somewhat more obscure. The Gàidhealtachd – the traditionally Gaelic-speaking part of Scotland – is, as you would expect, rich in Gaelic place-names . These often carry stories and speak of the history of the place, though sometimes their meaning or origin has been lost. Understanding, researching and dissecting them is an ongoing artform and a point of interest for both lay audiences and academics for a long, long time.
For a number of years now an organisation called Ainmean-Àite na h-Alba (AÀA; Gaelic Place-Names of Scotland) have been researching these, and working with Scottish Natural Heritage to produce bilingual booklets disseminating place-names of particular locales. Their latest release is Gaelic in the Landscape: Place-names of Colonsay and Oronsay. Previous editions have focused on Islay and Jura, the North-West Highlands, Strath (Isle of Skye), the Rough Bounds of Lochaber and Gaelic + Norse in the landscape. Each of these publications is beautifully illustrated and – crucially – free to download. I’m really looking forward to delving into the Colonsay and Oronsay booklet, not least to remind me of lovely trips there a few years back.
As well as being really interesting to both researchers and the general audience alike, publications such as these, and the work of AÀA, are crucial to increasing awareness of Gaelic. They are accessible, informed and easy to digest, and provide an important route to understanding how our surroundings and language have shaped each other.
Some Colonsay and Oronsay names which have jumped out at me:
Sruthan na h-Ulaidhe – the stream of the treasure
Uragaig – bay with rock-strewn beach (Norse in origin)
Uinneag Eircheil – Hercules’ window
You can find all the booklets on the SNH website here. The AÀA database is ever-increasing in entries and worth spending a few minutes exploring. Siuthadabh – enjoy!
Over the past wee while, I’ve been working with Kate Davies and her team on their latest venture: Inspired by Islay. A quick scroll through old posts on this blog will show lots of content from Islay; I lived and worked there for a year in 2012-2013. My job involved Gaelic cultural-heritage with particular projects I initiated being about the connection between the landscape and language. It is on this topic that Kate asked me to contribute an essay to the book being produced as part of the project (sidenote: the book has gone to the printers!).
Kate’s work has long impressed me, and I’m chuffed that she has come to me to contribute small bits of work to other projects over the years, where she has wanted to use Gaelic. Gaelic aside, as a knitter and general culture/history-enthusiast I’m always impressed by the thought and consideration that goes into all she (and the wider KDD team) does and produces. Other folk contributing to Inspired by Islay include really astonishing artists, craftspeople, avian experts and photographers, so it is an honour to be included alongside them.
Anyway, the photos here are some snaps from my archive of pictures from Islay. My time on the island wasn’t always a song and a dance so it’s been really lovely revisiting parts of the island I fell for, and exploring further the rich Gàidhealach culture I am part of.
For all of Kate’s blog posts to date on the project see here.
In other news, I started a facebook page for my work. Like, share, comment, etc.
Bliadhna mhath ùr! Happy new year! No, you’re not going mad, for it is the 12th of January and the new year; the old new year, that is. In Gaelic tradition, the New Year begins now, with candles lit in each window the night before to welcome in the new year. It’s not a tradition much observed any more, but I make a quiet note of it to myself each year. Oidhche Challain – Hogmanay – would see ceilidhs and first footing undertaken, tales told and songs sung. Different areas would have their own particular traditions to see out the old year; this article mentions some Uist specialities.
As my dad always reminds me, it is from this point onwards in the year that each day lengthens by a cockerel’s step:’ceum coileach air an latha’. It’s a good thought to bear in mind when the weather is unforgiving and the darkness rarely lifts.
The photos in this post are (top – bottom) from Blair Atholl, the East Neuk, North Uist and Islay. Each one reminds me of how beautiful a change in light can make a scene, whether Winter or Summer.
Bliadhna mhath ùr dhuibh uile – happy new year to you all.
Last Islay sunrise.
Last Islay sunset.
Back in Edinburgh, my sometime home, for a short while. I’ve left Islay behind with little sadness and my eyes are looking ever further westward. Meantime, however, I’m enjoying being back somewhere which feels like home; that is so familiar and full of both happy memories and close friends. I’m also enjoying revisiting old haunts (hello, Peter’s Yard) and having some free time to wander museums do the kind of frivolous things you can only do in a city, like shopping here.
I have but two weeks left on Islay. As a result the next couple of weeks will be met with packing, tidying, and trying to see some final sights for the first time or indeed the last time.
An inevitable part of leaving Islay is packing up the belongings I took with me and those I’ve amassed since being here (far greater in number than I care to admit). One item that’ll not be leaving Islay with me are my beloved old walking boots. These were given to me as a birthday present in 2006. They’ve seen me through excavating thousands of years of human detritus in Wales, East Lothian, Skye, Mull, Uist… They’ve seen me through walking hundreds upon hundreds of miles in just about every corner of Scotland, climbing hills innumerable, and every holiday or day trip I’ve been on in the past 7 years.
Having been subjected to every weather imaginable, a few too many submerges in seawater and countless bogs, as well as clumsy wielding of spades, trowels and mattocks, they have long since been rendered not-fit-for-purpose. So, out they go. They have served me well and these photos are for posterity as much as anything. I hope their successors can serve me just as well. Forgive the unnecessary emotional attachment to a pair of boots, but I’m sure any walker or hiker will appreciate the singular role that a good pair of boots plays.
Yesterday I took a trip to Bridgend woods. It will likely be the last time I get the opportunity to visit this patch of lush, verdant trees so I took my time and made the most of it (this may or may not have had anything to do with the next bus not being due for hours). Either way, it was lovely and unexpectedly quiet. The leaves have started to turn so I know that it’s nearly time to leave. When I arrived on Islay the leaves had already mostly fallen. Mixed feelings on leaving here, but I’m sure I’ll come to that again anon.
Housekeeping note: this site is being tidied up over the next wee while too, so please forgive any glitches in the meantime.