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.
Before the turn-off to Ardalanish, this is the view on the road south through Mull.
When my friend, Claire, asked me to knit her a shawl for her wedding (or did I offer? I can’t remember, doesn’t matter) I thought it would be important to use a yarn with some meaning behind it. She did too, so I took the interweb to find something. Claire and I became friends at school in the Highlands. As we both now live in the deep south (read: the Central Belt) I thought it fitting to use a yarn from the Highlands, an extra reminder of a part of her life and an area important to her.
In my head, I had ideas of locality, provenance and sustainability. I live close to multiple yarn shops, attended a fantastic yarn event focused on British yarns, consulted the excellent KnitBritish site, asked on Ravelry… But in the end I still couldn’t find anything that fitted my particular needs: yarn from the Highlands (and/or Islands), made in the area from local sheep. There were plenty of ‘almost’ options (namely Buachaille, Ripples Crafts , Alice Starmore and Shilasdair) but none of the combined right weight, texture, colour or origin for the task. In the end, it was a yarn from a place well-known to me that won out: Ardalanish, Mull. Their aran weight blue-faced leicester yarn had already been discontinued by the time I tried to order it (having originally spotted a few stray balls of it in a Glasgow yarn shop) but after a frantic online and in-person search I was able to source a solitary remaining cone from a local yarn shop. It is a beautiful yarn, and I was delighted with the finished result of the shawl. So was Claire, which ultimately was more important than anything. Plus, it helped keep her warm which is handy for a winter wedding.
(P.s The photos here are of Claire’s shawl, in progress and finished, but before blocking. The photographers caught some snaps of her wearing her shawl on the big day, which you can see here.)
(P.p.s It was early 2016 that I started searching for the yarn, before a plethora of businesses opened producing precisely what I was after. Brill! More on them next post.)
South Uist is a really magical island. It’s famous for the almost-continuous machair and sand on the west coast, but it’s the east coast that I find really enticing. With the exception of a few clusters and occasional lone houses, few people now live in this area. Infrastructure and expansion around the 1960s meant that those households still living on the coast* were faced with the reality that the services and facilities being afforded to communities in the west would not be extended to those in the east.
There is an abundance of excellent walks to be had in South Uist. When you start exploring a bit you begin to understand the difficulties in supplying services to this area. Walking overland is arduous, long and pretty impractical. On paper it seems to make much more sense to travel by sea, though what the waters around the east coast are like I don’t know. Perhaps going by horse, as many likely would have, is easier than just on foot. These photos are from a walk around the headland at the end of the Loch Aineort road last month. We followed a route – roughly- recommended in the Cicerone guide to walks in Uist. It’s excellent and much recommended.
*population movement anywhere is a complicated business – there are many and varied additional reasons why people had been moving away from this area.