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!
I’m not sure what other peoples’ habits are like but I find myself wholly in a bookish mood at the moment. My spare time seems to have been occupied solely by reading, thinking about books, talking about books, watching others talk about their books and not a lot else. Usually there is some knitting or music or cooking or general other things thrown in there too but not so much recently.
To that end, two things have happened that brought me a fair amount of happiness:
Firstly: seeing Sarah Moss speak at an RSGS event in Edinburgh. Her book, Names for the Sea, is one of my favourites from recent years. Part memoir and part travel book in it she discusses her experience of living in Iceland for a year. It focuses a lot on the social aspects of her time there,something which I really enjoyed. I’ve never been to Iceland (one day…) and while the heritage and landscape is undoubtedly a huge draw for me, I found it every bit as interesting to hear about daily life and social attitudes. Her talk touched on gender, domesticity, working life and being ‘foreign’ in a new landscape. It was excellent.
Secondly, on a recent trip to London I visited Daunt books for the first time. My friend Rebecca had recommended Daunt years ago on a previous visit but for some reason we never went. It was our last stop before the train home this time and what a way to end a holiday – a beautiful space with just the best, most interesting selection of books I can remember seeing in years. I now maintain that all bookshops should come in Edwardian buildings with spiral stairs, stained glass windows and an abundance of fresh flowers. I couldn’t resist buying something and came away with Miranda July’s book of short stories.
As the pile of job applications keeps growing and as my annual Winter cold takes an ever stronger grip on my sinuses, I thought I’d take a minute or two to round up some things I’ve been enjoying recently. There surely is no soul on this earth who enjoys filling in job applications with or without a cold.
It’s just a few days ’til the launch of Celtic Connections in Glasgow. It’s always a feast of interesting, challenging and inspiring music and with some of the best horo-gheallaidh you could ask for in the Festival Club. I can’t wait!
I recently read The Silent Weaver by Roger Hutchinson and was reminded of the beautiful and enigmatic works of Angus MacPhee. Some of these are on display in Kildonan Museum in South Uist; I’ve spent a lot of time entirely transfixed by them. The Silent Weaver does justice to the man and his work as well as setting it within the wider context of mental health care in the 20th century.
A winter walk to see in the New Year. We took a trip north, enjoying the snow, trees and frosty landscapes of the uplands around Blair Atholl. I love Perthshire at this time of year. Photos in this post from that walk.
Yesterday heralded the old new year (interesting article by Angus Peter Campbell in the link) so with that I wish you all bliadhna mhath ùr.
The air has changed. Autumn is creeping ever closer. The sun sets not long after 9pm and the rain is starting to make a reappearance, more regularly by the day. The wind is gusty and more determined; the plants all around looking tired and drawn. I arrived on Islay at the tail end of Autumn last year, and with Autumn making her presence felt, I’m reminded that my time here is beginning to draw to a close.
When I’m ignoring the pressing issue of What To Do Next (well underway but really, a daunting task) I like to read. I go through fits and spurts in reading. Either I’ll be utterly addicted, every spare second with my nose in books, devouring every word in front of me, or I’ll be quiet, not reading or trying to and perhaps struggling to manage more than a few paragraphs a day. I’m in the midst of the former at the moment, happily. It does make me feel like something of a recluse, though, rejecting company to instead keep reading.
I live by the mantra my parents set out for me: “money spent on books is never money wasted”. To that end, I frequently don’t have much spare money, but do have an ever-increasing book pile.
Images: some books I’ve read and enjoyed recently.