Gaelic in the History of the Seaboard
Part 3: 1850 – 1950 : “English for business, Gaelic for God”
The Protestant church had always been important and strong in Easter Ross, and the local population referred to as ‘pious’ in all the reports – at times ‘too pious’ according to Ian Mowat – we can still see the wide variety of Protestant churches in the area today. But it was from the Disruption of 1843 onwards that this faith became really significant for the use of Gaelic in the area, with an added political factor. The Free Church was against the church ‘Establishment’ itself, but also against the influence of the landlords and the civic administration on church matters, and it was adamant about using of the congregation’s daily language (in this case Gaelic) in the pulpit.
This was a powerful and attractive mixture of the religious and the political, in view of the large numbers of Lowland incomers in the area. The Free Church grew strong in the local parishes, especially in the fishing villages, a situation which strengthened the status of Gaelic, which was declining more generally in Scotland. In 1881 (according to research by Charles Withers) Gaelic was was still being used as the primary language of worship across the Highlands, and as late as 1944 Gaelic was still officially ‘considered desirable’ in ministers called to the parishes of Easter Ross.
In Hilton, Balintore and Shandwick ‘the Books were taken’ (family Bible reading, prayer and usually a psalm) in Gaelic every day, there were Gaelic services every Sunday until after World War II, and prayer-meetings in Gaelic (especially for the fishermen themselves) two or three times a week, as remembered by residents still with us today. The famous preacher George Mackay (written about in the book My Uncle George, by Alastair Phillips) was the minister of Fearn Free Church 1910 – 1944. It was him who said: “I suppose English is good enough for doing business. But for approaching God Almighty, you will be nearer to him in Gaelic than in any other language.”
But we also need to look at the wider context, and the use of Gaelic in the secular life of the area too. There are interesting figures for the whole of Ross-shire (which included Lewis) in 1879. In a population of approx. 81,000, around three quarters (62,000) spoke Gaelic, and of these 11,350 spoke only Gaelic. In Easter Ross, Tain, with its 2,100 inhabitants, had only 600 Gaelic-speakers, however; while in the parish of Tarbat 2,000 out of 2,182 spoke Gaelic.
As in Tarbat, we can see from fascinating research done by Karl C. Duwe using the 1881 census that Hilton was “overwhelming Gaelic-speaking” at that time – 97.5%, a higher proportion than in the parish as a whole. But most people also had at least some English by that time, partly possibly due to wider education, but particularly because they needed to use it in other parts of the area itself (like Tain), or for selling fish, or for travelling as a herring girl to ports like Yarmouth. The research gives us a picture of Hilton as a relatively stable, close community, with the majority being born in the parish (308 out of 318). (Have a look at the details and charts here: http://www.linguae-celticae.org/dateien/Gaidhlig_Local_Studies_Vol_24_Taobh_Sear_Rois_Ed_II.pdf )
The parish of Fearn wasn’t all as strongly Gaelic as Hilton, with only 69.5% speakers in contrast to Hilton’s 97.5%, which indicates a higher number of English-only speakers in the rural areas, as we would expect given the history of English-speaking incomers on the farms as well as in the administrative centres (as in Tain – only 33.8% Gaelic speakers in the 1881 census).
In the census figures 1881 – 2001 we see that Gaelic didn’t stay strong much longer in the parish of Fearn. Twenty years later barely half the population spoke it, and by 1951 that figure had gone down to 10.5%.
We have to remember, though, that Gaelic remained stronger in the Seaboard villages than in the parish as a whole, even in the middle of the 20th century, when it was still used as their first language by the fishermen and other older folk. There is plenty of evidence of this from local history accounts, such as Down to the Sea, personal memoirs, e.g. My Uncle George, and as remembered by our oldest residents today.
But from these same accounts it’s evident that English was the first language of most of the generation born after Word War I, used in school and in the playground, and to a large extent in the home too, where the parents would speak Gaelic to each other and English to the children. According to these “children” who are still with us, the parents used Gaelic to keep a bit of privacy in the large familes of the time (although the children understood more than they let on), but there was no real interest in keeping Gaelic alive as a daily language. They accepted the view that their way of life and language was changing, and that the language of the wider world, and the future, was English.
(Part 4, finishing this series, to follow.)
A’ Ghàidhlig ann an Eachdraidh Machair Rois
Pàirt 3: 1850 – 1950 : “English for business, Gaelic for God”
Bha an Eaglais Phròstanach an-còmhnaidh cudromach agus làidir ann an Ros an Ear, agus na daoine air an ainmeachadh “pious” anns na cunntasan uile – aig amannan ro chràbhach (a rèir Ian Mowat ); chì sinn an uimhir de dh’eaglaisean Pròstanach eadar-dhealaichte a tha ann fhathast anns an sgìre. Ach ‘s ann leis an Dealachadh ann an 1843 a dh’fhàs an creideamh fìor chudromach don Ghàidhlig ann am Machair Rois, le factar ùr poiliteagach. Bha an Eaglais Shaor an aghaidh an ‘Establishment’ eaglaiseil, ach an aghaidh buaidh nan uachdaran agus na rianachd catharra cuideachd, agus airson cànan làitheil a’ choitheanail a chleachdadh sa chùbaid.
B’ e sin measgachadh tarraingeach, air beulaibh na h-uimhir de dh’in-imrichean Gallda a bha ann. Dh’fhàs an Eaglais Shaor glè laidir sa pharaiste, gu h-àraidh anns na bailtean-iasgaich, rud a dhaingnich an cànan an sin, ged a bha i a’ crìonadh san fharsaingeachd. Ann an 1881 bha a’ Ghàidhlig ga cleachdhadh mar chànan creideimh fhathast air feadh na Gàidhealtachd (rannsachadh le Charles Withers), agus ann an 1944 fhathast ‘s e ministearan le Gàidhlig a bha ‘considered desirable’ ann am paraistean Machair Rois.
.Ann am bailtean-iasgaich na Manachainn (Baile an Todhair, Baile a’ Chnuic) agus Seannduaig bha “gabhal an Leabhair” ann gach latha sa Ghàidhlig, seirbheisean Gàidhlig gach Là na Sàbaid gus an dèidh an Dàrna Cogaidh, agus coinneamhan-ùrnaigh Gàidhlig (gu h-àraidh dha na h-iasgairean) dhà no trì tursan san t-seachdain – mar a tha cuimhne aig iomadh neach-còmhnaidh latha an diugh fhathast. ‘S e an searmonaiche Gàidhlig ainmeil Seòras MacAoidh (sgrìobh Alastair Phillips leabhar mu dheidhinn, My Uncle George) a bha na mhinistear anns a’ pharaiste 1910 – 1944. Thuirt esan: ” I suppose the English is good enough for doing business. But for approaching God Almighty, you will be nearer to him in Gaelic than in any other language.”
Ach feumaidh sinn coimhead air cor na Gàidhlig nas fharsainge san sgìre, anns a’ bheatha shaoghalta cuideachd. Tha àireamhan inntinneach againn bho 1879 (Withers a-rithist) airson Siorrachd Rois air fad (a’ toirt a-steach Eilean Leòdhais): à 81,000 de shluaigh, bha trì-chairteil (62,000) a’ bruidhinn Gàidhlig, nam measg 11,350 gun Bheurla idir.
Ann an Ros an Ear, cha robh ann am Baile Dhubhthaich ach 600 le Gàidhlig à 2,100; ann am paraiste Thairbeirt, ge-tà, ‘s e 2,000 à 2,182 a bh’ ann.
Mar ann an Tairbairt, chithear anns an rannsachadh tarraingeach agus na bu mhionaidiche mu Bhaile a’ Chnuic fhèin a rinn Karl C. Duwe ann a bhith a’ cleachdadh fiosrachadh à cunntas-sluaigh 1881 gun robh am baile “overwhelmingly Gaelic-speaking” ann an 1881, le Gàidhlig aig 97.5% den t-sluagh, cuibhreann na b’ àirde na anns a’ pharaist air fad. Bha Beurla aig cha mhòr na h-uile cuideachd gu ruige seo, air sgàth foghlaim, ‘s dòcha, ach gu sònraichte air sgàth ‘s gum b’ fheudar dhaibh Beurla a chleachdadh ann an àiteachan eile san sgìre fhèin, no airson iasg a reic, no gus siubhal mar chaileagan-sgadain gu puirt mar Yarmouth. Chithear gur e coimhearsneachd gu math seasmhach, gu ìre dùinte, a bha innte, agus a’ mhòr-chuid (308 à 318) air am breith anns a’ pharaiste. (Fios mionaideach agus grafaichean: http://www.linguae-celticae.org/dateien/Gaidhlig_Local_Studies_Vol_24_Taobh_Sear_Rois_Ed_II.pdf )
Cha robh a’ pharaiste air fad cho làidir sa Ghàidhlig ri Baile a’ Chnuic.Ann an 1881 bha an ìre à ceud de luchd-labhairt na Gàidhlig ann an Sgìre na Manachainn gu lèir mu 69.5% an coimeas ri 97.5% ann am Baile a’ Chnuic, a tha a ‘ ciallachadh gun robh àireamhan àrd de luchd-labhairt na Beurla ann am pàirtean eile den pharaiste, mar a bhiodh dùil leis an eachdraidh de Bheurlachadh anns na tuathanasan agus na h-ionadan rianachd – c.f. Baile Dhubhthaich ann an 1881: 33.8% le Gàidhlig.
Ann an àireamhan chunntasan-sluaigh bho 1881 gu 2001, chithear nach do mhair a’ Ghàidhlig cho làidir glè fhada ann am paraiste na Manachainn: às dèidh fichead bliadha is gann gun robh leth-cheud às a’ cheud a’ bruidhinn na Ghàidhlig, agus às dèidh sin bha an lùghdachadh fiù ‘s na bu luaithe, gu 10.5% ann an 1951.
Feumaidh sinn a bhith mothachail, ged-thà, gun do mhair a’ Ghàidhlig na bu treasa anns na bailtean-iasgaich na anns a’ pharaist air fad fiù ‘s am meadhan na ficheadamh linn, air a cleachdadh fhathast mar chiad chànan leis na h-iasgairean agus na daoine na b’ aosta eile, mar a tha fios againn à iomadh eachdraidh ionadail, m.e. ann an Down to the Sea, cunntasan pearsanta, m.e. My Uncle George, agus agallamhan le luchd-còmhnaidh aig a bheil cuimhne air seo fhathast.
Ach às nan aon chunntasan tha e follaiseach gum b’ i Beurla a’ chiad chànan aig a’ ghinealach a rugadh às dèidh a’ Chiad Chogaidh, air a cleachdadh anns an sgoil agus anns an raon-chluiche, agus gu ìre mhath aig an taigh, far am biodh na pàrantan a’ bruidhinn Gàidhlig ri chèile, ach Beurla ris a’ chloinn. A rèir na “cloinne” sin a-nis bha na pàrantan airson beagan prìobhaideachd a ghleidheadh ann an teaghlaichean mòra an ama sin (ged a bha a’ chlann a’ tuigsinn barrachd na bha iad a’ leigeil orra), ach cha robh ùidh mhòr aca a’ Ghàidhlig a chumail beò mar chànan làitheil – ghabh iad ris a’ bheachd gun robh an dòigh-beatha agus an cànan aca a’ caochladh agus gum b’ i a’ Bheurla cànan an t-saoghail mhòir agus an ama ri teachd.