Gaelic Edinburgh?


Dùn Eideann na Gàidhlig

Gaelic Edinburgh? Not a joke, despite local Tory councillor, Iain ‘the Shyte’ Whyte, claiming that Gaelic is as foreign as German or French. French does have its place in our culture too – Mary Queen of Scot’s French legions camped at Little France and some of them bided at Bordeaux House, now Burdiehouse. German too can be heard in some of our Scots English – ken, gang and hame come to mind. But can it compare to Gaelic which became the language of communities in Edinburgh and Lothians when the Gaels moved east and south from Ayrshire and Fife circa 900AD?

These communities left their language on the land. In Edinburgh we have, to name but a few:

Arthur’s Seat – from aird nan saighead: height of the arrows
Balerno – baile airneach: sloe township
Calton Hill –  calltainn: hazel tree
Craigentinny – creag an t-sionnaich: fox rock
Craigour – creag ghobhar: goat rock
Dalry – from dàil an fhraoich: heather meadow

Further afield, Temple in Midlothian is named in old records as ‘Baile nan Trodach’ or ‘township of the warriors’ – a reference to the Knights Templar who founded the place. East Lothian too has many names such Gullane – gualainn, shoulder and Drem - druim, back which refer to geographical features.

Scots’ culture and iconography is strongly Gaelic-based – lochs, glens and bens, bagpipes, the kilt and whisky (uisge-beatha) are all part of Scottish, including Lowland, culture. Even Edinburgh’s nearest distillery, Glenkinchie in East Lothian, has a… Gaelic name.

Gaelic has always been a part of Edinburgh life too, even since it died out as a widely spoken language. The famous Gaelic nature poet Donnchadh Bàn Mac an t-Saoir is buried in Greyfriars’ Kirkyard.  Gaelic speaking King of Scots, Malcolm Canmore (ceann mòr – great head) used Edinburgh Castle as his base. Edinburgh was captured from the English by the mostly Gaelic-speaking armies (whose warcry was Albannaich!) under the leadership of Gaels like Bruce and Wallace.

And today, Gaelic is enjoying a revival. Gaelic-speaking schoolkids, punkbands and writers are all active in Dùn Eideann. English is the Walmart of languages. It’s a kind of fascism that decrees that the world needs only one language and that it has to be English. Aye, it’s useful but Gaelic is ours and diversity makes the world a more interesting place. Learn it, speak it, use it. Suas leis a’ Ghàidhlig.