Gaelic virality: a snapshot

27/10/2020 1 comment

What’s a Gaelic community?

A lot of social media screentime has been spent on this question. Frequently, the discussion centres on the comparative treatment of those who have a dispersed or “network” connection with Gaelic – whether in an urban mainland “diaspora” setting, or indeed in a largely internet-mediated “virtual” sense – and those who live in geographically defined Hebridean communities where the density of Gaelic speakers by head of resident population is far higher.

Through its very name the Island Voices/Guthan nan Eilean project affirms the actual centrality of its so-called “peripheral” location to its function and focus. The islands are our geographical home. Even so, our work is primarily presented online, so our reach is not just Hebridean or even Scotland-wide, but truly international, and our interest is in serving all those who visit our posts and pages. Further, our linguistic focus is not just on Gaelic, or even Gaelic and English together, but increasingly multilingual and diverse.

For all these reasons we are driven to look beyond the zero-sum thinking often associated with a monolingual mindset. If paying Paul does not entail robbing Peter, then by the same token, taking care of Paul’s needs does not necessitate neglecting Peter’s. If the choice is recognised as false, then it should be possible to focus attention on either Peter or Paul as occasion demands without laying oneself open to a charge of “divisiveness”. Quite the contrary, in a situation where Peter’s own wellbeing is ultimately dependent on that of Paul, ignoring Paul’s evident distress will do Peter no good at all.

That’s quite a long pre-emptive preamble to the point of this post, which is to display some striking figures on visits to this site from the first three days of October. Regular visitors will have noted that recently we have been featuring different contributors to the UHI-led Stòras Beò nan Gàidheal project on the first day of each month. The Stòras Beò materials are a set of long-form video-recorded discussions between fluent speakers of Gaelic talking about their lives. As natural conversations they are intrinsically interesting. And beyond that, as examples of authentic speech they have many add-on applications for speakers, learners and researchers of Gaelic, including support for the current Gaelic Speech Recognition project being led by Edinburgh University, and planned contribution to the Digital Archive of Scottish Gaelic created by Glasgow University.

Posting first here on WordPress, the central website around which our various social media channels orbit, it’s normal practice for Island Voices to place links on our Twitter account and Facebook page on following days as a way of encouraging new and returning visitors to visit this site. This month it was the turn of Dòmhnall Caol (Donald MacDonald) from Baleshare to be featured.

The following figure shows the WordPress analytics for October 1st-3rd, with some annotations indicative of differential responses from what might be loosely defined as “networked” and “islands-based” Facebook interest groups.

Visits to Guthan nan Eilean WordPress site, 1st-3rd October

Here’s the timeline in more detail:


The WordPress post “Stòras Beò: Dòmhnall” was shared from the FB page to three prominent Gaelic interest groups: Gàidhlig na h-Alba ☯ Scottish Gaelic, Gàidhlig na h-Alba ~ Scottish Gaelic, and Scottish Gaelic Speakers Unite!. On that day these groups had a combined total membership of 12232 (with a probability of significant crossmembership).

By the end of the day there had been 98 recorded visits to the WordPress site.

This, as would be expected on the first day of a new post, is a significantly higher figure (around 2.5 times) than the daily average of about 40 WordPress visits up until that point in 2020.


The same WordPress post “Stòras Beò: Dòmhnall” was shared 24 hours later from the FB page to two Uist-focused pages/groups: North Uist Appreciation Society – NUAS (page), and South Uist/Uibhist a Deas Appreciation Society – SUAS (group). The total on that day for page-followers and group-members was 12020 (with a probability of significant crossmembership).

By the end of the day there had been 822 visits to WordPress, more than 20 times the daily average for the year.


Following spontaneous sharing of the previous month’s post “Stòras Beò: Aonghas” as a follow-up by NUAS, it was then also posted in the SUAS group.

By the end of the day there had been 667 visits to WordPress, more than 16 times the daily average.


Of course, a strict warning should be issued against any bald assertion, based on just these figures, that Facebook followers who have an island connection are multiple times more likely to take an active interest in a post on Gaelic than those whose interest in the language does not have this geographic link. This is just a snapshot in time with no control for all sorts of variables too numerous to list in a blogpost. Nevertheless, it surely points to some kind of effect, which will probably be explicable – at least in part – by reference to the significant importance of a geographical community connection to Gaelic, as it is used in the islands, in stimulating online engagement with it.

If that basic point is conceded, then any indication that the islands’ connection with Gaelic is in serious trouble, for which the recent “Gaelic Crisis” report provides ample quantitative evidence, surely deserves close attention, including from those speakers and other well-wishers whose connection is remote or “virtual”. Certainly, there is little sign from this small snapshot that any hope of fully compensatory numbers of new speakers emerging from geographically displaced and dispersed networks is likely to be easily fulfilled.

From an Island Voices point of view, we can at least take comfort from the indication that our positive “insular focus” is appreciated by the local community, while maintaining our commitment to inclusively showcasing these islands’ unique linguistic character and versatility on a worldwide stage. It would surely be zero-sum thinking, of a kind Gaelic advocates routinely reject, to view the recent urgent “call to arms” to inject new energy into Gaelic revival efforts at island community level as some kind of competitive threat to more dispersed interests. The one should feed the other.

The MSP for the Western Isles has announced a series of online meetings for various island communities to discuss ways forward for Gaelic in coming days. The link is here.

Categories: Community, Research

Gaelic Hebrides point the multilingual way

16/10/2020 Leave a comment

The University of the Highlands and Islands takes inspiration from Island Voices.

Perhaps a surprise to some, but not to us!

Here’s how it all comes back to Benbecula…

The tweeted press release touches on a couple of international projects that are being taken forward by UHI’s Language Sciences Institute. It doesn’t have the space to describe in detail how each builds on experience first gained in the Island Voices/Guthan nan Eilean project, and the closely linked development of Clilstore at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig. Both of these have grown from originally European Union-funded initiatives.

Island Voices followers who have time and inclination to read a bit more may find the additional information below of interest.

Taisce bheo na nGael/Stòras Beò nan Gàidheal” is a joint Irish/Scottish Gaelic ethnographic retrieval project in which community-based expert speakers are recorded in their own homes. The first stage of the Scottish side of the project was completed shortly before lockdown began. There are now 15 hours of video material with Clilstore transcriptions on the Institute’s website, with access open to all. Project partners are now testing out alternative ways of making recordings online, in case continuing lockdown restrictions mean the Irish recording stage needs to be tackled in a different way.

The same issue has also arisen with the Institute’s “Mediating Multilingualism” project in India, in partnership with Amity University Haryana and the Indian network of Centres for Endangered Languages. With COVID-19 continuing to cause severe disruption to university-based activities there (including fieldwork), the project team has already been trialling the production of home-based recordings for publication on the same, highly flexible, online Clilstore platform. Six Indian languages have been recently added to its linguistic range. Some of these are featured in the short Gaelic film (subtitled in English) “Dà Dhùthaich Iomadh Cànan/Two Lands Many Languages” produced by the UHI team after visiting Shillong in North-East India at the end of 2019 (the International Year of Indigenous Languages). This is also available to view online on the project’s webpage.

Categories: CALL, Community, Research, UGC, Video

Stòras Beò: Alasdair

14/10/2020 Leave a comment

Happy Birthday to Alasdair Crois Mòraig!

Belying Alasdair MacDonald’s youthful looks and demeanour, we’re reliably informed that 14th October 2020 is a particularly special day, marking the completion of his 80th year. We can only wish him many more happy returns!

We mark the day by featuring his own contributions to the Stòras Beò nan Gàidheal collection, in conversation with Archie Campbell. Alasdair has his own inimitable style in rich North Uist Gaelic, and we’re grateful for his daughter Kirsty’s help with one or two words in the transcripts that had left earlier scribes rather scratching their heads…

In the first part, Alasdair talks about his life-time commitment to crofting on North Uist, which his son is now continuing. His first schooling was in Carinish, with his fondest memory being of getting out into the garden, followed by Bayhead, and one year in Inverness, which he didn’t like. On returning to Uist he has worked his croft full-time ever since. He recalls the house-visiting customs of earlier times. His wife, Annie, is from Broughty Ferry, but Alasdair would find it difficult to live somewhere else if it wasn’t by the sea. He’s seen many changes since the time crofters would work with horses, and he explains fertilising and storage practices using seaweed and potatoes.

The wordlinked transcript is available here:

In the second part, Alasdair remarks on developments since the 60s, such as the advent of tractors for horses, the Baleshare causeway, local government reorganisation, and European Union development funds. He also talks about a visit to New Zealand and the evident Gaelic influence in its recent history. The conversation shifts to discussion of changes in the Uist physical environment. Shipwrecks are also talked about and the cargo they might yield. Alasdair explains the history of the name Crois Mòraig, and talks about the strength of Gaelic in the community, and reflects on the rhythm of the seasons experienced through crofting.

The wordlinked transcript is available here:

Categories: CALL, Community, Research, Video

Stòras Beò: Dòmhnall

01/10/2020 1 comment

We continue our exploration of the North Uist cluster in Stòras Beò nan Gàidheal with Donald MacDonald – “Dòmhnall Caol” – from Baleshare. As we’ll hear, Donald was a well-travelled man in Europe and the Middle East before settling back home to full-time crofting. Talking to Archie Campbell in measured tones, Donald takes his time to give a detailed account of his adventures.

Here, in the first part, Donald recalls his schooling and first job. Going to primary school in Baleshare he found he made faster progress with a Gaelic-speaking teacher. Illness interrupted his education at Bayhead, before he spent 5 years in Inverness, where he encountered some hostility as a “teuchter”, and experienced a distancing from his family. A happier memory was of salmon poaching in Lewis on his way home, where he started work in a bank before being transferred to Glasgow.

A wordlinked transcript is available here:

In the second part, Donald recalls giving up his job in Glasgow, and then poignantly describes how his father saw him off at the quay in Lochmaddy as he set off on his travels round Europe. He recounts various adventures with various travelling companions, before arriving in Turkey. Troubles at the time between Turkey and Greece over Cyprus caused difficulties with the post.

A wordlinked transcript is available here:

In the third and final part, Donald describes his adventures crossing to the West Bank from Syria to spend time in a kibbutz. He was then called home in light of his father’s serious illness, which meant that Donald had to take over responsibility for the croftwork. Working several crofts together he made a living for a while selling cattle and beef, with partners in Elgin and customers in Ardnamurchan. While his father was alive they would also host Gaelic learners. Following a mini-stroke he no longer keeps cattle, but a neighbour continues to use his land.

A wordlinked transcript is available here:

Categories: CALL, Community, Research, Video

Stòras Beò: Aonghas

01/09/2020 1 comment

Angus MacPhail from Clachan in North Uist is another well-known member of the community who kindly agreed to contribute to the Stòras Beò nan Gàidheal project, often seen on stage in local drama productions, as well as working hard behind the scenes. Here, he talks to Archie Campbell.

In the first part of the conversation he reveals his Boreray ancestry, and talks about his schooling in both North and South Uist before finishing in Inverness, with impressions of hostel life and being regarded as a “teuchter” in the town. Studying Civil Engineering in Aberdeen, he shared lodgings with other islanders, and was involved in inter-university competitions in shinty and through the pipe-band. Work took him to Inverawe first, followed by London (where he met his Irish wife), and then back to Scotland. Always keeping in touch with fellow Gaels, when they moved to Loch Broom they got involved with An Comunn Gàidhealach, and he also volunteered with the Mountain Rescue team.

A Clilstore transcript is available here:

In the second part, Angus talks about their life for 7 years around Applecross and the north-west, with his wife being a district nurse and also doing B&B, in an area where there was still some Gaelic spoken. They then moved back to Uist (via Lewis) when Comhairle nan Eilean Siar was formed. This was a busy time with lots of civil engineering work on roads and new developments. He talks about the development of the strong local Gaelic drama group, and plans for the local history society. Other interests include boating, and his garden – though this was mainly his wife’s work. He discusses the changes he’s seen in Carinish, and his international links through family in Australia and Ireland.

A Clilstore transcript is available here:

Categories: CALL, Community, Research, Video

Ceòlas yaz okulu

27/08/2020 Leave a comment

Güney Uist adasında bulunan Daliburgh kasabasinda her sene düzenlenen, İskoç Galcesi ve Galik müziği eğitimi veren Ceòlas yaz okulu hakkında kısa bir belgesel.

The Island Voices project is very grateful to Şirin Bryson for this Turkish version of our Series One documentary on the Ceòlas summer school – yet another addition to our “Other Tongues” collection!

Şirin works as a Pupil Support Assistant at Bun-Sgoil Taobh na Pàirce in Edinburgh, where she puts her Certificate of Higher Education in Gaelic to good use. She also speaks English, in addition to her Turkish. And she’s learned Japanese too. “I believe learning multiple languages has many benefits. One of them being able to connect to the culture where the language comes from.” Cho fìor ‘s a ghabhas!

As usual, we have also created a Clilstore unit for this film, so you can read a wordlinked transcript while you watch and listen to the embedded video:

Categories: CALL, Community, UGC, Video

“An Tìr, an Cànan, ‘s na Daoine”

09/08/2020 Leave a comment

“Gaelic activists clash” was the frontpage teaser. Guthan nan Eilean won’t be complaining about deepening interest in Hebridean Gaelic…

Categories: Community, Research

Stòras Beò: Gina

01/08/2020 Leave a comment

Another two-way conversation in the Stòras Beò collection. Here, Archie Campbell questions Gina MacDonald on her recollections and opinions on growing up and continuing to live on North Uist in the Outer Hebrides.

In the first part, Gina from Claddach Baleshare in North Uist remembers her early schooldays, and a childhood in the Westford Inn. She talks about the prevalence of Gaelic and the difference in English skills between the generations. She completed her schooling in Inverness, and worked in Glasgow for a while before returning to Uist to work in a bank. Then, after retiring from that work, she returned to education to do a BA in Art, and she discusses some of the challenges entailed.

A Clilstore transcript is available here:

In the second part, Gina first shows Archie some of her work from her art course, discussing local environmental and cultural influences and their interaction with memory processes. This leads on to discussing local storytelling experiences. Gina further explains how the family croft has developed, with the associated self-catering accommodation business for returning visitors, and expresses an interest in continuing to work with the active local history society.

A Clilstore transcript is available here:

Categories: CALL, Community, Research, Video

Cat’s Cradle Disentangled

30/07/2020 Leave a comment

The Island Voices project allows itself some geographical and linguistic latitude on Twitter. This was particularly evident this month with three separate multilingual threads exploring links and languages beyond the Hebrides. For fear of entanglement they’re collected here to ease reference. If you’re not a Twitter fan you can just click on the wee bird in the images below and then “Show this thread” to access each string independently.

The first (July 15th) recollects posts and recordings documenting the “Mediating Multilingualism” project, led by UHI’s Language Sciences Institute (LSI) with Indian partners, in which Island Voices approaches to community-based video-making are featured.

The second thread (July 23rd) stays with the LSI, focusing in on its development of a multilingual online presence in support of its international projects. This is exemplified both on its own webpages (in four different languages) and through its experimental use of Clilstore (a platform developed in tandem with Island Voices) with a number of new languages.

And lastly, the third thread (July 27th) uses snatched video of cricket in Queen’s Park, Glasgow, to introduce a summer reading list, for those with an interest in social history, that travels “Across Seven Seas and Thirteen Rivers” from “A School in South Uist” to “A Corner of a Foreign Field” – with an intriguing link to ship-jumping in London and New York that brings “Stòras Beò nan Gàidheal” into a multimodal matrix. There may be more than one way of joining the dots…

Categories: CALL, Community, Research, Video

Stòras Beò: Catrìona

01/07/2020 Leave a comment

Visitors to the annual Ceòlas summer school in South Uist, among many others with an interest in Gaelic cultural and educational activities, will need little introduction to Catriona MacIntyre. Here she is talking to Archie Campbell for UHI’s project, Stòras Beò nan Gàidheal.

Here, in the first part, Catrìona, from Iochdar in South Uist, recalls happy schooldays, first in Iochdar, then Daliburgh, and finishing in Fort William on the mainland. Having decided on a teaching career she trained in Glasgow, before returning to South Uist for her first job, in Lochboisdale, where she used her Gaelic extensively. On marrying she moved back to Fort William where she worked in a school for twenty years, noticing the close island and Gaelic connections of many in the town and the school.

A Clilstore transcript is available here:

In the second part, Catrìona talks about her seminal involvement in the development of Gaelic Medium Education in Lochaber and neighbouring areas, together with the growth of the Fèis movement at the same time. She enjoyed her peripatetic lifestyle. On retiring home to South Uist, she was involved in supply teaching, and has become closely involved with Ceòlas, the summer school and associated activities, and been involved in teaching Gaelic to adults, for example, for Sabhal Mòr Ostaig.

A Clilstore transcript is available here:

Categories: CALL, Community, Research, Video
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