New project aims to share the love of Scottish Gaelic

12 April 2021
Open Book founders Majorie Lofti (left) and Claire Urquhart
Singer Kathleen MacInnes has teamed up with the Open Book Scottish charity to encourage Gaelic conversation, reading and creative writing via Zoom.

Kathleen MacInnes, trad singer and champion of Scottish Gaelic, is joining poets, academics and a bookshop owner in using online communications to nurture one of Europe’s oldest languages. 

Lockdown is feared to have had a damaging effect on the language as speakers, who are widely dispersed in many areas, have been less able to meet and talk. Some of the Gaelic’s remaining strongholds are also in Highland and Island communities that have experienced other severe pressures during the pandemic due to their fragile economies. 

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Open Book, a Scottish charity that runs more than 70 English language and a Scots groups for shared reading and creative writing, is now aiming to amplify Gaelic voices and allow them to be heard. Supported by around £4,000 from Bòrd na Gàidhlig it is offering one monthly creative writing and four regular shared reading groups for anyone with an interest in Gaelic, from beginners to native speakers. 

Kathleen, who was raised in South Uist and is the Gaelic officer at Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum and Arts Centre on North Uist, is supporting a newly launched Zoom-based Gaelic shared reading group. The next online Gaelic session will be held on 21 April. 

She said: “I was lucky, it was the language of the playground and my home when I was growing up and I was surrounded by Gaelic culture. I love the language very much, whether it’s speaking, reading or singing. It’s a beautiful language and it takes me into another world. 

“The feedback I’ve had about the idea has been very enthusiastic. I think people who have the same passion that I have will really enjoy the sessions. And it doesn’t matter whether they are beginners or fluent, they will be warmly welcome. And the wonderful thing about doing it online is that it doesn’t matter where in the world they are.” 

Andrew Wilson, the proprietor of Wigtown’s Beltie Books, will be the Lead Reader for another shared reading group, and hopes it will be a digital link for far-flung Gaelic speakers. 

He said: “There aren’t many Gaelic speakers in Dumfries and Galloway, they are quite isolated from one another, and it’s been very difficult to meet and speak Gaelic over the past year. When I heard about this it seemed blindingly obvious that it was a brilliant idea – you can have someone in Langholm chatting with someone in Stranraer and they don’t have to leave their homes and drive for hours to meet.” 

Andrew is a former council Gaelic Development worker who learned the language over the last 25 years, wishing now he had studied it at University – nevertheless has fallen in love as much with the culture as the tongue. 

He values the fact that Gaelic is Scotland’s oldest indigenous language and is linked to a rich tradition of music, song, literature and stories – and what he believes are a set of cultural values that put community, sharing, nature and the environment above individualism and materialism. 

When restrictions allow, it hopes that places like Uist, at the Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum & Arts Centre, and Dumfries and Galloway may be able to have groups that meet in person as well as in the virtual world. 

Open Book was co-founded by Claire Urquhart and the poet Marjorie Lotfi as a gentle, fun and informal way to bring people together around reading and writing. Unlike book clubs there is no homework or set reading. Reading groups meet up, share a text such as a short story, and use it as a way to spark conversation. The creative writing groups come together to talk about prose and poetry and to create their own work in response, in groups or individually. 

About the Gaelic Groups 

Groups will meet regularly online and will initially run from April until August. Spaces are free but limited so it is essential to register in advance. 

The groups are for: 

  • Intermediate shared reading online 
  • Beginner shared reading online (Bord funded) 
  • Creative writing online (Bord funded) 
  • Shared reading on Uist and in Wigtown 

For details go to the Open Book website or @openbookreading on Twitter.