I’VE JUST BLOWN IN FROM THE ISLE OF SKYE ( AND ENVIRONS) by Donal Kennedy


I’ve been over the Sea to Skye and around the Scottish Highlands for a brief, coach (not flying) visit over three days. I’d been there once before, eighteen years ago, and my abiding memory is of suffering shingles. This time I wasn’t, and can thus record my thoughts in more tranquillity.

The weather was cold, but I was dressed for it. The mountains and sky were dramatic – hither dark, brooding and threatening murder, yon sun-kissed, caressed and colourful, rain here and light there, all to beholdin a single glance. Mostly bare and barren .Few fertile spaces below the mountains, not many cattle or horses to be seen, nor all that many sheep .I understand the Attlee Government had  considered testing Atom bombs up there amongst the aboriginal populace but later Governments tested them in Australia, using British Conscripts as guinea-pigs.

The main signposts are in Gaelic, a language brought there from Ireland from about 300 AD. Argyll means Earra Gaedhail  “Coastal area of Gaelic Speakers”  and Irish became the dominant language of Scotland. James VI of Scotland (James I of England) referred to “Gallic” as the Irish Language,

“Scotland” was known in Latin during the Middle Ages as “Scotia Minor”  to distinguish the country from “Scotia Major” (Ireland). When “Uster- Scots” disparage Irish they disparage themselves or their ancestors and make horses’ asses of themselves.

Before the introduction of Christianity Irish had not been married to the Roman Alphabet and the language developed through different  stages. Modern Irish, I believe, emerged in the 16h Century and the spelling of Irish and Scots Gaelic have not been exactly co-ordinated.

Thus, those of us taught in Ireland might find notices familiar and strange at the same time. In the Co-Op in  Oban there was a notice  using a Hearing Aid.

The verb to hear in Ireland is spelt “Clois” in Scotland “Clais”. The device or aid was described as “Ineall” which by itself might be a machine as in “Ineall-Gunna” or  might mean an engine,device,thingamagig. But in the context was easy to understand, As was the polite “Maise du Thoil e” Ma se do thoil e”or “If that is your Will.”  So I think after some short time I would find the Gallic notices readily understandable,

The SNP were out leafletting in Oban, but the leaflets were all in English. In 1891 when the Cumann Gaelach (the inspiration for Ireland’s Gaelic League) was founded, 60% of the town’s inhabitants spoke Gallic. In 2001 it was reckoned only 10% did. Though the town was dirt poor in the old days and appears prosperous today it seems that cultural genocide or cultural suicide is a continuing phenomenon.

Although the area around Oban, today’s capital of Gaelic Scotland, was first settled about 10,000 years ago the Museum there seems to deal exclusively with the 20th Century and then overwhelmingly with the First and Second World War, and the use of  the Highlands and  Highlanders In those horrific times.

The Highlands, because used for Commando training are commemorated with a dagger, and complemented by a perhaps appropriate visage of the cut-throat Churchill unattached to his body. It’s a small museum but it might have featured the fishing industry, some references to Christianity in its various manifestations, schools, monasteries, literature from the time of Columcille, after whom the nearby Catholic Cathedral is named, and campaigns for social justice. On Skye the visit of Michael Davitt is commemorated. He went there to encourage the Crofters, who were attempting to emulate the work of the Irish Land League, founded by Davitt, which was the death knell of despotic landlordism in Ireland.

Despite social reform in Britain since those times 50% of the land in Britain is held by less than 1% of its population. That 1% is impossible to identify.

Because they have the power to keep the rest of the population in the dark.

These musings are rushed and random, but , and may be poor things, like Touchstone’s bride, “but mine own.”

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