Collection of lost Gaelic words to be revived

A collection of lost Gaelic words are being revived in a new book almost 130 years after they were first recorded.

Friday, 13th October 2017, 5:42 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 10:14 am
The words were recorded on Eriskay in the late 1890s with many since falling out of use. PIC: Creative Commons/Flickr.
The words were recorded on Eriskay in the late 1890s with many since falling out of use. PIC: Creative Commons/Flickr.

Artist and writer Catriona Black has revisited works by Father Allan Macdonald, a 19th century priest, poet, and folklorist, who recorded the Gaelic words and phrases used in homes on Eriskay and South Uist in the 1890s.

They were later edited into a dictionary, published in 1958, which is now out of print.

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'Riobag Shonais' - the hair of good fortune which refers to the straggling long hair growing on a womans chin. PIC: Catriona Black.

Earlier this year, Ms Black returned to the islands to chart how a sample of the words were used - and found less than half of them were still used.

Ms Black will now launch her new illustrated book, Sly Cooking: 42 Irresistible Gaelic Words, at Faclan, the Hebridean book festival, later this month.

Ms Black said the words contained much humour and that she hoped they could help expand use of the language once again.

She said: “I love the words. They are really beautiful and refer to really specific incidents. They can be quite daft - there is a sense of humour there. They often gently mock people.

Mionagadanan - the particles seen in a ray of sunlight coming into a house. PIC: Catriona Black.

“So often Gaelic is portrayed as the language of the empty glens and moors but that has never been what it has been for me.”

Her favourite words include ‘mionagadanan’ which describes the particles seen in a ray of sunlight coming into a house.

Meanwhile, ‘glaigeil’ describes the noise that women make when they get together.

Storradh - to force or strongy press something on a person when they don't really want it, such as food. PIC: Catriona Black.

Ms Black, who now lives in the Netherlands, spoke Gaelic as a child in Edinburgh with her father a scholar of the language.

Ronnie Black was also the Gaelic editor of The Scotsman for many years.

Ms Black visited Eriskay to research her book with the trip to be broadcast by BBC Alba on October 30.

She said: “I was taken around the homes of some of the older native speakers and from 50 words, only around 20 were recognised. Some of them are still going strong but many others have fallen out of use.”

Mabladh - the awkward chewing such as a toothless old man would make. PIC: Catriona Black.

The word ‘sgionc’ translates as forcing something that’s too big into a small aperture or hole, such as a cork too big for a bottle.

One woman in Eriskay remembered it being used to describe squeezing into a dress that was too small.

“When that came back to her, the word was so alive again,” Ms Black added.

The words collated by Father Macdonald were later edited into a dictionary, Gaelic Words and Expressions from South Uist and Eriskay, by John Lorne Campbell.

It is a dictionary she has read several times, from cover to cover.

Ms Black said: “Every language is different and every language can do things that others can’t.

Artist and writer Catriona Black who has brough together a collection of forgotten Gaelic words. PIC: Contributed.

“When you live on a place like Eriskay, when your world is quite limited, you pay attention to tiny details and you value your interactions with other people.

“For me, Gaelic is about people, and communication, and collective feeling, and that’s what I really want to bring out in this collection of words. I really want it to appeal to those who speak to Gaelic - and those who don’t.”

Sly Cooking: 42 irresistible Gaelic words, €5.95, will be launched at An Lanntair, Stornoway, on October 28.

Forradh: Sly Cooking, an exhibition of Ms Black’s linocuts, will show at the same venue until November 22.

'Riobag Shonais' - the hair of good fortune which refers to the straggling long hair growing on a womans chin. PIC: Catriona Black.
Mionagadanan - the particles seen in a ray of sunlight coming into a house. PIC: Catriona Black.
Storradh - to force or strongy press something on a person when they don't really want it, such as food. PIC: Catriona Black.
Mabladh - the awkward chewing such as a toothless old man would make. PIC: Catriona Black.
Artist and writer Catriona Black who has brough together a collection of forgotten Gaelic words. PIC: Contributed.