Remembering where I was …

For some time now I’ve felt somewhat conflicted over the Irish/Scottish Gaelic divide. I tend to vacillate between feeling like I need to select one tradition alone, keeping strictly to it while marginalizing the other, and feeling like it really doesn’t matter. I mean, the divide is really a post 1500 development in my mind, though I fully realize that this is a contested point.

I’ve felt lately that I should probably concentrate on the Scottish side of things. My fathers go back to Scotland and there is so much great literature and music from there. After working there for more than a year I also had the time to work on my SG and now it is a good sight better than my Irish.

That was when I came across this little beaut.:

I’d never really heard it or seen the lyrics, and I was completely unprepared for the enflaming of my soul that followed. I went and dug up all the Irish songs I could remember (Caid é sin don té sin nach mbaineann sin dó, Báidín Fheilimí, and others). I still know more Scottish songs, but it almost seems like circumstances are favoring the Irish at the moment. My aunt and uncle, who give the best presents at Yule, gave us the album Clannad 2, which begins with an Gabhar Bán – one of my favorite songs of all time. It took me back to the first time I heard Liam Clancy and Tommy Makem sing ‘O’Donnell Abu’:


The crazy thing is that I’ve come across more actual Gaelic battle songs from Scotland than Ireland, yet it’s these English lyrics that get me riled up. One of the great songs from Scotland is Là Inbhir Lòchaidh which can be found on the BBC’s Aig Cridhe air Ciúil (‘At the Heart of the Music’) website. Of course it’s mostly in Gàidhlig, but you can listen to the song so long as you are not on a Mac. Of course there’s no dearth of great Scottish battle songs in English either, but there’s just … something about the Irish …

A point was made in the introduction to The Triumph Tree (Clancy & Markus, 1999) which has really hit home for me. Clancy observed that Gaelic Scotland always looked back to Ireland, and there were very few mythographic landscapes after the fashion of those found in the Táin Bó Cúailgne, Togail Bruiden Dá Derga, Scéla Mucce Meic Dathó, etc. Sites like Gigha and Beinn Cruachan were closely tied to the mythic landscapes of Ireland, and (whatever some die-hard SNP-ers might say) Gaelic Scotland was always very close with Ireland until the late sixteenth century. (I love the smell of controversy in the morning …)

The long and short of it is that I think I will take my approach from this historical reality. As an American whose family has been here since (and probably because of) the ’45, the entire history of the Gael is equally present to me: Irish and Scottish. Both must live in and through me. (Can you tell that I have been thinking about my ‘Ancestors’ section of the DP requirement?) Thus, Irish will always be the authoritative touch-stone, but the Scottish Gàidhlig – far from being ‘just incorrect Irish’ as one of my professors once put it – has an ineradicable beauty and sacred grace in its own right.

… so when I sing my kids to sleep at night, I will start with Caid é sin don té sin … but have no problem moving right into the Oran na Maighdinn-Mhara and Uamh an Oir, and when I write in my blog, I will strive for consistency with Keating’s Irish but keep my Scottish vocabulary close at hand.

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