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Ó Broin Seeks To Revive Scottish Gaelic Language And Culture

By Christy Wiabel Smith

 

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Àdhamh Ó Broin is a passionate man; passionate about his country, passionate about his culture and passionate about his language, a language that was nearly lost to history.

Born in Argyll in western Scotland, Ó Broin has spent the better part of the last decade learning about the dialects of Scottish Gaelic. Love of the language and its roots led him to become an activist of sorts, advocating to resurrect “the richness of the Gaelic language.”

“People learning standard book-Gaelic, as it is mostly now, will not save the language from extinction,” he said. “Imagine people in the South speaking as if they were reading from a book and not in their own rich dialect. This would be a good comparison to how things are in Scotland right now.”

Ó Broin discovered his love of language as an adult, studying everything from German and French to Dutch and Slovene, but his connection to Gaelic ran deep and became life-changing. He has devoted a great deal of his time and energy to the immense task of resurrecting forgotten dialects such as Dalriada Gaelic, his local dialect. And he is also the first person in almost a century to raise a native speaking family.

“I speak only Gaelic at home with my three youngest children, who are all fluent in our local dialect,” he said, explaining that his family would think it strange if he spoke English to them.

Ó Broin is Scots to the core. He loves his haggis with “neeps and tatties,” a traditional meal of savory meat pudding with roasted turnips and potatoes, although he prefers his haggis of a vegetarian variety. He drinks beer, but likes a “wee drop” of whiskey now and then. And he’s a prolific writer, singer and also a storyteller, something he’s learned bit by bit over time.

To become a fluent speaker of Scottish Gaelic, Ó Broin spent time with elderly people, who he feels are the richest resources of culture and language in Scotland.

In an interview with BBC Radio Scotland, Ó Broin said, “We live in a society where old people aren’t respected anywhere close to what they should be. They’re popped in their homes and forgotten about.”

Sitting and having a cup of tea with the “old folks” gave him the opportunity to learn, not just the words of Scottish Gaelic, but the speakers’ “lifestyle and wisdom, their take on life and how they looked at the world.” His ultimate goal was to immerse himself in the culture as well as the language.

Sadly, Ó Broin said the culture is fading, and the language is losing idiom and color at a staggering rate.

Only about a dozen dialects remain of over 200, and the last 50 years have seen a drastic decrease in native language speakers. According to Ó Broin, the ignorance of the tongue by the government in London over the years has contributed to its demise.

To try and curtail the loss, he founded DROITSEACH, a project whose goal is to ignite interest in the lost Gaelic dialects of Scotland and revitalize the language and culture.

“I would measure my success in one thing: when people cease to make excuses for speaking poorly in Gaelic and take pride in their language again. It is my mission to bring this about,” he said. “Some eggs will need broken to make this omelette, I can tell you. But it doesn’t deter me.”

It was the DROITSEACH project and his desire to see people take pride in their language that led him to meet with the producers of “Outlander,” the Starz original television series based on Diana Gabaldon’s best-selling books.

Ó Broin was aware of the novels because of Gabaldon’s treatment of Gaelic in the text. In a question and answer session on his website, Ó Broin explained that he was “moved to tears” by the respect shown to the language in the books, and when he found that the show was in need of a Gaelic consultant and coach, he reached out to them.

“It was like someone had finally heard our cry in the darkness. I knew, reading this, that we could do something truly fantastic, maybe even revolutionary in the strictly cultural sense, and somehow I knew I had to make sure the job was mine,” he said.

As Gaelic consultant, it is Ó Broin’s task to make sure the actors and actresses speak with as close to proper pronunciation as possible and that their lines are accurately translated.

“I’d call it challenging,” he said. “Some of it was so easy, because you’re dealing with consummate professionals. Sometimes it was tough, because the Gaelic is only one ingredient, and there’s so much else going on. You’ve got to learn to be a team player.”

Though his days on the set of “Outlander” are anything but typical, he enjoys being a part of something that will bring Gaelic to the masses.

“Personally, it has allowed me to meet so many lovely people from cast to crew to fans and support my family in the process. Professionally, it has opened terrific doors to allow me to go it alone, doing what I love and bringing the Gaelic language and culture onto the world stage, where I of course have always thought it belonged!”

Because of his Gaelic outreach program and his sudden popularity among “Outlander” fans,  Ó Broin embarked on a tour of the western United States in March, which took him to Seattle, Sacramento, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City and Colorado Springs as a guest at Scottish-themed events.

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Stephanie Elkins and Adhamh

Coordinated with Stephanie Elkins, founder of the Rocky Mountain Sassenachs, an “Outlander” fan group in the west-central United States, the tour allowed Ó Broin the opportunity to share his passion for Gaelic.

His presentation included everything from history and culture to his efforts in reviving the language. He performed a bit of traditional music as well, and of course he shared his experiences on the set of “Outlander.” His audience followed in the footsteps of the cast and learned first hand the difficulties, and sometimes the humor, of learning to speak a new language.

“I hope I can act as an ambassador for the Gaelic language and culture and leave people with the desire to learn more,” he said. “I am in that most privileged position because I am doing what I love for a living. I never take that for granted, and so people’s interest in our little Gaelic corner of the world has been mind-blowing.”

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Christy and Adhamh getting silly.

Thank you Christy for contributing this insightful article and Àdhamh Ó Broin for sharing your passion.

About Christy Wiabel Smith: She is a recent graduate of Colorado State University – Pueblo with a degree in journalism. She loves writing profiles about amazing individuals like Adhamh and hopes to publish a book of their stories some day.  She has two grown boys, a step son and daughter, and two wonderful grandchildren.  Christy lives in Colorado Springs with her husband, two dogs and a psycho bird named Boomie.  Contact: cak9463@yahoo.com.

 

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Adhamh and I clowning around.

Adhamh and I clowning around.

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Adventures In Scotland Tips and Thoughts

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Even though my husband and I are both decently traveled and good planners, 16 days in Scotland will teach anyone a few things. With the help of my brood, I’ve compiled a helpful list of tips and thoughts for anyone planning a trip there.

Accommodations 

Self Catering – This is renting an apartment, cottage, guest house, or house.

Usually all the basics like towels, a full kitchen setup with utensils, dishes, pots and pans, a refrigerator, microwave, coffee pot, and tea kettle are included. Sometimes local information is put together for your use as well.

Questions to ask:

What supplies are included in the rental?  

  • Dish soap
  • Dishwasher detergent
  • Cooking seasonings and oil
  • Laundry detergent
  • Body wash or soap
  • Paper towels 
  • Napkins 
  • Toilet paper
  • Foil, baggies, plastic wrap
  • Hand soap
  • Trash/Rubbish bags

What amenities are included?

  • Laundry (washer and dryer or washer only)
  • Internet wi-fi)
  • Cable or satellite 
  • Radio
  • DVD player
  • Hair dryer
  • Parking (Street, private parking garage, private space)
  • Elevator/Lift if on upper floor
  • Trash disposal and recycling location
  • Portable crib
  • High chair

Access and Proximity to:

  • Public transit
  • Airport
  • Train station
  • Stores
  • Restaurants 
  • Attractions and places of interest

Inn or Bed and Breakfast

What supplies are included?

  • Soap
  • Shampoo/Conditioner
  • Coffee/Tea service in room

What amenities are included?

  • Refrigerator in room or one available to store items
  • Microwave in room or available for use
  • Laundry (washer and dryer or washer only). If not on premises, is there easy access to  a self service laundromat/launderette?
  • Parking  
  • Portable crib
  • High chair

Access and Proximity to:

  • Public transit
  • Airport
  • Train station
  • Stores
  • Restaurants 
  • Attractions and places of interest

Are pets allowed?

Renting a car and drivng

Scotland is a right hand drive, left side of the road using, roundabout infused country with narrow roadways. We drove more than 2,000 miles and have little doubt why natives travel outside their local area very little.

  • Does your regular automotive insurance cover rental vehicles 
  • Do you know how to drive a stick and shift with your left hand? Most rental vehicles are a manual transmission. Automatic transmission vehicles are at a premium fee.
  • Is your driver’s license legal to drive with in Scotland?
  • Diesel fueled vehicles are popular. Be very aware of which pump you are using.  
  • Petrol is sold by the litre and is quite pricey.
  • A sat nav unit is absolutely necessary and worth the money whether you add maps to your own and bring it or rent one with the vehicle. Navigating roads are terrifically difficult without one because signage is near useless to the non-local.
  • Knowing the basic road rules and signage prior to visiting is immensely helpful. 
  • The Scottish Mile takes much longer to drive than the American mile due to road conditions, lower speed limits, weather, and the dastardly roundabouts (even on the motorways). 100 miles can easily take 3.5 hours to drive.
  • Expect to get lost often.
  • Parking within towns and cities is almost all for pay and difficult to come by.
  • On single lane roads that abide two-way traffic there are cutouts for each direction to pull over to allow for passing.
  • In unsigned areas the speed limit is 30 MPH. Some may be 60 MPH but be wise.
  • Buses local and tour types are everywhere.
  • People jaywalk constantly. Awareness is  critical.
  • Be cautious of rental car companies upselling you extras you do not need.

All of that said, it was totally worth the stress and frustrations my husband and I each experienced behind the wheel being able to drive ourselves everywhere.

Of food and beverages

Dining out

  • American fast food chains are ever present in the mix if you desire.
  • Water must be requested. Servers would bring us a pitcher. 
  • Coffee comes white (with milk) or black. Thankfully the coffee is quite good, even in petrol stations.
  • Take away is the verbiage for take out.
  • All types of cuisine are available, but interpretation of each cuisine of the non-Scottish variety is highly variable. Stick to regional foods.Though I’ve been told Italian and Indian food are very good in Glasgow.
  • Chips are served with almost everything.
  • Foods are minimally salted.
  • Cups and glasses are small. 
  • Get local recommendations to have the best culinary experiences.
  • Do try a full Scottish breakfast or at least all the components.
  • I liked the haggis, the husband did not.
  • I liked the black pudding aka blood sausage, the husband did not.
  • The porridge is good, if you have a penchant for it already.
  • In pubs that serve food, you place the order at the bar and a server brings it to your table.
  • 5-10% is the going rate for tipping.
  • Most places are family friendly.
  • If you like a burger less than well done, you must request it.

Grocery Shopping

  • Stick to non-American products for the best prices.
  • Food labels are different and lack complete ingredient listings.
  • Jams, juices all have added sugar in them.
  • Deli meat is a very different purchasing experience.
  • Eggs are not refrigerated. They come in 6, 12, and 15 count. Caged and free range. Uniform or different sizes.
  • Fruits and vegetables are overall well priced and delicious.
  • There are small, medium, large, and even Walmart type superstores. Something for everyone.
  • Many items do not come in the variety of sizes and options Americans are used to.
  • Costco is in Glasgow and Edinburgh. We were thankful for inexpensive dinners there a few nights. 
  • There are small natural grocers a la Whole Foods around.
  • Cheese comes in number grades the higher the number the more sharp it is.

Communication and Connectivity

  • Buy a local throwaway phone that uses purchased minutes and data upon arrival at the airport or in any of the bigger grocery  stores. 
  • If your phone’s SIM card is unlockable (contact your cellular provider to find out), you can purchase a local SIM card that makes your phone usable.

Either option is more affordable than adding a temporary international  plan to your existing service.

Free internet wifi hotspots are available in many pubs, restaurants, museums, however, they are not secure servers. Do not do banking or purchasing through your phone. Internet services should be secure whenever a password is required. Internet is slower than what is usual in the US.

Power

  • A converter unit can be purchased locally at a store such as Maplin for items that require a two or three pronged plug for safe charging at a reasonable  price.
  • Cheap adapters might cause damage to your tech.
  • USB rechargeable tech can be plugged into your rental car’s USB charger. 
  • A portable charging brick is also an option.
  • Do your own research as to what you ought buy before leaving your own country.

Money

  • Change dollars into Scottish Pounds at a bank to reduce service fees.
  • The exchange rate changes daily.
  • Carrying coins are a must for parking payment.
  • Your debit card is usable pretty much anywhere.
  • Scottish Pounds may be refused if you go to England though effectively it is the same currency.

Quirks and Unique Flavors

  • Grilled haggis and cheese sandwiches are popular.
  • Trash cans or bins tend to be small.
  • Traffic cones when utilized are abundant.
  • Locals are terribly apologetic over anything.
  • Politeness seems to rule common behavior.
  • There are signs warning of elderly people crossing.
  • Only 7 cities exist in Scotland. The rest are towns.
  • Sadly, very few kilt wearers exist.
  • Instead of government holidays, they have bank holidays.
  • People say “cheers” often.
  • Crappy American beer sells for a premium.
  • Black currant flavored drinks and foods are everywhere.
  • Bring layers to wear. The weather is erratic.
  • Depending on your ear for accents, you may or may not understand what is being said to you.
  • Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig) appears on the street signage alongside English.

Bottom line, go and have an adventure. It is a lovely country, with great people, and terrifically moody weather,  Our next trip is already in the works.  We really enjoyed visiting the Historic Scotland and National Trust for Scotland locations. Passes can be bought at Tourism outlets or online to give a considerable savings per place to visit.  Visit Scotland  is a wonderful resource as well.

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Adventures In Scotland 9

To make up for the prior day’s shortened excursion, this day will be jam packed with sight seeing. This is also our last day staying near Stirling so we need to fit in whatever we can. Our trip is more than half completed now. The pressure is on not to miss one morsel, though I know some destinations will have to be sacrificed as time will catch up to us all too soon.

   

Somehow we have missed something exquisite near where we are staying. Dunblane Cathedral (kirk) is a true gem that dates back to the 13th century. It survived the reformation only because the Marquis of Argyll requested it be saved. Only the Catholic statues and imagery were taken out. The kirk is still in use today with services each Sunday morning.

Being in this space nearly made me weep. a few times my lashes wet with overwhelm. Incredibly deep feelings stirred. As a protestant, I am so thankful this masterpiece was not put to ruin simply for a difference of ideology and theology.
Every visitor was in quiet awe and reverence. This kirk is a must see for the religious and non-religious alike. It is that fantastic.

   
 Back into the car to Campbell Castle we venture. Nestled very remotely into the upper hillside, it is quite a trek up the hill for us. I seriously complained as are my overworked calves.  I can see children running and playing in the hills. They are so inviting. The castle was built in the late 15th century through the 16th century. Interestingly the most preserved portion of the structure is the oldest part. The Clan Campbell rose to importance out of relative obscurity before getting caught up in the reformation madness because the Marquis of Argyll allowed it’s use by Cromwell’s army.

   
    The vast gardens surely were a spectacle to behold and enjoy. My own children ran with joy all over the grounds pointing out this and that flower.

   

 The life of the castle was about 150 years. A time seemingly too short for the efforts that were made.

As we head back down the hill, a middle aged couple and her well aged mother, who used a cane no less, were about 70% up the hill. Impressed barely describes my reaction. I shall not complain about how difficult the terrain is again.  A determined, stubborn “old lady” who won my heart and gives me hope utterly fortified me. 

Like clowns we jam back into the vehicle finding our way to Huntingtower Castle. I am so grateful my kids are excellent travelers and going along for the ride very well. Very few spats and grumbly moments between us this trip, but I doubt I’d want to go on Amazing Race with the husband. 

 This castle was built as two distinct buldings prior to a common room attaching them together.  I especially liked the upper rooms and catwalks around the tower tops. Lovely land surrounded this small family estate.
  

A tale from Huntingtower is the daughter Dorothea leapt from one building to the next because she heard the footsteps of her suspicious mother who thought she was having improper relations with the man staying in that tower. She saved herself from getting caught by leaping tower to tower more than 30 feet up and swiftly getting back into bed before her mother was able to get to her room. Her mother apologized for doubting her. The next night Dorothea and her beloved ran off and eloped. I am sure her mother was none to pleased with her after  all.  

Our last stop of the day is Elcho Castle. Built as a castle in the 1560’s likely by Sir John Wemyss. It became a family retreat due to calmer political times. This by far is our favorite in the matter of being a truly livable floor plan. Of note, the lady of the house must have had a hand in the design as each room had it’s own en-suite style latrine shoots. 

   

 The other aspect to adore is the interconnecting stairs to all the rooms. Easy access for household workers and the family. Even Mary Queen of Scots visited in political support.

The outside garden must have been enviable with an orchard plentiful with fruit trees and herbs for cooking and medicinal use.  

    Even my boys liked this layout best and thought too this to be the best candidate for more modern living even at around 550 years old.

Unfortunately it’s time to go to the cottage and pack for our trip northward in the morning. Last minute laundry is accomplished before we settle in for the night.

Tomorrow is travel day to Inverness. 

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