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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.

Support Adhamh O’Broin’s US Tour

Help bring Adhamh O’Broin the Gaelic expert and teacher to the US for a five-city tour in March 2015. The cities included in the tour are Seattle, Sacramento, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, and ends in Colorado Springs. His travel will be covered by the proceeds from the sale of the below tees, tanks and hoodies.

There are different styles to choose from with each front featuring Adhamh’s favorite word “GASTA” (decent, gallant, excellent, high quality).  The back has the tour name and each stop.

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Tees, tanks and hoodies, are priced between $19 and $36.

Items available for a limited time, order on Teespring.today.

Thank you for supporting Adhamh’s visit!

A Dram of Àdhamh Ó Broin

AOB3 droichseach workPhoto by Alistair Ferguson 2009AOB1

I am very much delighted to bring to you a wee interview with the most brilliant, Àdhamh Ó Broin.

You likely already know him as the Scottish Gaelic coach to the original Starz series Outlander cast and from the terrifically fun and not always simple to learn, “Speak Outlander” videos. I don’t know about you, the Scottish Gaelic bug has bitten me and I need more learning beyond these wonderful segments.

Speak Outlander Starz Video Series

He is a multi-talented renaissance type. A musician, writer, fluent Scottish Gaelic learner on a mission to bring back in a large way, this beautiful, expressive language in his native Scotland. He just may be one of the hardest working (and playing) men around. For those wondering, yes, he is also a proud family man.

There is definitely more than meets the Scottish Gaelic tongue about Àdhamh!

 

 

A Dram of Àdhamh 

Slàinte mhòr!

 

How did you discover your penchant for music and languages? And at what age? 

I began playing guitar at school aged 9, but wasn’t incredibly interested in it. Picked it up again aged 16 and have never put it down since. Mine was a music-less culture-less house. My parents had no interest in Scotland, Gaelic or history and my father thought of most music as “noise”. I suppose interest in all of these things came from within because I certainly wasn’t exposed to them!

However, I always enjoyed speaking to my father about the English language as he was very knowledgeable about etymology and would explain to me the Greek and Latin roots of words. We would sit by the fire in Argyll and look up words in the dictionary for the sake of conversation.

He also spoke colloquial German and used it with me in a limited fashion until I was about nine when he began making a real effort to speak it to me. We would grab an apple each and walk out into the forest to hear the dawn chorus at about 4am and speak nothing but German until we came home. I consider German a native language because of this, but I also have a great paranoia of speaking it amongst Germans because I have never been absolutely fluent and am ashamed when I make mistakes. I have no such fear in any other language. It’s quite odd!

(I imagine he can curse in German right alongside Lord John, Hal and William. His lack of exposure to Scots Gaelic or music is our gain. Seems to have built a deep fervency within him upon discovery.)

 

How many instruments do you play? Is there a favorite?

My voice is my favourite, followed in close second by guitar. I can also play bass guitar and most percussion pretty well and can get by on the drums. I can get a decent tune out of a banjo, mandolin, ukelele and sometimes manage not to make a fiddle sound too horrific. I can also pick out a tune on the tin whistle and chanter altho I have yet to master the breathing required for the Highland pipes!

(Versatile is he. Can be the entire band if needed.If you have not heard him sing and play, you must. He is quite gifted.)

 

How many languages do you speak fluently? 

Scottish Gaelic, Glaswegian Scots, Mercian (standard English)

(I am exceedingly intrigued by Glaswegian Scots.Quite a colorful dialect.)

 

Favorite phrase in any language?

gasta (Scottish Gaelic) = “great” I say it all the time!

(This one surprised me at first, but then, his obvious zest for life brought it full circle for me.)

 

As you are a dad, do your children have any care or concept of your skill and popularity?

My eldest daughter Eilidh is about to turn 16 and so is caught up in her own life as we all were at that age. I think she reckons it’s pretty cool, but doesn’t give much away about anything right at the moment, so I can never really tell what she thinks!

My middle daughter Caoimhe is very attuned to the way I think and is the most fluent Gaelic speaker amongst my kids. She is a Gael to the bone and is extremely loyal to our culture and language. She can sing most of the old songs we know verse and chorus and tries to help her mum pick the language up! She doesn’t have a very clear conception of what I am doing as she’s only 7, but is chuffed to bits to know that it’s to do with Gaelic being in a big U.S. TV series! 

My twins are proud speakers too and near enough completely fluent. Unfortunately I am away working so much of the time that they don’t get the exposure to the tongue that I would like as they naturally speak English when they’re around their mum, but when we finish up filming, I am looking forward greatly to spending more time with them. I don’t think they really have any idea of what’s going on with Outlander as they’re only 5 and just about to start school, but they’ll certainly remember this era in years to come, especially with the referendum coming up. They love to count the YES stickers in house and car windows! 

(Yes he has four bairns and a lovely, smart wife. I do wonder how much Gaelic his wife has…..Can you imagine all the children and Àdhamh speaking rapid Scottish Gaelic… For information on #indyref – Scottish Independence Referendum – for the record I am an American who has done my own research and fully supports YES.)

 

A favorite moment you can share from your Outlander experience?

I will never forget standing in the great hall of Castle Leoch during the filming of episode 2 and hearing Sam and Gary dishing out the language. I could’ve died and gone to heaven, it was near perfect considering we’d come from nothing only a few short weeks earlier. I said jokingly to director John Dahl about the effort of my Gaelic learner babies: “I’m a proud father” and he said -being busy and not realising the joke: “wow, congratulations, what the heck are you doing here, get off set and get to the hospital!” – He thought my wife had given birth to another child!

(To be a fly on the wall during the filming of Episode 102. I would have died and gone to heaven with you Àdhamh. It makes me a bit giddy knowing how excited this scene made Àdhamh. I imagine being on the edge of my seat as a viewer.By the way, this is the first place you are reading about the John Dahl learner babies encounter. An exclusive quote! Thank you A.)

 

Thank you very much Àdhamh for taking the time to answer my queries and giving us a little sip of insight. I hope to share a real dram with you someday.

 

Want to know more about Àdhamh? 

Àdhamh Ó Broin is a musician, writer and fluent Scottish Gaelic learner from Cowal in Argyll. He is the first person to raise a family of native speakers of his home dialect in 80 years and the first ever to resurrect a moribund Scottish dialect word for word to the status of a living language. He is founder of DROITSEACH, a project which seeks to revitalise interest in Scotland’s dialects and the former richness of the Gaelic language from where he was sourced to offer a Scottish Gaelic consultancy package to Sony Pictures’ OUTLANDER, currently filming in Cumbernauld, Scotland.

Follow him on TwitterFacebook and his official fan page on TwitterFacebook.

The photos are from the linked websites, pages.