A Brief Look at Pre-Clearances Clothes for Women

Recently, I’ve started going along to SCA (Society of Creative Anachronism) events. You might say, “But Rachel, of course! You are both creative and an anachronism! Why haven’t you gone before?”

Well, to be honest, I always thought it was a little weird. And in Adelaide, most of the things they were at were things I was also at, but in another capacity (fiddler, Scottish radio presenter, member of a Clan, and so on). But then I found a SCA College listed on the uni website and thought, “Well, when I move away, I’ll join.”

It’s been good, so far, too. I mean, people in my res House have gone out a couple of nights and got drunk, which really isn’t my scene… Sitting on the lawn in period dress, sewing while a bunch of men in armour whack the living daylights out of each other with sticks is definitely more my scene. And there’s less alcohol, too.

I started researched pre-Clearances Highland clothing long before I ever considered joining the SCA. I suspect it might have been in relation to a Doctor Who fanfic (I’m a fan of Jamie McCrimmon), but that’s really how I do fanfics – copious research with little to no actual story produced. Anyway, since the Highland dress has now become my SCA garb, purely by virtue of it being the only suitable clothing I have, I thought I’d explain it a little.

Pre-Clearances includes the 18th century, so it’s a little later than the SCA period, but Highland life had changed relatively little in the preceding thousand years or so, so it stands to reason that women’s clothes hadn’t changed much, either.

In the initial research, I disregarded SCA sources as much as possible. And there was a reason for that. A lot of the SCA-based information on Highland dress came along with phrasebooks for Gaelic, and those were… not the most accurate, shall we say. I mean, not bad, but not accurate either, considering how much Gaelic there is available on line these days. And a lot of the same mistakes crept into a lot of the lists, so I suspected that the SCA lore on Highland dress, like their Gaelic phrasebooks, were based more on hear-say than on actual research.

There are two or three items of clothing which are essential to making the Highland woman’s outfit, as far as I’m concerned: the earrasaid, the headcovering, and possibly the shawl (but only if you want there to be no mistake about where you’re from).


The Earrasaid

The earrasaid is essentially the girly version of the fèileadh-mòr (known in English as the “great-kilt”). Both are giant rectangles, like bedsheets, of traditionally wool (but I live in Australia, so I’m not using wool), belted at the waist. There are a few differences: men’s are checked, and women’s are striped; men’s are in darker colours, women’s have a lot of white and yellow; men’s are pleated at the waist and fall to the knee, women’s are gathered and fall a few inches above the hem of the dress.

Point 2 on colour is actually very interesting. Modern “dress tartans” are variations on the standard tartan with a lot of white in it. The common assumption is that a “dress tartan” is more formal than the standard, ancient or hunting tartans, but actually “dress” means “dress”, rather than “formal” – it’s the girl’s tartan.

M. Martin, Gent., wrote in 1791 describing how women dress in the Western Isles:

“The antient Drefs wore by the Women, and which is yet wore by fome of the Vulgar, called Ariʃad, is a white Plad, having a few fmall Stripes of black, blue, and red; it reach’d from the Neck to the Heels, and was tied before on the Breaft with a Buckle of Silver, or Brafs, according to the Quality of the Perfon. I have feen fome of the former of a hundred Marks value; it was broad as any ordinary Pewter Plate, the whole curioufly engraven with various Animals, &c. There was a leffer Buckle, which was wore in the middle of the larger, and above two Ounces weight; it had in the Centre a large piece of Chryftal, or fome finer Stone, and this was fet all round with feveral finger Stones of a leffer fize.

“The Plad being pleated all round, was tied with a Belt below the Breaft; the Belt was of Leather, and feveral Pieces of Silver intermix’d with the Leather like a Chain. The lower end of the Belt has a Piece of Plate about eight Inches long, and three in breadth, curioufly engraven; the end of which was adorned with fine Stones, or Pieces of Red Coral. They wore Sleeves of Scarlet Cloth, clos’d at the end as Mens Vefts, with God Lace round ‘em, having Plate Buttons fet with fine Stones. The Head-drefs was a fine Kerchief of Linen ftrait about the Head, hanging down the Back taper-wife; a large Lock of Hair hangs down their Cheeks above their Breaft, the lower end tied with a Knot of Ribbands.”

I definitely need a better belt and a buckle. Actually, I really need a buckle or a broach for under my chin. But overall, the earrasaid is really comfortable and cozy. And practical. If you tuck it right, there is so much pocket storage space you don’t even notice the drink bottle and purse. If it didn’t look so weird, I would wear it a lot more. Possibly all the time. I’m a massave fan of the earrasaid.

R. R. McIan’s Tartans provides useful colour pictures of highland dress, including two of earrasaidean worn by the Urquhart and Matheson ladies:



The Shawl

If there was any tartan involved at all in the Highland woman’s dress, this is where it is. The Letters from a Gentleman in the North of Scotland describes the tartan shawl:

“The plaid is the undress of the ladies; and to a genteel woman, who adjusts it with a good air, is a becoming veil. But as I am pretty sure you never saw one of them in England, I shall employ a few words to describe it to you. It is made of silk or fine worsted, chequered with various lively colours, two breadths wide, and three yards in length; it is brought over the head, and may high or discover the face according to the wearer’s fancy or occasion: it reaches to the waist behind; one corner falls as low as the ankle on one side; and the other part, in folds, hangs down from the opposite arm.”

The edition I read from also adds the clarification from Martyn’s Western Islands,

“The plaid is made of fine wool, the thread as fine as can be made of that kind: it consists of divers colours; and there is a great deal of ingenuity required in sorting the colours, so as to be agreeable to the nicest fancy. For this reason, the women are at great pains, first, to give an exact pattern of the plaid upon a piece of wood, having the number of every thread of the stripe on it. The length of it is commonly seven double ells; the one end hands by the middle over the left arm, the other going round the body hangs by the end over the left arm also. The right-hand above it is to be at liberty to do any thing upon occasion.”

On the topic of tartans, it does bear adding this: there’s a common belief that clan tartans were invented by Victorian English nobility and aren’t a true Scottish thing really. So I was interested to read M. Martin’s description of men’s plaids:

“Every Ifle differs from each other in their Fancy of making Plads, as to the Stripes in Breadth and Colours. This Humour is as different thro the main Land of the Highlands, in-fo-far that they who have feen thofe Places, are able, at the firft View of a Man’s Plad, to guefs the Place of his Refidence.”

Bearing in mind that location is basically synonymous with clan, we can definitely see that regional clan tartans were well-established in the Highlands and islands by the end of the 18th century, and were foreign enough as a concept to an Englishman to be worth commenting on

R. R. McIan’s Tartans shows shawls worn by the Sinclair and Lamond ladies:


The Headcovering

People who know me will know I take headcoverings seriously. It’s not just some “oh, look at that interesting historical headgear” for me. I look at an historical headcovering through the eyes of someone who wears one all day, every day. I want something that’s comfortable, practical, and secure.

That has nothing to do with anything, really, but I felt like saying it before describing the Highland headcovering. In Gaelic, the word “brèid” can refer to many different squares of cloth, from tablecloths to sails and of course headcoverings. The LearnGaelic dictionary has a whole list of sayings involving the term, and most of them have to do with head-kerchiefs.

Brèidean are strictly for married woman, and “brèideach” means “married woman”, and there’s a waulking song I encountered in the EBI library which uses “put on the brèid early” as a synonym for “had an affair before she got married”. Despite that, I am wearing a headcovering with my outfit because I don’t like the hairstyle for unmarried women. I’ll cover that in a minute.

So my final plot of the brèid I have based largely on an air or love-song I know which is found in the Carmina Gadelica, as well as on a selection of other descriptive terms for the brèid which I’ve encountered. The two verses of the air with which I am concerned are:

“A cul dualach, camlach, cuachach,
Her tresses curly/braided, coiled, bowled,
Ann an sguaib aig m’ eudail,
In the broom of my darling
‘S ge boidheach e ‘s an stiom a suas,
Although it’s beautiful in the headband down
Cha mheas an cuailean breid e.
Not worse the curls in headcovering.

“Gur a math thig breid ban
That becomes well headcovering white,
Air a charamh beannach dhut
On the position pointed/horned to you
Agus staoise dh’ an t-sioda mhin
And cords to the silk soft
‘G a theannadh ort.
Approaching it on you.

There are no pictures of the headcovering, it having been long replaced with frilled bonnet-caps or babushka-style veils by the time people started painting pictures of Highlands women, so all I have to go on is that it’s somehow mountain-like (beannach), and it’s attached to the head with silk cords. It’s white (brèid ban) and looks a bit like a crown or three (brèid cuimir nan [tri] crun), with three corners (currachd tri-chearnach), possibly held up with some sort of support (brèid an crannaig).

So it’s certainly not a simple kerchief tied around the head! It’s quite elaborate, actually. I recall hearing or reading somewhere that gold and silver pins were used, although I can’t recall where – but based on Martin’s description of belts and broaches, it seems quite likely. From the evidence, the headcovering is done in some way in which the three points look like crowns or horns. One of the descriptions, “brèid an crannaig”, uses the same word that’s used for a pulpit or the base of a statue, so that provides some clue – there might be a wooden support inserted under.

This is the style I’ve settled on, which I think does justice to the evidence. It’s quite comfortable and reasonable secure, although it tends to pull back a little bit if I bring the earrasaid up over my head. I’ll take step-by-step pictures to put on my headcoverings blog sometime when I’m home.



Girls’ Hairstyles

Young unmarried women continued to wear their hair in a single ribbon near the hairline, binding the plaits or curls up, well into the 18th and 19th centuries, so we have pictures of that.

From R. R. McIan’s Tartans:


Two details from David Allan’s 1780 A Highland Wedding and Blair Atholl:

A headband is called a stiom, and has been transliterated as “stem” and translated as “fillet” by early English commentators.

That air I mentioned earlier describes the hairstyle:

“A cul dualach, camlach, cuachach,
Her tresses curly/braided, coiled, bowled,
Ann an sguaib aig m’ eudail,
In the broom of my darling
‘S ge boidheach e ‘s an stiom a suas,
Although it’s beautiful in the headband down
Cha mheas an cuailean breid e.
Not worse the curls in headcovering.

So it looks like it might be several plaits or two-strand ‘rope-plaits’ tied back off the face with a wide ribbon.



The Australian and British Education Systems

Three or four years ago, I had a teenage rant in response to something on some expat forums, and it became my most successful post. I’m constantly getting comments and questions from people who, for some reason, think I’m an expert on education system comparison and want advice.

Some of the information on that post is now outdated, and most of it was unclear to begin with. It wasn’t meant to be an informative post, just a rant! The main point of the post was that the Australian and English systems are really very similar. One is not really better than the other (although a couple of rankings would say that the Australian system is actually better.

If you want to find out about the education systems or how the curriculum compares, the best thing to do would be to look at the curriculums for yourself.

If you want to compare a couple of schools, contact those schools directly.

Here is a table comparing the three systems (Australia, England/Wales/NI, and Scotland) in terms of school years, curriculum phases, certificates, and so on:


Click to enlarge, of course. And here are links for the curriculums themselves:

Australian National Curriculum

British National Curriculum

Scottish Curriculum for Excellence

Here are the links for the overseeing institutions:

Education Scotland / Foghlam Alba

The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA)

Here are some school comparison and finder sites:

The Good Schools Guide (UK)

The Good Schools Guide (Australia)

The Australian Schools Directory

My School (Australia)

And finally, here are the online educational games, support materials, and websites:

BBC Bitesize

Learning Scotland

ABC Splash

So, if you have a problem or a question:

Compare the curriculums, visit the school comparison sites, ask the schools.

If you really, for whatever strange reason, decide you want to ask my opinion on something I really have no right to have an opinion on, here’s what I’m going to say:

Australia, New Zealand, and all the UK are all well within the top 20 education systems in the world, and more than that, all the systems are fairly closely aligned from either years of contact or a similar origin.

In primary school, there’s really not going to be much difference between the countries – in fact, you’ll probably find more difference between two schools in the same country than between two schools in different countries. Your main problem’s probably going to be dealing with the different school years between the northern and southern hemispheres.

In high school or secondary school, it’s better to change sooner rather than later, so that you or your child can be settled into a school before beginning the leaving certificates, which do actually vary quite a bit in terms of composition and requirements between the three countries, and even within Australia.

In university, there’s more difference between Scotland and England than between either with Australia, but all three countries recognise high school qualifications from each of the others, and it really doesn’t matter if you’re a year or two older when you start.

And again, do your own research. Don’t rely on the opinion of a random not-still-a-teenager expat kid. Check with the curriculum authorities. Take a look at the curriculums yourself. Visit or phone the schools in question to get accurate information about that school. And use your own common sense.

Also, if you want to read about the problems of a bunch of other people who have considered moving from one system to another, as well as my replies to them, check out the original post.



Tha fios agad gu bheil Gàidheal às-dhùthchach a th’ annad ma…

… ma tha Seumaidh MacRuimein an caractar Doctor Who as fheàrr leat, ach is ann brochan a tha do cheann oir chan eil Gàidhlig aige (agus chan ann Leòd).

… ma tha do blas-cainnte tro chèile. Faodaidh tu bho Leòdhas do dh’Earra Ghàidheal do Chanada anns ach aon seantains.

… ma luaidh thu lion-anart. Air àrd-ùrlar.

… ma do thog duine ‘s am bith ort gu bheil “Elvish” agad às dèidh a chuala e tu a’ bruidhinn Gàidhlig air an fhòn.


is Astrailianach mi

… ma do dh’iàrr iad thu anns an Còisir Gàidhlig as fhaisge… agus chan eil i ach deich uairean ‘s a’ char bhuad.

… ma tha thu air do shàrachadh leis bitheadh a’ lèirigeadh nach eil, chan eil “Celtic” agad, tha “Gàidhlig” agad.

… man bheil thu cinnteach mu dheidhinn na rudan “Clan” seo… oir chan eil do “chlan” cho cudthromach ri mur a bheil Gàidheal annad.

… ma tha uaill mhòr mhòr agaibh ann do chànan, ach cha bruidhinidh thu i ach an uair a tha Gàidheil eile ann.

… man tug thu tadhal a dh’Alba ach aon uair, agus tha an mòr-chuid nan fìos cruinn-eòlas Albannach agad às clàsaichean aig na Sgoilean Nàiseanta nan Comunn Gàidhlig ionadail no clàsaichean teleafòn le Sabhal Mòr Ostaig.

… man faod thu air daoine nach bheil ach seachd (no ochd) litrichean ‘us deag aig do chànan às deidh a chunnaic iad air a dhearbh.

… man tug thu tadhal dhan Steòrnobhaigh, ach air tàilleibh na rudan a chuala tu, is ionad-cultar mòr agus àrd-bhaile e.


… ma chuala tu na gòthaidhean “garlic” iomadh turas.

… ma chuala tu ‘us ma do leugh thu gach freagairt annasach bho Gàidheil Albannach air am fìos gu bheil thu ann an Astràilia… far an rugadh agus thògadh thu.

… ma tha ‘n sloinneadh “Leòd” aig mòran nan càirdean agad, ach futhaichidh tui ad aig an Cruinneachadh… oir is cho geal-bhuidhe a th’ anns an t-aodach breacanach aca.

… ma do bhuail thu idir an sgàil-inneal-sgrìobhaidh oir thuirt e dhuit (a’ rithist) nach bheil i-Player BBC Alba a’ dol anns do mhòr-thir.

… ma tha thu diombach ris am fiacham gu bheil thu pàirt de ‘n mòr-chuid chultarach Bheurla-bhuidhinneach… oir is geal thu.

… ma tha thu ‘n ad Crìostail, ach chan eil thu cinnteach mu dheidhinn an t-Eaglais Saor.

… ma tha àill agad gun dùn an clapan Clann ‘icDhòmhnaill mu dheidhinn Gleann Comhann!

… ma tha thu a’ tuigsinn gach facal ann “Outlander”.

… ma tha thu a’ teagasg Gàidhlig aig an t-ionad-cultar, agus tha barrachd air leth na oileanach an-siud oir a chunnaic iad air “Outlander”.

… ma tha umhail agad gu bheil blas-cainnte Adhamh aig gach cleasaiche air Outlander.

… ma sgrìobhaidh tu fhathast na dhà stràc (throm augs gheur).

… ma sgrìobhaidh tu h-uile litir ann “am màireach”, “an uair”, “an nis”, agus “an nochd”.

… ma sgrìobhaidh tu “cèilidh” le “dh”, agus ma tha thu an aghaidh air gach litreachaidh eile. (“céili”, mar eisempleir).

… ma tha faireachdainn agad, an nis ‘us a’ rithist, gu bheil thu nas Albannach na 99% nan daoine anns an Alba… oir tha ‘n cànan agad.

… ma tha thu-fhèin a h-uile roinn nan òig nan Comunn Gàidhlig as fhaisge.


Gaidhlig Mhannainn. Chan eil Gaidhlig a th’ ann gu dearbh… a bheil? A bheil thu cinnteach? Uill, tha mi a’ tuigsinn na faidhlean-fuaim, co-dhiugh…

… man fhaod thu Gàidhlig Mhannainn a’ leughadh… ‘us do shùilean dùinte.


… ma tha thu an aghaidh aodachach breacanach (oir is toradh nan impireileas Shasannaich iad)… ach tha am part “Scottish Expat” agad an nis ‘us a’ rithist nas làidire, agus an uair sin cuiridh ort tu d’ aodach breacanach co-dhiùgh.

… man fhaca thu air “Outlander” air son dà bhliadhna oir is litricheadh mearachdach a th’ anns ainm nan chiad eadar-sgeul.

… man do sgrìobh tu “Albannach” air do bhileag-iarrtais àrd-sgoil far a cuir e cèist ort man robh thu pàrt de ‘n cultar eile… agus bha thu glè gruamach riutha an uair a thuirt an sgoil dhuit nach robh “Albannach” cultar dìofraich nan “Astràilianach”, agus cha robh iad a’ creidsinn an uair a thuirt thu dhuibh gun robh cànan eile agad.

… ma chluichidh tu fidheal aig cèilidhean, dannsaichean bush, agus air àrd-urlar… ach bidh thu gruamach an uair a chluicheas Astràilianaich “nighean donn bhòidheach” cho luath. ‘S e ceòlan nan cridhe briste a th’ air. Chan air port-cruinn.

… man do choinnich tu pàrantain do phàrantain ach aon no dà uair, ach bha do “sheanmhairean” agus do “sheanairean” air mòran Gàidheil seann.

… ma bha thu ag deasbaireachd ri do thìdsear àrd-sgoile mu dheidhinn daoine “indigenous”. ‘S e tè dùthchasail a th’ annad, ach chan eil thu a’ fuireach anns do dùthchas. Seash, tha craicinn geal ort, ach bha na Sasannaich a’ ceannsachadh do shinnsirean cuideachd.

… ma tha fìos agad ri na h-ainmean nan glasraichean-fhèin agus nan measan-fhèin, ach cha robh thu a’ tuigsinn am fràs “glasraichean ‘us measan” a’ chiad uair an tuirt do thìdsear dhuit e.

… ma tha fìos agad ri na h-ainmean Beurla nan gach ainm Gàidhlig, ach chan fhaod thu an ceangal a mhinich gach uair.

… ma tha fìos agad ri an diùbhras eadar “surname” agus “sloinneadh”.

… ma tha fios agad ri an diùbhras eadar “labhraiche dùtchasach”, “labhraiche dùthchasach sleamhnaichte”, “labhraiche dualchasach”, “ionnsaiche dualchasach”, agus “thogte ionnsaiche dualchasach”.

… ma tha fìos agad ri ceann-latha nan Blàr Chùil Lodair. Cha robh e ann 1745.

… ma tha fìos agad gun robh do chànan an cànan trì-gu-mòr as motha ann Astràilia. Bha Beurla agus Gàidhlig Èireannach na dà chànan as motha.

… ma tha fìos agad gu bheil Ghàidheil a th’ ann Gàidheil. Ach chan fhaod thu a’ tuigsinn car son nach bruidhinn na Èireannaich riut man bheil Èireannach a th’ annad.

… ma tha fìos agad gun robh bile air parlamaid Cànadach aon uair airson Gàidhlig mar treasa cànan oifigeul.

… ma tha fear ann do theaghlach le speurachd agus urnaighean ann an Gàidhlig (ach chan eile Gàidhlig eile aige idir).

… ma tha fios agaibh co mheud faclan Astràilian a tha Gàidhlig.

… ma tha thu uabhasach samhnach an uair a tha duine ‘s am bith ag ràdh riubh gum bi cànan marbh (no bàsachadh) a th’ ann Gàidhlig.


abhachd Criostalach

… ma bhitheas milileadh dùil ort an uair a tha ainm Beurla gan eadar-theangachadh aig Gàidheal eile, oir cha bhith fios agaibh mu ‘n tuiseal gairmeach air an ainm.


… man do chuir sios “Sòisgeul Eòin” thu car seachdan as dèidh a thàinig e.

… ma tha an t-òran nàiseanta Èireannach agad a’ dol: “Sinne fianna fàila… a tha faoi gheall ag Èirinn… chan eil fìos agam… mu dheidhinn na faclan!”

… ma thug thu idir tadhal air bàile eile airson Sgoil-Cànan Èireannach aig direadh seachdaine… oir bha feòrachas agad.

… ma their thu “Gàidhealtachd” air “Highlands”, a dh’aindeoin fìos gu bheil na h-Eileanan Siar an Gàidhealtachd ceart.

… ma tha Gearmailtis agad… oir tha co mheud ionnsaichean à Gearmailt. Carson a tha iad, co-dhiùgh?

… ma tha Am Briathrachas nas fheàrr leat na Dwelly’s, ach gun bhreug, tha an faclair ùr sin air learngaelic.net le faidhle-fuaim am faclair as fheàrr gu dearbh gu cinnteach!

… ma cluicheas tu Rùnrig air an rèidio a chum a bhith a’ dearbhadh nach bheil ceòl Gàidhlig ràsanach, tradaiseanta, mall seann-nòs (mar ‘s breagha leat).

… ma tha fìos agad dè tha camanachd.

… ma tha fìos agad ri an diùbhras eadar “walking” agus “waulking”.

… ma leanas thu na sgòran camanachd.

… ma tha e neònach gun cuir Seumaidh Friseal bho Outlander “mo nighean donn” air Clare, agus seinneas thu “ho-rò, mo nighean donn bhòidheach” gach uair…

… ma bha do ghràdh air an t-òran “Is Gàidheal Mi-i-i-i-i” bho ‘n chiad uair a chuala tu e, agus tha thu airson a dh’ionnsaich.

… ma thuigeas tu Gàidhlig Èireannach, ach tha Gàidheil Èireannach ag ràdh nach faod iad gad thuigsinn.

… ma tha fìos agad an uair a tha fìos aig fidhlearan mu dheidhinn nan faclan nan t-òrain.

… ma tha cuimhne agad bho ‘n uair cuin’ nach robh Gàidhlig air an eadar-lìon.

… man fhaod thu “a dh’fhaithgheàrr” a chanas, ach chan eil duine ‘s am bith a’ creidsinn an uair a can thu e.

… ma their thu “camanachd” air “shinty”.

… ma tha eagal ort gun dìochùimhnichidh tu do chànan-fhèin.

… ma tha thu airson do ‘m Mòd Nàiseanta Rìoghail a dhol.

… man bheil do mhàthair (agus a h-uile teaghlach aice) a’ tuigsinn Gàidhlig. Agus chan eil Gàidhlig air mòran do teaghlach eile cuideachd.

… ma tha barrachd air leth nan t-òrain agad mu dheidhinn na Shasannaich olc.

… ma tha bàiltean anns an Alba le ainmean nach eil fios agaibh ri ach anns a’ Ghàidhlig.


grupan FaceBook

… ma tha blasan-cainnte Leòdhasach as èibhinne.


… ma tha fo-sgrìobhadair annad air grùpan FaceBook mu dheidhinn ceàrr Gàidhlig air soidhnean anns an Alba.

… man fhaod thu trì rannan nan “O Fhlùir na h-Alba” a sheinneas, ach chan eil fìos agad mu dheidhinn na faclan ‘s a Bheurla!

… ma bha thu airson pìob a chluiche an uair a bha thu òg.

… man e “Scot” a th’ annad; ‘s e Gàidheal a th’ annad!

… man e liubhraiche rèidio annad ach oir bha an liubhraiche ùr eile air Uair Rèidio Albannach an aghaidh Gàidhlig.

… man e eachdraidh air do shluaigh ach Na Fuadaichean.

… ma chunnaic thu air eadaran-sgeul Dòtamain teipte gu bochd, a dh’ aindeoin nach do chraol e air taidhsearachd bho chionn fada mus d’ rug thu.

… ma tha thu ag ràdh “taidhsearachd” air “telebhisean”.

… man e “Calum Chlachair” a th’ air “Bob the Builder”.

… ma tha “Na Braithrean Cuideachail” anns a’ Ghàidhlig an rud as fheàrr leat air taidhsearachd!

… ma tha thu a’ tuigsinn na pìosan-millidh ann an Outlander oir tha iad anns a’ Ghàidhlig.

Latha na Gaidhlig… ma do sgrìobh thu air Gàidhlig air an loidhne airson Latha Twitter Gàidhlig.

… ma tha thu cinnteach gu bheil “Suas leis a’ Ghàidhlig” an t-òrain nàiseanta nan Alba.

… ma tha thu dà-fhichead bliadhnaichean nas òige na h-uile Gàidheal eile anns do stàta.

… ma d’ rinn thu cùrsa beag Cuimris, ach bha milleadh dùil agad ri na oileanaich eile oir bha iad cho gleòmach… chan eil sèimheachadh cho doirbh!

…. ma d’ rinn thu Dannsa Dùthchas Albannach an uair a bha thu nas òige nan nis.

… ma thug thu idir tadhal air an clàs Còrnais aig am fèis Cèilteach… oir bha ùidh agad.

… ma tha fìos agad nach eil Gàidhlig agus Scots dàimheachte. ‘S e “Gàidhlig”-fhèin air – chan e “Scots Gaelic” a th’ air do chànan.

… ma chunnaic thu air h-uile bhideo anns a’ Ghàidhlig air YouTube… agus chunnaic thu air h-uile bhideo anns a’ Ghàidhlig Èireannach… agus tha thu airson na bhideodhain anns a’ Chuimris a’ sealltainn.

… ma tha thu ag eadar-theangachadh mìmean faoin “Tha Fios Agad Ma…” do Ghàidhlig.

… ma tha fìos aig h-uile duine mu dheidhinn do cinneadh bho do shloinneadh, ach chan eil duine sam bith suaraich mu dheidhonn cho fàd’ ‘s a tha Gàidhlig agad!

… man bheil thu cinnteach gu bheil thu a’ sgrìobhadh Gàidhlig ceart, agus tha sgàth ort gum bith duine sam bith a’ cuireach “àmadan” ort agus gum bith iad ag ràdh “tha do Ghàidhlig coltach ri Gàidhlig nan leanaibh beag no gall”.

Me, Languages, Colonialism, Community and Identity

I’ve probably talked about being a TCK before on here, in an “oh, by the way” sort of way (actually, I’m not convinced I am a TCK, but I read a statistic a few years ago that something like 80% of TCKs doubt their TCK-ness, and most of the time it seems like a better explanation for some of my weirdness than me simply being weird, even though I was born and raised in my mother’s home country). Even though I’m Australian, I went to the German Ethnic School, and I spend a lot of time on the internet claiming to be a Scottish Gael. I’ve never really felt the need to explain why all this is, really.

But recently, there’s been a bit of kerfuffle in the language-learning community over “eco-linguism” vs. “linguo-tourism”. Insults have been slung about selfishness and about thoughtless name-calling. You’re colonialistic, or you’re ignorant, and so on. If you really want to know what’s going down, go and read about it for yourself. This post is based on a comment I made over on Loving Language.


The picture.

It was probably the picture at the top of the screen that set off that rant-like comment. I’d been mostly ignoring the whole debacle, but a single picture turned “linguistic colonialism” from an abstract concept to something that hit a little too close to home. Other things seem to have worked their way into the rant, too. Things which have been simmering for probably a long while. Conversations I’ve had, articles I’ve read and written. Things not worth commenting on individually, but which all contribute to the whole which resulted in this reaction I had to a simple picture.

The thing is, colonialism is something close to me. Close to my family. And not in the best way. It’s something I’ve learnt to ignore and not talk about, particularly since I’m working in an ethnic radio station side-by-side Indians and Bangladeshis and Pakistanis and Malaysians.

It’s not just because I live in Australia, and I have relatives who will happily refer to my family as “living in the colonies”. It’s because both of my father’s grandfathers served in the Indian Army. It’s because my grandmother was born in British-occupied Lahore and my grandfather spent his youth in British-occupied Malaya. It’s because my great-grandparents knew each other in India long before my grandparents met and married in the UK. It’s because my grandfather taught me to count the chickens in Bahasa, and because I’ve been known to say “jaldee, jaldee” to little kids to get them to move along.

And it’s because all this is shameful. “Colonialism” is such a bad word, particularly in Australia, where it means “white invaders killing the locals”. Home Rule is a good thing, and it didn’t dispossess hundreds and thousands of Anglo-Indians who had never known a home other than Lahore or Lucknow, Culcutta or Bombay. My grandmother was stopped in the customs queue every time because her paperwork said she was born in Pakistan, but I didn’t even realise until I was a teenager that my family had spent two generations in India, or that Urdu (“Hindustani”) was part of my vocabulary.

Colonialism isn’t a clear-cut thing. I’ve known Aboriginal people to get stuck into me – and any white person – for maliciously coming over here and invading. It’s a major point of debate, argument, name-throwing and campaigning here at the moment. I don’t speak back against it, because my family was literally in the army that did it – if not here, then in other countries like here.

And you know why that is? Because after the English invaded our land, my clan had the good sense to be traitorous and swear allegiance to the English (well, German) king. That’s the only reason we’re one of the largest and most powerful clans today, and why we weren’t killed and scattered across the globe like so many of our brother and sister Gaels, most of whom won’t recognise us as Gaels because we were Anglicised so quickly. The colonised had become the colonisers. So many of those “white invaders” in the 18th and 19th centuries in Australia weren’t invaders at all, but refugees, looking for a new home after having lost theirs for one reason or another.

So, do I do the same thing? Or would I, rather, given the money and half a chance? Yeah, sure, I’d travel to Scotland in a heartbeat to immerse myself in the language my ancestors lost. I’m getting more and more curiosity about Lahore, so I wouldn’t half mind visiting this place I’ve only just realised had such an impact on my family. I’d travel the world if I could, yeah. I’d see the sights and have delights on every foreign shore. I’d probably try and learn a bit of the language, and I would almost certainly come away with a few new dishes, just as those evil colonial ancestors of mine did.

I’m pragmatic enough to realise that there are languages I probably should be learning just to exist in my local community. Doing the hospital chaplain thing and realising that I can’t communicate with half the people in the ward. Finding three Italians but exhausting what little I know within a minute with each of them. Greek and Vietnamese and Serbian and Madi: there’s a long list of languages I should come to grips with to be useful in my community.

Is it “colonialism”, then, in this new and negative meaning of the term, to say that they’re not my language, and that frankly I don’t care about them as much as I should? It rankles at me that I’ve lived in Adelaide all my life, but don’t speak the local language, Kaurna, even though there are only a few dozen speakers of Kaurna in the world and all of them speak English first. I can learn community languages for their use, but it’s dying (and reviving) indigenous languages that really make me care.

Learning Gaelic is like discovering part of myself that’s been squashed over the centuries. It doesn’t make sense, here on the other side of the world, but it’s helped me build a community in both countries, and to see the colonial history of Australia in a whole different way. It used to be the third-most-spoken language here. There are now less than 1000 speakers in the whole country.

My family’s been on both sides of the colonialism thing, and it’s easy to emphasise the one side over the other. The Gaels, the indigenous people of Scotland, were invaded and brutalised and suppressed and brainwashed and poorly-treated and re-educated and bribed and helped just as much as the indigenous people of any other country the English invaded were. It’s just that, with our white skin, we blended in after we learnt the language, we joined the military and joined the occupying forces and became half of the “Britain” that formed the British Empire.

My family escaped the Clearances by assimilating, and so even though we lost our lands to the government, we didn’t suffer at English hands. We became part of the hierarchy, part of the establishment, part of the military. So many of the rulers and officials and land-owners and everyone else who made the Clearances happen weren’t English invaders at all, but Scottish landowners – Gaels themselves – who had to turn on their own people to survive.

And my family spent two hundred years on the other side. The British Empire learnt how to build empires on its own soil. Even into the last century, “England” could stand for the whole of the United Kingdom, even though that included Wales and Ireland and Scotland. Every trick that the British Empire ever used to subdue and assimilate and destroy local cultures was trialled and tested and perfected at home, and it was those people on whom it had been trialled and tested and perfected who then carried it out on the next generations.

You see, there, I’m emphasising the “victim” part of my ancestors’ colonialism saga. I shouldn’t do that, because it obscures the truth: my family, my own grandparents and great-grandparents served in the occupying force. There’s a lot of pride in that, pride in the Empire, pride in what was achieved and what it makes us. My cousins speak with posh Public School accents and plan to join the army. My grandmother – that same grandmother who used Scots and Gaelic and Urdu words in her speech, who was so down-to-earth and sensible, cooking in the kitchen and weeding in the garden and teaching me to sew – was one of the most ardent imperialists I’ve ever met. “The Crown can do no wrong”, regional accents have no place on television, and just why “the colonies” want to become republics is a complete mystery.

And that’s a part of me, too, probably more than singing in Gaelic about the Clearances can ever be. And sometimes I need a reality check to remind myself where I really come from.

So I’m a TCK. It’s something borne out of three centuries of colonialism and the resultant generational homelessness. There’s always going to be two warring parts of me, one saying “put down roots, form a community”, and the other one saying, “move already! your horizons are too narrow!” Hopefully one day I’ll be able to do both.

Until then, there’s no use in getting upset over a bunch of twenty-somethings travelling the world and learning languages. They’ll get older and wiser and more pragmatic. They’ll put down roots and get dug into their communities, and their youthful “linguistic tourism” experiences, however colonialistic they might have been, will give them a little more perspective than someone who’s just stayed cemented in the single community all their life, and an extra way of connecting to the others in the community, and of building it up for later generations.


George Campbell Hay in the 1970s. [Gordon Wright]

And as for me, I’ll continue speaking Gaelic, immersing myself in reclaiming that part of my heritage. I’m not the first of my clan – my family – to do so. One hundred and one years ago, George Campbell Hay (who looks scarily like so many male members of my more immediate extended family) was born – I’ve only just discovered that. Like me, he was born and raised English-speaking. Like so many of our clan, he served in the British Army and was an ardent Scottish nationalist. Like me, he was caught by a love of the Gaelic language as a teenager, and he persisted in learning it.

I’ve learnt important world languages. Yes, they’re all European, and I can’t help that. Now, I think, it’s the time for me to learn those endangered languages I’ve mentioned earlier. Learning Gaelic has given me a deeper understanding of language loss. Yes, it’s sad when an immigrant community loses their language, but there’s always the lingering thought that “they still speak it in the homeland”. When indigenous languages die, that’s it. They’re gone.

I’ve been told by people that Gaelic is dying. I’ve been told by people that Gaelic is dead. It’s not, as far as I can see, and I don’t think it ever will die. The numbers of Gaelic-speakers are rising among the younger generations. There’s government support for it. No, the Celtic languages that are alive now aren’t going to die. Two of them already have, and they’ve come back to life.

What about Kaurna? It’s been revived, but it doesn’t have the sort of support of Cornish or Manx. What about Narungga or Pitjantjatjara or Barossadeitsch? Maybe if I took the time to learn them, to build up – even if it’s just with the addition of a single person – those communities, maybe they would start to stand a chance at surviving. Maybe I can begin to undo some of the destruction my ancestors (and all those like them) wrought.

I still get bitten occasionally by a love of some exotic foreign language. Okay, more than occasionally. I’ve been harbouring a secret desire to learn Maori for years. Russian’s been on my list for almost as long, and Arabic is also vying for attention. Would it be so bad, if I had the money, if I travelled to learn one of those languages?

Yes, maybe I wouldn’t stay there indefinitely. Maybe I would. I don’t know that. As I’ve said, I’m a TCK. I’ve a feeling my feet will keep me moving my whole life. Or perhaps I’ll find somewhere I can settle down and contribute. I really don’t know.

But all the while, I am building connections. Maybe not always in my local community. Gaelic is useless as far as the local community is concerned, although it has given me a small handful of people within the same city with whom I now socialise regularly. It’s also given me connections across Australia, connections in Scotland and the potential for connections in Canada and New Zealand and Ireland. Maybe they’re not building my local community. Maybe they are. Maybe they will one day.

Gaelic and German together have helped me understand the immigrant experience, such as it is. Being a white “Anglo-Celtic” immigrant – or the child of a white “Anglo-Celtic” immigrant – is not being an immigrant at all. But you don’t get to lecture me on not understanding what it’s like to have to study in my second language, because I’ve both studied and functioned day-to-day in my second and third and fourth languages. And you don’t get to lecture me on not understanding what it’s like to live in a foreign country, because I’ve been confused by foreign supermarkets and got lost in foreign towns and been unable to communicate with foreign authorities.

And maybe that’s what “linguo-tourism” does, in the end. Yes, maybe all those young twenty-somethings who are going off to spend two or three years splashing all their western money about in some other country can seem young and arrogant and naïve at the moment, and maybe it does seem a bit pointless to spend time in a city and not put down enough roots to stay there, but in the end, if they end up going back to wherever they came from, they’re going to better understand the people who don’t have that choice to go home, and they’re going to be better people, and better communicators, and better community members.

Young people don’t always have the same perspective as someone who’s “been there and done that”. And I say this as a young person. Even I think some of the “linguo-tourism” behaviour seems a little arrogant and spoiled at times, but I won’t judge it as wrong.

Community is important to me. I tried to pretend I didn’t need it for a lot of years. But not everyone’s community is the same, and not everyone’s way of relating to community is the same.

In Gaelic, the first thing one Gael asks when meeting another is not about the weather, it’s about the ceangal. It means “connection” or “link”. We’re all connected, we just need to work out how. Sometimes it’s as simple as speaking the same language (although in a language community that small, it’s rarely just the language, even for someone with no Gaelic-speaking family members like me). From those links, then, we can build our community and our future.

The first title I gave this rant was “Where are you from?” I can answer that, I suppose: “Not here. But also here.”

The second title I gave it was “Why I’m a TCK”. I suppose I’ve answered that one, too: “Colonialism.”

So I’m going to have to settle for giving it less a title and more a collection of nouns. Me, Languages, Colonialism, Community and Identity.

Hear Me On the Radio

Tune in to 5-EBI at 103.1FM, digital EBI-World, or via live-stream at 1230h (12:30pm) to hear me:

Tuesday the 18th of October (as a guest co-host with Jim and Des)

Tuesday the 25th of October (as a guest interviewee with Margot)

Tuesday the 29th of November (as host and operator)

Remember, 12:30 on Tuesdays is Reidio Albannach (Scottish Radio Hour). Don’t worry, it’s (almost entirely) in English. Stay tuned afterwards to listen to Raidio Eireannach (Irish Radio Hour) from 1:30 until 2:30, or listen on Saturdays at 5pm for Celtic Hour. All times are Central Australian time.


Sgoil an Adhair Gàidhlig!

Thuirt Bòrd na Gàidhlig anns a’ Mhàirt gun tòisich iad “sgoil brìgheil Gàidhlig”. ‘S e “E-Sgoil” an t-ainm a bhios ann agus ‘s e ceangal eadar àrdsgoilean tromh meadhan Gàidhlig a bhios ann. Tha iad an dòchas gun toir an E-Sgoil mòtha cùspairean dhan àirdsgoilean Gàidhlig agus gun toir tìdsearan na leasanan tromh meadhan nan E-Sgoil cuideachd.

Tha mise a’ smaoineachadh gu bheil an naidheachd sin glè inntinneach. ‘S e Astràilianach a th’ annam agus tha an Sgoil an Adhair againn bho cheann 1951. A dh’ innse na fìrinn, ‘s e sgoilear nan Sgoil an Adhair a th’ annamsa!

Eadar Clàs 8 agus Clàs 11 dh’ionnsaich mi tromh meadhan fuaim-fada agus inneal-sgrìobhadh*. Bha mo thìdsearan ann an sgoil-oifis ann an Àdalaidh agus bha mise (agus na daoine eile anns mo clàsaichean) aig na taighean anns a’ dhùthaich no anns a’ Bhùis**. Bha daoine eile ann cuid de mo clàsaichean ann bàiltean glè bheag, agus dh’fhaod iad mòtha cùspairean a ionnsaich – chan eil tìdsearan fìor-eòlaiche anns na bàiltean beag.

Agus, ‘n uair a bha mi airson Gàidhlig a ionnsach, dh’ionnsaich mi tromh “sgoil brìgheil” cuideachd – rinn mi an Cùrsa Inntrigidh, an cùrsa air astar ri Sabhal Mòr Ostaig.

Tha mi air mo dhòigh gum bi Sgoil an Adhair Gàidhlig ann anns an Alba. Tha an Sgoil an Adhair glè chudthromach dhomh – faisgdlùth cho chudthromach ris a’ Gàidhlig-fhèin!

Ach tha mi boilisgeach – carson nach bhi “Sgoil-D” a th’ air?

*‘s e “coimpiutair” a th’ ann “inneal-sgrìobhadh” agus “telefòn” a th’ ann “fuaim-fada” anns a’ Ghàidhlig Albannach

**‘s e an dùthaich anns a’ mheadhan Astràilia far nach eil mòran daoine a th’ anns a’ Bhùis

Là na #Gàidhlig

Latha na Gaidhlig

‘S e “Là na #Gàidhlig” a th’ ann an-diugh.

Dè th’ ann?

‘Se latha eadar-nàiseanta nan Gàidhlig air na meadhanan sòisealta a th’ ann. Thòisich Là na #Gàidhlig ann Ameireaga-a-Tuath ann an 2014 ach tha daoine às a h-uile saoghal a’ dèanamh Là na #Gàidhlig am-bliadhn’.

Latha na Gaidhlig - Sealainn Nuadh Astrailia an t-Seapan - 20.04.2016

Happy La na #Gàidhlig (Gaelic Day)! What is it? It’s an international day for Gaelic in social media which started in North America in 2014 and has spread across the world.

Latha na Gaidhlig - an t-Sin Duthaich nan Taidh - 21.05.2016

‘S e di-ardaoin (an-diugh) a th’ anns a’ Là anns a’ h-uile saoghal ach Astràilia agus Sealainn Nuadh – bha Là na #Gàidhlig ann an-seo an-dè! Ach tha mis’ ag ràgh gu bheil Là na #Gàidhlig anns an-diugh co-dhiùgh.

Latha na Gaidhlig - h-uile Saoghal

So, you might have noticed that I’m alternating between “latha” and “là”. There’s a reason for that. Because Là na #Gàidhlig started in North America, it uses Canadian Gaelic.

Huh? Dè th’ ann Gàidhlig Chanada? According to Wikipedia, Canadian Gaelic is “the dialects of Scottish Gaelic spoken by Gaels in Atlantic Canada”. This may be so, but here’s a few things to know about Canadian Gaelic:

(1) They pronounce the name of their language “Gaylic” when referring to it in English. (As opposed to “Gallic” in Scotland and Australia/New Zealand).

(2) They haven’t accepted the Gaelic Orthography Convention of 1981, and so still use both accents. (This is true in Australia/New Zealand, too). Emily McEwan-Fujita at Gaelic.co explains:

We still write “an nochd” and “am màireach” instead of “a-nochd” and “a-màireach“, and “céilidh” instead of “cèilidh.” And you still know what we’re saying.

On a similar note, I’m constantly being corrected by my teacher for writing “‘n uair” or “‘n-uair” rather than “nuair”, which has to do with the orthography conventions. Based on the above, it wouldn’t surprise me if Canadians still wrote it out in full as “an uair”.

(3) There are a few distinctive dialectal traits in Canadian Gaelic. One of the most obvious is the pronunciation of the broad L – incidentally, the sound most likely to be a stumbling block for learners, as well. In Canada, as well as in the now-seldom-used Lochaber dialect, it’s pronounced “w”. As in “watha math”.

(4) Another obvious one is saying “agamas” rather than “agamsa”.

(5) There as a lot of Irish in nearby areas in the early days and in Canada, the census doesn’t recognise Irish and Gaelic separately. (This was true in Australia until quite recently, too). Irish writes “latha” as “lá”. I’m not going to say definitely that this is the reason it’s being called “Là na #Gàidhlig”, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that was the Canadian spelling.

De mar a tha thu

Oh, yeah, (6) if there’s one phrase that will identify which part of the Gaelic-speaking world you’re from, it’s “how are you?”


In 2011, 1275 people in Canada said they spoke Gaelic at home, along with 804 in Australia at around 59 000 in Scotland. (I can’t find the statistics for New Zealand, although interestingly that’s a 22% increase in Australia from 659 in 2006).

Latha na Gaidhlig

It’s been a big year for Gàidhlig. At least two major things happened: the Gospel of John was translated and published, and Google Translate finally acknowledged the language’s existence, thereby making Gaelic social media accessible to non-Gaelic speakers accessible this year for the first time since Là na #Gàidhlig started.


Step Dancing Around the World

Yesterday, my mother showed me this clip, which pitched two tap-dancers and three Irish dancers against each other.

As I was watching it, I started thinking about step dancing. Now, I’m no brilliant step dancer. In fact, I know a grand total of three steps, which I can do much, much too slow to sound rhythmic at all. But I *am* familiar with Cape Breton step dancing, because there’s a session of it most years at Spring Fiddle camp. In fact, what the three Irish dancers do in the clip, once the tap dancers get them to loosen up and use their arms a bit, is basically step dancing. I’m sure an actual step dancer would tell me I’m wrong.

Tap dancing and Irish dancing are related arts. The whole genre of dance form seems to have started somewhere in the British Isles and just spread from there. Here’s a quick overview of some of the different forms of step dancing around today.

First, I’m going to mention soft-shoe step dancing, and then ignore it for the rest of the post. Competitive Irish dancing includes both soft-shoe and hard-shoe; in the more Scotland-based traditions, soft-shoe became Highland dance, and hard-shoe became step dancing. Soft-shoe Irish dancing and Highland dancing is slower and more ornamental, as opposed to step-dancing, which is very much about the rhythms.

So, I’m talking about Irish hard-shoe dance at the moment, because I think that’s probably the sort of step dance people are most familiar with. Maybe not. Maybe it’s tap-dancing. Either way, here are a few clips of Irish hard-shoe dancing.

That’s not as exciting as when they go a capella, though.

Modern Irish dance came out of an older tradition called damhsa sean-nós. I should mention that saying “sean-nós” by itself usually means the old style of singing. Here’s a video of someone dancing sean-nós in the 70s.

As far as I can tell, from watching probably far too many Irish documentaries, sean-nós dancing is fading in popularity in the face of both modern Irish dance and popular culture. Nevertheless, here’s a modern clip of a girl from the Conamara.

Step-dancing mostly died out in Scotland, aside from Highland dance which I’ve mentioned earlier, but has recently been re-introduced mostly by Canadians, because the style lives on in Cape Breton.

Just out of interest, that’s where Catherine Fraser learnt it, more or less, before she started teaching it at Spring Fiddle. I’m not quite sure how they stopped step-dancing in Scotland (aside from them all being exported to Canada), because it’s very much a part of the music. Just check out Natalie McMaster’s feet going as she fiddles away in the background of this clip.

Although Wikipedia tells me that step-dancing was also practiced in East Anglia and Dartmoor, I can’t find much to back that up. I was interested, however, to read about clogging, a southern US variant.

It seems to be mostly practiced in Kentucky, North Carolina, and Appalachia, which is no real surprise since the local style of folk music there, bluegrass, still shares a lot of similarities with Irish and Scottish fiddle styles (a lot of the common tunes are the same, too). Here are some kids going freestyle in North Caroline.

Clogging, apparently, is the predecessor of tap dance. I don’t know any more about tap dancing than the next person, but here’s a clip that seems to be pretty typical. Their arms and upper bodies are a lot more choreographed than the other step-dancing styles.

I’m not sure what happened to Australia in all of that. As I’ve mentioned before, our local folk music style is still pretty close to the Scottish/Irish styles, so it seems odd that we didn’t inherit the step-dancing as well. If anyone knows about any sort of Australian step-dancing, do let me know.