The Gaelic of my youth

Uisdean Vass recounts how he started learning Gaelic. Growing up in Rosehall in the 1960s and 70s there was very little formal teaching, but Uisdean’s mum and dad –like many others whose parents had been fluent speakers– often used Gaelic idiom and words.

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I was brought up in the Sutherland of the 1960s and 70s, living most of the time in Rosehall Schoolhouse. My mother, Joy Vass. . .

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4 thoughts on “The Gaelic of my youth”

  1. Anna Gillies

    Thanks Uisdean. I loved reading this as I share your interest in language and heritage. Since I started learning Gaelic a couple of years ago, I’ve become more aware of how Highland English has been influenced by Gaelic. My mother’s family came from Bonar Bridge with my Granny there being a Gaelic-speaker from Raasay. Unfortunately she didn’t use the language with any of her children but I believe she passed on some Gaelicised English to them and thus to my own generation.
    My mother referred to fingers as croags, as in “Get your croags off that!” if we were touching something we shouldn’t have been; the Gaelic for finger is corrag. When we were getting a haircut, a bit of hair that was left slightly longer was a speek; that’s likely from the Gaelic spic for a spike. A wrinkle in a sheet was a lirk, also from a Gaelic word.
    Then, there was fyown (rhyming with down) used when someone was feeling well below par. Like you, I searched for it in a Gaelic dictionary in vain but then a Gaelic speaker told me it was spelled fann and I found it, with a definition of weak, frail, feeble.
    The one word of hers I’ve never been able to find the derivation of is ply, for a piece of orange, what most folk would call a segment. I’m wondering if anyone else has heard of it?
    I so agree with you about the loss of language and culture that there’s been over the 20th century in East Sutherland and elsewhere in the Highlands. Gaelic as a first language or even as a second one has virtually gone but there are traces that remain, even if we’re not aware of them.

    1. Uisdean Vass

      Dear Anna

      How very kind of you to reply and I am so glad that you enjoyed the article.

      What you write fascinates me. I think more and more that our English had much more Gaelic idiom in it than I ever imagined. There was much more that I could have written about the idiom. I have not heard of croags or speek but I readily recognise “lirk” ( I always thought of it as “lurk”) but never knew this was from Gaelic!

      You knock me out with “fann”! Sure enough it is there in “Learn Gaelic” but we added a “y” sound so it wouldn’t quite rhymn with “down”. That is what I have been looking for!

      I also recognise the word “ply” for orange but had no concept that it could be Gaelic derived.

      I am fascinated to learn of your studies and would be happy to hear further from you at vasshistory@gmail.com.

      I have by the way spent a bit of time during lockdown writing a family book of my father’s wartime service and there is lots about Sutherland and Rosshire and some Gaelic in there if you wish to receive it at no cost.

      Le Ghach Diugh Dhurachd

      Uisdean

  2. Delighted to read this, Uisdean. I’m from the Seaboard Villages myself originally and have collected and studied various aspects of the influence of Gaelic on the local use of English there (vocab, grammar, idiom etc). I wrote about them in a series of articles for the Seaboard News in 2019-2021. I write a bilingual column for them monthly, which I also publish on a blog, http://www.seaboardaidhlig.com . Search there for “GĂ idhlig ann am Machair Rois”. It might interest you to have a look at them – most of your father’s expressions are in there, and many others that might jog your memory.
    https://www.seaboardgaidhlig.com/?s=G%C3%A0idhlig+ann+am+Machair+Rois
    Thanks for sharing this! Davine Sutherland,

  3. Davine

    Thank you for your post and thanks also for the excellent links.

    I was dipping into one where you talk about “eechan” meaning brat. My father used the same word and also “pocan beag” meaning little brat; “gliek” meaning a foolish empty fellow ( I think “gleekit”) in Scots comes from this and of course “amadan” ( which even Mel Gibson used in Braveheart).

    I shall read your materials with great interest.

    Moran Taing

    Uisdean

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