Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Gaelic language and literature: 'Gaelic language and literature in Argyll'


Donald E. Meek


Gaelic is inseparably linked with Argyll.   Not only has the area been richly Gaelic-speaking throughout many centuries, but it has also made a foundationally important contribution to the development of Gaelic literature in Scotland.  In the present day, when indigenous Gaelic is relatively rare on the Argyll mainland and strongly maintained only in the more westerly islands such as Tiree, it is very easy to overlook the deep, pervasive and longstanding connection that Gaelic has with the whole region.  The Gaelic legacy is, however, still very evident even in those parts which have lost the living language. It can still be read and heard in place-names. The enduring record, outlasting active Gaelic speech, has been supplemented by folklore collectors and dialectologists who have recorded vanishing dialects, songs and stories on tape. It is preserved pre-eminently in the work of many Argyllshire composers whose contribution passed into manuscript and print.  Indeed, there are few parts of the old county which cannot claim at least one significant writer or composer who originated there and who made a mark on modern Gaelic literature.


The Gaelic language

Gaelic is likely to have reached Argyll, Oirir Goidel ('coastland of Gaels'), by at least the third and fourth centuries A.D., when substantial numbers of settlers from Dál Riata in Antrim crossed the narrow stretch of water separating the Mull of Kintyre from the north coast of Ireland.  From the new Dál Riata, the Scoti spread northwards and eastwards, taking Gaelic with them.  By the twelfth century Gaelic had reached as far as the eastern seaboard of Scotland, and was spoken in most of the country, except Caithness, Orkney and Shetland.


As vernacular Gaelic took root in Scotland, it developed a significant number of regional, sub-regional and local dialects.  It is convenient to speak of 'Argyllshire Gaelic' or 'Perthshire Gaelic', but any such labelling disguises considerable dialectical diversity. Argyll was something of a buffer zone between the dialect areas of the mainland central Highlands, the Outer Hebrides, and the southern Hebrides; thus the Gaelic of eastern Argyllshire shaded into that of western Perthshire, while that of Tiree, the furthest west of the Inner Hebrides, has features in common with Barra Gaelic, to the extent that, at first encounter, it may be difficult to distinguish a Barra Gaelic speaker from a Tiree one.  Yet Argyll had, and continues to have, numerous distinctive Gaelic dialects.  Mull has at least two sub-regional dialects, that of the 'north end' and that of the Ross. Some features of the latter are found in the Gaelic of the west end of Tiree, with which the Ross had close connections. Ardnamurchan Gaelic, which has western and eastern dialect zones, is distinguished by its preponderance of low back vowels and its broad consonants; Tiree Gaelic has a high incidence of palatalisation; and the Gaelic of Ballachulish is noted for its pronunciation of broad l as w, though this feature is found more rarely elsewhere.   Thus, while sharing features with neighbouring islands and districts, each island and mainland community had, and in some cases continues to have, its own dialect of Gaelic.  This is well exemplified in the case of Islay. Dr Seumas Grannd's recent study shows with great clarity how the Gaelic of Islay relates most closely to that of neighbouring islands and districts: thus it shares 81.8% of 'tested' features with Jura, 79.8% with Kintyre, 69.2% with Arran and 32.8% with Tiree.  This means that there are some 20% of features which are distinctive of Islay Gaelic alone.  Regional variation did not create insuperable difficulties in communication for Gaelic speakers in Argyll, any more than elsewhere.


The distinctive features of Argyllshire dialects were preserved to some extent by the isolation of the speakers in their own districts. The shared features of the dialects were doubtless part of a wider common core, but some would have been introduced by the penetration of other dialects through travel, trade, marriage and (most recently) media intrusion.  The arrival of non-Gaelic-speaking people has had much more serious consequences for Gaelic.  From the mid-eighteenth century the Gaelic dialects on the southern edges of Argyll, and indeed the very language itself more generally, were being threatened by the arrival of Lowlanders who knew no Gaelic.   The industrial belt of Lowland Scotland on the Argyll doorstep has exterted a potent influence across the years, while clearance, education, and many more subtle processes of assimilation to 'external' cultural values have accelerated the de-Gaelicisation of the region, particularly since the Second World War.  


The medieval literary tradition

Gaelic has been a medium of great literary creativity in Argyll from the early Middle Ages. Scribes and composers, operating within the bounds of the old kingdom of Dál Riata, made major contributions to the growth of Gaelic literature.   We can trace the region's earliest recorded literary tradition to the island of Iona and the work of Columban and post-Columban monks in their island 'university' in the sixth and seventh centuries A.D.  The Iona monastery was a highly literate community, engaged in the making and copying of manuscripts, recording in Latin events of local and national significance, and maintaining close links with other Columban houses in Ireland.   Literary activity, ranging from the copying of manuscripts to the writing of books, was also very evident in Argyll in the time of the Lordship of the Isles (c. 1200-1493).  The Lords of the Isles acted as patrons to the poets until the end of the Lordship in 1492. Their patronage, and that of the Campbells, is reflected in some of the poems in the early sixteenth-century manuscript, the Book of the Dean of Lismore (1512-42).  James MacGregor, one of its scribes, was titular Dean of the cathedral church of Lismore, near Oban.  The Book of the Dean of Lismore is a priceless anthology of medieval Gaelic verse, from both Ireland and Scotland.  It contains a number of poems with a close connection with Argyll.  The latter include a fine salutation to John MacSween, a member of the displaced family of the MacSweens of Knapdale who had taken up residence in Ireland by c. 1260. Around 1310 John apparently tried to retake his family's fortress, Castle Sween, which stands in ruined magnificence on the eastern shore of Loch Sween.  Unlike the MacSweens, some kindreds grew in significance and in patronage after the demise of the Lordship.  The MacLeans, including the MacLeans of Duart and the MacLeans of Coll, in mantaining poets of considerable stature. Island lairds too were often skilled in song. The cultivation of Gaelic literature in Argyll after 1492 owed much to the Campbells, who were also patrons of the Gaelic arts, as the background of the first Gaelic printed book amply demonstrates.



The very first Gaelic printed book to appear in Ireland or Scotland was published in Edinburgh in 1567, but it was produced in Carnasserie Castle which stands in a beautiful spot just above the main road through Mid Argyll, and looks across Kilmartin Glen.  The occupant of the castle in the 1560s was a powerful and influential clergyman called John Carswell (c.1520-72) who enjoyed the patronage of the 5th Earl of Argyll, and was known and long remembered in Gaelic as Carsallach Mòr Charnàsaraidh ('Big Carswell of Carnasserie') because of his great height (seven feet).  The lintel of the main door bears the words Dia le ua nDuibhne ('God [be] with Ua Duibhne', Ua Duibhne being the Campbell Earl of Argyll).  With the warm support of the 5th Earl, John Carswell became a Protestant at the time of the Reformation, and translated into Gaelic a fundamentally important book of the Scottish Reformation, namely John Knox's Book of Common Order.  The Book of Common Order was a directory for the conduct of worship in the Reformed churches.  Carswell's translation, Foirm na nUrrnuidheadh, was of great importance for the implantation of Reformed doctrine in this part of the Highlands. It would have been used by Gaelic-speaking ministers like Carswell himself who were formerly priests in the pre-Reformation church.  But the book was of even more importance for the future of Gaelic; it established the tradition of printed Gaelic, and it used the Classical Gaelic of the Middle Ages as the vehicle for the transmission of Protestant doctrine. It also laid down a standard - the Classical standard - for the spelling of Gaelic.


This is important because other scribes who have at least a nominal link with Argyll, notably the compilers of the Book of the Dean of Lismore, were operating mainly in Fortingall on the eastern edge of the Highlands, and employing a spelling system for Gaelic which was based on the systems of Middle and Early Modern Scots.   If the scribes of the Book of the Dean had beaten Carswell to the printing press, the spelling of Gaelic might have been very different; it might have resembled that of modern Manx.  Carswell's foundational book ensured that there would be continuity between the Gaelic literary conventions of the Middle Ages and those of the modern era. The vision which inspired Carswell's work was not only that of a Protestant west, embracing Scotland and Ireland; it was also a vision of a region whose literary culture had made a successful transition from script to print.  He had an important message for the traditional scribes, labouring with their quills:


Is mor-tsaothair sin re sgriobhadh do laimh, ag fechain an neithe buailtear sa chló ar aibrisge agus ar aithghiorra bhios gach én-ni dhá mhéd da chriochnughadh leis.

(It is a great labour to write that by hand, considering how swiftly and speedily whatever is put through the printing press is completed, however great.)


Since Carswell's time, clergymen of the Reformed Church in Argyll have played a major part in the creation of Gaelic literature, particularly Gaelic prose literature.  Clergymen were not so keen to compose original Gaelic poetry, though Carswell did fashion a poem to send his book on its way.  They did, however, contribute massively to the development of Gaelic prose, especially religious prose.  Ministers of the seventeenth-century Synod of Argyll, following Carswell's example, translated catechisms into Gaelic, and even set to work on a translation of the Bible into Gaelic.  The Old Testament reached completion by 1673, and was apparently available in manuscript.  Sadly, it did not reach print, evidently because of the political and ecclesiastical turmoil of the times.  When the Bible was eventually translated into Gaelic, between 1755 and 1801, Argyllshire men again played their part in the task, the most notable Argyllshire contributor being the Rev. Dr John Smith (1747-1807), a native of Glenorchy and minister of Campbeltown, who translated the Prophetic Books in a revolutionary manner resembling the 'dynamic equivalence' versions of today, in which contemporary idiom takes precedence over literal translation.  His work annoyed some of his colleagues, and it was later brought into line with the 'word equivalence' of the other translators.


The Manse of Morvern is another clerical mansion which contributed extensively to the diversification of Gaelic prose literature, notably in the nineteenth century. It was the home of a family of MacLeods with roots in Skye. The Morvern MacLeods produced a distinguished succession of ministers, whose best known modern representative was Lord MacLeod of Fuinary.  The Manse of Morvern was the boyhood home of the Rev. Dr Norman MacLeod, otherwise known as 'Caraid nan Gàidheal' ('The Highlanders' Friend'), whose father was the parish minister of Morvern. MacLeod was the editor of the first Gaelic periodicals to be devoted to the regular publication of prose and verse.  These periodicals were An Teachdaire Gaelach (1829-31) and Cuairtear nan Gleann (1840-43). MacLeod was successively minister of Campbeltown (1808-25), Campsie (1825-35) and St Columba's, Glasgow (1835-62).  He established the two periodicals in an attempt to provide a wide-ranging diet of good, informative reading in natural idiomatic Gaelic for the large numbers of Highlanders who were becoming literate in Gaelic through the work of the Gaelic schools and General Assembly schools from the opening years of the nineteenth century.


Norman MacLeod's work may seem unexciting nowadays, but in its own time it was very important in extending the range of Gaelic prose.  Much of the available Gaelic prose material written before his time consisted of translation of English puritan prose works, and it was heavily weighted towards doctrinal knowledge.  MacLeod provided a variety of new prose styles, including dialogues, essays and short stories.  The aim of the periodicals was didactic, but it was a broad-minded type of didacticism.  In his venture he was ably assisted by two other Argyllshire men.  One of these was his own son-in-law, the Rev. Archibald Clerk (1813-87), a native of Glen Lonan, who was latterly minister of Kilmallie.  Clerk edited MacLeod's collected works.  The other Argyllshire man who helped Norman MacLeod was Lachlan MacLean (1798-1848), a native of Coll, who was a merchant in Glasgow.


Archibald Clerk has a further claim to distinction. He was the first editor of the Gaelic Supplement of Life and Work, first published in 1880.  Donald Lamont (1847-1958), a native of Tiree, edited the Gaelic Supplement for over forty years (1907-51).  During most of this period, he was parish minister at Blair Atholl, Perthshire.  Under Lamont's ceaselessly provocative pen, the Gaelic Supplement became the main vehicle for thematic and stylistic experimentation in Gaelic; it carried sermons, essays and short stories.   Lamont had a particularly lively imagination, and was not afraid to create 'factional' characters and scenarios, and to use these to carry the message he wanted to communicate.  Often he poked fun at the Established Church. He was obviously aware, to a remarkable degree, of the opportunity he had, as a clerical writer, to contribute constructively to the well-being of the Gaelic language.  His concept of a Gaelic Supplement was not one that ran in the rails of ecclesiastical convention, restricted by doctrinal rigidity and enslavement to purely homiletic styles.


The tradition of printed Gaelic prose was established primarily by writers from the mainland of Argyll, but, as the contributions of MacLean and Lamont indicate, writers from the islands were of great significance to the growth of modern written prose.  One very fine writer of Gaelic prose came from the island of Jura.  He was Donald MacKechnie (1836-1908).  MacKechnie, who was resident in Edinburgh for most of his life, wrote essays in which he empathised with the animal world - cats, dogs, and deer - and discovered a close affinity between them and himself.  He was the first Gaelic writer to internalise the influence of Darwin's theory of evolution, and to acknowledge its implications for the relationship between humans and animals. He had a wonderful sense of humour too, writing a splendid essay on the theme of 'going to the ant'.  He describes vividly how he sat down on an ant-hill on the Salisbury Crags, and, having got 'ants in his pants', had to pull off his trousers in dire emergency. His dog, seeing his master in this 'state of nature', went slightly crazy...and the whole chaotic scenario was witnessed by a rather 'proper', well-to-do lady who fainted at the scene.  The moral of the story is that one must not take proverbs too seriously, lest primordial chaos and embarrassment should be the result.  In his satirical and (philosophically) existential approach to life, MacKechnie differed markedly from his contemporaries, and not least from his close friend, Professor Donald MacKinnon (1839-1914), a native of Colonsay who became the first Professor of Celtic at the University of Edinburgh in 1882.  MacKinnon contributed extensively to the Gaelic periodical, An Gàidheal, in the 1870s and onwards, and was the first major literary critic who wrote in Gaelic. He expounded, rather ponderously, the meaning and philosophy of Gaelic proverbs, and provided assessments of the works of Gaelic poets.


The era which stimulated the writings of the first Professor of Celtic in Scotland also produced John Francis Campbell of Islay (1822-85).  The son of the last Campbell laird of Islay, he was perhaps the first Gaelic scholar to acknowledge the special importance of the prose tales which circulated in oral transmission.  He organised a band of collectors who wrote down the tales from the mouths of reciters, and later, between 1860 and 1862, a selection of these tales was published in four volumes entitled Popular Tales of the West Highlands.  Campbell's Popular Tales were no more than a small sample of the immense richness of the Gaelic story-telling tradition.  More such material was edited by another scion of the Campbell house, the rather eccentric Lord Archie Campbell (1846-1913), who produced a series of useful books called Waifs and Strays of Celtic Tradition.  Among the contributors was John Gregorson Campbell, a native of Kingairloch who was parish minister in Tiree from 1861.


Storytelling was very much part of Gaelic culture in Argyll, as elsewhere, and the county produced a number of minor writers who had some considerable significance in their own time.  Henry Whyte (1852-1913) from Easdale was a stalwart of the late nineteenth-century Highland cèilidh circuit in Glasgow, and produced volumes of humorous tales.  His brother, John Whyte (1842-1913), was a significant Gaelic journalist who wrote for various late nineteenth-century papers, including John Murdoch's radical, anti-landlord organ, The Highlander. The Whytes were the sons of John Whyte, who was manager of the Earl of Breadalbane's quarries in Easdale.  A small group of influential Mull writers is also evident. It included John MacCormick (d.1947), who produced a novel Dùn Alainn (1912), and John MacFadyen (1850-1935), with his series of books of humorous tales and poems, of which Sgeulaiche nan Caol (1902) is an example.



Gaelic poetry, like Gaelic prose, has a long history in the county, and it is pre-eminently with poetry that the literary activity of Argyll is connected in the popular mind.  A tour of the places associated with Argyll poets would take us to the native areas of some of the greatest poets of Gaelic Scotland.  Dalilea and Islandfinnan (Inverness-shire) were the early stamping-ground of the formidable poet, Alexander MacDonald (c.1698-c.1770), otherwise known as Alasdair mac Mhaighstir Alasdair, who served his reluctant time as a schoolmaster in Ardnamurchan, before becoming Prince Charles's Gaelic poet-laureate, and lampooning the Campbells with his barbed wit. Later, after the 'Forty-five, MacDonald became baillie of Canna. MacDonald is widely regarded as the greatest of the eighteenth-century Gaelic poets, certainly in terms of intellectual fire.  His volume of poems, Ais-eiridh na Seana Chànoin Albannaich, was the first volume of verse by a Gaelic vernacular poet to be put in print.  It appeared in 1751, but, because of its Jacobite sentiments, it is said to have been burnt by the public hangman in Edinburgh.  Only a few copies of the original printing of the book have survived.


MacDonald's poetry had a profound influence on his contemporaries in Argyll, notably (it would seem) Argyll's best known poet, Duncan MacIntyre, better known as Donnchadh Bàn Mac an t-Saoir (1724-1812).  MacIntyre is the Gaelic nature bard par excellence, describing the wonderful productivity which can be achieved when humanity and nature are in a co-operative harmony.  His poem, 'Moladh Beinn Dòbhrain' ('In Praise of Ben Dobhran'), is perhaps the finest poetic description ever made of the wildlife of any region in the British Isles:


An t-urram thar gach beinn

Aig Beinn Dòbhrain;

De na chunnaic mi fon ghrèin

'S i bu bhòidhche leam;

Monadh fada rèidh,

Cuile 'm faighte fèidh,

Soilleireachd an t-slèibh

Tha mi sònrachadh.

(Honour above all hills

upon Beinn Dobhrain;

of all I've seen beneath the sun,

I think her loveliest;

a long, smooth upland,

a storehouse of the deer,

the silhouette of the hill

I am contemplating.) 


Duncan MacIntyre was, of course, unable to read or write, but many of his poems were written down by a native of Glenorchy, the Rev. Donald MacNicol, parish minister of Lismore. His verse was first published in 1768.


Gaelic poets and songsters of lesser stature than Donnchadh Bàn were active throughout Argyll.  There was an almost inexhaustible number of poets, particularly of the local 'township bard' type, who commemorated events and personalites within their own districts. Representatives of the nineteenth-century poetic tradition on the mainland include Dr John MacLachlan (1804-74), Rahoy; Calum Campbell MacPhail (1847-1913), Dalmally; Iain Campbell, Ledaig; Evan MacColl (1808-98), Lochfyneside; and Dugald Gordon MacDougall, a native of Dunach in Kilbride parish.  MacLachlan and MacPhail, in particular, observed, and commented on, the patterns of social change as their areas were transformed by 'improvement' and clearing.  MacLachlan's poignant elegies on cleared townships are deeply moving, as the physician expresses his sorrow at the immense loss of human companionship. The ability to compose light lyrics survived in mainland Argyll into the twentieth century; Edward Pursell (1891-1964), a native of Campbeltown who learned Gaelic, was the composer of several popular Gaelic songs and tunes, including the words and melody of 'Fàgail Liosmòr' ('Leaving Lismore').


The 'township bard' is well attested in most island communities, especially in the context of crofting, after 1800.  Tiree was particularly rich in poets of this kind.  Pride of place belongs to John MacLean (1827-95) of Balemartin, who composed the well-known humorous song, 'Calum Beag' ('Little Callum'), about the imaginary sea-going adventures of one of his neighbours.  Callum travelled through stormy seas to Glasgow by way of the Crinan Canal, which held out many temptations, particularly since it offered ready access to a range of hostelries such as Cairnbaan Inn:


Nuair ràinig tu Aird Driseig bha na h-ighneagan an tòir ort;

Chùm iad ann ad chabhaig thu toirt caithreim dhaibh air òrain;

Do ghillean 's iad air bhuidealaich an cuideachd Mhic an Tòisich,

Is chaidh thu thar na còrach ag òl sa Chàrn Bhàn.

(When you reached Ardrishaig, the girls there pursued you;

they kept you in a hurry singing songs for their amusement:

your lads were fired up mightily in MacIntosh's company,

and you went beyond your limit as you boozed in Cairnbaan.)


MacLean also composed political songs which helped the cause of the crofters in the local Land League in the 1880s.  Some island poets achieved major recognition within the wider Gaelic area.   Islay, for example, was the home of one of the best of the nineteenth-century Gaelic bards - William Livingston (1808-70), who composed memorable verse on the effect of the clearances in Islay.  Two editions of his poems were published.


The Gaelic poets of Argyll, like those of other parts of the Highlands and Islands, had a tremendous appreciation of the value of their own local communities.  A sense of place has always been important to Gaelic writers, but it has probably been more evident in verse than in prose. Argyll itself has been not only the home of the poets; it has also been the creator and inspirer of poets, right down to our own time. One of the greatest Gaelic poets of the twentieth century was George Campbell Hay (1915-84), whose roots were in Tarbert, Loch Fyne, and who celebrated the beauty of the Kintyre landscape and the achievements of its people, particulary the fishermen who were among the last custodians of the Gaelic language and culture of the area:


Sìth o Dhia air màthair m' altraim,

le spreigeadh gràidh chan fhaigh mi clos;

sòlas duit, Chinn-tìr, is sonas;

cuim nach molainn crìoch gun lochd?

(God's peace upon my fostering mother,

with love's incitement, I cannot keep quiet;

joy to you, Kintyre, and happiness;

why should I not praise a flawless place?)


Concluding Overview

Across the centuries, Argyll has been highly productive of Gaelic literature, both prose and verse.  Literary activity has extended from the Middle Ages down to the present century, and the region contributed greatly to the development of Gaelic literature.  Perhaps the most important contribution that Argyll has made to that development lies in facilitating the transition from oral tradition to manuscript, and from manuscript to the modern printing press, thus ensuring that there was, and is, a modern Gaelic printed literature.  Writers born in Argyll led the field in producing Gaelic printed books; the first Gaelic printed book comes from the county, and almost all the main composers and collectors mentioned above published printed volumes of their works.  A native of Mulindry in Islay, Archibald Sinclair (1813-70), established the highly influential Celtic Press in Glasgow in the second half of the nineteenth century, to ensure that Gaelic material was printed. In this he and his son gave a singular service, not only to natives of Argyll, but to all Highlanders until the 1920s, when the business was taken over by Alexander McLaren.  Argyllshire men likewise made key contributions to the modern media, and helped to extend the range of outlets available to Gaelic writers.  In Gaelic broadcasting, for instance, Hugh MacPhee (1899-1980), a native of Ballachulish, laid the foundations of the Gaelic service of the BBC, operating from Broadcasting House, Glasgow. 


What made this county so productive of Gaelic composers and literary leaders?  The fundamental reason is surely that throughout the centuries Argyll had a Gaelic literate class who were used to plying their literary crafts and expressing their thoughts on vellum, parchment and paper.  Literary creativity was given a high place from the time of the Lordship of the Isles, and patronage continued through the Campbells and other local families.  The value of literacy was maintained by the schools.  When formal schooling began to come to the Highlands, Argyll was provided with parochial schools and grammar schools from an early stage in the seventeenth century.  Not all of these schools were sympathetic to Gaelic, but in 1706 the parochial school in Lochgoilhead (for example) had a teacher who was capable of writing Gaelic, and he may have taught his scholars to do the same.


If schoolmasters were not always sympathetic to Gaelic, the clergy of Argyll certainly used the language, and greatly aided its development as a literary medium.  The Protestant clergy in Argyll were less tied to doctrinal straitjackets than their colleagues in other parts of the Highlands.  The evangelicals of the northern Highlands tended to regard Argyll as a rather 'moderate' region.  It is certainly true that the more profoundly world-denying evangelical movements which altered the religious shape of the northern Highlands and Outer Hebrides were less influential in Argyll, though they were by no means absent.  These post-1800 movements came to Argyll very late in the ecclesiastical day, and did not displace the foundation of broad-minded humanism (in the Renaissance sense) which had already been laid by Carswell and his successors.  This allowed sacred and secular to breathe together more freely, and even ministers of small, intensely evangelical bodies such as Baptists had a high degree of cultural awareness and published volumes of hymns; Duncan MacDougall, a native of Brolas in Mull who had close connections with the Ross of Mull, became the founding father of Tiree Baptist Church (1838), and put his hymns into print in 1841.  His sister, Mary MacDonald (1789-1872), who continued to live in the Ross of Mull, was the composer of a Gaelic hymn, 'Leanabh an Aigh', famous today as the carol 'Child in the Manger'.  Mary also composed secular verse.  The proportion of ministers who were natives of the region and contributed constructively to the development of Gaelic literature per se is thus probably higher in Argyll than in any other district of the Highlands. The county had a liberal and liberating atmosphere in which writers could pursue their callings. This continuing feeling of liberation may partly explain why Gaelic writers from other parts of the Highlands still find it a congenial place.


The openness of Argyll was created not only by its religious complexion but also by its geographical position as a threshold area of the Highlands. This was its weakness as well as its strength.  People from Argyll travelled backwards and forwards to the Lowlands with relative ease.  As a consequence, the fashions of the Lowland south entered Argyll more quickly than they entered other parts of the Highlands; witness, for example, the ready reception of Protestantism in the region shortly after the Scottish Reformation.  Printing accompanied Protestantism, allowing Gaelic tradition to take printed form faster in Argyll than in any other part of the Highlands and Islands. Argyll was a multicultural, cosmopolitan region, but this had dangers for Gaelic. The overall result is very evident.  Today the use of the language is restricted to the Inner Hebrides, and there are very few active Gaelic writers who are natives of Argyll. The primary roles in developing and maintaining Gaelic literature in Scotland have passed mainly to writers who are natives of the northern Highlands and the Outer Hebrides.       





Note: An earlier version of this chapter was published in the journal, Laverock, 3 (1997).




Donald E. Meek is a native Gaelic speaker from the island of Tiree, Argyll.  He was educated in Tiree and Oban, and at the universities of Glasgow and Cambridge.  He is currently (since January 2002) Professor of Scottish and Gaelic Studies at the University of Edinburgh.  He was previously (1993-2001) Professor of Celtic at the University of Aberdeen.   He has published many articles and a number of books on different aspects of Gaelic language, literature and history.

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