What is Gaelic and its origins?

Dating back centuries, Gaelic is the founding language of Scotland that is thought to originate from Ireland. It spread its way across the country's western areas and became recognised as the main language of Scotland, particularly by the Highland clans.

In the late 18th century, the language was heavily suppressed during the infamous Highland Clearances which followed the turbulent Jacobite uprisings, but this melodic and exotic-sounding tongue, packed with throaty consonants, has survived to the 21st century.

Thanks to generations of storytelling, passionate Gaelic speakers and the burgeoning interest around it, including the notable poems of Sorely MacLean and the recent and phenomenally successful TV series Outlander, it's still spoken in parts of Scotland by some 60,000 people.

Cairngorm National Park sign Deeside

Where is it spoken?

Go to the Scottish Highlands and islands, particularly communities in the Outer Hebrides, as well as on the Isle of Skye and to the lesser extent in Argyll & The Isles, and chances are that you’ll come to contact with Gaelic, be it on road signs, in theatres, through radio and television productions, or by chatting to the locals.

Canada, in the Nova Scotia region, New Zealand, Australia and other regions in North America also boast proud Gaelic communities, established after the 18th and 19th century waves of emigration.

Machair Way sign

Gaelic heritage and legacy

You'll be surprised how greatly Gaelic has been preserved through literature, arts and folklore from across the ages, despite over 200 years of suppression and condemnation. The Gaelic culture is still vibrant in the modern world, with the Outer Hebrides being the heartland of it.

Today, you can still:

  • Hear rich Gaelic singing as well as foot-stomping traditional music in pubs and on streets.
  • Immerse yourself in traditional reels, jigs and waltzes and enjoy the party spirit of a ceilidh.
  • Absorb the history and customs of Gaelic music and song at one of Scotland's traditional music festivals such as the Hebridean Celtic Music Festival, Harris Arts Festival, Barra Live, Celtic Connections or the Feisean festivals.
  • Browse many arts and crafts shops and pick up Celtic-inspired gifts and souvenirs, from jewellery and knitwear to individual pottery pieces and much more.

The Gaelic community has supplied Scotland with many of the country's national icons, including the kilt, tartan, sporran, bagpipes, ceilidhs, Highland games and whisky.

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