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Gaelic in modern Scotland
Gaelic in modern Scotland

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3.4 Gaelic alive!


Pupils start GME at an early age, usually in a Gaelic playgroup or nursery class. There are two all-Gaelic primary schools (in Inverness and Glasgow); otherwise GME is delivered as classes in two-language schools. Secondary GME provision is patchy, but all pupils in primary GME have the option of taking language classes in secondary school that lead to the ‘Gàidhlig’ (or fluent speaker) SQA exams.

purpose-built Inverness Gaelic school, known as ‘Bun-Sgoil Ghàidhlig Inbhir Nis’ (BSGI), which opened in 2007
Figure 21 The purpose-built Inverness Gaelic school, known as ‘Bun-Sgoil Ghàidhlig Inbhir Nis’ (BSGI), which opened in 2007.

For more information you can access the school website here [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .


Gaelic is in everyday use in many communities, especially in the Western Isles and Skye but also, in a more limited way, in the Gaelic communities-within-communities of the cities. This can mean buying the groceries in the local shop or supermarket, socialising in a club or pub or taking part in a local radio programme.

Harris, a stronghold of the Gaelic language.
Figure 22 Harris, a stronghold of the Gaelic language

Many Churches – Protestant and Catholic – use Gaelic in worship. One of the most distinctive, and impressive, forms of Gaelic culture, in fact, is the unaccompanied psalm singing which has evolved over the centuries in the Presbyterian church in the Islands. The clip below is an example from Lewis.

Unaccompanied psalm singing from Lewis
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MG ALBA is funded by the Scottish Government in order to enable quality television programmes to be made and shown in Gaelic. In partnership with the BBC it has established BBC ALBA, a Gaelic digital TV channel (available on Freeview from 2011). For information on MG ALBA visit their website.

BBC ALBA provides a comprehensive broadcasting service in Gaelic, on radio, television and the internet, including children’s programming, a news and current affairs service and light entertainment, including sport. The video below is an example of the type of programming BBC Alba provides.

Download this video clip.Video player: An extract from BBC Alba’s features programme
Courtesy of BBC
An extract from BBC Alba’s features programme Eorpa
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Celtic (including Gaelic) music has enjoyed a remarkable growth in popularity in recent years, as evidenced by the success of festivals such as Blas (in the Highlands), HebCelt (Western Isles) and Celtic Connections (Glasgow).

For more information on the festivals visit:

You can watch video clips from the 2010 BLAS festival here.

Fèisean are teaching festivals at which the learners, who are mostly young, can learn a wide variety of Gaelic cultural skills from professional tutors.

There are some 40 fèisean at present, supported by a national organisation, Fèisean nan Gàidheal. Their map, shown here, shows the location of fèisean taking place in 2011.

Gaelic mods, national and local, are competitive festivals of Gaelic music catering for both adults and children. For more information go here.

Aspects of the Gaelic heritage which are less directly related to the language have also been experiencing a revival in recent years. For example, traditional dancing, such as stepdance which has been reintroduced from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, is becoming increasingly popular. For information visit Dannsa’s website or this online Scottish dancing resource. We also cover the importance of music and dancing in Section 6.


The Gaelic Language Act’s aspiration of ‘equal respect’ for Gaelic and English has resulted in an increase in the visual presence of the language, for example on external and internal building signage, road signs and commercial products.

Gaelic is also use sometimes for public announcements, for example on ferries to the Western Isles.

Figure 23 Gaelic signage in Scotland (above and below)


Many parents with children in GME learn Gaelic in order to support their children’s learning. Apart from classes there are residential events in which families can participate together. The photo below is from one such event in Skye in 2006. The following link is to CNAG’s ‘Cuir is Fàs’ magazine, which contains a report of an event held in Lewis in 2010.

Figure 24 Parents and children at a GME residential learning event in Skye in 2006

As well as those families which enrol their children in GME, there are also families where one or more parent speaks Gaelic and the language is passed on to the next generation in the traditional way at home (and usually reinforced by GME). There is now the possibility that this can once again become the norm, given that there is once again a generation of Gaelic speakers of child-raising age.