The Gaelic of Stirlingshire

By Grannd, Seumas | Scottish Language, Annual 2008 | Go to article overview

The Gaelic of Stirlingshire


Grannd, Seumas, Scottish Language


We are greatly indebted to all those who were involved in the Gaelic Section of the Linguistic Survey of Scotland, between the time of its establishment in 1950 and the years 1994-1997, when many of its findings were published in the five volumes of The Survey of the Gaelic Dialects of Scotland. If it had not been for the immense amount of time and effort invested in this project by all those involved, our knowledge of Scottish Gaelic dialects and in particular, how they relate to one another, would be severely limited. Speaking in 1968, Kenneth Jackson, one of the principal moving forces behind the project, said: "Two hundred and five questionnaires of about 1200 items have been filled in, anal a basic map of 192 points has been constructed, covering almost the entire area within the traditional 'Highland Line' with the exception of a few border regions (notably most of Caithness, the Highland parts of Banffshire and Forfarshire, a border strip within Perthshire, the Highland parts of Stirlingshire and Dunbartonshire, the island of Bute, and the southern hall of Kintyre) where the language is extinct and local speakers could not be found." (Jackson 1968: 65). The following is an attempt to complete one of the missing parts of that jigsaw using material about the Gaelic of Stirlingshire collected by Francis C. Diack some twenty-eight years before the Survey began its work. Diack (1867-1939), who was a librarian at Aberdeen University, spent much time during the early part of the twentieth century visiting the eastern Highlands collecting Gaelic lore.

By 1950, the time of the establishment of the Gaelic Section of the Linguistic Survey, as Jackson says, no informants for the Gaelic dialect of Stirlingshire could be found. This is not surprising, for in Buchanan, the westernmost parish in Stirlingshire, as early as the Census of 1891 Gaelic was already very weak, being spoken by only 102 persons (15.5% of the population of the parish) with only 31 of those speakers (4.7%) being natives of the parish (Gloag 1998: 58). We are therefore very fortunate that Diack managed to meet a native speaker of Stirlingshire Gaelic in 1922 and record for posterity some information about the dialect.

Although Diack's original notebook containing the information for Stirlingshire seems to have been lost or misplaced, some of the information that was contained within its pages survives in MS 2276, which is held in Historic Collections, Aberdeen University Library. This MS is entitled 'Place-names of the Eastern Highlands, extracted from the note books of Francis C. Diack' and is a compilation of Diack's notes, copied from his books by W. M. Alexander. Although the MS is unnumbered, counting from the first page, the information relating to the Gaelic of Stirlingshire and his informant for the dialect can be found on pages 22-23, 43-44 and 47-48 of this MS. The informant's pronunciation of place-names and Gaelic words is recorded in Diack's own transcription. Diack's system of transcription utilises a mixture of Gaelic orthography, IPA phonetic transcription and Gaelic phonemic transcription and is often ambiguous: it is also inconsistent, varying greatly from notebook to notebook and sometimes even from page to page. Where the informant's pronunciation of words or place-names is given below in Diack's own transcription, this will be done using italics within square brackets.

In these notes, it is recorded that Diack visited Aberfoyle for six days in October 1922 and met a native speaker of Stirlingshire Gaelic, "Mrs MacGregor", at the churchyard. Of his informant he says, "Mrs MacGregor speaks the Gaelic of Loch Lomond side." It is further recorded that Mrs MacGregor was a native of Culness [cul N'es] at the side of Loch Lomond [L. Loimen] in the parish of Buchanan [Bo xaNen]. Culness (now spelled Cailness) was a small settlement on the eastern shore of Loch Lomond, situated at NN343063. …

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