Gaelic Concepts

A short list of some Gaelic terms and concepts – familiar to some, unfamiliar to others – which have been useful while doing this work.

A’ Ghàidhealtachd


noun. 1 The Highlands 2 (Irish) Gaeltacht

There is little meaning to be found in the English word Highlands; not all of it is high for a start.

In contrast, the Gaelic term for the same place, ‘Gàidhealtachd’, means ‘the land of the Gael’ (‘Gàidheal’) – Gael traditionally meaning a Gaelic speaker – and so immediately in this Gaelic term we find a people with a language, culture and territory, all of which were hidden by the English term.

We spend time talking and reflecting on these two words, together with the other folk involved in Feàrna, and it’s always a really valuable discussion.

To those from the Gàidhealtachd, it gives attention to their heritage and their culture, and gives them permission to identify themselves with that, if they want to.
To those who aren’t from the Gàidhealtachd, it gives them a different perspective on the land in which they’re living or working; a perspective that is sometimes difficult to see from the outside; a perspective which places value in people, heritage, culture and language, and not just in topography or scenery.



noun. 1 Place of birth 2 Heredity 3 Birth-tie 4 Sense of place

This next word is connected to the first. ‘Dùthchas’ can be found in the term ‘Gàidhealtachd’: a reciprocal, multi-generational connection to the land.
Undoubtedly people all over the world from different cultures will be familiar with a feeling similar to dùthchas, but there’s something significant in the fact that we have a particular word for it in Gaelic.

The place and people that we come from are interwoven, as they are in many indigenous cultures.

This understanding could be useful for people working on land-based initiatives, such as forestry or community trusts; it tells us something about the level of care that could be required.



noun. 1 (act of) inviting, welcoming 2 welcome 3 (act of) being hospitable 4 hospitality

It could be that dùthchas might worry some people, considering how much emphasis it puts on roots and ancestry, with concerns that people might feel excluded from Gaelic culture or unwelcome in a community if they don’t have these same roots.
But this other concept, furan, which is at the heart of Gaelic culture also, balances dùthchas by putting emphasis on being open and generous to people, especially those from outside the community. And it may be that dùthchas could strengthen this, rather than weaken it;

If we are comfortable in our own identities, is it easier to be welcoming to others?

We don’t need to explain how important a warm welcome (and tea and baking) is to community projects in the Gàidhealtachd (or in any region), but it is also important to be careful regarding who is given the opportunity to play the role of host.
There is a certain level of respect and power connected with this role, and if it’s someone new from outside the community (as it often is) who has taken this role and is trying to play host to people from that community, this could come across as disrespect, or at least blindness, for the dùthchas and the culture which is already there.



noun. 1 Ceilidh 2 Visit 3 (act of) visiting

While often used in English to mean a dance, something that happens at weddings, the original meaning of cèilidh is ‘visit’; people getting together.
In the traditional house cèilidhs, there would be song, poetry and stories alongside discussion and debate as well as work which could be done indoors such as mending creels or weaving ropes.

Everyone took part in the singing or storytelling; there was no division between who was an ‘artist’ and who wasn’t.

And there was also always a place for visitors, who would be fed and watered and expected to share a song or a story too.
This inclusivity, valuing the contribution of each person, and providing a warm welcome for strangers, makes the cèilidh a fitting form for community projects, providing care is taken around how it is hosted, and by whom.



noun. 1 essence, gist, matter, pith, substance 2 meaning, sense, significance 3 point (of an argument) 4 energy, force 5 juice

The word brìgh is often used when talking about songs and other works of art, and tells us something about the Gaelic aesthetic, in which meaning is the most important thing, rather than how beautiful something is.
‘Brìgh’ is a more expansive concept than ‘beauty, and closer to the way in which value is assigned in community arts.

There, the interpersonal relationships, the ways of working, the conversations, the learning opportunities, the things people can’t see, are just as important as the piece of artwork produced at the end.

We also like how the word ‘brìgh’, with its meaning connected to ‘juice’, makes a connection between art and plants or trees; it seems to say that beautiful, meaningful things can feed and nourish us.

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