Last weekend, I participated in the very first Dalriada Gaelic immersion course in Argyll, Scotland. Argyll is a stunning region in the west of Scotland and the name Dalriada was a kingdom which stretched from Northern Ireland over to Argyll in the early centuries AD. The ruling family of Irish Dalriada arrived in Argyll at the end of the 5th century. Today, you can still see the original citadel at Dunadd and the site where they used to crown these ancient kings.
Although Gaelic is spoken throughout the western isles of Scotland, there is a Gaelic dialect in Argyll that had almost died out. The course tutor/creator, Àdhamh Ó Broin, managed to track down the last native speaker of this special dialect, a man in his 80s who still lives in the area. The dialect did not even have a name of its own, so the appropriate name of Dalriada Gaelic was given to it.
Over the last few years, Àdhamh has been spending time with the last native speaker in order to learn the dialect from him. Following that, he taught the language to his four children who are now fluent. In addition, he was given access to previous notes from research completed by the Swedish linguist, Nils Holmer, during the 1930s as well as recordings he made of people speaking the dialect, all of whom have now passed on.
This year, the time had come for Àdhamh and his children to start passing on this endangered dialect to others. It is hoped that this first immersion course will be the first of many and what makes it more appealing is that it’s not a typical classroom course in a college. The course is held at Auchindrain Township Open Air Museum in Argyll, where you can go inside the preserved cottages and see how people lived and worked. The course is divided into one hour sessions followed by a break to relax, chat or ask questions. The one hour sessions were both outdoors and indoors. For example, in the outdoor sessions, we walked around various parts of the site and learned the words for different types of weather, animals and plants. The indoor sessions were held in different buildings around the Township. We had a tour of a house and learned the names of each room as well as the items in the rooms and how to describe the house. We also had an exercise where we all took part in lighting the peat fire inside one of the houses. We learned the new words while holding the items ourselves. This method would really suit kinesthetic learners, as well as people who are at different levels.
On the Saturday evening, we had a ceilidh (a traditional gathering) in one of the cottages which was a lot of fun. We listened to traditional music on the accordion and bagpipes, Gaelic story-telling and songs while sat around the peat fire eating stovies!
The course is open to people who are beginners or have some knowledge of standard Gaelic. I had already completed two semesters of a distance learning course at Sabhal Mor Ostaig, so my level is still quite basic. Having the children there was a benefit for me because I find that when I am still at a basic level in a language, I feel more comfortable practising with children. This course was perfect for that. I asked the children lots of questions and I asked them to correct me when I made mistakes. This worked very well for me.
Future plans include having these intensive weekends in Argyll hopefully four times per year. To join a future course, follow the Facebook page for updates.
To listen the story about the language, click here to watch the video.