Gaelic archive of songs and stories unlocked for first time

The voice of crofter and poet Dòmhnall McDonald of Daliburgh, South Uist, is among those captured in the archive. PIC: Glasgow University.The voice of crofter and poet Dòmhnall McDonald of Daliburgh, South Uist, is among those captured in the archive. PIC: Glasgow University.
The voice of crofter and poet Dòmhnall McDonald of Daliburgh, South Uist, is among those captured in the archive. PIC: Glasgow University.
Their songs and stories speak of a different time.

Now an audio archive which documents the traditions of crofters, farm workers and fishermen - in English and Gaelic and some Scots - has opened up to the public for the first time.

More than 40 audio files are being published online by Glasgow University as it works to make traditional Gaelic speech more accessible to speakers and learners of the language.

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The majority of recordings in the archive were gathered from residents of North and South Uist, Scalpay, Harris, Barra, Berneray and Benbecula by American storyteller Tracy Chipman during the 1990s and early 2000s.

The recordings tell of everyday life and customs in the Outer Hebrides and cover a vast range of topics from fishing terminology to traditional cures, fairy stories and premonitions.

Among the files include contributions of crofter, storyteller and poet Dòmhnall McDonald of Daliburgh, South Uist.

Archivists at Glasgow University are working to trace relatives of those who feature in the recordings, many who have since died.

Mary Ann Campbell, a great niece of Mr McDonald, said it was “lovely and moving” to hear his voice again.

She said; “He was always very welcoming and looked forward to his many visitors, they used to come from all over the world. He was a kind, softly spoken and modest man and never boasted about any of his work.

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“His work was often published in the local paper. We are fortunate as a family that we now have his book to look at some of his bàrdachd or poetry, it was just unfortunate that is was published after his death.”

The recordings were made in English and Gaelic and will be fully transcribed or subtitled in due course.

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In addition, nine of the recordings come from the newly launched Cluas ri Claisneachd Archive, recorded in Campbeltown in Argyll as well as Cape Breton Island.

These recordings were mostly made during the collection phase for the Historical Dictionary of Scottish Gaelic Project (HDSG) in the 1970s. It also includes other reel-to-reel tapes and cassettes donated to Celtic and Gaelic in the College of Arts.

The new audio archive has been created at the university as The Digital Archive of Scottish Gaelic, an online repository of digitised texts and lexical resources for the language, celebrates its 10th anniversary.

It also heralds a new direction for DASG of focusing more on the spoken word to include oral traditions of storytelling, folklore, songs and poetry.

At a symposium at the university to mark the 10th anniversary of the digital archive, it was announced that the family of renowned Gaelic Poet, Tormod MacLeòid/Norman MacLeod, known as Am Bàrd Bochd or The Poor Bard, has donated his life’s work to the DASG archive.

The collection includes images, songs, tales and folklore collected in the Isle of Lewis by the bard.

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Professor Rob Ó Maolalaigh, the University of Glasgow’s Professor of Gaelic and the Director of DASG/ Ollamh na Gàidhlig, Oilthigh Ghlaschu, agus Stiùiriche DASG, said: “Our archive is a living memory connecting us directly through an oral history of storytelling and song to the traditional Gàidhealtachd of previous generations.

“It is a reminder where we have come from and celebrates an important part of Scotland’s dùthchas and heritage. All three of Scotland’s indigenous languages – English, Gaelic and Scots are contained within the archive.

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“Today the Gaelic language is very much part of modern Scotland. From the names of cities and towns we live in which have come from Gaelic like Kilmarnock, Stirling, and Inverness to words like loch, glen, bard, whisky and clan, the language helps put Scotland into context. We are delighted to make this audio resource freely available.”

Professor Ó Maolalaigh added: “We are deeply honoured that the family of Tormod MacLeòid has decided to donate his papers to the Bàrd’s alma mater, the University of Glasgow.”

Abi Lightbody, the senior audio archive and corpus assistant, said: “I am delighted to be able to share these wonderful audio files with the public.

“The way we use and speak Gaelic is changing and these recordings allow people to access the rich idiomatic Gaelic of previous generations, whether they are interested in terminology, stories and legends or songs and music.”

To visit the archive, visit www.