Skye seeks to become 'stronghold' of Gaelic with help of island shops and hotels
Shopkeeers in Portree are being encouraged to welcome customers and use signage in Gaelic as part of a drive to increase use of the language among native speakers and the wider community.
Meanwhile, the Pier Hotel in the town has signed up to a Gaelic-only hour a week, when visitors will be encouraged to order drinks and chat the basics in the language, with native speakers on hand to help.
The project is starting in Portree with plans to roll it out across the island if successful. It comes as Portee and Braes Community Trust were named as one of five groups who successfully bid for new funding from Community Land Scotland to increase Gaelic use in the heartlands of the language.
Fay Thomson, project manager at the community trust, said: “We will be promoting the use of Gaelic language in local businesses, particularly in shops, pubs and restaurants where people gather locally.
“The challenge is to reverse the decline in the use of Gaelic by building confidence and normalising everyday use. Research shows that while the number of Gaelic learners is increasing the use of the language is decreasing.
"Many native speakers comment that there are fewer opportunities to speak Gaelic. Learners report a lack of opportunities to practice the language especially with native speakers. There is mutual benefit in bringing the two groups together and this project aims to do exactly that.”
Ms Thomson said Portree was primarily a Gaelic-speaking town until the 1950s and 60s with the language fading out as islanders left and new influences arrived.
Levels of speakers on Skye overall have fallen from 74% in 1991 to 46% in 2011, latest Census figures show.
She said: “The project is very much about getting people speaking Gaelic, not reading and not writing, nothing academic. We want people to see Gaelic in a fun way and to make it fashionable again.
"The idea is to catch all the native speakers who have the nuances of the language and carry the culture of the language, which you don’t get if you are learning it in a sterile academic environment. There is so much fun and wit about Gaelic.
"But everyone, of whatever age, seems to lack confidence to speak it it.”
Ms Thomson said it was hoped Skye could grow a lost “pride and passion” for Gaelic and use it to help attract people to the island.
Last year, a report found that Scotland’s Gaelic speaking communities will ‘die out’ within 10 years unless a radical new approach is found to grow its everyday use in its traditional heartlands.
Community Land Scotland have also funded Bragar and Arnol Community Trust on Lewis; North Harris Trust; Horshader Community Development on Lewis and Tiree Community Development Trust to grow Gaelic speaking.
Chrissie Gillies, Gaelic development officer at CLS, said: “The successful applicants are all democratically-run community trusts and they all have skills and knowledge and experience. They may have used those skills to secure housing or buy an asset, and now they can use them to meet cultural challenges so that people can have the confidence to use Gaelic.”