2007 - 2021

Gaelic Revival from Portree to Leith

2-a82-bi-lingual-scottish-gaelic-english-roadsign-scotland-uk-joe-foxAre there signs of a gaelic revival beag air bheag? Modest and scattered but nevertheless visible? Numbers in pre-school in Skye are at an all time high whilst Edinburgh’s first ever Gaelic school will be bursting at the seams when it opens after the summer – thanks to unprecedented demand from parents.

60 pupils are set to join Parkside Primary in August – an intake which far exceeds education chiefs’ expectations. The school is in Leith but will include kids from Tolcross Primary’s now-closed Gaelic unit.

Headteacher Anne MacPhail said the school (to be known as Bun-sgoil Taobh na Parc in Gaelic) – will provide a unique learning environment when the youngsters come in after the summer break. Ms MacPhail said: “I did not expect the rolls to be that big. It’s very healthy and very encouraging that families of all different kinds and from all different parts of the city are coming to the school.

As well as a larger than expected P1 intake, the other classes are also busy with 36 pupils in P2, 25 in P3, 31 in P4, 24 in P5, 21 in P6 and 18 in P7. Meanwhile at the other end of the country on Skye, Portree parents are welcoming the green light for a long awaited standalone Gaelic Primary School.

The Highland Council this week approved its Capital Programme Review which includes agreement of £8m for a Gaelic School in Portree.

Commenting on the news the group’s Chair, Annika Rawlings, said: “Comann nam Pàrant Port Rìgh is delighted to welcome the news from The Highland Council which gives us certainty, after many delays, that the Gaelic School in Portree will now proceed.  We are a voluntary group of Gaelic medium parents and the group has been campaigning since 2007 for a standalone Gaelic School.  Following a statutory consultation in 2008, The Highland Council agreed that a Gaelic School should be established.  Following a period of inaction, however, in 2010 the council changed its tune and its stated position became that the school would only proceed if fully funded externally.”

“Parents continued to work with councillors and the Scottish Government which will be making a substantial contribution to the capital cost of the Gaelic school.  I am delighted that a combination of that determined effort, the intervention by the Scottish Government and a change of administration at The Highland Council has led us to where we are today with a guarantee that Portree will, at last, have a Gaelic primary school.  We would like to thank everyone who has worked towards this stage and we are heartened that the project is now classified as “must do”.  We look forward to continuing to work with The Highland Council to see the school come to fruition.”

Over the past two years Comann nam Pàrant Port Rìgh has taken over the running of non- statutory Gaelic pre-school provision and associated services in the town with financial support from Bòrd na Gàidhlig and the National Lottery.

Annika Rawlings said: “Indications are that Gaelic medium education has a very bright future in Portree.  Numbers in pre-school are at an all-time high with demand currently outstripping the limits of the premises we use.  The Highland Council has undertaken that full-time wraparound care will be available in the new school and this will be a new and welcome service for the area which should help ensure the success of the Gaelic school.”

According to today’s approval development of the school will commence in 2015-16 with the school operational in 2017.

Comann nam Pàrant Port Rìgh’s 2008 case for a standalone Gaelic school in Portreem https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/5730322/CnPHCSubmission.pdf

This twin blooming – both in traditional Gaelic-speaking Skye and in Scotland’s capital is welcome news of a new generation reclaiming aspects of their own culture and language.

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  1. stubetsolais says:

    This is great news, let us hope it continues and spreads around the nation

  2. Neil McRae says:


    For a rare spin-free snapshot of the true situation vis-a-vis “a new generation reclaiming aspects of their own culture and language”, Bella readers should go to:


    For a summary of the research carried out by Munro et al in Shawbost, Lewis. One of their main findings:

    “Clearly, inter-generational transmission of fluent Gaelic has all but stopped in Shawbost, despite the fact that 66% of residents are fluent speakers …” (p13)

    And this was in Shawbost! Where there is well-established Gaelic-medium education.

    Bella – it’s not like you to let uncredited spin pass unchallenged like this!

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Feel free to contribute an article outlining your views, it would be welcome. The situation is dire, no doubt, but good news should be welcomed.

    2. oighrig says:

      Mr Macrae
      I’m not sure I understand why you construe this article as spin. What does the mode of transmission of the Gaelic language in Shawbost have to do with the demand for Gaelic medium education in Portree and Leith?

      1. Neil McRae says:

        Because when we see a cant phrase like “a new generation reclaiming aspects of their culture and language” (written by someone who is paid to paint a glowing picture), we must remind ourselves of the true situation, not fall into the trap of easy wishful thinking. As in Shawbost, so it is in Portree.

    3. Tocasaid says:

      Not like Niall Beag – an t-Uncail Tòmas againn fhìn – to pour cold water on good news. Whinging from the sidelines is always better….

  3. Seanair says:

    The new school in Edinburgh is not in Tollcross–it’s in Leith. But welcome anyway.

  4. bellacaledonia says:

    Thanks – post updated – there are kids from Tollcross on the roll.

  5. Iain MacIlleChiar says:

    Regarding Neil MacRae’s comments above. There are pessimists and optimists. Those of us who can look back over the past 30 years’ progress are justifiably optimists.

  6. David (Dàibhidh) Steele says:

    I think it is great to see this taking place. One can only hope that the demand/hunger for Gaelic continues.

  7. Iain Mac says:

    Good news. Progress in Gaelic medium education is always to be welcomed.

    I’m not sure why Mr McRae isn’t happy. Maybe despite the Gaelic name, he’s just one of the anti-Gaelic brigade you can read in the Scotsman or Daily Express.

    1. Neil McRae says:

      Maybe he’s tired of seeing his beloved second language being quietly allowed to die under a tidal wave of self-congratulatory spin.

      1. oighrig says:

        Do you not think teaching through Gaidhlig in the schools will help it survive? This is an honest question because I’m still not clear.

        1. Tocasaid says:

          Yes, it will help. It’s not the only thing and it’s not a magic pill but we’ve been denied services like this for more than a century and surely education is a major component in any strategy to revive or maintain a minority language.

          However, having a small number of pedants and cranks who constantly attack those people involved – most of whom come from communities like Siabost – and the services they provide will only reinforce the idea that Gàidhlig is dying and dead language. Just how a constant wave of negativity will revive Gàidhlig or promote ‘inter-generational transmission’ is beyond me. Perhaps Mr MacRae would finally like to furnish us with his solutions? Is he an expert on inter-generational transmission’?

          Certainly, as someone who is raising a family with Gàidhlig as the main home language, I certainly don’t feel qualified to solve the deep-seated problems of Gàidhlig transmission in places like Siabost. And while the challenges facing us are only too clear, a positive and pro-active approach is what is needed.

          On the other hand, the schools in Portrìgh and at Taobh na Pàirce in Edinburgh are very much to be welcomed.

  8. Gaelic being on the rise in Scotland is great news. I was told by a Gaelic language activist here in Canada, that schools are not enough because often students never use the language afterwards.

    Specifically something should be done for the students when they come out of school… it is public funding right? Just a tiny bit of Gaelic on an application form would have a huge effect I should think.

    And why not have a bit more targeted community focus as well!


  9. Neil McRae says:

    Oighrig – I think the jury’s still out on whether Gaelic-medium education will help the language survive. It’s very difficult to get any unspun info or evidence (in fact I don’t think there IS any good hard evidence out there), but anecdotal evidence and personal experience (and the Shawbost Report) suggest that nearly 30 years of GME have produced a small (tiny, in fact) proportion of Scottish primary-age kids each school year, most of whom can speak an impoverished form of the language, incapable of nuanced expression. However, they simply refuse to speak the language outside school, or are very uncomfortable speaking it.

    The numbers coming through GME are nowhere near enough to replace the numbers of native speakers who pass away each year, and have I believe remained static or declined despite triumphalist witterings like this blog above, or press release, whatever it is. So from that rather utilitarian point of view, no, GME cannot help Gaelic to survive.

    However, I do believe (or maybe it’s just a forlorn hope) that a few of these kids do, in later years, realise what a worthwhile thing they possess and will go back and revisit their Gaelic, and do something with it. (And I don’t mean singing songs at mods, I mean using it as a means of communication – and therefore at least postponing language death a little longer). However, again I don’t believe there’s any evidence one way or the other whether this is the case or not.

    I also worry that, as is becoming uncomfortably clear, GME uptake is not evenly distributed within communities where it is available but is divided along socio-economic lines, with more affluent middle-class families (often with neither parent speaking the language) over-represented.

    1. oighrig says:

      Tapadh leat, a’ Neill. Nach bochd nach b’urradh dhuinn seo a’gradh anns a’Ghaidhlig. Bhoill, b’urrainn dhuinn, ach cha bhiodh moran ga leabhadh.
      Co dhuibh, your assessment of the condition of the language reflects what I, myself, see around me. I have spent the last forty plus years away and now that I am living here again, I am dismayed by the erosion that has taken place. I grew up in a monolingual gaidhlig speaking village where english was heard in school and on the radio. The odd anglophone or trader from Pakistan came through but it was rare to hear anything but gaidhlig.
      Fast forward to 2013…. over 65s make up 90% of the population in my village. Their language of choice is still gaidhlig and the few children in the village are bilingual, but children are the product of their day, just as we were, and their lives are saturated in english, as ours were saturated in gaidhlig. To survive, a language must be useful and relevant. The gaidhlig of my day was a crofting language. As crofting has disappeared, so has the utility and relevance of the gaidhlig language as I knew it. If only we had the vocabulary to discuss world affairs, globalisation and Facebook in gaidhlig. Until we do, the language will decline. The elders of Shawbost cannot transmit the language of crofting to a population of youth who have no interest in crofting.
      Change is inexorable. We cannot go back so the question is how to proceed to ensure the language and culture of our birth is not extinguished. Transformation is required and, to me, GME plays a part in that process. I am delighted to know that families across the country have chosen to educate their children in gaidhlig. Tales of parents, themselves of island and highland ancestry, who are inspired to learn the language of their grandparents so that they can communicate with their children do encourage me to hope that the transformation is under way. We must applaud those parents and encourage such “green shoots”. The gaidhlig of the future will be radically different from the gaidhlig of my childhood but languages that dont evolve die.
      I could go on and on about the forces that have brought the language to such a state but far better to foster hope. As for those of us who are privileged to have this language, let’s be sure to use it, daily.

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