Rocky Coastal Cliffs

Colonsay Gaelic

As recently as fifty years ago, the majority of people on Colonsay spoke Gaelic as their first language. Colonsay at that time was a mainly agricultural community, and many families had lived here for generations

With the development of tourism, and more people coming from other places to live on the island, the language of everyday conversation gradually switched to English. Today only a handful of islanders can still speak the distinctive Colonsay Gaelic dialect.

One area in which Gaelic is still to be found is in the island’s placenames. A glance at the Ordnance Survey map will show that nearly every feature of the Colonsay landscape has a Gaelic name. These are often very descriptive. Tràigh an Tobair Fhuair (Machrins Bay) means ‘the beach with the cold well’, after the spring that bubbles up just a few yards from the shore. Càrn Cùl ri Èirinn, ‘the cairn with its back to Ireland’, on Oronsay, marks the spot where St Columba is reputed to have turned his back on Ireland, and sailed on to Iona. A recent publication by Scottish Natural Heritage explains some of the placenames, and a comprehensive list can be found in Colonsay and Oronsay by John de Vere Loder.

Colonsay Gaelic has a number of features that mark it out from other Gaelic dialects. One of these is the way in which certain sounds are pronounced with a glottal ‘catch’ in the voice. Another is the way an ‘a’ sound is often heard as ‘e’: the word math, meaning ‘good’, is pronounced ‘meh’, and the well-known toast Slàinte mhath! sounds like ‘slen-tche veh’.

Alastair Scouller has made a detailed study of Colonsay Gaelic for his PhD thesis, which can be accessed here. The main section of the thesis (Chapter 2) is possibly a bit technical for the average reader, but other sections are of interest. There is a glossary listing words which are either unique to Colonsay, or are used in a different way from other varieties of Gaelic.

A nice wee tour of the island and an example of spoken Gaelic

GÀIDHLIG CHOLBHASA

Cha b’ ann ach lethcheud bliadhna air ais, bha Gàidhlig aig a’ mhòr-chuid de mhuinntir Cholbhasa. Aig an àm sin, bha an t-eilean gu mòr an crochadh air tuathanachas, agus bha mòran de na teaghlaichean air a bhith a’ fuireach ann fad iomadh ginealach. Le tuilleadh luchd-turais a’ bhith a’ tighinn don eilean, agus daoine ùra a’ tighinn a-staigh bho àiteachan eile, thionndaidh cànan an àite beag air bheag bho Ghàidhlig gu Beurla. An-diugh chan eil ann ach leth-dhusan anns an eilean air fad a tha a’ bruidhinn fìor Ghàidhlig Cholbhasa.

Chìthear buaidh na Gàidhlig fhathast ann an ainmean-àite. Ma bheir thu sùil air mapa an Ordnance Survey, chì thu gu bheil ainm Gàidhlig cha mhòr air a h-uile bad den eilean. Tha na h-ainmean seo glè bhitheanta a’ toirt tuairisgeul air dreach an àite. Tha Tràigh an Tobair Fhuair air ainmeachadh air fuaran a tha suidhichte faisg air a’ chladach. Tha Càrn Cùl ri Èirinn, ann an Orasa, a’ comharrachadh an àite far an do chuir Calum Cille cùl ri Èirinn, agus a lean e air gu ruige Eilean Ìdhe. Thàinig leabhar beag a-mach o chionn ghoirid aig Dualchas Nàdair na h-Alba, a tha a’ toirt mìneachadh air cuid de na h-ainmean-àite, agus gheibhear liosta iomlan anns an leabhar Colonsay and Oronsay, le John de Vere Loder.

Tha feartan sonraichte aig Gàidhlig Cholbhasa a tha ga h-eadar-dhealachadh bho dhualchainntean eile. Thèid cuid de dh’fhuaimean a ràdh le seòrsa de ‘ghlug’ glotasach. Agus glè bhitheanta, thèid an litir ‘a’ fhuaimneachadh mar ‘e’: tha na Colbhasaich ag ràdh ‘meth’ airson math, agus is e ‘Slèinte mheth’ a ghabhas iad mar dheoch-slàinte ort!Rinn Alastair Scouller mìn-sgrùdadh air Gàidhlig Cholbhasa airson an tràchdais PhD aige, a gheibhear an-seo. Is dòcha gum bi prìomh-earrann an tràchdais (Caibideil 2) rud beag doirbh don leughadair àbhaisteach, ach tha cuid de na cuibhreannan eile inntinneach gu leòr. Tha faclair na lùib a tha a’ toirt iomradh air faclan nach fhaighear ach ann an Colbhasa, no a gheibhear ann an àiteachan eile, ach le ciall eadar-dhealaichte.

With many thanks to Alastair Scouller for his help in compiling this page

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