Laying claim to the title of oldest society in University of Edinburgh, An Comann Ceilteach has quite a heritage to live up to. I met up with president Padraig Morrison to ask about the society and its interaction with Gaelic culture in the modern world.
Otherwise known as the Highland Society, it promotes and encourages the use of the Gaelic language, as well as its music and culture. Morrison explains that they cater primarily to three groups: Native speakers, students of Gaelic, Celtic or Scottish Studies and international or visiting students who look to get a taste of Scottish culture.
“Folk still think of Gaelic as this historical relic, [something] that has pretty much died out” Morrison admits, noting the decline in native speakers among society members. However, “it’s not entirely dead, and it’s coming back. There’s gonna be a whole new wave of the language!” 2011 census data shows a significant increase in the number of speakers under the age of 25, which can be attributed to the appearance of Gaelic schools in major Scottish cities. Morrison is hopeful that the 2021 census will show an increase in overall speakers.
So, what is the role of the University in this potential revival? “The Uni could definitely do more to promote it”; Morrison highlights the new University of Edinburgh degree in Gaelic and Primary Education as a pull factor for those interested in the language, as well as the University’s Gaelic Language Plan and Gaelic Officer. However, he also points out that more campus visibility would help with the society’s efforts.
Given the Scottish Government’s promotion of the language, the conversation inevitably leads to the topic of independence. Despite noting the link between Gaelic and pro-independence sentiment in practice, Morrison says the society did not have an official stance on the matter, “for risk of division”. “I think our role is more about Gaelic and Highland culture, be it language or music, and that’s kind of separate from the whole political angle.” Nevertheless, he recognises the link with nationalism that has been impressed upon Gaelic.
Morrison hopes that Scotland will become associated more closely with Gaelic. The society does a lot to contribute to this, from their Welcome Week taster classes, to hosting the biggest and longest-running ceilidh in Edinburgh. One good reason to join? “It’s great craic”.
Image Credit: geograph.org.uk