Gaelic societies in Scotland

Screen-Shot-2015-05-28-at-14.16.24Scots did not only settle in faraway climes or the near diaspora of England, Ireland and Wales. There was a significant internal movement
within Scotland. This movement was particularly common amongst members of what we might suitably term the internal Highland
diaspora, a diaspora comprised of Highland Scots who relocated further south.

As Scots who ventured further afield, these Scots often came together as a group, forming societies in several cities throughout Scotland. In Glasgow, for example, a Gaelic Society formalised transactions in 1887 (though there were earlier roots). As is outlined in its first transactions, published for Society members as a record of activities, given ‘the present transitionary state of the Gaelic race, it is of the utmost importance that the future generation should not lose touch with their country’s past.’ With that in mind, the Society’s principal aim was the cultivation of Gaelic, as well as Gaelic literature and music, ‘fostering a Celtic spirit among the Highlanders to Glasgow’. The membership fee  for ordinary members was set at 3s, and the Society met once a month for regular meetings, and on the last Tuesday of April for its Annual Business meeting. Amongst the patrons lending support to the Society in its first year of existence was Glasgow-born Professor John Stuart Blackie, famous for leading the campaign for the first Celtic Chair at the University of Edinburgh; the first holder of the chair, Professor Donald Mackinnon, was the Gaelic Society’s first honorary president.

The Society’s inaugural meeting took place in late October 1887, when it was stressed that the Society was crucial so that Gaelic speakers in Glasgow ‘should not be behind their brethren elsewhere in showing their patriotism and attachment to their mother tongue’. This was particularly important given the steady arrival in Glasgow of young people from the Highlands: they needed to have the chance to learn to write and read in Gaelic. To promote general engagement with Gaelic, the Society thus also hosted lectures and papers covering themes in the fields of Highland literature and history. In April 1890, for instance, a paper entitled ‘Social Life in the Highlands in the Olden Times’ was delivered. For the Glasgow Gaelic Society, then, ethnicity was in large part defined through language and, as a result, the most suitable form of ethnic associationalism for the Society was one designed around educational pursuits.

Gaelic concerts were a common educational means too, as well as one to promote Gaelic culture, and proved especially popular and were regularly held by many Gaelic societies, including the Gaelic Society of Perth. This was established in the spring of 1880, with 60 members enrolled in late April 1880. Professor Blackie again played a prominent inspirational role, and was invited to act as Chief of the Society, a position he gladly accepted. The Perth Society did well and its events soon attracted significant numbers. For its annual social meeting in 1882—a soirée—an estimated 800 guests made their way to the City Hall. Tea was served, and then Mr Charles Stewart ‘delivered a stirring address on “The Spirit of Gaelic Nationality”’.  The 20th annual gathering also took place in the City Hall, attracting guests from throughout Scotland. They were welcomed by a band of pipers, 20 in number, and marvelled at the nicely decorated hall. Many a Gaelic song was sung in the course of the evening.

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