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As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Galwegian Gaelic and Wikipaedia

Galwegian Gaelic and Wikipedia

Does it matter? Probably not. Who, other than the writers is ever going to read a Wikipaedia article on Galwegian Gaelic?

Or maybe it does matter for a couple of reasons.
The first is devolution and the still some way off (unless Scottish Labour really blow it in May 2007 and the SNP seize power) prospect of independence. The worry is that from Edinburgh, Galloway / Dumfries and Galloway is viewed as a
remote and unimportant region. Which it terms of population and economic importance it is. Local politicians, the local Council and local agencies (e.g. Southern Upland Partnership) have done their best to raise the region’s profile to little avail. Anything which might further marginalise the current status of the region must be challenged.

Trying to relocate Galloway within the Scottish Gaeltacht to support the claim that Scottish Gaelic deserves support as a national rather than regional language is likely to have just such an effect. It may help advance the case for providing Gaelic medium education and bilingual signage, but since Gaelic is not a living language in Galloway, will dilute rather than support any positive sense of regional identity.

The second problem relates to this. It is quite remarkable that Galloway has survived as a distinct and distinctive region despite its inclusion within Scotland for 800 years. Why has Galloway survived?

One factor must be geography. The Southern Uplands have (and still do) separated Galloway from the rest of Scotland, whilst the Solway Firth and Irish Sea have (and still do to an extent) linked Galloway with Ireland, England and the Isle of Man.

So that the strongest (historic) culture and language influences on Galloway have come from the west, south and east - rather than the north. From ‘Hiberno-Norse’ Ireland/ Isle of Man (circa AD 880), ‘Old Welsh’ Cumbria/ Rheged ( pre- AD 650), ‘Old English’ Northumbria ( AD 650 to 880) and even ‘Gaulish’ France (circa AD 450 at Whithorn) rather than ‘Gaelic’ Scotland. Latin (e.g. late 8th century Miraculae Nynia Episcopi) and Picts (carvings on Trusty’s Hill near Gatehouse of Fleet) must also be taken into account as influences.

What the ‘Galloway as part of Scottish Gaelic culture and language region’ argument risks doing is simplifying the complexities of Galloway’s history. This in turn undermines the ‘local history/ local identity’ argument which I suggest is a vital aspect of the region’s ability to assert itself within the political and economic discourse of post-devolution/ pre-independence Scotland.

Historically there is no dispute. Gaelic was once spoken in Galloway. But does this mean that Galloway can be included as a southern outpost of the Scottish Gaeltacht (Scottish Gaelic speaking zone)? I don’t think so.

The problem is that at the time - roughly AD 900 to AD 1100- when Gaelic was probably the main language of Galloway, Galloway was not part of ‘Scotland’.

Pre- AD 900 and from around AD 670 Galloway was under Northumbrian (Old English speaking) control. Before then the language of Galloway was Brittonic/ Cumbric (related to modern Welsh not modern Gaelic). After AD 900, Galloway came under ‘Hiberno-Norse’ control, i.e. was ruled by the descendants of Vikings who had moved down the west coast of Scotland and settled in Ireland, founding Dublin. As they migrated, these Vikings became bilingual Norse/Gaelic speakers.

In the late 9th century, the indigenous Irish managed to briefly kick the ‘Hiberno-Norse’ out of Dublin, prompting an eastward migration across and around the Irish Sea. With Northumbrian power waning in Galloway, a take-over of power amongst the ruling elite took place. This in turn prompted a dual language shift - with Norse replacing Old English as the language of the ruling elite and Gaelic replacing ‘Old Welsh’ (Brittonic/ Cumbric) as the language of the common people.

Or maybe just Gaelic? Depends on dating of Galloway place names like the many ‘holms’ (usually taken as Norse speaking indicators) which still survive.

Equally some Gaelic sounding places names (e.g. Carrick) could be survivals from Old Welsh. Also, since Old Irish and Old Scottish Gaelic are virtually indistinguishable, they could be Irish. The only detailed analysis I have found (In The Uses of Placenames: ed. Simon Taylor: Scottish Cultural Press: 1996] suggests that the Gaelic of Galloway (e.g.) Bengairn was more Irish than Scots.

Only after the death of Alan of Galloway in 1234 did Galloway become part of Scotland, but by this time Scottish Gaelic was already losing ground to the Scots language.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

When the Doors of Perception are cleansed

City of Night, City of Light

I can’t remember where or even when it was. Could have been hotel in Port Ellen on Islay, around 1972. Hot summer night near the Atlantic ocean. Must have been a pirate radio station - Caroline after it moved into Dutch waters? From a ship anyway. And they played Riders on the Storm - recorded sound of the storm, rain, waves merged into the real sound of the sea coming through the open window. It was -perfect.

So... 34 years on and I am in Martin’s second-hand book shop (Douglas Books, King Street, Castle Douglas, on the left just below the town clock) and I need something/ anything which isn’t 17th/ 18th century Scottish history - just gone through and been annoyed by Prebble’s Glencoe/ Culloden/ Clearances sixties sequence...

In music section recalled seeing Barney Hoskyns’ Waiting for the Sun, about LA music scene so grab it. And... hey, what’s this? He does The Doors in six pages (158 to 164). Aha, Hoskyns hates them... or at least damns them with less than faint praise. But then I read the ‘ by the same author’ page and find he has bashed out / carefully written and researched 13 other music related books.

So I get to the end and go back to the shop again (la la la la la la, Banshee’s version of Helter Skelter) for Ray Manzarek’s Light my Fire explaining the problem to Martin as I pay for it. Martin reckons the first two Doors albums are the best. I say Absolutely Live - Celebration of the Lizard my inspiration in punk days. Martin is dubious - punk and the Doors? Surely a culture clash?

But we were inspired - or at least some of the (Kill Your Pet) Puppy Collective. I remember Tony D. playing and playing American Prayer - indians on dawn’s high way bleeding, ghosts shatter the young child’s eggshell mind - and Patti Smith placed Jim’s shamanic rocknroll vision at the very heart and beginning of punk. One way of knowing/ being punk is the nuclear fusion of the Velvet Underground with the Doors.

Punk lives in the strangest places... (deconstruct = brief moment of glossy punk mag Punk Lives in (allegedly post) punk early eighties + Doors ‘loves hides in the strangest places’)

Maybe just my confused recollections, but the one sixties group which survived punk’s year zero was the Doors. Thie darkness and danger, the excess of their road led to our palace of wisdom. Which Barney Hoskyns book almost explains in his section on the cocaine fueled bland idiocy of the Eagles/ Fleetwood Mac etc era of AOR which preceded punk.

Whatever. Back to Ray’s book. Ouch. Almost painful to read. I had to keep stopping. Compare and contrast. OK. Hoskyns book = product. It does what it says on the cover
“ Strange Days, Weird Scenes and the Sound of Lost Angels”. Extremes become bland, vices habits. No soul, no passion, no tears (for the creatures of the night).

Ray’s book = passion. He means it (man/woman). Even quotes ‘Thou art that’. To step back - reading it was like reading Jon Savage’s England’s Dreaming for the first time - which I did with Pinki crouched in an alley-way in Soho in 198? England’s Dream invoked (almost evoked into physical manifestation there and then) punk. Ray’s book likewise. Jim Morrison never died- hey Barney these guys were for real, they really did break on through to the other side...

Oh what the hell, either you get it or you don’t. If you don’t get it, no amount of words will matter. Some are born to sweet delight. Some are born to endless night. Calvinist predestination? Jim Morrison as the reincarnation of Jim Renwick, last of the Covenanted martyrs?(Executed in Edinburgh in 1688 and who considered his own death as his wedding day).

That would be an interesting project- 17th century illegal conventicles as banned rock n roll gigs... but would require a fair bit of intellectual sleight of hand. In the late 20th century, the Doors, like the Sex Pistols, were banned by the state from live performances as being too subversive, too intense, too dangerous. For almost identical reasons, in the late 17th century, conventicles (open air religious performances) were banned by the state.

A theme within Ray’s 1998 book is that we are living with the consequences of the failure of the sixties revolution:

What have they done to the earth?
What have they done to our fair sister?
Ravaged and plundered and ripped her and bit her
Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn
Tied her with fences and dragged her down...
(When the music’s over)

Ray calls these ‘Jim’s Native American words’, but the ‘tied her with fences’ line also connects with the Galloway Levellers who untied (levelled) our stone fences back in 1724...

Enough - or too much.