A wide choice of topics covered from the dawn of history right up to present days . Many of these have a wider relevance than purely within the context of Strathearn . The author's viewpoint often is at variance with the accepted opinions espoused elsewhere eg The Jacobite Uprisings and The Reformation .
Monday, 28 October 2013
Our lost heritage
The language of Crieff and Strathearn in
the 1790s and how a concertedeffort was
made in the 18th Century to remove Gaelic as the spoken language of
Likemany Scots , I have a thoroughly mixed
pedigree .I do believe that this factor , perhapsmore than anyother , allowsone to analyse and
appreciateone’s genetic heritage
without the innate prejudice that all too frequently mars true objectivity in
Scottishdiscussions especially those concerning politics and religion ! My maternal great grand parents Archibald
and Mary McFarlanewereborn and raised in thedelightful Kintyre village of Clachan some
miles south of the fishing port of Tarbert on Loch Fyne in the County of Argyll
– the ancient Kingdom of Dalriada . They
were first cousins – theirfathers
Duncan and Archibald McFarlanebeing brothers.
Archibaldwassome eleven years older thanMary andwas a widower at the time of their marriage in Campbeltown in 1864 .
Both were native Gaelic speakers and were educated at the smallvillage school in Clachan . Family anecdotes
passeddown through the generations tell
us that the only non Gaelic speakingpersonin theschool at the timewas the teacher ! Thissomewhat bizarre situationwas notto uncommon in HighlandScotland
in the 18th and early 19th Centuries. Clachan school was run by an organisation known as the
SSPCK or to give it itsfull “ handle” – The Society in Scotland for the Propagation Of Christian Knowledge .
It was formed by Royal Charter in 1709 for the purpose of founding schools and
they proudly proclaimed “where
religion and virtue might be taught to young and old in the Scottish Highlands
and other uncivilised areas of the country.”
Their schools were
part of a programmeby the Established Church of Scotland – known as the “ Kirk
“to extend its influence throughout the
country and to include thoseparts of
Scotland known in Gaelic asa'ghàidhealtachd or those parts of Scotland where Gaelicwas spoken as the dominant andfirst language by thelocal population. This,remember, was still in the aftermath period of the
Jacobite rising and the Presbyterian Kirk was somewhatparanoiacabout those who espoused the old
faiths – the Episcopalians andthe
Catholics . Many of the Highland Clans
still adhered to these traditional Christian forms of worship but to those
ofCalvinistic disposition they were now
an anathema in Scotland amongst the establishedPresbyterian society . The fact that Kirk had already startedto fragmentwith the first Secessionin 1733
is perhapsindicative of itsfailureto appreciate the importance of other viewpoints in those far off days .
The Kirk was already working with support from a tax on
landowners to provide a school in every parish.The SSPCK had 5 schools by 1711, 25 by 1715, 176 by 1758 and 189 by 1808
with 13,000 pupils attending.Initially the
SSPCK avoided using Gaelic with the result that pupils learned by rote without
understanding what they read.My great grandparents
experience appearsnot to have been that
unusual in Highland Scotland . In the late 18th and early 19th
centuries, the attitude of most Lowland Scots towards the Highlanders was one
of disdain and contemptfor both their
language and their way of life .
following is an extract from the published Statistical Account of the Parish of
Kilcalmonell in which Clachan was situated .
“ Language : The Gaelic is the vernacular
language of the parishioners but the English is displacing it and the sooner it
overmasters it the better “
Onecan examine the written wordscontainedwithin the Statistical Accountsof Scotland produced for every parish in the country in the 1790s and
the 1830s .
The two Statistical Accounts of Scotland,
covering the 1790s and the 1830s, are among the best contemporary reports of
life during the agricultural and industrial revolutions in Europe.
Based largely on information supplied by
each parish church minister Statistical Accounts of Scotland provide a rich
record of a wide variety of topics: wealth, class and poverty; climate,
agriculture, fishing and wildlife; population, schools, and the moral health of
the people. ( University of Leicester )
Thanks to the
wonders of the Internet one can access them all on the Edina ( Universities of
Edinburgh and Glasgow ) web site
Go to “ For non
subscribers “ and click on the “ browse scanned pages “. You then enter theParish ( or County )name in the appropriate box .
wereconditions like in Strathearn and
particular in the town ofCrieff
situatedright on theborderbetween Highland and lowland Scotland ?The following extracts from the aforementioned Statistical Accounts written in the 1790s is self explicit regarding the prevailing attitude in some quarters towards Gaelic and its culture .
The people speak the English language in
the best Scotch dialect ; although Gaelic be commonly spoken at a distance of
three miles north , or four miles west of Crieff , yet no adult natives of the
Lowland part of the Parish can speak or understand it .They have not even
contracted the peculiartone of that
language by their intercourse with the numerous Highland families now residing
in the town . Many of these indeed understandno other language but the Gaelic , and their children born in Crieff
speak that alone as their mother tongue . The great number of these Highland
families , their general poverty , their frequent ignorance in the grand
subjects of revelation , their incapacity of deriving benefitfrom the public religious service performed
in the English language , the happy effects to themselves and society that may
result from a proper regard to their interest and comfort , are all such , as
justify to meritthehumane attention and friendly aid of the
Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge. A small annuity allotted to a
prudent man qualified to instruct and catechise these people on Sundays , would
be an act of piety andbeneficence .
Character and Language
Like the generality of the common
Highlanders , the lower ranks here are here modest , peaceable and very
obliging .There are few law suits among them and there have been none for these
10 years , exceptabout legacies ,
multures and marches , They are frugal , moderate and industrious , and except
at merry meetings are not much addicted to drinking – the common language of
the people is Gaelic . All the natives understand it , but many , especially of
the old, do not understand English well
.All the young people can speak English , but in order to acquire it , they
must go to service in the Low Country.The
Gaelic is not spoken in its purity, neither here , or in the bordering parishes
The inhabitants of the northern halfof the Parish use among themselves the
Gaelictongue ; all of them can however
speak English which is the only language spoken or understood on the south side
of the hill .
This parish being situated on the borders
of the Highlands , and having much intercourse and connectionwith the natives , we need not be surprised
to find that Gaelic is spoken in the back part of it , and the old Scotch
dialect in the fore part , spoken with the Gaelic tone and accent . There are ,
however , very few persons in the whole Parish who do not speak or understand
Gaelic . Most of the names of places are evidently derived from that language
and are expressive of their local situation .
The Society in
Scotlandfor the Propagation Of
Christian Knowledge .
The expansion of
the Society was only possible by the generous and sometimes large accessions of
capital particularly from its wealthy Presbyteriansupporters in Lowland
Edinburgh .In the
second charter by George II of 1738 the Society was empowered over and above
the purposes of the original patent “to instruct pupils in husbandry,
housewifery, trading, manufacturing or manual occupations”.The Society main ambitionwouldappear to havebeen the
establishment of charity schools throughout the Highlands. Their attitudetowards the Gaelic language and itsculture went a longway to destroying an already vulnerable but
established way of life . A ban on teaching Gaelic literacy was not lifted
until the 1760s and isgenerally
regarded as part of their overall strategy toattemptto destroy the language “
in the hopesof producing a greater
civilisationin the Highlands”
Today when I leave
Crieff for a day out to enjoy thebeautiesof Strathearn , I am conscious that the vastmajority of the hills , mountainsand lochs shown on my map are still named in the language of
our fore fathers . For thatwe should be
deeply thankful How sad that notenough
was doneto maintainour very oldand rich heritage and that so much has been lost .