Document 1470

Interview 18: Columba Centre, Islay

Author(s): N/A

Copyright holder(s): Prof Christian J Kay, SCOTS Project

Audio transcription

F606 Tell me about the Centre. You're
F1067 Ehm, yes, ehm, er as Gaelic was sliding towards extinction there's er a realisation, a strong movement to get something done about it, and as resources, we're all concentrated in the North, and Sabhal Mòr Ostaig has been extremely useful in bringing the image of Gaelic to the world, //erm,//
F606 //Mm.//
F1067 but it does mean of course it exercises a sort of centrifugal pull, and islands with different dialects, like ourselves, were suffering very badly through that. Because the bother then, you get a place that's held up as being the correct place, or the centre of //knowledge,//
F606 //Mm.//
F1067 then anyone's who- whose dialect doesn't fit in with that is, they're obviously wrong, which is a real problem, //and not something we want to encourage.//
F606 //Yeah.//
F1067 So it was actually the then education minister pushed for something to be done on Islay, and it came around at a good time. This building was lying empty, it had started its life as the fever hospital, er, just over a hundred years ago, and then gradually as the need for that had died, a new hospital had been built, it became part of the Council property, it's, was used for various things, degenerating finally into being kept for storing sand and road materials, //and then//
F606 //Mm.//
F1067 nothing at all. So it was costing the Council money to keep it wind and watertight, it would have cost them money to demolish it,
F606 Mm.
F1067 they were makin a Centre for Gaelic; it made sense to put the two things together, //so,//
F606 //Yeah.//
F1067 this place ended up - I'm not a hundred percent sure, I think it was sold for something like ten pounds or it was //some//
F606 //Mm.//
F1067 nominal, just to shift it from the Council books to the steering group here.
F606 Mmhm.
F1067 And it's been refurbished as you can see, into the Centre as it stands, and we're hoping that we'll build up and I, we're not in any sort of competition with Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, we look on ourselves as being a complementary
F606 Yeah.
F1067 institution. And something that we have in the South which they didn't have in the North were links with Ireland. //So,//
F606 //Mmhm.//
F1067 ehm, we're trying to encourage those again.
F606 Yeah. So what kind of activities do you have then?
F1067 In, is, it is a learning centre of the Highlands and Islands, so that's a step beneath a college, and we offer full-time courses for the Bachelor of Arts in Gaelic Studies.
F606 Mmhm.
F1067 It's very difficult for us to attract students outwith the island, because we don't have dedicated accommodation, //and most of//
F606 //Yeah.//
F1067 the accommodation here is, that's going spare is holiday accommodation. And thanks to, in my opinion, a very ill-judged policy of selling off council houses, there's very little mobility. //And with the//
F606 //[tut] Yeah.//
F1067 influx from the South, house prices have risen to a totally unrealistic level, that young people can't afford to buy here any more.
F606 Here too?
F1067 Oh it's very bad here, very bad. Ehm, an ex-council house was sold in Port Ellen, two-bedroomed, ex-council house, not particularly attractive area, //ehm, last year, for ninety-three thousand,//
F606 //[throat] tut// Dear! //[laugh], yeah, uh-huh.//
F1067 //I mean that's just out-, and that's a// council house, which should never have been sold in the first place.
F606 Mmhm.
F1067 Cause at least that was something that young people could have got in the past, but nowadays you'll find a lot of ex-council houses, well maybe not a lot but several, are being used as holiday houses. //They were bought over//
F606 //Yeah.//
F1067 when the member of the family died or went into care and
F606 Uh-huh, //so they're not really,//
F1067 //refurbished and let out as holiday accommodation.//
F606 mmhm.
F1067 And I've stayed in two er ex-council houses since I've been here which have been let as co-, er holiday accommodation.
F606 Yeah. //[cough]//
F1067 //Ehm, so as I say it's difficult for us to attract students from outside the island.// This is a wee island. The initial need for this course was to some extent addressed with er with students who have gone through the entire system and have now graduated, one of whom is employed here in the Centre,
F606 Mm.
F1067 another has just qualified as a school teacher and will be starting in the local Gaelic-medium unit in August. Ehm, we offer the Cùrsa Comais which is the first year of the BA course, as a Higher National Certificate, and that can be done either full-time over one year or part-time over two. I-, more specialist modules are done by video-conferencing from Skye.
F606 Mm.
F1067 But in addition to that, obviously we're not solely concentrating on that, we do community classes, evening classes. We do a support class for people studying the Cùrsa Inntrigidh, the distance learning course from Skye. [tut] We do children's classes, //ehm,//
F606 //Mmhm.//
F1067 we've a young girl who takes, it's called "Gaelic is...", er g- "Gaelic for Fun", rather, to Primaries' children; they come in on a Thursday evening. [tut] Ehm, I've just advertised a a a class, we'll see what the uptake is, Gaelic for tourists. And this'll be [?]the way of[/?] being just a one-hour, fun session, //if tourists want//
F606 //[?]Oh right[/?].//
F1067 come in, have a cup of tea, and do a wee bit of Gaelic, just so that they've got some idea of the the language of the area, and maybe how to pronounce some of the placenames.
F606 Mmhm.
F1067 It's not intended as serious academic study, it's just to raise interest. //Ehm,//
F606 //Yeah.//
F1067 we've got fiddle classes going, chanter classes, eh the pipe band meets in here for practice, though that's actually not under our auspices, it's just a convenient place to meet. And anything that we can do to encourage Gaelic, Gaelic arts or culture or history of Islay or Scotland in its widest sense, we try to do, so we're trying to expand what we offer by way of courses //all the time.//
F606 //Mmhm.//
F1067 And the conference here for the Languages of Scotland and Ulster we're delighted to be hosting, th- //it's our first//
F606 //Yeah.//
F1067 serious academic conference. //We hope//
F606 //Mm.//
F1067 er that we can have more of the same type of thing, but obviously this is a wee institution; it's not a main conference venue.
F606 No, but it's a nice place for a conference, mm. //[throat] [laugh]//
F1067 //Well, I'm biased, I think so.// And there are advantages to meeting in a wee place,
F606 Mm.
F1067 as opposed to a bigger institution, just as there are disadvantages; it's a question of what people want. But we feel this is very useful; we've got Radio nan Gaidheal here for a week. So again it's putting Islay on the the map, //of the Gaelic world, er apart from the academic one.//
F606 //Yeah, mmhm.//
F1067 And I've taken the opportunity to speak to a couple of the, my dear colleagues in Radio nan Gaidheal to point out that I think more could be done by the broadcasting services with regards to the southern islands. //We do tend to get overlooked.//
F606 //Mmhm.//
F1067 But the very nature of the thing is the majority is in the far north. //Then obviously the far south is just going to come off worse to some e-. I'm sure you understand that being from the northern islands. [laugh]//
F606 //[laugh]// [laugh]
F1067 Frequently in a wee box on the map, isn't it? //You don't even get the dignity of being in your proper geographical position.//
F606 //Yeah.// But I was quite surprised when I read in the brochure how many people still spoke Gaelic in Islay, //you know?//
F1067 //Yes.//
F606 Cause I hadn't really thought of it as being
F1067 Oh i-
F606 prevalent in this a-, well not prevalent, but //alive. [laugh]//
F1067 //Still available, yes yes, and// again I feel like the broadcasting service has done us a disservice in in that, because Islay gets virtually no exposure, so why would anybody know? //And you would assume that there's a reason why nobody ever comes here.//
F606 //Mmhm.//
F1067 And you would assume that that reason is there's no point in coming because there's nobody to come to. //Ehm.//
F606 //Yes, and that's not true.// But you say it's very dialectal here?
F1067 Well, I think any wee area has got its own dialect, //and//
F606 //Mm.//
F1067 there was no connection between the islands when I was a child, er no political connection in any way. The Argyllshire islands came under the auspices of Argyll County Council, run from Lochgilphead on the //mainland,//
F606 //Mmhm.//
F1067 ehm Skye and Uist came under, am I correct, Inverness? //And Lewis and Harris came under Ross and Cromarty.//
F606 //Mm.//
F1067 I could have, //that's just speaking from memory.//
F606 //Yeah.//
F1067 So they didn't communicate with one another.
F606 Mmhm.
F1067 We didn't communicate with them. There's no direct transport links between the islands; they're not connected up in any sort of a a meaningful way. During the summer there is a boat which goes from Islay to Colonsay to Oban once a week.
F606 Mmhm.
F1067 But that's it.
F606 So if you want to go to the Western Isles, the Northern //Western Isles,//
F1067 //You have to go to the mainland up.// //If you have to go to one, another of the Argyllshire islands,//
F606 //yeah.//
F1067 you have to go to the mainland and come back out. //The only island//
F606 //Yeah.//
F1067 you can get to regularly from Islay is Jura. //And Jura//
F606 //Mmhm.//
F1067 people can't get to the mainland. Jura people have to come to Islay and then go to the mainland. //There's no regular direct,//
F606 //[tut] Oh, yeah.// //And there's//
F1067 //So,// naturally, and with very little on the television, when I was a child there was one programme a week as far as I remember anyway; there may have been more,
F606 Mmhm.
F1067 called "Se ur Beatha", which showcased Gaelic singing //and traditional music,//
F606 //Mm.// Mm.
F1067 which as a child growing up was probably the most boring thing they //could have put on//
F606 //Yes. [laugh]//
F1067 the TV, I mean seeing the MacDonald sisters in maxi-kilts,
F606 Yeah, that's right.
F1067 giving it "Far am bi mi-fhin" //is//
F606 //[cough]//
F1067 not really, interesting to an older generation, but it obviously wasn't to me, so you didn't have any, you never heard people from the other islands //speaking.//
F606 //No, hm.//
F1067 You never came across them and obviously without anything on the television to break down the local accent, //you end up//
F606 //Yes, it's quite// //Mm.//
F1067 //gradually moving apart.// //Ehm.//
F606 //Mmhm.//
F1067 And also, as I've discovered as I've started studying Gaelic, we have kept things, certain words in Islay which have died out in the remainder of Scotland. Whether it's because we have closer links with Ireland, I don't know, //but you'll find certain words//
F606 //Mmhm.//
F1067 or the word of choice on Islay, and it'll be the word of choice in the north of Ireland but not the word of choice elsewhere. //And I was thinking//
F606 //Mmhm.//
F1067 an example that comes to my mind, ehm damhan-allaidh is the word for a spider. //It's also the word for a spider in Irish.//
F606 //Ah.// //Yeah.//
F1067 //Slightly different stress.// And then there is the word breabadair for a spider or a weaver.
F606 Mmhm.
F1067 It's only used for a weaver or a knitter further north, but that is the word on Islay, the normal word, for a spider. //The other word is understood.//
F606 //Yeah.// //Yeah.//
F1067 //The word of choice is breabadair.//
F606 Uh-huh.
F1067 And that is the word of choice in parts of the north of Ireland as well, //though they would also have damhan-allaidh.//
F606 //Mmhm.//
F1067 And the pronunciation which we have for the "EU" sound here is the original old sound, //whereas in the north//
F606 //Mmhm.//
F1067 it's become an "IA" sound, so instead of being an "a" sound, it's an "ia" sound.
F606 Mmhm.
F1067 So you get, if you're not accustomed to that, you think it's a different word //people are saying.//
F606 //Yeah, uh-huh.//
F1067 You know, the first time I heard somebody say something about seeing an "eun" out the window, but I thought they were talkin about a man, whose name happened to be //Ian.//
F606 //Ian, [laugh].//
F1067 And then it dawned on me they meant "eun", a bird. //[laugh]//
F606 //Ah, right.//
F1067 [?]Do you think[/?] you'll get these wee confusions.
F606 Mmhm.
F1067 But it's no-, it's the same language, it's just simply a local accent or local dialect, //certain dialect words.//
F606 //Mmhm.// Well you were closer to Ireland originally, presumably, //the the settlers//
F1067 //Yes.//
F606 came over, or
F1067 And the connection ca-, after the political link, er collapsed after the fall of the Lordship of the Isles,
F606 Mm.
F1067 when the MacDonalds of Islay had ruled the north of Ire-, a big part of the north of Ireland, the glens of Antrim and round that area, and there was regular travel and intermarriage between the islands. After that collapsed, the link still remained //to a large extent.//
F606 //Mmhm.//
F1067 And the attempts to recreate the Lordship had support from the north of Ireland, ehm, [tut] I think it's mainly the Reformation //has dealt the biggest body blow//
F606 //Yeah.//
F1067 to the links, the minute that religion comes into the equation
F606 Mmhm.
F1067 it causes problems where they haven't existed previously. And of course there isn't the the transport link the way there is between this island and the mainland of Scotland.
F606 Mmhm.
F1067 But there is a regular fishing trade, in my own lifetime. But of course now that the fish have //gone, to a large extent, that link has gone.//
F606 //Gone! [laugh]// Yeah.
F1067 It's a a problem. But people from Islay would regularly attend Ballycastle Fair for example.
F606 Mmhm.
F1067 And the method of peat-cutting here is the same as the method of peat-cutting in the north of Ireland, //not the method of//
F606 //Is it?//
F1067 peat-cutting in the outer island. It's a different implement. //We would use a different style of doing it.//
F606 //Mmhm.//
F1067 And there are links like that th- there is no meaningful history of waulking songs here the way there is on a place like Barra, I mean Barra's a huge wealth of waulking songs, where the women would shrink the cloth, //and sing to keep//
F606 //Mm.//
F1067 time. But that was really their only way of getting cloth in the outer islands. We could trade with Ireland.
F606 Yeah. //[inaudible].//
F1067 //So it wasn't// the same, quite the same here. So there ha-, the historical differences and there were the the links that kept up, right into my own lifetime; I mean I remember Irish ceilidh bands coming over to play here,
F606 Mmhm.
F1067 for some of the dances when I was a student.
F606 Yeah.
F1067 But with the Troubles, //that's caused//
F606 //Yes, there's not so much of that.//
F1067 problems, but as they are, temporarily anyway, in not quite as bad as they were, //eh,//
F606 //No, it could go back, yeah.//
F1067 and for, I would say, academically, er there seems to be more of a resurgence in the north of Ireland of Irish as well. //So more interest in the north of Ireland.//
F606 //Mmhm.// //[throat] [cough]//
F1067 //At least that's what it seems to me, ehm in the north of Ireland to try to recreate links with Scotland.// //Cause they're now looking//
F606 //Mm.//
F1067 themselves at their own language er for a a while the Irish language was virtually unobtainable in the north of Ireland in the school, with the state school system, it was taught in the Catholic schools, but
F606 Yeah. //Yeah.//
F1067 //if it was taught in a non-denominational school, I don't know of one, I m-,// may have been, it certainly wasn't common.
F606 No, mm.
F1067 So, I think it's only now in the last few years that it's become not just acceptable, th- there seems to be a move afoot to really encourage it, and speaking to somebody in BBC Northern Ireland just a couple of days ago, he was saying that the the Irish department there is is growing quite fast, //and//
F606 //Mmhm.//
F1067 they're doing quite a lot, whereas I don't thi-, maybe there was somebody working on Irish on BBC Northern Ireland years ago, but //I've certainly never heard of such a thing.//
F606 //[laugh]// No, mm, well that sounds quite cheerful. //[laugh]//
F1067 //Well I hope it is.//
F606 Good.
F1067 But then we have to hope. //[laugh]//
F606 //Yeah, you can h-, you// //[laugh]//
F1067 //Our history has not been one of glorious triumphs, has it?//
F606 Well that's great, thank you very much.

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Information about Document 1470

Interview 18: Columba Centre, Islay


Audio audience

Adults (18+)
For gender Females
Audience size 1

Audio awareness & spontaneity

Speaker awareness Aware
Degree of spontaneity Spontaneous

Audio footage information

Year of recording 2006
Recording person id 606
Size (min) 14
Size (mb) 69

Audio setting

Recording venue College Library
Geographic location of speech Bowmore, Islay

Audio relationship between recorder/interviewer and speakers

Professional relationship
Speakers knew each other Yes

Audio speaker relationships

Professional relationship

Audio transcription information

Transcriber id 718
Year of transcription 2006
Year material recorded 2006
Word count 2794

Audio type

General description Interview about the Columba Centre on Islay with one of its staff, recorded during an academic conference held at the Centre.


Participant details

Participant id 606
Gender Female
Decade of birth 1940
Educational attainment University
Age left school 18
Upbringing/religious beliefs Protestantism
Occupation Academic
Place of birth Edinburgh
Region of birth Midlothian
Birthplace CSD dialect area midLoth
Country of birth Scotland
Place of residence Glasgow
Region of residence Glasgow
Residence CSD dialect area Gsw
Country of residence Scotland
Father's place of birth Leith
Father's region of birth Midlothian
Father's birthplace CSD dialect area midLoth
Father's country of birth Scotland
Mother's place of birth Edinburgh
Mother's region of birth Midlothian
Mother's birthplace CSD dialect area midLoth
Mother's country of birth Scotland


Language Speak Read Write Understand Circumstances
English Yes Yes Yes Yes All
Scots No Yes No Yes Work


Participant details

Participant id 1067
Gender Female
Decade of birth 1950
Educational attainment University
Age left school 15
Upbringing/religious beliefs Protestantism
Occupation Lecturer
Place of birth Glasgow
Region of birth Glasgow
Birthplace CSD dialect area Gsw
Country of birth Scotland
Place of residence Islay
Region of residence Argyll
Residence CSD dialect area Arg
Country of residence Scotland
Father's occupation Teacher
Father's place of birth Islay
Father's region of birth Argyll
Father's birthplace CSD dialect area Arg
Father's country of birth Scotland
Mother's occupation Housewife
Mother's place of birth Glasgow
Mother's region of birth Glasgow
Mother's birthplace CSD dialect area Gsw
Mother's country of birth Scotland


Language Speak Read Write Understand Circumstances
English Yes Yes Yes Yes All circumstances
Gaelic; Scottish Gaelic Yes Yes Yes Yes At work, at home, with some friends