A visitor to a Skye church in 2006 heard Gaelic psalm singing for the first time. "It reminded me of Elijah going up to heaven in his chariot", she said.
Languages are about words, but 'words' are not the only element in a language. What joins words together? Where do words come from, and how well chosen are they? The 'oyster catcher' is a seabird who rarely eats an oyster, whereas "Saint Brigit's servant" (gille Brìghde) wears his calling (the shape of a cross) on his wingspan. And the Gaelic for 'meadowsweet' is 'Crios Chuchulainn' – the belt of Cuchulain. Why? Because the attempted cure for a very bad temper – to be bathed in the scent of the flower by a flurry of maidens – worked wonders, so the Fingalian warrior has worn the flower on his belt ever since.
There is almost no question more important to the Gael than the one of belonging. "Cò leis a tha thu?" means Who do you belong to? It's a warm presumption, the Gaelic one, that we all belong. Who is Donald Macdonald? A guy who comes to life on paper forms - and on his gravestone. In real life, he's much more likely to be Dòmhnall Mhurchaidh Dhòmhnaill Ruaidh – Donald, son of Murdo, son of red-haired Donald. It's a detail of no importance that a century has passed since 'Donald' sported a head of red hair. Or, that half a century has lapsed since he gasped his last. He and his red hair are moulded into our daily lives by means of our tongue.
It is true that you don’t need Gaelic for a holiday or even a lifetime in Skye. But without Gaelic, what does ‘Drynoch’ mean? Or ‘Kilmaluag’? Opening up your world to embrace Gaelic will lead to a lifetime of fascinating discoveries. What is the Gaelic for ‘millennium’ – for instance? Answer? "As long as there has been a Nicolson in Rudha Hunish, or a Macaskill in Rudh’ an Dùnain"! And isn’t it symbolic that in south Skye, Scotland’s Gaelic college – Sabhal Mòr Ostaig - is reclaiming our Gaelic heritage on a piece of land known as An Teanga - ‘the tongue’?
Gaelic has its origins in the Indo-European language group. For the sake of simplicity, Gaelic belongs to the Goidelic branch of Celtic languages. She has two sisters – Irish and Manx (from the Isle of Man). Their first cousins - Cornish, Welsh Breton, Cumbric and Pictish – emanate from the Brythonic branch.