A safe space for Gaelic

Posted: 30 May 2022, in Blog

At first, people will think that Gaelic is merely a part of Scotland’s heritage, and therefore only relevant to the heritage industry. But this isn’t true. Gaelic is spoken by around 60,000 people in Scotland, and many of them are native speakers. That means that it’s the language they think in, they dream in, they live in. Now, imagine you lived abroad and you didn’t get to speak English very often. But then something exciting happened, and you just really wanted to tell someone in your first language – because that’s our go-to in states of high emotion – we revert to our first language. Now imagine there’s a medical emergency, and you couldn’t get to speak English – now it becomes scary. And now imagine it’s your own country. You live in your own country and you don’t get to speak English in a hospital. So, providing Gaelic services is more than heritage – it’s about the health and wellbeing of 60,000 people.

Research has also shown that linguistic minorities are at the heart of the fight against the global climate crisis. When a dominant language is spoken in a region where it’s not the native language, that’s usually the result of colonialism and exploitation – and people control the territory who are not necessarily invested in it. Local people usually want to make sure their community thrives so that it’ll be there for their children. And since languages evolve in specific places, the language comes to describe the local environment – not just in place names – but in terms and proverbs. So, the language becomes a key to understanding and therefore protecting that wee bit of the planet.

A woman and a man are standing at a stall with the words taigh ceilidh in front (Gaelic for Ceilidh House).
Teàrlach (right) with co-designer of the iconic An Taigh Cèilidh logo, Tina Kom Mckenzie,at Stornoway Harbour Open Day (25/08/2021)

And it’s not just about protecting culture and the environment. Gaelic is commercially viable! Research has shown that people are interested in Scottish culture, and that includes the language. Not only are many Scots likely to be loyal to brands that support Gaelic (even if they don’t speak it), but people coming to Scotland want to see and hear the language, as well as try Gaelic cultural activities – such as cèilidhs – and sample Gaelic food and drink – such as whisky. So, Gaelic is actually economically valuable to Scotland, then – worth up to around £150m every year to the Scottish economy, according to the Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

Gaelic is not just heritage. It’s much more than that. It’s about protecting local rural communities. It’s about the health and wellbeing of individuals. It’s about making our communities a culturally and aesthetically attractive place to live in and visit.

And that’s how I came up with the idea of An Taigh Cèilidh. A Gaelic-only social space and business. A window onto a world where Gaelic is not an endangered minority language. Imagine going into an Italian bookshop and café, where everything is in Italian. You’re greeted in Italian. Staff use Italian in their meetings and training. Well, An Taigh Cèilidh will be a Gaelic bookshop and café in the Gàidhealtachd (Gaelic-speaking region, i.e. Highlands and Hebrides). That’s not to say that people who don’t speak Gaelic won’t be welcomed – just as you wouldn’t be kicked out of an Italian café for not being Italian! But we will have incentives to get people using the language, such as a 10% discount on drinks if you order in Gaelic. We will have daily clubs that normalise Gaelic, such as a knitting club, a parent and child club, a book club, and even a Gaelic-speaking Santa at Christmas! We’re also working with Scrabble® to develop an official version of the world-famous board game. We’ll also have internships to help people develop their business skills in Gaelic, and we’ll have events that showcase Gaelic culture, such as traditional music, storytelling, poetry, and reminiscence events. We’ll therefore be an inclusive bridge connecting communities – people of all levels of Gaelic (or none!), people of all ages, and anyone who’s on the Isle of Lewis, either permanently or temporarily!

(Left) The building as it currently looks. (Right) How the building will look once renovations are complete

An Taigh Cèilidh is there to restore confidence in and normalise Gaelic. But we expect our impact to be far wider reaching. We have the potential to create new social networks, promote Scottish heritage, protect our local environment, make Stornoway a more cultural and attractive destination, and prove the economic value of Gaelic!

Teàrlach Wilson, Founder of An Taigh Cèilidh

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Read more of our member’s stories on our blog. If you are a Social Enterprise Scotland member and would like to share your own story, please email jayne.chappell@socialenterprise.scot.