View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Wednesday, 14 July 2010


At the hearings of the Napier Commission in Stornoway, in June 1883, the following discussion developed between the witness, Donald Martin from the village of Back and the Commissioners. It illustrates graphically the attitude towards Gaelic speakers by English speakers - including their own clergymen.

16138. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Are there no Gaelic words for 'compensation' and ' improvements ' ?
—Well, I would endeavour to express it in Gaelic.

16139. Is there not a good Gaelic word for improvement ?

16140. Why did you not put it in Gaelic when you were writing the Gaelic paper? Why did you choose English ?
—Because I was not certain that the Gaelic phraseology would express the same thing.

16141. If you never heard the people speaking, or if you had never spoken yourself about compensation for improvements in Gaelic, what first put it into your head ? Was it English-speaking people ?
—I knew very well what the English phrase meant, but I was not sure that I could express it quite accurately in Gaelic—that my Gaelic expression would be a quite accurate rendering.

16142. I asked that question because Lowlanders and English people will be apt to think that Gaelic people have no idea of improvement, and that they have no word for it. You understand what I mean ?
—I knew myself the meaning of the phraseology quite well.

16143. Is it not a pity that strangers should think that Gaelic people have no idea of improvement and no word for expressing it ? Is it not likely to put it into their head that the ideas of the people were got from outside, and not out of their own heads ?
—Perhaps it is.


[Rev. Mr Cameron, Free Church, Back.
—I wish to explain that the delegate or witness is in the habit of reading the newspapers for himself, and it is there he saw the words 'compensation' and 'improvement.']

Wednesday 14 July

The French are celebrating their national holiday, Bastille Day today. In French, it is "Quatorze Juillet", which is the day in 1789 that the infamous Bastille prison was stormed in Paris, which sparked off the French Revolution.

Here in Stornoway, a warm wind is blowing today as the ferry comes in on the first of its three calls today. It will bring another load of festival goers. This week will see the Hebridean Celtic Festival, with an (eye-watering) 20,000 revellers expected to pack the streets of Stornoway - which is a town of barely 8,000. On the water, this week sees Sail Hebrides, with an action packed programme on water and ashore. I'm attending a concert by folkrock band Runrig, which has been going since the late 1970s. They last played in Stornoway in 2005, a concert that I went to as well.