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Book & Print in New Zealand : A Guide to Print Culture in Aotearoa

Gaelic (Scots)

Gaelic (Scots)

From about 1840 when organised European settlement of New Zealand began, the westernmost Celtic fringe peoples of the British Isles, that is, those of Ireland, the Scottish Highlands, Cornwall, Wales and the Isle of Man, contributed in varying proportions to the immigrant population of New Zealand. To date, quantitative analysis of these British immigrants is confined to three national groups: the Irish, according to county of origin; the Scots, also according to county of origin, but with no clear distinction made between the two cultural regions: the Lowlands, characterised linguistically by various dialects of English, and the Highlands where the Scots Gaelic language predominated; the Cornish, Welsh and Manx, although similarly identified by county of origin, lumped with the English simply as 'English and Welsh'.

While the Irish were most numerous of the Celtic immigrant peoples, little seems to be known of the prevalence of the Irish Gaelic language, or of any printed texts they may have brought with them. The Scottish Highlanders, who spoke another distinctive form of Gaelic, emigrated to New Zealand in significantly fewer numbers than the Irish and constituted only about one-fifth of the total Scots immigrant population. One of the particular difficulties in considering the print culture of the Celtic peoples in New Zealand is their heavy reliance on traditional processes of oral transmission, especially in relation to the Gaelic cultures of both Ireland and the Scottish Highlands. Nevertheless, a surprising variety of printed matter in Scots Gaelic is extant in parts of New Zealand.

The oldest appears to be of a religious nature in the form of Bibles (both Old and New Testaments combined), New Testaments, Psalms and Paraphrases, hymnbooks, catechisms, variously published by the Edinburgh Bible Society, the National Bible Society of Scotland and the British and Foreign Bible Society. Almost without exception these texts were published in the 19th century and appear to have been brought with Gaelic-speaking immigrants between the mid 19th century and early 20th century. Both the Otago Settlers Museum, Dunedin, and the House of Memories, Waipu, Northland, hold examples.

The intentional translation from English into Gaelic of such texts reflects the Church of Scotland missionary activities among the Gaelic speakers. Possession of a Gaelic Bible (biobull) served as a talisman and, together with two other elements of domestic Highland culture—bagpipes (piob mhor) and locally-distilled whisky (uisge beatha)—not infrequently adorned the kitchen table simultaneously. In a culture dominated by oral traditions a Bible may have been the only printed domestic Gaelic text.

Other religious texts include those probably held and used by ministers and officers of the church: McLauchlan (1873), commonly called John Knox's Liturgy, which was translated directly into Gaelic from the 1567 Latin text, and MacDhomnuill's (1804) Confession of Faith seem central to the propagation of Presbyterianism in New Zealand. Less doctrinal titles include the writings of Boston (1887), Dyer (1884) and Guthrie (1845), held in the residual collection of the Dunedin-based Gaelic Society of New Zealand.

In their religious worship Dunedin's Gaelic speakers, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, were able to link religious instruction with the maintenance of their language, at least with MacLeoid's Friend of the Gael (1867) and Book of the Hills, Old and New (1898).

Other than the Gaelic Society's monthly meetings, opportunities to sustain the language were limited. Oral Scots Gaelic, along with many other minority immigrant languages confronted by an anglophone cultural hegemony, declined within a generation. Gaelic societies attempted to retain the language, particularly in song. At the 1899 Annual Gathering of the Gaelic Society of New Zealand, chief John MacKenzie reported a renaissance in the language. The Highlanders of Dunedin and their colonial-born children had no excuse to neglect their language, its literature and music when such resources as the recently imported Gaelic song books A Choisir Chiuil, the Celtic Monthly and Mactalla newspapers, the use of a large Gaelic library, and the privilege of hearing a Gaelic sermon every month, were available.

That library included fiction titles in Gaelic published in Scotland: Mac-Dhomnhuill (n.d.); MacCormaig (1908); Le K.W.G. (1911); Mhic Pharlain (1912), and collections of Gaelic poems and songs from the Highlands: Blair (1882), Morrison (1889), Maceacharn (1904, 1910), MacFadyen (1890), MacPhaidein (1890, 1921), together with MacLeoid (1916), MacDhomhnuill (1920) and MhicDhughaill (1936) representing the outer Hebridean Isle of Lewis. All are Scottish publications whereas MacGregor (1897), honorary Bard to the Clan MacGregor, was published in London. Robertson (1927) is the only New Zealand publication. Although principally in English, it does, however, include six Gaelic poems written by Robertson, sometime bard to the Gaelic Society. McLauchlan's (1902) collection of Ossian's poems was previously privately owned in South Canterbury.

The Society's choir still performs from the A Choisir Chiuil song books. However, some Gaelic-language text remains enshrined in the names of Highland bagpipe tunes, especially those of the earliest genre, ceol mor, now generally referred to as piobaireachd or, in its anglicised form, pibroch. While these tunes continue to be published according to both their Gaelic and English titles, few pipers have sufficient knowledge of the language to refer to the tunes in Gaelic.

In an effort to sustain the Gaelic language, publications in the form of grammars emerged, mostly post-World War II, and largely in Scotland, where Macleod (1979) reflects the use of television to regenerate the language. Parsons (1989) was published in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. The Gaelic Society's library holds only the pre-World War II publications: MacLaren (n.d.); Reid (1902); Calder (1923); and Mackechnie (1934); some ten titles published post-World War II are held privately.

Dictionaries found are likewise 20th-century publications: Dwelly (1902); McAlpine (1903); MacLennan (1925); Renton and MacDonald (1979); Thomson (1981); Clyne (1985, 1991); McKay (1990)—all held privately. It appears that while Bibles and other religious materials were consigned to library and archival repositories, publications which promoted use of the language were retained privately.

Subscription to newspapers permitted, and still permits, contacts with 'home'. Both the Stornoway Gazette (published on the Hebridean Isle of Lewis), and the Oban Times (published in Oban, Argyllshire) contained Gaelic-language portions and were posted from their respective places of publication to subscribers in Dunedin. A second-generation family member now living in Christchurch maintains his subscription to the Oban Times.

This manner of contact was augmented by a variety of periodicals, initially those published in Scotland. The monthly magazine of An Commun Gaidhealach (The Gaelic Society of Scotland), variously entitled An Deo-Greine (The Sun God), Gailig' (Gaelic) and An Gaidheal, was a bilingual, English-Gaelic publication. Irregular issues between vols.9 (1914) and 26 (1931) are held in the Gaelic Society's collection; the Society also subscribed to the Scottish Highlander. There is evidence of private subscription by the Society's members to these titles and to the Celtic Monthly, but no copies remain.

Historic migratory and familial connections between Nova Scotia and Waipu, in Northland, New Zealand, are witnessed by copies of Mac-Talla, a Gaelic language newspaper published in Sydney, Nova Scotia, for several years. The House of Memories, Waipu, holds issues from vols.5 and 6, dated 1897 and 1898; the Gaelic Society also subscribed.

The first New Zealand-published periodical to include Gaelic material, albeit limited to a page or two, began in 1912 as The New Zealand Scot. This was succeeded by The Scottish New Zealander, and ultimately became The New Zealand Scotsman & Caledonian in 1927, which ran until 1933. These titles appear to have had limited circulation among members of such culture-specific interest groups as St Andrews, Gaelic, Celtic and Caledonian societies. Auckland Public Library holds a complete set of issues of The New Zealand Scot and The Scottish New Zealander; the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, holds a complete set of The New Zealand Scotsman & Caledonian and the Hocken Library, Dunedin, a partial set.

The bilingual Gaelic-English An Ghaidheal; Paipeir-Naidheachd agus Leabhar-sgeoil Gaidhealach, published in Glasgow, served a dual function as both newspaper and Gaelic schoolbook. The four volumes (1873-76) which remain in the Gaelic Society library predate the Society's formation in 1882, but would have helped to sustain the language. Similarly, the quarterly issues of Guth na Bliadhna (Wind of the Year) Books 4 (1906-07), 5 (1908) and 7 (1910), storybooks mostly in Gaelic, but with a lesser proportion in English, provided another such resource. This title appears to have been imported and retailed by a Timaru bookseller; the South Canterbury region attracted a demonstrable Highland and therefore Gaelic-speaking presence, notably in the inland Mackenzie country.

Arguably, the most pervasive reminder of the contribution made by Gaelic speakers to the evolving New Zealand colonial landscape is visible in geographical terms, through such Gaelic place names as Balmoral, Benmore, Ben Nevis, Benhar, Craigellachie, Dalmore, Dunedin, Dunoon, Duntroon, Glencoe, Glendhu, Glenfalloch, Glenorchy, Glenquoich, Kinloch, Lochiel and Lochindorb. Names such as these serve as a permanent memorial to the brief currency of an immigrant minority language.