‘Àrainneachd, Cànan is Dualchas 2016’ – Gaelic in the Environment course in Staffin

A summary from UTS director and CnaG’s Sine Gillespie on the successful outdoor Gaelic course in Staffin which goes from strength to strength…

In the summer of 2016, Urras an Taobh Sear (Staffin Community Trust) was once again delighted to host Roddy Maclean’s 10-day course, ‘Àrainneachd, Cànan is Dualchas’. Delivered in Staffin through its native language, Roddy’s course explores the Gaelic view of the Scottish environment.

In week one at the end of July, we studied ‘Croit, Coille, Monadh is Boglach’. Many readers will understand that these words describe four of our Scottish habitats – Croft, Wood, Hill and Bog. During week two in August we explored ‘Cladach, Croit agus Coille’ – Shore, Croft and Wood. Machair is the only one of Scotland’s habitats that Staffin doesn’t have on its doorstep and coral – available in west Skye – is the next best thing. We had considerable fun trying to hold our footing in the slippery seaweed at Rubh na Garbhaig and at the Coral beaches. Once gathered and married with butter and a frying pan, we shared many tasty bites from this great forager’s food, begging the question as to why we shore dwellers rely so on forced and tired vegetables from weary supermarkets? Unlike mushrooms, we don’t need to be knowledgeable since there are no poisonous seaweeds.

UTS has hosted this brilliant course for four years now. It gives a foundation to – for example – Gaelic teachers as to how they will interpret our Scottish landscapes to students. It focuses not only on terms for plants and trees but also place-names and the Scottish topography. For the singer, it brings Gaelic songs to life. It boosts the confidence of the Scottish countryside ranger. It helps Gaelic students come to grips with the worlds of vocabulary encountered in such classics as Donnchadh Bàn’s poem, ‘‘Coire a’ Cheathaich”.

Each week, the course is a unique experience, according to its audience. Every participant contributes his and her own wealth of knowledge, being encouraged to share heritage from their own area and insights gathered through life and work. The approach is equally true whether people are rich in years, young in spirit or fresh in years.

ACD benefits from Roddy’s lifetime of knowledge, which has been diligently constructed layer upon layer over the years. By setting his educational course in Staffin with its abundant heritage folded into each nook and cranny, the richness of ‘Àrainneachd, Cànan is Dualchas’ is taken to another level. Meaningful encounters are gained from getting alongside Dugald Ross of Staffin Museum, and being able to speak Gaelic around the clock by staying with families in our community.

The course is an excellent tool for countryside rangers, teachers, crofters, artists, singers, Gaelic officers, students, ecologists and people engaged in the visitor industry. This year, 10 people participated in Roddy’s course. They travelled from Lewis, Inverness, Edinburgh, Baile Chaolais, Mull, Pitlochry, Kingussie and Garafad! In 2016, once again we were fabulously catered for by Jackie Gillies and her team at Columba 1400 who couldn’t do enough for us. Clachan is not only close in proximity to Columba 1400 but it also has several excellent B&Bs. Our students were very well looked after by Ann and Donald John MacLeod, Kenna MacDonald and Roddy and Marion MacLeod.

The community of people which has grown up around ‘Àrainneachd, Cànan is Dualchas’ continues to expand. Collectively we are discovering an enhanced level of existence in Scotland through looking at its wonderful habitats with fresh eyes and dignifying its environments by naming its creatures and features. Education as empowering as this is something which Staffin Community Trust is very keen to support and develop. We are indebted to Bòrd na Gàidhlig and to Comunn na Gàidhlig for financial assistance. Taing chridheil dhuibh.