If you want to understand how one of Europe’s oldest languages found its way into the Highlands of Scotland you need to look west and across the sea to Ireland. Exactly how long Gaelic has been spoken in Scotland is hard to pin down but what is known is that it arrived on Scottish shores with settlers from County Antrim looking to expand Dalriada.
The first stopping-off point for these Irish migrants was sixth century Argyll, but they had not arrived in an empty or undefended country. Parts of Scotland at that time were inhabited by the Picts, a mysterious fighting people whose strongholds tended to be in the north and east of Scotland. Nevertheless, slowly but surely as the kingdom of Dalriada began to expand further into Scotland so too did the Gaelic language. By the ninth century the rule and reign of the Picts was declining and the new Kingdom of Alba was being promoted. However, the journey of this language across Scotland began to falter and soon encountered a series of challenges which would, eventually, erode much of its position and influence.
Gaelic, once the main language in Glen Nevis, almost became a language on the edge but it has been brought back from the brink in a fashion that proves how often the most fragile things can also be the most resilient. Recent years have seen a determined push to ensure the Gaelic language does not vanish. Gaelic was given new status as an official language in Scotland, commanding equal respect with English, with the introduction of the Gaelic Language Bill in April 2005. The bill also established Bòrd na Gàidhlig which today has a key role to promote Gaelic in Scotland, advising Scottish ministers on Gaelic issues, driving forward Gaelic planning and preparing guidance on Gaelic education.
Today, there is a fresh wave of Gaelic music and song which is helping to pull this language back from the margins and keeping it alive. The Lochaber area has a rich vein of musical talent with many local musicians reaching the world stage. The future of musical talent in the region is also being encouraged with the help of Fèis Lochabair, which holds year round musical activities and events for children.