2: MacKay Gaelic
by Linden Alexander Pentecost, November 2022. Photos also by Linden Alexander Pentecost
This article includes (in brief): photo of Kyle of Durness in summer, introduction to MacKay and Áed, photo of sandy inlet close to Bettyhill, features of MacKay Gaelic. Updated in September 2023 with the "Example sentences (3 sentences):" section and with some other additional points. This article originally contained 753 words but now contains 966 words.
Photo above: the Kyle of Durness, a sea inlet close to Cape Wrath in the northwesternmost part of the Scottish mainland. Note that this sea inlet is not really an estuary or a sea loch, it is rather an inlet, fjord-like in shape, and with the appearance of an estuary due to the sand exposed at low tide.
This part of northwestern Scotland is historically part of the MacKay clan's territory. And so sometimes the Gaelic from here is referred to as Gàidhlig Dhùthaich MhicAoidh - the Gaelic of the traditional region of the sons of Áed. The name MacAoidh is connected to Old Irish Macc Áed, with Áed being a deity or holy power, connected it seems to the Greek word 'ether'. It may be that Dùthaich MhicAoidh is named so, because Áed or Aodh could perhaps have been an ancestral deity in connection to the people who have inhabited this landscape over the thousands of years. I briefly mention this, albeit with different details, on page 84 in my book Languages and dialects of northwestern Europe, and their heritage.
Photo below: a similar but narrower inlet is located at Bettyhill, shown below. This area is also a part of the MacAoidh clan region.
Features of MacKay Gaelic
.There is often apocope of final vowels, for example standard Gaelic cridhe - heart, MacKay Gaelic crìdh
(1) and chual (1) - 'heard', standard Gaelic chuala. Apocope is common in Northern and Eastern dialects of Scottish Gaelic, although it occurs differently in different places. It seems to be particularly common on the northern coast of mainland Scotland, but does not occur to quite the same extent, or in the exact same way, to how it does in parts of the eastern mainland.
.There are several vowel changes, for example faigh - get, can be spelled as feigh (1) in MacKay Gaelic, thairis is also spelled theiris (1). These kinds of vowel changes are not necessarily unique to MacKay Gaelic, the alterations between 'a' and 'e' here occur across Scotland, but the words which this involves, and the exact sound changes, vary upon the area in question.
.A common vowel change is that [a] can become [o] in some words, indicated in spelling, for example sobhal (1) - barn, standard Scottish Gaelic: sabhal. This is a common occurance in the Gaelic of the north coast of the mainland, and in East Sutherland Gaelic. Similar changes occur in other many dialects but to a lesser degree.
.The opposite can also occur, for example daras - door (1), standard: doras.
.There are several different words in the dialect, for example cionnas - how, standard Gaelic ciamar, cionnas is also found on parts of Lewis for instance. A word for 'boat' is culaidh (1), and rùdhag (1) is a type of crab. I think that to do some further research into these words, would be interesting, especially to look at how the ancient Mesolithic and Neolithic peoples in MacKay county may have referred to their boats and to sea life, things which they would have interacted with. I think it possible that the ancient cultures on the northern coast of Scotland were not the exact same manifestation of culture and language that occurred in western Scotland in the Mesolithic and Neolithic.
.In a more grammatical sense, the way in which things are expressed in MacKay Gaelic can be quite different to how it is done in Hebridean Gaelic. Partially due to word-choice but also due to phonology. For example, MacKay Gaelic: fos cinn - above (1), standard: os cionn.
.The pre-aspiration of stops is not present in these dialects. For example in the words cat - cat, tapadh - thanks, and pàpa - pope, there would be no pre-aspiration before the underlined consonants.
Example sentences (3 sentences):
tha mi 'fuireach as a' Ghàidhealtachd - MacKay Gaelic
tha mi a' fuireach anns a' Ghàidhealtachd - Standard Gaelic
I live in the Highlands - English
tha mi 'dul an-àird' a' bheinn, theiris air a' ghlinn - MacKay Gaelic
tha mi a' dol suas a' bheinn, thairis air a' ghleann - standard Gaelic
I am going up the mountain, beyond the glen - English
ca meud mìlte gu Caolas Thung? - MacKay Gaelic
cia mheud mìlte gu Caolas Thunga? - Standard Gaelic
How many miles to the Kyle of Tongue? (a sea inlet) - English
Note that the forms: ca meud, theiris and Caolas Thung are from (1), other dialectal aspects of the sentences are those I learned from speakers of the MacKay dialect.
References and further information:
.All of the words above listed with (1) were sourced from the book: Gàidhlig Dhùthaich Mhic Aoidh The Gaelic of the MacKay Country dialect and vocabulary, by Seumas Grannd. This is an excellent resource on this dialect.
.My free ebook: Languages and dialects of northwestern Europe, and their heritage, includes some information about MacKay Gaelic, but this is very limited.
.My free ebook: Northern Dialects Of Scottish Gaelic With Sections On Other Celtic Languages And Upon Indigenous American Languages does not have details about MacKay Gaelic; but it does include details of other northern mainland Scottish Gaelic dialects, including the dialect spoken close to Eilean Donan Castle, Torridon Gaelic, Little Loch Broom Gaelic, Assynt Gaelic and East Sutherland Gaelic..The Strathnaver Museum website has a page here with details about MacKay Gaelic, including phrases: https://www.strathnavermuseum.org.uk/the-gaels/