By Paul T. Kavanagh
Newsnet Scotland has a commitment to Scottish language and culture. But we have limited time and limited resources, so instead we decided to focus our energies on a single project to promote the Gaelic language, one which would speak equally to Gael and non-Gael alike.
For the first time in Scottish history, Newsnet Scotland is proud to make available a detailed map of Scotland, entirely in Gaelic.
All maps are statements of possession and ownership. They are pictures of a country, but they are portraits which show how the map-maker wants to present his or her subject. The choice of language on a map speaks volumes about the perspective of the map-maker. Most maps of Scotland tell Scots that we can only present ourselves to the world in English, and even that it's only through English that we can present ourselves to each other.
This is a map with a different perspective, one which shows that irrespective of whether we become independent or remain under Westminster, Scotland is already a separate country, and it always has been. That's what makes this a map for all Scots, not just Gaelic speakers.
I started to learn Gaelic when I was a child. My family were not Gaelic speakers, but from an early age I was obsessed with the language. What sparked off my interest was the discovery that all the places around me had names that made sense in Gaelic.
As a wean what I wanted more than anything else was a map of Scotland in Gaelic, that would show me what these places really were. But all the maps of Scotland were in English, showing only the graveyard of Gaelic in the form of place names seemingly made up of collections of nonsense syllables. Gaelic was okay as long as it was dead, was the message of these maps.
But Gaelic is not dead, and it is still a national language of all of Scotland, even if most of us no longer speak it. In order to survive and thrive in the 21st century, Gaelic requires all the resources needed by any modern language if it is to merit the title "national". And that includes a map of the country to which the language is proper. This is a modern Gaelic map for a modern living national language.
Recently a couple of local Gaelic maps have been published which cover certain Highland districts, but apart from these, and a couple of self-consciously artistic maps and a small atlas for school-children which do not show a lot of detail, there are no maps of Scotland in Gaelic. I'm not knocking these maps, they were designed for particular purposes, and they fulfil those purposes very well and very attractively. But they're not really the maps of a modern national language.
The small child who still lives within me wanted a "proper map" of all of Scotland that shows railways and roads and bridges and boundaries. In particular I wanted a map that showed the places where most of us live - the cities and towns of the Lowlands. And last, but by no means least, I wanted a map of Scotland that shows that our country is beautiful, so the map itself must be pleasing to the eye.
As my mammy always keeps saying, if you want something done, you need to do it yourself. So I did it myself. Almost 2 years in the making, the map involved extensive research of Scottish place names. But first of all the map itself had to be drawn, compiling and rescaling information taken from various open-source maps. For regular readers of Newsnet who've been wondering where the Dug has got to of late, now you have your answer. I hope it was an answer worth waiting for.
The map is printed and published in Scotland. It contains around 3000 place names and measures 1189 x 841 mm, or 46.8 inches x 33.1 inches in old money. It shows all of Scotland at a scale of 1:660,000 or 1 cm to 6.6 km, approximately 1 inch to 10.5 miles. The map contains five insert maps showing Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen, and the Falkirk-Stirling area at a larger scale of 1:140,000 or 1 cm to 1.4 km, (1 inch to 2.2 miles) giving district names within the urban areas, as well as an insert map depicting local authority boundaries. The map is as up-to-date as possible, and depicts new features like the second Forth Crossing, the routes of the planned Borders railway and Aberdeen by-pass, and of course Edinburgh's infamous tram.
Orkney and Shetland are where they are supposed to be and are shown at the same scale as the rest of the country, not stuck in a wee box off in the corner (which always annoys me). In recognition of the Northern Isles' distinctive heritage, all the names in Orkney and Shetland are shown bilingually in Gaelic and Old Norse. The Gaelic names in the islands are not traditional, but were derived from the Norse names using the same principles that underlie the Gaelic forms of the many Norse names in Gaelic speaking parts of the country.
Gaelic names in Orkney and Shetland, or in other parts of Scotland where Gaelic was never spoken, are not an attempt to "impose" Gaelic on the people of those areas. It's simply a recognition of the fact that as parts of Scotland, these places are important enough for Gaelic speakers to want to discuss them or mention them. And for that Gaelic names are required. If you don't like them, don't use them. Problem solved.
Some will disagree with my choice of form for some names, and there are bound to be errors in any work of this nature, so the names on this map must not be taken as definitive. However all efforts were made to be as accurate as possible.
Place names were taken from the database of Ainmean Àite na h-Alba where available, and I followed the conventions this organisation has established for determining the Gaelic form of names. Where a place name was not in the AÀA database, hours were spent trawling through place names books and checking old maps for older spellings in order to determine the modern Gaelic form. I'd like to offer my sincere thanks to Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh for his assistance.
Sadly, I failed miserably with the one place that's most important to any Scottish person, the place that you come from. Barrachnie in the East End of Glasgow is undoubtedly a Celtic name, but it's not attested until 1580, by which time Gaelic had long been extinct locally. The first part of the name is clearly barr 'hill', but no one knows what the second bit comes from. The name could be either Gaelic or Cumbric. Bleedin' typical, everyone gets to see the Gaelic for where they come from except me.
So I guessed and gave the name as Barr Fhachtna "Fachtna's hill", which suits the phonetics reasonably well (fh is silent in Gaelic). Fachtna is an Old Gaelic personal name and there is absolutely no evidence that anyone of that name once lived in the Barrachnie area, but there are a number of other place names in the district which contain Old Gaelic personal names, so it's not an entirely outlandish suggestion. This is the one instance where I deliberately ignored the official recommendations for determining a modern Gaelic place name. You can give me this one.
The map also shows a number of Gaelic place names in the North of England. Some of these are traditional like Pioraid for Penrith or Dùn Guaire for Bamburgh (although they may have fallen out of use), others are genuinely Celtic and have been Gaelicised in the same way as Pictish or Brittonic place names in Scotland. Others however are modern translations. English speakers have been mucking about with Scotland's Celtic place names for centuries, it's only fair to put the boot on the other foot.
But this map is only the beginning. Soon Newsnet will also be publishing a series of Gaelic regional maps which show Scotland in far greater detail. These maps are at a scale of 1:100,000 or 1 cm to 1 km. So far regional maps in Gaelic for Obar Dheathain (Aberdeen), Dùn Dè agus Aonghas (Dundee & Angus), Alba Mheadhanach (Central Scotland), Glaschu agus Linne Chluaidh (Glasgow & the Firth of Clyde), Ceann Tìre Arrain agus Bòd (Kintyre Arran & Bute), and Ìle agus Diùra (Islay & Jura) have been completed and will be available on sale within the next couple of months. Maps of Ayrshire and Fife are currently in production.
Originally I wanted to do two versions of the same map, one in Gaelic and the other in Lowland Scots. Unfortunately this is proving more difficult than anticipated. Unlike Gaelic, Scots has no agreed spelling, and there is no agreement on the best form of a name where variants exist. But worst of all, for most of the names of smaller places no one has ever bothered to write down the modern Scots name, so without local knowledge the information is just not available. Hopefully this situation will be remedied in the future.
The Gaelic map of all of Scotland will be available for purchase via Newsnet's online shop within a short time, price £30 (and would make a perfect Christmas present!) Funds from the sale of the maps will directly benefit the site. We hope that the map will also soon be available for sale through other outlets. However if you're going to the independence rally you will be able to see a preview of the map, and will be able to place an advance order.
The maps are now available for purchase at our online store - CLICK HERE - the price of £30 reflects the quality and attention to detail that has gone into creating what we believe to be a cultural work of art - those attending this Saturday's rally will find a map framed and on display, speak to the attendants at the stall for information on how to ensure you can guarantee your own copy and for information on our regional maps - coming soon.