“Our children are bred for emigration”

NYFGYesterday was the birthday of a great Gael. One of the greatest in fact. Poet, story teller and Gaelic cultural warrior Somhairle MacGill-Eain (Sorely MacLean) was born on Raasay on October 26th in 1911.

Somhairle died in 1996. Had the Gaelic people, culture and kingdom not been overtaken and marginalized (i.e. stolen) by Anglo aggression, ethnic cleansing and forced assimilation, October 26th would likely be a national Gaelic holiday. Somhairle Mac Gill-Eain was a living, breathing 20th century Gaelic hero. He was relevant and influential. But he is largely forgotten by the Gaelic diaspora.

446img01Here is how the Sorley MacLean Trust describes Mac Gill-Eain’s work:

“His poetry is characterised by its innovation and boldness, both in its approach and subject matter. In his seminal work Dàin do Eimhir, his poetry speaks of love, choice, suffering and injustice, and simultaneously considers the seismic political events that were to shake Europe to its foundations in the 1930s and 1940s. Events such as the Spanish Civil War and the rise of Fascism were welded together with his own intense personal feelings to produce poetry that has attracted national and international acclaim.”

Instead of national celebration, Scotland and the Scottish diaspora – including the highlands and islands Gaelic diaspora – allow October 26th to pass by each year in sad, defeated silence. After all, Burns Nights are not that far away. Now there’s something to celebrate, right? Pull on that philabeag (wi’ hope it still fits) and dust off the Prince Charlie and piper’s hose and claim your Scottish highland heritage at your local Burns Supper. Even though Robert Burns was no Gael. Not even close.

Why does the Gaelic diaspora celebrate other people’s heroes at the expense of our own? It is done because that is what we have learned to do from those who have crushed our own Gaelic language and heritage and supplanted it with theirs. It is time for that craziness to stop. Fondly remember Robert Burns if you like. But if you are a Gael, it is time to discover your own heroes. Celebrate them.

You can read Somhairle’s words today and you should. The Sorley MacLean Trust website is a fantastic place to begin (don’t worry, you can read it all in English!). But you can listen to his thoughts as well. Do not allow this day to pass without hearing Somhairle Mac Gill-Eain’s own voice:

Niteworks’ “Somhairle”

This is a fantastic recording backed by a haunting musical soundtrack. Great work. Did you hear what the great man said directly to you? He does not allow the Gaelic diaspora off the hook in terms of the root causes of the forced Gaelic march toward extinction.

“Our culture is vitiated by the sentimentality of those who have gone away,” he says. Mac Gill-Eain’s word “vitiate” means to spoil, destroy and ignore the validity of a thing.

Sorley-Maclean-at-Hallaig-Raasay-c.-1982-photo-Dr-Julian-Thoms-Sorley-Maclean-TrustYep. That’s us celebrating Robert Burns. That’s us teaching our children to dress up in Victorian costumes and dance the Anglo created knock off called “Highland” dancing and telling them it’s Gaelic. That’s us utterly failing to pass-on our Gaelic language and culture to the next generation of Gaelic Americans and instead filling our children’s wee heads with Anglo baloney and celebrating non-Gaels who actively marginalized Gaelic culture. The kids aren’t buying it by the way.

That’s us helping to murder our own culture and heritage, year in and year out. Do you think Gaelic revitalization is something that only people in Scotland need to think about? Do you think we Gaelic Americans have no part in it?

Think again.


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2 thoughts on ““Our children are bred for emigration”

  1. S. Lawson

    Maybe Susan didn’t mean it to come off this way, but it would have been a much better article if she could have managed to praise one Scottish poet without denigrating another.

    Also, lets stop circulating the rumour that the kilt is Victorian. This is at best a half-truth. The Victorians did help with clan classifications, but even that late development began in the Georgian period with Sir Walter Scott. It was Scott who really created the romantic notion of our national dress, and even that was an updating of previous versions of the kilt, which go back at least to the 1500s. The Victorian argument to dismiss the kilt is a disrespect to those who fought, albeit foolishly, in the ’45, causing George III to ban the wearing of same.
    By convincing George IV he was Scottish, Scott’s work planning Georgie’s visit to Auld Reekie gave Scotland a national dress to be proud of, allowing other areas of Scottish culture to flourish in the 19th century, where it had stagnated under a more repressive thumb in the previous century.

  2. Susan McIntosh Post author

    Thank you for your comment S. Lawson. The blog post doesn’t denigrate Robert Burns. Rather, it points out the incongruity of people of Gaelic ancestry celebrating (exclusively) a non Gaelic poet as their own when there are Gaelic heroes who are equally worthy. The possibility of celebrating both is valid and recognized.

    Regarding the remainder of your comment, I urge you to read Dr. Michael Newton’s “Virtual Gael” blog post on cultural appropriation. It addresses much of what you express but from the perspective of the Gael and Gaelic culture and experience. There is no reason for me to restate his points here as they meet your comment head on and are exceedingly well stated. The link to Dr. Newton’s post: https://virtualgael.wordpress.com/2013/08/30/cultural-appropriation-gaels-and-other-natives/


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