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Alasdair MacMhaigstir Alasdair gives Gaelic tuition to the The Prince and Prestonpans

Musing about Gaelic in Prestonpans

In 1745 there were 2000 + people in Prestonpans speaking Gaelic. On Monday October 28th there were seven.

In what for many if not virtually everyone in The Pans was an unexpected turn of events, a Gaelic Open Forum was convened by the Arts Festival at The Prestoungrange Gothenburg on the 28th. Its overt agenda was and remains to find a 'local' panel of Gaelic speakers who can assist over the coming 18 months with the translation of all the interpretive materials for the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry. Immediately this means translations on the website linked DIRECTLY HERE, but by 2014 it will embrace all the published leaflets and publicity. To support these activities the Arts Festival is delighted that it was successful in getting its first grant of 10,000 from Brd na Gidhlig.

The Forum attracted seven Gaelic speakers including ELC Councillor Peter MacKenzie, a longtime champion and a founding Trustee of the town's 1745 Battle Campaign. And there were a further ten supporters mostly those charged with making sure the Diaspora Tapestry is a great success by 2014.

As ever, Arts Festival is looking for sustainability ... and community engagement .... so ....

It would of course be straightforward enough to get one or more of the already well established [and orthographically correct: SQA 2009 version] national panel of Gaelic translators to undertake the task. But the founding principles of the Arts Festival are community engagement and sustainability so that meant seeking and finding who around The Pans and East Lothian might be able to join the Diaspora team and address the challenge. And if that can be accomplished how might other/ further sustainable interest in all matters Gaelic be stimulated.

Fortunately, to hand already is the ever present memory of the 2000 Gaelic speakers in The Pans in September 1745 who came with The Prince to challenge and defeat Johnnie Cope. This has no less than three spin outs already occuring.

At the Battle Trust's 3rd Biennial National Battlefield Symposium in June this year the Gaelic Editor of The Scotsman Ronald Black, a longstanding and most distinguished Celtic and Gaelic scholar, had heightened interest in the Gaelic contribution and subsequent poetry and song after the battle. Ronnie had gone much further and graciously assisted with the translation/ publication in Gaelic of the script of the Prestonpans Tapestry's animated DVD - Taipeis Phrestonpans

Secondly, at the Symposium when discussing one who many believe to be as fine a poet as Burns, Alasdair MacMhaigstir Alasdair, it was mentioned that despite his representation on the Prestonpans Tapestry at Dalilea no known contemporary image had ever been found. Clearly further research and eventual depiction were required since he had been at The Prince's side throughout the '45 as his Gaelic Tutor/ Interpreter. He had certainly been present in the town and at the battle. If the Gothenburg had been built at the time we agreed he would surely also have taken a pint of Fowler's Wee Heavie at The Goth as well with The Prince!]

Thirdly, with support from Comhairlie man Leabhraichean, the Battle Trust was in the process of publishing a Gaelic version of its TinTin style cartoon book telling the Prestonpans Tapestry story - already available in French and English and already a big success with youngsters.

What does an Open Forum Talk About?

It's readily admitted that oak trees from acorns grow, sometimes. So this Open Forum was intended as an acorn planting occasion. But the Open Hours ran from 5/ 9pm and is was structured as a drop-in event, so designing an agenda was not appropriate. The objectives were clear however: to seek to trace potential 'local' translators, and to have an enjoyable Gaelic time of it. The Gothenburg's Chef had been challenged to create a light Gaelic supper for all which turned out to be goulash rather than herrings, which gives a reasonable indication of the somewhat amateur approach the Arts Festival is perforce taking at this early stage. But common ground and considerable excitement was engendered.

Ronald Black had been invited again and joined the Forum around 6 pm. Everyone knew he had a great interest in the poetry of Alasdair MacMhaigstir Alasdair. So he was prevailed upon to share his own enthusiasm for his poetry with us all. He did more than that to our delight, sketching the broad patterns of Gaelic poetry, its traditional singing and its eulogising of the famous before MacMhaigstir resolved to do no such thing - until he came under the spell of Bonnie Prince Charlie as he came ashore from du Teillay at Arisaig!

Then inevitably discussion went on to ponder what the man had looked like. How had he dressed in Prestonpans when he accompanied the Prince not least for breakfast of cold beef and claret at the captured cannons? Present was local artist and scupltor Ronald Elliot who has agreed to add another, seventh, major artwork to the Battle Trust's ever growing collection of cameos and portraits from Andrew Hillhouse and Kate Hunter.

Even more significant perhaps was the reaction to the evening of the non-Gaelic speakers. A project which has begun with the constructive wish to provide a Gaelic translation for the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry was fuelling a determination that when the tapestry panels are completed their interpretation and presentation should be accompanied by much more of the arts than the embroidered stitch. The Diaspora Tapestry should seek to capture the appropriate songs and poetry through its QR tagging to the website, and working with local Greentrax studios a wider dissemination of the cultural treasures held in store. [Ian Green had sent his personal apologies to the Forum.]

A most successful evening indeed ...

So those of us, all of us, who were there when this particular acorn was planted in Prestonpans, readily agreed we'd had a most enjoyable evening but that there was work to be done!

1. Translators were recruited and webmaster Arran Johnston was pleased about that. They included those who had seen the Prestonpans Tapestry in Eriskay with family living in North Berwick and those who had embroidered panels therein, and Walked the Riggonhead Defile more than once and had the medals to prove it! And those recruited had networks of others who could be invited too.

2. As the Diaspora Tapestry team gathered its historical tales together for the embroidered panels across the globe it was mandated to capture much more besides.

3. Ronald Elliot, artist and sculptor with the John Muir mural on the Prestonpans Trail already to his credit, had listened and learnt, and knew just what sort of challenge he might face as he took forward his commission. And he clearly had some poetry to read and enjoy as he sought to capture the spirit of the man and indeed his relationship with the Prince.

4. Those who are engaged with the Battle Trust were encouraged to explore as many ways as may be appropriate to honour the language and culture of those who fought at Prestonpans and who cried out and later celebrated in Gaelic - not least getting the Gaelic TinTin cartoon book into print.

5. And as progress occurs as surely it must, a second Open Forum will clearly be required!

Published Date: October 31st 2012

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