For a Multilingual Edinburgh

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A “shelfie” of part of my library including Gaelic novels, alongside Mencius, Cervantes, Goethe, Patrick Süskind (the painting is Das Parfum), Turgenev etc in the original languages… an interest in Gaelic does not somehow block other languages…

I have tried hard to steer clear of party politics on this blog, but it greatly saddens me to see our MSP Alex Cole Hamilton try and use Scottish Gaelic as a soft target for campaigning. He seems to think if you are interested in Gaelic, you can’t be interested in other languages, despite all the research saying otherwise. Children in Gaelic Medium Education consistently outperform the other schools when it comes to learning French, German, Spanish etc. Frankly, ACH’s tweet reeks of  the “many of my best friends are […], but” mentality.

I am glad to say this attitude has not been shared by all of his party. Christine Jardine MP has said that she is supportive of Gaelic, and both Donald Gorrie and Margaret Smith have been positive about it too. The late Iain Farquhar Munro (Iain Fearchar Rothach) was a native speaker and a champion of Gaelic in the Lib Dems, and will probably be turning in his grave at these comments.

Well, I happen to be one of Alex Cole Hamilton’s constituents. I vote in pretty much every election. I think I have only missed one in twenty plus years. I have my own views, but I am not currently a member of any political party. I have voted for several different parties in the past, and yes, one of them happened to be the Lib Dems. Comments like this don’t endear me to them.

Literary Corstorphine will always back the Gaelic language. Many languages can be seen and heard in this constituency of course, and it is wrong to pitch them against each other, to say Polish is better than Cantonese or Urdu is superior to Broad Scots. Yet that is precisely what has happened here, and it seems to be becoming more and more common in British politics.

Our local Gaelic heritage

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Lennie and Cammo on the western edge of the city. Both of these names derive from Gaelic – Lèanaidh means a meadow or land in a river bend, while Camach refers to the meanders themselves.

Does Corstorphine have a Gaelic heritage? Yes, more than you might think. Names like Drumbrae (Druim Bràighe), Cammo (Camach), Lennie (Lèanaidh), Carrick Knowe (Carraig) and Balgreen (Baile Grèine) all originate from it. Go up to Edinburgh Park and you can find busts of poets such as Iain Crichton Smith and Sorley MacLean, while more recently Gaelic writers such as William Neill and Màrtainn Mac an t-Saoir have lived locally.

I write about Corstorphine’s Gaelic links in my book.

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A Cuddie and an Ass

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Robert Cuddie (1821-1876) was a minor poet – more unkind folk might say poetaster – from Corstorphine. His work is mainly of local interest and published posthumously in 1878. I have been unable to track down any of his collections, and the only reason I know of him in the first place is that he gets a mention in several of the local history books.

His poems include The Corstorphine Games, and The Rival Bellman. Cuddie worked locally as a postman taking letters from Corstorphine up to Gogar. He also worked in the local library. I believe he still has relatives in the area.

When someone once made fun of his name, his retort was:
Though baith the twa o them are in
A rather stupid class:
A line micht still be drawn atween
A Cuddie and an Ass.

“Cuddie” is a nickname for a donkey, due to their pre-Reformation connection with St Cuthbert. “Cuddie” is also used to refer to racehorses, either in irony or in ignorance. The name “Cuddie Lane” (and variants) is often used for narrow roads and can be found in suburbs such as Colinton and Morningside.

As a point of interest, it shows that Broad Scots was still in strong use in the 19th century in Corstorphine, not something that can be said today.And just because we’re all Americanised now, don’tassume “ass” here means someone’s backside.

The Rival Bellman is about a spat between the ringers of Corstorphine Church and what is now the United Reformed Church.

Sadly, Cuddie seems to be one of the few Corstorphine poets to be noticed in the local history books. More’s the pity, since he’s not the best. Helen Cruickshank is much better, and underrated. She gets some attention in some of these books at least. William Neill – perhaps more South Gyle – is also much better and doesn’t get mentioned at all AFAIK. Both Cruickshank and Neill wrote in Scots – Cruickshank in the dialect of Montrose, and Neill in that of South Ayrshire and Galloway. Unlike them, perhaps, Cuddie was local born and bred.

Place name stuff

A few of the old street names in western Edinburgh are preserved intact, such as Kirk Loan (church lane), but most are semi-Anglicized, such as

* the Paddockholm (i.e. Puddock Holm, frog marsh/island), the location of the old Corstorphine railway station.

* Redheughs (Reid Heughs), in South Gyle, former HQ of the Royal Bank, before they went to Gogarburn.

Others have been completely anglicised, such as Dovecot (Doocot) Road and Coltbridge (originally Coltbrig). Bucking the trend, some modern developments have made an effort to use Scots elements e.g. East Craigs(rocks/cliffs), South Gyle Mains(home farm), Gogarloch Syke and Hill Park Brae(slope/hill). However, it is questionable how many younger locals would know what any of these terms mean. Many Edinburgh folk have started to pronounce “loch” as “lock” in the last decade or two, so would probably say Cuddie’s “micht” as “mict” or “might”. A number seem perplexed by the likes of “haugh” or “heugh”. These are words that appear in local place names, and were used by ordinary people in the Lothians for centuries. That is, until the BBC came along, and so called “education” – both of which have worked hard to destroy Scottish culture deliberately, and largely succeeded.

Picture credits

Church of St John the Baptist (M J Richardson) / CC BY-SA 2.0

The Heretics

John Herdman reading at Saltire Society, August 2015
John Herdman reading at Saltire Society, August 2015

Apologies if I leave anyone out of the lists here. It is not due to any ill will, more my atrocious memory. Sorry folks! 

Aly Bain, Liz Lochhead, Billy Connolly, Sorley MacLean, Phil Cunningham, Norman MacCaig, Derick Thomson, Robert Garioch, Dolina MacLennan… many of these are pretty well known names from the Scottish folk and literary scenes. Billy Connolly has gone on to bigger and not-always-better things since. (I still maintain that Dolina is a much better actor than he is though! Check out how he upstages the others in just about every film he makes an appearance in. Back then, Connolly was still actually funny, and was a musician – with a heavy influence from Matt McGinn.)

All of the people mentioned (and many others) were involved with a group called the Heretics, back in the 1970s. Not heard of it? You’re not alone. Very few people seem to be even aware of it, despite the fame of many of its members – at least within Scotland.

John Herdman’s book, Another Country was the inspiration for Craig Gibson and Peter Burnett to revive the group. After many years running the bookshop in Blair Atholl, he is now based in the Clerwood/Clermiston area.

John Herdman is not the only stalwart of the group to have had local connections.

William “Willie” Neil (Uilleam Nèill) used to stay out on South Gyle Road in the 1970s. Neil, who was originally from Ayrshire, and latterly of Galloway, wrote in all three of Scotland’s indigenous languages. Like Herdman, he deserves much greater fame for his work. I first came across William Neil in Cothrom magazine, a bilingual Gaelic learners’ magazine. He was discussing the Gaelic heritage of the far south west of Scotland – a land perhaps associated more with Burns and Covenanters than Gaeldom. Later I found out that he was the editor of Catalyst during the seventies, the magazine of the 1320 Club, and that he had lived within a fifteen minute walk of where I currently live.

In August 2015, there were three Heretics events, all held in the Saltire Society, which lies on a little close round the back of the Waverley and World’s End bars in the old town.

After 35 years in cold storage, the baton was handed over, something which Dolina MacLennan referred to it as the slowest relay race in history. Herdman and MacLennan were both prime movers in the revival. And yes, there was a literal physical baton.

* The first featured members of the 1970s Heretics who are still with us.

* The second featured “Dead Poets”, or at least readings from members of the Heretics, who are “no longer on this plane. Appropriately enough, a ghost tour went past the venue during the smoking break.

* The third featured the new manifestation of the Heretics. Young(er) members, who are going to continue on the tradition.

William Neil got an outing in the “Dead Poets” event, and John Herdman, featured in all three.

The newer Heretics are led by Peter Burnett (Leamington Books, and author of Scotland or No) and Craig Gibson (creator of The One O’ Clock Gun, and author of the forthcoming novel Cider Camp). The founder members of the new manifestation include the following – Anita Govan, Kirsty Law, Lorna ?Waite (gabhaibh mo leisgeul), Mark Jardine, Colin Donati & Robin Mason (a.k.a. Various Moons), and The Range of the Awful Hand. Yours truly was supposed to feature, but due to events outwith my control this did not happen.

Poster from the original Heretics. Note the ticket price.
Poster from the original Heretics. Note the ticket price.

The name “Heretic” is a pun on “heritage”, and also suggests an outsider status. The 1970s Heretics aimed to keep a thread of traditional Scottish culture going at a time when a lot of Scottish literature and music was heading away from it (usually in the direction of Anglo-American culture).

Some of the original members who turned up for the revival include the aforementioned John Herdman and Dolina MacLennan, and also Adam MacNaughton, Alan Riach, David Campbell, Donald Campbell, Liz Lochhead (who put in a surprise appearance), Rory Watson, George Brown and a lady whose name escapes me now, but who was good with a guitar.

Heretics meetings come out of the whole ceilidh/scoriach/come-all-ye/hootenanny etc aspect of Scottish culture, i.e. having good fun indoors, when it’s probably dark, wet and cold outside. This means a mix of different items, whether music, literature, comedy etc. It’s a social, a sesh or session in a relaxed atmosphere. Hopefully, the Heretics will keep our positive Scottish traditions alive, and also won’t peddle to the po-faced folk music crowd which seem to be increasingly common in Scotland.

External Links (including video)

‘The Heretics’ celebrate historic Edinburgh comeback

The Heretics

The Heretics Revival

Cultural collective rolls back the years after absence of 40 years (The Herald)