The celts, chapter 7
Gaelic, the language of Eden.

Guillermo Santana Mac Kinley, teacher of gaélic in the Celtic League of Argentina, present this notes where some characteristics of the language and show many importants moments about it´s long history. Sitio al margen is the first e-magazine in the Web in Iberoamerica that presents a text in this lenguage.

By Guillermo Santana Mac Kinley.


Nobody ignores the fact that Gaelic is a very ancient language. But whether this or any other European language spoken to the present day, was the language of the Biblical Garden is at least a matter of controversy. Anyone will agree that the claim expressed in the title of this short article could not be raised without considering similar rights to other classical languages like Hebrew, Greek or Latin.

Maybe Gaelic was not the language of Eden but certainly it is that of Tìr Nan Òg (the Land of the Everyoung of old Celts) and one of the oldest tongues still spoken in modern Europe. Derived from the old Celtic that once was the "lingua franca" spoken throughout Central and Western Europe, from Germany, to France, Spain and the British Isles, carried by the Celtic tribes as they came from the west along the valley of the Danube. Some philologists say the name of this river is of Celtic origin and it's meaning is closely connected to the modern Gaelic "Donn abhainn" or brown river.

It was not until driven by the advancing Roman legions that the Celtic influence and social order started to give way and Latin superseded Celtic, at least as the official language. Celtic dialects survived largely as the rural, popular every day language of the common people well into the Middle Ages. But little by little the Latin influence erased Celtic which on Continental Europe only remains in the roots of some words and place-names. The names Gallatia in the Balcans, Gallia or Gaul in France and Galicia in Spain are testimonies of the route taken by the Goidels or Gaidheil, the Gaels, in their migration into Europe from a long forgotten place somewhere in Asia Minor.

It was on the British Isles where the Celtic languages flourished, partly due to the natural separation from the continent that provided shelter, keeping the communities isolated from the events taking place south of the Channel. Two different branches of Celtic were found in Britain, the "P" branch and the "Q" branch. The former is represented to this day by Welsh, Cornish and Breton (the latter being spoken in Brittany, France) . "Q" branch representatives are Irish or Gaelige, Scots Gaelic and Manx, all derived from the old Goidelic language.

Gaelic came to Scotland around 500 a.d. when the Scots came from Ireland and settled on the west coast in what came to be known as the kingdom of Dal Riada. The early Celtic Church played a key role in expanding the use of Gaelic throughout Scotland. Columba and other missionaries brought Christianity to the Picts, who were "P" branch celts that lived in Central and North Scotland. Around the year 840 Picts and Scots became united under the reign of king Kenneth MacAlpine and little by little Gaelic established its dominance all over mainland Scotland north of the river Forth. Pictish whatever it looked like was replaced by Gaelic. Early chronicles of this period have reached us through the work of Adamnan and other missionaries who wrote in Latin. Their manuscripts were kept in the monasteries for centuries though many were lost or destroyed by viking raiders.

Gaelic remained the language of the Kings of Scotland for centuries though after 1100 English was introduced in the Court by the hand of Margaret Queen to Malcolm Canmore and the daughter of the king of the Angles. This started the progressive divorce of the Scottish Crown and the Gaelic speaking peoples. The last Scots King who spoke Gaelic to his people was James IV (1500). After that, Gaelic started a long decline, deprived from any support from government authorities. It flourished on the Wetern Isles during the Lordship of the Isles. Courts and bardic schools developed throughout the region and were the centres of Gaelic intelligence and culture of what was the Highland Clan System. But the collapse of the Lordship of the Isles in 1493 was to prove a fatal blow. Later events like the Statutes of Iona (1609) and the tough repression after the battle of Culloden (1746) were purposeful actions to erase the language from the face of the earth.

After centuries of neglect and even official and social proscription, it is surprising that this language has managed to survive into the year 2000. This was due to the attachment of the people to their traditions and the intrisical worth and richness of the language, the foundation of which had been laid by the learned classes of ancient Celtic society and developed by others at the bardic schools like the MacMhuirichs and bards like MacMhaighstir Alasdair, Iain Lom and many others over the centuries.

It was not until recently in this century that serious steps were taken to provide bilingual education to the Gaelic speaking communities. Since Culloden Gaelic was not acknowledged and therefore no formal education in the schools was carried in the language. It was forbidden to speak Gaelic on the grounds of the schools.

Today, thousands of Scots and Scots descendants, both at home and abroad are eagerly studying the language of their ancestors. And their number grows every day. On the verge of the 21st century Scotland is realizing the wealth of this ancient but strong and vital language, the language of the Lion. Today Gaelic has incorporated itself to the modern world of technology, reached the Internet, the radio and the TV. Full time graduate studies are taught in Gaelic in the fields of Business Development and Communications. With the advent of the local Assembly for Scotland there are big hopes that Gaelic will be granted Secured Status and will therefore get the protection and support it deserves.

But it will largely be the interest of the people, young or old, in Scotland and elsewhere that will decide the future of Gaelic.

Here in Argentina, under the auspices of the Argentine Celtic League, Scots Gaelic is taught to all those who want to learn this beautiful language. Everybody is welcome to class, whether they have Scottish connections or not. Those interested may E-mail for further information

Guma fada a bhitheas a' Ghàidhlig beò!! (Long live the Gaelic language)

By Guillermo Santana Mac Kinley.



This text has been published only in english in the newspaper Buenos Aires Herald. Sitio al margen  repeat this text in spanish, english and gaelic with the special authoritation and translation made by the owner, Guillermo Santana Mac Kinley.


Text in gaelic


Text in spanish


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