Of Heritage and Language

I went to university for a long, long time and during that experience, I learned one very important lesson and that is that language always precedes culture. What does that mean and why is it important? To give the short explanation, you need to have a common language in which to communicate with other humans. Once you have a common language, you can then develop a culture out of it.

If you want to destroy a culture, you simply have to stop the language from being spoken and replace it with another. This is the core to the eradication of many human cultures by colonization. How do you revive a lost culture? You revive the language and allow it to grow and evolve again.

I have been watching Outlander over the last few months. The story is at the point where the British are imposing laws that ultimately destroy the Scottish culture and one of the ways they do it is by outlawing the use of the Gaelic language. Good thing for the Scots, the British were never able to fully eradicate the language. There is a strong revival movement to recover this ancient language and bring it back into the twenty first century.

Gaelic is a complicated language, similar to English in that it has words from other languages in it, such as Norse, Celtic, French, and Latin. There are only eighteen letters in the Gaelic alphabet and their syntax is similar to that of German, same as English.

Watching Outlander, there’s a lot of Gaelic spoken in it. I have always been interested in the Celts and their history. I sometimes get caught up looking up articles about the Celts on wikipedia. I love seeing their art and the archaeological sites that have been reconstructed. I spend hours reading over Celtic legends and stories.

This past summer, my family had a reunion. We started doing these about three years ago at the old summer home in Sicamous, the one my great grandmother used to own. We started talking about the origins of the Clan Munro and I brought up some points about our earliest known ancestor who emigrated to Nova Scotia in 1818 from Inverness, Scotland. Unfortunately, there is no record of his family in Scotland and given the time period, it’s very likely that he was one of the many Scots that was affected by the Highland Clearances of the late eighteenth century. He would have been born after the battle of Culloden. Now, many of the Munro’s stayed out of the Jacobite rising but the overall impact of that rebellion on the Scottish people, is still being felt today.

My grandmother came from the Camerons and they were part supporters of Bonnie Prince Charlie and thus were some of the first to be affected when the rebellion failed. My grandmother grew up poor in the middle of Glasgow in the 1930’s, she just celebrated her ninety third birthday this past week. She never learned Gaelic because it was too late for her to do so by the time it became okay to learn the language again. Because my ancestors lost their language, my family lost part of their culture. So many other descendants of immigrants lost their cultural heritage due to losing their language.

I have been looking into learning Gaelic online for my own personal studies. I wish that it was a language more readily spoken where I live so that I could meet others and learn by conversation. To me, learning this ancient language and getting a feel for what it was used for in the celtic past, is a way for me to reconnect with my ancestors in a modern age. Not to mention, it would be helpful in reading text documents that use a lot of Gaelic in them. Moreover, I would like to be a part of bring back that part of my cultural heritage that has been mostly lost.

When I read the motto of the Munro Clan, I want to know what it really means. “Dread God” doesn’t sound very friendly and I have a feeling that it was more to inspire fear in the enemies of the Munro Clan but I also think there’s more to those words than the literal. Then there’s the Cameron’s mottos “Mo Righ ‘s Mo Dhuchaich” – “For King and Country” and “Aonaibh Ri Chéile” – “Let Us Unite”, which you can tell was changed after the Jacobite rebellion. Both of the mottos are in Gaelic and have deeper meanings to those who say them. For my mother’s family, the Kennedy Clan, they have the motto “Avise la Fin” – “Consider the end” which is French. I like the Munro one the best because of its obvious fear invoking quality. I actual want to make up hoodies with the crest on it with the motto to hand out at the next family reunion. Could you imagine thirty some odd Munros walking around town branding their Scottish heritage in style, it’s the next best thing to us all getting kilts in plaid.

I am a little sad that all of my family heritages stop at the end of the Jacobite Rebellion of 1746. We can’t trace any of the lines back farther than that because the records stop. The only way now for me to research further, would be to go back to Scotland and do the hard genealogy document recovery required. Now, I know there’s lots of resources available in Scotland but very few of them have been posted online for me to look through. Lucky for me, I have a good starting point with the records of immigration in Nova Scotia. It’s a life goal of mine to make a trip to Scotland and do a little digging. I would actually like to spend a good month there going around from place to place. I have a feeling I will get to it later in life.

~Clara of the Clan Munro


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