Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Ceòl is Cianalas (Music and Longing)

Norrie Tago, Leòdhasach from the fantastic group Mànran

This is another one of those entries where I try and clumsily make sense and justify why on earth I'd want to be learning Scottish Gaelic.

The embers that start many learner's Gaelic fires are bourne of Trad Music. Gaelic language is indelibly entwined with Gaelic culture, of which music is probably the strongest element.

Way back in 2011, on what must have been my third trip to the Outer Hebrides, I remember distinctly asking the nice lady in the Arts Centre in Lochmaddy for her recommendation for a CD to listen to on my long, sorrowful, tearful drive home to Dover. She recommended a Cèilidh CD from Skipinnish, so I duly contributed a few more of my English Pounds to the Highland economy (take note, Gaelic Haters) and duly jigged, sang, and cried my way home.

Two songs established themselves as my favourites - 'Air an Tràigh' (On the Beach), a jaunty interpretation of a Runrig song, and the hauntingly beautiful ' 'S fhada leum an Oidhche Gheamhraidh', (The Winter Night Feels so Long to me). I know not the singer who gives us both of these beauties as she sadly isn't credited anywhere, but all I can tell you is that she has an exceptionally beautiful voice.

I liked these two songs so much they became backing music to my 'Hebrides Video' that I made that year, which you can see by clicking here

It took 18 months after buying this CD before starting to learn Gaelic. It took almost two years of learning before I could sing along (badly) with 'Air an Tràigh', happy that I could translate the lyrics and get the gist of it.

Meanwhile, I started this blog and in an earlier entry tried to explain and justify my reasons for learning Gaelic. After taking the plunge and 'putting it out there' on Twitter, I was delighted to receive some positive responses. One such response was this one:

'You may appreciate this: Bith cianalas air Leòdhasach ann a neamh. Google it.'

Google it I did. It lead me to this entry from a fantastic blog called 'The Croft'.

Click on the link and there you'll find a succinct interpretation of the non-translatable word 'Cianalas'.

In a loose, clumsy, superficial kind of a way we might say 'longing' or 'homesickness' in English, but it doesn't convey one iota of the emotion and heartache of 'Cianalas'.

Meanwhile, I revisited that hauntingly beautiful song, 'S Fhada Leum an Oidhche Gheamhraidh. It's a song sung by someone displaced from the Isle of Lewis (possibly a victim of the disgusting 'Clearances'?) who longs for the home she will never see again. There are no Cèilidhs on the empty prairies that now surround her.

The last line of the chorus (which is just 'Faili faili...') is:

'S cian nan cian bho dh'fhàg mi Leòdhas'

With a deeper understanding of 'cianalas', and therefore the meaning conveyed in that last line (you see the word 'cian' implying a distance almost that is spiritual as well as physical) you can at least begin to understand the depth of emotion, sadness, and longing that the English words 'It's far away terms of time and spirit and longing since I left the Isle of Lewis' fail to convey.

Such depth and beauty simply cannot be expressed in English. This, my friends, is why we simply cannot lose Gaelic, and is another reason I'm doing my little bit to at least try and keep it alive so that it may thrive again in days to come.

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