800-page new Gaelic work to be launched at festival

The first comprehensive anthology of Gaelic literature, spanning the Middle Ages to the 21st century, has been described as filled with many masterpieces of the ancient language.

Tomorrow’s (5 October) launch of An Ubhal as Àirde: The Highest Apple is a highlight of the Wigtown Book Festival, which runs ends on Sunday.

Co-editor Wilson McLeod, professor of Gaelic at the University of Edinburgh, will discuss how he and Michael Newton went about selecting the more than 200 original texts that are included.

He said: ‘Even though Gaelic has a longer written tradition in Scotland than English there has not been a comprehensive anthology. So we hope that it will help open up a new dimension of our cultural and literary history for many people.

‘There are so much wonderful Gaelic writing from across the centuries and we have included pieces that cover everything from love and war to work and romance – there is poetry, drama, fiction and essays.

‘With so much to choose from we have taken a canonical approach, including all the recognised masterpieces as well as many works that are not so well known.’

An Ubhal as Àirde: The Highest Apple sets the original Gaelic texts beside English translations to maximise accessibility.

The language has changed greatly down the centuries and some of the earlier works would be as challenging to modern Gaelic speakers as the original of Beowulf is for readers of English.

Each chapter also has different kinds of texts that how the status and perception of Scottish Gaelic have changed.

Professor McLeod hopes that the book will have broad appeal in part because it embraces a wide variety of work and covers such a broad timespan.

The book includes:

Hallaig – Sorley MacLean; ‘M’ anam do sgar riom a-réir’ – Muireadhach Albanach Ó Dálaigh; ‘Alastair à Gleanna Garadh’ – Sìleas na Ceapaich; ‘Birlinn Chlann Raghnaill’ – Alasdair mac Mhaighstir Alasdair; ‘Moladh Beinn Dorain’ – Donnchadh Bàn Mac an t-Saoir; ‘Eilean a’ Cheò’ – Màiri Mhòr nan Òran; ‘Anns a’ Bhalbh Mhadainn’ – Ruaraidh MacThòmais; ‘Deireadh an Fhoghair’ – Tormod Caimbeul.

And while creating the anthology has taken a number of years Prof McLeod says it has been a rewarding experience: ‘We have had to contact many authors and families and talk to many other people for this book and what has been amazing is the support and enthusiasm they have shown.

‘The result is a brick of a book, about 800 pages, but we hope that it’s something that will be valued by the Gaelic community and a wider readership of people who are interested in Scotland, its literature and culture.’

Adrian Turpin, Wigtown Book Festival artistic director, added: ‘It’s a real privilege to be hosting the launch of a book that has such cultural significance.

‘Gaelic language and culture is a vastly important element of Scotland’s identity and this book is an important step forward in bringing some of its finest literature to a wider audience, while giving an overview of the changing fortunes of the language and its speakers.’

The launch of An Ubhal as Àirde: The Highest Apple, with Wilson McLeod, takes place on Saturday, 5 October at 3pm. The Highest Apple / An Ubhal as Àirde: An Anthology of Scottish Gaelic Literature: Lesser Used Languages of Europe Series – Volume 9. Edited by Wilson McLeod and Michael Newton. Published by Francis Boutle Publishers.

For full details of Wigtown Book Festival go to wigtownbookfestival.com.