A Year in Scottish Gaelic Writing
by Aonghas Mac Neacail
What a year 2003 has been for Gaelic publishing. It opened with a sense of closure: after forty years, founder editor Derek Thomson took Gaeldom's seminal, indeed only, contemporary cultural magazine, Gairm, into retirement with him. Gairm continued trading as a book publisher, but wouldn't issue any new titles. Acair, the other key Gaelic publisher, also appeared to be winding down.

It looked as if we'd be dependent on a couple of cottage- industry publishers, with occasional contributions from nationals, and the bilingual magazine Cothrom, which specifically targets those learning, or having learned, the language, though its potential appeal is much wider. Good things could still happen, but, all told, the circumstances were not auspicious.

By the year's end, the outlook was decidedly brighter. 2004 begins with a new imprint, Clar, attracting a Saltire Award for Martainn Mac an t-Saoir's brilliant first collection of short stories, with Aonghas Padraig Caimbeul's remarkable novel, epic in scale and poetic in tone, highly praised, and other equally promising fictions in the stocks. Gairm, punning on 'cockcrow' and proclamation', gave way to Gath 'spear', 'sting', 'ray of light'). The new magazine targets a similarly broad constituency, but with fresh emphases (contemporary music, for example), aimed at extending its range of readers.

And there's more. In May, the first issue of a new, young people-orientated magazine carried a mixture of sharp satirical comment, knockabout humour and reviews. The first five issues of COSMOnot appeared in hard copy (well, soft, actually, and a bit grey to the eye, if lively on the mind), but they have, I believe, gone online; another new direction for the Gaelic word. A new bilingual poetry magazine also appeared, but don't rush out to buy it for an insight into the present state of Scottish Gaelic verse unless your second language is Irish Gaelic.

An Guth, edited from Sleat, in Skye, by Rody Gorman, and published by the Dublin-based Coisceim, provides a welcome access to current work from both sides of the Irish Channel for a growing readership interested in the respective literatures of two closely related languages. There have been previous examples of direct translation Irish Gaelic/Scots Gaelic publications, usually poetry collections by individual writers.
The traffic has tended to be one-way, so far: Scots poets translated into Irish. Gorman's gift in An Guth is to provide both a two-way dialogue and a variety of poets and poetries.

About to discuss another new Gaelic magazine, I encountered a further Gaidhlig/Gaeilge collaboration, Biorachan Beag agus Biorachan Mor. This time, a theatre show for children, based on a folk tale, which recently toured both Scottish and Irish schools, has been realised as an illustrated book. The production values are brilliant, glossy and colourful: the illustrations are excellent - precise, detailed, full of vitality.

Responsible for the artwork is a multi-talented member of the theatre company Meanbh-chuileag (Midge). Mairi Kidd combines acting, music and singing with her graphic skills, and she's also joint- editor, writer, illustrator and publisher of Am Famh (The Mole), a fascinating miscellany aimed at literate seven to 12-year-old Gaelic speakers (with the hope that parents will read to those still unable to).

If the COSMOnotical crew, with their emphasis on wit and satire, are likely to be less concerned with presentational quality, the Famh team, while delighted to have got their wee creature into the open - the first run of 200 sold out - expressed some frustration with the lack of actual colour in their baby. They are particularly aware of their own original full-colour illustrations reducing, on the page, to shades of grey. They can take comfort from the fact that, for the reader, the material they've assembled is dense with figurative colour.

(Copyright 2003 SMG Newspapers Ltd.)

This article first appeared in Scotland in The Herald (Dec 29, 2003).

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