Dè th' ann an Àros na Fèinn?
Àros na Fèinn
Dè th' ann an Àros na Fèinn? What is Àros na Fèinn?
’S e ionad dùthchais a th’ ann. It is an Ionad dùthchais.
Ionad - (Centre, site) - Dùthchas - (Place, people, land, heritage, ancestors, connection).
Na Gàidheil agus an Dùthaich - The Gàidheil and their Country
The Scottish Highlands have come to represent many things to many different groups of people worldwide. For many it is the land of the clans; a tartan clad scene of misty highland romance and intrigue, of great mountains where stags roam free and where wave battered shorelines are home to many rare species of birdlife. To others it is a great playground, the UK’s outdoor capital, where dramatic mountain scenery provides the setting for activities like skiing, ice climbing or for the more elite, the chance to hunt on the great shooting estates.
Lochaber is now famous for its outdoor activities and this, along with its outstanding natural beauty draws visitors from all over the world. This has also meant a massive influx of people who have moved into the area from all over the UK and beyond who now make up a large percentage of the area’s population. However, beneath these modern social demographics, the mountains exude an ancient quality coloured by the deep mythology, history and language of the Gàidheil, the indigenous people of the area who, for the most part have either emigrated or have been assimilated into an English speaking, homogenised culture. What is not commonly acknowledged is that this stunning mountain country is home to one of the richest and oldest cultures in Europe and the area surrounding the famed Gleann Comhann (Glencoe) and Loch Lìobhann (Loch Leven) is steeped in the history of this marginalised and often forgotten people .
It is almost difficult to believe now that less than 100 years ago the villages surrounding Loch Leven were still exclusively Gàidhlig speaking and that the last monoglot speaker, one of the Clann Sholla (Clan MacColl) from Baile Chaolais (Ballachulish) is still recalled in living memory by native elders of the village as having only a very tenuous grasp of basic English.
For those unfamiliar with the context of indigenous Scottish Highland culture, one may summarise that the language of the Gàidheil, Gàidhlig, the oldest surviving Scottish language, gradually declined through processes of internal colonisation over several centuries until by around the 1700s, it was primarily the population of the Highlands and Islands that preserved Gàidhlig and it's traditions. Over the centuries the Gàidheil of the Loch Leven area and beyond were heavily persecuted and in 1692 a massacre took place in Glencoe, marking the beginning of increased hostility towards the area’s indigenous peoples and their beliefs. The years following the immediate aftermath of the last uprising in 1746 saw violent repercussions against the people here; roofs and crops were set aflame, livestock killed or confiscated and many people were removed to the British colonies.
From the the mid 18th century onwards, the conquest and subsequent expansion of British capitalist endeavours in the Highlands accompanied by a wave of hostility towards the indigenous population and their culture reduced the language and indeed the population of the region significantly. Were it not for the large numbers of Gàidheil who found employment in the slate quarries of Làr-Fhaich (South Ballachulish) one could argue that the culture would have been wiped out entirely around Loch Leven.
Despite this adversity, the native dialects, traditions, songs and continuity of the indigenous culture still hangs on by a thread and various activists have endeavoured to revive Gaelic traditions over the years. Unfortunately attempts at revival have been hitherto unsuccessful and although one can now see the aboriginal names of villages on roadsigns, hear and see Gàidhlig being spoken on BBC's Gaelic television and radio or even enlist their children in Fort William’s Gaelic medium school, the language seems to exist as as a subculture without a natural environment where it can be spoken both unthreatened and unhindered.
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Tèarmunn Dualchasach - Cultural Sanctuary
The Scottish musician, historian and language activist Griogair Labhruidh has strong roots amongst the indigenous Gàidheil of the area and has dedicated his life to the preservation and acquisition of the local dialects of Gaelic from the last native speakers of the region. As well as this, he has collated extensive materials including music, songs, stories, genealogical information, rare books and photographs, piecing together an almost lost tradition through a deep personal process of decolonisation. Having experienced a sense of personal cultural loss from a young age, he decided that these vestiges of a Scottish culture which was still thriving not so long ago should not be lost. After spending time with language activists from Ireland, the Basque country, Wales, Brittany, Indigenous America and Aboriginal Australia, this doctoral research candidate realised that in order for any kind of revival to take place, the culture needed a space to breathe and grow.
In October 2012 he and his father acquired roughly 40 acres of land in the village of Baile Chaolais a' Tuath (North Ballachulish) encompassing crofts 7, 8 and 9 as well as part of the land which once belonged to the Tigh Mòr (Big House) at Allt an t-Seilich (Alltshellach). This land, which prior to the conquest of Gaelic Scotland lay in the hands of Clann Choinnich Bhaile Chaolais or Na Tuathaich (The MacKenzies of North Ballachulish) was perviously zoned for the building of 30 residential buildings in accordance with the local development plan. However, Griogair's intention was never to develop the land for financial gain, but to attempt to resurrect the lost traditions of the disenfranchised indigenous people of the area by giving their culture a place to thrive, flourish and grow in a truly organic manner.
Nestled into a piece of beautiful native mountain coille (woodland), he currently grazes a small fold of black highland cattle on the land which which will become home to Àros na Fèinn (The Abode of the Fianna), a centre for the protection and development of the language, culture and indigenous land practices of the Gàidheil.
The name of the centre reflects the antiquity of the culture of the Gàidheil and is a reference to the Fianna, the semi-mythological heroes who embody the essence of an ancient and heroic warrior culture. The stories and songs pertaining to these characters are the pinnacle of the Gàidhlig arts and they are deeply rooted in the landscape; many of our mountains, lochs, glens and other cosmological features deriving their names from these ancient and powerful stories which were once an intrinsic part of the daily lives the area’s natives.