It’s good to be back in Dunoon this evening for the beginning of another Royal National Mòd. Argyllshire has a long history of hosting Mòds. Indeed, this is a very special year for the Mòd as we commemorate 120 years since the very first Mòd took place in Oban. On that date in 1892, the first Mòd was held in the Argyllshire Gathering Halls and lasted one whole afternoon! I doubt if anyone present on that occasion anticipated what that first event would lead to, but we are grateful to those early pioneers for their vision and determination.
The founding fathers of An Comunn Gàidhealach modelled the Mòd on what they had seen at the Welsh Eisteddfod, and although our Mòd has evolved to become a very different kind of festival to the Welsh event, we still continue our links with the National Eisteddfod and visit them every year. We also welcome their representatives to our Royal National Mòd each year, as we welcome fellow Gaels representing the Irish Oireachtas.
Annual visits to the National Eisteddfod remind us of the progress that is possible in advancing minority languages by securing widespread support not only from local and national government, and from families and communities, but also from providers of public and commercial services – in particular Universities, banks, utility companies, arts agencies and broadcasting organisations. These service providers proudly exhibit their Welsh-medium services at the Festival and actively encourage the learning and use of Welsh throughout the country. When could we expect to see such open, active and widespread promotion of Gaelic in Scotland?
It is encouraging that many public organisations including Councils, Enterprise Agencies, Health Boards, Government, Parliament, National Agencies, and National Parks now have plans in place for the provision of their services in Gaelic, but much still needs to be done to ensure that the availability of such services is actively communicated to the public so that they can make use of them.
More recently, several commercial organisations in Scotland have taken to exhibiting bilingual signage in their premises, without being legally required to do so. Could this be an indication of the start of a recognition, similar to what is seen in Wales, that Gaelic in Scotland has value and is here to stay? Do these companies now recognise that Gaelic speakers deserve to have services available in their own language, working towards the “equal respect” the law has given us, but has yet to be fully implemented to the extent it ought to be.
These developments reinforce the very personal responsibility that rests on us all as Gaelic speakers to support the promotion of our language as one that is appropriate for daily use in all situations. The value of bilingualism is constantly highlighted in research reports, and this is undoubtedly leading to an increased uptake of both Gaelic-medium education and Gaelic learning at school and adult levels. We invariably find that as soon as a dedicated Gaelic School opens, they need to start looking at expansion plans for the building.
The challenge for the education system is to manage these developments and ensure that sufficient teachers, support staff and resources are available to meet this demand. The challenge for us as a community is to find ways of supporting young and adult learners of Gaelic outwith the classroom. Too often, for many GME and GLPS pupils, their use of Gaelic is limited to the time they spend at school. We need to remember that tuition in school is only part of the process of becoming fluent in Gaelic. We must ensure that Gaelic usage is maintained at home, in the community, in recreation, in worship and in the workplace so that the language is given its proper place as a language of value in day-to-day life.
This week, we will see around 1200 youngsters coming to the Mòd to take part in a range of Gaelic language and cultural activities. They come from a variety of backgrounds, but what they get at the Mòd is the opportunity to use their Gaelic, to express themselves in Gaelic, and to be involved in a major and well-publicised cultural event. As we know, Gaelic is no longer exclusively the language of the Highlands and Islands. Its range is now national and even international and for many of these youngsters, Gaelic is just one of several languages they can speak. Talk to them, make sure they know that there is a world outside the classroom where Gaelic is spoken, encourage them to use their Gaelic openly, without reservation. And, when they speak to you in Gaelic, you will find that that will encourage you to use it more and more yourself.
The presence of Gaelic organisations and supportive agencies at the Mòd is important in maintaining the visibility of Gaelic in the public eye. Their presence here at what is now such a major event for our language each year, serves to remind our community of the ongoing work that goes on throughout the year to maintain and promote our language. We all need to work together to secure the future of Gaelic for the next generations, and I can now see a much greater willingness to do so. Many of our Mòd people are also involved with Fèisean, with Ulpan courses, with Comuinn Eachdraidh and other community activities, and that support is reciprocated. We help them and they help us, and we make progress.
The new National Gaelic Language Plan sets out the priorities to which all the Gaelic organisations are committed for the next 5 years, but it is also crucial that Gaelic communities are directly involved in that partnership approach. It is in the community that Gaelic will survive and prosper, and Gaelic organisations constantly need to remember that.
As we return to Argyllshire to the roots of the Mòd, but regrettably where Gaelic is not as strong as it used to be, we believe that it is important for today’s Royal National Mòd, wherever it goes, to leave a legacy behind, for it to be a springboard to new developments, new growth of Gaelic activity, an event that encourages our people to greater effort to sustain Gaelic for future generations. I hope the presence of the Mòd here will see a resurgence of Gaelic learning in the town and in the surrounding area. We have to be optimistic about the future, use our language with confidence and encourage our fellow Gaels to have the confidence to use it.
Each year I add my grateful thanks to our staff and the faithful band of hard-working volunteers who make this annual event the great festival it has become. It is successful because of the support it receives from both the Gaelic and non-Gaelic speaking community throughout Scotland, and because of the commitment shown by regular funding sponsors whose support we greatly value in these difficult times. Thank you to Dick Walsh and the Local Organising Committee for all your local planning for this event and to you all for your faithful support. I hope you have a most enjoyable and inspirational time together this week in this beautiful town of Dunoon.
President, An Comunn Gàidhealach, 12th October 2012