Archival Film of the Day: Sorley Maclean’s Island
Source: Scottish Screen Archive
Duration: 4’19” (excerpt)
In an excerpt from a 22-minute film, the poet Sorley Maclean (1911-1966), the “father of the Scottish Gaelic renaissance,” recites two poems (in Gaelic) at a ceilidh, followed by scenes of his native island of Raasay, where Scottish Gaelic was the first language, during his youth.
Over scenes of peat cutters at work, Maclean describes his early awareness of how vastly different the received, textbook history of Gaelic-speaking countries was from oral accounts he heard. He says that led him to be skeptical of official explanations of, for example, the million deaths in Ireland in the 19th century and the loss of another million to depopulation, and, in Scotland, of the eviction of thousands of families from their homes in the highlands and islands.
It was not such events as famine, alone, that drove such events, but also the exploitations of empire.
He says: “Today we live with the bitter legacy of that kind of history – of Gaelic languages threatened with extinction, our way of life besieged by the porters of international big business, our countries beggared by bad communication, the iniquities of land ownership, the failures and unconcern of central government, our cultures vitiated by the sentimentality of those who have gone away. We have, I think, a deep sense of generation and community but this has in so many ways been broken. We have history of resistance, but now mainly in the songs we sing. Our children are bred for emigration.”
The excerpt ends with scenes from a classroom of Gaelic-language learners.