Bards of the calibre of the celebrated 18th-Century love poet Uilleam Ros (‘William Ross’); Iain MacCoinnich (‘John Mackenzie’), author of Sàr-Obair nam Bàrd Gaelach (‘The Beauties of Gaelic Poetry’) (1841); Bàird Thùrnaig (‘the Tournaig bards’), Alasdair and Iain Cameron; Scottish nationalist and language champion Kay Matheson and scholars such as the placename specialist Ian Fraser and the lexicographer Roy Wentworth are just some of the distinguished Gaels associated with Gairloch and its hinterland. ‘Gum b’ e Geàrrloch an tìr bhàidheil, ‘s an tìr phàirteach, bhiadhar’ (‘Gairloch was the loving land, the land that was generous, productive’) as Uilleam Ros himself tells us. It is therefore no surprise that Taigh-Tasgaidh Gheàrrloch/ Gairloch Heritage Museum should have such a rich collection of Gaelic sound recordings in its archive.
The museum’s catalogue contains more than 450 oral history recordings with native Gaelic speakers made in the latter half of the 20th Century. As a collection, they are invaluable evidence of the artistic heritage of the area, in particular the bardic tradition of Gaelic music, song, poetry and storytelling. However, they are also unequalled as a record of Wester Ross Gaelic, with its unique vocabulary and place-names, recorded in such detail by Roy Wentworth during his tenure as curator at the museum.
Gairloch Heritage Museum is currently undertaking an extensive redevelopment project, which will see it move to a disused cold war bunker in Gairloch village. As part of this project, a consultant has been commissioned to evaluate the museum’s Gaelic collection and identify opportunities to maximize the use of this valuable and unique resource in future activities and interpretation. The signing earlier this year of a Memorandum of Understanding with Sabhal Mòr Ostaig was an important step towards promoting the use of the sound archive and other Gaelic resources the museum holds, described by Professor Hugh Cheape as ‘exceptional from a Scottish museum point of view.’
Dr Karen Thompson is Curator at Gairloch Heritage Museum. She is a trained archivist and museum professional, and Gaelic learner – currently enrolled on the BA Gaelic Scotland course with the University of the Highlands and Islands.
Further information about Gairloch Heritage Museum, its collections and its redevelopment project can be found at www.gairlochheritagemuseum.org The museum welcomes archive users by appointment.