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Am Beurla Reagaird
I became very interested recently in the Beurla Reagaird. This was the ancient language of the Scottish Highland Travellers, and is another mark of the richness of expression and dialect in the Gaelic language.
In the book by Timothy Neat, The Summer Walkers, the speakers of Beurla Reagaird go between Gaelic but mix it with words and grammatical structures they created, in order to coceal their business from conventional Gaelic speakers.
Beurla Reagaird has its roots in the language and customs of the ancient bards. Neat compared Beurla Reagaird to Shelta in Ireland, and it seems that in all its forms, it was a language of the Gaels. It has vocabulary and grammar quite separate from Gaelic, however.
To demonstrate this, I have provided a couple of examples, from Alec Williamson, a traveller from Cataibh, or Sutherland. You can compare the Beurla Reagaird and modern Gaelic below:
Tha am ministear a’ tighinn
The minister is coming
Hars an gasgarn bagail
Thig far an rathaid, tha daoine a’ dol don eaglais
Come off the road, people are going to church
Bag an eanach. Noideachan bagail na chraban
As you can see, Beurla Reagaird is very different. I wanted to find out more about the language, and posed the question: are there any words in common with our collection in the Fieldwork Archive?
On the list of vocabulary that Alec Williamson created for Dr McInnes, lìobhag is the word for a sheep, but means bent grass or mùran grass in Faclan bhon t-Sluagh. This is from Port Charlotte, Islay.
A teall is a sudden attack in Strathglass, and Dwelly’s dictionary agrees with this. But in the Beurla Reagaird, it is unfortunately not explained in the most politically correct or kind way, for someone with profound learning difficulties.
A pretty girl is a lurach in Faclan bhon t-Sluagh, but it means an untidy girl in the Beurla Reagaird!
In our archive, a blos is a smart, neat, trim girl but the other meaning is a bold lass. Briogan is a bold boy in the Beurla Reagaird, but means trousers in Glenlyon. Trousers are what is known as eanach taur in this unusual tongue, from the word eanach, for a road, and taur, for the posterior!
Let’s stop putting eachother down however, Deircean is what the highland travellers would say for eye, and this is apparent to a modern speaker of Gaelic as dearc is what is still occasionally known as an eye. Deirceanan is the plural of deircean. We may understand this proverb in the Fieldwork Archive:
“Cha tearc iad nach dearc,”
Man will gaze on that, because dearc may also mean take interest or regard/ gaze upon: bidh sibh a’ dearcadh air.
Eanach is a road, sgaoi is what is known as a shower, and tom is what they say for big, rather than hillock, and this makes sense if you have a mountain or pile of something. These words come together, to make the word for pearl in the Beurla Reagaird: Eanach Tom Sgaoi!
Here are a few more words not at all connected to conventional Gaelic: luis- eating, luisearachd- drinking, geug- ask. In modern Gaelic, geug means branch!
Have a look at what luis means however! And guilm is what is meant by peat dust. Guilm is flirting or courting in the Beurla Reagaird.
Much like learning Irish Gaelic from a Scottish Gaelic speaker’s perspective, this is a case of re-learning words you already may have, and is more challenging in this way.
Listen to it being sang, and you’ll get more of a taste from an indiviual who understood a great deal here.
There should be more resources available online, in order to make the traveller’s language more visible in the public eye. If you are interested in reading more about the travelling folk in Ireland, you will find a great article in Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness, Vol XXIV, page 429, ‘Shelta: the Cairds’ Language.’
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