Sunday, May 09, 2010

APC (Aonghas Pàdraig Caimbeul) appearing at Nairn Book and Arts Festival – Gàidhlig’s most controversial figure?

Aonghas Pàdraig Caimbeul is the most well-known novelist in Saoghal na Gàidhlig (the Gaelic World) and he has outspoken views on the state of the language. Aonghas is known as APC for short in many articles that appear in connection with his work and statements. He has forthright views about those employed in ‘Gaelic Development’ and Gaelic education (particularly the college Sabhal Mòr Ostaig on Skye): views that have prompted much debate and criticism. His fourth novel Tilleadh Dhachaigh appeared last year (Kafka, Kundera and Carmichael rolled into one claims one review) this observer thought it a very interesting ghost story and thought provoking in the extreme about many contemporary issues concerning Gaelic (past present and future) and in the wider sense also indulging in many questions that affect humanity and our future – if we have one. I couldn’t help but notice reflections, perhaps, from some of the author’s statements in his comments surfacing in his West Highland Free Press Column over the past year.
APC wrote in July 2009 an article called ‘Charade na Gàidhlig’ (The Gaelic Charade). I can’t help but feel that there is a Gaelic word somewhere that would effectively convey the sense of ‘charade’ but APC chose to use the English one. He began:

'S e charade eagalach a th'anns a' Ghàidhlig, agus feumaidh mi aideachadh nach eil fhios'am cho fad 's as urrainn dhomh cumail a' dol a' leigeil orm gu bheil i beò is fallain, oir chan eil aon teagamh agam nam chridhegu bheil i marbh.’
'Gaelic is a frightening charade, and I have to admit that I don’t know how long I can keep pretending that she is alive and healthy, because there is not one doubt in my heart that she is dead. '
Please note.No guarantee of 100% accuracy with this or any other translation in this post.
APC finished that article with the following paragraph:

Tha an Charade as fhèarr (neo as miosa) air BBC Alba agus anns na fiosan naidheachda bhios na h-Institiudan eile sin a' sgaoileadh gun sguir, a tha leigeil orra gu bheil gach anns an lios fo bhlàth, mas fhìor, nuair a tha an fhìrinn air an dearbh chaochladh: an gàrradh a' grodadh agus a'seargadh, agus na gàirnealairean fhèin a' falbh leis a' chuid as fheàrr. Ann am briathran sgairteil Private Frazer bho Dad's Army — "We're doomed!"
'The charade is at its best (or its worst) on BBC Alba and in the press releases that the other institutions send out ceaselessly, pretending that everything in the garden is blossoming, when the truth is the opposite, the garden is rotting and withering, and the gardeners themselves leaving with the best share. In the the lively terms of Dad’s Army’s Private Frazer - "We're doomed!" '

As a learner of Gaelic I found that article quite shocking and dispiriting but I have to admit that APC is not alone in thinking as he does, there is widespread dismay in some quarters about many of the Gaelic institutions. One only has to point to the 500K poured into the unpopular and user unfriendly website mygaelic.com. Gaelic is going through changes and it is fair to ask if these changes mean growth or death for the language. I have to respect APC’s view, he is a native speaker and I’m just a learner looking in perhaps with a slightly romantic notion that Gaelic will survive: yes it could be a curious sort of survival for the language and perhaps not quite as APC would like to see it but is he doing more harm than good with his sermon like opinions? To him Gaelic seems to be already dead.
He went on to specificaly attack Bòrd na Gàidhlig the following week:

Bòrd na Gàidhlig, mar eisimpleir, a chaidh a ghairm, seach a thaghadh. Cuin, mar eisimpleir, a bhòt thusa neo mise son buill a' bhùird a tha gar riochdachadh, agus a tha os cionn £5m de ar n-airgead? Quango seach deamocrasaidh, agus mar sin gun chreideas. 'S tha an dearbh rud a cheart cho fìrinneach mu gach buidheann eile a tha gar "riochdachadh" anns na h-àirdean: not in my name, a' bhalaich, mar a thuirt iad mu Chogadh Iorac.
'The Gaelic Board, for example, who were selected rather than elected. When for example did you or me vote for the members of the board that represent us, and control five million pounds of our money. A quango instead of a democracy, and thus without credibility. That is the one thing that is just as true of each group that ‘represents’ us above: not in my name, boy, as they said about the Iraq war.'

APC was to go on to continue his attack on the Gaelic institutions in August of last year he wrote an article critical of many ‘high heid yins’ who he perceives as having a greater loyalty to the organisations that pay their wages rather than Gaelic. Here’s an extract:

Tha fhios'am nach bu chòir seo iongnadh sam bith a chur orm, agus gu bheil e "nàdarra" gu leòr, oir mar a thuirt mi aig an toiseach 's e na buidhnean sin a tha a' cur an aran air an cuid bhùird gach latha, agus tha iad uile fo chùmhnant-obrach, ach na dheoghaidh sin saoilidh mi gu bheil e foillseachadh an cunnart a th'ann ar cor a chur an làmhan nan daoine-pàighte. Dìreach mar nach tig às a' phoit ach an toit a bhios innte, cha tig às na buidhnean ach an agenda a bhios unnta. Sin carson a dh'fheumas cumhachd a bhith ann an làmhan an t-sluaigh fhèin seach ann an làmhan nam "proifeiseantaich".
'I know that tha shouldn’t surprise me at all, and that it is natural enough, because as I said at the start it’s those organisations that are putting the bread on their tables each day, and they are all under a work contract, but following from this the inherent danger in leaving our circumstance with salaried people is obvious. Just as all that will come out of the pot but the steam that is in it, all will come out of those organisations is their agenda. That is why power needs to be in the hands of the people themselves rather than the ‘professionals’. '

There are a lot of native speakers and learners who would agree with much of APC’ s criticism of the Gaelic groups. Can a language be saved by top-down plans and agendas? I doubt it very much, unless there is real support in the communities still using the language and a willingness of parents to pass on the language then all the fancy plans the quangos and the Scottish Government draw up will come to nothing. There might be thousands of children learning Gaelic at school, but this alone will not ensure the survival of Gaelic if there is no community outside of school where these young people can use their language.
It was perhaps a more recent article from APC that has been a bit hard to take, he took to task Sabhal Mòr Ostaig on Skye, the Gaelic College that has done so much to revive the language and economy in Sleat. The following extract could be interpreted as an attack on what some see as almost a dialect emerging from SMO ( another Gaelic acronym), a dialect sometimes called SMOG (Sabhal Mòr Ostaig Gaelic). I think APC has a point but goes too far. Another extract from a more recent article which again focussed on arguments over the death of Gaelic:

Tha seo cur nam chuimhne pìos sgrìobhaidh brèagha a leugh mi o chionn ghoirid ann an seann leabhar mu shaoirsneachd a cheannach mi nuair bha mi shìos ann an Straford-air-an-Abhainn an uiridh. Leabhar beag a bh'ann mu inneal an ciùird, a chaidh a sgrìobhadh le fear Walter Rose ann an 1918. Seo mar a tha e ga chur: "The sound of tools properly used is as a pleasing tune. The craftsman has no need to examine a saw to know if it sharp, or if it is handled properly. The ill-used tool makes a discordant noise which is agony to the trained ear. The sound of the hammer driving the nail, or releasing or securing the wedge of the plane, in each case has its separate amd distinctive note. "The blow of the mallet on ths chisel tells by its sound alone whether or not the user has the confidence of ability. The multitude of sounds of tools at work on wood is a separate language known to the woodworker, and each separate note is recognised with satisfaction or dislike. An unexpected note arrests attention: especially the shriek of protest from the saw that has struck an unsuspected nail." Gu tric, nach e sin Gàidhlig an latha andiugh? Gàidhlig an t-Sabhail, mar eisimpleir, (neo Màiri Seimpleir, mar a chanas iad fhèin!) a tha cho coimheach 's cho gallda, a' fuaimneachadh mar sgread air gloinne, mar bhlas a tha air a dhol searbh. Tha mo chànan sa chumantas mar gun bhrìgh, mar gun coinneachadh tu ri gaisgeach a b'aithne dhut uaireigin a tha air a lùths a chall.

'This reminds me of a piece of beautiful writing I read a short while ago in an old book about carpentry I bought when I was down in Stratford upon Avon last year. It was a small book about the tradesman’s tools, written by a man called Walter Rose in 1918,
This was how it was put: "The sound of tools properly used is as a pleasing tune. The craftsman has no need to examine a saw to know if it sharp, or if it is handled properly. The ill-used tool makes a discordant noise which is agony to the trained ear. The sound of the hammer driving the nail, or releasing or securing the wedge of the plane, in each case has its separate and distinctive note. "The blow of the mallet on ths chisel tells by its sound alone whether or not the user has the confidence of ability. The multitude of sounds of tools at work on wood is a separate language known to the woodworker, and each separate note is recognised with satisfaction or dislike. An unexpected note arrests attention: especially the shriek of protest from the saw that has struck an unsuspected nail."
Often, is that not the Gaelic of today? Gaelic of SMO for example (or Màiri Seimpleir, as they themselves say!) that is so outlandish, so lowland, sounding like a screech on glass, like a taste that has gone bitter. The commonness of my language is like a thing without energy, as if you were to meet with a hero you once knew that had lost his strength. '

I find that attack on Sabhal Mòr Ostaig a bit hard to take. There are many hard working souls at SMO (both native speakers and learners) who have dedicated their lives to the Gaelic language and its survival. Perhaps some things could be done better or differently but they do not deserve the sort of condemnation they have received from APC . This observer learnt some of his Gaelic from courses at SMO and is extremely grateful for the help received there. Maybe I could pay £6 to see APC when he comes to Nairn but I would hate to cause him the discomfort described above were I to ask him a question in Gaelic ach ‘s ann mar sin a tha e gu -fhortanach.
Aonghas Pàdraig Caimbeul appearing at the
Nairn Book and Arts festival on the 10th of June.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ignore a man's wife at your peril!

Westcoaster said...

Pog Mo Thoin as they say in some parts

E.Maree said...

Oh dear. He had some good points with the overpaid officials, but the hostility towards SMO (and BBC Alba, to a lesser extent) destroy his argument.

The SMO is a great organisation, and it services for school leavers and adult learners are unmatched, and BBC Alba does it's very best and provides good value results - both with a professionalism and a good sense of modern style.

I can't help but find his references towards screeching, lowland Gaelic as predjudiced. Gaelic has always had strong variations in pronounciation between areas.

Pookie Candelabra said...

What a dude!