Monday, August 22, 2022

Gaelic psalm singing under threat in the Hebrides

Gaelic psalm singing is a wonderful relic of a pre-literature culture. The precentor calls out the line, which the congregation then sings back to him.

Frances Wilkins, writing for The Conversation today, says:

Fifty years ago, Gaelic psalmody was a soundscape to a way of life in the Presbyterian Hebridean communities and the only form of musical worship heard in churches. In those days, churches were filled with hundreds of people gathered to take part in this singing tradition.

But today:

This singing, in its traditional context, has become critically endangered. Today, Gaelic services are few and far between in Hebridean parishes and those still taking place have reduced hugely in numbers. English language services tend to have predominantly English singing, although there may be an occasional Gaelic psalm or hymn among them.

Wilkins concludes:

Language is a way to express culture. The deep spiritual connection it has with its people and the role which music plays in this, must be recognised and supported into the future if we are to keep some of the most precious aspects of Gaelic culture alive.

The loss of this form of psalm singing would be sad indeed. As you can here on the video above, it is a strange, almost unearthly, sound, yet it conjures up the Hebridean landscape like nothing else.

One irony is that in Scotland it is the Presbyterian church that has done most to keep Gaelic alive, while across the Irish Sea the Ulster Presbyterians see measures to promote Irish Gaelic as a threat.


nigel said...

I have now had thhe psalm on a dozen times and it still amazes me.Haunting.

Unknown said...

Thanks for this- a discovery.

David Ford said...

Re your final para - there is evidence that Presbyterians played a significant role in preserving Irish Gaelic, with Gaelic-speaking outreach in 18th/19th centuries.
Not all Presbyterians in Northern Ireland are frightened by those who wish to communicate "As Gaeilge".

Jonathan Calder said...

Thanks for that, David.