Traditional tales keep Gaelic alive

24th October 2003 at 01:00
The Great Book of Gaelic (Leabhar Mr na G...idhlig), the modern-day version of the Book of Kells on show in Edinburgh, is the best thing that has happened in a long time to give Gaelic a higher profile.

However, it needs back-up from education to enable the language to stay alive, from music and singing, from conversation and, the creme de la creme for me, from storytelling.

More than 90 per cent of my stories have roots deep in Gaelic and when I am telling them to a Gaelic speaking audience I do not use any English words at all.

I have loved storytelling from a very early age. I was born and brought up in the isle of Harris during the Second World War and at that time people came visiting at night. I will always be grateful to my granny who used to tuck me into a corner out of sight so that I could listen to the stories I loved so much. Some went back hundreds of years; others were in living memory. They could both fascinate and terrify in turn. Sitting listening was my idea of paradise.

I still tell those stories. I explain their roots and tell audiences that the original stories were told in the only language the narrators had. Very few island people spoke English at that time, probably because they had never had the chance to learn it.

My love for old stories has never diminished; I still collect them.

Everyone likes a good story and mine can bring a tear or two, gales of hearty laughter and quite often a frisson of fear. When I am telling stories, I like to sit among my audience. So, if they are children, I am usually on the floor.

Stories help people to understand the language and tell them something about the people of long ago, the kind of history that is not in school books, and rarely any books, passed down from one generation to another.

This is where storytelling complements the Great Book of Gaelic. There is a lot we wouldn't have any knowledge of if it wasn't for stories and storytelling can encourage people to appreciate and use Gaelic as much as possible.

Let the Great Book of Gaelic encourage education, music, conversation and especially storytelling and let Gaelic be spoken widely and with the reverence it deserves as Scotland's oldest language. If you have it, flaunt it.

Dolina Wallace will be telling stories to over-fives at Edinburgh's City Art Centre from today until November 2, tel 0131 529 3962

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