Feasgar math a’ chàirdean. Tha mi air-leth toilichte a bhith an seo aig a’ Mhòd Nàiseanta Rìoghail.
(Good afternoon, friends. I am delighted to be here at the Royal National Mod).
Ladies and gentlemen, I did just want to offer the warmest possible congratulations to our most worthy medal winners here today, but also to all those singers and musicians who have mounted such impressive efforts in the last few days. I cannot begin to describe to you how hugely encouraging it is to know that such talented individuals are contributing so much to Gaelic culture.
May I also just thank you for this incredibly generous gift of Honorary Membership of An Comunn Gàidhealach? I suppose the slightly terrifying thought is that I will have very little excuse, I fear, for not having a good grasp of the language. Otherwise you may just wish to rescind my membership!
It is, of course, a great pleasure to visit the Royal National Mòd on this occasion, the first time that it has taken place in Caithness. As some of you may be aware, I have a particular affinity with the area, as did my Grandmother who rescued and restored the Castle of Mey, only 20 minutes from where we are now.
Now, the Mòd, as we know, exists to showcase and promote Gaelic language and culture and I think we owe a debt of gratitude to An Comunn Gàidhealach for the enormous efforts which go into this most important of annual festivals. This year, I understand there has been some local debate about the historic place of Gaelic in Caithness and, indeed, the suggestion has been made that the language has little or no direct relevance in this part of the world. If I may, I might just gently question that view, for is it not the case that every aspect of our environment and identity is enriched by true cultural diversity?
I would suggest that Gaelic – like any other language or culture – belongs to all the people and communities of a Nation, whether or not they are actively involved with it. So Gaelic belongs to the whole of Scotland, and the language and culture will flourish, or perish, according to what happens in Scotland alone.
Indeed, when I visited Sabhal Mòr Ostaig [Sol More Ostaig] in Skye some six years ago, I said that of the many new responsibilities facing Scotland, few were more absolute than those which flow from the custodianship of a language and culture; especially when these exist to such an extent in only one country. That remains my view and it explains why I want to see the Gaelic language, for so long in retreat, acquiring new levels of confidence and respect in 21st Century Scotland.
The music and poetry of Scottish Gaelic are extraordinary products of a small, minority culture. But music and poetry cannot exist in a vacuum. They are dependent on the vibrancy of a living language which Gaelic, against all the considerable odds, continues to be. That is what I hear around me at the Royal National Mòd – a living language that tens of thousands of people still use in their daily lives. However much eroded, it remains a language of work and worship; of ceilidh and of conversation. That is the crucial foundation on which you can build.
For almost 120 years, the Mòd has been a celebration of the Gaelic language and culture. Sometimes it has – rather like the Eistedfodd in Wales – been portrayed as an anachronism or irrelevance. However, it is surprising how many people who make these criticisms come to recognize, as they grow older, that there is a lot to be said for continuity and for events which have stood the test of time, while more transient initiatives have come and gone. The Royal National Mòd passes that test with flying colours and I wish it very well indeed for the future.
Meal an naidheachd orrasan a bhuannaich na duaisean agus “Suas leis a' Ghàidhlig”.
(Many congratulations to the award winners and “Up with the Gaelic”).