Friday, 6 December 2013

Nuallairean, a Gaelic Christmas tradition

by Joyce MacDonald, Gaelic Coordinator
There’s been a lot of talk at Colaisde na Gàidhlig about how we’ll get through the cold, dark months of the year without sessions at the Red Shoe, square dances every day of the week and our students who keep us hopping all summer long. We’re determined to make our own fun here in the country, so that means getting together with friends for music, outdoor activities and good times.
Of course we always like to look to what the ancestors were up to, since the Gaels of old were well practiced in making life enjoyable with very little in the way of outside resources. They made their own fun for sure!
According to the Carmina Gaedelica, a collection of Gaelic folk customs, chants and incantations gathered in the second half of the 19th century, the Gaels in Scotland had a Christmas tradition that involved singing and going from house to house.
“Christmas chants were numerous and their recital common throughout Scotland,” wrote Alexander Carmichael in 1899. “They are now disappearing with the customs they accompanied. Where they still linger their recital is relegated to boys. Formerly on Christmas Eve bands of young men went about from house to house and from townland to townland chanting Christmas songs. The band was called goisearan, guisers, fir-duan, song-men, gillean Nollaig, Christmas lads, nuallairean, rejoicers, and other names. The rejoicers wore long white shirts for surplices, and very tall white hats for mitres, in which they made a picturesque appearance as they moved about singing their loudest. Sometimes they went about as one band, sometimes in sections of twos and threes. When they entered a dwelling they took possession of a child, if there was one in the house.  In the absence of a child, a lay figure was improvised. The child was called Crist, Cristean, - Christ, Little Christ. The assumed Christ was placed on a skin and carried three times round the fire, sunwise, by the ceannsnaodh – head of the band, the song men singing the Christmas Hail. The skin on which the symbolic Christ was carried was that of a white male lamb without spot or blemish and consecrated to this service. The skin was called uilim. Homage and offerings and much rejoicings were made to the symbolic Christ. The people of the house gave the guisers bread, butter, crowdie, and other eatables, on which they afterwards feasted.”
There are words for several Christmas Hails in the Carmina Gaedelica, of which the original handwritten notes for can be found at
Singing, dressing up in silly costumes, visiting the neighbours and delicious snacks? Sounds like a good time! You just might spot some nuallairean near you this Christmas!


Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Journey in Gaelic Language Learning

By Colin MacDonald, Gaelic Interpreter, Colaisde na Gaidhlig

My name is Colin MacDonald and I work at Colaisde na Gàidhlig as Gaelic/Music Interpreter, and Tour Guide for the Great Hall of the Clans museum.  I took my first Gaelic class when I was in grade 11 at Dalbrae Academy in Mabou.  Margie Beaton was the Gaelic teacher at the time, and I enjoyed her class so much that I challenged for credit my grade 10 Gaelic class, and also took Gaelic again in grade 12. 

After graduating from high school, I continued my pursuit for the Gaelic language at Cape Breton University, where I began my BACS degree in Fine Arts.  Hector MacNeil taught me Gaelic in my first year and he helped spark my interest in an exchange program offered by CBU to Sabhal Mòr Ostaig Gaelic College in the Isle of Skye, Scotland. 

In my third year at CBU, I went on exchange to the Isle of Skye, Scotland.  Being abroad for the first time was like being in a different world.  Arriving at Sabhal Mòr was an experience in itself; the small modern looking campus stood at the edge of a body of water that reaches across to a barren, rocky mountain chain.  My bedroom was in a tall building called the “Tower,” and I had a beautiful view looking across the water to the small town of Mallaig. 

Sabhal Mòr Ostaig was my first experience of Gaelic immersion, and I don’t think my brain had worked that hard ever before.  Before going off to our first class, an assembly was held with the principal and all the teachers and we made a promise to them that we would only speak Gaelic inside the classroom as well as outside.  I enjoyed all my teachers and classes very much.  Some days I felt like I was coming along fairly well with my Gaelic, but other days I felt like I was climbing up a steep mountain and I would never reach the top.  In a way I was right in thinking that I’d never reach the top, but that shouldn’t have made me feel overwhelmed or discouraged.  When learning Gaelic, or any language for that matter, you never reach a point where you’re finished.  I’ve been learning English all my life and I still make mistakes and learn new words on a daily basis. Many of my Gaelic teachers explained to me in a similar fashion that when a learner feels overwhelmed by all they haven’t learned yet, this means they are making progress.

I really enjoyed my Gaelic immersion experience overseas, but I enjoyed coming home to Cape Breton and getting involved in the Gaelic community here even more.  When I moved back home and got involved in the Gaelic community here, it gave me a strong sense of identity and connection to my ancestors.  Currently, I am working full time at Colaisde na Gàidhlig, I’ve been teaching immersion classes (Gàidhlig aig Baile), and I am extremely grateful to be making a living for myself in my home, Cape Breton. 

Monday, 29 October 2012

Fuarag: A Traditional Gaelic Treat for Halloween

By Emily MacDonald, Gaelic Director, Colaisde na Gaidhlig

At Halloween-time, you will still find a few houses in Cape Breton that serve the ancient Gaelic dish, fuarag. At one time, it was very common to eat a spoonful of fuarag at each house you stopped at on Halloween night.  Although all you need to make fuarag is oatmeal and cream, each family and in some cases, each community, had its own special way of preparing and enjoying this dish.

To make fuarag, oatmeal and cream were mixed together in a big bowl and placed on the kitchen table. Each visitor that would enter the home would grab a spoon and eat from the same bowl. I have heard many different stories about fuarag while visiting with people around Cape Breton. Most commonly, people added whipping cream to the oatmeal; however, I have heard of some cases where sour cream was used. Some people would brown the oatmeal in the oven first to bring out the oat flavour. One man I spoke to told of himself and his brothers putting buttermilk on top, and another told of adding a little whiskey to the mix.

Special items were added to the fuarag upon preparation. Most commonly, a button, a coin, a thimble and a ring were hidden in the mixture. If your spoonful of fuarag contained one of these items, it meant good or bad fortune was to come your way within the following year. If you received the ring, you were going to wed; if you received the coin, you were going to come into money; the button meant you were going to live a bachelor’s life and if you received the thimble you would become a spinster. One family had a variation of this method, where the mother would add buttons to the fuarag mixture and whichever child would find the most buttons would win the game.

My own father-in-law welcomes each October 31st with great enthusiasm in anticipation of his first feed of fuarag, a dish he has enjoyed since he was a child at Halloween-time. Why don’t you make a bowl for your family and friends this year – good fortune might be right around the corner!

2 tbsp raw oatmeal
2 cups whipping cream
1 ring
1 thimble
1 coin
1 button

Mix cream in large bowl. Brown oatmeal on cookie sheet in oven. Add browned oatmeal to cream.  Stir in special items. Enjoy!

Fuarag: Biadh sònraichte traidiseanta air Oidhche Shàmhna

Aig àm na Samhna ann a’ Ceap Breatainn, tha taigh na dhà fhathast ann far a’ faigheadh tu an seann bhiadh traidiseanta, fuarag. Aig aon àm, bha e cumanta gu leòr spàlag de dh’fhuarag fhaighinn aig gach taigh ’s an stadadh tu air Oidhche Shàmhna.  Ged nach eil a dhìth ort ach min-choirce agus uachdar, bha dòigh shònraichte ann a bhith ga dèanadh aig gach coimhearsnachd air neo gach teaghlach.

Chuireadh `ad a’ mhin-choirce agus an t-uachdar ann am bobhla mór air a’ bhòrd agus ghabhadh a h-uile duine a thigeadh dhan taigh spàin mhór dhi, ás an aon bhobhla. Chuala mi iomadh dòigh air a bhith ga dèanadh ’s mi a’ seanchas ris an t-seann fheadhainn mun cuairt air Ceap Breatainn. Mar bu chumanta, chleachdadh `ad uachdar milis `s an fhuaraig, ach chuala mi aig cuid gun cuireadh `ad uachdar goirt ris a’ mhin-choirce. Bha cuid dhe na daoine a’ cur na min-choirce `s an àmhainn gus a ruadhadh an toiseach mun cuireadh `ad i ris an uachdar. Thuirt fear gun cuireadh e-fhéin `s a bhràithrean beagan de bhlàthach air, agus fear eile gun cuireadh e beagan de dh’ uisge-beatha rithe.

Thigeadh spòrs a-staigh nuair a chuireadh `ad rudan sònraichte `s an fhuaraig. Mar bu chumanta, chuireadh `ad putan, bonn-airgid, meuran agus fàinne a’ staigh `sa bhrolamas. Nam faigheadh tu fear dhe na rudan seo, bha siud a’ ciallachadh gu robh rud math na rud dona `dol a thighinn ort `s an àm ri teachd.  Nam faigheadh tu an fhàinne, bha thu `dol a phòsadh; am bonn-airgid, bha thu `dol a dh’ fhaighinn airgid; am putan, bha thu `dol a bhith nad fhleasgach agus am meuran, nad sheana mhaighdean. Bha cleachdadh eile aig aon teaghlach: chuireadh a’ mhàthair poidhle de phutanan a-staigh `s an fhuarag agus ’s e am pàisd’ a gheobhadh an àireamh a bu mhoth’, a bhuannaicheadh an geuma.

Cho luath `s a thig a’ chiad là dhen Dàmhair, bidh m’ athair-céile fhéin deiseil deònach airson a chuid fhuaraig ithe, biadh a bh’aige aig àm na Sàmhna bhon a bha e na ghill’ òg. Am bliadhna, carson nach cuir sibh fhéin bobhla de dh’ fhuarag air dòigh airson ur teaghlaichean `s caraidean!