My great-grandmother Christina Lambie’s family came from Islay and spoke Gaelic, so I have always had a special interest in the island and the Gaelic language itself. Grandfather Robert Kerr always spoke lovingly of her, as did Grannie and my mother Jane. Robert was a miner, who joined the fight against the Kaiser, although he was a great supporter of Keir Hardie from Cumnock, near to where the family came to live in Knockshinnock, New Cumnock, beside Rabbie Burns’ Sweet Afton Water. Grandfather Robert took me on a tour of the Highlands and Islands when I was a boy and I consider this area very much part of my heritage. We visited Culloden Moor, where my Clan on my father’s side, the Clan Chattan or Wild Cat Clan, the Mackintoshes, fought for Charlie in 1745.
There are close resemblances in the Gaelic of the islands of Islay, Jura and Colonsay in many respects, although important variations occur between, and even within, all three. South Argyll in general, along with the Isle of Arran, indeed, constitute what we may term a Dialect Area These dialects are also closely associated with the East Ulster Gaelic of Rathlin, the Glens of Antrim and Louth as well as Fanad and Urris in Donegal, so I think a better term for the whole Dialect Area would be Ulidian, ignoring the “national” boundaries of Scotland and Ireland. Grannie and Granta told me much of this as well as the history of Rabbie Burns and Edward Sloan, Grannie’s relative from Conlig, an Ulster Rhyming Weaver, who wrote in Scots and English. She had little time for careerist academics and neither have I, trapped as they are in the nationalist ideologies which pay their wages.
Gaelic as a first language inherited in the home is now in serious trouble in South Argyll, which the Dalaradia organisation visited with Pretani Associates. We must make strenuous efforts here in Northern Ireland to standardize Ulidian and absorb words and phrases from South Argyll to form a link, while at the same time act to preserve the individual dialects, particularly of the West Ulster Gaelic of South Donegal, as well as Islay and Arran. This we will do through our Ullans Academy by translating the Bible into Ulster Gaelic, as we did for Scots, by-passing the useless Academic Establishment in Scotland.
While there has been a lot of debate on the relative and absolute settlement of Islay, for that is what academics do, most of them are agreed that the origins of the island name are unknown, although certainly several thousand years old, pre-Celtic and perhaps even pre-Indo-European. It was only after the classical reference by Ptolemy to the Aebudae ( “Hebrides”), Epidion (“Islay”) and Limnu (“The Lewes”) that any district or place-names were first recorded during the early Christian era. But the name Epidion is important, showing the presence of p-Celtic or Welsh rather than q-Celtic or Gaelic terminology in the area at this time. Coupled with the use of the Brittonic or Old British tongue in the Middle Kingdoms to the South , and the influence of the Norse, we have a wonderful history of linguistic development, all of which needs to be preserved.