Last weekend, my partner & I travelled to Edinburgh from Cork to take part in an event organised by Scottish Gaelic poet, Marcas Mac an Tuairneir, and the University of Edinburgh’s Highland Society as part of the Scottish capital’s festival for Gaelic language and culture, Seachdain na Gàidhlig.
The theme of the event was LGBT poetry in two of the three Gaelic languages, Gaeilge and Gàidhlig. Being gay, of course, is only one part of me, but being a gay writer in a minority language means that I’m part of not just one minority community, but two. The same goes for Marcas, although we are by no means the first LGBT writers in either Gaelic language. Regardless, Na Balaich Aighearach | Na Buachaillí Aeracha (literally, ‘the gay boys‘) saw Marcas and I read our poetry in Irish, Scottish Gaelic, and English, with a few songs by Marcas and my good friend, Alison Ní Dhorchaidhe.
As Alison and I were a little late to the event (“typical Irish timing”, as Marcas aptly put it!) we had little time to prepare or compare our chosen poems, and yet common themes clearly appeared during our performance. I read two separate poems, Oíche ar an gCé and Mångata (a poem in English, despite its Swedish title), in which I touched on showing affection to a love interest away from broad daylight or public eye. This theme was reflected in some of Marcas’ poetry also, showing common experiences and subtle inequalities still experienced by LGBT people. We also read poems that touched on Armistice Day and soldiers, with the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One taking place the following day, as well as national identities and relationships – all part of an overall expression of identity and finding oneself, but told through the eyes of gay writers.
Aside from the poetry, it was wonderful to take part in a Gaelic-language event, and to see the language alive and well in Scotland’s capital. I studied Scottish Gaelic for a semester while doing my undergrad at UCD, and while I didn’t pay much attention to it then, I’ve since travelled to the gorgeous Scottish Highlands, as well as visiting Edinburgh a handful of times, to see the language ‘in action’. The state of the language and its community of speakers are in a different situation to Irish, and yet there is an energy to its younger and urban speakers, which gives me hope for a’ Ghàidhlig. At one particular point near the end of the event, Marcas sang the Gaelic song, Canan nan Gaidheal, which even my partner noted brought a warm atmosphere to the event, giving the impression that both Irish and Scottish Gaelic speakers were one community.
I must admit also, that Marcas himself was something of an inspiration to me. His passion for Gaelic, poetry, and pushing his writing ‘out there’ through various publications and competitions is something that I’ve done at times, but not with his seemingly consistent effort. While I do take part in the occasional literary event, and have two books published, I consider my writing as a creative outlet which is – first and foremost – for myself. I use writing as a form of releasing built-up thoughts and emotions, and sometimes as a form of self-therapy. Still, Marcas’ enthusiasm has encouraged me to write more, and with renewed purpose. We discussed the idea of a publishing a literary pamphlet in Irish, Scottish Gaelic, and English, and hopefully this will be a good project for 2019.
Finally, I’d like to say “Mòran taing” or many thanks to Marcas, Drew MacNaughton, and the rest of the organisers for inviting me to read in Edinburgh and be part of the Edinburgh Gaelic Festival. I returned to Ireland with a re-energised sense of being part of the wider Gaelic (or even Celtic) community, and hope to take part a little more in future. Míle buíochas daoibh go léir.
Featured image by Comann Ceilteach Oilthigh Dhùn Èideann