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The Humanities Conference 2003

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Presentation Details

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A Cultural Revolution -: An Analysis of the Gaelic Cultural Revival pre Scottish Devolution

Coralie Joyce.

The Scottish Gaelic renaissance was a vigorous cultural revival in the last decades of the twentieth century. A handful of commentators link the Gaelic cultural revival, specifically contemporary Gaelic music based on traditional Gaelic song, with an increased confidence and sense of national identity in the Scottish people. Paradoxically, Gaelic native speakers have been reduced to an alarming 1.37% in Scotland at this same point in time. This paper examines the role of Gaelic song in the Gaelic language question and analyses the paradoxical position Gaelic and Gaelic culture hold in Scotland in the decade prior to Devolution. Gaelic song has long been linked to politics in the form of social commentary and social incitement. Gaelic incitement song was considered directly responsible for the Land Reform Acts in late nineteenth century Scotland. This contemporaneous tradition of political commentary had long been part of the fabric of Gaelic society. However, late twentieth century Scotland was not a Gaelic speaking society as English is the predominant language. Nevertheless, the journalist Jim Crumley in 1996 commented on contemporary/traditional Gaelic song in the late eighties and early nineties pre devolution period as presenting a cultural revolution in twentieth century Scotland. He commented that while politics had always been a part of Scottish music the new music of Capercaillie and Runrig (Gaelic bands) represented a potent mixture of socialism and nationalism, a blend, which he described as representative of a Cultural Revolution. He was not alone. In Westminster, well before Crumley’s comments, members of Parliament were noting that the Scottish Gaelic bands Runrig and Capercaillie were such popular bands in Scotland that their concerts were sold out. These sympathetic (non-Scottish) sectors in Westminster considered that the next step for Scotland was political representation of this cultural expression. This paper represents part of a doctoral thesis on Scotland’s cultural revolution in the last decades of the twentieth century and its effects on Devolution.


Coralie Joyce  (Australia)
Macquarie University

Lecturer in charge of music production & performance at Department of Contemporary Music, Macquarie University. Performed professionally as a vocalist & produced multimedia performances & CD's in Sweden, Finland, Estonia, USA & Australia. Currently completing PhD on Estonian and Gaelic song revival.

  • Gaelic Song
  • Cultural revolution
  • nationalism
  • identity

(30 min paper, English)