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From the Bird's Mouth (cover)

Publisher: Woodlands Studios

Publication Year: 2022

Binding: Softback

Page Count: 91

ISBN Number: 9780953932450

Price: £ 15.99

Bho Bheul an Eòin / From the Bird’s Mouth

Over the past few years, there has been a resurgence in awareness of, and interest in, Scottish Gaelic far beyond the current heartlands of the Western Isles and Skye. Initiatives such as SpeakGaelic, a new learning program for beginners, learners, and lapsed speakers, as well as the online Scottish Gaelic Duolingo course have proven to be hugely popular. However, for Gaelic speakers, both native and learners, seeking to give voice to the nature around them, there are gaps where Gaelic names do not exist for certain species that are new to Scotland. For example, Mandarin Duck is a species that only relatively recently colonised parts of Scotland and so does not have a name that has been passed down through the generations of Gaelic speakers, and Scottish Crossbill was only described as a species in 1980, well after the Gaelic speaking community ebbed away from its Caledonian Forest home. Enter renowned wildlife artist, bird ringer and Gaelic scholar Derek Robertson, who took on the challenge of assigning new Gaelic names to a selection of species, and compiled these into a book combining science, art, poetry, and prose.

Derek’s task was no mean feat, as it required the sensitive engagement of Gaels, as well as the advice of linguists and natural historians, to produce a short-list of species to include in the project. BTO Scotland was pleased to be among the advisory organisations that recommended species for the short-list and helped with the naming process. Through careful, painstaking work Derek arrived at a list of species and set about finding the most appropriate ‘official’ name for each.

While we will have to wait for a full translation of all the bird species currently on the British List, Bho Bheul an Eòin gives names to 14 birds, as well as a range of other organisms from Harlequin Ladybird to Red Snow-algae. Some of the names chosen are straightforward; Scottish Crossbill is Cam-ghob Albannach (Scottish crooked-beak), whereas others differ from the English vernacular; the new Gaelic name for Bearded Tit corrects the English misnomer, with Cuilcear staiseach meaning ‘moustached reed worker’, which is a far more apt description of their whiskers. For the two birds that were selected that have honorific names: Cetti’s Warbler and Montagu’s Harrier, Derek has given the option in Gaelic of using an alternative, non-honorific name, following a precedent that is being set in the US with the Bird Names for Birds movement. Cetti’s Warbler can be either Ceileiriche Cetti or Ceileiriche falachaidh (meaning ‘hidden warbler’), and Montagu’s Harrier gets Clamhan Mhontagu or Clamhan-cluaine (meaning ‘meadow harrier’, which is the English translation in the Nordic languages).

Accompanying Derek’s text are his evocative paintings of each of the species featured, along with a short Gaelic poem by bard Roddy Gorman. Bho Bheul an Eòin is a beautiful piece of nature writing, with superb artwork, and a great contribution to the Gaelic linguistic tradition, as well as a cultural marker for Scotland’s changing environment. It would make a fine addition to the collections of anyone with an interest in wildlife art, language and the connection between communities and wildlife.

Book reviewed by Anthony Wetherhill

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