Scottish Gaelic: Gaelic Scotland

Continuing on from my post: Concerning nonsense; I’d like to expand further on the matter of Gaelic language and culture being a part of all of Scotland’s heritage, and not just that of the Highlands. So first, I’ll give you a brief rundown of the numbers of speakers.

Scottish Gaelic speakers

57,000 speakers in Scotland (2011 Census of Scotland, Table QS211SC) With 87,000 people aged three and over Scotland wide reported having some Gaelic language ability in 2011. (2011 Census of Scotland, Table QS211SC)

Now, would it surprise you to know that roughly half of those Gaelic speakers live in the Lowlands? Well, according to, its the truth. Anyway, the Highland region compromises roughly just over half of Scotland’s landmass and has a population of around 400,000; 7 % of which speak Gaelic. 7% of the Highlands speak Gaelic, and that’s just an estimate; with only half of those speakers being fluent. So with both regions speaking it to some extent today, and all of Scotland having spoken it predominantly for centuries before, should an imaginary line really divide an entire country, a country that is tiny in both size and population? Are Highlanders ethnically different to Lowlanders? No, it’s simply genetically impossible, otherwise, they would have degenerated into a homogeneous society of cave-dwelling fish folk; especially considering their population is absolutely infinitesimal. It is also worth noting that there a 100,000’s of English, welsh and Irish people living all over Scotland; in the Highlands and Lowlands. There are sizable populations of all of the above living in the Highlands alone, and who don’t speak Gaelic; yet are they more Scottish than Lowlanders? If your answer is yes, then there is no counter argument I can make to try and convince you otherwise; there simply isn’t. And if there were, then I fear I wouldn’t have the skills necessary to accomplish it on account of you being an absolute moron. Anyway, enough of my ranting. Below, are a few maps of the distribution of the Gaelic language throughout Scotland at various periods in time.

10th-12th century Scotland


The blue is Gaelic speakers. The purple is Norse-Gaelic speakers. The pink is English speakers. The green is an estimation of the extent of the Cumbric language in Scotland during this period; the region is also thought to have been home to both Gaelic and English also. So, according to this map, the extent of Anglo-Saxon and Cumbric influence in 12th century Scotland was minimal at best; why, it seems like Norse had more of a foothold during that time than any other outside cultural influence. So, Scotland up and until around the 12th century, was wholly Gaelic. Let’s compare this map to some more recent ones shall we?

Side note: according to this map, Lewis isn’t even Gaelic at this point in time, whereas almost the entire Lowlands is. If that doesn’t make you see things a little differently in regards to Highland and Lowland Scotland, then just leave, because nothing I say will ever convince you otherwise. Also, just thought I’d point out that Cumbric speakers were Brythonic Celts; the optimal word here, being Celts. It’s also worth noting that the Anglo influence is barely worth registering, and is, again, lesser even than that of the Norse influence in Scotland’s far north. Lastly, it was actually during the 10-11th centuries that Gaelic became known as the lingua Scotia: The language of Scotland.

1400’S-1500’s Scotland


These two maps show the estimated linguistic (See linguistic, not ETHNIC) divide in Scotland during the 1400’S, and then 1500’s. The blue represents Gaelic. The Yellow represents Scots. The orange represents Norn. This map, however, does not represent those bilingual speakers who could converse in either language, but does help to illustrate the extent of the language continuing in much of Galloway and the wider Aberdeen shire area. What this says to me is that Lowlanders opted to learn English so as to effectively trade with those south of the border. Industry and commerce of course would have fuelled this necessity further; but it by no means says to me that we suddenly became English. It’s worth noting that when a Highlander refers to a lowlander as a Sassenach, that term does not, at least originally, refer to one’s ethnicity, but rather to ones spoken tongue I.E; an English speaker; even the Irish referred to Scots as Foreign Gaels on account of us having spoken a slightly different dialect of Gaelic to them.

Side note: King Alexander III, coroneted in 1249, was addressed at his coronation in Scottish Gaelic; which he understood. King Alexander was not a ‘Highlander‘, though was descended from the old Celtic royal line of ancient Scotland. Like me*, he was a Gaelic speaking ‘Lowlander‘(*Learning), despite his ancient Scottish pedigree; he would be considered a Lowlander.

Also, did you know that the Outer Hebrides went from being Nordic in language and culture, to Gaelic in around the 12th century; even despite their Norse ancestry, regaining the language was enough to have them considered Gaels again. Let that sink in; half Norse, half Scottish people picking up the language used by a portion of their ancestors. Do you think any Highlanders balked at that? And now, Lewis (Outer Hebrides) is the last bastion of the language, despite having spoken it for far less time than the Lowlands did! But no, no; their still more Scottish than us ‘Lowlanders’………ridiculous.

1800’s Scotland


This map shows the distribution of Scottish Gaelic in 1891. Notice that the only places in Scotland during 1891 that were 75-80% Gaelic fluency was two small fractions of Uist and Lewis, Arkeg, a small slither of southern Nairn, Southern Oban, Jura, the northern tip of Kintyre, and the area between Dumess and Ullapool; whilst only 5-30% of the Highland region was actually fluent.

Now, the Lowlands and the north east of Scotland had an average of 5-10% Gaelic speakers inhabiting it (In some areas that percentage rises to 25-75%; such as Ayr, Sanquhar, Girvan, Ballantrae, Peeples, sections of the Edinburgh region, Moffat and Selkirk; some even possessing at least 75-80% Gaelic language fluency)

Contrast that with today, were around only 7% of the Highlands speaks the language in any capacity; with 1% of Scotland’s total population speaking Gaelic both fluently and conversationally/intermediary. So, by today’s logic, this 1891 survey would be enough to make both the Lowlands and the east/*northeast of Scotland ethnically/culturally Gael (*From Elgin in the Northeast, down to Perth, there was roughly a 5-30% fluency)

Only a small fraction of the border region possessed no Gaelic language skills at this time however, and I stress, it is a small fraction considering how many people will tell you that no one in that region even spoke it at all. So, if there were no Gaels outside of the Highlands, then how could the language have been spoken Scotland wide from the 12th century, and then well into the 1800’s?

21st century Scotland


This map shows the distribution of Gaelic speakers in Scotland in 2001. Note that whilst the Lowlands has only some proficiency with the language, there are roughly only two regions that sit around the 4% threshold; whereas, in almost half of the Highland region the percentage of speakers falls below the 4% threshold as well. As I have said before, the only place in Scotland that seems to have retained a Gaelic day to day life is Lewis and the Outer Hebrides. In fact, the centre of the Highlands itself currently possess just about the same amount of Gaelic speakers as the lowlands once did only 126 years ago. Yet they are apparently more Scottish than me? They are apparently more culturally different? Well, I wear the Kilt, and I’ am learning the language. I also play the Bagpipes and am learning the fiddle to boot! So, it would seem that I, a Lowlander, am more of a Gael than half of today’s ‘Highlanders’.

Scotland today


SkateTier – Own work: Geographic Distribution of Gaelic speakers in Scotland (2011)

As it is quite hard to make out, I have circled all of those areas in Lowland and Northeastern Scotland that are up to 1-5% Gaelic speaking. Note, that despite this map, at first glance, misleading the eye into believing that Gaelic is all but dead in the Lowlands and Northeast; Scotland’s Lowland population is somewhere close to 5,500,000 or thereabouts, whereas the Highland population is around 400,000. So, 42 areas of the Lowlands with 1-5% of the population speaking Gaelic, is incredibly substantial compared to those who speak it in the vastly smaller Highland region.


But remember, being a Gael is for the most part linguistic, not ethnic; a Scot is a Scot, whether he is more Pictish, Celtic, or Gaelic than his neighbor, we all have a good mixture of the blood of each pumping through our veins regardless of what language we speak. I have ‘Highland’ ancestry as much as I do ‘Lowland’. Scottish Gaelic belongs to me. Scottish culture is my culture.

Cinead MacAlpin.


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