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An Outlander’s Guide to Gaelic

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Have you been watching Outlander, the TV series based on the popular books by Diana Gabaldon? If so, you might have noticed some of the characters speaking Gaelic, one of the languages historically used in Scotland.

Gaelic in Scotland

We asked our Gaelic Officer Alasdair MacCaluim to tell us a little bit about the history of the language.

“It’s widely believed that Gaelic has only ever been spoken in the Highlands and that it is mainly spoken in the West Highlands today”, Alasdair explained. “In fact, historically Gaelic has been spoken all over Scotland at some point or another with the exceptions of Orkney and Shetland. The 2011 census showed that half of all Gaelic speakers today live in the Lowlands, with Glasgow, Edinburgh and Inverness being key growth areas.

“Because Gaelic has a relatively low number of speakers today, some assume it was marginally historically too. In reality, historians believe Gaelic was the dominant language of Scotland in the 12th century, spoken by half of the population in 1500, and by one third in 1700. In the early 1800’s, there were around 300,000 monolingual Gaelic speakers in Scotland.”

Gaelic in Outlander

With a third of people speaking Gaelic in the 1700s, it’s no surprise Gaelic words and phrases turn up in historical drama Outlander. When filming the TV series, they even have Gaelic dialect coach Àdhamh Ò Brion on set to help the actors with their pronunciation.

Today (Thursday April 30th) is Gaelic Twitter Day, so we thought we’d teach you how to say the Gaelic names of the four Historic Scotland sites used as filming locations for the first series of Outlander.

Caisteal Blackness

BLACKNESS CASTLE

Blackness Castle in West Lothian was built in the 15th century by one of Scotland’s most powerful families, the Crichtons. Its enduring roles were of garrison fortress and state prison, and in Outlander it is used in place of Fort William. The Gaelic for Blackness is Caisteal Blackness pronounced “Cashtal Blackness”.

Caisteal Obar Dobhair

ABERDOUR CASTLE

The original Aberdour Castle was built as a fortified residence in the 1100s, making it one of the oldest stone castles in Scotland. However, much of what you see today is the luxurious Renaissance home and gardens of Regent Morton, once Scotland’s most powerful man. In Outlander, Aberdour was used as the monastery in episode 16. The Gaelic for Aberdour Castle is Caisteal Obar Dobhair, pronounced “cashtal opar dowar”.

Luchairt Ghlinn lucha

LINLITHGOW PALACE

The royal pleasure palace of Linlithgow  was the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots, and a welcome stopping place for the royal family when travelling to Edinburgh Castle and Stirling Castle. Perhaps surprisingly, it was used to film prison corridors and entrances in episode 15 of Outlander!

The Gaelic for Linlithgow Palace is Luchairt Ghlinn lucha, pronounced loocharsht gleen loocha” with a soft “ch” sound in “loch”

Caisteal an Dùin

DOUNE CASTLE

Built for the Regent Albany, Doune Castle is a magnificent late 14th century courtyard castle. No stranger to the silver screen, before starring in Outlander as Castle Leoch it played Swamp Castle, Castle Anthrax and Camelot in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and Winterfell in the pilot episode of Game of Thrones. The Gaelic for Doune Castle is Caisteal an Dùin, pronounced “cashtal an doon”.

If you want to know more Gaelic place-names and words about the historical environment, see our Gaelic thesaurus and our “Taste of Gaelic” phrase book.

If Outlander has inspired you to explore more of Scotland’s history, why not get an Explorer Pass – and don’t forget to download our Outlander itinerary!

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About Author

Ali George

Ali works in the Communications Team helping to tell the many stories of Historic Scotland to visitors, members of the media and anyone else who is interested!

7 Comments

  1. Toilichte gun robh Alba Aosmhor an sàs a-rithist. Chòrd e rium an alt agaibh air Outlander. Chunnaic mi a’ chiad prògram an-diugh air Amazon Prime agus chan eil e dona idir! [A good read, on a fantastic day, about not a bad programme at all!]

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