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Sabhal Mòr Ostaig Annual Lecture 2019


‘Put a notch in the rafter’: Setting Gaelic to work.

We are delighted that this year’s Sabhal Mòr Annual Lecture will be delivered by three of Scotland’s most important scholars and interpreters of material culture, Doctors Stuart Allan and Donald Willian Stewart and Professor Hugh Cheape. This comes as a fruit of an exciting new collaboration between National Museums Scotland and academic staff at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, and expressed through the national exhibition, Wild and Majestic – Romantic Visions of Scotland

“The exhibition set out to review the material culture of Scottish Romanticism in order to explore how, in the era of the European Romantic movement, the Scottish Highlands became the subject of international fascination, and to consider how and why material traditions derived from Gaelic society came to stand as an image for Scotland as a whole. Questioning the sceptical view that the Romantic version of the Highlands was purely invention, we sought to present a more balanced interpretation, showing how, through deliberate promotion by influential highlanders, cultural traditions were preserved, idealised and shaped to suit contemporary tastes against a background of political agendas, economic and social change. Gaelic culture, and the language itself, were central to this historical narrative and key to the messages we wished our visitors to take away.” (Dr Stuart Allan) 

Dr Stuart Allan

“Between the Jacobite wars with their tragic conclusion in the ’45 and the years when Scotland emerged in the public imagination as ‘land of mountains, glens and heroes’, the Gael was transformed into a symbol of Scottish identity recognised in the four corners of the world; the folk of the Highlands were aware of this but not taking much notice of it while experiencing some of the worst economic and social changes ever visited on them.” (Hugh Cheap) 

The lecture will discuss Gaelic perspectives to the subject of the ‘Romantic Visions of Scotland’ and put forward views and voices that might not have been much heard before, especially on topics such as Highland dress, Ossianic ballads, the romantic dream of mist-covered mountains the transformation of the ‘spirit of the Gael’ under the influence of gentry societies in the cities. A part of the lecture, Dr Dòmhnall William Stiùbhart will also discuss two well-known paintings used as backdrops for the exhibition: David Allan’s ‘Highland Wedding’ and Horatio MacCulloch’s landscape of Glencoe. 

“David Allan’s Highland Wedding has been described by art historians as a genre picture illustrating traditional marriage customs.A closer and more nuanced examination, however, makes it clear that the painter is giving a pointed, optimistic message to his audience regarding the extraordinary transformations undergone by the people, culture, and environment of Highland Perthshire over the previous generation, as they move from what was regarded as a rude traditional past into a new, commercial, polished, and enlightened present. As a contrast, Horatio MacCulloch’s landscape of Glencoe has been presented as a straightforwardly romanticised heroic vista of moor and mountain. But clues scattered about the painting suggest that it could rather be read as a depiction of a devastated landscape, an elegy for the clearances and the destruction of a culture and people. Whether engaging with Allan’s optimism or MacCulloch’s pessimism, such construals, underpinned by a deeper understanding of Gaelic culture, are not only ethically preferable to analysis based on old prejudices and presuppositions; they offer opportunities to create innovative scholarship, allowing us a more balanced view of the Scotland’s past, and how it might relate to Scotland’s present and its future.” (Dr Donald William Stewart)

The lecture will take place at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh at 6.30pm. The lecture is free to attend, with 80-100 places available to the public, on a first come first served basis. Please enter via the National Museum of Scotland’s Lothian Street entrance. 

The Directors of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig wish to acknowledge, with gratitude the very generous support of James McQueen Ltd, R.House Ltd and Pràban na Linne Ltd – The Gaelic Whiskies in sponsoring this year’s Annual Lecture. 

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