In one sense, you can see the creation of an urban Gaidhalteachd through the emergence of a variety of institutions and societies that help support Gaelic folk in one way or another. Institutionally, I suppose, the earliest that is significant in this regard is the Highland Society of Glasgow from the 1720s and this is in no doubt, at least in its own paperwork, about the role it plays in supporting Highland persons or persons of Highland origin, as it has it. But I think there’s a sense too that this institution is actually sort of about Highland gentlemen, that this is about men of status, and men of status rather than whole families. This is not in any sense what we see by the end of the nineteenth century; of institutions coping for the Highland destitute poor; institutions which are structured either by region, which is very common: Argyll Society, Sutherland Society and Caithness Societies and so on, or in relation to particular clan loyalties but even before we think of institutions in those terms, what we have to understand is the importance of the family as a sort of network, as a resource, for the people we call upon, much as now of course. Why should we see anything different in the past? And the most important institution in the urban context was the Gaelic church, there’s no doubt about that. That’s particularly true for Glasgow. So it’s dangerous to think of a kind of typology over time but you can think of initial rather sort of high social status charitable organisations ... Gaelic churches were clearly important right from the off and then, by the latter part of the eighteenth and certainly throughout the nineteenth century, a whole variety of regional clan affiliation or sometimes, just sometimes, occupation support for Highlanders working within particular industries.

  • Charles Withers
Thursday 17th June 2010