Gàidhlig ann an Dùn Èideann - Gaelic in Edinburgh

28 October 2020

The 2011 Scottish Census found that there were 5,935 people in Edinburgh who had some skills in Gaelic; but how much do we know about this ancient language and its place in Edinburgh history?

Haymarket Main

Eachdraidh na Gàidhlig ann an Dùn Èideann - History of Gaelic in Edinburgh

Scottish Gaelic was spoken throughout most of Scotland at one time and was the prevalent language in large parts of the country until the 19th century. One of the Celtic languages spoken in different parts of Britain and Ireland, it is closely related to Irish and Manx Gaelic. Gaelic is now recognised as a national language of Scotland, with equal respect in law.

Traditionally seen as a Highlands/Islands language, Edinburgh can rightly claim an influence in nurturing the language. Gaelic has been present in Edinburgh for more than a thousand years, when the settlement was incorporated into the Gaelic-speaking Kingdom of Alba.

Gaelic speakers from the Highlands began to settle in the city, establishing a Gaelic community that has continued to grow and develop to this day.

Continuity of Gaelic worship in Edinburgh has been maintained since 1704, beginning when a provision was made by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland for services for Gaelic-speaking soldiers stationed at Edinburgh Castle. The first Gaelic chapel was established in the Old Town in 1769 (today, a bilingual plaque in Johnston Terrace marks the site). The Gaelic service moved from church to church around Edinburgh over many years until 1979, when Highland Tolbooth and St John’s, through union with Greyfriars Kirk, became part of Greyfriars Tolbooth and Highland Kirk – a name which reflected the new presence of a Gaelic congregation in Greyfriars. It is interesting to note that the last two places of Gaelic worship, before coming to Greyfriars in 1979, have emerged as notable public places in the capital’s cultural life: Highland Tolbooth St John’s is now The Hub and The Highland – formerly in Cambridge Street, 1948–1956 – is now the Traverse Theatre.

Regular Gaelic services continue to be offered today at Greyfriars Kirk. Held on Sundays at 12.30pm, the service follows the English language service, and everyone is welcome to attend.

The city has been home to many leading Gaelic writers and scholars through the centuries, including poet Donnchadh Bàn Mac an t-Saoir (Duncan Ban MacIntyre) (1724 - 1812) and poet Somhairle MacGill-Eain (Sorley MacLean) (1911 - 96).

 Plaque To Duncan Ban Macintyre Roxburgh Close Edinburgh Main

(Plaque to Duncan Ban MacIntyre, Roxburgh Close)

The first printed Gaelic book was published in Edinburgh in 1567, as was the first secular Gaelic book (1741) and the first collection of Gaelic poetry (1751).

The Highland Society of Edinburgh, now known as The Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland, was founded in Edinburgh in 1784 to promote the regeneration of rural Scotland, as well as the preservation of its poetry, language and music. The support of Gaelic culture and literature was among its original remits.

The study of Celtic at the University of Edinburgh goes back to 1882, making it the longest established Celtic department in Scotland, while the School of Scottish Studies was founded in 1951 to collect, archive and promote the cultural traditions of the nation.

Today, the Edinburgh City Vision 2050 states that Edinburgh aspires to be a connected, inspired, fair and thriving city. The Gaelic language and Gaelic communities are an integral part of this vision, and the city.Gaelic-medium education is provided in Edinburgh at Bun-sgoil Taobh na Pàirce and James Gillespie’s High School.

 School Main

Ainmean Gàidhlig ann an Dùn Èideann - Gaelic place names in Edinburgh

Place name evidence shows there are names of Gaelic origin throughout Edinburgh:

Craigentinny Creag an t-Sionnaich The rock of the fox
Balerno Baile Àirneach The sloe settlement
Dalry Dail Fhraoich Heather slope
Inverleith Inbhir Lìte Confluence of the (water of) Leith
Drumsheugh Druim Seileach Willow ridge
Craigmillar Creag Maol Àirde Bare height crag
Dalmahoy Dail MoThutha The meadow of St Tua
Dundas Dùn Deas Southern fort
Tipperlinn Tiobar-Linne Well-pool
Braid Am Bràghad the upper part


Goireasan - Resources

If you’re keen to explore more about Gaelic culture, learn or develop your language skills, or simply make new friends, check out the suggestions below:

The Edinburgh Gaelic Festival is a citywide festival celebration of Edinburgh’s Gaelic community and of Gaelic’s place in the capital city. 

An Comann Ceilteach / The Highland Society. The University of Edinburgh’s oldest society, open to Gaelic speakers and non-speakers alike.

The University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Open Learning offers Gaelic evening courses to members of the public, staff and students. The Department of Celtic & Scottish Studies also has an interesting blog,

The Scottish Storytelling Centre offers a year-round programme of events which often include workshops, theatre, storytelling, music, and dance, with Gaelic content.

The Scottish Parliament offers Gaelic tours and education sessions, provides Gaelic publications, and welcomes contact in Gaelic. 

The website of the Scottish Poetry Library contains Gaelic resources, podcast interviews with Gaelic poets and poems written by Gaelic poets.

Òganan Dhùn Èideann provides Edinburgh and the Lothians with a unique Gaelic-medium wraparound childcare facility for pre and primary school children within the Gaelic school, Bun-sgoil Taobh na Pàirce.

National Museums Scotland provides Gaelic language resources for primary school pupils

The National Library of Scotland holds well over 3,000 printed works of Gaelic interest, including books written in Gaelic and other Celtic languages, as well as books about the Gaels, their language, literature, culture and history.

Newbattle Abbey College provides Gaelic language teaching, as well as events.

Iomairt Ghàidhlig Dhùn Èideann promotes Gaelic in Edinburgh through various projects.

Run by An Comunn Gàidhealach’s Edinburgh branch, Mòd Ionadail Dhùn Èideann is one of 20 annual local Mòds held in Scotland. A warm, family-friendly event, it offers young people many opportunities to join in the largest Gaelic cultural event in the Scottish capital.

Lothian Gaelic Choir aims to further the study of Gaelic language, culture and musical tradition by the practice, performance and promotion of Gaelic vocal and choral music.

Còisir Dhùn Èideann is one of Scotland’s longest established Gaelic choirs. New members always welcome.

Fèis Dhùn Èideann offers a busy programme of traditional music activities for young people in Edinburgh. They offer weekly music classes through term time and offer a yearly Fèis in the February school holidays.

Cearcall Còmhraidh is a relaxed and friendly conversation group in Edinburgh open to Scottish Gaelic speakers at all levels.


If all that has sparked your interest in learning Gaelic, here’s some words and common phrases (with pronunciation) to get you started:

 Good Morning  Madainn mhath  madeen va
 Good afternoon / good evening  Feasgar math  fesskurr ma
 How are you?  Ciamar a tha thu?  kimmer uh ha oo
 How are you yourself?  Ciamar a tha thu fhèin?    kimmer uh ha oo haen   
 I am happy  Tha mi toilichte    ha mee tolleech tch
 I am well  Tha mi gu math    ha mee goo ma
 That’s good!  ‘S math sin!  Smashin
 What’s doing?  Dè tha dol?  jae ha doll
 No news  Chan eil càil as ùr    chan yil cahl ass oor
 It’s been a while!  ‘S fhada bho nach fhaca mi thu!  sattuh voe nch ach kuh mee oo
 It has indeed! ‘S fhada gu dearbh! sattuh goo jarraff
 Thank you   Tapadh leat  tappuh let
 Wait a minute  Fuirich mionaid  fooreech minnatch
 I don’t understand  Chan eil mi a’ tuigsinn  chan yil mee took-sheen
 How is the weather?  Ciamar a tha an aimsir?  kimmer uh ha un amashir
 It is wet  Tha e fluich  ha e flooch
 It is dry  Tha e tioram  ha e tchirrum
 It is cold  Tha e fuar  ha e foo-ur
 It is warm  Tha e blàth  ha e blah
 Where are you from?  Cò às a tha thu?  Coe ass uh ha oo
 I am from Scotland  Tha mi à Alba  ha mee a Alabbuh
 I am from Edinburgh  Tha mi à Dùn Eideann  ha mee a Doon Ae jun
 I am from England  Tha mi à Sasainn  ha mee a Sassun
 I am from Wales  Tha mi as a’ Chuimrigh  ha mee ass Ah-choomurry
I am from Ireland   Tha mi à Eirinn  ha mee a Ae-run
 What colour is this?  Dè an dath a tha seo?  jaen da uh ha shaw
 Black  Dubh  doo
 Blue  Gorm  gorrom
 Green  Uaine  oo-annyuh
 Pink  Pinc  peenk
 Red  Dearg  jarrack
 White  Geal  g-yal
 Yellow  Buidhe  boo-yuh
 How many?  Co Mheud?  Coe vee-ut
 1  Aon  eun
 2  Dhà  ghah
 3  Trì   tree
 4  Ceithir  cae-hir
 5  Còig  coe-ig
 6  Sia  shee a
 7  Seachd  shachk
 8  Ochd  ochk
 9  Naoi  neu-ee
 10  Deich  jae-eech


To spur you on, take some inspiration from this quote outside the Scottish Parliament!

 Proverb At Parliament Main