Latha math dhuibh, a chàrdan.

This month, David continues his young working life in Edinburgh, taking his usual long rambles on foot and visiting friends and relatives whenever he has time off. It is a life that appears at points rather dull and it is clear that David is attempting to fully assimilate himself to the mores of British society.

In this blog, we learn how to say “how are you?” and “I’m well” as well as discussing the elusive evidence for the local variation on “thank you”. You may also notice that the title of the blog does not include the normal e at the end of the word fàilte – this is because like many eastern dialects, the Gaelic of Caithness most often clipped the final vowels from the ends of words.

FULL TEXT WITH COMMENTARY (in brackets and italics)



Benjamin and Alex came down with my clothes.  I gave Benjamin brandy sticks. (Are we to assume that David was having his clothes mended or suchlike? I cannot find any evidence of what “brandy stsicks” might be! ÀM)


Had a walk with Robert Annan.  Went to Prospect Place to see Sinclair.  Went with her to Burntisland.  Uncle John gave us a Highland welcome.  So did Mr and Mrs Bain.  Came back by the last boat.  Had a walk with her on Princes St, then went home with her to Prospect Place. (We are unaware of who Robert Annan was. Unsure too as to who Uncle or the Bains were, although there were certainly Bains in the Strath of Latheronwheel during this period. We wonder whether a dram was offered amongst these Presbyterian people, or whether the Highland Welcome consisted only of lighter refreshments and perhaps some baking)

Most likely there would have been Gaelic spoken, given the age of the people involved, belonging as they do to the generation or two before David. Caithness dialect differs none from the others in the phrases that would have been employed when meeting people for the first time in a while, despite the slightly divergent forms of some words. Most certainly the phrase cumar [th]a sibh? [how are you?] would have been followed with the answer tha gu math agus sibh fhéin? [I’m well and yourself?].

The form cumar [how] is an approximation of the manner in which Latheron folk pronounce the more recognisable ciamar and variation of spelling is necessary in order to make the change in sound clear. We have no reason to suspect that anything other than tha gu math would have been the most common answer, but there is a possibility that the tha gu sùrdail [feeling energetic, i.e. very well] used in the Parish of Reay may also have been current in Latheron Parish and therefore in the speech of these MacLeods and Bains.

We have attestation of the form cumar from the descendants of the last native speakers, from Jim Gunn of Newport, John Angus Miller of Dunbeath and Jimmag Black of Smerral.

Without a doubt, there would have been need of the word for “thank you” but we are as yet unclear on what this phrase would be despite careful and patient questioning of the above folk. The most likely answer is that it would have been a form of taing – either by itself as used in Sutherland to the south [and the area which bears the strongest resemblance dialectically to Latheron Parish] or móran taing [many thanks] as was found almost to the exclusion of any other phrases in the MacKay Country. Further variants on this theme are the taing dhut [thanks to you] of North Argyle or the taing mhór [big thanks] ciad taing [100 thanks] and mìle taing [1,000 thanks] often heard amongst today’s Hebridean speakers.

This month’s Gaelic phrases then are:

Cumar [a th]a sibh?

Tha gu math





How are you[s]?

[I’m] well


I have included “phonetics” as a rough guide for those who do not read Gaelic, but it must be stated that Gaelic has in fact one of the most phonetic spelling regimens in the world – it simply takes a little getting used to – unlike the English system which is so unphonetic that it strikes the new learner as if it can only have been dreamt up as an instrument of torture.


Went with Benjamin and Alex to a menagerie at the gymnasium. (This is likely to have been one of the travelling menageries that were common in the 19th century, captive collections of what would have been regarded as exotic living animals. According to an article by Scotland’s People, the “Royal Patent Gymnasium was the idea of philanthropist and business man John Cox (c.1805-1874) and was described as the ‘New Wonder of Edinburgh’ by the local newspapers… when it opened in 1865… The gym was established on the former Canonmills Loch, which had been drained between 1847-1864. Large wooden structures had begun to appear on the site by 1864, intriguing passers by. When the gym was complete and opened to the public it proved to be an instant success, regularly attracting 15,000 people a day with adults paying 6d entrance fee, and children under 12 being admitted for 3d. This, however, was not a gym as we would recognise it today. One of its famous features was the ‘Great Sea Serpent’; a 600 person rowing machine. The serpent even had its own grand march (of the same name) dedicated to it. Written by C Laubach, it was first performed at the gymnasium by the Band of the Edinburgh Rifle Volunteers on July 29 1865”)


Started with A. Sutherland Macdonald for Roslin.  Had a ramble along the Esk and its surroundings.  Came home by train. (Another tame 7.3m walk for David, the champion rambler, except that was only the way there; we must assume he also walked home as was his habit)


Had a letter from Neil Mackay.  Had postcard from D. Tait stating that Robert Sinclair was not expected to live. (Robert Sinclair was David’s former employer at the shop in Wick where he worked with D. Tait)


Went to Glen Street.  Benjamin, Alexander and I went to Clermiston Tower or Rest-and-be-thankful and then to Davidson’s Mains.  Then to Cramond, thence home along the Firth of Forth.  Met Sinclair and went home with her to Prospect Place. (To anyone brought up in Argyle, the “Rest and be Thankful” is the area just above Gleann a’ Chrò [Glen Croe] before reaching Loch Reisteil on the A83 from Tairbeart Loch Laoimein [Tarbet] but the truth is that the name is also used for a viewpoint on Corstorphine Hill. Clermiston Tower is situated on the hill and is also known as Corstorphine Tower, near to where David was eventually pass away from exposure in December 1892. Little did he know he was to meet his final “rest” there! At any rate, this is another good ramble for our compulsive walker at 6 miles. He would certainly have been fit at 21 years old. Below is an image of the tower from the Forever Edinburgh *)


Went to Glen Street.  Called on James Sinclair.  Went to the Free St Columba Church with him.  Went to Prospect Place.  Miss Young, Sinclair Macleod, James Sinclair and I had a walk on Princces Street.


Went an excursion from Leith to Stirling by steam boat.  Sinclair Macleod, Miss Young, Benjamin and Alex Sutherland and Mrs Finlayson were with us. (It is not known who Mrs Finlayson was. (According to an advert from 1814 published online by the Stirling Local History Society, “The ‘Stirling’ steam boat, elegantly fitted up for the accommodation of passengers, commenced sailing betwixt Stirling and Leith on Tuesday last and will continue to sail from Stirling every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and from Leith every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday while the weather permits. The hours of sailing will be determined by the time of the tides. She performs the voyage in seven hours and passengers are taken in and put out at Alloa, Kincardine &c. Fare from Stirling to Leith, best cabin 6s 6d; second cabin 4s 6d.” Unfortunately David, as usual, records absolutely nothing about the scenery, his feelings, or anything else that might be of more interest than the simple noting of the bare events! ÀM)


Went up to Glen Street.  Went down to Leith to see a French man of war in the Leith Docks.  Had a walk on Princes Street.  met Sinclair and Miss Young when there and went hom with them to Prospect Place. (It is difficult to ascertain just why the Man of War might have been at the Leith dock. Perhaps others more historically aware can offer thoughts on this. A cursory look at a very detailed website detailing the French Navy of the time shows some large ships in use around the right time period, like the one below)

That’s all for this month. Please do return to read on when May finds Dàibhidh MacLeòid at the theatre, the picture gallery and on the road again, this time to Queensferry, Glasgow and Dumbarton Castle. The colonialists declare Queen Victoria Empress of beleaguered India as her resources are further siphoned into British coffers and Bulgaria rises up once again against the Ottoman occupation.

Gach beannachd air an àm,

Àdhamh MacLeòid (ÀM)

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