South Alberta Pipes and Drums
Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada


a' Ghàidhlig

's fheàrr leam Gàidhlig bhriste na beurla chliste.

Gaelic, the language of Highland piping

What does the Gaelic language have to do with Highland piping? Those pipers who have considered piobaireachd know that many of the early works have Gaelic titles, often translated more or less accurately into English. Indeed, many tunes in the ceòl beag tradition, particularly slow airs and reels, also originally had Gaelic titles. The original titles give a sense of what the composer was thinking when the tune originated. The vocabulary of piping has many terms relating back to the origins of Highland piping. The "urlar" of a pìobaireachd literally does mean the ground or base of the tune, i.e. the basic melody on which the subsequent variations are based. But it also has the sense of floor of beaten earth as an early Highland shanty ("sean taigh" or old house) would have had. Likewise, terms such as leumluath, crunluath also have meaning. From an historical point of view, the canntaireachd which draws on Gaelic sounds, was used to teach piping at schools operated by such families as the MacCrimmons.

Gaelic piping terms

piobaireachd PEEP-air-echd action of piping, i.e. bagpipe playing (not a "pibroch")
ceòl mòr kee-OHL more "big music" meaning pibroch as we now call it
ceol beag kee-OHL bek "little music", traditional music (jigs, strathspeys, reels, etc) and marches
ùrlar OOR-lahr literally the ground floor; the underlying melody of the tune
siubhal passing or traversing: theme notes each coupled with a single note of higher or lower pitch that usually precedes the theme note
dithis two or pair: theme note is accented and followed by a cut note of lower pitch, usually alternating, e.g., between an A and a G. If the coupled pairs are played in a repeating pattern, it too is called a dithis doubling.
crùnludh crowning movement
crùnludh a-mach quick crowning movement
bàrludh quick crowning movement
leumludh quickest speed: also called a grip
taorludh free movement
canntaireachd sung music
puirt a beul tune from the mouth
coronach or cumha lament (for somebody who has died)
fàilte tunes that acknowledge a person, event or location, e.g. birth of a child
port tionail tunes written specifically for a clan, e.g., to gather the clan
ruidhle reel
srath strathspey
port-cruinn jig
pìobaire, pìobairean piper, pipers
drumair, drumairean drummer, drummers
còmhlan-ciùil band

Gaelic dress terms

bonaid BON-nedge bonnet
tàidh TAH-ee tie
suaicheantas aig bhonaid cap badge
lèine shirt
sheacaid SHA-kedge jacket
crios belt
bucall buckle
feileadh beag, feileadh mòr little kilt (i.e. common today), big kilt (6 yards of tartan cloth pleated, belted, and and pinned over shoulder)
sporan sporran
osan hose
cneaball KRAY-behl flashes
dealg kilt pin
brògan brogues (i.e. shoes)
cleòc rain cape
breacan fly plaid
bràiste brooch
triubhais TREE-oo-ish trews or trousers

Gaelic that you already know

slainte, slainte mhath SLAWN-tcha, SLAWN-tcha vah health, good health (a typical toast)
gu leor goo lay-OR "galore", plenty or enough
sean taigh shawn ty-ee "shanty" meaning an old house
sluagh ghairm sloo-ach-ayrm "slogan", a call to battle
's math sin sma-shin "smashing", meaning that is good
bard bart "bard", a poet
bansidh ban-shee "banshee", a wailing fairy
loch lawgh "loch", a lake
clann klownn "clan", extended family, literally children
gleann glen "glen", a valley with a V shaped bottom
beinn ben "ben", a hill e.g. Ben Nevis
bog bog "bog", soft, wet, as in a swamp
burn bern "burn", a stream
cabar kah-bar "caber", a pole
carn kahrn "cairn", a pile of stones
ceilidh KAY-lee "ceilidh", a party, literally a visit
creag krayg "crag", an individual spike of rock
dun duhn a hilltop, often associated with a prehistoric fort
gille gill-ay "gillie", a boy, a servant,
mor mohr big
plaide play-day "plaid" or blanket
Sasannach sah-sehn-ak Saxon, i.e. an Englishman
srath strah a broad valley with a U shaped bottom

Common Gaelic expressions

Ciamar a tha thu? (...sibh?) KIM-mer ah ha oo (...shiv) how are you (sibh: formal or plural)
Tha mi gu math hah me goo mah I am well
Chaneil mi gu math hach-neel me goo mah I am not well
Tha mi sgithe hah me skEE I am tired
Tha mi toilichte hah me tow-ee-leek-ta I am happy
failte FALL-tcha welcome
Madainn mhath ma-ten vah good morning
Feasgar math fess-gar mah good afternoon or evening
Oidhche mhath uh-eek-yah-vah good night
Tha i fuar an-diugh hah ee foor an-choo It's cold today
Tha i blath an-diugh hah ee foor an-choo It's warm today
Tha i teth an-diugh hah ee chay an-choo It's hot today
Tha i breagtha an-diugh hah ee bree-ay-hach an-choo It's beautiful today
Tha i grianach an-diugh hah ee gree-an-akh an-choo It's sunny today


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