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The archive project
Ken Macdonald reports
 real 28k

Ken Macdonald reports
Listening to the recordings
 real 28k

Friday, 19 November, 1999, 13:11 GMT
Gaelic makes sound use of the internet
The project is based on the Isle of Skye

A project under way to preserve Scotland's extensive Gaelic audio archive will make the material available to its widest audience ever.

The 18,000 hours of songs and spoken word are being collected for posterity on the Internet.

Scotland's audio heritage currently exists in many media, from wax cylinders to digital discs, in several sites. The object of this exercise is to make it all available in one place.

"Tobar an Dualchais", or "Kiss'd o' riches" in Scots, is managed by the University of the Highlands and Islands project at Sabhal Mor Ostaig on the Isle of Skye.

Other partners involved are the BBC, Edinburgh University, The National Trust for Scotland, Comunn na Gaidhlig, The Gaelic Broadcasting Committee, and Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

Decay danger

The recordings, some of which are in danger of decay, are held in three collections - at the School of Scottish Studies in Edinburgh University, BBC Scotland, and the National Trust's Campbell Collections on the Isle of Canna.

Some of the material ranges from tales recorded by John Lorne Campbell in 1935, to folklore collected by Calum Maclean throughout the 1950s, to Scots songs recorded by Hamish Henderson from Travelling People in the 60s.

John Lorne Campbell of Canna
The project is co-ordinated by Martin MacIntyre, who believes its success is important for a number of reasons.

"We thought it was important from a cultural point of view that this material should be returned in some way to the communities where it was gathered," he said.

"Also, to create significant employment in these rural communities using the linguistic skill and local knowledge based within those communities."

A pilot project was carried out on Tiree where people catalogued and digitised some of the local archive.

The full project would create dozens of jobs, not just for Gaelic speakers but also for those who specialise in Lowland Scots and Highland English.

At a cost of around 3m over the four years it would take to transfer all the material onto the Web, a great deal of planning has gone into the logistics.

Effort rewarded

Lachie Dick, head of the project's steering group, firmly believes the cost and effort will be sufficiently rewarding.

"The fact there is this rich body of material will widen the scope of the language and hopefully it won't just be a case of people using the material as it is, but that it will spark creativity and lead to the development of new material based on it," he said.

"I don't think on its own it's going to turn the corner for Gaelic, but it's another brick in the wall that we build to support it."

Martin MacIntyre is adamant, though, that the catalogue will not be for the preservation of a dying language.

"This is very much securing the legacy and in a sense is just the beginning, a very strong beginning with 18,000 hours of material," he maintained.

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