As regards the location of current Gaelic-speaking areas in
Scotland, neither am I an expert. Since not many experts seem to have
plunged into the fray, however, I'll report what I know, in the hope that
it is useful.
The language is certainly alive on the mainland, but has been on
its last legs for some time. It appears to be strongest on the far west
coast. Starting from the south, it is alive in Ardnamurchan (Argyll),
Moideart (and perhaps Arisaig) (Inverness), the area of west Ross opposite
the Isle of Sky, from Kintail and Lochcarron (the strongest area) north to
Applecross and to Gairloch, and Stoer in southwestern Sutherland. It is
spoken by the oldest people in most of north Sutherland.
There are probably some speakers left in the fishing villages of
southeastern Sutherland (see Nancy Dorian's books, East Sutherland Gaelic,
etc.),as well as in bordering Easter Ross, in the Tarbert Ness peninsula
(see A Gaelic Dialect of N.E. Ross-Shire, Joseph Watson, Lochlann #6).
I'm told that the last speakers from Strathglass (west of Inverness
town) are gone. There are 3 old native speakers in Glengarry (as of 3 years
ago).There are sure to be some speakers left in Lochaber. There are a few
old speakers left in southern Badenoch (the very long glen that enters the
sea east of Inverness town). There was 1 speaker in Braemar, Aberdeenshire
as of 1976 (see Aberdeenshire Gaelic, Adam Watson, Transactions of the
Gaelic Society of Inverness, #?).
There are probably a few old people still in west Perthshire, in
the south central Highlands, as there are in northwestern Argyll (south of
As regards the Inner Hebrides: the west of Islay still has a good
few speakers. Tiree is probably the strongest Gaelic speaking island, aside
from parts of Skye. There are probably some speakers still on Colonsay,
Eigg and Jura. Much of Mull was cleared and is now English immigrants, but
Gaelic is stronger in the south. Only the north of Skye (Trotternish in the
east, (ie Kilmuir, Staffin) and Duirinish in the west (north of Dunvegan),
as well as parts of the southwest (Sleat and some places to its north), are
fairly strong. There are plenty of Gaelic speakers all over Skye though.
THere are lots of immigrant Gaelic-speakers in Inverness town and
in Oban town, as well as in Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Comhairle nan Sgoiltean Araich has been doing fantastic
well-considered thoughtful work in laying a solid foundation for the future
of Gaelic as a community language in many parts of the Highlands, work
which goes far beyond simply operating nursery schools.Things seem to have
turned around, to some extent, in the last few years, much more so than in
Accurate information is availible from the 1981 census booklet on
Gaelic (don't know the title), and in Gaelic in Scotland, 1698-1981 by
Charles Withers, John Donald Publishers, 1984 (very detailed), and in
various articles. Also useful is the 1982 report Cor na Gaidhlig (Highlands
and Islands Development Board).
This isn't meant as a definitive statement; merely a general impression.
Do Irish and Scottish Gaelic speakers understand one another? The
dialects of northeastern Ireland (recently defunct) and southwestern
Highlands (also pretty defunct) were certainly closely related. Donegal
speakers (in northwestern Ireland) have told me that they can understand
contemporary Scots Gaelic speakers, to some extent. Otherwise, one needs to
study the other language in order to understand it, though not a great deal
of study is needed, as Irish and Scots dialects of Gaelic are, in practical
terms, as close to one another as the dialects of what are considered to
form one language (Breton, German, Dutch, etc.).