What’s the Gaelic for “flash mob”?

by May 3, 2013

The month of May is Mios na Gàidhlig, Gaelic Awareness Month in the province of Nova Scotia. To help publicize a new exhibit on the Gaels of Nova Scotia at the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History from April 24 to May 29, 2013, this flash mob was held in the last week of April in the food court of Scotia Square mall in the Halifax city centre.

The flash mob was in the form of a milling frolic, a social event that developed out of what used to be a work party in the olden days. As the novascotia.com website described a milling frolic [update: link no longer works],

“In years past it was necessary to shrink newly woven wool that came off the loom. Gaelic songs are sung in rhythm as the cloth is pounded on a table. Today, the milling frolic is performed for enjoyment, and is a great way to participate in Gaelic singing and meet Gaelic singers.”

Although I had always learned òrain luaidh (milling or waulking songs) in Gaelic classes, enjoyed them in concerts and on recordings, and had seen a re-enactment once, it wasn’t until I arrived in Nova Scotia that I experienced a milling frolic as a social event in itself. This custom was maintained and transformed by Gaels in Nova Scotia while it was nearly lost altogether in Scotland, an t-Seann Dùthaich.

I participated — I love a good milling frolic, and who doesn’t enjoy a good flash mob? — and made a video. The quote in the middle says “Cha chur sinn ar cànan ‘s ar cultar air falach!” which means “We will not hide our language and culture!” Why? For too many years in both Nova Scotia and Scotland, Gaelic speakers treated their language as though it was like sex — something that should be done between consenting adults in private, and certainly never in front of the children. Speaking Gaelic in public could be risky, inviting dirty looks, epithets, criticism, and even physical violence. Much safer to speak English.

We’re trying to break that down. One or two people on the fringe gave us knowing looks and grins — they knew exactly what we were doing, a milling frolic in the most unlikely of settings, but would not join in. This flash mob, the first of its kind in Gaelic, symbolizes our willingness to use Gaelic in public, in the heart of the Àrd-Bhaile no less, and with pride rather than shame. It’s a feeling that we can’t yet take for granted.

I’ve started a Mios na Gàidhlig playlist on my YouTube channel for videos (mine and others’) of this month’s events. Please subscribe to my channel if you’d like to keep up with the latest ones!

And in case you were wondering, the Gaelic for “flash mob” is ghràisg bheum.

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