VISITSCOTLAND has revealed how visitor interest in Scottish Gaelic has risen over the last four years.

The revelation from the tourism organisation comes as the first-ever World Gaelic Week – Seachdain na Gàidhlig – kicks off, aiming to celebrate and promote the importance of Gaelic.

From 2018 to 2021, there was a 72% increase in the number of users visiting Gaelic-related content – with a peak in page views occurring during the 2020 lockdown.

The language’s popularity has also grown on the Duolingo app. The learning tool launched the free course on St Andrew’s Day back in 2019, and there are now 430,000 active learners studying Scots Gaelic. The course has been a success in Scotland, the UK, and the world over, with the largest number of learners – 35% – in the USA. The app also has Gaelic learners from locations as far afield as Chad, Equatorial Guinea, San Marino, the Falkland Islands and Tajikistan.

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VisitScotland launched its first Gaelic toolkit last year to help the tourism industry to build upon the lure of the language with visitors. It highlights ways to use Gaelic and its culture to create a more immersive visitor experience, such as teaching staff some basic phrases and translating place names to reveal their Gaelic origins and meanings.

Amid the significant rise in interest, a key aim of this year’s Scotland’s Year of Stories theme is to share how Gaelic is woven into the fabric of the country, influencing the way we speak and tell stories. To celebrate the theme, a nationwide programme of more than 100 events are to be held for community groups, with 20 of these celebrating Gaelic.

They include Tir Iseal nan Oran (Tiree: low land of song), an island-wide creative project which aims to celebrate and promote Tiree’s stories, heritage, culture, and Gaelic language. At the heart of the project are seven stories from the island’s history, tradition and mythology – which will be explored within their physical and historical contexts to inspire new creative work.

Bail’ Ach’ an Droighinn/Auchindrain Historic Township – the last surviving Highland township, based near Inveraray in Argyll – plans to celebrate by presenting a new series of Argyll folk tales on its YouTube channel. The stories will be told in the local Gaelic dialect, along with subtitles, and will offer insights into the myths and legends told by the people of the past.

In Skye, SEALL (Skye Events for All Ltd) and Gaelic singer Anne Martin will lead An Tinne (The Link), which is a special programme of events linking a collection of songs, stories, and objects from across the centuries exploring the connection between Scotland and Australia.

Stornoway’s An Lanntair will present Seanchas, a series of events, films and special commissions celebrating tales from the Hebrides.

A new film, Cliabh An T-Shenachais – The Story Creel, will celebrate fishing and its importance to the remote communities of south-west Mull and Iona.

Knowledge of the sea and weather signs, tall tales of misadventure, and the experiences of family members on shore will be explored through interviews with fishing families. These stories will be interwoven with Gaelic language sea songs and poems performed by school children.

Elsewhere, Sgeulaichean Siarach is a celebration of stories and myths associated with the west side of Lewis. In two live performances, primary school children will share their own creative Gaelic language responses to traditional stories, passed on by island elders during environmental walks to significant local sites.

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Songs from the Last Page is a live performance and songwriting project led by composer Gareth Williams and Chamber Music Scotland. They will be teaming up with Skye Gaelic singer, Deirdre Graham – and with support from Bord na Gaidhlig, Williams and Graham will be producing a series of bilingual songwriting workshops and live performances in Skye and Edinburgh this summer.

Malcolm Roughead, VisitScotland chief executive, said: “The importance of Gaelic to the Scottish tourism and events industry cannot be underestimated. As the sector starts to recover from the devastation of Covid-19, finding ways to position Scotland as a unique and stand-out holiday choice is vital.

“Gaelic and its rich culture are an important part of Scotland’s tourism offer and provides an extra layer of authenticity for visitors with a unique culture you can only truly experience in Scotland. This only strengthens the experience we know means so much to visitors.”