SOMETIMES it takes an outsider to help people appreciate the beauty around them.

Ariel Killick may be originally from Australia but she is making waves in schools and communities across Scotland in the promotion of Gaelic, which she believes is still in a precarious state, despite relatively recent state support to promote the language.

A performer with a passion, she has been described as being on a one-woman mission to prevent Gaelic being treated like a “cultural dung-heap”.

But while she is passionate she hasn’t lost her sense of humour and uses contemporary arts such as graffiti, rap and street theatre to spread the word, while also drawing from Scotland’s ancient storytelling traditions.

There is a chance to see her in action in Edinburgh on Saturday, when she brings Adventures of the Gaelic Tree Alphabet to the Scottish Storytelling Centre.

Aimed at youngsters aged seven and upwards, the thought-provoking workshop is also an interactive, fun, forest adventure with Scotland’s native trees, and references the Highland Clearances, the decline of Gaelic and environmental issues.


AN AWARD-WINNING multi-art-form performer, Killick’s upcoming bilingual workshop is just one of the ways she promotes the use of Gaelic.

She sees the work as “cultural restorative justice” for all the state-inflicted damage of past centuries and its legacy today.

“We are really sitting on a goldmine; a vast, rich universe of cultural heritage that should be accessible to all within Scotland regardless of their cultural background,” said Killick. “It’s a goldmine that some people would see treated as a dung-heap whether out of ignorance, indifference or an inherited anti-Gaelic disposition, cultivated by anti-Gaelic actions at state level.

“It is an incredibly rich heritage. The songs, poems and stories are how native Scots interpreted and spoke about their lives and we are in danger of losing that. The songs and stories are beautiful and talk of a very deep connection that Scottish people had with this land, which was passed down through the Bardic tradition.”


ACCORDING to official statistics, a quarter of the Scottish population were still monoglot Gaelic-speakers in the mid-19th century and in places like Oban some 60 per cent of the population spoke Gaelic. These figures would quickly plummet with the introduction of the Education Act in the late 19th century, which formalised English-medium teaching in all schools in Scotland. Now Gaelic speakers account for less than two per cent of the population.

“It really looks like cultural destruction on an extraordinary level. I view my work as constructive creative acts of cultural restorative justice, with a particular emphasis on light-hearted, and often bonkers, humour and fun – classic traits of street theatre and a core part of much of my work,” said Killick.

“Some people argue that speaking Gaelic does not make you more Scottish than anyone else but it certainly does enhance your experience and understanding of Scotland and the generations of Scots who came before us, lived here and passionately loved this land.”


ALTHOUGH Killick was born in Sydney, her interest in Gaelic sprang naturally from her family history and she is in Scotland now because of these links.

Her great-grandfather’s grandfather, William McKechnie, was evicted from Shiaba, on Mull, along with the rest of the thriving township in 1847. McKechnie eventually made his way to Edinburgh, where he met Jane Russell and, like so many during the Highland Clearances, the young couple left Scotland and travelled to Australia, arriving in 1855. They were lucky. In just six years between 1847 and 1853, at least 49 Scottish emigrant vessels were lost at sea.

Fast forward many years and Killick is at primary school in Sydney where she is part of a cultural melting pot.

“Most of my friends spoke their own languages as well as English so I became aware of cultural and linguistic heritage at a very young age. I was interested in looking into my own cultural background and found Irish and Scots Gaelic in my own family history,” she explained.

Thinking it made more sense to learn a language that was part of her family history rather than one she had no connection with, Killick began to teach herself the language and then studied both Irish and Scots Gaelic as part of a BA at Sydney University.

While at university she co-founded the first Australian Scots Gaelic summer and autumn schools along with fellow Gaelic-speaking Australian Alasdair Taylor. The schools are now run by one of their first pupils and celebrate their 20th anniversary next year.


KILLICK left Australia for Ireland in 2000 and ended up working as a freelance stilt performer and also as a translator of government documents into Irish Gaelic.

She stayed in Ireland for 12 years, eventually moving to Belfast and receiving two consecutive research and development grants from the Columba Initiative, which promotes collaboration between Scots and Irish Gaelic. The grants were for research and development work in circus and street theatre in Scotland.

Killick arrived here late in 2012 and her work with partners across Scotland has resulted in paid freelance employment for 26 Scots or Scottish-based artists and production staff in eight different projects worth more than £45,000 to the economy, with an additional four artists supported across Ireland and Australia.

The projects have included the Royal National Mod, Inverness Street Festival and the Commonwealth Games Festival in 2014, focussing largely on bilingual street theatre and also Inter-Gaelic Rap.

Killick’s workshop practice has seen her work in some 100 schools and communities right across Scotland, receiving acclaim from schools like Bonar Bridge Primary, where the staff described the workshops as a “a fantastic opportunity for language development for both Gaelic-speaking children and engaging those in English-medium education”.

Killick has recently been touring schools and nurseries in Perth and Fife and will shortly begin a tour of Arran and North Ayrshire.

Story-telling and drama are the focus of Adventures with the Gaelic Tree Alphabet. Go online to to discover more.