Gaels on the Chesapeake

by Richard GwynallenChesapeake Bay - 11

Lost among the industrial streets of South Baltimore sat an old world pub. It could have been plucked right from an 18th century Scottish port. At night, the streets here were abandoned as the day workers disappeared into the evening. But inside, the drinks flowed… the fiddles played… and around the brick fireplace, a small group swaped stories in that old mother tongue. This was O’Flynn’s – a Maryland haven, and home to a growing group of Scottish Gàidhlig learners. It is sadly closed now.

However, two Scottish Gàidhlig study groups had formed in Maryland and northern Virginia. Along with those groups coming on the scene, a lively setting for Gàidhlig speaking and singing has developed at two pubs, one in Baltimore, Maryland and one in Alexandria, Virginia.  In real numbers, of course, it was a modest-sized (to say the least) community, but it did represent a sudden expansion of interest.

My name is Rick Gwynallen. I am one of thlearners in our local community.

I grew up with a very strong awareness of my Irish heritage, and to some extent my Scottish heritage. But it was a cultural connection, not a linguistic one. My paternal grandmother – the only grandparent I ever knew well – emphasized the importance of cultural attachment. And in my youth, I expressed that attachment through supporting Irish political initiatives and being  around the music.

When my daughter, Fawn, and I decided to learn Gaelic together, it did not so much matter to me whether it was Irish Gaeilge or Scottish Gàidhlig.  So I left it up to her. After a childhood immersed in Scottish music, games, dance, and gatherings in the Pacific Northwest, she, unsurprisingly, wanted a Scottish Gàidhlig teacher. We met Scott Morrison at the Southern Maryland Celtic Festival in 2013. An advanced student and teacher of Gàidhlig himself, he was eager to make new inroads into the community. And later that year, we formed the Baltimore Gaelic Study Group.  

We met bi-weekly at Liam Flynn’s Ale House. The initial group was small. It was just Scott as teacher, Fawn, Liam, and me.  Since that time, many people have floated through our classes, becoming part of a network of learners. Most come and go, but the core group of learners grew to about 12 in varying levels of study and now is around thiry-five .

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The Ale House is now closed, we movedto O’Flynn’s, which is also now closed.  With the modest growth came a new name, Sgoil Gàidhlig Bhaile an Taigh Mhóir (The Gaelic School of Baltimore).

At the same time, interest was building independently to the south. New learners in northern Virginia, DC, and the Maryland suburbs founded Gàidhlig Photomac. Led by fluent-speaker Liam Cassidy, Gàidhlig Photomac gathers at Fiona’s pub in Alexandria.

The surge of interest in Scottish culture and language in the mid-Atlantic region inspired me to sit down with a few folks from the community and hear what they had to say.  

In this article I’ll introduce you to three people.  Scott Morrison (leader of Sgoil Gàidhlig Bhaile an Taigh Mhóir) and Liam Cassidy (leader of Gàidhlig Photomac) are fluent speakers. They are not just teachers, but also active learners themselves. The third person I’ll introduce you to is Liam Flynn, proprietor of O’Flynn’s… one of the pubs that is a public anchor for our community.

Let’s start with my good friend and inspiring teacher, Scott Morrison…
Read what Scott has to say here!

Gaelic tent at Southern Maryland Centic Festival - 1

Then, let’s turn to Liam Ó Caiside, who has been deeply involved with many dimensions of Gaelic life for many years, and who I’m honored to work with as a friend and colleague. . . Read what Liam has to say here!

Liam Cassidy - 2

Here’s my friend Liam Flynn, the publican that gave our school a place to meet, and
a mariner.  Read what Liam has to say!

Liam at the door of the Alehouse, where a door opened to start a new wave Gaelic learning.

Lastly, here’s my story.  Click here to read on!

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