Voices from Scotland’s past

Tobar an Dualchais (Kist o’ Riches) has built up a repository of more than 15,000 examples of folklore, songs, music, history, poetry, traditions, stories and other information collected from all over Scotland in Gaelic, Doric and Scots.

The rich oral heritage includes interviews with mill workers and crofters, travellers, and farm workers.

The sound clips document people’s experiences of travel and emigration and include a song about a Highlander’s sea voyage to Canada; an account of the life of crofter’s son Angus MacMillan who explored Australia and named several places after his home place of Skye, and a recording about Stornoway-born Colonel Colin MacKenzie who became Surveyor-General of India.

Many recordings date back to the 1920s and 1930s and were originally recorded on wax cylinders or wire. And there are also voices from the 1950s and 1960s. All have now been digitised and catalogued and are available free of charge on the Tobar an Dualchais website.

Project chairman and musician Donnie Munro explained:

"This is the most ambitious cultural digital heritage project anywhere in Europe, if not the world.

"You will hear the real voices of mill workers, fishermen, crofters, travellers and farm workers talking in their own language, be that Gaelic, Doric, Scots or the rich dialect of the Northern Isles.

"A visit to the website will be like talking to those who walked, talked, lived and worked decades ago.”

Languages of Scotland

It is estimated that about 150 languages in addition to English are in use in Scotland, although many of these will have only a few speakers. In Scotland the main language groups are English, Gaelic, Scots (Scots is traditionally spoken in Lowland Scotland. It is different to Gaelic), British Sign Language ( BSL) and minority/ community languages.

What is Gaelic?

Gaelic has been spoken in Scotland for over 1,500 years. Although its use has declined over the centuries, it is still alive and an official language of Scotland, as well as part of Scotland's living, diverse culture.

The total number of people recorded as being able to speak and/or read and/or write and/or understand Gaelic in the 2001 census was 92,400 (one per cent of the Scottish population). Over half of Gaelic speakers live in the Highlands, Western Isles and Argyll & Bute areas.

What is Scots?

Scots is a language predominantly associated with the Lowlands of Scotland. Scots was the official language for around 400 years in the Middle Ages. It lost its importance due to major events in the 17th century, when English gradually became the language of most formal speech and writing.

The Scots language still has a significant profile in Scottish cultural life and is represented in song, poetry, literature and the speech of communities throughout the country.

There are an estimated 1.6 million speakers of Scots in Scotland.

The poems of Robert Burns are some of the best and most famous examples of Scots ever put down on paper.

Visit the Tobar an Dualchais’Kist o’ Riches project

Last updated 25 Nov 2012