A Highland Cow in a Rowing Boat

On board flight UA592 to Dallas, I examine Gaelic Without Groans, the text book I have pilfered from my sister Orla’s old childhood bedroom. The cover boasts an ecstatic pink Highland cow perched in a rowing boat. The cow appears quite at home in such a craft. It looks like it has spent its life roaming heather-tangled hillsides, dreaming of the glorious day when it will finally have a seagoing vessel of its own. I open the book somewhere above East Pennsylvania just as the seatbelt signs come on. The book states that it has tried to offer its lessons in as “palatable” a form as possible “in the belief that in the presentation of the Gaelic in a popular and attractive form lies the best hope for the continuance of the language.” Perhaps the euphoric bovine is another such tool in Gaelic’s survival strategy arsenal.

By the time we reach Northeast Texan airspace, I have learned proverbs that the book’s introduction assured me will help me understand “the Gaelic speaker’s mindset”. I’m not sure what “A big head on a wise man, a hen’s head on a fool”, “She is neither tiny and pretty nor big and ugly” or “It is a pity for the one who goes to the shore when the very birds are deserting it” tells me about the Gaelic psyche. The tome advises, “Wise words are usually hard to grasp, but show something of the Gaelic speaker’s outlook on things. In time the reader will, we hope, be quoting them with gusto.” As the flight gets increasingly bumpy—or shoogly, as we’d say in Glasgow, I contemplate learning the Gaelic for “Were today yesterday” and “I am no scholar and I don’t want to be—as the fox said to the wolf”. I am unsure as to when exactly I will quote any of these sayings or the Gaelic tongue-twister that translates as “There has never been a broad grey fat ram” with anything other than a baffled expression.

It is now 9 pm and I’m at the hotel. After the shoogly flight, I am delighted to be in my 42nd floor hotel room. I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and look as happy as a Highland cow in a rowing boat. Below I see Dallas glow and sprawl, and finally fade into the darkness of the surrounding black-land prairies. Once I tire of marvelling at the near endless lights, the mind boggling dimensions of this city, I compose an email to Orla stitched together from Gaelic Without Groans.

“Orla Og, Tha Texas anabarrach! Agus mor. An seo, tha dith-dhealg, ach cha robh reithe leathann liath riamh reamhar.”

“Young Orla, Texas is tip top! And big. Here, there is wireless, but there has never been a broad grey fat ram.”

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