Each week we publish the text of our Gaelic Word of the Week podcast here with added facts, figures and photos for Gaelic learners who want to learn a little about the language and about the Scottish Parliament – Pàrlamaid na h-Alba. This week our work is butterfly – dealan-dè.
It is now Spring – an t-Earrach – and the Scottish Parliament’s gardens are now coming back to life.
At the Scottish Parliament – Pàrlamaid na h-Alba – we are very conscious of our place in the landscape and are keen to ensure that we can contribute to thriving ecology across Scotland – Alba. For this reason, we maintain the grounds with the aim of supporting the biodiversity of the area including with wildflower and tree planting.
The landscaped area outside the Scottish Parliament – Pàrlamaid na h-Alba – features many native trees – craobhan, wildflowers – flùraichean, plants – lusan and insects – meanbh-fhrìdean. Some of these are rare, and none more so than the Northern Argus Butterfly.
The Gaelic for butterfly is dealan-dè. This translates literally as “the lightning/fire of God”, coming from the word dealan meaning lightening and Dia – God.
According to McBain’s Etymological dictionary of 1911, dealan means a spark or flaming coal and dealan-dè can also be used to describe the appearance produced by whirling a burning stick around. Dealanaich means lightning.
In modern Gaelic, dealan means electricity and is a very common word. You might recognise this from the Gaelic for email, post-dealain or post-d.
The Gaelic for the northern argus butterfly – dealan-dè – is argas-donn tuathach. The story of this particular dealan-dè is as intersting as the name dealan-dè itself!
Almost exclusively found in Holyrood Park – Pàirc an Ròid – the northern argus butterfly was initially understood by butterfly watchers to be a slightly different version of the Brown Argus butterfly – dealan-dè. In 1793, however, it was found that it is actually a completely different species.
Shortly following its discovery, changes in land use and over-collection by butterfly enthusiasts meant that it was believed extinct, having last been seen in 1869.
This story has a happy ending, however, as the Northern Brown Argus was re-discovered at Holyrood in 2005 and the population has continued to increase annually, with this iconic type of dealan-dè being a regular visitor to the landscaped area outside Pàrlamaid na h-Alba.
The northern brown argus is particulalry fond of rock-rose – grian-ròs – a flower which we intentionally cultivate in the Scottish Parliament’s landscaped areas.
The next time you visit the Scottish Parliament, have a look at which flowers – flùraichean, dealanan-dè – butterflies and other wildlife you can find!
Finding the right Gaelic words for wildlife, whether you be looking at a dealan-dè, an insect, fern, fish or fungus, can be a challenge for writers and translators. There are many many thousands of different species and sub-species of flora and fauna. Plants and insects can often look alike or be uncommon and little discussed. This means that different dialects can have different words for uncommon flora and fauna or that one word can often cover different species. This means that any one plant or animal may have several Gaelic equivalents in the dictionary, making it difficult to know which to choose. Any translator trying to make a distinction between polecats, ferrets, stoats and weasels will have come across this problem!
Fortunately, NatureScot have produced a Gaelic nature dictionary which gives a recommended version for many different species. The scientific names in Ladinn – Latin – also make things easier when the Gaelic – Gàidhlig – or English – Beurla is unclear!