Gaelic Word of the Week – the National Bàrd – am Bàrd Nàiseanta


Every Friday, you can learn a little both about Gaelic and about the Scottish Parliament through Gaelic Word of the Week our  a mini podcast on Soundcloud. Here you can read the text and see extra content and pictures.

The 25th of January is Burns night – Oidhche Bhurns. On this night people all over Scotland – Alba, and all over the world – an saoghal, will be celebrating the birthday of the national bard, Robert Burns.

For this reason, our Gaelic Word of the Week is Am Bàrd Nàiseanta  -the national bàrd.

The influence of Robert Burns – am Bàrd Nàiseanta can be seen is all over the Scottish Pàrliament – Pàrlamaid na h-Alba!

If you walk past our Canongate wall, a quote from his poem To a Louse is engraved in the Canongate Wall. This poem and more information about Burns features in the Parliament’s Gaelic audio resource about the Canongate.

Our art collection also features Robert Burns Match Heads by David Mach. These are two busts of the national bàrd – am bàrd nàiseanta – made from match heads – one of unlit matches, the other of spent matches.

At the official opening of the Scottish Parliament – Pàrlamaid na h-Alba – in 1999 a Burns song, A Man’s A Man for ‘a That, was sung by Sheena Wellington.

And one of our committee rooms is named the Burns room in memory of Am Bàrd Nàiseanta.

Incidentally, the Gaelic for poet is bàrd which is very similar to the word bard. This is also the root for the surnames Baird and Ward which come from Mac a’ Bhàird – son of the poet. Another word for bard in Gaelic is filidh which also forms the basis of the Gaelic name Mac an Fhilidh – McNeilly or Neilly.

Robert Burns is, of course, famous for writing in Scots. Did you know, however, that the entire works of am Bàrd Nàiseanta – have been translated into Gaelic? This was done by the late Rev. Roderick MacDonald – father of none other than our Deputy Presiding Officer Lewis MacDonald MSP. Published in 1992, this was the first translation of the entire works of Robert Burns – am Bàrd Nàiseanta – into any language.

And talking of Scots, as Scots and Gaelic have been spoken side by side for so long in Scotland, many words have come into Scots from Gaelic and vice versa. Many words relating to the landscape have come into Scots from Gaelic, such as loch, brae –bràigh, glen – gleann, strath – srath, and ben – beinn.

Another word from Gaelic in Scots is sonsie – happy which is famously mentioned in Address to a Haggis and comes from the Gaelic sonas – happiness or joy. The Gaelic for haggis is taigis which appears to be a loanword from Scots.

Another borrowing into Scots – and English – from Gaelic which will come in useful for Burns Night is whisky. This from the Gaelic for whisky uisge-beatha – literally the water of life.

This week’s Gaelic word of the week is Am Bàrd Nàiseanta – the National Bàrd.

Of course, many in the Gaelic community have suggested that the Gaelic poet Alasdair mac Mhaighstir Alasdair also has a claim to be considered as our Bàrd Nàiseanta – but we’ll look at him in a future Gaelic Word of the Week!

Alasdair MacCaluim

Gaelic Development Officer

alasdair.maccaluim@scottish.parliament.uk