Gaelic Word of the Week – Railway – Rathad-iarainn

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 we are looking at Railways

Earlier this week saw a debate in the Scottish Parliament – Pàrlamaid na h-Alba – about developing Scotland’s railways.

For this reason, our word of the week is railway – Rathad-iarainn.

A train preparing to leave An t-Òban – Oban on the West Highland Line

The debate took place as Members’ Business – Gnothaichean Bhall -on Tuesday 24th February.  Members’ Business – Gnothaichean Bhall – is a debate proposed by an MSP who isn’t a member of the Scottish Government or a party leader. These debates take place on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. This particular Members’ Business was put forward by John Finnie MSP. You can read what was discussed in the Official Report of the debate.

The Gaelic for railway, rathad-iarainn literally means “iron road”. You may have already seen the word “rathad” – road – on bilingual street signs.

Railways –rathaidean-iarainn – have often been the subject of debates in the Scottish Parliament – Pàrlamaid na h-Alba. The Pàrlamaid na h-Alba has even passed a range of Acts to build new railways and tramways.

These have included the Borders Railway – Rathad-iarainn nan Crìochan, the Airdrie to Bathgate Railway – Rathad Iarainn an Àrd-ruigh gu Bathgate – and the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine Railway – Rathad-iarainn Sruighlea-Almhaigh-Ceann Chàradainn – as well as the Edinburgh Trams – Tramaichean Dhùn Èideann.

If you are interested in place-names and in Gaelic, journeys by rathad-iarainn can be educational too as station signs in Scotland – Alba – are bilingual. We’ve just mentioned Airdrie in Lanarkshire for example which comes from An t-Àrd-ruigh meaning “the high plain”.

If you want to find the Gaelic versions of railway station names, you can find them on the Ainmean-àite na h-Alba website.

An example of a bilingual sign. An Dùn Breac – “the speckled fort”

Scotland is famous for its scenic railways, many of which are in a’ Ghàidhealtachd – the Highlands.

Perhaps the most famous of these is the West Highland Line which in Gaelic is called Loidhne na Gàidhealtachd an Iar – or more romantically Rathad-iarainn nan Eilean – the iron road to the isles.

Running from Glasgow – Glaschu to an t-Òban (Oban), Fort William and Mallaig, this line has won many polls and competitions as one of the most scenic railways in the world. The section from Fort William – An Gearastan – to Mallaig – Malaig in particular is a tourist favourite with a regular seasonal steam train service and the iconic Glenfinnan Viaduct – Drochaid Gleann Fhionnainn – which is particularly famous due to its film role as the “Harry Potter bridge”!

Drochaid Ghleann Fhoinnainn

There was a legend for many years that a horse had fallen into a pier during construction of Drochaid Gleann Fhionnainn. A researcher from Heriot Watt University investigated this rumour in the 1980s using camera equipment and found no evidence that this was the case. Later on in the early 2000s, however, the same researcher investigated the nearby Loch nan Uamh viaduct with radar technology and found a horse skeleton and a cart inside one of the piers.

Interestingly, the introduction to the 1970s Gaelic learners TV series Can Seo features footage of a train crossing the Loch nan Uamh viaduct and the series’ theme tune is “Dè nì mi ma chaill mi an t-each” by Runrig which means – “What should I do if I lose the horse”?

This week’s Gaelic Word of the Week has been written and read by Alasdair MacCaluim, Gaelic Development Officer and rail enthusiast.