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Oral Tradition & Folklore

Oral Tradition

The Highlands and Islands of Scotland are rich in oral tradition. Typical of the tales represented here are: old Celtic and wonder tales, stories of historical events, legends, and tales of the supernatural. Other popular subjects included tales of how places got their names, of local characters and mystical animals.

Celtic and wonder tales
Some of the old Celtic and wonder tales are remnants of very old traditions. The wonder tales, in particular, have strong connections with heroic tales from Ireland. These older stories were preserved orally by the learned orders of bards and oral historians (seanachaidh) who, in the Middle Ages, wrote some of their material down on parchment. Field workers were still recording these same stories as late as the 1970s in the Highlands.

The tradition of storytelling
The tradition of storytelling, as with music, tended to be preserved within certain families. Where a few folk would gather for an evening’s ceilidh, stories were told, particularly if a well-known teller of tales was present. Phrases such as ‘D’you mind when . . .’ or ‘There was a time in the glen when . . .’ would set the ball rolling and young and old would gather round to listen spellbound to tales tall, strange or true. Few would leave early for home!

A declining oral tradition
Recent years, however, have seen a decline in the art of storytelling. The pressures exerted by modern media have all but done away with the traditional ceilidh, which so stimulated the oral tradition. What is left is often little more than the swapping of jokes and anecdotes. The decline in Gaelic speaking too has left fewer folk to pass on the tales. While these traditions have survived longer within the travelling community, even there the old ways are fast disappearing.

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CollectionsBrowse Subjects > Oral Tradition & Folklore


Images: 9Bards
Images: 31Place-name Lore
Images: 51Myths & Legends
Images: 32Seers
Images: 92Poetry
Images: 64Storytelling

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