Gaelic Psalm Singers in Béal Feirste Cois Cuain

Next Saturday, 28th November there will be two concerts of traditional Gaelic psalm singing to be heard in Belfast.

“Psalm singers from the Isle of Lewis will travel to Belfast on the 28 November 2009. They bring with them a unique sound and singing
tradition. The psalms are at the heart of worship in the Free Church and other Presbyterian Churches in the Western Isles. However, in
the Hebrides they are sung in Gaelic as they have been for centuries.”

The first will be held 11 – 11.45 am at Tullycarnet Library (Admission free but booking advisable, t. 028 90485079,

The second will be held from 7.30 – 9.00pm in the 174 Trust, Duncairn Avenue, Antrim Road.

These events, outwith their natural beauty and artistic value of the singing itself which is quite haunting, you have to let yourself go it it to get it but the skill is undeniable, have a huge role to play in challenging stereotypes and bigotry that we often see here on Slugger for example whenever any mention of Gaelic culture is made.

Here will will have Free Prespiterians singing Pslams in Gaelic. Just let it sink in folks.

The Free Prespiterian church as a social institution plays a vital role in keeping the language language and culture alive in Scotland. That could not obviously be said about its equivalent here.

The event has been organised by Colmcille, who work to strengthen the bonds between Gaelic Ireland and Gaelic Scotland, once one and the same but have become strained by language loss, loss of vital dialects, cultural shifts and politics. It is interesting that for all the publicity given the the Ulster-Scots – Lowland Scotland link, Colmcille who work quite quietly in the background, plugging away, have in my view done as much as the Ulster Scots agency to promote ties and cultural bonds with Scotland – though obviously with a very different remmit. I would appreciate an Ulster-Scots assesment of the situation.

I do note that for many of our young people who have been on the end of a Scottish Camàn (they laminate them, thon’s chaetin!) they may not see this work as positively as I do.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit


    “Here will will have Free Prespiterians singing Pslams in Gaelic. Just let it sink in folks”

    This is quite a story – has there been any positive feedback from Presbyterian on this side of the water? Presumably there must be some active religious links? Politically I suppose the Western Isles tend towards the SNP so perhaps that is an extra disincentive as well as them speaking Geaelic.

  • GGN


    I do not know.

    But there are monthly Prespiterian services in Irish, in Belfast.

    Thats only 3 less than the Catholic church and given that there are far more Catholic Gaelic speakers in Belfast than Prespiterians it could be argued that they are more committed!

  • DR

    Gael, a good story and I think it should give a glimpse of where Gaelic should be going, instead of fighting some obscure 17th C court rules, I have friends who have worshiped with “the Wee Frees” as they are called I think, they were allowed to preach in English on that occasion, I would be good if we could develop a unique NI take on the language question and take the politics out of it.
    BTW before someone gets excited the Scottish Free Prebyterians are not connected in any way with Rev Paisley and predate his church by many many years.

  • GGN

    “instead of fighting some obscure 17th C court rules”

    And yet the same ‘rules’ have been dropped in Scotland.

    Why the difference?

    Why is important to defend this law?

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit


    re. “has there been any positive feedback from Presbyterians on this side of the water”

    Somebody from the festival should ring up and invite them along.

    Is there a link to Colmcille organisation, I couldnt see anything obvious on Google.

  • Rory Carr

    I have seen a television documentary on this community and found them to be truly inspiring. Such a pleasure just to close one’s eyes and allow the beauty of their choral worship of their God to surround us is quite enchanting.

    I should hope that their Belfast appearances might help to break down some of the prejudices about Gaelic that exist and allow people to begin to understand the shared value of keeping the language alive and thriving.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit
  • DR

    correction for above, they arent the Wee Frees, they are the WEE WEE Frees, I’m not joking either.
    They only sing psalms so the closest here would the Reformed Presbyterians i guess. As for politics, according to wiki Lewis has 2SNP councillors, 1 Labour, and 19 independants! think that sums up their political attitudes!

  • I wonder if Colmcille has expressed an opinion on another story that gets an airing today, the issue of ferry sailings on a Sunday. This is one where the Free Presbyterians would certainly be on-board 🙂

  • DR

    GGN, its not important to defend that law, but its campaigning to change it gives the wrong impression and is interpreted by many as more “shoving Irish down our throats” whereas the Gaelic singers give the message this launguage can include protestants too and it sounds beautiful. The language lobby could make much more progress by “selling” Gaelic to Unionist and cut back on the demanding.

  • Come on, Sammy. Colmcille!!

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    Go raibh maith agat.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit
  • greagoir o frainclin

    Singing the sacred Psalms in a pagan language is an absolute insult in the eyes of God. Every good Ulster Free Presbyterian should hold a protest. The language of God is as it is spoken in the King James Bible. This is a mockery to Jesus, the son of god. Ulster’s Free Presbyterians culture and very posiion in the UK is being undermined. This is a diabolical fiendish Fenian plot devised in Rome and the pope!

    Ar Dhia agus Uladh!

    ha ha 🙂

  • Seamus Beal Feirste

    Ar scáth a chéile a mhairimid.

  • paddy

    admission free.tells u all only sad lonley people with mental health problems would go along to this.nothing mental about the fly men running this more british goverment grants the oirish speakers love englands money this is just another scheme

  • Se do bheatha, Sammy

  • This story might still touch a raw nerve in the Glens of Antrim:

    The poisonous exchanges in the so-called Glens Bible War are well covered by Blaney (1996: 110-118) and throw light on tensions in areas where the Catholic Church resented proselytising Protestants who used Irish – a language it had done little to encourage or preserve before that point.

  • Seimi

    Tá mé ag dúil le ceann de na ceolchoirm seo a fheiceáil ar a laghad.

    Message for paddy:

    Get back under your bridge, the Billy-goats Gruff are on their way.

  • couldn’t comment shouldn’t


    there is nothing inconsistant here, psalm singing in gaelic is not soley the preserve of the Isles, there is plenty of examples of presbyterians speaking and preserving irish,including some orangemen and unionists.

    The problem with the irish language has been a modern invention, like unionists not calling themselves irish.

    The issue now is that the language has become a political weapon, the term irish is now a political term that most unionists don’t recognise and until we can depoliticise the language and the term then they will remain alien to unionists.

    But what is of course being glossed over is where do these gaelic singing psalmists stand on issues such as ecumenicalism or the westminster confession of faith or calvinism. What’s there view on the Roman Catholic church. I think a little research would show that they may and i stress may be to the right of our own wee frees – Ian Paisley’s crowd – but with a little more grace possibly.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    re. “I think a little research would show that they may and i stress may be to the right of our own wee frees – Ian Paisley’s crowd – but with a little more grace possibly”

    It would be interesting but their religious views should, and will hopefully, have no bearing on the warmth of welcome they receive.

  • couldn’t comment shouldn’t

    It was sammy –

    Couldn’t agree more – but that would be a first – especially may i say from the “political Irish” including the “Political Irish speakers”

    In this country people’s religious views have frequently made them personae non gratae.

    i dont need to give examples there are too many

  • Sammy, this group will be returning home unlike their kith and kin who came here in previous centuries – and stayed.

  • couldn’t comment shouldn’t


    what’s this BNPeques “return home” nonsense – is this some sort of repartiation of all non indigenous “Irish” – defined by whom and what criteria are these “Homes” set?

    Surely this equates to some form of racial purity argument the sort on Adolf Hitler supported

  • shane

    Nevin, the EC evangelicals were not trying to promote the Irish language, only their religion. I have a copy of the catechism used, and it talks about teaching the students English which it calls ‘the learned tongue’ and overall its attitude towards Irish seems pretty condescending. The charge against the Catholic Church holds true for the post-Maynooth era, but important to note that significant Gaelic literature (eg the Annals of the Four Masters) and indeed the first Irish dictionary were composed at Louvain, which had the first Irish printing press.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit


    dont get me started on the ethnic cleansings again for non-deominational-jayus’s sake.

  • “EC evangelicals”? I thought it was a Presbyterian Church Home Mission prosletization project.

  • shane

    No, Irish Church Missions.

  • GGN

    “But what is of course being glossed over is where do these gaelic singing psalmists … What’s there view on the Roman Catholic church.”

    I think the point is, is that these things just do not matter in the context of a pslam singing for other people.

  • Shane, here’s a comment from a Mayo-born teacher in the Glens of Antrim:

    In his report, entitled ‘Reflections on the state of the Irish language in the Glens of Antrim in 1900’, the author ascribes the dramatic decline of Irish in the district in the nineteenth century to two factors: the building of the Glendun Viaduct (1835), which introduced English speaking workers to the area, and the hostile attitude of the Catholic clergy to Gaelic following the establishment of Irish medium ‘Bible schools’ in the district by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the late 1830s. Duffy neatly summed up the dilemma facing the local people at the time: ‘When Irish schools and teaching were denounced by the priests, the great majority looked upon it almost as a sin to speak Irish. Hence English – if at all known – became the conversational language.’

  • Coll Ciotach

    The singers would be very welcome in the Glens as we are not completely brainwashed into the English demarcations of nationhood as the rest of you are.

    Are these the same wee frees as the ones on Mill Brae in Larne?

    They have also influenced the black baptists in the US. Called line singing there it is said they were influnced by Gaels.

    More here

  • Jemmy Hope

  • DerTer

    Those interested in the Gaelic-speaking tradition in Scotland will find BBC Alba well worth visiting – frequently! It’s available on Sky (including Sky freesat) and on the main BBC/ITV FreeSat. Unlike TG4 (and I don’t mean this as a criticism), all programmes are in Gaelic (pronounced Gallic) but are also fully subtitled in English. Anyone with even a smattering of Irish will be constantly reminded of the strong linguistic connections. I ought to add that the programme standards are exceptionally high, even though it is clear that Alba operates on a fairly tight budget from the BBC. For example, this year’s Royal National Mod (a rough equivalent of the Dublin Feis Ceoil or, nearer perhaps,the Welsh National Eisteddfod) was given extensive coverage and was hugely enjoyable.

  • Wee Wee Wee Wee Free

    Coll Ciotach they have a congregation in Larne around Station Road.
    Someone earlier asked how they would stand in relation to the Westminister Confession, they believe in it fully and all office bearers in the church have to verify that they believe every statement in it in their ordination vows. They strongly disagree with the Roman Catholic Church theologically, but not in the bombastic ad hominiem Paisley style. I love the style of psalm singing, I wish some of the other Presbyterian churches had of kept it

  • shane

    Thank you for that Nevin, though I don’t doubt that the clergy would have been any more receptive to Bible (ie Protestant) schools through the medium of the English language either. Apparently the Presbyterian mission is entirely unconnected with the ICM one.

  • jamesorr1798

    GGN – re: your original post contrasting Colmcille and the USAgency, the big difference is that Colmcille are allowed to operate on both sides of the water. The USAgency (astoundingly) is very restricted in what it can do in Scotland – the legislation of the GFA which set the USAgency up technically limits its work to the island of Ireland.

    The Lewis Psalm singers are over here fairly regularly (every year or two) so it’s not really big news. What is interesting is that a fair amount of posters on this thread seem able to stomach 1560s Scottish Reformed theology… as long as its sung in Gallic.

  • Coll Ciotach

    12. And there’s me thinking they were singing the Psalms

  • GGN


    Thanks. Good explanation.

    I never thought it was big newas, just another small bit of news which handily I found useful in the context of another thread.

    But is Coll not right? Are the Pslams not an Old Testament thing? I am totally without religion so I do not know.

    I understand that Catholics also have Pslams.


    “The singers would be very welcome in the Glens as we are not completely brainwashed into the English demarcations of nationhood as the rest of you are”.

    Give us more!

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    Coll Ciotach,

    that is some incredible story.

  • Alan – Newtownards

    Hoping to see them perfoming in Tullycarnet. Really looking forward to hearing them. Do they still have the gaelic service in Fitzroy? I haven’t been to it but was told by a catholic gaelic speaker that it is very enjoyable and he prefers it to his own church service.


    You are spot on about Alba. It is a great station.