I mentioned in this earlier piece about Isabel Frances Grantthat I wished to share my thoughts on her book ‘Highland Folk Ways’ and thattime has finally arrived.
I like everything about this almost encyclopaedic volume thatcovers virtually all aspects of Gaelic culture and places them within a broadlysweeping background description of the history of the Highlands & Islands.
I happen to prefer books that are written with a passion fortheir subject but combined with a scholarly approach and deep knowledge of thematerial that is being covered. ‘Highland Folk Ways’ is all these things and in fact the onlydownside is the appearance of the word ‘folk’ in its title for that word issomewhat demeaning in the all-encompassing world of Gaelic culture. It is afailing that Isabel Grant herself was well aware of but perhaps there is nobetter small, single word with which to convey the content of her work?
The book constantly reminds us that the people more thancompensated for their lack of material resources by an immense resourcefulnessthat continues to this day despite the descent into the ‘disposable culture’ ofmore modern times. It also demonstratesthe appropriateness of the tools used, for example, in cultivating the land andthe damage wrought by so-called ‘improvement’, both to the people and the land,is hinted-at too.
I do not mean to imply that there was some ‘Golden Age’ whenthe Highlands & Islands flowed with milk & honey and we must alwaysremember that such supposedly ‘traditional’aspects of life as tea, tobacco and the potato were each relatively recentimports to the culture!
Thus the book presents a dynamic picture rather than astatic one and helps fill the gap between a sloppy ‘guide-book’ style ofhistory (with its ‘traditional crofting’ type of approach*) and that of the academicthesis which, for all its scholarship, lie unloved in a library awaitingawakening.
Isabel Grant wrote her ‘popular’, accessible andthought-provoking history just over 50 years ago, and it has been followed byseveral equally excellent books by more recent authors that convey complexissues in an equally engaging and well-written manner, but if one is lookingfor a single-volume introduction to the history of Gaelic culture than hers hasyet to be beaten.
*Crofting is a little over 200 years old which, in thecontext of the millennia of occupation of the Highlands & Islands, is but afleeting moment ago…
Where to buy the book:
In addition to online retailers (including those dealing insecondhand books which are especially attractive if you prefer your books to beaffordable hardbacks!) it can be obtained direct from the Highland Folk Museum’sshop – http://www.highlandfolk.com/shop.php