Learning Gaelic is a walk on the beach

L to R - Callum Ullman-Smith, Connor Bennon, Roddy Maclean and Emma Bennett-West play the new card game. Photo by Janet Ullman

Nature and landscape inspire the poet in us all, many place names, features, animals and plants have been named from the stories they inspired, the myths that perhaps spawned them and their practical uses in days of old. This is especially true of the seashore, where humanity has a long rooted relationship. Today the beach is our picnic and dog walking hotspot, but the shore sustained our ancestors through the harshest of winters, through the picking of whilks and dulse, the harbourage of small boats to connect with neighbours and the point of arrival and departure for many.  

One language that connects with all that history is Gaelic, where a word for seashore animals and seaweeds reawakens the ancient Gael who first named them. It is through their words we can see their shores and connect with the language again. It is to this end the Highland Seashore Project has funded the creation of a Gaelic Language resource celebrating Gaelic on the shore. However this is not yet another booklet, leaflet or dry and worthy poster, this is the most fun way of learning a bit of Gaelic you’ve ever had and it's in card form.  

Inspired by the youngest Seashore Surveyor with the Highland Seashore Project, Callum Ullman-Smith, aged 12, suggested a card game when the Gaelic resources for the project were being reviewed.  

Callum said: "Learning should be fun, there’s no point having the same boring stuff again and again. Here we had a chance to take some great photos of sea life, with all the Gaelic stories and English translations and make something that was learning about life on the shore, Gaelic and history and yet everybody from 8 to 80 can enjoy it what ever their mother tongue."  

So from this suggestion, the ‘Seashore Families’ card game was born. It is based on the traditional card game of ‘Happy Families’, but instead of the Baker Family, it’s the Mammals and the Fish, etc. Each card has a bright and beautiful photo of a coastal animal or seaweed, care of the superb photographic talents of Dr James Merryweather (author of the ‘User Friendly Seashore Guide) and Charlie Philips (Scottish Nature Photographer of the Year 2012). The text is by Gaelic Language author and broadcaster Roddy Maclean (Ruairidh MacIlleathain), who has researched and found traditional Gaelic names for the animals and seaweeds shown, and each card has a bit about how the animal and weed got it’s name, in the Style of Rudyard Kiplings famous tales, on the back of each card in Gaelic and English. Designed and printed by Strath Print on the Isle of Skye, this exclusive version of the card game is now ready for general release.  

Once played it is utterly addictive, as Chris O’Mally of Inverness, one of the first players said; "At first it was the curiosity value and wanting to know more Gaelic, but soon it was all about the strategy of winning, I just wanted to keep playing."  

Artist Emma Bennett-West of Lochalsh said; "I was fascinated about reading the background to the names and soon the children were playing for cards in Gaelic, so I had to keep up. I want packs for all my friends and family."  

The Seashore Families Card Game packs will be sent to every school in the Highlands for free.

The Highland Biodiversity Partnership manages the Highland Seashore Project behind the card game. The Highland Council, the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Crown Estate Marine Stewardship Fund and Scottish Natural Heritage fund the project. Launched at the beginning of 2013 it is a three year-long project that has worked with local coastal communities around the Highlands. The project has had an active two and a half years of providing resources for shore-based events, road shows, festivals and workshops to celebrate the heritage and nature of the shores.  The Seashore Festival at Kyle of Lochalsh, 16th May, attracted over 250 people, with associated events all around Lochalsh resulting in over 379 people being involved in celebrations which included sustainable seafood, shore walks, seaweed identification, music, story telling, art and so much more.  With 42 Seashore events over the last two years and 86 Seashore Surveyors actively surveying the wildlife of their local shores, the project is gearing up for more in its last year:

Up-coming Beach days with Highland Council Countryside Ranger Service:

  • June 10th, Scourie Beach afternoon, 2.30pm
  • 11th July events for the Ullapool Round the Pier Day
  • 17th July, Nairn Links Roadshow all day
  • 31st July, Beauly Firth
  • 29th August, Seashore Day, with the Summer Isles Festival
  • 21st to 25th September, Wick Seashore Festival

If you are feeling inspired by all things Seashore check out the project Facebook page at Highland Seashore Biodiversity Project Facebook for the Photo competition, where the winner is selected by the number of ‘Likes’ their picture gains. The winner will receive a Veho Muvio camera.


For more information on all the events please contact Highland Seashore Project coordinator Janet Ullman on 01599 566350.

27 May 2015
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