I've been puttering at my Ancestry.com family tree this afternoon to put off the housecleaning and finding little new information in the way of support for my Gaelic heritage. Of course, my father's people were Suhres of North Germany and Sweden (MacCath isn't my maiden name), but I've never felt connected to my father's fathers, and my Ancestry.com researches haven't yielded much beyond my great-grandfather's generation. My mother's people are Patricks, and I have quite a lineage for her father's fathers, but I've had to delete several generations of Patricks and their antecedent Kilpatricks from my family tree because the public tree I took them from many years ago was sloppy the farther back it reached. What I've been left with is the relative certainty that a Robert Patrick emigrated from Edinburgh to New England in the early 1700s and thereafter died in Maryland. Before him there might have been a Hugh and another Robert in Edinburgh and before them a John and a Thomas Kilpatrick of Edinburgh and Argyll. But the records are sketchy, and it's quite likely that without a great deal more effort than I care to put into it, I'll never really know for certain.
To say nothing of the idea that I've always thought it somewhat ridiculous to trace ones ancestry patrilineally (Respects to Ruth Bohannon, 1730-1772, the oldest of my mother's mothers whose name I know).
So anyway, between the Kilpatricks and the Bohannons, it's likely I've got some Gaelic back in the bush somewhere. But I'm from old American stock really; Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia and surrounds. I'm not one of those people who has ever felt entirely comfortable making proclaimations about my lineage, and though I'm likely as not to wear a tartan, in truth I think I'd feel more comfortable in the Nova Scotia plaid than anything else. It's my home now, after all.
On to my point, then. I've come to a place and thrown my lot in with a community deeply-rooted in Gaelic history. Many people here have parents and grandparents who speak or spoke the language, and some look so much like their Scottish ancestors there isn't any question about their genetics. They know who they are and who they were, and they bear the cultural scars of that identity right alongside the traditions themselves. There is a collective consciousness among the native Gaels here so distinct it might as well be a person all by itself; an old man of stories, an old woman of songs.
But where does that leave an expat American of diffuse Scottish heritage? Turns out there's a term for people like me, one the Gaels themselves have been using for over a thousand years. It's Gal Gàidheal, or strange/foreign Gael, someone who comes into a Gaelic community and finds a home there among its people. I might have expected a culture that prides its tradition of fostering so much it believes is caomh le fear a charaid, ach ‘s e smìor a’ chridhe comh-dhalta (a kinsman is dear but the marrow of the heart is the foster-brother), a culture that holds hospitality as a sacred trust would have such a term, but the reality of the welcome has anchored my lifelong pursuit of Gaelic language, culture and spirituality in community and place. As strange as it sounds, I have a name now for the thing I've chosen to be all my life, one that makes sense to me and leaves my multicultural ancestry in peace. And if any of my ancestors are looking down on my Gàidhlig with pride, so much the better.
Okay, enough of that, then. The bathrooms are calling, and the toilets aren't going to scrub themselves no matter how long I wait...