A Brief History of the Society
The 19th Century
The Gaelic Society of Perth was formed in 1880 when economic deprivation, the Clearances and famine in the Highlands earlier in the century had started a wave of emigration southwards. Industry had grown in the Lowlands and many Highlanders were attracted to the cities and towns of the South. The Gaelic Society of Perth was formed as a meeting place for social activity and entertainment as well as allowing Gaelic speakers to preserve their native language and culture. Meetings and Lectures relating to Highland culture were held throughout the winter with a yearly social meeting held at the City Hall in Perth. Six hundred people attended the first one. Their Motto was taken as Clann nan Gàidheal an Guaillibh a Chéile (Highlanders! Stand Shoulder to Shoulder). Membership increased. Guest speakers addressed topics such as Gaelic music and song, Scottish Nationality and Highland economic conditions – topics which interested the members.
In 1881 a Library was set up in the Guild Hall and books of topical interest on Gaelic and the Highlands were placed there – this was at a time when the Public Library Service was not yet fully developed.
By 1883 there were 193 members. The Chief was Charles Stewart of Tighn’duin at Killin, a staunch Gaelic revivalist and the instigator of the Stewart Memorial at Killin. A Pipe Band was formed under the leadership of Pipe Major Donald Farquharson – a watchmaker and jeweller.
The struggle between crofters and Highland landowners played a prominent role in the Society’s proceedings – in March 1882 the Society backed a petition to the House of Commons to inquire into the conditions of Highland crofters.
A Gaelic Service was conducted in St. Stephen’s Free Church in January 1897 – and this became an annual event. A Gaelic Choir was formed that year and the choir appeared in the new musical evenings which became very popular.
Early 20th Century
The preservation of Gaelic was a major objective of the Society and in 1902 the Chief of the Gaelic Society referred to progress the Society had made to encourage people to learn Gaelic and claimed that 787 Gaels resided in Perth. Also at this time there were still many native speakers of Gaelic in Highland Perthshire although their numbers had been depleted by emigration from areas like Amulree.
The Annual Social gathering drew large attendances – in 1905 there was 1500 of an audience, with prominent artists and guest speakers. The Gaelic Choir expanded and a Junior Choir was formed. Miss Murray MacGregor of MacGregor from Perth who was a member and regular contributor of papers to meetings of the Society, as well as being the first woman speaker, became the first Chieftainess of the Society in 1904.
During the First World War the Society continued to function on a fortnightly basis with Lecture- Céilidhs, Musical evenings, Gatherings and concerts and they did much to help was charities. £50 was donated to provide and name a bed after ‘Perth Gaelic Society’ in the Gaelic ward of Woodside Military Hospital in Glasgow. Further donations went to hospitals in Perth. After the War, in 1918, the Gaelic Society of Perth supported a petition to the Secretary of State for Scotland to give more encouragement to the teaching of the Gaelic Language in the Highland districts of Scotland.
1923-24 The Society had 385 members and meetings were moved to St Stephen’s UF Church Hall.
1926-27 Membership had increased to 550.
The Perthshire Provincial Mὸd was established in 1923, with the Town Hall in Aberfeldy as the venue, and this has become an annual event.
The National Mὸd was hosted in 1924 and 1929 by the Society in Perth.
Membership increased to over 600. Céilidhs and Musical evenings drew large audiences of 250-300 and attendance at the Annual Highland Rallies in the City Hall drew 2000. In 1931 a Gaelic Service was held at Logierait Church – the first for 50 years.
Classes for Gaelic tuition in Perth were about 30 people, but the Society was concerned for the Gaelic Education of children in the Northern districts of Perthshire.
Annual outings were popular and in July a special trip was organised to the Isle of Skye where a special one day school in Gaelic had been organised.
The Second World War
The call-up, blackout, rationing, transport restrictions and other wartime regulations disrupted the social life of the country and the Gaelic Society of Perth was consequently badly affected. Some meetings were held in 1941-42 and the Society did its bit to help with the war effort by contributing to War Charities. Membership had dropped to 200 by 1943 but some normality had returned by the 1946-47 session.
The late 20th century
In 1947 Perth hosted a very successful National Mὸd again and entries were well over 1000.
Membership rose to 327 and concerts, social evenings, Burn’s Nights and Film Nights were held in addition to the Céilidhs and Lectures. Roderick MacKinnon became The Chief of the Society in 1951 and when Perth hosted The National Mὸd again in 1954 he made a 15 minute live broadcast on BBC Radio.
The rise of television in the 60s saw membership decline but Lecwell attended and the National Mὸd was hosted again in 1963 when 10,000 Gaels attended and the Gaelic Service was held in St John’s Kirk. Society activities continued throughout but meetings were then held in the Forteviot Hall. The Provincial Mὸd at Aberfeldy increased from one to two days.
In the 1960’s and 70’s Continuation classes in Gaelic were held by Roderick MacKinnon and the Rev. Angus MacAskill as tutors. Gaelic was starting to be taught in schools in Highland Perthshire – starting with Breadalbane and its feeder schools in 1970. In 1971 Roderick MacKinnon was teaching Gaelic at Perth Academy 6th Form and wrote the well-used manual for Gaelic Learners – ‘Teach Yourself Gaelic’. It was reprinted seven times by 1977.
1980 saw the centenary of the Society and was also the eighth occasion on which the Society had hosted the National Mὸd. A variety of venues were used and there were also late night Céilidhs and a Fringe Section. The final concert was held in the City Hall.
In 1994 the Society moved to St Matthew’s Hall on Tay Street and still holds Céilidhs here throughout the winter. The National Mὸd was hosted again in 2004 and the Society is still –in 2016, actively involved in the preservation and promotion of the Gaelic Language and Culture in Perth and its environs.