IT IS the only mainland church in Scotland to offer its service in Gaelic – Glasgow’s very own Highland Cathedral.

The church was a major source of support for the early Gaels who settled in the city in the late 18th century, trying to find work.

St Columba’s was one of the first Gaelic-speaking congregations, tracing its roots back to 1770 when the building opened on Ingram Street.

In 1839, it moved to Hope Street, when the original site was sold to the British Linen Bank for its main Glasgow headquarters, and in 1904, to its present home, an impressive neo-Gothic building on St Vincent Street.

Barbara Neilson, of Glasgow City Archives, explains: “Often, the Highlanders arriving in Glasgow had no English and for many, the church was the focal point of their spiritual and social life. It was essential to their sense of belonging.”

She added: “Glasgow’s Highland Cathedral is the nickname for the most well-known of all Glasgow’s Gaelic churches, St Columba’s.

“The church still provides English and Gaelic sermons and is now the only mainland church to offer its main service in Gaelic.”

Glasgow Times:

For Gaels arriving in Glasgow, many clubs and societies were formed to offer companionship and support. Some of these were based around family names, others provided a social space for members to converse in Gaelic and some supported the next generation to learn English, become educated and find work.

“Our collections include records for the Buchanan Society, established in 1725 to help those named Buchanan avoid financial hardship,” adds Barbara.

“The Glasgow Gaelic Club, which formed in 1780, provided a forum for its members to speak Gaelic and the Glasgow Highland Club, established in 1882, aimed to encourage study into the language, literature and history of the Highlands.”

Many Gaels were employed by the police, says Barbara.

“The forces were always in need of fresh recruits who were fit, healthy and able to withstand the job’s physical demands,” she adds. “Their physical attributes also made them a popular choice for the police forces’ athletic associations and teams.

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“Many women worked in textile factories. Others became domestic servants in affluent areas. Some had friends and family already in the city but others were the first from their community to make a life in Glasgow. If their circumstances changed, they would often have no choice but to apply for poor relief for financial help.”

Glasgow Times:

Gaelic was not taught in Glasgow until the 1940s and a parent-led campaign was crucial in opening the first Gaelic Medium Education (GME) unit at Sir John Maxwell School in 1985.

Glasgow City Archives celebrated the history of the Gaels in Glasgow with an exhibition from its collections last year, in preparation for the Mod – a festival of Gaelic language, music and culture - returning to the city after an absence of 30 years.

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Barbara adds: “We hold few archives written in Gaelic, including the Glasgow Gaelic Club’s first minute book and a Glasgow Highland Club dinner menu of 1982 which includes a toast in Gaelic for its centenary dinner.”

Did your family come to Glasgow from the Highlands? What was their experience? Get in touch to share your stories and pictures.