Cearcall Còmhraidh was founded in 1964 by Joey Campbell, a native speaker from Callanish on Lewis, living in Edinburgh. She believed that it was possible to learn Gaelic through conversation and in the face of skepticism from academia, decided to go ahead and form a group to test her idea. A full 50 years later, Cearcall Còmhraidh is still going strong and has proven ‘Auntie’ Joey right. Many of the longest standing members started with little or no Gaelic and became fluent speakers with Cearcall being the mainstay of their learning process.
The group started out as an ad hoc organisation with no formal structure and gradually settled into a regular weekly meeting with a firm following. In the 1980s Cearcall Còmhraidh members Joe Wright and Calum Cameron took over the running of the group and played a major role in developing Cearcall and promoting Gaelic culture in Edinburgh throughout the years. While Joe preferred to remain in the background taking care of all the practical tasks with quiet dedication, Calum took the limelight and filled the role of group leader. A third member, Rob MacEwan, took charge of the beginners, making sure they got some guidance in developing their Gaelic conversation skills.
When Rob left to concentrate on teaching evening classes and expand Gaelic conversation opportunities with his own group in Bathgate, Iain Mackay took over his role as beginners’ tutor. Things didn’t end there for Iain though, as prior to his retiral at the ripe old age of 89, Calum persuaded him to take on the role of group leader. Though initially reluctant to be in the spotlight, Iain rose to the occasion and Cearcall Còmhraidh has continued to flourish.
Today, Cearcall’s members are not only Edinburgh based. Many travel in regularly from all over the Central Belt and some even come in from as far afield as Dingwall or Dumfries & Galloway. The group is very fortunate to have a number of fluent speakers who attend regularly, some of whom have Gaelic as their first language. Their willingness to sit at tables for less fluent speakers is greatly appreciated by everyone and helps enormously to support and promote Gaelic as a living language in the City and beyond.
In 2013, after Calum retired to his family in Jersey, the group decided to formalise the internal structure of Cearcall with elected office bearers. Iain Mackay became President, Joe Wright became Treasurer and Morag McGill became Secretary, with the group additionally electing a Manager, Lewis MacPherson, to handle catering and venue organisation. This change was also due in part to the group receiving a legacy from member, Margaret Hay (née Leitch), when she passed. Thanks to her thoughtfulness, this legacy was enough to enable the group to fulfill their wish to go online and allowed them to develop this website and their own Facebook page.
The current office bearers are: