Last night was the launch of the website of Tobar an Dualchais – Kist o Riches – always said with that doubled barreled name because it contains songs, stories, children’s rhymes and other information in Gaelic and Scots (and English too, for that matter). The Canna collection of original recordings made by John Lorne Campbell and Margaret Fay Shaw have been digitised and put online, along with many more from the archives of the School of Scottish Studies at Edinburgh University and BBC Scotland.
The Scots strapline on the website describes the £7 million project as “The speik o a bygane age…gien new virr wi fantoosh technology.” Fantoosh has become my Word of the Week. I Googled it and Betty Kirkpatrick has a definition: “Fantoosh, pronounced as it is spelt, and with the emphasis on the second syllable, is a Scots word which, when used of a person, means over-dressed or ultra-fashionable, bordering on the flashy. It seems to be mostly used of women and an over-dressed woman can be called a fantoosh or described as fantooshed. Fantoosh, meaning ostentatious or pretentious, can also be used of inanimate objects and can refer to a wide range of things.”
John Campbell would have loved the website. He was a technology fan (or fantoosh) – an early adopter in the modern phrase – whether it was the latest wire recorder or an electric carving knife (about which Margaret was especially scathing). His original wire recordings, by the way, come across with excellent quality.
But Tobar an Dualchais also fulfills one of his other ambitions by making the songs and stories he collected available free of charge to the widest audience imaginable. He did not travel the islands (and rural Nova Scotia) just to have his finds molder in the archive (literally in the case of the early wax-cylinder recordings, which were susceptible to mold attacks), he wanted the riches he discovered to be open to all. Now they are.