When we look far back into the history of Gaelic we find a non-literate society. One where legends passed from father to son or master to apprentice with little or no change for hundreds or more years. Poetry was composed on the spot in strict verse and genealogies were known and recited back many many generations.
The sense of long and strong memory and oral tradition still exists within the language and culture and they are strong and beautiful flavor in the mix of things that make Gaelic Gaelic.
Holding knowledge in you mind can seem almost magical in a world where everything is available at the click of a button and nothing needs to be remembered. However this aspect can be over romanticized just as easily as kilts, tartan or any other aspect of culture.
Writing came to Gaelic many hundreds of years ago. The reason many Gaelic speakers not all that long ago couldn't read or write their own language wasn't out of some sense of preserving an ancient cultural practice, it was because not only was education in Gaelic not available, children were beaten or had their mouths washed out with soap for speaking Gaelic at school.
Today the there is a richness of Gaelic material on the web and in print, allowing people from all over the world to access this amazing language and culture. People who's parents or grandparents had Gaelic beaten out of them or who gave it up in hopes that not having Gaelic would give their children a better life.
So by all means memorize a Gaelic story or song, it is wonderful to have words and music floating around your head that have been sung for hundreds of years but don't throw the baby out with the bathwater, written Gaelic has so much to offer and what is out there is just getting richer and richer.
Caroline has been involved with Gaelic for more than 18 years. She has degrees in Celtic Studies and Gaelic Medium Teaching.