In the 19th century, it would not have been unusual to hear students speaking Gaelic on campus.
Queen's was founded as a Scottish Presbyterian university and, for many decades, its strongly Scottish student body included many who were fluent in Gaelic and even a few who counted Gaelic as their first language.
Scots were fiercely proud of their traditional tongue and fought to preserve it. One of Queen's first student societies was the Gaelic Society and, late in the century, there were several versions of the Ossianic Society, devoted to the memory of the legendary Gaelic warrior and poet Ossian. Articles in Gaelic even turned up in the Queen's Journal and several scholarships in the language were established around the turn of the century.
Queen's association with Gaelic became a point of pride for students, even those who were not Scottish. When, in the late years of George Grant's Principalship in the 1890s, students' growing pride in the university flowed forth in an explosion of school songs and poems, students turned naturally to Gaelic as a way of establishing a unique identity for Queen's.
Today, many Queen's names and phrases persist as everyday reminders of the university's rich Gaelic legacy, even though they may no longer be properly understood or pronounced.
The most familiar are:
- an clachan (as in the An Clachan apartment complex), which means "village" and is pronounced "an clackan"
- ban righ (as in Ban Righ Hall or the Ban Righ Centre), which literally means "wife of the King" or "Queen" and is pronounced "ban ree"
- ceilidh (as in the Upper or Lower Ceilidh in the John Deutsch University Centre), which refers to an informal gathering for music, dance and storytelling, and is pronounced "kaylee"
- cha gheill, which means "no surrender" and is pronounced "kay yee-al"
- oil thigh, which means "university" (as in "Oil thigh na Banrighinn a'Banrighinn gu brath" or "The university of the wife of the King forever") and is pronounced as it is written