Posted by: christinelaennec | February 9, 2014

Missing the “gille-Bhrìde”

“Gille-Bhrìde” is the Gaelic name for the oystercatcher.  Jill at Land of the Big Sky has allowed me to use some of her beautiful watercolours to show you the oystercatcher:

Oystercatchers, by Jill Chandler (

Oystercatchers, by Jill Chandler (

As you can see from the painting below, the oystercatcher is a coastal bird.  They are a feature of life in Aberdeen, and I have been missing them here in Glasgow.  I always used to note when I first heard the cry of the oystercatcher at the start of every new year.  That means they are starting to nest, and so spring is not too very far away.  They have a very distinctive cry, which in Gaelic is “Bi glic!” (“Be wise!”)  I don’t know if there’s a connection, but the motto of the Northern Constabulary used to be “Bi glic!”.

Oystercatchers by Jill Chandler (

Oystercatchers by Jill Chandler (

I’ve often wondered about their name in Gaelic, “gille-Bhrìde”.  This translates roughly as “St. Brigid’s boy” or possibly “St. Brigid’s helper / gillie”?  As you may know, St. Brigid (born in Ireland in 453) was one of the earliest Celtic Christian saints.  February 1st is St. Brigid’s feast day, and in Ireland people traditionally made a “St. Brigid’s cross” out of straw or rushes to display inside their kitchen.   I wonder if the bird got its name from the fact that it makes itself noisily known at about the start of February?

Oystercatchers by Jill Chandler (

Oystercatchers by Jill Chandler (

Oystercatchers like to nest on top of flat rooves, particularly ones covered in pebbles.  There are some rooves at the University of Aberdeen which are protected nesting sites for the oystercatcher.  Many a spring semester my students and I would follow the progress of the oystercatcher families nesting outside our classroom.

Glasgow must be too far inland for the oystercatcher, unless they have some flat-roof hideout that I haven’t yet discovered here.  But I don’t think so.  I remember once I was having a phone conversation in Aberdeen, with a colleague in Glasgow.  She heard the oystercatchers in the background and sighed, “Oh I can hear the oystercatchers!”  I would have that same reaction now if it were me.

Do visit Jill’s blog to see her beautiful art.  If, like me, you end up laughing uproariously at some of her jokes (on her recent post “Fit like?” she describes an exercise class where the instructor tells them to “touch your knees to your chest”.  She asks, “Couldn’t I just take my bra off?”) – well, don’t say I didn’t warn you!



  1. Jill’s art and your narrative created a delightful post, Christine. Now, I think I would enjoy seeing oystercatchers in action, but learning about them through you two is very satisfying.
    Portland is at a near standstill since it bears a restrictive coat of snow and ice, but the temperature is rising, and clumps of ice and snow and a few branches from over-burdened trees are crackling and thumping as they fall outside my window while I type to you. I am grateful we have only lost power for a few hours so far.
    Thanks for posting!

  2. That was really interesting, I even made notes!

  3. How interesting that you connect oystercatchers with Aberdeen, I don’t remember seeing them there. Funnily enough I’ve seen quite a few inland in Perthshire, although I’ve no idea where they get their oysters from.

  4. Hi Christine! Fun to learn about the oyster catchers! Have been seeing robins and some bluebirds around here. Looks like our snow will be on the ground for at least a week. I think the birds are puzzled about our weather!!! Thinking about you all often. Please give my greetings to the Dafter! Am working on a project with the Harris Tweed and it makes me so happy. Can’t wait to show you what I’ve done!

  5. Lovely post, super watercolours. You’ve reminded me of the Oystercatchers I used to watch when we lived in Cornwall.

  6. I love the pictures. And you’ve made me feel nostalgic for the oyster-catchers that used to wake us up when we lived in Aberdeen. They are wonderful birds.

  7. No sign of the oystercatchers yet! I will send you a picture when mama bird arrives 🙂

  8. How interesting it is to think of where names originate. Beautiful artwork.

    In southern Louisiana, I always looked forward to the migration of the brown pelicans – but we live too far inland now. I do miss them. ❤

  9. If it’s any consolation, I haven’t heard any here yet, and I live right beside our local school with its big field and its enormous flat roof.

  10. Lovely artwork and a very interesting post about how they possibly got their name. Bird cries do embed themselves in our fond memories of certain places. I still remember the two note bird call from my childhood, but I have yet to identify its caller. These look like charming little birds. xo

  11. You certainly push my homesick buttons, Christine! Wishing I could hear the oystercatchers calling as they fly up the Spey on chill Spring nights.

  12. Lovely post, Christine. I miss the Black oystercatchers on the west coast of Canada. Such a neat bird.

  13. Thanks everyone! I’m glad you enjoyed either remembering the oystercatchers, or learning about them.

    Jill – thanks again for allowing me to use your beautiful artwork to illustrate my post.

    Ruth and Fiona – let me know when they start shrieking!

    Karen – you’re so right about how certain sounds “embed themselves in our brains”. A sound that makes me very homesick for the States is a train whistle.

    Heather – The Dafter sends her best wishes back to you. And I’m very curious to see what you make from the tweed scraps.

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