• Language: Gaelic
  • Region: Western Scotland
  • Contributor: Malcolm Maclean

Our understanding of the world is shaped by the language we use to describe it. Gaelic is one of the oldest languages spoken in Europe today, and is more than a thousand years older than English. It originated in central Europe and is still spoken in Scotland and Ireland. Aibidil is the Gaelic word for ‘Alphabet’.

Our Aibidil derives from ancient Ogham runic script whose tree-like strokes evolved into a Tree Alphabet.

Each of the 18 letters of our Aibidil corresponds to, and is represented by, a tree.

This affinity between the word and the tree embeds a deep association between language, landscape and the natural world in the original roots of Gaelic. It gives an ecological substance to the alphabet – the foundation of all literacy – a language we can learn by looking at the landscape.

The Aibidil appears in numerous historic contexts from illuminated Celtic manuscripts to Dwelly’s seminal illustrated Gaelic Dictionary. It continues to inspire 21st Century artists to explore the links between language, the natural environment and the visual arts.

Artists Jon Macleod and Donald Urquhart work with the Aibidil with environmental, social and historical ecologies that enhance our understanding of being ‘in place’.

Irish artist Katie Holten’s long-term research into Ogham runic script has led her to develop a coherent, beautiful and downloadable Tree Font.

Forester, Boyd Mackenzie, has spent 30 years planting and nurturing all of the trees of the Aibidil on his Hebridean croft. He has created a living conceptual artwork – an alphabet we can walk through.


  • Malcolm Maclean – Director
  • Ged Yeates – Editor
  • Richard Davis – Aerial film
  • Sam Maynard – Camera
  • Flora MacNeil – Music – Craobh Nan Ubhal (The Apple Tree)
  • Anna Mackenzie – Voiceover artist

Featured artists:

Thanks to:

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