IT seemed to be on a one-way road to extinction but now signs of a revival are emerging.

The number of people looking to take online lessons in Gaelic has surged to a record high since the start of the coronavirus lockdown, new data shows.

MG ALBA, the Gaelic media service, said that over 114,000 unique users accessed the LearnGaelic website between March 23 and June 2.

This is up from 62,507 during the same period last year and more than double the total number of census-recorded Gaelic speakers.

As of yesterday, the figure was 128,000.

It is the latest indication that a vulnerable language, which many thought could not be saved from vanishing, is making a comeback amid a boom in opportunities for digital learning.

Data from the Duolingo platform released at the start of January revealed that more than 127,000 people had signed up for its new Gaelic course, which was launched just before St Andrew’s Day last year. Experts hailed the demand as a sign that younger Scots were increasingly shaking off the “cringe” factor around the language.

Gillebride MacMillan, head of subject for Celtic and Gaelic studies at Glasgow University, said the LearnGaelic data highlighted both an underlying increase in interest and the extent to which technology has been helping this grow further.

“Overall it’s a really positive time for Gaelic at the moment,” he said.

“It’s very hard to create spaces where Gaelic is heard and spoken and, when so many things started going online, there was a worry that Gaelic would be swallowed up in the English-dominated world of the web.

“But, with the lockdown, so many people have been going online - singing or organising virtual ceilidhs - and, as well as that, the web has really opened up opportunities for Gaelic learning and going deeper into the process of learning the language.

“There are now numerous Gaelic Zoom and Skype classes all over the world.

“I used to teach classes to students in the USA and we had students in Colorado, Florida, Michigan and so on. They were very disparate but, thanks to technology, they had created their own online community.

“A new Gaelic immersion course is also starting at the university where people can learn Gaelic through immersion in Glasgow for the first time.”

Mr MacMillan said the role of the Scottish Parliament in “normalising” and boosting the language’s profile had been crucial.

“It’s now 15 years since the Gaelic Language Act was put in place and this is a good time to see the changes that have come about,” he explained.

“I remember being a student in Gaelic 20 years ago and remembering how important the first ever debate in Gaelic in the Scottish Parliament was.

“And now we take it for granted that the Finance Secretary [Kate Forbes] is a Gaelic speaker and has addressed the Parliament in Gaelic.

“When there’s a political will - and with Gaelic we have been fortunate to have had cross-party political support - that gives a sense of authority that we do have a right to speak the language, and learn it through Gaelic medium education, and that we can fight for that right.

“The Gaelic Language Act was important in that it provides that authority for Gaelic speakers and those interested in it to really go for they want to do.”

Mr MacMillan admitted the language still faced formidable challenges, particularly in some of its heartlands in the Outer Hebrides. But he said the figures from LearnGaelic were a sign of better times ahead, both in Scotland and internationally.

“Thanks to shows such as Outlander, millions and millions of people all over the world are seeing Gaelic on their screens,” he added.

“Many people have written to me to say that, previously, they weren’t aware of it but had become interested.

“It’s very much about normalising the language - making it a normal, everyday language.”

For Nicky MacCrimmon, taking online lessons through LearnGaelic was a way of connecting with his own past.

The 36-year-old from Dundee spoke the language a little as a toddler thanks to his time at a Gaelic nursery.

But he then forgot it after attending English-speaking schools.

A keen hillwalker, Mr MacCrimmon wanted to learn how to pronounce Gaelic mountain names.

It was when he was looking for online learning resources that he stumbled across the LearnGaelic website.

“I use a lot of the children’s resources because it’s colourful and full of cartoons and gives you a brilliant basic introduction, which is just what you need as a learner,” he said.

Mr MacCrimmon has just finished a Gaelic language course, An Cùrsa Adhartais, at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, University of the Highlands and Islands, as a distance learning student.

He has joined a group of people from Perthshire who are also learning and they meet every few months to speak Gaelic in a social setting.

“Combining my academic studies with LearnGaelic has made it much more fun and informal and kept me motivated,” he said.

Eilidh Lewsey, Editor at LearnGaelic, which is a partnership between MG ALBA, Bòrd na Gàidhlig, the BBC, Bòrd na Ceiltis (Alba) and Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, welcomed the latest figures.

“We’ve seen the strongest growth in our beginners’ resources such as our Gaelic Sounds pages and Fichead Facal (vocabulary lists),” she said.

“An Litir Bheag (The Little Letter), a short letter aimed at learners, is fully integrated with our dictionary and has also enjoyed a momentous growth. Our Dictionary consistently continues to gather momentum and we are delighted that learners and Gaelic speakers alike continue to enjoy putting it to good use.”