The charming small port town of Kennebunkport on the Atlantic Coast in the easternmost US state of Maine is known for being the location of the summer retreat of the Bush family.

Perhaps unbeknown to most of its 3,600 residents, the town is also home to a man who, despite living nearly 3,000 miles away from Scotland, could consider himself to be the world’s most popular online Gaelic teacher. 

Jason Bond has been teaching Gaelic professionally for over a decade after completing a BA with First Class Honors in Celtic Studies and a Bachelors in Secondary Education with a focus on Gaelic at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, Canada.

After setting up his own Youtube channel in October 2018, ‘Gaelic with Jason’ now has over 30,000 subscribers, with the 160+ online lessons on the channel attracting a combined total of over 1 million views to date.

So how did a man from Maine find himself in his present position of helping Gaelic reach future generations thanks to his hugely popular, dynamic and immersive online lessons? 

READ MORE: Why a Scottish team is on quest to save Gaelic in Nova Scotia

A lot of “twists and turns”, according to Jason, which saw him “shipped off” to Scotland to work in a rural high school with $200 to his name, his harp in one hand and his duffel bag in the other.

The 35-year-old told The Herald: “I studied Celtic Studies at university in Canada and quickly fell in love with the language. I took every Gàidhlig course possible, both language and literature, devouring as much Gàidhlig as I could over those four years.

“When I graduated, I decided to keep going with the language. Gàidhlig wasn’t just something fun I did in uni or something to be discarded in favour of real pursuits in the real world. It had become my world, my road. I couldn’t imagine my life without Gaelic and I wasn’t going to stop now. So, I decided to train as a secondary teacher. 

“Both my parents are teachers and, as these things usually go, I had sworn up and down that I wouldn’t follow in their footsteps. After eating those words, I completed a two-year degree in Education and went to Scotland teach at the high school on Islay. I was there for five years.

“After I left that job, I taught Gàidhlig online as I travelled throughout Thailand and Vietnam. After two years of being nomadic, I returned to Maine and became more serious about my online work. 

The Herald: Jason giving a Gaelic lessonJason giving a Gaelic lesson (Image: Jason Bond)

“My Youtube channel was just for fun at first. I enjoyed making the videos and figured that they could help a few learners acquire Gaelic in a deep, enjoyable way. I had no idea my channel would have over 32,000 subscribers within a few years!

“It was also a bit of an experiment. I was curious if my immersive storytelling approach would be as successful in video format as it had been ‘live’ in a public school classroom. Judging from the comments on my videos, this format is quite powerful and successful.”

The roots of Jason’s love for the language - and Scotland - can also be traced back to being enchanted by the songs of his first teacher, herself a native Gaelic speaker born in Lewis.

He added: “I became interested in Scottish history, music, and folklore while in high school. I listened to trad music on the radio and had started to teach myself how to play the harp. I had come across some Runrig recordings as well, which was a factor in my choosing Scottish Gaelic over Irish. I also read through T.W. Rolleston’s hefty tome Celtic Myths and Legends several times. It was in my school bag every day of my senior year of high school - at the ready for bus rides, study halls, and lunch periods.

“When I found out that I could study these topics in university, I happily moved to Nova Scotia. At that point, I was more focused on history, literature, and music. That all shifted when my first teacher, Catriona Parsons, sang to us during our first Gaelic class. To hear a talented singer live was such a powerful experience; I was captivated by it. My interest in Gàidhlig went from candle flame to bonfire in that very first class and has remained that way ever since.”

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Jason also regards his time spent living and working on Islay and “witnessing native speakers using their native language on their native soil” as a “sacred” experience.

He said: “It was my first time living and working in Scotland. I had visited before, taken some summer courses at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, and taught a bit at Glasgow Gaelic School, but that was it. I had never lived on an island before and quickly came to love it. The pace of life was slower and almost everywhere had a captivating view.

“Gaelic was used in day-to-day life in some places as well. It was so special to me to speak it in the Co-op as I picked out my vegetables and cheese. Some of the school pupils had a passion for Gàidhlig as well.

“The locals I met on Islay and Jura were good, down-to-earth people. Plus, sometimes they’d buy me pint to hear my answer to ‘What on earth brings an American to Islay to teach Gaelic?’ Those were fun conversations.”

As well as his online classes, Jason is also an established author, with two short novels for Gaelic learners - Ròna agus MacCodruim and Deirdre agus an Rìgh - under his belt.

The Herald: Jason spent some time living and working on IslayJason spent some time living and working on Islay (Image: Colin Mearns)

And despite sharing a deeply-held affiliation with Gaelic, he says it is “hard to put into words” just what makes the language so special in comparison to other languages. 

“To me, there’s just some ‘magic’ in it. Gàidhlig has a beautiful poetic nature that regularly shines through, especially in names,” he said. 

“For example, one of the names for a goldfinch in Gàidhlig is ‘little flame of the forest.’ A blue jay, the bird here in North America, is ‘the screech of the forest.’ Marigolds, those lovely golden flowers, can be called ‘little yellow flower of the summer’ in Gaelic. All very fitting names! 

“These are just a few examples of the many, many little stories behind names, sayings, and words in the Gaelic World. 

“In my opinion, Gaelic adds richness and poetry to one’s daily life, especially if we encounter these little stories in our own lives. I think the world as a whole is richer because Gàidhlig is in it.”

READ MORE: David Leask: Why we need to rethink our attitude towards Gaelic and its speakers

For Jason, both the popularity of his channel and the fact his students hail from different parts of the globe helps illustrate that, for him, Gaelic learning is very much “alive and well”.

He said: “Regardless of however one measures the ‘aliveness’ of a language, there have been and will always be folk interested in learning Gaelic. Online opportunities seem to make it easier to access quality materials and connect with others. Few learners live near teachers or native speakers, so being able to meet with them over Zoom is a tremendous help.

“My learners hail from North America, South America, the UK, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Australia, and New Zealand. I also regularly meet with learners from Canada, the Czech Republic, England, Scotland, and the US.”

And despite acknowledging that his insight into Gaelic is “limited” because he lives and works outside of Scotland, Jason does feel that we will see Gaelic’s online presence continue to grow.

He said: “Perhaps an online Gàidhealtachd (Gaelic-speaking area) will rise up naturally. Maybe one already has started to! We can already be anywhere in the world and connect with poets, authors, bakers, and other Gaels from all walks of life – proof that many things are possible.

“I think young folk are quite open to taking up the Gaelic as well. Having worked with Scots in their 20s and 30s, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are grassroots efforts to restore Gaelic as a language of daily life in some rural communities.

"Perhaps they will also lead the way in healing the generational and historical pain surrounding the language. I do hope so.”