Book puts spot­light on Gaelic lit­er­a­ture

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - ENTERTAINMENT - El­iz­a­beth Cran is a free­lance writer who writes a book re­view col­umn for The Guardian. To com­ment or to send her books to re­view, write her at her new ad­dress: 95 Or­ange St., Apt. 101, Saint John N.B., E2L 1M5, or call her at 506-693-5498.

“Mem­ory-Keeper of the For­est”, edited by Michael New­ton (CBU Press, $27.95) is an an­thol­ogy of Gaelic prose and po­etry, com­posed by Gaels in Canada.

A large book of 570 pages, in­clud­ing notes and bib­li­og­ra­phy, it’s a bilin­gual book, which ac­counts for its size.

Ev­ery­one of High­land Scot­tish de­scent — and there are many ev­ery­where in this coun­try — will be able to read this book and learn much more in the process. Those of dif­fer­ent ances­try, who may be in­clined to pe­ruse it, will learn about a side of Cana­dian his­tory which is lit­tle-known but es­sen­tial for a proper un­der­stand­ing of Canada’s ori­gin and de­vel­op­ment.

It also shows that the pop­u­lar im­age of High­landers — wear­ing kilts and sporrans, danc­ing, toss­ing cabres and speak­ing an un­in­tel­li­gi­ble lan­guage or gar­bled English — is lit­tle more than a car­i­ca­ture.

The book is di­vided into sev­eral sec­tions ac­cord­ing to the fol­low­ing themes: the sub­ju­ga­tion of Gael­dom; mil­i­tarism and tar­tanism; mi­gra­tion; set­tle­ment; love and death; re­li­gion; lan­guage and lit­er­a­ture; iden­tity and as­so­ci­a­tions and pol­i­tics. Each sec­tion is in­tro­duced by a fairly long note, while each se­lec­tion is pref­aced by a short one.

With only a few words of Gaelic — not enough to form a sen­tence or a ques­tion — it’s not pos­si­ble to judge the lit­er­ary value of the selections or the qual­ity of the trans­la­tions. How­ever, we judge the trans­la­tions are at least ac­cu­rate and give a glimpse of the beauty of Gaelic song. All of the po­ems are meant to be sung, not read, and most are very long. They are well worth read­ing be­cause they are a win­dow through which we can per­ceive an ut­terly dif­fer­ent way of life and val­ues much un­like our own.

A few ex­am­ples: The Lament of the North; Glen­calvie Clear­ances; Sail­ing to Prince Ed­ward Is­land and In Praise of the Cana­dian Prairies (last two in prose). Other typ­i­cal selections are Curses on the Mice, On­tario Love Song, The Farmer’s Thanks­giv­ing Hymn and A Song about the Gen­eral Elec­tion. To sum up, Gaels could make a song about any­thing.

New­ton, the editor, has pub­lished four other schol­arly books on Gaelic sub­jects, as well as the best­selling “The Naughty Lit­tle Book of Gaelic: All the Scot­tish Gaelic You Need to Curse, Swear, Drink, smoke and Fool Around”, which shows an­other side of the lan­guage and peo­ple.

At one time, Gaelic was the third most com­mon lan­guage spo­ken in Canada. Ef­forts were made to have it given equal sta­tus with French.

To­day, peo­ple are still speak­ing and learn­ing Gaelic. At least one church in Ottawa holds a monthly ser­vice in Gaelic. The Gaels may never die. They just go un­der­ground.

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