The Gaelic way of living in the world

The Victoria Standard - - Culture / Heritage -

It is largely ac­knowl­edged that the Gaelic speech by the Rev. Archibald Mackin­non se­cured the build­ing of the High­land Vil­lage for Iona, Cape Bre­ton. There above the Bar­ra­men’s Strait, the Vil­lage, which was re­ceived into the Nova Sco­tia Mu­seum fam­ily in June, 2000, has evolved over the decades of the 20th cen­tury to emerge in the 21st as a strong stan­dard-bearer for Gaelic lan­guage and cul­ture.

Di­rec­tor Rod­ney Chais­son, in har­ness since 1993, be­lieves in a fu­ture for Gaelic in the prov­ince. When he con­sid­ers the core in­gre­di­ents for a cul­tural mu­seum, he thinks of the in­tan­gi­bles: sto­ries, songs, mu­sic, lan­guage, folk­lore, and other folk­life tra­di­tions. “Lan­guage is the hub”, he says, “with cul­tural ex­pres­sion and folk­life tra­di­tions as the spokes”.

Man­ager of Col­lec­tions since 1987, Pauline Maclean will tell you of her pride “when our vis­i­tors have that ‘Aha!’ mo­ment and con­nect their lives with their Gaelic an­ces­tors…” Her own Gaelic roots go back on her mother’s side to An­gus, “an Saor Mór” (‘the big car­pen­ter’) of North Uist who set­tled in C.B. County in 1826; and to Don­ald “Tai­lor” Mac­don­ald, son of Nor­man who came from Lewis to Loch Lomond in 1802 or 3. She at­tributes much of the mu­seum’s suc­cess to “mov­ing to first per­son an­i­ma­tion, hav­ing more Gaelic spo­ken on site, hav­ing hand­son ex­pe­ri­ences for vis­i­tors so they are part of the story, and us­ing mod­ern tech­nol­ogy to share our sto­ries with the wider world…”

Kather­ine Ma­cleod has been the Learning and Me­dia Spe­cial­ist since 2008, com­bin­ing skills ac­quired at St. FXU’S Celtic Stud­ies depart­ment with those from her mu­seum stud­ies in Ottawa. Her work en­tails such things as in­ter­pre­ta­tion, so­cial me­dia posts, pro­gram plan­ning; and she de­lights in con­tin­u­ally learning more of the life, songs and sto­ries of Gaelic an­ces­tors. I was priv­i­leged to know her grand­par­ents, na­tive speak­ers Wil­liam and Sadie Ma­cleod of Glace Bay; as Kather­ine ac­knowl­edges, “A lit­tle piece of me knows how proud my grand­par­ents would have been”.

Born in the Booth­bay Har­bour re­gion of Maine, as a boy Jim Wat­son knew his fa­ther’s parents were from the Mar­itimes. Later in life, vis­it­ing the Western Isles of Scot­land, and Con­nemara, Ire­land, he was at­tracted to the Gaelic way of life. Then, in the 1970s, work­ing side by side with them in the woods of Cape Bre­ton, he had the im­mense ben­e­fit of learning di­rectly from In­ver­ness County folk such as Col­lie Mac­in­tosh, Val­ley Mills, and Johnny Wil­liams, Melford.

As Man­ager of In­ter­pre­ta­tion at the Vil­lage since 1984, he speaks with some pride of the Vil­lage’s pro­grams: Stòras a’ Bhaile, the folk­lore school held there each sum­mer al­to­gether in Gaelic; An Drochaid Eadarainn, the web­site that shares Nova Sco­tia Gaelic tradition through the medium of Gaelic; and the vil­lage’s an­nual news­let­ter, An Rubha, from which the reader will learn much of the oral tradition of the Nova Sco­tia Gael.

In Novem­ber 2016, in Scot­land, Jim Wat­son was given the Best Con­tri­bu­tion Award in the Bbc-spon­sored cer­e­mony that rec­og­nizes work to pro­mote Gaelic cul­ture around the world; in Jim’s case, “for his ef­forts to main­tain, grow and pre­serve the Gaelic her­itage”. He was nom­i­nated by Cana­dian Dr. Rob Dun­bar, Chair of Celtic Lan­guages, Lit­er­a­tures, His­tory and An­tiq­ui­ties at Ed­in­burgh Univer­sity. For all his work on be­half of Gaelic, Jim was a wor­thy re­cip­i­ent. He and his col­leagues at the “only living his­tory mu­seum for Gàidhlig lan­guage and her­itage in North Amer­ica” --right here in Vic­to­ria County--de­serve our thank­ful praise.

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