The Gaelic way of liv­ing in the world

The Victoria Standard - - Culture / Heritage -

In the mid-1970s, and be­fore he was ap­pointed to the Sr. St. Veron­ica Chair in Gaelic Stud­ies at St. FXU, the late Dr. Ken­neth Nilsen be­gan visit­ing the Cape Bre­ton Gaelic Club of Bos­ton, founded in 1940. When out-mi­gra­tion from the ru­ral mar­itime prov­inces saw a “dras­tic in­crease” in the 1880s, Bos­ton was the most pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion. *Nilsen notes, al­though some gave up their na­tive tongue --fa­mously rep­re­sented in the song by C.B.’S North Shore Bard Mac­der­mid, “An tè a chaill a’ Ghàidhlig” (‘The woman who lost the Gaelic’)-- in his more than ten years of record­ing Gaelic speak­ers in Bos­ton, most were “proud sup­port­ers of their lan­guage and cul­ture”.

Re­cently, as I have been con­sid­er­ing how so many Gaels, es­pe­cially those from C.B.’S North Shore, had left home for the “Bos­ton States”, two help­ful events oc­curred. The first was a visit on va­ca­tion to a Sun­day morn­ing ser­vice at Ephraim Scott Pres­by­te­rian Church, South Haven, by the Rev. Kate Car­lyle of Need­ham Pres­by­te­rian Church, Mass. As Rev. Kate de­scribed it, this church goes back to “our found­ing as the Scotch Pres­by­te­rian Church in Bos­ton’s South End in 1887, a Gaelic-speak­ing con­gre­ga­tion of immigrants from N.S….A good num­ber of mem­bers trace their her­itage back to C.B.” The church moved to Need­ham in the late ’50s. Cape Bre­ton­ers ar­rived in sev­eral waves; those who formed and sang in the Need­ham Gaelic Choir were the most re­cent, maybe 50-60 years ago.

The sec­ond happy oc­cur­rence was meet­ing Dolena (Ma­cleod) Brown of Sydney, formerly of Fram­boise, who kindly gave me two copies of an au­dio­tape en­ti­tled “The Need­ham Gaelic Choir-vol. I”. The in­sert, while it has no date, does name in­di­vid­ual singers. One side is de­voted to psalms and hymns, not­ing a Calder Mor­ri­son, Peter Holmes, and Alexan­der Ma­cleod as pre­cen­tors of the psalms; a Don­ald J. Mac­der­mid, whom Nilsen calls a “fine singer and racon­teur”, sings “Amaz­ing Grace” and the Gaelic ver­sion of “The Stranger of Galilee” by PEI’S Gene Ma­clel­lan. Don­ald J. was born in Stir­ling, Rich­mond County; in 1992, his fam­ily do­nated 60 tapes to the Beaton In­sti­tute. (You’ll find the list at https://beat­onin­sti­ )

The re­verse side of the cas­sette is given to sec­u­lar songs, all fa­mil­iar to C.B. Gaels, such as milling songs “Ged a sheòl mi air m’ aineol” (‘Al­though I sailed in for­eign parts’), well known es­pe­cially on the North Shore, and led by Calder Mor­ri­son; and “Dh’ òlainn de­och á làimh mo rùin” (‘I would take a drink from the hand of my love’), with Neil Ma­clean.

Neil (d.2004), from Meadow, Goose Cove, mar­ried Mur­dena (‘Maude’ Carmichael) of Tar­bot be­fore they em­i­grated to the US in 1940, in sum­mers re­turn­ing to their place in North River. They both were mem­bers of the Need­ham Gaelic Choir and the C.B. Gaelic Club of Bos­ton. Maude (d. 2013) was sis­ter to the late Mur­doch (Bucky) Carmichael, who passed away on May 22 this year. The Carmichael roots go back to the vil­lage of Balal­lan, in the Isle of Lewis’s Lochs dis­trict. How of­ten Bucky talked to me about Balal­lan, which he had never seen! Wher­ever they go in the world, true Gaels re­mem­ber who they are, and where they come from.

*Pro­ceed­ings of The Har­vard Celtic Col­lo­quium, 1986

Saoghal na Gàidhlig... / The Gaelic Way of Liv­ing in the World is writ­ten by Ca­tri­ona Par­sons and spon­sored by...

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