The Gaelic way of living in the world
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://beatoninstitute.com/mg-21-8 )
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...