The Gaelic way of liv­ing in the world

The Victoria Standard - - Culture / Heritage -

When I be­gan teach­ing at the Gaelic Col­lege in the late sev­en­ties, the sole Gaelic teacher there was Tena Mor­ri­son, by then in her up­per years. In those days, each morn­ing be­fore class, an assem­bly was held; “O Canada” was sung and the Lord’s Prayer was re­cited—both in Gaelic, of course. At the time, we took the Gaelic ver­sion of the Na­tional An­them for granted, and did not ask who had writ­ten it. But it was clear that it was not a trans­la­tion of the English or French ver­sions.

As so of­ten hap­pens, in­for­ma­tion may come to light years later. Thanks to Pádraig Ó Si­ad­hail, of St. Mary’s Univer­sity, for re­fer­ring me to the book “Mìle mìle i gcéin” (‘The Ir­ish Lan­guage in Canada”), by Danny Doyle (Ot­tawa: Bo­re­alis Press.) In it, Doyle in­cludes the foot­note: “The Scot­tish Gaelic ver­sion of ‘O Canada’, the ba­sis for the *Ir­ish trans­la­tion, was com­posed in the Gaelic com­mu­ni­ties on Cape Bre­ton Is­land, Nova Sco­tia, some­time in the early 20th cen­tury…” But is that so?

Re­cently, the Cana­dian Gov­ern­ment was in­tent on mak­ing the English ver­sion of the an­them more in­clu­sive by chang­ing the words “in all thy sons com­mand” to “in all of us com­mand”. And so, on Dec. 6, 2016, Cape Bre­ton’s Sen­a­tor Michael L. Macdon­ald, who sits on the Trans­port and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mit­tee, rose to speak. Sen. Macdon­ald, born the youngest of ten chil­dren in Louis­burg in 1955, “with an­ces­tral roots to some of C.B.’S ear­li­est set­tlers”, is clearly proud of his Gaelic her­itage as the fol­low­ing ex­cerpt shows:

“Hon­ourable Sen­a­tors, I bring to your at­ten­tion that there was an ear­lier ver­sion of ‘O Canada’ pro­duced in an­other lan­guage be­sides English and French. This was the Scot­tish Gaelic ver­sion….nor­man Mur­ray of On­tario was the author….he cap­tured the spirit of the orig­i­nal French ver­sion when he wrote, ‘O Ceanada! An taobh tuath treub­hach còir; crùn air do cheann, de dhuil­leag dhearg’s òr…’ ” (At this point some sen­a­tors call out: “Hear! Hear!”) Sen­a­tor Macdon­ald goes on: “Isn’t that beau­ti­fully ex­pressed? …In ad­di­tion, it is both gen­der neu­tral and in­clu­sive. In short, it’s got it all. I say we go with this!”

Sen. Macdon­ald told me there were two vari­ants of the Scot­tish Gaelic ver­sion—the one he quotes from above, and the one we’re more fa­mil­iar with in Cape Bre­ton. (See the Gaelic col­umn.) When trans­lated, it clearly stands apart from the English ver­sion: “O Canada! coun­try of the gen­tle he­roes /a crown on your head (crowned) with leaf (both) red and gold; / from ocean to ocean, with a sweet song / we will praise your fame; / un­der shel­ter of your wing, there is grand free­dom / that the en­emy won’t tear from us; / O Canada, de­sire of our hearts / (may there be) hap­pi­ness (bless­ing) and peace with the good­ness of God to our land!”

“Nor­man Mur­ray of On­tario” re­mains elu­sive; but we can all learn to sing the **Gaelic ver­sion if we choose—a good res­o­lu­tion for this Gaelic Aware­ness Month!

*Trans­lated to Ir­ish by Aralt Mac­gi­olla Chain­nigh, leader of the Ir­ish Lan­guage move­ment in Canada.

**Lis­ten to var­i­ous Gaelic ren­di­tions on Youtube.

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