The Gaelic way of living in the world
On a hillside in Cape Breton, barely seven kms. north of Exit 11 past the Gaelic College on St. Ann’s Bay, in the old Macleod Pioneer Cemetery, two graves lie not far from each other. One feature they have in common is evidence of the loss of young sons: one stone is “erected to the memory of John Bunyan Mleod who died 11 July A.D. 1838 aged 21 years; Also I Edward Mleod died 8th Aug 1829 aged 2 years…” Yes, these were the sons Rev. and Mrs. Norman Macleod had to leave behind as they set sail for the Southern Hemisphere in 1851.
The other stone tells us that Philip Maceachern (1904-1987) and his wife Nellie (Macleod) (1900-1990) are interred there; three footstones tell of the loss of sons John Murdoch at age 25 and Philip at age 19, both in 1953; and 48-yr. old Kenneth in 1977. However, connection between these families goes deeper than loss of their young sons. So what is it?
In his excellent “History of the Presbyterian Church in Cape Breton” (1921), Rev. John Murray writes: “Organized Presbyterianism in Cape Breton dates from May the 20th, 1820 when the Rev. Norman Mcleod with a number of his followers sailed into St. Ann’s Harbor”. In his account, Murray also makes clear the centrality of Gaelic in this church from its beginnings.
He describes the centenary celebration that had recently occurred. It was quite an affair and took place at “the church at South Gut, St. Ann’s” (known since 1932 as Ephraim Scott Memorial) on 8th July, 1920. The speakers were a “Who’s Who” of the province’s Presbyterian ministers, including those who had served the church in St. Ann’s. The lone visitor from New Zealand unfortunately arrived a day late for the proceedings! The S.S. Asby brought “several hundred passengers from Port Morien, Glace Bay, Sydney and North Sydney” arriving only an hour late. “Suitable religious exercises” took place in English and Gaelic. The church was “crowded to capacity” with scores of people outside. The Rev. Allister Murray, the congregation’s pastor, chaired the morning session. An address was given in the afternoon session by Hon. George H. Murray, Premier of Nova Scotia, and representative of the County of Victoria. And bountiful food was served between sessions.
Fifty years later, the late Rev. Ian G. Macleod, from 1963 to 1991 minister of joint congregations Ephraim Scott and Knox, Baddeck, prepared “A History of the Church in St. Ann’s” to mark its 150th anniversary. In it, he lists those ministers who had served the congregation from Rev. Norman’s time; he also lists the Elders ordained from the time of Rev. Abraham Macintosh who succeeded Norman, down to 1990.
Both are tantalizing lists to anyone interested in local history; but I’d like to zero in on two names in the Elders’ list: first, mindful of the question raised earlier, on the name Philip Maceachern, North Gut, Gaelic speaker and precentor ordained in 1964. I must add the name D.J. Macdonald, South Haven (formerly South Gut) ordained Elder the same year. When I first began teaching at the Gaelic College Summer School in the late 1970s, Isobel Macaulay, then in charge of weaving and kilt making at the College, would invite myself and students to attend Ephraim Scott’s Sunday morning service. And so these two stalwarts, together with the warm and welcoming congregation and minister, symbolize for me the long faithful line of workers in the local Presbyterian Church, descended from and ever connected to that first, fateful ministry of Rev. Norman Macleod. We look forward to the 200th anniversary in two years’ time.