‘Beacon of joy’
The Glengarry Celtic Music Hall of Fame holds its induction ceremony Friday, May 25, at the Bonnie Glen Pavilion in Alexandria. This is the third of a series of inductee biographies submitted by the Hall of Fame.
Duncan Donald MacSweyn, known to all as Duncie, was born in 1871 in the former Kenyon Township in a community on the Dunvegan Road known as Cotton Beaver.
His parents were John MacSweyn and Isabella MacLeod. He grew up speaking Gaelic and English and working on his parents’ farm. He attended church services, community events and family gatherings where singing was an integral part of the function. It was obvious from his teenage years that he had a great deal of natural talent. As time went on, he married a local young lady, Christy Grant, and they had nine children.
Life was not without adversity, as was often the case in the early 1900s. Their son died at the age of four months and then a daughter passed a few months before her 27th birthday.
As was normal for the day, farmers worked together on many projects and it was during a threshing day at a neighbours that Mr. MacSweyn lost an arm in an old manual feed mill. The neighbours said he was carried into the kitchen of the house where the remaining part of the arm was removed. With grit and determination he and Christy continued on as a team, always pleasant and kind to all.
He and Christy were strong proponents of education in a time when elementary school typically marked the end of schooling. Although resources were slim, their children attended high school. Two daughters became nurses and two completed the Normal School for teachers. All three sons joined the war effort, with two of them serving in Europe.
Several of his former neighbours remember him as a favourite Gaelic singer at church socials, funerals, community concerts, house parties, family gatherings and fundraisers. He sang at churches of every denomination and for every worthwhile cause. He shared his God-given talent with everyone for their pleasure, including his grandchildren. He was the “precentor” at church, the person who “raised the tune” using a tuning fork at a time when the strongest voice led the
congregation. He never learned to drive an automobile, but had his trusty driving horse, “Prairie,” to take him to events. Angus Hoey McDonell, in The Glengarry News articles in 1974 and 1984 referred to him as one of “Glengarry's noted Gaelic singers” of his time.
During the tough years of two world wars, a depression and countless community tragedies, Duncie was a beacon of joy, helping the community stay strong through the preservation of the Gaelic song. He was the forerunner of today’s outstanding Gaelic groups and choirs and he brought so much enjoyment to people who at the time needed it so much. Before he died, his daughters helped him make a record of his singing, a copy of which still exists today. He passed away on June 15, 1952.