‘Bea­con of joy’

The Glengarry News - - News -

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 MacSweyn

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.

Dun­can MacSweyn

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