The Gaelic way of liv­ing in the world

The Victoria Standard - - Culture / Heritage -

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.

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