Council of Nova Scotia Archives

Baile Nan Gàidheal | Highland Village, Iona

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Ìomhaidheachd Ghàidheal na h-Albann Nuaidh Faces of Gaelic Nova Scotia

Is fheàrr na `n t-òr sgeul air inns’ air chòir

Better than gold is the tale well told

The faces in our family photos create a silent memory of a moment in time. From tin-type to modern digital images, study the faces. What stories do you see? Our exhibit is divided into 11 sections to tell the Nova Scotia Gaelic story and give a glimpse of its faces through time.

The Scottish Gaels are a people indigenous to much of the mountainous area of northern Scotland and the Hebrides. Their linguistic and cultural ties are closely related to the Gaels of Ireland, historically separate from the language and society of the Scottish Lowlands. Among the thousands of Gaelic-speaking Highlanders immigrating to Nova Scotia in the 18th and 19th centuries, few would have understood a single verse of Robbie Burn’s poetry

`S toil leam a’ Ghàidhealtachd `s toil leam gach gleann
I love the Highlands, I love every glen
Gach eas agus coire an dùthaich nam bean
Each waterfall and glade in the place of mountains
`S toil leam na gillean `nan éideadh glan, ùr
I adore the lads in their fresh, clean attire
`S a’ bhonaid Ghlinn Gharaidh mu `n camagan dlùth
And the Glen Garry bonnet pulled over curling locks

Iain Caimbeul, Leadaig, Earra-Ghàidheal, Alba (John Campbell, Ledaig, Argyllshire, Scotland)

An Gàidheal Eachdraidheal / Gaels of the Past

Highlanders arriving in Nova Scotia were sometimes little pleased with their new circumstances, as evidenced by the Tiree bard, John MacLean, who lamented the loss of an easier life in western Scotland and the Laird of Coll’s patronage:

`S mór a dh’atharraich an saoghal
Greatly has life changed
`S mise dh’fhaodadh sin a ràitinn
Tis I who can state as much
Thug e car dhomh nach do shaoil mi
I was decieved in a way I hadn’t considered
Chuir e `n aois mi na bu tràithe
And that has aged me prematurely
Tighinn dhan choillidh fad o dhaoinibh
Arriving in a wilderness far from camraderie
Leagadh nan craobh às an làraich
To cut the trees from their roots
Ged a fhuair mi fearann saor
Although I got the land cheaply
Is goirt a shaothrachadh gu àiteach
Sore the labour needed to cultivate it.

Iain mac Ailein, Bàrd Abhainn Bhàrnaidh (John MacLean, Barny’s River, Pictou County)

Not all Highlanders shared the same opinion on challenges for an improved life in the province’s northeast. A Uist song maker’s view of a future on Cape Breton’s Judique shore extolled potential.

O, is àlainn an t-àite
O, lovely the place
Th’agam an cois na traghad
Situated by the shore
Nuair a thig e gu bhi àiteach ann
When the time comes to cultivate it
Leis a’ chrann, leid a’ chrann, O
With the plow, with the plow, O
Nì mi an t-aran leis na gearrainn
I’ll win my bread with the geldings
`S an crodh bainne chur mun bhaile
An spread dairy cows around the farm
`S cha bhi annas oirnn `san earrach
There will be no scarcity in spring time
Chuirinn geall, chuirinn geall
I will wager, I will wager

Mìcheal Mór Dòmhnallach, Uibhist- a-Deas/Eilean Eòin (“Big” Michael MacDonald, South Uist/Prince Edward Island)

A’ Ghàidhlig Mhór / Language Transmission

The Highlanders’ language of field and fireside was Gaelic, the medium through which their customs, sung poetry, lore and stories were transmitted over generations.

The Highlander’s oral literature encompasses a broad swath of mental engagement. Cultural expression includes rhymes, multiple genres of literature, as well as recititation from an immense song tradition and critical discussion of poetry, dance, music and genealogy.

Nòs a’ Chiùil `sa Chaidreamh / Sharing Musical Traditions

“Bha feadhainn ann a bha math gu seinn òrain agus feadhainn ann a bha math gu aithris dhuan agus feadhainn a bha fìor mhath gu sgeulachdan. Agus bha cuid dhiubh a bha math gu cluich ceòl agus bha cuid dhiubh math gu dannsa. Agus bha fearas-chuideachd a bha cho math `s a ghabhadh a bhith ann, tha mi ‘n dùil.”

Some were good to sing songs; others were good to recite verse and some excelled at storytelling. Others were good at playing music, or dancing. In my view, the level of entertainment was unsurpassed.

Eòs Nìll Bhig nach maireann, Ceap Leitheach (The late Joe MacNeil, storyteller and author of Sgeul gu Latha /Tales until Dawn, Middle Cape, Cape Breton)

A’ Tighinn Beò air Tìr / Traditional Ways of Life, Gaels Working Together, Traditional Food
Na Làithichean Tràtha / The Early Days

Gaelic-speaking settlers took up land holdings in Nova Scotia based on kinship and common religious adherence. Settlers hailed from the Hebrides and mainland districts such as Morar, Moideart, Lochaber, Sutherlandshire, Glen Urquart and Strath Glas. Commuity-based distinctions in such as dialect, song compositions, religiosity and surnames can be observed to the present in eastern Nova Scotia.

The vast majority of Scottish Gaels coming to Nova Scotia spoke no English and were illiterate. Ministers, or priests, would often look after the need for correspondance. Regardless, the Gaels’ were not an unlettered people. The song tradition alone voluminously records their Nova Scotia expeience. A Highland immigrant settling on Boulardarie Island remarked on the custom of footwear in the winter:

Mogais chaisbheart air an t-sluagh
Shank mogans on the people
`Gan cumail on fhuachd gu léir
Keeping their feet completely from the cold
`Gan gearradh à seiche chruaidh
Cut from tough hides
`S `gam fuaigheal umpa le éill
Sewed around with leather thongs

Coinneach “Caomh” Moireasdanach, Gearrloch/An t-Eilean Mór (Kenneth Morrison, Gairloch/Boularderie Island

Beatha an Tìr nan Craobh / Life in Nova Scotia

In a developing economy, with few commercial foundations, rural life on the farm - and by the sea, meant diversification in a subsistence way of life. Women kept the home fires burning, while men often worked away seasonally. Employment in lumber camps was a frequent, but taxing, opportunity for wages.

Nuair a cheannaich mi mo phlangaidean
When I bought my blankets
`S gun deach mi dhan champa leò
And arriving in camp with them
`S e liath reòthadh bu chonnlach dhomh
Hoar-frost was my mattress
`S na longairean bu chruaidh iad
The bunk slats were unyielding
Clanna nan Gàidheal / Gaelic Families and Family Gatherings
Gàidhealtachd na h-Albann Nuaidh an Là an-Diugh / Contemporary Gaelic Nova Scotia

Kinship is yet a central element in the Gaels’ social discourse, with the patronymic a frequent topic of conversation during the informal visit (céilidh). Participatory language arts allow for hearing and remembering words and stories told in a natural, unstructured setting.

A’ chainnt bhlasda, ghlan uasal
The delicious language, pure and noble
A’ chainnt bheairteach, gun truailleadh
The rich language, undefiled
A’ chainnt smachdail an cruaidh-chas
The masterful language in times of distress
Cumaibh suas i gu bràcha
Care for it always

Dòmhnall Dhùghaill, `ic Ghilleasbuig `ic Dhùghaill `ic Phàdraig, Am Bràighe (Donald MacFarlane, South West Margaree, Inverness County)

(Bana)Seanachaidhean / Tradition Bearers

The Gaels’ legacy of learning socially remains central to cultural transmission. Current tradition bearers lead language learners and youth, who are passionate in maintaining cultural continuity, as they make Gaelic language and custom a part of contemporary lifestyles. The art of conversation, communal sharing of traditions and ethnic knowledge, is esential to bringing our authentic identity into the future.

Thigeadh bodaich air chéilidh `s bu mhiann leam bhi `g éisdeachd
Old fellows would make a vist and I loved to listen
Mar dh’innnseadh iad sgeul air gach treunfhear bha thall
As they would tell tales of yonder heroes
Mar sheas iad ri chéile anns gach cruaidh-chàs is éiginn
How they stood together in evey difficult situation
Cha robh namhaid fon ghréin nach do ghéill dh’ an cuid lann
There were no enemies under the sun who could withstand their sword blades.

Eòghann Eairdidh Sheumais, Eilean na Nollaig (Hughey MacKenzie, Christmas Island, Cape Breton County)

Na h-Òigrigh `s an Ùine ri Teachd / Young Gaels and the Future of Gaelic

Carrying Gaelic tradition forward, through language classes, music, dance instruction and immersion sessions, research and recording tradition bearers, is an important part of the learning cycle. We hope these images will inform, inspire and lead you to explore Nova Scotia’s Gaelic culture and its wealth of traditions.

`S e Ceap Breatainn tìr mo ghràidh
Cape Breton is the place I love
Tìr nan craobh `s nam beanntan àrd
A country of grand mountains
`S e Ceap Breatainn tìr mo ghràidh
Cape Breton is the place I adore
Tìr a `s aillidh leinn air thalamh
The loveliest land on earth

Dòmhnall Alastair MacDhòmhnaill, Framboise, Siorramachd Ritmeand (Dan Alex MacDonald, Framboise, Richmond County)

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Baile Nan Gàidheal | Highland Village is an outdoor folk life centre, with 11 period buildings, that tells the story of Gaelic settlement in Nova Scotia through first person animation and programming. We are located overlooking the majestic Bras d’Or Lakes in Iona, Nova Scotia, the heart of central Cape Breton.

For more information about the Museum and the Archives, please visit the Highland Village website.


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