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Seumas Mac Aonghuis `ic Iain `ic Uilleim `ic Mhurchaidh

James MacKay was a life long resident of Kingsville, Inverness County, where he was born in 1913. “Jimmy” was a skilled clock repairman and collector of antiques. In addition, he managed the family farm along with his younger brother, a distinguished Gaelic style violin player, Alex Francis MacKay.

Jimmy was intimately familiar with his community. He would easily look past his own lifetime to his greatgrandfather’s era with a starting freshness. A reserved man by nature, Jimmy’s thoughts were expressed in well chosen words. His recollections and opinions were in Gaelic terms and are lent a special poignancy by drawing on what is best in Cape Breton Gaelic culture.


I am James MacKay. My genealogy is James, the son of Angus, son of John, son of William, son of Murdock. Anna, daughter of Donald, was married to Murdock MacKay. I’m going to give you a little information about the state of Gaelic in these parts.

My ancestors came from Kintail in Scotland. It was called MacKay’s Kintail to distinguish from another Kintail. They left the old country in 1790. I understand they left of their own free will. I didn’t hear about any oppression. William, son of Murdock, was a ship’s carpenter and also worked on furniture. I didn’t hear why they chose Cape Breton as a dwelling. Perhaps they understood this was a very pleasant place. Anyway, this was the nearest land to them. I believe they were growing sick of the ocean.

They took up a farm in the rear of St. Peters in Richmond County. This place was called MacKay’s Cove. My grandfather married a Glendale woman and he bought a farm here. That’s the reason I live here. I have never resided anywhere else but here.

Since I was very young there have been great changes in the peoples’ circumstances and their livelihood. In my grandfather’s era it was a different situation everywhere. At that time the majority of people were taking their livelihood from the earth. This involved a good deal of work. They didn’t have the implements that folk do today. The land had to be cultivated as Bard MacLean said, “ . . . by the might of their arms.” From the time the forest was felled with the axe to where a crop was brought to fruition there was an immense labour. For sure the neighbours were close to each other. They often shared in all work. They frequently held plowing and reaping frolics; they used the sickle and the sycthe. There was a bard around here called Allan, the son of Hugh(MacEachern). He was at a reaping frolic once and he made a verse of a song to taunt the others. It goes like this: “I was once reaping with a crew of nimble lads. I threw off my coat and outstripped them.”

They had a thing called a cockfighting frolic. There used to be a get together in a house where folk would pitch roosters in contention with each other. They were fed for a while and their spurs sharpened. The fellow with the winning rooster was very boastful but the loser would be extremely sullen. If liquor was present it would often come to a row.

The women used to have spinning frolics and apparently there was a good deal of fun in this. There would be a wee dram among them and a goodly share taking snuff. Between that and strong tea it’s likely suitable songs were to be heard in their midst.

Everyone had their own living to earn at special times of the year, but despite however busy they were, there would always be time to visit relations and friends at a long distance. The ceilidh was very fashionable.This was a custom that was good for perking folk up. There was always a new or humourous tale.

The people were very faithful to their belief then and when there wasn’t a church nearby they would walk a distance to the service. They should get credit for that.

Despite the firmness of their faith the Gaels believed in spirits, ghosts, forerunners, charms and things of that nature. Doubtless there are such things as the evil-eye and envy.

I knew a graveyard in which they used to hear wailing. The graveyard was in kind of a remote place. People seldom heard this crying unless they ventured near it. There was a house where they were hearing a ghost. My uncle went to visit this house one night. It seems the people of the house didn’t care because they were accustomed to it. After a while they heard a noise and stomping in the loft. The man of the house said, “The man upstairs is getting ready to go to bed.”

There was always superstition and likely always will be. They were against anyone looking back when he left on a trip. They also considered it unlucky if you saw a bareheaded woman when you were travelling. It was even worse if she was red-headed. They didn’t like to see the new moon through glass. That meant there would be an obstruction between you and your affairs for the duration of that moon. They claimed it wasn’t good for an organ to be played at a wedding. I heard a proverb that stated: “The wedding made on Wednesday will leave no offspring in its wake.” It was always customary to be married on Tuesday but now any day will do.

Since doctors were somewhat scarce the first while they needed a while to make home remedies. They used to boil a spruce herb found in pastures, and juniper tips, and drink it. There was an herb called ‘Cuach Phàdraig’ (plantago major). It’s called plaintain in English. This was useful to apply to any cuts or wounds. There was another herb they called ‘Fliodh’ (stellaria media). They used to boil it for soup. Its English name is chickweed.

It seems there was some among the first settlers who could play the fiddle. No doubt some of them had fiddles coming to this country; certainly some of these were excellent. Many people wished to learn to play the fiddle although they didn’t have the opportunity. There were many who could play a little that were never heard in public. Some of the churches discouraged fiddle music on the Sabbath. My grandfather was a fiddler and he didn’t see any harm at all in playing on Sunday. One Sabbath day he was playing and he noticed a neighbor in the doorway. Grandfather was very sure he had heard him and he didn’t have time to put the fiddle away. He made an excuse he was playing a psalm.

Long ago all children were born at home since there weren’t any doctors or hospitals near to hand. Midwives and wet nurses were often available in the neighborhoods. These charitable women didn’t expect any reward but often their names were given to a child if it were a girl.

In these far off days folk didn’t keep company before marriage as they do today. Very often a man would marry a woman from the neighborhood. Some times a woman was brought from away. In a case like that she would be very unacquainted. It was the fashion to seek a woman without having any knowledge to her. If a man would have a suspicion as to where a woman suitable for him might be he would go accompanied by two others to make an arrangement. You think how difficult it was for a young woman to decide in a hurry. The matter would be decided by her mother.

I heard a story about a fellow like this. Two were with him to speak on his behalf. It was nighttime and the bachelor stayed outside. He waited for a spell and after a while the lads came with bad news, that she wouldn’t have him. When he recovered his speech he said, “Upon my word she was only a bitch anyway!”

When a couple would marry there used to be a betrothal party. This was in the young woman’s house. The wedding celebration was held in the grooms’s house. No doubt this was a spirited occasion with “sweet drink that we wouldn’t refuse,” and succulent food dressed and prepared at the house.

It was fashionable one time for the young bride to tie a ribbon to the head of the fiddler’s violin while he played the “Married Couples Reel.” That would be a four handed reel. The eight hand reel was very fashionable too. I heard a story about a fellow who was a little anxious to get in the eight hand reels although he didn’t dance well to the music. Anytime he would go into the reel the fiddler would play a tune called “Donald Chasing the Goats.” This man’s name was Donald.

People most often died at home. Some attained a great age although many of the young died with diseases like small pox, diphtheria and consumption. These diseases used to go around now and then.

Everyone was waked at home with some of the folk watching all night. When someone died at the height of winter his burial was a great chore. There was once a man in these parts who lived far from the road and he died during a snow storm. There wasn’t anyone in the home but himself and one old sister and no track at all going to the house. The man was dead a week before anyone came around.

There was no such thing as store bought coffins at all. There were always carpenters in the neighborhood that built coffins. Often times boards were specially kept for a situation like this. They claimed the last person that was buried would guard the graveyard until the next burial. It was customary to bury the dead facing the east and the clergy facing the west. They believed in guarding the graveyard like that.

There was a variety of trades among the old people. Some of them came across the sea with their tools in tow. The young ones learned from them. Some of the trades people like tailors, cobblers and such were peripatetic. These people earned their living among the houses. They would very often be well received. They always used to have stories on account of travelling throughout the countryside. They used to abide a while in each house and folk would take their work to them. There was a young woman who was going to get married and she needed a pair of shoes. She went to a cobbler for a pair of shoes to be made. She explained how she wanted them; “Strong, strong at the back and the rest soft; and see that you come to the wedding.”

Coopers were to be found here and there. This was a very useful trade as butter tubs had to be made, churns and milk pails. Every one of these would be put to use, especially at milking time.

Before saw mills were erected there was a thing called a sawing pole. They had long saw blades and a handle at each end. The stick that was to be sawn was set with an end up and an end down and they sawed it through. I understand this was laborious work. But in time water mills were built and the pole saws set aside.

When oats or wheat used to be harvested it was left in sheaves standing outside, drying in the sun. They were cut with sickles. If some of it was to be threshed for planting seed, it would have to be very dry. They used to thresh it when it was frozen so it would scatter better.

Of all the tradesmen, in my opinion, the blacksmith was most necessary, especially in the winter time. Horses had to be shoed and they required sharp pointed shoes. Axes had to be hammered out, especially before saws came to fashion. Folk who used to work with oxen... some of them needed to be shoed and the oxen chains had to be repaired. The proverb says: “The herdsman will bear the blacksmith’s fatigue.” My father was a blacksmith and he said he was never tired in the evening.

The food they customarily ate then was wholesome and healthy. Look at the food they eat today! Oats, barley and wheat were raised. They used to grind it with a quern when they wanted it. I understand oat bread with fresh butter on it was very tasty. All food and bread used to be cooked in iron containers in the fireplace. Very often they had either oat porridge or mashed potatoes for their supper.

For pastime there used to be someone who could play the Jew’s harp or the fiddle or maybe someone that would sing a song. Within my own memory there was a fellow in the neighborhood that was good at songs, mouth tunes and tales. He was often here and us listening to him. This was Stephen O’Handley.

There was a man near my grandfather’s place that used to play the Jew’s harp. He had a little bothy at the edge of the woods and he was married. This might the man of the house was playing and his wife turned to him and said, “Oh little hero won’t you play, ‘The Bird’s Nest in the Forest’?

There were only two ways to travel. At first there wasn’t a road. There was only a path through the forest. That would do for a man walking or on horseback between villages. In time oxen or horses hitched to a cart came in . The first roads were made by horses and plows. In the springtime especially, it would be a mud wallow. Fortunately people didn’t travel much. Anyway horse and saddle were customary.

I heard them saying there used to be sailing vessels coming into the Strait of Canso. Some of them used to sail to the United States and anyone that had a reason to go to Pictou or Boston would hire to go on board in Port Hawkesbury. You didn’t need English or a sailing ticket. They wouldn’t make much money over and above their passage.

When motor cars came along there was a change. Travelling wasn’t very smooth with mud and potholes in the road. The horses were frightened of the cars.

There was a racing field in the parish once. There used to be a field and fast horses there. There wasn’t any prize offered but running the horses for entertainment. This affair wasn’t kept up when folk wore out its novelty.

Despite how Gaelic went out in my generation it still lives in the hearts of the old people. It greatly saddens me to see that most of the young people have no interest in Gaelic. It’s as though they’re afraid they wouldn’t be in style, but if they only knew how precious that language is, and sweet to speak. It is delightful for telling stories or singing songs. It would be a calamity if it went out of fashion totally, but we hope it won’t die completely, on account of groups of people here and there working on its behalf. Those that are going to the effort to keep it alive and maintain it should be praised. But as the proverb said: “The tide and wind are against them.” But anyway, I hope they have success.

But those of us who learned it young, there is no concern we will lose it since there are still a number of people around speaking it. Those who live alone without the opportunity to converse with folk who have it....it seems they will ruminate and think in Gaelic. It is true Gaelic can’t be lost all together. I proved this once when I was talking to a man who spent fifty years in the United States, although he didn’t see anyone in that time that could speak it. It’s true enough that we won’t make a living on Gaelic but I would find myself somewhat incomplete without it.

When I went to school at first I didn’t have a word of English and that was a handicap for me. From what I heard of composed speech, anecdotes and songs all my life, I think I would be somewhat desolate without the language. I learned the little English I have in school. I was awkward at learning it and that resulted in my not speaking it fluently.

I don’t know any one special reason I could blame for the decline of Gaelic. Some people thought if the children had a little English before going to school, it would be an assistance to them. And the same ones only had a few words of poor English. That resulted in them only having half and half. Between people traveling and mingling, it seems English got the upper hand.

There was a time when we used to sell and buy in Gaelic. The merchants spoke that language, but that died.

At one time there were local bards around here. There were the ‘Children of Hugh’, in my grandfather’s generation. They were Allan and Hugh and their sister, Clementine. Some of the MacVarishes were poets too. Jane MacInnis was the most famous woman bard among us. The MacLeans were exceptional bards. There was Alexander, the son of Fair Hugh, who they called Alexander of the Beak, who was a faultless bard. There was his son, Donald Lezzie, renowned in his day. Sam MacLean could make songs himself. They called his Sam Lezzie.

It sorrows me thinking of the famous people who have passed on. They didn’t have schooling or instruction because they didn’t get the opportunity. At the same time they had a keenness of intellect. It’s good people are trying to maintain their renown. Too many depended on memory and when those who had the songs went, they died together. It’s good there’s someone who has a share of them.

In conclusion, I would like to say although the Gaelic is going by degrees there is hope that in time it will be restored. If our politicians would make up their minds to support us and see Gaelic in the schools or a Gaelic school kept here and there, in time maybe more people would take an attachment to the language. So far there’s been nothing but a wisp of straw for the sake of effect. Although there is a difference in the Gaelic they speak in corners of this island, that’s no hurdle at all. Once there was a clergyman here who was exceptionally good in Gaelic, although as he said himself, a “... grandson of a Frenchman, grandson of an Irishman.” And at the same time he was considered the best English scholar east of Montreal. So it is that learned people are fond of acquiring Gaelic and maintaining its usage. As John Y. MacLellan said to me when I met him; -he asked me did I have Gaelic - he said, “Trifling its burden on the tip of the tongue.” Despite the domination of English speakers thus far, perhaps Gaelic will advance. As John Roy Stewart said, “The wheel will come round a turn from South or North and our enemies will receive the reward of their injustice.”

So we can only listen to hear how things are going, and I hope things change in favor of Gaelic.

From Sealladh gu Taobh:Oral Tradition and Reminiscence By Cape Breton Gaels , edited by James Waston and Eillison Robertson, published by UCCB Press & the UCCB Art Gallery, 1987. ISBN #0-920336-05-1. Story handwritten by Jimmy MacKay and transcribed and edited by Jim Watson. Used with permission.

The picture used in the icon is of Murdock and Christie MacLellan (photo from collection of Paul MacLellan)./\"
enSeumas Mac Aonghuis `ic Iain `ic Uilleim `ic Mhurchaidh

James MacKay was a life long resident of Kingsville, Inverness County, where he was born in 1913. “Jimmy” was a skilled clock repairman and collector of antiques. In addition, he managed the family farm along with his younger brother, a distinguished Gaelic style violin player, Alex Francis MacKay.

Jimmy was intimately familiar with his community. He would easily look past his own lifetime to his greatgrandfather’s era with a starting freshness. A reserved man by nature, Jimmy’s thoughts were expressed in well chosen words. His recollections and opinions were in Gaelic terms and are lent a special poignancy by drawing on what is best in Cape Breton Gaelic culture.


I am James MacKay. My genealogy is James, the son of Angus, son of John, son of William, son of Murdock. Anna, daughter of Donald, was married to Murdock MacKay. I’m going to give you a little information about the state of Gaelic in these parts.

My ancestors came from Kintail in Scotland. It was called MacKay’s Kintail to distinguish from another Kintail. They left the old country in 1790. I understand they left of their own free will. I didn’t hear about any oppression. William, son of Murdock, was a ship’s carpenter and also worked on furniture. I didn’t hear why they chose Cape Breton as a dwelling. Perhaps they understood this was a very pleasant place. Anyway, this was the nearest land to them. I believe they were growing sick of the ocean.

They took up a farm in the rear of St. Peters in Richmond County. This place was called MacKay’s Cove. My grandfather married a Glendale woman and he bought a farm here. That’s the reason I live here. I have never resided anywhere else but here.

Since I was very young there have been great changes in the peoples’ circumstances and their livelihood. In my grandfather’s era it was a different situation everywhere. At that time the majority of people were taking their livelihood from the earth. This involved a good deal of work. They didn’t have the implements that folk do today. The land had to be cultivated as Bard MacLean said, “ . . . by the might of their arms.” From the time the forest was felled with the axe to where a crop was brought to fruition there was an immense labour. For sure the neighbours were close to each other. They often shared in all work. They frequently held plowing and reaping frolics; they used the sickle and the sycthe. There was a bard around here called Allan, the son of Hugh(MacEachern). He was at a reaping frolic once and he made a verse of a song to taunt the others. It goes like this: “I was once reaping with a crew of nimble lads. I threw off my coat and outstripped them.”

They had a thing called a cockfighting frolic. There used to be a get together in a house where folk would pitch roosters in contention with each other. They were fed for a while and their spurs sharpened. The fellow with the winning rooster was very boastful but the loser would be extremely sullen. If liquor was present it would often come to a row.

The women used to have spinning frolics and apparently there was a good deal of fun in this. There would be a wee dram among them and a goodly share taking snuff. Between that and strong tea it’s likely suitable songs were to be heard in their midst.

Everyone had their own living to earn at special times of the year, but despite however busy they were, there would always be time to visit relations and friends at a long distance. The ceilidh was very fashionable.This was a custom that was good for perking folk up. There was always a new or humourous tale.

The people were very faithful to their belief then and when there wasn’t a church nearby they would walk a distance to the service. They should get credit for that.

Despite the firmness of their faith the Gaels believed in spirits, ghosts, forerunners, charms and things of that nature. Doubtless there are such things as the evil-eye and envy.

I knew a graveyard in which they used to hear wailing. The graveyard was in kind of a remote place. People seldom heard this crying unless they ventured near it. There was a house where they were hearing a ghost. My uncle went to visit this house one night. It seems the people of the house didn’t care because they were accustomed to it. After a while they heard a noise and stomping in the loft. The man of the house said, “The man upstairs is getting ready to go to bed.”

There was always superstition and likely always will be. They were against anyone looking back when he left on a trip. They also considered it unlucky if you saw a bareheaded woman when you were travelling. It was even worse if she was red-headed. They didn’t like to see the new moon through glass. That meant there would be an obstruction between you and your affairs for the duration of that moon. They claimed it wasn’t good for an organ to be played at a wedding. I heard a proverb that stated: “The wedding made on Wednesday will leave no offspring in its wake.” It was always customary to be married on Tuesday but now any day will do.

Since doctors were somewhat scarce the first while they needed a while to make home remedies. They used to boil a spruce herb found in pastures, and juniper tips, and drink it. There was an herb called ‘Cuach Phàdraig’ (plantago major). It’s called plaintain in English. This was useful to apply to any cuts or wounds. There was another herb they called ‘Fliodh’ (stellaria media). They used to boil it for soup. Its English name is chickweed.

It seems there was some among the first settlers who could play the fiddle. No doubt some of them had fiddles coming to this country; certainly some of these were excellent. Many people wished to learn to play the fiddle although they didn’t have the opportunity. There were many who could play a little that were never heard in public. Some of the churches discouraged fiddle music on the Sabbath. My grandfather was a fiddler and he didn’t see any harm at all in playing on Sunday. One Sabbath day he was playing and he noticed a neighbor in the doorway. Grandfather was very sure he had heard him and he didn’t have time to put the fiddle away. He made an excuse he was playing a psalm.

Long ago all children were born at home since there weren’t any doctors or hospitals near to hand. Midwives and wet nurses were often available in the neighborhoods. These charitable women didn’t expect any reward but often their names were given to a child if it were a girl.

In these far off days folk didn’t keep company before marriage as they do today. Very often a man would marry a woman from the neighborhood. Some times a woman was brought from away. In a case like that she would be very unacquainted. It was the fashion to seek a woman without having any knowledge to her. If a man would have a suspicion as to where a woman suitable for him might be he would go accompanied by two others to make an arrangement. You think how difficult it was for a young woman to decide in a hurry. The matter would be decided by her mother.

I heard a story about a fellow like this. Two were with him to speak on his behalf. It was nighttime and the bachelor stayed outside. He waited for a spell and after a while the lads came with bad news, that she wouldn’t have him. When he recovered his speech he said, “Upon my word she was only a bitch anyway!”

When a couple would marry there used to be a betrothal party. This was in the young woman’s house. The wedding celebration was held in the grooms’s house. No doubt this was a spirited occasion with “sweet drink that we wouldn’t refuse,” and succulent food dressed and prepared at the house.

It was fashionable one time for the young bride to tie a ribbon to the head of the fiddler’s violin while he played the “Married Couples Reel.” That would be a four handed reel. The eight hand reel was very fashionable too. I heard a story about a fellow who was a little anxious to get in the eight hand reels although he didn’t dance well to the music. Anytime he would go into the reel the fiddler would play a tune called “Donald Chasing the Goats.” This man’s name was Donald.

People most often died at home. Some attained a great age although many of the young died with diseases like small pox, diphtheria and consumption. These diseases used to go around now and then.

Everyone was waked at home with some of the folk watching all night. When someone died at the height of winter his burial was a great chore. There was once a man in these parts who lived far from the road and he died during a snow storm. There wasn’t anyone in the home but himself and one old sister and no track at all going to the house. The man was dead a week before anyone came around.

There was no such thing as store bought coffins at all. There were always carpenters in the neighborhood that built coffins. Often times boards were specially kept for a situation like this. They claimed the last person that was buried would guard the graveyard until the next burial. It was customary to bury the dead facing the east and the clergy facing the west. They believed in guarding the graveyard like that.

There was a variety of trades among the old people. Some of them came across the sea with their tools in tow. The young ones learned from them. Some of the trades people like tailors, cobblers and such were peripatetic. These people earned their living among the houses. They would very often be well received. They always used to have stories on account of travelling throughout the countryside. They used to abide a while in each house and folk would take their work to them. There was a young woman who was going to get married and she needed a pair of shoes. She went to a cobbler for a pair of shoes to be made. She explained how she wanted them; “Strong, strong at the back and the rest soft; and see that you come to the wedding.”

Coopers were to be found here and there. This was a very useful trade as butter tubs had to be made, churns and milk pails. Every one of these would be put to use, especially at milking time.

Before saw mills were erected there was a thing called a sawing pole. They had long saw blades and a handle at each end. The stick that was to be sawn was set with an end up and an end down and they sawed it through. I understand this was laborious work. But in time water mills were built and the pole saws set aside.

When oats or wheat used to be harvested it was left in sheaves standing outside, drying in the sun. They were cut with sickles. If some of it was to be threshed for planting seed, it would have to be very dry. They used to thresh it when it was frozen so it would scatter better.

Of all the tradesmen, in my opinion, the blacksmith was most necessary, especially in the winter time. Horses had to be shoed and they required sharp pointed shoes. Axes had to be hammered out, especially before saws came to fashion. Folk who used to work with oxen... some of them needed to be shoed and the oxen chains had to be repaired. The proverb says: “The herdsman will bear the blacksmith’s fatigue.” My father was a blacksmith and he said he was never tired in the evening.

The food they customarily ate then was wholesome and healthy. Look at the food they eat today! Oats, barley and wheat were raised. They used to grind it with a quern when they wanted it. I understand oat bread with fresh butter on it was very tasty. All food and bread used to be cooked in iron containers in the fireplace. Very often they had either oat porridge or mashed potatoes for their supper.

For pastime there used to be someone who could play the Jew’s harp or the fiddle or maybe someone that would sing a song. Within my own memory there was a fellow in the neighborhood that was good at songs, mouth tunes and tales. He was often here and us listening to him. This was Stephen O’Handley.

There was a man near my grandfather’s place that used to play the Jew’s harp. He had a little bothy at the edge of the woods and he was married. This might the man of the house was playing and his wife turned to him and said, “Oh little hero won’t you play, ‘The Bird’s Nest in the Forest’?

There were only two ways to travel. At first there wasn’t a road. There was only a path through the forest. That would do for a man walking or on horseback between villages. In time oxen or horses hitched to a cart came in . The first roads were made by horses and plows. In the springtime especially, it would be a mud wallow. Fortunately people didn’t travel much. Anyway horse and saddle were customary.

I heard them saying there used to be sailing vessels coming into the Strait of Canso. Some of them used to sail to the United States and anyone that had a reason to go to Pictou or Boston would hire to go on board in Port Hawkesbury. You didn’t need English or a sailing ticket. They wouldn’t make much money over and above their passage.

When motor cars came along there was a change. Travelling wasn’t very smooth with mud and potholes in the road. The horses were frightened of the cars.

There was a racing field in the parish once. There used to be a field and fast horses there. There wasn’t any prize offered but running the horses for entertainment. This affair wasn’t kept up when folk wore out its novelty.

Despite how Gaelic went out in my generation it still lives in the hearts of the old people. It greatly saddens me to see that most of the young people have no interest in Gaelic. It’s as though they’re afraid they wouldn’t be in style, but if they only knew how precious that language is, and sweet to speak. It is delightful for telling stories or singing songs. It would be a calamity if it went out of fashion totally, but we hope it won’t die completely, on account of groups of people here and there working on its behalf. Those that are going to the effort to keep it alive and maintain it should be praised. But as the proverb said: “The tide and wind are against them.” But anyway, I hope they have success.

But those of us who learned it young, there is no concern we will lose it since there are still a number of people around speaking it. Those who live alone without the opportunity to converse with folk who have it....it seems they will ruminate and think in Gaelic. It is true Gaelic can’t be lost all together. I proved this once when I was talking to a man who spent fifty years in the United States, although he didn’t see anyone in that time that could speak it. It’s true enough that we won’t make a living on Gaelic but I would find myself somewhat incomplete without it.

When I went to school at first I didn’t have a word of English and that was a handicap for me. From what I heard of composed speech, anecdotes and songs all my life, I think I would be somewhat desolate without the language. I learned the little English I have in school. I was awkward at learning it and that resulted in my not speaking it fluently.

I don’t know any one special reason I could blame for the decline of Gaelic. Some people thought if the children had a little English before going to school, it would be an assistance to them. And the same ones only had a few words of poor English. That resulted in them only having half and half. Between people traveling and mingling, it seems English got the upper hand.

There was a time when we used to sell and buy in Gaelic. The merchants spoke that language, but that died.

At one time there were local bards around here. There were the ‘Children of Hugh’, in my grandfather’s generation. They were Allan and Hugh and their sister, Clementine. Some of the MacVarishes were poets too. Jane MacInnis was the most famous woman bard among us. The MacLeans were exceptional bards. There was Alexander, the son of Fair Hugh, who they called Alexander of the Beak, who was a faultless bard. There was his son, Donald Lezzie, renowned in his day. Sam MacLean could make songs himself. They called his Sam Lezzie.

It sorrows me thinking of the famous people who have passed on. They didn’t have schooling or instruction because they didn’t get the opportunity. At the same time they had a keenness of intellect. It’s good people are trying to maintain their renown. Too many depended on memory and when those who had the songs went, they died together. It’s good there’s someone who has a share of them.

In conclusion, I would like to say although the Gaelic is going by degrees there is hope that in time it will be restored. If our politicians would make up their minds to support us and see Gaelic in the schools or a Gaelic school kept here and there, in time maybe more people would take an attachment to the language. So far there’s been nothing but a wisp of straw for the sake of effect. Although there is a difference in the Gaelic they speak in corners of this island, that’s no hurdle at all. Once there was a clergyman here who was exceptionally good in Gaelic, although as he said himself, a “... grandson of a Frenchman, grandson of an Irishman.” And at the same time he was considered the best English scholar east of Montreal. So it is that learned people are fond of acquiring Gaelic and maintaining its usage. As John Y. MacLellan said to me when I met him; -he asked me did I have Gaelic - he said, “Trifling its burden on the tip of the tongue.” Despite the domination of English speakers thus far, perhaps Gaelic will advance. As John Roy Stewart said, “The wheel will come round a turn from South or North and our enemies will receive the reward of their injustice.”

So we can only listen to hear how things are going, and I hope things change in favor of Gaelic.

From Sealladh gu Taobh:Oral Tradition and Reminiscence By Cape Breton Gaels , edited by James Waston and Eillison Robertson, published by UCCB Press & the UCCB Art Gallery, 1987. ISBN #0-920336-05-1. Story handwritten by Jimmy MacKay and transcribed and edited by Jim Watson. Used with permission.

The picture used in the icon is of Murdock and Christie MacLellan (photo from collection of Paul MacLellan)./\"
gdSeumas Mac Aonghuis `ic Iain `ic Uilleim `ic Mhurchaidh

The late James MacKay was a life long resident of Kingsville, Inverness County, where he was born in 1913. “Jimmy” was a skilled clock repairman and collector of antiques. In addition, he managed the family farm along with his younger brother, a distinguished Gaelic style violin player, Alex Francis MacKay.

Jimmy was intimately familiar with his community. He easily looked past his own lifetime to his greatgrandfather’s era with a starting freshness. A reserved man by nature, Jimmy’s thoughts were expressed in well chosen words. His recollections and opinions were in Gaelic terms and are lent a special poignancy by drawing on what is best in Cape Breton Gaelic culture.


’S mise Seumas MacAoidh. ’S e mo shloinneadh: Seumas mac Aonghuis ’ic Iain ‘ic Uilleim ’ic Mhurchaidh. ’S e Anna nighean Dòmhnaill a bha pòsd’ aig Muchadh MacAoidh. Tha mi dol a thoirt dhuibh beagan air cor na Gàidhlig anns na criochan seo.

Thànaig mo shinnsr’ à Cinn t-Sàil’ an Albainn. ’S e Cinn t-Sàil’ MhicAoidh a chanadh iad ris chionns gu robh Cinn t-Sàil’ ann a’ bharrachd. Thriall iad as an t-seann dùthaich anns a’ bhiadhna 1790. Tha mi tuigsinn gun do dh’fhàg iad le ’n toil fhéin. Cha chuala mi gu robh fòirneart sam bith ann. Bha Uilleim mac Mhurchaidh ’na shaor shoithichean agus bhiodh e ri àirneis cuideachd. Cha chuala mi car son a roghnaich iad Ceap Breatainn mar àite-tuinidh. Ma dh’fhaoidte gun do thuig iad gur h-e àite tlachdmhor a bha ann. Co dhiù, b’e seo an tir bu teinn’ orra. Cha creid mi nach robh iad a’ fàs searbh do’n uisge, neo do’n mhuir.

Thog iad fearann air Cùl Baile Pheadair ann a’ Siorramachd Richmond. ’S e Camus MhicAoidh a bheireadh iad ris. Phòs mo sheanair tè a mhuinntir Ghleann Dàil agus cheannaich e fearann a’seo. ’S e sin is aobhar dhomh-s’ a bhith tuineadh a’seo an dràsd’. ’S ann a rugadh mi agus chaidh m’àrach a’seo. Cha d’fhan mi an àite sam bith ach an seo fhéin.

Bho’n am a bha mi glé òg thànaig roinn do dh’atharrachadh air cor an t-sluaigh, agus air an teachd air tìr. ’S an am mo sheanar, bha gach àit’ an deifir suidheachadh. Aig an am sin, bha a’ chuid bu mhotha do’n t-sluagh a toirt am beòshlaint’ as an talamh. Bha saothair glé mhór air a’ sin. Cha robh na h-innleachdan a tha aig feadhainn an diugh aca. Bha am fearann ri réiteach “le neart an gaoirdeanan” mar a thuirt am Bàrd MacGilleathain. Bho’n am a chuireadh iad a’ choille thar a buinn leis an tuaigh bha obair mhór air toirt gu ìre barr a thoirt. Le cinnt bha na coimhearsnaich teann air a’chéile. Bhiodh iad tric am pàirt ri gach obair. ’S tric a bhiodh froiligean réiteach fearainn’ aca, agus frolig bhuana. B’e an corran a bha iad a’ cleachadh, agus arithist an speal bheag. Bha bàrd anns na criochan seo ris an canadh iad Ailean mac Eòghainn. Bha e aig froilig bhuana turas agus rinn e ceathramh do dh’òran gus tàmailt a chuir air càch. Tha e ruith mar seo:

          “Bha mi uair a’ buain air achadh
          Còmhla ri sgioba ghillean tapaidh.
          ’S ann a thilg mi dhiom mo sheacaid
          ’S ghabh mi seachad suas orra.”

Bha rud aca ris an abradh iad froilig cath choileach. Bhiodh iad cruinn ann an tigh far am bitheadh feadhainn a’ toirt choileach agus gan cuir air strì ri chéile. Bhiodh iad ’gam biadhadh fad treis an toiseach, agus a’ geurachadh an spuir. Am fear leis am bitheadh an coileach a bhuannaicheadh, bhiodh e glé bhòsdail, ach am fear a chailleadh, bhiodh e fo phràmh..

Bhiodh froiligean snìomh ann aig na boireannaich agus tha e coltach gum biodh roinn do spòrs ann. Bhiodh drùdhag ’nam measg agus roinn mhath dhiubh ri snaoisean. Eadar sin agus tea làidir is dòcha gun cluinnte òrain fhreagarrach nam measg.

Bha a chosnadh fhéin mu choinneimh gach duine aig amannan sònraichte do’n bhliadhna. Ach a dh’aindheon cho drìpeil ’s a bha iad, gheobhadh iad ùine a dhol a shealltainn air càirdean agus luchd-eòlais fad air astar. Bha an céilidh glé fhasanta. ’S e cleachdadh a bh’ann a bha math gu inntinn feadhainn a thogail. Bhiodh sgeul ùr na àit’ ann daonnan. Bha an sluagh glé dhìleas dh’an creideamh aig an am, agus an uair nach bitheadh eaglais dlùth dhaibh choisicheadh iad fad air astar dha’n t-seirbheis. Ma sin, tha cliù ri thoirt dhaibh. A dh’aindheoin cho daingeann ’s a bha iad ’nan creideamh bha na Gàidheil a’ creidsinn ann an spioraid, bòcain, roimh-thachaireas, eòlas agus rudan mar sin. Cha n-eil teagamh nach eil a leithid do rud ann: droch-shùil, farmad agus eile.

B’aithne dhomh cladh ann am biodh iad a’ cluinntinn caoineadh. Bha an cladh seo ann an àite car iomallach. Cha bhiodh feadhainn ’ga chluintinn glè thric ’s lugha gun rachadh iad dlùth dha. Bha taigh ann far am bitheadh iad a’ cluinntinn bòcan. Bha bràthair mo mhàthar air chéilidh ’san taigh seo oidhche. Tha e coltach nach robh diù aig muinntir an taighe dha air tàilleabh gu robh iad cleachdte ris. Ri ùine chual’ iad fuaim agus tartaraich air a’ lobhtaidh. Thuirt fear an taighe, “Tha a’ fear a tha gu h-àrd a’cuir mu dhéidhinn dol a laighe.”

Bha giseagan ann riamh agus ’s coltach gum bi. Bhitheadh iad an aghaidh do dhuine coimhead as a dhéidh an uair dha fhàgail air turus. Bha iad cuideachd an cunntais gu robh e mi-shealbhach nam faca sibh boireannach ceann-rùisgte agus thu triall air turas. [Bha seo na bu mhiosa buileach ma ‘s e té ruadh a bh’innte.] Cha bu toil leò an solus ùr fhaicinn tro’ ghloine. Bha seo a’ ciallachadh gum biodh cnap-starra eadar thu agus do ghnothuch fad an t-soluis. Bha iad a’cumail a-mach nach robh e math pìob-chiùil a bhith ’ga cluich aig pòsadh. Chuala mi seanfhacal bha dol mar seo: “Am pòsadh a nithear Di-ciadaoin, cha bhi iarmad as a dhéidh.” Bha e _na chleachdadh ac’ a-riamh a bhith pòsadh air Di-màirt, ach an diugh nì là sam bith math gu leòr.

Leis gu robh dotairean car gann a’cheud treis dh’fheumadh iad seal a dhèanamh air aiceidean a’ leigheis aig an taigh. Bhiodh iad a’ goil spruis làir agus barr an aiteil agus ’ga òl. Bha luibh ann ris an canadh iad “Cuach Phàdraig.” Their iad “plantain” ris ann am Beurla. Bha seo feumail gus a chuir ri gearradh na lot sam bith. Bha luibh eile ann ris an abradh iad fliodh. Bhitheadh iad ‘ga ghoil air son eanaraich. ’S e “chickweed” an t-ainm Beurla a th’ air.

Tha e coltach gu robh feadhainn am measg a’cheud luchd-àiteachaidh a chluicheadh an fìdheall. Cha n-eil teagamh nach robh fìdhlean aig pàirt dhiùbh a’ tighinn dha’n dùthaich seo. Tha fios gu robh pàirt dhiubh sin sàr mhath. Bha ’n t-iarrtas aig cuid mhòr do fheadhainn sin an fhìodhall dh’ionnsachadh ged nach robh cothrom aca. Bha fuathas ann a dhèanadh beagan cluich nach tigeadh am follais idir. Bha cuid do na h-eaglaisean a’ bacail ceòl fìdhl’ air Là na Sàbaid. Bha mo sheanair na fhìdhleir agus cha robh e faicinn coire sam bith ann an cluich air Di dòmhnaich. Bha e cluich Là Sàbaid a’sin, agus mhothaich e coimhearsnach a-staigh ann an dorust. Bha e glé chinnteach gun cual’ am fear sin e agus cha rob

’S ann aig an taigh rugadh a h-uile leanabh bho chionn fhada, chionns nach robh dotairean, na taigh-eiridinn faisg air làimh. Bhiodh bean-ghlùin agus bean-altruim ri faighinn anns a’ choimhearsnachd glé thric. Cha bhiodh dùil aig na mnathan carrantach seo ri duais sam bith ach is tric a rachadh an ainmeannan a thoirt air an leanabh nam b’ e nighean a bh’ann.

Anns na làithean céin seo cha robh feadhainn a’ cumail cuideachd ùine mum pòsadh iad mar a tha iad an diugh. Gu tric ’s e té a mhuinntir a choimhearsnachd a bhitheadh fear a’ pòsadh. Uairean eile thigeadh té a thoirt air astar. Ann an cás mar sin bhiodh i air a h-aineol glé mhór.

Bha e _na fhasan a bhith dol a dh’iarraidh bean gun eólas sam bith aig’ oirre. Nam bitheadh amharus aig fear càit’ a’ robh té bhiodh freagarrach dha dh’fhalbhadh e le dithisd _na chois a dhèanadh còrdadh. (Saoil nach robh e duilich do thé òg a h-inntinn a dhèanamh suas ann an ealamhachd.) Rachadh a’ chùis a chuir an cead aig a màthair. Chuala mi naidheachd air fear mar seo. Bha dithisd cuide ris air son bruidhinn air a shon. ’S e an oidhch’ a bh’ann agus dh’fhan am fleasgach a-muigh. Bha e treis a’ feitheamh agus ri ùine thànaig na fir a-mach le droch naidheachd nach gabhadh i idir e. Nuair thànaig bruidhinn thuige thuirt e, “Mo thogair! Cha robh innte ach galla co-dhiù.”

Nuair a bhitheadh càraid a’ pòsadh, bhiodh an toiseach réiteach ann. Bhiodh seo ann an taigh na mnà òig. Bhitheadh banais an taighe ann an taigh an fhir. Cha n-eil teagamh nach biodh I sùrdail leis “an deoch mhilis nach tilleamaid bhuainn” agus biadh sùghail a chaidh dheasachadh aig an taigh.

Bha fasan ann aon uair a’ bhean òg a bhith ceangail ribein air ceann na fìdhleadh aig an fhìdhleir a bhiodh cluich Ruidhle na Càraid. ’S e ruidhle ceathrar a bhiodh an sin. Bha an ruidhle ochdnar glè fhasanta cuideachd. Chuala mi naidheachd air fear a bha car deiseil gu bhith dol anns na ruidhlichean ochdnar ged nach robh e freagairt ro mhath dha’n a’cheol. Uair sam bith a bhiodh e dol _san ruidhle chluicheadh am fidhleir port ris an can iad, “Dòmhnall a’ Ruith nan Gobhar.” ’S e Dòmhnall an t-ainm a bha air an fhear seo.

’S ann aig an taigh bu trice bha feadhainn a’ caochladh. Bha cuid a’ faighinn aois mhòr ged a bha móran do dh’òigridh ag eug le galairean mar a bha a’ bhreac, galar na h-amhaich’, agus caitheamh. Bhiodh na galairean seo a’ dol tiomchioll an dràsd’ agus a-rithist.

Bha a h-uile duine air fhair’ aig an taigh le beagan do dh’fheadhainn a’ caithris fad na h-oidhche. Nuair a dh’eugadh neach ann an cruas a’ gheamhraidh bha saothair mhòr air adhlacadh. Bha fear anns na criochan seo aon uair a bha fuireach fada bho’n rathad, agus dh’eug e ann an stoirm shneachda. Cha robh anns an taigh ach e fhéin agus aon seann phiuthar agus cha robh lorg idir ann a dh’ionnsaidh an taighe. Bha am fear sin marbh fad seachdain m’an d’thànaig duine mun cuairt.

Cha robh leithid do rud ann agus ciste cheannaich idir. Bha daonnan saoir anns a’ choimhearsnachd a dhèanadh ciste-laighe. Bu tric bhiodh bùird air an gléidheadh air son càs mar seo.

Bha iad a’ cumail a-mach gum biodh e fair’ a’ chladh gus am bitheadh an ath thiodhlacadh. Bha e na chleachdadh a bhith tiodhlacadh nam marbh agus an aghaidh ris an àird-an-ear agus pearsachan eaglais ris an àird-an-iar. Bha iad a’ creidsinn ann am fair’ a’ chladh mar sin.

Bha roinn do luchd-cèaird am measg nan seann daoine. Thànaig cuid dhiùbh seo tarsuinn a’ chuain le’n cuid acfhuinn _nan cois. Dh’ionnsaich an fheadhainn òga bhuapa-san. Bhiodh cuid do luchd-ceàird a’ dol timchioll mar a bha tàillearan, griasaichean, ’s eile. Bha iad seo a’dèanadh am beòshlaint’ air feadh nan taighean. Gu math tric gheobhadh iad fàilt’ ’s furan. Bhiodh daonnan naidheachdan aca air thàilleabh iad a bhith siubhal na dùthchadh. Bheireadh iad treis anns gach taigh agus feadhainn a’ toirt an cuid obair dh’an ionnsaidh. Bha té òg ann a bha dol a phòsadh agus bha brògan a dhìth oirre. Chaidh i dh’ionnsaidh a’ ghriasaiche gu paidhir a dhèanadh dhi. Dh’inns’ i mar a bha iad bhuaipe. “Làidir, làidir, ’sa chùl agus bog, bog ’sa chuid eile; agus feuch gun tig thu fhéin dh’ionnsaidh na bainnseadh.”

Bha cùbairean ri fhaighinn thall ’s a bhos. ’S e ceàird fheumail a bha seo leis gu robh tubaichean ime ri dhèanadh, crannachan agus cumain. Bhiodh gach aon dhiubh seo dol gu feum. Gu sònraichte an am a’ bhainne.

Mun deach muileann-sàbhaidh a chuir suas bha rud ann ris an abair iad pole-sàbhaidh. Bha sàibh fhad’ aca agus làmh air gach ceann. Bha am maid’ a bha ri shàbhadh air a shuidheachadh le ceann dheth gu h-àrd agus ceann dheth gu h-ìosal agus iad ’ga shàbhadh air fad. ’S e obair shaothaireachail a bh’ann tha mi tuigsinn. Ach ri ùine chaidh muileann uisge thogail agus chaidh am pole-sàbhaidh air chùl.

Nuair a rachadh coirce na cruithneachd a bhuain bha e air fhàgail _na sguaban, _na sheasamh amuigh a’ tiormachadh ris a’ghréin. ’S ann leis a’ chorran a bha iad _ga ghearradh. Ma bha pàirt dheth ri bhualadh air son sìol-cur dh’fheumadh e bhith glé thioram. ’S ann le buailtein a bhiodh iad ’ga bhualadh. Bhiodh iad ’ga bhualadh an t-am a bhiodh i reòidte leis gu froiseadh e na b’fheàrr. Tha iad ag ràdh gur h-e obair shunndach a bh’anns a’ bhualadh nuair a bha dithisd a’ bualadh còmhla.

A-mach bhon a h-uile fear-cèaird ’s e mo bharail gur h-e an gobha am fear a b’fheumaile, gu sònraichte an am a’ gheamhraidh. Bha eich ri cruidheadh agus dh’fheumadh iad cruidhean geura. Bhiodh tuaghan ri bualadh a-mach gu h-àraid mun d’thànaig sàibh gu fasan. Feadhainn a bha cleachadadh obair le daimh . . . bhiodh cuid dhiubh sin ri cruidheadh agus slabhraidhean daimh ri chàradh. Tha an seanfhacal ag ràdh. “Bi sgìos a’ ghobhainn air a’ bhuachaille.” Bha m’athair ’na ghobhainn agus bha e ag ràdh nach robh e riamh sgìth feasgar.

Am biadh a bha iad a’ cleachdadh an uair sin, bha e làn fallaineachd. Feuch ris a’ bhiadh a tha iad ag ith’ an diugh. Bha coirce, eòrna agus cruithneachd ’ga thogail. Bhiodh iad a’ bleith le brà nuair a bha e dhìth orra. Tha mi tuigsinn gu robh aran eòrna le ìm ùr air glé bhlasda. Bhiodh am biadh agus an t-aran uile gu léir air a bhruich ann an soithichean iarruinn aig an t-similear. Gu math tric bhiodh an darna cuid lite choirce na buntàta pronn aca air an t-suipeir.

Air son caitheamh-aimisir bhitheadh cuideigin ann a chluicheadh tromb na fìdheall na ma dh’fhaoidte cuideigin a ghabhadh òran. Ri m’chuimhne fhéin bha fear ’sa choimhearsnachd a bha math air òrain, puirt-a-beul agus sgeulachdan. ’S tric a bha e seo ‘s sinn ag éisdeachd ris. B’ e seo Steaphainn O’Handley.

Bha fear a’ fuireach fasig air àite mo sheanar a bha cleachdadh cluich na tromb. Bha bothan beag aige an oir na coilleadh agus e pòsda. Cha robh a bhean riaraichte leis an t-seann taigh a bh’aice. Oidhche a bha sin fear an taighe a’ cluich agus thionndaidh a bhean ris _s thuirt i ris, “A laochain, nach cluich thusa ‘Nead an Eòin anns a’ Choillidh’.”

Cha robh ach dà dhòigh air siubhal. A’ cheud turus cha robh rathad ann. Cha robh ach ceum thron a’ choillidh. Dhèanadh sin an gnothach do dhuine dh’a chois na air muin eich eadar na bailtean. Ri ùine thigeadh gu ìre daimh na each ann an cairt. Chaidh a’ cheud rathaidean a dhèanadh le eich agus crainn-threabhaidh. Bhitheadh e ’na eabar an am an Earraich gu sònraichte. Gu fortanach cha robh daoine ri móran siubhail. Co-dhiù bha each agus dìallaid gu math fasanta.

Chuala mi iad ag ràdh gum bitheadh soithichean siùil a’ tighinn a-staigh gu Caolas Chanso. Bhitheadh pàirt dhiubh a’ seòladh do na Stàitean Aonaichte agus neach sam bith aig am biodh aobhar a dhol air sgrìob a Phictou na do Bhostan dh’fhasdadh e dhol air bòrd am Bail’ a’ Chlàmhain. Cha ligeadh tu leas Beurla, na litir cead-siubhail. Dhèanadh iad glé bheag do dh’airgead ann an gnothuch a’ bharrachd air dìoladh-faraidh.

Nuair a thànaig an carbad-ola adhart bha atharrachadh ann. Cha robh siubhal glé réidh le poll agus tuill air a’ rathad. Bha eagal air na h-eich ro na cars.

Bha pàirce-réis anns a’ pharraiste aon uair. Bhiodh iad a’ seo agus bha eich luath’ ruith ann. Cha robh duais ’ga tairgsinn ach a’ ruith nan each air son fearas-chuideachd. Cha deach an gnothuch seo a chumail suas aon uair ’s gun do chosg feadhainn an annas dheth.

A dh’aindheoin mar a chaidh a’ Ghàidhlig as ri m’ linn, tha i beò fhathast anns na cridheachan am measg nan seann fheadhainn. Tha i cuir duilichinn mhór orm fhaicinn nach eil diù aig a’ chuid ’s motha do ’n ògradh dha’n a’ Ghàidhlig. Tha iad mar gum biodh eagal orra nach biodh iad anns an stoidhle, ach nam biodh fhios aca cho prìseil ’s a tha an cànan sin agus cho blasda ri labhairt. Tha tlachd oirre gu bhith ag innse naidheachd na a’ gabhail òran. Bhiodh e ’na chall mór na rachadh i á fasan uile gu léir, ach tha dòchas againn nach bàsaich i gu h-iomlan air tàilleabh gu bheil grunn do dhaoine thall ’s a bhos ag obair ri a taobh. Tha cliù ri thoirt dhaibhsan a tha dol dh’ionnsaidh nan saothairean ’ga toirt beò agus a cumail suas. Ach mar a thuirt am facal “Tha a’ làn agus a’ ghaoth ’nan aghaidh.” Ach co dhiù, tha mi’n dòchas gun sealbhaich leò.

Ach an fheadhainn againn a dh’ionnsaich òg i, cha n-eil cùram gun caill sin i air sgàth gu bheil fhathast cunntais do shluagh mun cuairt ’ga labhairt. Iad-san a tha fuireach ’nan aonar gun chothrom air a còmhradh riuth-san aig a’ bheil i . . . tha e coltach gum bi iad a’ meamhrachadh, agus a’ smaoineachadh ann an Gàidhlig. Tha e fìor nach gabh a’ Ghàdhlig call uile gu léir. Dhearbh mi sin turas a bha mi bruidhinn ri fear a thug lethcheud bliadhna anns na Stàitean Aonaichte. Bha e glé fhileanta ged nach fhac’ e duine ’san ùine sin a bhruidhneadh i. Tha e fìor gu leòr nach dèan sinn móran beòshlaint’ air a’ Ghàdhlig ach gheobhainn mi fhin car lethoireach as a h-aonais

Nuair a chaidh mi do’n sgoil an toiseach cha robh facal Beurla agam agus bha sin na cnap-starra dhomh. Na chuala mi do chòmhradh suidhichte, do naidheachdan, agus do dh’òrain fad’ mo bheatha, saoilidh mi gum bi mi car lom as aonais a’chànain. Dh’ionnsaich mi am beagan Beurl’ a th’ agam anns a’ sgoil. Bha mi somalta m’ a h-ionnsachadh agus rinn sin nach eil mi fileanta ’ga bruidhinn.

Chan aithne dhomh aon reusan gu leth a choiricheas mi air son dol sìos na Gàidhlig. Bha cuid do dhaoine smaoineachadh na robh beagan Beurl’ aig a’ chloinn mu’n do theann iad ri dol dha’n sgoil gum biodh e ’na chuidheachadh dhaibh. Agus a’ cheart fheadhainn, cha robh ac’ ach beagan fhaclan do dhroch Bheurla. Rinn sin nach robh aca ach leth mu leth. Le siubhal an tsluaigh agus comeasgadh tha e coltach gun d’fhuair a’ Bheurla làmh an uachdair.

Bha uair a dhèanamaid creic agus ceannach ann an Gàidhlig. Bha an cànan sin aig na marsantan, ach chaidh sin gu bàs.

Bha bàird ionadail timcheall a’seo aon uair. Bha Clann Eòghainn ann ri linn mo sheanar. B’iad sin Ailean agus Raghnall agus am piuthar Clementine. Bha pàirt do Chloinn Mharais ri bàrdachd cuideachd. B’ e Sìne Nic Aonghuis an aon bhan-bhàrd a b’ainmeil a bha ’nar measg. Bha Clann ’llleain ’nam bàrd air leth. Bha Alasdair mac Eòghainn Bhàin, ris an abradh iad ‘Alasdair a’ Ghuib’, ’na bhàrd gun chearb. Bha a mhac, Dòmhnall Lìos, ainmeil ’na là. Dhèanadh Sòmhairle Mac’Illeain òrain e fhéin. ’S e Sòmhairle Lìosaidh a chanadh iad ris.

Bi e cuir duilichinn orm a’ meamhrachadh air na daoine ainmeil a thriall. Cha robh sgoil na ionnsachadh aca chionns nach d’fhuair iad cothrom air seo fhaotainn. Aig an am cheudna bha feairtean inntinn’ aca bha sònraichte. Meamhair a bha air leth math agus ceann labhairt gun chearb. Tha e math gu bheil daoine a’ feuchainn r’ an cliù a chumail suas. Chaidh iomadh òran a dhèanamh, agus ionnsachadh. Bha feadhainn ag earbsa tuillidh ’sa chòir ri meamhair agus nuair a dh’fhalbh à-san aig a’robh na h-òrain sin bhàsaich iad còmhla. ’S math gu bheil duine ann fhathast aig a’ bheil pàirt dhiùbh.

Ann a’ co-dhùnadh, bu thoil leam a ghràdh ged a tha a’ Ghàidhlig a’dol a bhàs uidh air n-uidh gu bheil dòchas agam gun dèan i aiseirigh ri ùine. Nan dèanadh luchd-riaghlaidh na tir’ suas an inntinn gu cobhair a dhèanamh agus a bhith faicinn Ghàidhlig anns na sgoiltean, na Sgoil Gàidhlig a bhiodh ’ga chumail thall ’s bhos, ri ùine ma dh’fhaoidte gun gabhadh barrachd do’n tsluagh tlachd dha’n chànain. Na chaidh dhèanadh cho fada seo, cha robh ann ach “sop air sgàth sgoinne.” Ged tha beagan deifir anns a’Ghàidhlig a tha iad a’ labhairt ann an ceàrnan dha’n eilean seo cha n-eil sin na chnaptuislidh sam bith. Bha pears’ eaglais a’seo aon uair a bha air leth math ’sa Ghàidhlig ged ’s e, mar a thuirt e-fhéin, “...ogha an Fhrangaich agus ogha an Eireannaich” a bh’ann. Agus e aig an am cheudna air a chunntais mar an sgoilear Beurla a b’fheàrr an iar air Monadh a’Rìgh. Mar seo, tha daoine ionnsaichte déidheil air a’ Ghàidhlig ionnsachadh agus a cumail an cleachdadh. Mar a thuirt Aonghas Mac’ill Fhaoilean rium fhin nuair a thachair mi ris, dh’fhoighneachd e, bheil Gàidhlig agam thuirt e: “Suarach an cualach I air bharr na teanga.”

A dh’aindheoin buaidh luchd na Beurla, cho fada seo, is dòcha gun dèan a’ Ghàidhlig buannachd. Mar a thuirt lain Ruadh Stiubhairt, “Thig a’ chuibhle mun cuairt car o dheas na o thuath ’s gheibh ar n-eascairdean duais an eucoir.”

Mar sin cha n-eil againn ach a bhith cumail ar cluais air cia mar a tha a’ chùis a’dol. Agus tha mi ’n dòchas gun tig atharrachadh air gnothaichean ann am fàbhar na Gàidhlig.

From Sealladh gu Taobh:Oral Tradition and Reminiscence By Cape Breton Gaels , edited by James Waston and Eillison Robertson, published by UCCB Press & the UCCB Art Gallery, 1987. ISBN #0-920336-05-1. Story handwritten by Jimmy MacKay and transcribed and edited by Jim Watson. Used with permission.

The picture used in the icon is of Murdock and Christie MacLellan (photo from collection of Paul MacLellan).
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