Ethno-linguistic Equity in (Digital) Humanities: The Impossible Dream?

I’m going to start off with the admittedly idealistic premise that the role of the humanities in academia is to enable us to understand our communities, our regions, and our nations in all of their breadth, depth and complexity. This lofty goal has often been thwarted by the exclusions inherent in societies and the ability of those who can exercise the power and privileges granted by their institutions to represent themselves and their interests disproportionally and to exclude others from having access to those same resources and privileges and thus diminishing their ability to represent themselves, if at all. If we are to understand our history and our present in all of its diversity and complexity, we have to look behind the veils thrown up by such distortions and seek out the evidence of those who were not the de facto beneficiaries of the institutions that dominated their place and time.

I’ve been long concerned that in the rush to create a new humanities infrastructure based on digital tools and representations, we may simply replicate and re-entrench the pre-existing disparities that have long existed due to the biases and exclusions mentioned above. Digital Humanities projects typically rely on low-hanging fruit – materials and data that can be easily “harvested” and integrated into digital projects – but their easy accessibility is often the result or reflection of institutions or social norms that have facilitated certain types of cultural expression – or cultural agents with particular characteristics or identities – and disempowered or occluded others.

My concerns are confirmed in the first part of a new study about the funding of digital humanities projects and how the allocation (or denial) of grants has the potential to reassert cultural hegemonies:

We are at a critical juncture for supporting diversity in the digital humanities and risk embedding historical, self-reinforcing patterns of marginalization which are obfuscated by a focus on new technological and methodological modes of engagement. This represents a form of technological determinism and is something that many humanists express a desire to avoid as we move into a new era of humanities research which considers digital technology to be an embedded feature of the human social world. … Cultural hegemony is not always expressed directly or openly. It can become systematized and formalized to the point that it is almost unnoticeable at the surface level. In the case of the United States, it is hardly contestable at all. Groups at the margins of the hegemony need not directly give consent, but instead can simply be so completely and systematically disenfranchised that it is nigh unto impossible for them to resist it at all. This feature makes it difficult to identify instances of cultural hegemony at all, let alone make recommendations as to how it can be subverted. (Martin and Runyon)

I wholeheartedly agree with the framework built by the authors for discussing issues of hegemony and disenfranchisement up to this point of their analysis. It is problematic, however, that they define and identify exclusion, marginalization and privilege thereafter solely through the lenses of gender and racial identity. This reflects a form of presentism that seems pervasive in North American academia which allows contemporary categories of race and gender to overshadow the ethno-linguistic diversity of materials that represent and embody the totality of our historical experiences and cultural production. Such is the argument made, for example, by Marc Shell in the introduction to his edited volume American Babel:

Inside and outside the often changing borders of the American colonies between 1750 and 1850, if ever there were a polyglot place on the globe – other than Babel’s spire – this was it. … The American academy’s passing over most non-anglophone American languages and literatures is, of course, partly explicable by the fact that it is easier to talk about other peoples’ cultures in English than to learn their languages. But the main explanation is that literary America, despite its horror of race slavery and its ideal of racial blindness, has always liked to emphasize racial difference instead of language difference. This preference arises from the traditional American pretense than culture is not largely linguistic or, rather, that culture ought to be English. … Even as the American university claims to foster a tolerant heterogeneity of cultures, then, it perseveres in the traditional American homogenization of the world as English. … Few American literary critics work on the vast multilingual literature of the United States. Most simply raise up English-language works written by members of America’s various ethnic and racial groups – often in the name of multicultural diversity – even as they dismiss American literary works written in languages other than English.

Anglo-American leadership in technological innovation has meant that the English language has been the default beneficiary of the digital revolution’s boons and resources. Unless proactive steps are taken, minoritized languages – indigenous and immigrant – will continue to be excluded from the privileges that English enjoys and the cultural expressions of those corresponding communities will continue to be marginalized, if they are represented at all.

There are, of course, important intersections between race and ethnolinguistic identity, but these are by no means aligned historically in simplistic or hegemonic ways, or even in the present (as revealed in problematic ethnonyms like “Latina/o”). It is easy to forget that racialized identities (“white,” “black,” etc.) are social constructs that gained currency over time because of their ability to dislodge previous ethnolinguistic allegiances and forge new solidarities and milieus. That these forces and currencies had everything to do with privilege is undeniable, but so is the fact that whiteness was defined and controlled by the dominant anglophone hegemony which had little tolerance for non-conformity. How did immigrant groups conceive of their own identity in immigrant contexts, engage with the idea of whiteness (and other forms of identity), negotiate about the nature of their evolving cultures in North American settings, reconcile themselves with the decline of their languages and come to terms with the marginalization and discrimination of others who could not access racialized privilege? These are some of the questions that we can best answer by examining their literary productions in their own languages and within the frameworks of their own cultural heritages, but which are occluded from view if we only look through racialized lenses. And these comments do not even begin to address the issues pertaining to the many distinct communities indigenous to this continent who have and continue to use their own languages to express their own cultures and concerns.

My own humanistic research has been on the Scottish Gaelic immigrant communities which could be found all over North America in the 19th century. There is not a single faculty member in the United States now working on the literary output of this group; probably the only faculty member in the US to have ever done so was the late Charles Dunn of Harvard, who ceased to be active in this area some thirty or more years ago. As a result, the cultural and literary expressions of Scottish Gaelic communities are poorly if at all represented in academia and there can be virtually no “beachhead” for extending developments into the digital realm. There are individual woman writers of all racial designations whose English-language output has been successfully made more accessible to the public by the academy than that of the entire North American Gaelic community. It must also be emphasized that Scottish Gaelic identity was traditionally expressed and understood in ethnolinguistic rather than racial terms: there were (and still are) people of non-European ancestry who produced cultural and literary expressions in Gaelic which need to be accessed and interpreted for the fullness of this community, and the American story, to be understood. Scottish Gaelic is a highly endangered language and culture in the present exactly because of its historical marginalization at the hands of an anglophone hegemony, so merely characterizing it in racial terms (which do not reflect the internal diversity of its constituent members) is misleading.

The Palimpsest project presents an example of Gaelic’s marginalization in the digital realm (albeit in a Scottish context). This impressive digital project contains a database of literary texts that are dynamically mapped to locations Edinburgh (the capital of Scotland). This work was facilitated by the easy availability of a large number of texts (about 550) in English. Despite the fact that Gaelic has been spoken and used as a medium for literary production in Edinburgh for centuries, however, the project did not integrate any Gaelic sources and as a result, Gaelic is invisible and marginalized. Including Gaelic would not only require scanning and editing the relevant primary sources (labor-intensive and hence expensive work which has not yet been done), but also handling linguistic issues (like morphology) that are not accounted for in a anglonormative digital infrastructure. When I contacted the project director about this concern, he was apologetic and invited contributions from Gaelic scholars – but it is unrealistic to expect such efforts to be accomplished without a practical funding model.

I have no doubt that the same set of concerns could be argued for many other ethnic groups in North America, native and immigrant, each of which contains multitudes and are dealt a disservice by reducing them to a simplistic racialized identity. This in fact contributes to the delusion that racial blocs represent natural and organic dividing lines between human beings that have historical continuity, rather than breaking down such social constructs and peeling back the diversity of voices that lay behind them that challenge such simplistic projections into the past.

Will digital humanities be able to live up to its radical potential and represent the diversity of our historical communities in all of their breadth, depth and complexities? Like other academic goals, it’s a lofty one and one often thwarted by our own biases and blind-spots.

Bibliography

John D. Martin III and Carolyn Runyon, “Digital Humanities, Digital Hegemony.” ACM Computers & Society 46.1 (2016): 20-26.

Michael Newton. “’Did you hear about the Gaelic-speaking African?’: Scottish Gaelic Folklore about Identity in North America.” Comparative American Studies 8.2 (June 2010): 88-106.

Michael Newton. “How Scottish Highlanders Became White: The Introduction of Racialism to Gaelic Literature and Culture.” In Celts in the Americas, ed. Michael Newton, Sydney: Cape Breton University Press, 2013.

Michael Newton. “Highland Canon Fodder: Scottish Gaelic Literature in North American Contexts.” eKeltoi 1 (2016): 147-175.

Marc Shell. Introduction to American Babel. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002.

A Gaelic Valentine from 1909 L.A.

If there were a Gaelic equivalent to Paul MacCartney’s “Silly Love Songs,” this would be it. Even more remarkably, it was composed in Los Angeles no later than 1909 by Domhnall MacAoidh, apparently an emigrant from one of the Western Isles (though that is as specific as I can currently guess).

This is one of many texts in my files that shows not only the continuity of Gaelic literary tradition and production in North America, but also the ability of Gaelic poets to engage in the contemporary world and issues which concerned them. Although MacAoidh draws upon the literary conventions and allusions available to him in Gaelic literature, he does not shy away from invoking popular music and literature of his own time (Dame Nellie Melba in line 25, Mozart in line 26, Robert Burns in line 31 and Tennyson in line 33).

The title given by the poet is “Gaol is Ceòl,” an allusion to an old Gaelic proverb: “Thig crìoch air an t-saoghal / Ach mairidh gaol is ceòl” (Life may come to an end, but music and love will endure).

The song begins its exploration of the theme of love – its universality and endurance – by reflecting its presence among species of birds. This literary conceit needs to be examined in the light of old Gaelic cosmological ideas, such as that birds originally spoke Gaelic. Indeed, there are many Gaelic sayings attributed to birds, some of them gnomic, and they are represented as paragons of poetic eloquence. MacAoidh is here finding precedence for the human need to express love in the form of song in the bird kingdom.

After spending an exhaustive five stanzas (and chorus) on this idea, he moves towards human poets and literary expression. Although it is somewhat implied that Gaelic poets form part of this lineage (lines 22 and 29), none are actually mentioned. This may be because love was actually a very minor theme in the poetic profession and dismissed by many who held the Classical Gaelic tradition in great regard. Instead, MacAoidh focuses on literary expressions of love in other traditions in an inclusive, multilingual and multicultural manner.

Like the old professional Gaelic poets, one of his final stanzas is offered to God and the connection of love between humanity and the divine. He concludes his piece with his devotion to his homeland, the Scottish Highlands, probably one of the Western Isles (line 43 – this may refer to Lewis “Eilean Fraoich,” although he has used a different and slightly broad connotation). But notice that he has not generalized any attachment to a wider sense of Scotland that would encompass the Lowlands.

It may be surprising to learn about Gaelic poets composing Gaelic songs in Los Angeles in the early 20th century, but there was clearly an audience of fellow Gaels for this kind of work. There was, for example, a Celtic Club in the City of Angels co-founded by a Gaelic speaker (Calum MacLeòid) in 1905. Hopefully other evidence of their literary efforts – even if in the form of “silly love songs” – will eventually emerge.

The Original Gaelic Text

Gaol is Ceòl

Séist
1 Car-son a bhithinn muladach?
No cuime bhithinn brònach?
Is na h-uile eun ’s a’ choill’ a’ seinn
“Mo ghaol!  Mo ghaol!” ’nan òran?

5 Na h-uile eun air sliabh na coill’
Ri seinn an gaoil an comhnaidh;
’S e guth na cuthaig, “Mo rùn! mo rùn!
“Gug-gùg! Gug-gùg! thoirt pòg dhomh!”

Tha ’n uiseag bhinn ’s a’ mhadainn chiùin
10 Ri seinn chluich le sòlas;
Ri seinn cho binn os cionn nan neòil
“Mo ghaol! mo ghaol! Tuig m’ òran!”

Canary seinn ’na eudadan
A ghaoil-shéis bhinn an comhnaidh;
15 An cluinn thu ’m fonn a th’ aig an truis?
Tha gaol ’na ghuth ro bhòidheach.

Tha eòin cho binn ri seinn ’s an oidhch’
Le guth nas binn’ na òrgan;
Ri seinn gu gaolach fad na h-oidhch’
20 ’Nan comhradh leis an comhnaidh.

An cridh’ tha làn de ghaol do chàch
’Se luaidh nam Bàrd ’nan òran;
’Se ’n ceòl as binn’ ’s na nèamhan àrd
’Se ’n ceòl tha ’n guth nan smeòrach.

25 ’Se fonn as binn’ thug Melba dhuinn
’Se ’n ceòl as binn’ thug Mozart;
Tha ’n gaol ’ga sheinn ’na h-uile cainnt
Cho tric ’s tha ruinn an òrain. [ roinn?

Na h-uile bàrd, ’s na h-uile linn
30 Ri seinn an gaoil an comhnaidh;
Chuir Burns ri seinn, le taghadh cainnt
A ghaol do “Highland Mary.”

Cluinn Tennyson! Leugh “Locksley Hall”
Gus an tuig thu gràdh ’na òrain;
35 Ged ghuil e goirt mu Hallam Hall
Cha bhàsaich “In Memoriam.”

’Se ’ghaol thug Crìosd a-nuas o nèamh
’Se gaol th’ an Dia na tròcair’;
’Se ’n gaol bheir buaidh air bàs is uaigh
40 ’Se gaol bheir suas do ghlòir sinn.

Mo bheannachd null gu Tìr nam Beann
Nan gleann, nan creag is nam mór-shruth!
’S gach aon a tha ’s na h-Eilein Fraoich:
Mo ghaol daibh seo le m’ òran!

My English Translation

Love and Music

Chorus: (1-4) Why would we be sorrowful? And about what would we be sad? When every bird in the forest is singing “My love! My love!” in their songs?

(5-8) Every bird on the forest slope is always singing their love; the voice of the cuckoo says, “Coo coo! Coo coo! Give me a kiss!”

(9-12) The melodious lark in the quiet morning is playfully singing with joy; singing sweetly above the clouds, “My love! My love! Heed my song!”

(13-16) A canary sings its tune in its cage constantly; can you hear the melody of their thrush? There is love in its voice which is very beautiful.

(17-20) Musical birds sing in the night with voices as sweet as an organ; singing of love all night long, their conversation is constantly about it.

(21-24) Their hearts are full of love for others, the topic of the poets is in their songs; it is the sweetest music in the heavens; it is the music in the voice of the thrush.

(25-28) It is the sweetest tune that Melba gave to us; it is the sweetest music of Mozart; love is sung in every language, whenever we listen to their songs.

(29-32) Every poet in every age has always sung of their love; Burns added to that singing, with eloquence of his love to “Highland Mary.”

(33-36) Listen to Tennyson! Read “Locksley Hall” so that you may understand love in his songs; although he sorely lamented Hallam Hall, “In Memoriam” will never die.

(37-40) It is love that Christ brought down from heaven, the God of Mercy is love; it is love that will triumph over death and the grave; it is love that will deliver us up to glory.

(41-44) [Take] my blessings over to the Land of the Mountains, the glens, the craigs and the great rivers! And to everyone in the heathery islands: [give] my love to them with my song!

Seanchaidh na Coille: An Abundance of Excellent Material

I was delighted and honoured to receive a review of my latest book, Seanchaidh na Coille / Memory-Keeper of the Forest, from Ruairidh MacIlleathain (aka Roddy Maclean, below) this week which he wrote in his column “Am Peursa” for the newspaper The Inverness Courier (29 January 2016) in Scotland.

Below is his original review in Gaelic (italics), interspersed with my English translation.

Uaireannan tha mi a’ smaoineachadh gur iad na daoine à dùthchannan cèin, gu h-àraidh Ameireaga a Tuath, as soilleire a thuigeas suidheachadh nan Gàidheal bho shealladh ìmpireachdas agus colòiniachd. Leughaibh seo: ‘Gaels in Scotland and Canada can act as allies, partners and collaborators in the necessary tasks of decolonization by disavowing and helping to deconstruct the oppressive ideologies of imperialism that legitimated the conquest and domination of their own homeland and those of other subordinated peoples’. A bheil e na iongnadh dhuibh nach e Gàidheal Albannach a sgrìobh sin?! Saoilidh mi gu bheil sinn cus ro chaomhnach aig amannan a thaobh mar a dh’fhuiling sinn mar shluagh ri linn Ìmpireachd Bhreatainn.

Sometimes I think that it is people from foreign countries, especially North America, who best understand the plight of the Gaels from the perspective of imperialism and colonialism. Take this: “Gaels in Scotland and Canada can act as allies, partners and collaborators in the necessary tasks of decolonization by disavowing and helping to deconstruct the oppressive ideologies of imperialism that legitimated the conquest and domination of their own homeland and those of other subordinated peoples.” Is it any surprise to you that it was not written by a Scottish Gael? I think that at times we far underestimate the oppression we experienced as a people on account of the British Empire.

ʼS e an t-ùghdar an t-Oll. Mìcheal Newton, acadamaigeach Ameireaganach agus sgoilear Gàidhlig a bha uaireigin ag obair aig Oilthigh St F X ann an Alba Nuaidh agus roimhe sin ann an Alba. Mar a tha mòran a tha eòlach air dùthaich far an tàinig sluagh dùthchasach fo bhuaidh Ìmpireachd Bhreatainn, tha e a’ faicinn gu soilleir mar a tha gnothaichean anns a’ chumantas eadar na Gàidheil agus tùsanaich ann an dùthchannan mar Chanada. ʼS dòcha nach eil sin cho follaiseach do Ghàidheil nach robh a’ fuireach ann an dùthaich eile, ach a-mhàin Sasainn no Galltachd na h-Alba.

That is [the writing of] Dr. Michael Newton, American academic and Gaelic scholar, who once worked at St. F. X. University in Nova Scotia and previously in Scotland. As are many who are knowledgeable about a country where a native people came under the influence of the British Empire, he sees clearly the parallels between the Gaels and the indigenous peoples in countries like Canada. That’s probably not so obvious to Gaels who haven’t lived in other lands apart from England and the Scottish Lowlands.

Thàinig an cuot shuas bho leabhar a rinn Newton agus a nochd an-uiridh – ‘Seanchaidh na Coille: The Memory Keeper of the Forest’ – a chaidh fhoillseachadh le Oilthigh Cheap Bhreatainn. ʼS e cruinneachadh a th’ ann de litreachas Gàidhlig à Canada agus tha an t-uabhas de stuth math ann. Agus dhuibhse a th’ air sùil a thoirt air ‘Outlander’, sgrìobh Diana Gabaldon, ùghdar nan leabhraichean sin, ro-ràdh airson an leabhair seo.

The quote above came from a book that Newton wrote which appeared last year – ‘Seanchaidh na Coille: The Memory Keeper of the Forest’– that was published by Cape Breton University. It is an anthology of Gaelic literature from Canada and it has an abundance of excellent material. And for those of you who are watching ‘Outlander,’ Diana Gabaldon, the author of those books, wrote the foreword for this book.

Tha còrr is còig ceud duilleag de theacs ann, agus mholainn gu mòr e do dhuine sam bith aig a bheil ùidh ann an dualchas nan Gàidheal. Tha a’ bhàrdachd agus rosg Gàidhlig a chaidh a sgrìobhadh ann an Canada dìreach iongantach. Tha an litreachas a’ tighinn ris na chaidh a sgrìobhadh anns an t-seann dùthaich, agus a’ cur ris, agus tha tòrr eachdraidh anns an leabhar a tha a’ dearbhadh cho sgapte ʼs a bha ar cànan ann an Canada.

There are more than five hundred pages of text and I would highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in Gaelic heritage. The Gaelic poetry and prose that was composed in Canada is simply amazing. The literature complements that which was written in the old country, and augments it, and the book contains a great deal of history which demonstrates how widely dispersed our language was in Canada.

Ach ʼs e an rud as fhìor thoigh leam mu dheidhinn ‘Seanchaidh na Coille’ am mion-sgrùdadh a tha Newton a’ dèanamh air na Gàidheil mar shluagh. Tha e gar moladh gu mòr airson ar cultair thraidiseanta, ach tha e a’ cuideachd a’ cur a phrosbaig air na h-easbhaidhean againn. ʼS e sgàthan mòr a tha e a’ cur air ar beulaibh agus uaireannan tha e goirt ag amharc ann.

But the thing that I truly love about ‘Seanchaidh na Coille’ is the detailed analysis that Newton gives about the Gaels as a people. He praises us greatly for our traditional culture, but he also examines our deficiencies. It is a giant mirror that he lays before us and sometimes it is painful to look at.

Tha Newton a’ soilleireachadh mar a chuir mòran Ghàidheal an dùthchas prìseil an dàrna taobh nuair a ghluais iad a-steach gu far an robh an cumhachd – ann an saoghal na Beurla. Nuair a bha mi a’ fàs suas, dh’fhàs mi seachd sgìth de bhith a’ cluinntinn mholaidhean air daoine airson cho ‘soirbheachailʼ ʼs a bha iad. Anns a h-uile cùis, cha mhòr, bha cuspair a’ mholaidh air saoghal nan Gàidheal a thrèigsinn agus bha e air a dhol gu àrd-dreuchd ann an saoghal na Beurla. ʼS e aon rud a dh’aidichinn – nach robh mòran àrd-dreuchdan ann an saoghal na Gàidhlig aig an àm sin.

Newton discusses how many Gaels cast aside their cherished culture when they shifted towards the centre of power – in the Anglophone world. When I was growing up, I became sick and tired of hearing the praise of people because of how “successful” they were. In practically every case, the praise was predicated on their ability to leave the Gaelic world behind and rise to great prominence in the Anglophone world. I can only express one reservation – there weren’t many positions of prominence in the Gaelic world at that time.

Bha an aon rud fìor ann an Canada, agus cuid de na Gàidheil a’ taobhadh le Sasannaich is Breatannaich na h-Ìmpireachd an aghaidh nan tùsanach is an aghaidh nam Frangach. Cha robh iad a’ tuigsinn cho dlùth ʼs a tha sinn mar shluagh dùthchasach do na tùsanach no, ma bha, bha iad a’ cur sin an dàrna taobh. Bha an sinnsirean air strì an aghaidh ìmpireachdas ach bha iadsan ga sparradh air feadhainn eile. Bha iad ‘soirbheachail’ ach cò nan teaghlaichean a bhruidhneas a’ Ghàidhlig an-diugh?

The same thing was true in Canada, with some of the Gaels siding with the English and British Imperialists against First Nations and against the French. They did not understand how close we are as an indigenous people to First Nations, or if they did, they cast that aside. Their ancestors struggled against imperialism but they were forcing it on others. They were “successful” but where are the families who speak Gaelic today?

Tha guth na Gàidhlig fhathast beò ann an Canada (air èiginn), ge-tà, agus tha Mìcheal Newton air sealltainn mar a tha dìleab phrìseil aig na gaisgich a chumas beò i air taobh thall a’ chuain.

Gaelic is still alive – just barely –in Canada today, however, and Michael Newton shows how there is a cherished heritage for those warriors who will keep it alive on the other side of the sea.

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Roddy Maclean (Ruairidh MacIlleathain) is an Inverness-based journalist, broadcaster and educator working in the Gaelic language. He has strong family links to Applecross in Wester Ross and the Isle of Lewis. He makes two weekly programmes on BBC Radio nan Gàidheal for adult learners of Gaelic (which have a worldwide internet listenership), runs a variety of training courses that explore the intimate relationship between the Gaelic language and Scotland’s environment and is the author of several booklets on Highland place-names. Roddy is in regular demand as a lecturer on Highland heritage, enjoys telling stories from Gaelic tradition in both Gaelic and English, and is a published author of Gaelic fiction for both adults and children.

Bardic Visions in North Dakota

The song-poem by this Scottish Gaelic poet, Domhnall Aonghas Stiùbhart, who spent the latter part of his life in North Dakota, harkened back to the idyllic days of his youth in the Highlands. Like many of his contemporaries, his life’s path consisted of many stages of migration: he was born on the Isle of Skye in 1838, but his family moved to Prince Edward Island (Canada) in 1841. He went to work on the railroad as an adult and eventually settled in North Dakota, where he died in 1914.

Domhnall sent his poem to at least two different newspapers in 1909 (the Oban Times in Scotland and the Casket in Nova Scotia). It echoes the fitful course of his life, recounting in reverse the long journeys he had undertaken across land masses and oceans earlier in life. His text is, to a degree, a reflection of the ancient role of the poet in Gaelic tradition as seer: his mind’s eye traverses the trail home that his heart so much wants to follow. Like many other Gaelic poems expressing a strong attachment to ancestral territory and sense of place, the almost ritualistic enumeration of place names has a strong emotional power. (See Warriors of the Word, 89, 296-304.) These literary devices also feature prominently in another of his surviving song-poems (“Chì mi uam, uam, uam”).

Although Domhnall mentions the Scottish Lowlands (line 54) and names a few places on the Highland-Lowland boundary with names well established in Gaelic tradition (lines 53-6), the majority of the place names he mentions, and the places in which he imagines spending time, are in the Highlands. Gaels’ sense of belonging did not generally extend beyond the Highlands in any strong sense (see lines 24 and 60 in particular).

In his correspondence to the newspapers, he names his current place of residence as “Steuartdail,” which was known in English as “Stewartdale.” It was close to modern Bismark. I assume, but am not certain, that he coined the place name himself to signify his own homestead area. Did he knew any of the Gaels in Manitoba who threatened to move to the Dakotas, dissatisfied with the extreme difficulties they faced in railroad settlement schemes (see Seanchaidh na Coille, 170-5)?

It is perhaps ironic that, like so many of his contemporaries, he laments his exile from his kin and his family’s explusion from their ancestral home (lines 7 and 12), but at the same time defers to the supremacy of the British Empire, only seeking validation for his people as loyal warriors of that authority (lines 61-64). The vision of most Gaelic poets had become highly constrained by imperial conditioning (see discussion in Seanchaidh na Coille, 68-78, 187-9). At least his depiction of the native peoples of the area, the Sioux (line 18), is not overtly negative.

It is noteworthy that this song was modeled on an older Jacobite song. Jacobite songs provided a solid bedrock of song models for many Gaelic poets in North American immigrant communities and he even mentions Prince Charles by name (line 28), suggesting that the choice of this song model was a conscious one. Despite the catastrophic defeat of Jacobite forces at Culloden and the symbolism of that battle in Gaelic tradition as the last independent act of defiance against a hostile, anglocentric state, songs of the Jacobite movement were firmly entrenched in the musical-poetic canon and provided the melodies and choruses (and notes of determination and defiance) used by many “New World” poets.

An informant of the School of Scottish Studies, Johanna MacDonald (1880-1973) of Smiorasairidh, Gleann Ùige, Mùideart / Moidart, sang a portion of this song to Calum Maclean in 1954. (Thanks to my friend Dr. Tiber Falzett for finding this recording and sending me the reference.) You can hear the recording online at this link.

This poem has never received any previous scholarly attention and a few of my interpretations of geographic references are tentative. I would welcome any alternative suggestions about these interpretations.

Original Gaelic Text

Tìr an Fhraoich

Air Fonn — “Ho, ho, rachainn is mi gun rachadh // o-chòin fhéin, le Tearlach”

1 Ho! ho! is mi gun rachadh
O-chòin fhéin, ’se b’ àill leam
Rachainn fhéin gu tìr mo shinnsir
Null a-rithist do thìr nan Gàidheal.

5 Rachainn fhéin a-null do dh’Albainn
’S ann oirr’ dh’ainmichear do ghnàth mi
Is ged is fhada on chaidh ar tearbadh
O! gu dearbh, is tìr mo ghràidh i.

Tha mo dhachaigh ’s an Iar-Thuath seo
10 Le fearainn, taighean, buar is barr innt’;
Is ged a tha, bidh [mi] tric fo ghruaman
Is mise fuadaicht’ o mo chairdean.

Mi ’n tìr fharsaing àrd an fheòir seo
Far am bheil gach seòrsa tàmhach
15 Iad as gach cinneach ’s an Roinn Eòrpa
Is dhe gach seòrsa, dòigh is cànain.

Mi muigh aig abhainn mhóir Missouri
An tìr nan Sioux bha ùdlaidh, gàbhaidh,
Nuair a thàinig mi d’ an dùthaich
20 Is a shuidhich mi air tùs ’s an Dàil seo.

Thionndaidhinn-s’ an-sin air uilinn
Mach gu Muile nam beann àrda;
Dhèanainn tadhal anns an Òban
Is dhèanainn comhradh riu’ ’s a’ Ghàidhlig.

25 Shiubhlainn thairis troimh na Morairne
Is Àrd na Murchan nan stùc àrda
Is bheirinn sùil gu ceann Loch Mhùideart
’S ann a stiùir am Prionnsa Tearlach.

O cheann Loch Seile gu Caolas Shléite
30 Gu Baile ’n Stream is troimh Chaol Acain
An sin gu tìr MhicGilleChaluim
Is ’na sheann chlachan, dhèanainn dàil ann.

Sin bheirinn sùil gu Rubha Thùineis
Is bheirinn sùil gu Rubha Ghearrloch;
35 Ach stiùrainn fhéin staigh gu Port Rìgh
Is an tìr mo shinnsir rithist a tà mi.

Eilean Sgitheanach a’ chèo seo
Nam beanntan móra ’s nan lochan àlainn;
Ris an cainteadh Tìr MhicDhomhnaill
40 Is Tìr MhicLeòid, is cha b’ i bu tàire.

Dh’fhàgainn fhéin tìr àrd Dacòta
Troimh Mhinnesota is gu Chicàgo
Thairis air na Lochan Móra
Is thar Chòmhnaird Chanada as airde.

45 An sin troimh Chanada Ìochdrach
Is sìos Abhainn Naomh Labhrainn;
Thriallainn-s’ troimh na Roinnean Ìosal
Is air Prionnsa Ìomhair, chuirinn fàilte.

An sin rachainn thairis air a’ chuan
50 Tha stuadhach buaireasach do ghnàth,
Marcachd air a tonnan uaibhreach
Gus aig Abhainn Chluaidh ’n tàmhainn.

Chithinn Glaschu, chithinn Grianaig
Is an Tìr Ìosal, iomadh àite:
55 Rachainn fhéin do’n Eilean Bhóideach
Air Rothasaidh chuirinn fàilte.

Ás a sin a-mach gu Arainn
Ach cha b’ fhada chuirinn dàil ann;
Stiùirinn-sa mach gu Cinn Tìre
60 Is Eilean Ìle ’n Tìr na Gàidhlig.

Tìr nan gaisgeach, treuna seòlta
Gu buaidh-chomhrag anns na blàraibh;
Is bu tric a chuidich ris a’ ghlòr
Tha nis a’ comhdach seann Bhritannia.

65 Ged a tha mi an Dacòta
B’ e bhith ’n seann Scotia b’ àill leam
Bhith rithist measg an fhraoich is nan neòinean
Far an robh mi ’n òig mo làithean.

EDITORIAL NOTE:

Line 30: This is printed in the original as “Baile ’n Stream” which I take as a typo for Baile an t-Sròim, although I could be mistaken.

My English Translation

The Land of Heather

(1-4) Ho! ho! I would go, o-chòin, it is what I would like to do, I myself would go to the land of my ancestors, back over to the land of the Gaels.

(5-8) I myself would go over to Scotland, I will talk about her constantly; and although we were parted long ago, o! indeed, she is the land of my love.

(9-12) My home is here in the North-West, with its land, homes, livestock and crops; even so, I am often gloomy, having been driven away from my kin.

(13-16) I am in this expansive, high land of grass where all types [of people] live; they belong to every ethnic group in Europe, from every origin, way of life and language.

(17-20) I am out on the great Missouri river, in the land of the Sioux who were surly and dangerous when I first came to the country and settled in this dale.

(21-24) I would lean back then [and imagine going] out to Mull of the great mountains; I would visit Oban and I would speak to them in Gaelic.

(25-28) I would travel over through Morven and Ardnamurchan of the high peaks; and I would gaze out to the head of Loch Moidart where Prince Charles was directed.

(29-32) From the head of Loch Shiel to the Sound of Sleat, to Strom Ferry [?] and through Kyleakin; thence to the land of MacGilleChaluim [MacLeods of Raasay], and I would visit the old village there.

(33-36) And then I would gave out to Rubha Thùineis and over to the Point of Gairloch; but I would direct myself inland to Portree, and I am back in the land of my ancestors.

(37-40) This misty Isle of Skye of the great mountains and the beautiful lochs which is called “The Land of MacDonald and of MacLeod”: she is not the worst [i.e., she’s pretty good].

(41-44) I myself would leave the high land of Dakota through Minnesota and go towards Chicago, across the Great Lakes and over the plain of Upper Canada.

(45-48) Thence through Lower Canada and down the St. Lawrence River; I would travel through the Lower North Shore [?] and I would welcome Prince Edward [Island].

(49-52) Thence I would go across the ocean, which is always full of swelling walls [of water] and in ferment, mounted on her high-spirited waves until I would come to rest at the River Clyde.

(53-56) I would see Glasgow, I would see Greenock, and many places in the Lowlands; I would myself go to the Isle of Bute and I would welcome Rothesay.

(57-60) From there out to the island of Arran, although I would not tarry there long; I would direct myself out towards Kintyre and the Island of Islay in the land of Gaelic.

(61-64) The land of the warriors who are brave and well-trained for achieving victory on the battlefields and who often augmented the glory that now ornaments ancient Britannia.

(65-68) Although I am in Dakota, I would greatly like to be an auld Scotland, to be again among the heather and the daisies where I once lived in the days of my youth.

Bibliography

Michael Newton. Warriors of the Word: The World of the Scottish Highlanders. Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2009.

Michael Newton. Seanchaidh na Coille / Memory-Keeper of the Forest: Anthology of Scottish Gaelic Literature of Canada. Sydney: Cape Breton University Press, 2015.

Sail to Quebec, Lochaber Warriors!

The following song-poem was one of many excellent Gaelic texts that I could not manage to fit into the anthology Seanchaidh na Coille / Memory-Keeper of the Forest: Anthology of Scottish Gaelic Literature of Canada, due to lack of space and time. I’m presenting it here as it’s a fine example of Gaelic poetry that has received no previous public or scholarly attention, and it allows us to see the historical value of such texts.

The song-poem was composed by Alasdair MacGilleMhaoil (Alasdair mac Eóghainn mhic Ghill-Easbuig mhic Domhnaill Duinn). Alasdair was born in 1764 in Reisibol, Suaineart but was raised in Lochaber from a young age. In 1802 he left for Gleann Garaidh (Glengarry), Ontario, with many others of the region. He passed away in 1853. (For more biographical details, see Seanchaidh na Coille or the article in IRSS.)

If you wish to read the Gaelic and English versions of this without being influenced by my interpretative notes, scroll down.

Alasdair composed this song-poem to his brother-in-law Donnchadh/Duncan (of whom he was exceedingly – some might say excessively – fond) not long after he (Alasdair) settled in Ontario. Alasdair is urging him to emigrate and join him in America, and to do so, he describes a hypothetical voyage in a grandiose vessel, detailing the route that he should take.

Although the geographical points of reference are realistic, the piece as a whole is a work of the imagination drawing strongly from older Gaelic literature describing the sea-based military might of the native Gaelic élite (see older song-poems of this nature in Black, and Ó Baoill and Bateman). Alasdair praises and elevates the social stature of his subject of address, Donnchadh, by drawing from what John MacInnes has deemed the “Gaelic panegyric code,” the traditional rhetoric of eulogy developed by the professional Gaelic literati over a span of centuries.

This rhetoric is apparent in the conventional praise of generosity, especially in the form of alcohol dispensed to friends and guests (lines 10-11, 52), as well as the description of the command of a sailing ship (esp lines 23-24, 45-50), which implies the ability to lead a group of stout men, and hence ability to rule.

At the same time, the poet expresses his sadness over parting with ancestors whose graves were traditionally understood to provide stable grounding and legitimacy for future generations (lines 41-44).

I do think that this song-poem has great literary merit and historical value. The editor and publisher of the booklet that printed it in 1882 must have thought so too. After all, it provides a mental and cultural thread of continuity from medieval Highland life into North American immigrant communities.

But I think that we can go much further than that. Remember that this voyage never actually happened – the text was an act of the imagination, and a very heroic one at that. Why was this significant to this audience? Highlanders saw themselves at this point as a defeated people, at the mercy of their old enemies who were now driving them out of their homes. The Battle of Culloden was seen as a major turning point in Gaelic history, after which anglophones were perceived as unwholesome victors forcing unwelcome changes that ultimately lead to emigration (see discussion in Seanchaidh). Indeed, Marian McLean’s study verifies the weight of prejudice and externally-imposed difficulties under which Gaels in Lochaber laboured in this era.

A number of Gaelic texts, especially song-poems (given their lofty rhetoric and traditional role describing cultural paragons), from this period reflect the need of Gaels to soothe their wounded pride and recoup a semblence of their self-esteem by drawing from the canon of heroic literature. Rather than bowing to defeat and conquest, such texts allowed Gaels to reimagine their present in terms of the better pasts they kept alive in cultural memory and steel themselves for the challenges that lay ahead in the emigrant experience (see further discussion in Seanchaidh na Coille, 130, 142-45, 247). This was, in other words, a culturally-specific form of community re-empowerment, born of the Gaelic literary imagination.

This illustrates the value of this kind of material and why it should not be acceptable for the reclamation and study of it to continue to be neglected. Gaelic texts give us direct insight into the inner life of Highland immigrants and their shared legacy as the inheritors of a sophisticated civilisation. They put us in touch with the hopes, fears, anxieties, coping mechanisms and social strategies of Gaelic communities. They provide us with revelations not available in DNA tests, geneaological charts, ship logs, or census figures. They tell us what Gaels felt was important to them in a medium and style reflecting their own tradition and identity. It is our own heroic mission to understand them on their own terms and celebrate them as the priceless cultural relics that they are.

Gaelic Original

Òran a rinn am bàrd do bhràthair céile dha fhéin, a dh’fhàg e ’na dhéidh ann an Albainn is nach deachaidh riamh do America. Bha e fuireach air a’ Chamdail ri taobh abhainn Lòchaidh, an Loch Abar. B’ ainm Donnchadh MacGilleMhaoil, no mar a theireadh na h-eòlaich ris gu cumanta, Donnchadh Bàn mac Aonghais mhic Dhonnchaidh mhic Iain.

1 Is toigh leinn am fear bàn
A tha tàmh aig Lòch;
Thig a-nall gun dàil
Is gheobh thu fàilte ’s pòg.

5 Donnchadh bàn na Rìnic,
Fear gun ghruaim gun mhì-ghean,
Nan tigeadh tu ’n tìr seo
Chuirinn dhìom gach bròn.

Cridhe farsaing fialaidh
10 Ceannaicheadar an fhìona
Bu tu làmh ga dhìoladh
Is cha b’ e breug no bòst.

Is duilich leam mar tha thu
Fada bho do chàirdean;
15 Cuir do bhàrc air sàile
Is lean gu dàn’ an tòir.

Faigh bho’n òg Mac Ailpein
Iubhrach dhìonach dharaich
Bhios gun ghaoid gun ghaiseadh,
20 Sgiobair gast’ air bòrd.

Iubhrach shocrach dhealbhach
Sgoilteas an cuan meanmnach;
Làmh air stiùir neo-chearbaich
Chumas fairg’ fo sròin.

25 Biodh i air a dlùthadh
Le sàilean na giùbhsaich;
Fiodhrach-tarsaing dùbailt
Is lannan ùr bho’n òrd.

’N àm dhut a bhith seòladh
30 Mach bho Ionar Lòchaidh
Roinn an Corran comhnard
Muir gun chòntraigh mhóir.

Roinn an Linne Sheilich
Druim na Linne Liosaich;
35 Dubhairt, cum ri d’ dheas-làimh
Is an làimh eile ’n t-Òb.

Cum do chùrsa dìreach
Seach an t-Eilean Ìleach
Mach bho bhonn Chinn Tìre
40 Is cùl do chinn ri Comhghall.

Cùl do chinn gu dìlinn
Ri dùthaich do shinnre
Ged a tha na mìltean
Diubh ’s a’ chill fo’n fhòid.

45 Iar a’ ghaoth neo-lapach
Biodh i’ n-ear gu d’ fhacal
Làmh air stiùir a mharcaich
Is biodh a h-astar corr.

Cum do ghabhail is cuimhnich:
50 Na toir géill – gabh suim deth –
Gus an ruig thu Quebec
Far am bi suinn ag òl.

Fuirich là no dhà ann
’Cur do sgìos air farradh
55 Is tog do shiùil an àird
Mo Mhontreal, a sheòid!

Nuair gheobh mi do litir
Leumaidh mi le briosgadh;
Bidh mi làn do mhisnich
60 Is thig mi ’chlisgeadh beò.

EDITORIAL NOTES:

I have updated the orthography of the text but not made substantial changes other than those noted here.

Line 5: The original source gives the place name as “Reinic.” I don’t know which place name is intended, but I have altered it to suit the intended rhyme.

Line 34: The source was damaged, making the place name somewhat illegible. It looks like “Linne [?]easaich,” which I have interpreted as “Linne Liosaich.”

Line 50: Original has “na toir ceill.”

My English Translation

A song that the poet for his own brother in law, who he left behind him in Scotland and who never came to [North] America. He lived at Camdail beside the river Lochy, in Lochaber. His name was Duncan MacMillan, or as his friends commonly called him Fair Duncan son of Angus son of Duncan son of John.

(1-4) We like the fair man who lives at Lochy; who will come immediately and get a welcome and a kiss.

(5-8) Fair Duncan of Reinic, a good-natured man: if you would come to this country, I would cast away all unhappiness.

(9-12) An expansive, generous heart; a buyer of wine; yours is the hand to dispense it, and it is no lie or boast.

(13-16) Your condition saddens me, so far from your relations; put your vessel on the sea-brine and follow keenly the pursuit.

(17-20) Get a water-tight oaken galley from young MacAlpine that will be without defect or mishandling, with an excellent captain on board.

(21-24) A handsome, steady galley that will carve the mettlesome sea; a hand on the reliable steering-wheel that will keep the sea below her prow.

(25-28) Let it [the galley] be constructed from the beams of the pine-forest; doubled cross-beams, with fresh roves [pounded?] under the hammer.

(29-32) When it is time for you to sail out from Inverlochy, [take?] the Point of Corran on the level, [when] the sea is not at highest neap tide.

(33-36) [You’ll pass] the point of Loch Linnhe, the ridge of the water of Lismore; keep Duart on your right hand, and Oban on your other hand.

(37-40) Keep your course straight past the island of Islay; out from the base of Kintyre, facing away from Cowal.

(41-44) Turn your back forever to the land of your ancestors, even though there are thousands of them in the graveyard below the sod.

(45-48) The west wind strong, let it come from the east at your word; a hand on the master steering wheel, and let her achieve great speed.

(49-52) Keep your direction and remember: do not yield – take no [further] heed – until you reach Quebec, where the heroes drink.

(53-56) Stay a day or two there, putting your exhaustion behind you, and then raise your mast for Montreal, o hero!

(57-60) When I will receive your letter, I will jump up briskly; I will be completely excited and suddenly revived.

Bibliography

Black, Ronald. An Lasair: Anthology of 18th Century Scottish Gaelic Verse. Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2001.

McLean, Marianne. The People of Glengarry: Highlanders in Transition, 1745-1820. Toronto and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1991.

Newton, Michael. Seanchaidh na Coille / Memory-Keeper of the ForestL Anthology of Scottish Gaelic Literature of Canada. Sydney, C.B.: Cape Breton University Press, 2015.

Newton, Michael. “Of Goats and Men: A Literary Relic of Gaelic Ontario.” International Review of Scottish Studies 39 (2014): 1-25.

Ó Baoill, Colm and Meg Bateman. Gàir nan Clàrsach / The Harp’s Cry: An Anthology of 17th-Century Gaelic Poetry. Edinburgh: Birlinn, 1994.

Afro-Gaelic History: Intersections and Fellowships

February is Black History Month and is an excellent season for Scottish Americans – not least those with Highland ancestry – to reflect on how intertwined the histories and heritages of people of Scottish and African ancestry are. However much the legacy of racism and the language of color codes might insist we are separate and distinct, people of African ancestry have been part of the Gaelic community for a very long time.

Scots’ identification with Africa goes back to at least the 11th century, when the first surviving versions of the Scots’ origin myth claim that their name came from the ancestress figure Scota, the daughter of the Pharoah of Egypt. Versions of this foundation legend survived in Gaelic oral tradition into the 19th century and would have been familiar to many early emigrants who encountered Africans in the Americas.

Gaelic tradition asserts the idea time and again that all of those who speak the language and carry the culture are entitled to call themselves Gaels and be fully qualified members of the community. This has been the case for the many people of non-European ancestry who, in various ways, were enfolded within Gaelic-speaking homes and neighbourhoods. While much of this happened for people of African ancestry within the oppressive context of slave-holding, this not was always the case: some of this happened merely on the strength of the Gaelic language within the social setting in which people lived, or via adoption, or freely-chosen relationships.

Some of the most interesting cases come from Gaelic-speaking Canadian environments. I recently discovered the following article in the Winnipeg Tribune (20 February 1936) which discusses the Afro-Gaels of Cape Breton (one of whom I interviewed in 2009) in the racially-tinged language of the era, particularly by way the portrayal of such folk in a popular novel:

Stewart McCawley, of Glace Bay, Cape Breton, deals with the negroes of that part of Nova Scotia, who speak and also sing in Gaelic, gives records of them who could not speak any other language.

Mr. McCawley tells in the Halifax Herald that these blacks came from the United States, at the time of the Revolutionary War, with loyalists who came north, so as to remain under the flag and institutions of Britain, and took up residence in Cape Breton.

The Glace Bay writer tells of these blacks and their Gaelic, apropos of various references, on Mr. Kipling’s death, to the black Gaelic-speaking cook on the fishing vessel, “We’re Here,” both dealt with in his still popular “Captain Courageous.”

Mr. McCawley also gives reasons for a belief that Kipling’s black cook was one of two brothers named Maxwell, of whom George is still living at Wycocomagh, Cape Breton. Further, says Mr. McCawley, “He and his family talk Gaelic and sing Gaelic songs – and sing them well. He had a brother who moved to Truro and died there.

“George and his brother went to sea and it is possible that one of them was the cook on ‘We’re Here,’ the Kipling fishing banker.”

In Cape Breton, there are church records of the births and christening of negro babies, dating back to the beginning of the nineteenth century, the progeny of blacks who came from the United States in the latter part of the previous century.

A court record shows that Donald Pringle, a “Cape Breton Celt,” barring his color and other racial characterizations gave his evidence through an interpreter. This colored witness did not speak a word of English. Pringle, despite his Scottish names, was of the coal black type.

Capt. Mackinnon, a teacher of Gaelic in the mining districts, well versed in all that concerns the adoption of that tongue, dealt with the subject of Gaelic speaking Cape Breton blacks as if it were a matter of course.

Those that arrived over a hundred years ago, could not very well escape speaking it. It was all prevalent. He gave those immigrants from the south handed down character of friendly, hard-working and likeable people, qualities which still characterize their descendants, now in the island.

There was nothing incongruous in Kipling’s black cook from Cape Breton speaking the Highland tongue, as some of the novelist’s critics pretended: Kipling had an appreciative sense of “story” values, would be quick to seize on the unique combination, racially and linguistically, and make the most of it, as he did.

Not only do a number of anecdotes such as these validate such people of African ancestry as Gaels, some acknowledge their mastery of Gaelic culture (particularly song and music) as superb bearers of ancestral tradition with which they connect to intimately. When discussing this topic in 2010 with John Shaw, one of the foremost authorities on the Gaelic tradition of Cape Breton, he related another anecdote which illustrates the unifying effect of song in the Gaelic community.

According to the anecdote, one of these Gaelic speakers of African ancestry came to work in one of the mines near Sydney. This man had grown up in a rural part of Cape Breton and was thus unfamiliar with the practice of racial segregation dominant in urban areas and amongst anglophones. When break time came, he went and sat amongst other Gaelic speakers, not noticing that the miners had separated themselves by race. This caused surprise, consternation and unease amongst some of the men, especially those who did not know him. To break the tension, the Afro-Gael began to sing a popular Gaelic song that had a chorus. The other Gaels around him joined him on the chorus and let down their guard.

I do not intend these brief notes to create an oversimplified and glib gloss over a long history of racism, injustice and violence done to people of African ancestry or any other: no one should get a free pass based on the past. It would also be wrong, however, to deny the fellowships and friendships between people whose descendants may now assume that they are inherently distinct, incompatible and disconnected. As these anecdotes illustrate, language and culture are the basic building blocks of community, even if it requires honour, integrity and constant vigilance to prevent prejudice and ill-will from damaging the bonds that unite us and undermining our realization of our common humanity and individual brilliances.

Bibliography

Michael Newton. We’re Indians Sure Enough: The Legacy of the Scottish Highlanders in the United States. Saorsa Media, 2001.

Michael Newton. “Afro-Gaelic Music in America,” History Scotland March/April 2005, pp. 43-47.

Michael Newton, “’Did you hear about the Gaelic-speaking African?’: Scottish Gaelic Folklore about Identity in North America.” Comparative American Studies, Volume 8, Number 2, June 2010, pp. 88-106.

Grudge Against Canada for Not Prizing Gaelic

“Harbors Grudge Against Canada For Not Prizing Gaelic Culture It Stole” is actually the full title of this newspaper article from The Winnipeg Evening Tribune (1936 December 1). It was no doubt meant to shock the reader that the author, like generations of Gaelic refugees before him, was not grateful for the generosity of the country that gave him a home and many material comforts and freedoms. Who could possibly feel resentment in such conditions?

As I have explored in depth in many Gaelic texts from Canada in the book Seanchaidh na Coille / Memory-Keeper of the Forest, most people of Gaelic heritage – whether born in Scotland or Canada – were cowed by the overwhelming force of the British Empire and resigned to accommodate themselves within its strictures. Yet, if you look carefully enough, you can also recover expressions of discontent and even critique of its abuse of that power. This seems to be one of these interesting cases of a Gael daring to express his dissatisfaction with the treatment of his people and their culture. It also seems to reflect a Canadian inferiority complex in general. The article in full reads:

In an address to members of the Kiwanis club at luncheon in the Royal Alexandra hotel today, Rev. W. Gordon Maclean, of First Presbyterian church, declared that he had always harbored a grudge against Canada.

“It has always rankled with me,” he remarked, “that Canada should have sucked the life blood of rural Scotland, and more particularly the Highlands, taking away the Gaelic culture and not ensuring its survival in Canada.”

All that is romantic in Canadian history, he asserted, is associated with Scotland or France. Canadians should take their eyes off New York and London and contemplate their own history to inspire a notable Canadian culture.

Some might argue that little has changed since then.

Post-script [2016 January 17]: The claim that Canada “took away Gaelic culture” might seem far-fetched until you consider that during the 19th and early 20th centuries there was a considerable number of British élite who owned estates in the Scottish Highlands who also had business interests in Canada and that they profited personally and directly by exploiting their connections between the two locations, which generally involved moving Highlanders out of their native lands and into colonial settlements.

The Cathcart-Gordons, who owned lands in the Highlands and were also on the board of land companies connected to the Canadian Pacific Railway, were one of the most obvious examples of these exploitative connections (see Seanchaidh na Coille, 128, 170-75). Gaels were taken away from their homes with varying degrees of coercion – often with false promises of prosperity and security – to extremely poorly resourced places and difficult conditions but that were to the benefit of those who ran settlement schemes and colonial enterprises. There was, on top of this, the exploitation of Gaels as soldiers in British regiments in Canada and other parts of the empire.

Another Winnipeg Gael made very similar complaints about the treatment of his people in 1938 (see Seanchaidh na Coille, 250-56). What was particularly gutsy about Maclean’s protestations above was that they were delivered within days and in the very same room as a visit by Baron Tweedsmuir, the Governor General of Canada.