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.

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