Salutations to Winnipeg-Lewis Gaels in 1913

I’ve recently come across a very short Gaelic ode to an organization in Winnipeg formed by immigrants from the Isle of Lewis which is worth comment. I found the original Gaelic text in the book Bàrdachd á Leódhas (Gairm, 1969). The editor did not provide a source or author for the poem.

There are several things of note about the short poem.

First is the deeply religious expression of communal identity at that point in time: faith in Providence is expressed in general, but certainly the religious element of Lewis-folklife is what separates them from the “wild natives” of the region (line 5 – although I suspect that mnathan “women” may be a typo for mathan “bear(s)”).

Second is the value placed on the Gaelic language and culture of the community and the expectation that they will be able to sustain their ancestral tradition (lines 7 and 8). This hope is expressed many times by immigrant Gaels in the early stages of their emigration experience, although many also later expressed disillusionment and bitterness about the lack of support to make this aspiration real, including members of the Winnipeg community itself (see Seanchaidh na Coille / Memory-Keeper of the Forest, pp. 250-56 and this blog post).

Note that the nickname “language of the heather” for Gaelic is an apt one, given the ubiquity of heather in the Highlands as well as the use of heather in the nickname for Lewis itself (Eilean an Fhraoich “the Isle of Heather”).

Comunn Leódhais Winnipeg, 1913

1. Mìle fàilte air muinntir Leódhais – ge b’e àit’ am bheil ac’ comhnaidh –
Buaidh ’s beannachd bho Iehòbhadh comhla;
Freasdal Dhé ’gan dìon bho ghàbhaidh, stòr gun dìth air tìr ’s air sàl dhaibh
Coirc’ is eòrna ’s torr buntàta, crodh is bàth[ai]ch is lìn.

5. Ma chuir Sealbh a-mach gu Iar sibh, measg nam beann is nam mnathan fiadhaich,
Far nach fhaic sibh cuan no siaban, feadag chiar no naosg,
Bithibh aoidheil, coibhneil, càirdeil – far nach caill ur clann a’ Ghàidhlig:
Cùl na làimhe ris a’ ghràisg a chàineas cainnt an fhraoich.

The Lewis Association of Winnipeg, 1913

1. A thousand welcomes to the people of Lewis – wherever they live –
Both success and blessings from Jehovah;
May God’s Providence protect them from danger; may they have abundance on land and on sea,
Oats and grain and plenty of potatoes, cattle and byre and textiles.

5. If Fate has sent you westward, amongst the mountains and the wild women,
Where you cannot see the ocean, or sea-spray, the plover or snipe,
Be cheerful, kind, friendly – Where your children will not lose their Gaelic:
Defiance to the rabble who disparage the language of the heather.

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