2018 International Gaelic Award

Scottish Gaelic Awards 2018; Bòrd na Gàidhlig at the Grand Central Hotel, Glasgow. International Award; Winner Michael Newton (not present). Award collected by Àdhamh Ó Broin and Liam Crouse, presented by Murchadh MacSuain, MG Alba.

I have much to be grateful for, and I was given another reason on November 14 when I was recognized with the 2018 International Gaelic Award, an award given at an annual celebration in Glasgow. Given the cost of plane tickets and short notice, I was unable to attend in person, but was delighted that my friends Àdhamh Ó Broin and Liam Crouse were able to attend and accept the award in my place (see left).

For some 25 years I’ve been actively engaged in and contributing to the Gaelic community and efforts to bring a better understanding of Gaelic language, history, and culture to the wider world, not least the millions of people in North America descended from Gaelic-speaking immigrants. You’d think that there would be a solid network able to support basic research into its history and to teach it, given the size of the Highland diaspora and the popularity of certain symbols of Scottishness, but, alas, there is virtually none.

Apart from the 5 years I had a position teaching in Nova Scotia, my efforts have been largely self-funded: I’ve had to juggle this pioneering Gaelic scholarship (which takes considerable time, effort, and mental capacity) with employment in other areas, mostly IT. So it is certainly gratifying to have my efforts acknowledged and honored by those in Scotland who are fit to judge – even if I’ve had a steady stream of notes of thanks and appreciation from many people over these years, and these efforts have enabled me to have the privilege to form relationships with incredible people and communities.

What are these efforts?  I’ve not made a careful attempt to keep track of them in the past, but here is a short summary of what I can recall:

Non-Fiction Publications

My crop of books

I’ve written or edited numerous books on the history, language, literature, and culture of Scottish Gaeldom, in Scotland or North America:

  • Seanchaidh na Coille / Memory-Keeper of the Forest: Anthology of Scottish Gaelic Literature of Canada. Sydney: Cape Breton University Press, 2015. 570 pp.
  • The Naughty Little Book of Gaelic. Sydney, Nova Scotia: Cape Breton University Press, 2014.
  • Celts in the Americas. Sydney: Cape Breton University Press, 2013. This volume contains a selection of the best papers from the conference, five invited chapters, and an introduction, for a total of nearly 149,000 words.
  • Warriors of the Word: The World of the Scottish Highlanders. Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2009. 424 pp.
  • Dùthchas nan Gàidheal: Selected Essays of John MacInnes. Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2006. 552 pp.
  • with Rhiannon Giddens. Calum and Catrìona’s Welcome to the Highlands. 2006. 40 pp. A children’s activity book about Scottish Gaelic culture.
  • Scotia 27 (2003). Proceedings of Highland Settlers conference. 48 pp.
  • “We’re Indians Sure Enough”: The Legacy of the Scottish Highlanders in the United States. 2001. 311 pp. Editions of Scottish Gaelic poetry written in or about the United States, with historical context for those poems and Gaelic immigration in general.
  • A Handbook of the Scottish Gaelic World. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2000. 320 pp.
  • Bho Chluaidh gu Calasraid / From the Clyde to Callander: Gaelic Tales, Songs and Traditions from the Lennox and Menteith. Stornoway: Acair, 1999; revised edition, Glasgow: Grimsay Press, 2010. 306 pp.
  • Gaelic in Scottish History and Culture: An Clochán, 1997. 37 pp.
  • Hebridean Odyssey: Polygon, 1996.  174 pp.

I’ve written dozens of scholarly articles, chapters, and essays in scholarly journals and volumes, most of which are listed on my CV and can be found on my academia.edu webpage.

I’ve written a great many articles, columns, and reviews for newspapers, magazines, and periodicals on Scottish subjects, including in:

  • Cothrom (magazine of Comann an Luchd-Ionnsachaidh) in the late 1990s
  • The Scotsman newspaper (mostly late 1990s)
  • Am Bràighe (Nova Scotia newspaper in late 1990s)
  • The Scottish Banner (newspaper, c.2004)
  • History Scotland (magazine, 2003-2006)
  • The Casket (Nova Scotia newspaper 2008-12)
  • An Naidheachd Againn (quarterly newsletter of An Comunn Gàidhealach Ameireaganach, between 2000 to present)

I’ve now written well over 100 blog posts on this blog, mostly dealing with Scottish Highland topics, as well as conducted quite a few interviews with Scottish Gaelic activists, scholars, musicians, and personalities on the GaelicUSA blog.

I’ve also created some digital humanities resources, including:

Radio and Television Programs

I’ve contributed materials to many radio and television programs in Scotland, Canada and the US, and been interviewed on many others, including these:

  • Contributed research to the BBC Alba series “Na h-Eilthirich” about the Highland diaspora (1999)
  • Wrote a series of programs about Gaelic tradition in Highland Perthshire for BBC Radio nan Gaidheal (1999)
  • Wrote the script of a program about Gaelic tree lore for BBC Radio nan Gaidheal (1999)
  • Interviewed for BBC Alba program “Siubhal nan Salm” about the influence of Scottish Highland immigrants on American Gospel music c.2004
  • CBC Mainstreet Cape Breton interview about legacy of Gaelic immigrant and literature in Canada (available on this webpage), 2013
  • Interviewed and contributed material to forthcoming video documentary on historical legacy of Highland Clearances “Voices Over the Water”

Fieldwork

In Elgol, Skye

I conducted extensive fieldwork during the course of my PhD training in Scotland (1994-98), initially on behalf of the John Muir Trust in Skye, then (on my own accord) throughout the mainland of Scotland. I did some further work while living in Nova Scotia (2008-13). Some of that fieldwork has been transcribed and published, but mostly not.

  • Recordings done in Strath, Skye, are held by the John Muir Trust
  • Some recordings done on the Scottish mainland are archived with the School of Scottish Studies
  • Other recordings done in Scotland and Nova Scotia are in my own private collections
  • Some recordings related to Argyll have been transcribed and edited by Àdhamh Ó Broin and are available on his website

Organizations and Community Building

A few highlights of my involvement with organizations and events in the community:

Some of the speakers at Highland Settlers (left to right): Rob Dunbar, John Shaw, Margaret Bennett, Alan MacDonald, Michael Newton.
  • 1996-98: Board member of Comann an Luchd-Ionnsachaidh
  • June 2000: Initiated and organized Féis Bhostoin.
  • 6-7 November 2003: Was the organizer of conference Highland Settlers, hosted by University of Richmond (see photo, right).
  • 2010: Initiated annual celebration of local bards in Gaelic Nova Scotia.
  • 29 June – 2 July 2011: Organized conference Celts in the Americas, hosted by St. Francis Xavier University, Nova Scotia.
  • 2015-present: Co-founded and spearhead Scottish Gaelic Foundation of the US // Urras Gàidhlig nan Stàitean Aonaichte, aka “GaelicUSA”

Teaching, Performing, Public Events

I have done so many lectures, talks, gigs, and performances that I’ve lost track of them and it would be tedious to attempt to compile them. And I’ve taught university courses, community classes, and seminars. Some of these are listed on my CV.

It was something of a childhood dream come true to lead a seminar at the Smithsonian in 2003, and certainly one of the other highlights of these experiences was performing Gaelic song and dance with the folklore ensemble Drumalban in France in 1998 (see right).

Creative Work

  • Won Best New Gaelic Song competition (Scotland) in 1999 for song “Slighe na Fìrinne” (co-written with Richard Taylor)
  • Planned, arranged, and performed on album of Scottish Gaelic songs  “Songs of the Scottish Highlanders in the United States” (2001)
  • Commissioned to write Gaelic novella Sgeulachdan an Dà Shaoghail. Glasgow: Sandstone Press, 2007.
  • Shot, edited, and produced video documentary about Gaelic Nova Scotia entitled “A’ Seinn an Aghaidh na Balbhachd // Singing Against the Silence” (2012)
  • Composing original Scottish Gaelic songs available on SoundCloud (2018-present)

The Future

I have many files of materials that need attention that I would love to work on in the future – Gaelic literature and tradition from Highland Perthshire as well as Canada, for example, unique texts that provide vital information into the Gaelic experience – but cannot feasibly complete this work without finding substantial support. My ability to continue this scholarship at the necessary pace (while raising a child, holding a full-time job, etc.) has pretty much come to an end. I would like to think that this award may help to raise the profile of my work and legitimacy of my aims. Tha mi beò anns an dòchas sin.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. annemaree dalziel says:

    Congratulations Michael

    You richly deserve this, and I salute your commitment and artistry in continuing a prodigious output of vital work that I am very grateful to have read.

    I have been a silent follower for some time and have read many of your published articles as well as the wonderful Warriors of the Word.

    Today I want to introduce myself and my Australian work and research…

    As an Australian of Scots descent I grew up with no knowledge of Gaelic Scots history, but my grandfather Alec Dalziel (grandson of people from Lanarkshire who emigrated to Australia in the 1850’s) had a perhaps quixotic attachment to Gaelic stories.

    During my university years I spent a summer cycling the Scottish west coast, experiencing the intense happiness and unexpected sense of belonging I only feel in my birthplace in Australia’s southern alps.

    This feeling returned many years later as I delved into Scottish Gaelic history in preparation for the theatre design for a contemporary dance work about Needfire. I was working with a noted choreographer and teacher of highland dance in Bathurst, a regional city in NSW, the Australian state where I have lived and worked for many years. In this project I realised the potential of this (strangely evolved) dance form to tell stories and convey neglected histories, particularly in contexts other than its familiar engagements as a competitive aerobic activity, costumed and presented as militarised spectacle…

    As part of my research, I read John Prebble’s books describing the destruction of the Highland clans. Knowing that many displaced Scots came to Australia, I began to wonder how such traumatic experiences and experiences of class betrayal and derisive colonisation might play out in the lives of emigrants to Australia, itself a colonising nation. Australian historian Don watson’s Caledonia Australis provided me fascinating insights into the ironies of one colonised and dispossessed people replaying their trauma in Australia, with dire consequences for First Nations people here. I wanted to move beyond the unmistakeable irony Watson identified in what has been a silenced history here, to crack open one of the many silences about Australian history, the operate as a national trope.

    At the same time I was making a topographic artwork with native tussock grass to describe my sense of belonging to the Nattai Valley, which rises from my Mittagong home in NSW. The grass has rich sensory qualities and working with it sent me into reveries and memories of places that have moved me. I wondered what working with this grass with people of Gaelic descent might instigate.

    After some years slowly developing this idea ( I was busy working as a curator of contemporary performance, developing projects with artists and asylum seekers, First Nations peoples and various community groups and trying to fit in a project a year in my own practice), my thoughts became fixated on an idea of ‘cultural grief’, its intergenerational transmission and how contemporary descendants might ‘ perform’ this grief today. Given the Gaelic sense of ‘belonging to soil’ and its parallels with Australian Indigenous ‘Belonging to Country’ I was also very interested in the fate of (submerged) Gaelic consciousness in Australia, and what this might mean for the troubled and defensive sense of belonging that unsettles much of white Australia.

    I was accepted into a creative doctoral program at the University of Wollongong to research a project entitled ‘A very long echo: cultural grief and embodied archives’. In it, I am using scholarly research and my interdisciplinary creative practice to explore the question, ‘How might rural descendants of Scottish Gaelic boat people, perform cultural grief?’ as a case study in grief and belonging. This dialogical arts project is located in a rural community where a few Gaelic settlers found livelihood in the typical Gaelic dispersal in Australia.

    The aim of this exploration is to get people thinking, feeling and talking, in what Canadian performance maker Darren O’Donnell (Mammalian Diving Reflex) calls ‘Social Acupuncture’. I feel hopeful that the project can do this. In 2017, after exploring family history and attitudes with a lovely old farmer descended from cottars from Skye, and still sustainably farming the land his grandfather acquired in 1899,( after legislation required squatters to release portions of land for sale to workers of good character!) I presented ‘Whispers in the Grass’ for an artist run festival, Cementa17, in collaboration with the Highland dance choreographer and local dancers and artists. In a brief workshop based on a storyboard developed out of my work with the farmer, we had created an evening performance shown on a golf course with 14 dancers, against a 6m long topography of native seed grasses that was lit to burn through the last minutes of the performance. The work was very well received and George (the farmer) and his brother wept, later telling me that the wonderful thing about the performance was that it introduced a little known history to local people, got them talking and they have yet to stop talking. This shifting consciousness of history through a quickly made performance fills me with hope for what we might get to through the series of performative projects that constitute the creative aspect of my research.

    And I am beginning it with a project called Imperial Stockings, 6 pairs of socks knitted by rural people and telling the back story to highland emigration to Australia.

    I have already written way too much about myself for an email of congratulations Looking forward to your next writing and wishing you a rich benefactor for your work

    regards

    annemaree dalziel

    >

    1. That’s amazing tale. Thank you so much for sharing and for exploring these issues in their depth in your own proverbial backyard!

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