We are currently working with the team at DASG to develop a fully searchable database to house the songs we have catalogued as part of the Language in Lyrics project (read more on that here). In the meantime, we are releasing a spreadsheet of song metadata every week on Google Sheets which we hope will be useful until the full database is ready. These are still works-in-progress and we encourage you to leave feedback through the comments function on Google Sheets.

History of Christmas Island Parish:

Our fourth index comprises the Gaelic songs of Archibald James (Eairdsidh Sheumais) MacKenzie’s well-loved History of Christmas Island Parish. This book is a treasure of local history and genealogical information, including a number of songs composed by local bards. The first edition was published in 1926 with 18 songs collected by Eairdsidh Sheumais, including four that he composed himself.

Index of song metadata available on Google Sheets via Language in Lyrics.

Scan of original 1926 edition available via Special Collections at St Francis Xavier University

Archibald James MacKenzie

Eairdsidh Sheumais was descended from muinntir Bharraigh – Barra people – his father James (Seumas) having emigrated to Rear Christmas Island as a boy in 1821. Eairdsidh (1861-1939) went on to have ten children of his own, including brothers Hugh Francis (1895-1971) and Archibald Alex (1907-1995).

Both Hugh Francis and Archie Alex were well-known bards in their own right: nine of Archie Alex’s poems are included in the second (1984) edition of The MacKenzie’s History of Christmas Island; around twenty of Hugh Francis’s songs can be found in Mac-Talla nan Cùl/Mar a b’àbhaist sa Ghleann (ed. Kim Ells, 2012). An index of Mac-Talla nan Cùl has been published on Google Sheets and you can read more about the collection and Hugh Francis here.

The Beaton Institute provides the following biography of Archie Alex:

‘Archie Alex was known as a tradition-bearer, bard and genealogist. Born in Rear Christmas Island to Archibald James (Eairdsidh Sheumais) and Catherine Campbell, he worked as a farmer until he moved to Halifax where he worked in construction and sold insurance. A great enthusiast of Gaelic song and music, he composed many songs, some of which appear in MG 6.6 and The MacKenzie’s History of Christmas Island Parish. He traveled to Scotland many times and made lasting friendships that were strengthened over the years through correspondence. Archie Alex was also very successful at Mods and performed extensively. In 1985, he released a revised version of his father’s genealogical study of the parish of Christmas Island.
Archie Alex often went by “Mac Eairdsidh Sheumais (litteraly, “Son of Archie James”), in a display of pride in his father’s accomplishments. Archie Sheumais, a school-teacher, was a well-known bard and author of the first edition of The MacKenzie’s History of Christmas Island Parish. Archie Alex’s brother, Hugh Francis, was also a bard and fiddler.’

Fàilte a Bonnaich Choirce, composed by Eairdsidh Sheumais, p. 167 in the 1826 edition of a History of Christmas Island. A recording of the song is available on An Drochaid Eadarainn here.

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