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.

Sister Margaret MacDonell

The Emigrant Experience

This collection of Gaelic songs from North America was compiled and edited by Dr. Sr. Margaret MacDonell CND, a Gaelic speaker, sister and scholar from Judique, Cape Breton. Sister Margaret holds a B.A. from St. Francis Xavier University and a PhD from Harvard in Celtic Languages and Literatures. She was head of the Department of Celtic Studies at St. FX for many years and celebrated her 100th birthday on December 13th 2020.

Sister Margaret grew up with a deep, innate knowledge of her native language and culture. In this interview she speaks of her love of Gaelic and how she came increasingly to appreciate its value and its vulnerability. She has committed much of her life to the preservation and elevation of the language and has taught and encouraged numerous students to become Gaelic speakers and community leaders. Her publications such as The Emigrant Experience and Luirgean Eachainn Nìll (with John Shaw) have become invaluable resources to the Gaelic community.

First Annual Sister Margaret MacDonell Prize in Gaelic Poetry awarded |  StFX University
Left to Right: Winners Goiridh Dòmhnullach and Brian MacLeòid, with the St FX Chair of Celtic Studies Dr. Michael Linkletter.

In 2019, The Clan Donald Lands Trust, along with St. Francis Xavier University, launched the Sister Margaret MacDonell Prize in Gaelic Poetry, to celebrate Sister Margaret’s legacy and encourage a new generation of Gaelic poets. First, Second and Third prizes went to Brian MacLeòid, Goiridh Dòmhnullach and Deborah Moffat, respectively.

We would like to join many others in thanking Sister Margaret for her work in support of Gaelic, and in particularly for The Emigrant Experience which has been a vital source for building our database.

The Emigrant Experience – Songs of Highland Emigrants in North America |  University of Toronto Press

While we continue to construct the database, an index of the song metadata is available on Google Sheets.

The song texts for The Emigrant Experience are not yet available online, but the book itself can be purchased here.

Ò, ‘S Àlainn an t-Àite

The first song from Nova Scotia featured in The Emigrant Experience is ‘Ò, ‘S Àlainn an t-Àite’ composed by Mìcheal Mòr MacDhòmhnaill. Mìcheal was originally from South Uist but emigrated to Canada and spent much of his pioneer life in Judique, CB. It is speculated that this could be the first Gaelic song composed in Cape Breton. You can hear it sung here by Joanne MacIntyre.

O, ‘s àlainn an t-àite

Th’ agam ‘n cois na tràghad

‘N uair thig e gu bhith ‘g àiteach ann

Leis a’ chrann, leis a’ chrann, O.

Ni mi ‘n t-aran leis na gearrain

‘S an crodh-bainne chuir mu’n bhaile;

‘S cha bhi annas oirnn ‘s an earrach,

Chuirinn geall, chuirinn geall.

O, ‘s fraoidhneasach, daoimeanach,

Glan mar sholus choinnlean,

Am bradan le chuid shoillseanach

Anns gach allt, anns gach allt, O.

Mear ri mire, leum na linne,

‘S bòidheach, milis leam do ghile;

‘S iomadh gille bhitheas ‘gad shireadh

Anns an àm, anns an àm.

O, ‘s cùbhraidh na smùidean

A bhitheas dhe na taighean siùcair,

Craobhan troma dlùth dhaibh

‘S iad gun mheang, ‘s iad gun mheang, O.

‘N àm an fhoghair b’e mo roghainn

A bhi tadhal gus an taghadh;

‘S gu’m b’e ‘m baothair nach tug oidheirp

Air bhi ann, air bhi ann.

Fìdhleireachd ‘s pìobaireachd

Aig gillean Là Fhéill Mhìcheil,

A chluinnteadh seach mìle

Nach gann, nach gann, O.

Fir ‘us fleasgaich ‘s iad ri beadradh

. . .*

‘S bòidheach, speisealta na beicean

A nì chlann, a nì chlann.

Fair is the place

I have here beside the sea,

when it comes time to till it

with the plough.

I shall make bread-land with the horses

and put the cows to graze

we shall not be in want in spring

I will wager.

Sparkling, diamond-like,

clear as candle-light,

is the salmon with his brilliance,

in every stream.

Merrily sporting, leaping from the pool,

delightful and sweet to me is your whiteness;

many a lad will seek you

in season.

Fragrant is the aroma

which comes from the sugar houses,

tall, limbless trees

surrounding them.

In the fall it is my delight

to stop by to select them for tapping.

He was indeed the fool who did not venture

to come here.

Fiddling and piping

by lads on Michaelmas day

can be heard beyond the miles


Men and youths conversing;

. . .*

neat and reverent the gestures

made by kindred spirits.

The Emigrant Experience, p. 58-61.

*Missing line here is sometimes sung as ‘le maighdinnean gam freagairt’ (with maidens replying to them)

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