Transcribed at an online transcription frolic on June 20, 2020. Song recording on Soundcloud.

Shake it up | East Coast Living

Òran na Shingles or Song of the Shingles was made by Angus Gillis (Aonghas Eòin Ghilleasbuig) of Rear Beaver Cove.  The song is an account of the bard’s struggles to shingle his house with a lack of tools and the antics of his neighbours who make the task more difficult, but humorous nonetheless. 

Angus Gillis (b.1845) was the son of Eòin Dubh | Black Jonathan, who as a child immigrated to Cape Breton from Barra.  His mother was Ann MacNeil.  An interesting account of the family and their early struggles in Cape Breton can be found in To the Hill of Boisdale (MacMillan, 1986, p. 87).

A number of the Gillises possessed a talent for bàrdachd including Angus’s uncle, Lawrence Gillis (native of Barra and fellow resident of Rear Beaver Cove) and Lawrence’s son, Angus’s first cousin, Archie, commonly known as “Eairdsidh Larraidh”.  Only one of Angus’s poems seem to have been published, An Loch Mór (Beaton T-334) which was submitted for publication in the Casket.  The song concerns a pleasurable sail on Loon Lake in Rear Boisdale.  Other than providing us with some of the Gaelic place names in the area, the song allows us to tentatively date the composition as being pre 1900 as An Loch Mór (The Big Lake) was a common place name used by Gaels all over Cape Breton (Loch Lomond was once known by the same name). The name was eventually changed to the more unique Loon Lake so as to avoid confusion when post offices were established in rural areas during the first years of the 20th century.  

Beaver Cove Pioneer Memorial.
Image source:

The singer of the song, Rod Francis Nicholson was born in Rear Beaver Cove in 1884 to parents Hector Nicholson and Bridget Johnston, both of Barra descent.  He worked as a blacksmith and carpenter and is remembered as a “…fine fiddler and treasure trove of Gaelic songs (MacMillan, 1986, p. 572).  He never married and later in life went to live with relatives in Beaver Cove where his talents were greatly enjoyed.  He later joined this family when they moved to North Sydney where he remained until his death in 1969.  He would be have been a double first cousin of Hector Mick MacLean, grandfather of Highland Village animators Basil MacLean and Catherine Gillis.

Rear Beaver Cove was a prosperous and populated area in the center of the Boisdale peninsula which enjoyed a wealth of musicians, bards, singers and dancers.  Rather than the remote backland that it is viewed as today, locals who were born there can recall a time when 30 families farmed the land and its prosperity rivalled that of Beaver Cove proper, or “the front” as it is often referred to (Beaton T-514).  It would seem that the coming of the railroad in the 1890s and the lure of industry and the social mobility it seemed to offer made the rear of Beaver Cove, as well as other regions, remote.  A song by Archie “Larraidh” Gillis in 1912, Cumha na Tulaich (Beaton T-514) laments what he sees as the necessity to move out of “The Rear” and, even at such an early date, mourns what he sees as a dying community.  Certainly, by 1930, Rear Boisdale had been emptied of its people entirely.    

Òran nan Shingles


Fàill il ó ‘s na ho ro hù o,
Hiùraibh ó ‘s na ho ro hù o,
Fàill il ó ‘s na ho ro hù o,
Rinn sinn a’ fhroilig gu sunndach.

Smaoinich mi gun deanainn éibh ann,
Nam biodh na nàbannan dìleas,
Gum faighinn fhìn a dhà na trì dhiubh,
Seachd a bhith ‘g obair leam fhìn air.

‘S fhuair mi shingles air an sàbhadh,
Dh’fhoghnadh dhomh mìle no dhà dhiubh;
Fhuair mi siud ‘s gun d’fhuair mi tàirnean,  
Rinn mi sgafall agus fàradh.

Ràinig mi Eachann ri chiad fhear,
Dh’innis mi dé bha mi ag iarraidh,
[Gur aon duine dh’fhalbh a-raoir oirnn?],
[… nach bi clìor air? … ]

Labhair esan rium-s’ an droch-bheul,
“A Dhòmhnaill nach tu tha gòrach?,
A bhith gam iarraidh-s’ ‘s mi ‘nam ònrachd,
‘S a’ bhuain air a dhol ‘na tòrr oirnn.”

Ràining mi Iain Néill an uair sin,
Dh’innis mi gu dé bha bhuam-sa,
Gun robh an taigh air a dhol bhuaith’ oirnn,
‘S gun do dhùisgeadh taobh na tuaigh’ e.

Labhair esan rium gu seòlta,
“Chan eil hatchet anns a’ Phròvince,
Bhuaileas daraich ann am boardwood,
Mura buail mi fhìn le m’ dhòrn i.”

Thàinig Èairdsidh an Crìostaidh,
O’n a bha e riamh cho rianail;
Thàinig e ‘s gun d’ rinn sinn pìos, is
Cha mhór nach do chuir sinn crìoch air.

Song of the Shingles


Fàill il ó ‘s na ho ro hù o
Hiùraibh ó ‘s na ho ro hù o
Fàill il ó ‘s na ho ro hù o
We made a merry frolic.

I thought I would put the call out,
If the neighbours would be faithful,
That I would have the company of two or three of them,
Instead of working by myself.

I got shingles which had been sawed,
A couple of thousand would suffice me;
I got them and I got nails,
I made a scaffold and a ladder.

Hector was the first one I reached,
I told him what I was seeking,
[That one man left us last night?]
[. . . .]

He said to me rudely,
“Donald, aren’t you foolish?,
To be seeking me out while I’m by myself,
And the harvest piling up on us.”

I reached Iain then,
I told him what I needed,
That the house was falling apart,
And the side of the axe would revive it.

He said to me slyly,
“There isn’t a hatchet in the province,
That would strike oak into board-wood,
If I don’t hit it with my fist.”

Archie the Christain came,
He was always so well disposed,
He came and we did a piece (of it), and
We pretty much finished the job.

Màiri Britton, Mary Jane Lamond, & Stacey MacLean, Language in Lyrics.

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