Ged Tha Mi ’s a Choill’ Am Falach | Although I am Hidden in the Forest

Ged Tha Mi ’s a Choill’ Am Falach| Although I Am Hidden in the Forest

Colleen Lynk 2
Colleen is working as Project Assistant for Language in Lyrics during summer 2019.

By Cailín Laing / Colleen Lynk

In the 1800s, Nova Scotia saw the arrival of thousands of families from the Highlands and Islands of Scotland to Cape Breton, Antigonish, and Pictou County. Increasing rent costs, eviction and displacement by unsympathetic landlords, and a lack of religious freedom in regards to Catholicism are just some of the factors that caused so many Gaels to leave their homelands. The dangerous journey across the Atlantic was long and arduous and the majority of these families arrived with little to no money. Upon arrival in Nova Scotia, the hardships continued with harsh winters, crop failures, and many who had rarely ever seen a tree being required to clear forest land shortly after stepping foot on the soil.


An exact replica of the Hector ship which brought the first Scottish emigrants to Pictou in 1773 [Image: Canadian Press / Aly Thomson].
Despite the many adversities faced by the Gaels of Nova Scotia, however, strong communities were formed that allowed the various unique dialects of Gaelic and specific cultural traditions of their homelands to endure outside of Scotland. The tradition of bàrdachd [poetry] and song endured so strongly on this side of the Atlantic that it allows us to really take a look at the emigrant experience as expressed by those living at the time, as well as their descendants.

Arguably the most well known piece of bàrdachd discussing the hardships that the Gaels faced upon arrival in Nova Scotia was written by Bard MacLean, or Am Bàrd Thighearna Chola (The Bard of the Laird of Coll). Born in Tiree in the year 1787, John MacLean emigrated to Barney’s River, Pictou County in 1819, shortly after his first works of poetry were published. It is here that he composed A’ Choille Ghruamach (The Gloomy Forest), also known as Òran do Dh’ America (A Song to America), a song that expresses his true feelings after leaving his homeland. MacLean speaks of the loneliness he feels being so far from where he was raised and the difficulties he faces in adjusting to the weather and the ways of life in Nova Scotia. He also warns of the deceit of the Emigration Officers, who were promising happiness and prosperity should the Gaels leave their homelands.

’S tha mise ’m ònar ’s a’ choille ghruamach,

Tha m’ inntinn luaineach, cha tog mi fonn.

Am meadhon fàsach an Abhainn Bhàrnaidh,

Gun dad as fheàrr leam na buntàta lom.

Mun dèan mi àit’ ann ’s mun cur mi bàrr ann,

’S choille ghàbhaidh chuir far à bonn,

Le neart mo ghàirdean gum bi mi sàraicht’,

Is treis a fàilig mu fàs a chlann.


’S nuair thig na dròbhairean ’nis gan iarraidh,

’S ann leis na breugan a nì iad feum.

Gun focal fìrinn aca ’ga ìnnse

Ach cruithidh dìteadh mar their am beul.

Dè ’s fheàrrd’ bhi ’g innse gu bheil ’s an tìr seo

Gach nì as prìseil a tha fo’n ghrèin

Nuair chì​ sibh ’n t-àite sin gun dad a chì sibh

Ach coille dhìreach toirt dhibh nan speur.


I’m here alone in the gloomy forest,

My mind wanders, I cannot raise a tune.

Everything is barren in Barney’s River,

With nothing better than the bare potato.

Before I build a place here, and I plant a crop,

And fell the dense forest,

With the strength of my shoulder, I shall be tired

And my strength failing before the children grow.


When the drovers come to entice them,

It’s with lies they succeed

Without a word of truth,

But the case stated as they voice it.

What is the use of saying that in this land

There is everything that is precious under the sun

When you came to the place you cannot see anything

But the tall forest blocking out the skies.


A version of A’ Choille Ghruamach can be heard on Sruth nan Gaidheal sung by John Shaw of Indian Brook, Nova Scotia. The above words are from a transcription of a recording in the MacEdward Leach Collection.

Another powerful song that discusses the plight of the emigrant comes out of the North Shore of Cape Breton. Composed by a man who was originally from the Isle of Harris, Cha Mhòr Nach Cho Math Dhuinn Sguir a Bhi Strì (It’s Just as Well That We Stop Striving) expresses his frustration with being unable to grow his crops in the harsh climate of the North Shore. He laments that were he back in his homeland of Harris, things would be much easier.


’Nuair chuir mi an t-eòrna ’s bu chor dha bhi fàs

’S ann na laighe gu h-iosal na shineadh air lar

’S ged a dh’èireadh a’ ghrian air chan èireadh e’n àird

’S ann a thòisich e crìonadh ’s cha b’fhiach e dhuinn strac.


Ach nam bithinn ’s na Hearadh far na chleadh mi bhi òg

Chan fhaicinn de’n ghaillionn ach frasagan reòdht’

Is tonnan na mara gan sadadh mar cheò

’Dol suas feadh an fhearainn ’s bu mhath leinn bhi fòp’

Isle of Harris [Image:]

When I planted the barley, it should have grown

It lay flattened to the ground

And though the sun shone, it did not revive it

It started to wither and was of no use.


But if I were in Harris, where I was brought up

The stormiest weather was just showers of hail

The waves of the ocean blew them like mist

Spreading over the land and it was good to be out then.


The entirety of the words to this song as well as a snippet of the tune can be found on the website for the MacEdward Leach Collection.

Though various accounts such as these tell us of the difficulties that had initially faced Gaels in Nova Scotia, there have also been a number of compositions that highlight the resilience of the people, the strength of community, and the beauty of hearing Gaelic endure within these newly formed settlements. Interestingly enough, one of these compositions was written by none other than Bard MacLean, the composer of A’ Choille Ghruamach.

Bithibh Aotrom ’s Togaibh Fonn is a stark contrast to A’ Choille Ghruamach, using much of the same language to paint quite a different picture of Gaelic life in Nova Scotia. Now living in Antigonish County and just after having been invited to a Spring Ball exclusive to Gaelic speakers in the area, Bard MacLean praises the strength and vigour of the Gaels.

Bithibh aotrom ’s togaibh fonn,

The gravestone of the Bard MacLean in the Glenbard Cemetery in Antigonish County.

Cridheil, sùnndach gun bhi trom,

’G òl deoch-slàinte na bheil thall,

Ann an Tìr nam Beann ’s nan Gleannaibh


Fhuair mi sgeul a tha leam binn,

Dh’ ùraich gleus air teud mo chinn,

’S bidh mi nis a’ dol ’g a sheinn,

Ged tha mi ’s a choill am falach.


’S raoir a fhuair mi sgeul air àigh

Dhùisg e m’ìnntinn suas gu dàn

Bhi ’gam iarraidh dh’ionnsaidh bhàil

Aig na Gàidheil thùs an Earraich


’S òlaibh air na Gàidheil threun

Rachadh aigeanach air ghleus

’S a bha fuasgailteach gu feum

Sealgairean na fèidh ’s nam beanntan.


Be merry and raise a song

The Reverend Alexander MacLean-Sinclair, grandson of the Bard MacLean and editor of much of his poetry.

Light-hearted, happy, not at all gloomy

Drink the health of those far away

In the land of the glens and mountains.


Last night I heard sweet news

That tuned the strings of my mind

And I will now begin to sing

Since I am hidden in the woods


Last night I found happiness

That awakened my mind to verse

To be asked to the dance

That the Gaels hold in the beginning of Spring.


Drink to the hardy Gaels

Who tackled anything with vigour

Who were ready to give a helping hand

Hunters of the deer on the hills”


The above text is from the MacEdward Leach Collection. An audio recording of Peter Jack MacLean of Rear Christmas Island singing Bithibh Aotrom ’s Togaibh Fonn can be found on An Drochaid Eadarainn. There is also a video of Peter Jack singing this tune available on Cainnt Mo Mhàthar. This song is still quite commonly heard around Nova Scotia.

Calum Eòghainn ‘ic Aonghais ‘ic Caluim ‘ic Dhòmhnaill ‘ic Dhonnchaidh [Malcolm Gillis].

Another well known tune that praises the beauty of Gaelic Nova Scotia was composed by Malcolm Gillis of South-West Margaree, born in 1856 to a family with roots in Morar. In Na Cnuic ’s na Glinn, also known simply as Am Bràighe, Malcolm speaks of the love and admiration that he holds for Margaree, the people living there, and for his language.


Na cnuic ’s na glinn bu bhòidhche leinn

’S iad cnuic is glinn a’ Bhràighigh

Mu’n tric bha sinn ri mànran binn

’S e chomunn ghrinn a b’fheàrr leinn


Chan ’eil àite ’n diugh fo’n ghrèin

’S am b’fheàrr leam fhein bhi tàmhachd

Na Bràigh na h-Aibhneadh measg nan sonn

O’m faighte fuinn na Gàidhlig.


The hills and glens that to us are most beautiful34904625_216500942478143_1751148824748883968_o.jpg

Are the hills and glens of the uplands

Where we often sang sweet melodies

In the company we liked best.


There is no place under the sun today

Where I would rather stay

Than the hills of Margaree, among the heroes,

Where the melodies of Gaelic can be heard.


An audio recording of Am Bràighe can be found on Sruth nan Gàidheal, while the above text is taken from the MacEdward Leach Collection. Another version of this song was composed about the Isle of Skye by Rev. Norman MacDonald upon hearing Malcolm Gillis’ own composition, which is available for streaming on Tobar an Dualchais.
Through examining the varying experiences expressed within these songs we can see not only how resilient the Gaels have had to be in order to keep their spirits, communities, culture, and language alive despite exile and emigration to a foreign land, but also just how vital the impact of having these strong communities was to creating space where this resilience could truly flourish. The same could be said of the importance of community to the Gaels in Nova Scotia today, where we are fortunate enough to be able to come together and sing these songs of the people who came before us proudly as a way to keep their words and experiences alive.


Milling frolic with Nova Scotia Gaels in Whycocomagh 2013 [photo credit:].


Às A’ Chladach… | The Art of Being Unable to Not Give ’Er

Às A’ Chladach… | The Art of Being Unable to Not Give ’Er

Colleen Lynk 2
Colleen is working as Project Assistant for Language in Lyrics during summer 2019.

By Cailín Laing (Colleen Lynk)

The North Shore of Cape Breton is a stretch of small communities located along the shoreline in Victoria County, running from St. Ann’s Bay to Wreck Cove. With the majority of the people who settled in the area coming from the isles of Lewis and Harris, the North Shore is home to many of its own unique traditions and a beautiful, distinct dialect of Gaelic. The North Shore is known for its high energy and often comedic songs, the local bards that would compose them, and the talented singers who kept them alive. The most well known were The North Shore Gaelic Singers, a group of men from the area who would often sing together, who famously performed on a stage that would later feature Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. They also made many appearances at local events and milling frolics, where I have heard that it was often a requirement to nail the tables to the floor to prevent them from jumping around with just how passionately the cloth would be beaten.

The North Shore Gaelic Singers at the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island. L to R: Malcolm Angus MacLeod, Thomas A. (Tommy Peggy) MacDonald, Sandy Kenny Morrison, Dan K. (Danny Kenny) MacLeod, Dan J. (Montana Dan) Morrison, Alex Kerr. Cape Breton’s Magazine, issue 21:46. © 1972/2010 Ronald Caplan. 

I can vividly recall the first time that I had the joy of experiencing a true North Shore song at the milling table. Though this experience took place quite far along into my Gaelic journey and was hardly the first time that I had sat in on a milling, it felt as though I was sitting at the table and beating the cloth for the very first time. It was as if I had no control over my hands as the cloth moved, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of wonder and amazement. This is a feeling that has stayed with me to this day. Perhaps the love for these songs is something I inherited, as my great grandmother Margaret MacLean was born and raised in Goose Cove by a family proud of their Gaelic and of their strong Harris roots. Perhaps it was simply the catchy tune and the undeniable pull of the rhythm. Regardless, the heart, the liveliness, and the spirit of the North Shore radiated through the song as it was sung and inspired a phrase that still follows me to this day: he was just so unable to not give ‘er, you know?

The song that had initially sparked my interest in the songs of the North Shore is one that many others are also likely quite fond of: An t-Each Ruadh aig Roland Steele. This humorous song was composed by Hector Carmichael of Munro’s Point and Garrett MacDonald of Meadows Road. Utilizing the power of exaggeration, the song discusses the state of Roland Steele’s horse, specifically who is responsible for the poor craftsmanship of his shoes, while also commenting on the general condition of the horse who appears to have not been properly cared for during the winter – though Roland himself claims differently.

photo of horse on grass field under cloudy skyNuair a ràinig e an stòir,
Bha ’n t-each na lon a falluis aig’,
‘S ann thuirt Bessie às an stòr
‘Lord, how that horse was travelling’

Gur e Hector bha gu cruideadh,
Sid a mhill na casan aig’,
G’an cuir air le tairnean bàta
Gur h-ann a b’fheàrr a dh’fhannadh iad

Sid far an robh am beathach lively,
Falbh a dhriveadh sgoilearan,
Nuair a ràinig e an Cobh,
Cha mhòr bhitheadh ann air tòiseach air.

When he raced up to the store,
The horse was in a pool of sweat,
Said Bessie in the store,
‘Lord, how that horse was travelling’

It was Hector that used to shoe him,
He’s the one who spoiled his feet,
For he shod the horse with boat nails,
So that they’d last a longer time.

And he was a lively horse once,
Driving children to the school,
When he came into the Cove,
There’s none would be ahead of him.

Listen to a recording from Music of Cape Breton, Volume 1 / The North Shore Singers
Also on An Drochaid Eadarainn as an audio file and video.


An t-Each Geal, also known as An Oidhche Bha Luadh Ann, is another North Shore song that I fell in love with recently during my stay at The Gaelic College for An Cùrsa Bogaidh 2019, where instructor Emily MacDonald played a recording of a version sung by Malcolm Angus MacLeod of Skir Dhu that can be found on An Drochaid Eadarainn. Composed by Norman ‘Lazuras’ MacDonald of the North Shore, this song describes a night where some young men in the community had borrowed a white horse from their neighbour to pull their sleigh and take them to the local milling frolic. The song also touches on how the milling frolics often served as a place for young people to meet and court, with the different versions calling out some of these matches by name.

Screen Shot 2019-07-04 at 3.39.47 PM
Malcolm Angus Macleod. Cape Breton’s Magazine, issue 16. © 1972/2010 Ronald Caplan

’S an oidhche bha luadh ann
A rinn na balaich gluasad;
Gun n’ chum iad chun an tuath i,
Mo thruaigh mar a dh’éirich.

’S ann shuas aig àite Tharmaid
Siod far na thachair garbh riuth’;
Thuirt Beileag Mhór, “Gu dearbha
Tha ’n fhearg air a’ bhéist ud.”

’S ann an uair sin dheònaich ’ad
Gun dhéidheadh Aingidh còmhla riuth’;
’S ann aig Niall Beag bha spòrs orra,
’S na boys air na reins.

The night of the milling
Was when the boys got moving
And then they headed northward
A pity how it happened.

’Twas down at Norman’s farm that
They ran into trouble
Then Morag said, ‘Indeed now,
That beast is surely crazy.’

And ’twas then that they agreed
That Angus should accompany them,
And little Neil had lots of fun
With those who were driving.

[These lyrics are from the An Drochaid website]
Listen to an alternative version on Sruth nan Gàidheal.

Other lively tunes commonly sung around the North Shore that I believe are deserving of mentioning and that I find myself singing quite often are:

My hope is that this post might inspire others to explore and learn more about the wonderful world of North Shore Gaelic and the songs and traditions of the area. More information about the North Shore and these traditions can be found on the An Drochaid Eadarainn website, including more songs, music, proverbs, and stories. With Gael Stream now partially restored, many other audio recordings from the area are once more accessible online. For Apple Music and Spotify users, Cape Breton Music Volume One: Gaelic Tradition in Cape Breton is available for streaming. This album includes a variety of high quality audio recordings of the North Shore Gaelic Singers themselves. To learn more about the men of The North Shore Gaelic Singers and the milling traditions of the area, a lovely article was published in Cape Breton Magazine on December 12, 1978 and is available to view in full on their website. Cainnt mo Mhàthar, a website featuring audio and video recordings of interviews with native Gaelic speakers from throughout the province, also provides an opportunity to hear more examples of the North Shore dialect.

To keep the conversation going and the list of songs growing, I would love to hear from all of you: what is YOUR favourite North Shore Gaelic song? Or, if this post was your introduction to the North Shore, which of the songs featured did you enjoy the most?

Sgioba ‘Language in Lyrics’ a’ leudachadh // ‘Language in Lyrics’ team expanding (1/2)

It has been wonderful to be able to call in the energy and expertise of some additional members of the Language in Lyrics team recently. Working mostly on shorter-term projects, their input has been invaluable as we progress with song cataloguing, database management and developing plans to take the project further in the coming years… Here is an introduction to some of the team (the first of two posts).


Cailín Laing / Colleen Lynk: Project Assistant

Colleen Lynk 2

Colleen is a Gaelic speaker living in Halifax, but with strong roots in Glace Bay and Victoria County. She has been participating in a wide range of classes and events around the province since 2017 and has had the opportunity to learn from various teachers. Recently, she has enjoyed teaching Gaelic Song during Mìos nan Gàidheal, acting in a Gaelic short film, and sitting on the board of her local Gaelic organization, Sgoil Ghàidhlig an Àrd-Bhaile.

Colleen’s passion for the Gaelic language and culture was born out of the admiration she holds for her late grandmother, Sadie Lynk of Glace Bay, originally a native speaker of Gaelic. She also fondly remembers growing up listening to her father, Kevin, sing with his guitar and tell stories in a way that was very reminiscent of what she now knows to be Gaelic tradition. She carries a strong desire to uncover the names and stories of the many passionate Gaels that came before her throughout her family’s history, a project that she has been working on since 2015.

Colleen joins the team this summer 2019 through the Young Canada Works programme and we are delighted to have her. She will be assisting us with entering and cleaning in the song database, as well as text digitization and social media content. She will also be writing a fortnightly blog exploring local history and the Nova Scotian song tradition, as well as her own relationship to her Gaelic roots and the learning process of working on the Language in Lyrics project.


Tealsaidh Nic a’ Phearsain / Chelsey MacPherson: Database Assistant

Chelsey MacPhersonChelsey MacPherson is a Gaelic speaker and student at St Francis Xavier University where she is working towards an Honours Degree in Celtic Studies.

As a child, she recalls listening to the Rankins from the backseat of her Grandmother’s car and later began learning Gaelic songs from Sìne MacKenna of Maxville, Ontario. After attending Féis an Eilein in Christmas Island, Cape Breton, she was inspired to pursue learning the language.

Her main area of research is the folklore and Gaelic of her home county of Glengarry, Ontario. This summer 2019 she was awarded a student research grant to comb the Gaelic newspaper Mac-Talla for references to Glengarry County. Alongside this research, Chelsey has completed the substantial and extremely useful task of ensuring that the songs from all 12 volumes of Mac-Talla are entered into the Language in Lyrics database. Taing mhòr a Thealsaidh!


Trueman MacMhathain / Trueman Matheson: Database AssistantTrueman Matheson

Trueman Matheson started learning Gaelic in 1991 and quickly fell in love with the language. He has served on several boards including the Gaelic Cultural Association – Comunn Gaidhlig an Ard-Bhaile (1992-97, President 1993-95), Comhairle na Gaidhlig 1998-2008 and the Gaelic Development Steering Committee 2002-2004.

In 1998 Trueman established Sìol Cultural Enterprises, a company which he would run for the next seventeen years. Initially Sìol distributed Gaelic materials from publishers such as Gairm Publications, Cànan, and Acair, as well as many other companies. Later, he got into publishing Gaelic books starting with a new edition of An t-Òranaiche (with CD) in 2002. By the time the business closed in 2015 Sìol Cultural Enterprises had published 20 books, many original or expanded editions of older works, as well as a CD and several other products.

Trueman has been assisting the Language in Lyrics project by entering songs into our database from several of the collections published under Sìol Cultural Enterprises. These include many songs composed in Nova Scotia, such as those by the ‘Keppoch Bàrd’ Alasdair Ailein Mhór, published in the book ‘O Cheapaich nan Craobh’.

Trueman currently lives in St. Andrews with his wife of 25 years, Laurinda (MacGillivray), whom he met while learning Gaelic, and who is co-editor of many of the books published under Sìol.


Aleen Leigh Stanton: Digital Heritage Specialist

Aleen Leigh Stanton

Aleen Leigh Stanton is an historian, heritage conservationist, and Gaelic language learner living on Big Island, Pictou County. After completing her undergraduate studies at Acadia University, she traveled to the UK to earn an MA in Cultural Heritage Management from the University of York, where she specialized in music heritage.

Family stories about her ancestors who emigrated from Mull, Coll, and Perthshire and their ties to the land have deeply influenced her research interests. As a Research Associate with the Nova Scotia Museum, she is leading a cultural landscape and oral history study on Big Island about place attachment, ‘islandness,’ and the Scottish diaspora.

She is the co-author of “In the Round: The Circular Heritage of Country Music,” for the International Journal of Heritage Studies (Vol. 25, 2019) and “The Invisible Island: Immigration, Environment, and a New Europe on Big Island, Nova Scotia,” for Acadiensis (Winter/Spring 2019).

Aleen recently joined the Language in Lyrics team to assist us in sourcing and developing an online database platform. We will use this to collate the numerous spreadsheets we have been filling with song data, and share this with the wider community. Since it has been proving to be a challenging task, we are delighted to be benefiting from Aleen’s experience as we strive to come up with the most accessible and sustainable option.





Seòl-sìdhe Chlann Anndra | The Laings of North Uist

Seòl-sìdhe Chlann Anndra | Little Effort, Big Results

Colleen Lynk 2
Colleen is working as Project Assistant for Language in Lyrics during summer 2019.

By Colleen Lynk

Known simply as Clann Anndra in North Uist, the Laings of Uist were known for being clever people with strong memories. They were also renowned for being able to accomplish easily what may have been difficult for others. I have heard an old tale that this may have been due to an encounter with na sìthichean, the fairies, in which a Laing woman was able to earn back her freedom and was thus granted one wish: for her people to be forever twice as hardworking as any others on earth. Others attribute these talents to the first Laing to arrive in Uist in 1712, Maighstir Seon, a renowned schoolmaster and catechist. Either way, it is a reputation that has remained prevalent throughout history. These skills, coupled with an effortless talent for the art of sloinneadh (genealogy),  came together to create a rich history of storytelling and bàrdachd (poetry). This can be seen in more recent history through the works of Andrew Laing (1900-1969), Bàrd Hòrasairigh, a talented storyteller and composer of Gaelic song, and the Reverend Malcolm Laing (1888-1968), a writer of stories and bàrdachd in both Gaelic and English.

AntEileanBeagLurach-500x500        41si+2mFPML._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_

This history first made its way to Cape Breton in 1827 when, at the age of 19, Angus Laing (Aonghas mac Dhòmhnuill ’ic Iain ’ic Anndra ’ic Maighstir Seon) made the journey from Knockintorran, North Uist to Leitches Creek, Cape Breton (it is also at this time that the family name here in Nova Scotia became Lynk due to what is believed to have been a simple transcription error). Whether Angus himself brought with him the aptitude for storytelling and composing of Clann Anndra, I will never know. However, it is something that I often see in his descendants – namely in my own father, a great-great grandson of Angus. Though my father never did inherit Gaelic from his mother, Sadie Lynk (Sadie ni’n Dan Dhòmhnuill Aonghais), something that was sadly quite common within his generation, he certainly inherited the memory and talents of the Uist Laings.


Colleen Lynk 1As a child growing up, I was often fascinated with my father’s ability to recall the names of what seemed like an endless amount of people from his community in Glace Bay. He often had stories attached to these people, accompanied by which street they lived on, who they may have been connected to and how. These stories were not limited to his own experiences, as he also had numerous stories that he had heard from others and stored in his memory. He was and is what I consider to be a true seanchaidh (tradition bearer) in his own right.

Not only was I enthralled by his stories, I often thought quite longingly of the guitar case sitting quietly in my parents’ room. I knew that on special occasions it would make its way out into the living room. The ol’ acoustic that had been tucked away inside was held snug in the hands of my father as he gently strummed and sang familiar tunes. Though the communal aspect of this was something I held dear, however, I would hardly say that his guitar was necessary for a tune to take place. I often heard him singing as he did the dishes or as he sat, sometimes putting together fun little versions of the songs that he loved by changing the lyrics or adding the names of our cats or family members. This was something that seemed so effortless for him, and something that I still have the habit of doing myself.

In a way, though I have only recently obtained the language and the understanding to name this, I feel I have learned so much about the ways of Clann Anndra and about the traditions of the Gaels through my father. I began my own journey with Gaelic and with discovering the long and rich family history of my Gaelic speaking grandmother, Sadie, as way to honour her memory.

Sadie ni’n Dan Dhòmhnuill Aonghais, Colleen’s grandmother

This has allowed for me to feel connected to her in such a meaningful way that I had always felt was missing, as I was born nearly a decade after her passing and never had the opportunity to connect with her in childhood. What I didn’t expect was that this journey would also gift me with a closer connection to my father. I have been blessed to re-experience the gift of his stories and songs over the last couple of years. They have been instrumental in my understanding of where I stand in my Gaelic identity.

I hope that I am able to carry what I have learned so far into my work here with Language in Lyrics. I also hope to come out of this experience with an even better understanding of these traditions and their profound significance to our culture, language, and our people. I feel both immense passion and burning excitement as I continue to discover the history and recordings of the many, many songs that have endured within our Gaelic communities. I also feel purpose in doing my part to preserve them. I will do my best to maintain my family’s legacy both in the context of this project and beyond, and I look forward to sharing more of my thoughts and discoveries through this blog.


Tuilleadh fiosrachaidh / Further information:

Andrew Laing (1900-1969), or Anndra mac Alasdair ’ic Anndra ’ic Raghnaill ’ic Iain ’ic Anndra ’ic Mgr Seon, was born in Baile Mòr, Paibil, North Uist. Known as Bàrd Hòrasairigh, the songs he composed, such as ‘An t-Eilean Beag Lurach mu Thuath’, are still sung in the communities of North Uist. Naomi Harvey, Ceòlas researcher during the European Oral Song Tradition (EOST) project in 2013-14, has adeptly collected Andrew’s songs and set them within their community context. The book ‘An t-Eilean Beag Lurach mu Thuath: Òrain Anndra Laing’ is available from the Gaelic Books Council and Ceòlas.

The online archive Tobar an Dualchais also contains 42 recordings of Andrew Laing, including songs, stories and toasts.

The Reverend Malcolm Laing’s book, ‘Tha Cuimhn’ Agam: Gaelic and English Writings’ is available on



Colleen will be publishing a fortnightly blog every second Thursday from June to August 2019 – keep an eye out for future instalments!


A’ cur eòlas air an sgioba: the Language in Lyrics team


It’s always nice to put faces to names, and know the people behind a project, so here’s a wee intro to the team behind Language in Lyrics:


Dr. Heather Sparling: project directorHeather Sparling

Heather is the Canada Research Chair in Musical Traditions and an Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology at Cape Breton University, where she teaches a range of music and culture courses. She has expertise in Cape Breton Gaelic song and is the author of Reeling Roosters and Dancing Ducks: Celtic Mouth Music (CBU Press, 2014). She is the editor of MUSICultures, the premier Canadian ethnomusicology and popular music journal. Her research interests include the role of music in language and cultural revitalization; exhibiting music; memory and forgetting; disaster songs of Atlantic Canada; and Cape Breton vernacular dance.

Heather is a Gaelic speaker and is actively involved with both local and international Gaelic organizations. She first discovered Gaelic when she lived in Edinburgh, Scotland, and she subsequently studied the language in Toronto, Cape Breton, and at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. She has taught Gaelic in both Toronto and Sydney. She is a passionate advocate for Gaelic linguistic and cultural development and is excited about the role the Language in Lyrics project will play in contributing to Gaelic language growth and recognition within Canada.


Màiri Britton: project manager209A5618

Màiri is a Gaelic-speaker, teacher and musician based in Antigonish. Originally from Edinburgh, Scotland, she moved to Nova Scotia in 2016 to take up the post of Gaelic language instructor at St. Francis Xavier University. She currently teaches at St. FX as well as running a number of local community classes and workshop programmes in the province.

Màiri’s interest in the Gaelic language was sparked at the age of five through the Fèis movement, and it was her love of Gaelic songs and singing which inspired her to learn the language to fluency as a teenager. She went on to gain a First Class undergraduate MA (Honours) and a postgraduate MSc, both in Celtic Studies, from the University of Edinburgh.

A talented singer, step dancer and harpist, Màiri performs regularly as a solo artist and with the four-piece Gaelic trad group Fàrsan. She loves getting together with others to learn, share and sing songs, and she is delighted to be involved in facilitating greater access to Gaelic songs and singing through the Language in Lyrics Project.


Mary Jane Lamond: Nova Scotia corpus assistant Mary Jane Lamond

Mary Jane is an internationally-renowned Gaelic singer with an extensive knowledge of the Nova Scotia Gaelic song repertoire. She has recorded six albums and worked in a number of different roles and projects focused on promoting and sharing the Gaelic language and culture of Nova Scotia.

It was through visiting her grandparents in Nova Scotia that Mary Jane fell in love with Gaelic tradition and song. While enrolled in St. Francis Xavier University’s Celtic Studies programme, she released her first album, and its reception launched a career of international touring and award-winning further recordings. Alongside numerous Juno awards and ECMA nominations, Mary Jane received the prestigious Portia White Prize in 2010 in recognition of her efforts to preserve Gaelic culture through song.

Having worked on cataloguing the Cape Breton Gaelic Folklore Collection while a student at St Francis Xavier University, and on the song content for the website An Drochaid Eadarainn, Mary Jane is in the perfect position to facilitate the cataloguing aims of the Language in Lyrics project. She brings invaluable knowledge of the Nova Scotia Gaelic community and its song corpus and looks forward to promoting further community involvement and enjoyment in Gaelic songs through this unique project.

Ag èirigh air na h-òrain: launching Language in Lyrics

Fàilte oirbh! Welcome!

We are delighted to be launching the Language in Lyrics project this month: a three-year partnership project with the aim of creating a comprehensive database of Nova Scotia Gaelic songs, and a lyrics-based corpus of  Nova Scotia Gaelic.

Find out more details about the project here!

We will be introducing the project through a number of presentations during the month of May – Gaelic Awareness Month. The first of these will take place on May 11th, at the Highland Village Museum. Thigibh ann! Come join us! Details below:

Air Bilean an t-Sluaigh poster (corrected) HV 11.05.18

(Photo credit: ‘Highland Village Day, Iona’ / 1963 / Abbass Studios Ltd. / item no. B-3879.3. Used with kind permission of the Beaton Institute)