THE EMIGRANT EXPERIENCE: SONGS OF HIGHLAND EMIGRANTS IN NORTH AMERICA
Volume 10 Number 4.
It is difficult for the non-Gaelic speaking person to give this book the type of review that it deserves. Like most poetry and song, the beauty of metaphor, imagery, and rhythm is lost in translation, and as the author admits, there are "passages which simply do not translate." Nevertheless, the English translation next to each Gaelic poem or song gives the reader an insight into the experience of these hardy pioneers as they attempted to build a new life far from their beloved Scotland.
As a rule of thumb, English folk songs tend to be songs of action, while those in Gaelic tend to be more descriptive and contemplative. Hence, MacDonell's collection, which encompasses the Carolinas, Nova Scotia, P. E. I., Ontario, and' Manitoba, contains sad laments over the harsh climate of the New World, the dismal forests, and the loss of the traditional clan life of Scotland. Most were written by the victims of the highland clearances, who were driven off their small plots by high rents and landlords greedy for the greater profit to be had by converting their holdings into vast sheep farms. As the mournful ballads attest, this had not always been the case, for before 1745 the chief of the clan was responsible for the well-being of all his people. When this attitude changed for the worse, many unfortunates fled to North America, often under the illusion that large and prosperous farms were there for the taking.
The songs are not all mournful, however, for many do rejoice in the fact that though the work was hard, industrious-ness would reap them rewards impossible to attain in Scotland: men who had been born to beggary could and did become respected citizens in North America. Unquestionably, all seem to miss their old country for some reason, however harsh and oppressive life had been. Eventually, the new-world gaels turned to writing laments about leaving their home in one part of the continent to move to another: a Cape Breton Scot writes sadly of life in Boston, where he could no longer hear the mountain brooks or the "piping of a high order." What had been a bleak and dismal place to an old-world Scot had become the beloved home of his descendants.
Clearly, the book is of greatest value to those who can read and appreciate the original Gaelic, although it is regrettable that the author was unable to discover the music for almost all of the examples. It is still of value to the English reader from a historical point of view, for even the translations adequately convey the feelings of those who had experienced first hand this tragedy that was to have so much importance to the settling of North America, especially of Nova Scotia. Like Helen Creighton, the author, who heads the department of Celtic studies at Saint Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, has through her research preserved yet another fragment of our vanishing folk culture.
Timothy Drake Jaques, Queen's University, Kingston, Ont. and Barbara Jaques, Dalhousie R. H. S., Dalhousie, NB.
1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995
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