1. The Eviction of the Highlanders
  2. Ma Bhuannaich Thu Nighean Ghrinn
  3. Air Faillirinn Iu
  4. Oran An t-Saigheir
  5. Nighneag a’ chuil duinn nach fhan thu?
  6. Moladh Cul Eilean Na Nollaig
  7. Ged A Sheol Mi Air M Aineol
  8. Moladh A’Chuil
  9. Oran Do Sheann Ford
  10. Chi Mi Bhuam
  11. Ho Ro Gun Togamaid Hugan Fhathast
  12. Clo Mhic Ille Mhicheil
  13. Fhleasgaich Uir, Leanainn Thu
  14. Cumha Do Dhomhnaill MacFhionnghain
  15. Iuraibh O Chan Eil Mi Slan
  16. Thug Mi Gaol, Gaol, Gaol
  17. O Iasa Bi’N Comhnaidh Air M’Aire Gach Uair
  18. Oran Nan Sealgairean

1. The Eviction of the Highlanders

1) Sad am I mourning for the state of the country, and the old, scrupulous people who were worthy and courageous. Landlords evicted them far over the seas: their lands were taken from them, and given up to deer.

2) It was, indeed, an object of shame to see strong people being evicted over the ocean like a useless tramp, and Cheviot sheep being placed to graze on the beautiful land. There are nettles in the garden, and the ruins are covered with grass.

3) Where there used to be many women-folk and families, there are now only hornless sheep to be found in their place. No longer do you see the milkmaid with her spancel, or even the white-shouldered cattle and the fair-haired herdsman.

4) The lark is in the firmament singing its tuneful song, yet nobody is present to listen to her when she ascends the heights. The people will never return, never return, who were hearty and cheerful. They have been dispersed forever like chaff on a windy day.

2. Ma Bhuannaich Thu Nighean Ghrinn

If You Win a Fair Maid

If you win a fair maid
Do not be dejected, lad
If you win a fair maid

1) One day when in Stornoway, I was eager to set sail.

2) We hoisted the canvas as we sailed through the straits quickly.

3) We hoisted the jib-sails, and we set them above the sea.

4) We hoisted the mainsail, and she would tack to windward.

5) We hoisted the foresail, and she (the ship) sped along prettily.

6) And when she would rise on the crest of the waves, she would pound the green sea.

7) Lad, do not be anxious, the sucking billow will not reach her shoulder.

8) Lad, be not afraid, as long as the rudder will turn her around.

9) I will give you a mare and a foal, and the best portion of the cattle-fold.

10) I will give you a cow and a calf, and we will give you a sheep and a lamb.

11) They spread a gossiping report about me throughout the village, tat I was the lover of the red-haired damsel.

(Source: Gaelic Songs in Nova Scotia, page 286)

3. Air Faillirinn Iu

Air faillirinn iu ho,
O iuilirinn o ho,
Air faillirinn iu.

1) Sad am I (reclining) on the slope of the rocks.

2) I look over in the direction of the Sound of Mull, yet I cannot wade across.

3) Where I left my mother buried in the sod.

4) Where I left my sweetheart of the thin eyebrows and the loving eyes.

5) I see the boat sailing past, her crew methinks is feeble.

6) And if I am not mistaken, I believe that my sweetheart is at the helm.

7) Passing Islay it seems that her course is too far offshore.

8) Passing Eigg the rocky land of the peaks.

9) Passing Coll they lost the semblance of my love.

10) Passing Ireland my spouse went down to the ocean floor.

11) My dear one landed in the seaweed as she was voyaging abroad.

12) On the crest of the green waves as they twisted her sails.

13) On the crest of the green waves, the sea slashing along her decks.

14) Dearly did I pay for the barley, little did I drink of its juice.

15) Dearly did I pay for the herring, newly-packed.

16) Dearly did I pay for the brandy that had been stored a-board.

17) Dearly did I pay for the boat that was the cause of the drowning of the three.

4. Oran An t-Saigheir

The Soldier Song
Chorus: O ri im bo thug airean o,
Ho ri o ro, mo dheideag,
Ho ri im bo thug hoirean o,

1) It is sad that I am,
It is me tonight on a street with my spouse,
Carrying him on my shoulder,
Raising him up lightly.

2) Carrying him on my shoulder,
Raising him up lightly.
It is a long time since I found you in Glasgow,
With thy articles at their reading.

3) It is a long..
With thy..
The French are displeased with us,
In this time coming to Ireland.

4) The French are..
In this time..
We lose some of our property,
Our mortgage that will be falsified.

5) We lose some..
Our mortgage that..
My farewell to your side Mharair,
Where is my acquaintance and my joy?

6) My farewell to..
Where is my..
Where are my friends?
Preparing on the market day for me.

7) Where are..
Preparing on..
Placing money in my pocket,
And gold, if there would be a need for it.

8) Placing mony..
And gold, if..
My love on the Argyle people,
It is not ragged to go in their uniform.

5. Nighneag a’ chuil duinn nach fhan thu?

Chorus: Lassie of the rear to us won’t you stay?
The land knows I’m your sweetheart,
Lassie of the rear to us won’t you stay?

1) Lassy of the Rear your decided against your vow,
I have persued you since a while.

2) It is since that I was a child,
I gave the love to you that will be for a lifetime.

3) When we were to the herding,
I gave mention of your plaited fair hair.

4) It is with the growth of complextion and of your cheerful contenance,
You became firmly fond of my love.

5) Cheek and redness of the rowan berries,
Mournful will be the end of the branches.

6) Blue-eye beguiling at my love,
Narrow eye-brow and look of kindness.

7) A mouth filled with melodious music and laughter,
Beautiful teeth like the white winter storm.

8) White fair neck like mountain moss-cotton,
Handsome breasts like the swan.

9) Slender-shape comfortable, femine, light
Is without dullness, is without a match.

10) It is often I was joking to you,
Under the top of the fragrant branches.

11) It is on Easter morning,
You gave to me your hand and your promise.

12) But if you left from this country,
It is a heavy burden on me enduring your wanting to hide.

13) When will you go to the lowlands of Scotland,
Falsely learned from the law countrymen?

14) Stay, darling, in the land of the Gaelic people
Where is the customary bond?

6. Moladh Cul Eilean Na Nollaig

In Praise of Rear Christmas Island

By Hugh F. MacKenzie

1) It is a grievous thing, O Lord, that I am not on the high hill, the place I knew well.
Where I often sat on the earth, contemplating the countryside: not knowing what benevolence compelled the Creator to command it so.
Our back land is, above all, the most splendid deed he chose to perform.

2) This is the fairest place upon which the sun rises and shines on the mountain slopes.
Its brilliant rays descend to amplify the roses’ hue, placing a blue mantle and rash of daisies on every meadow; watching with loving eye until reaching the west at time of dusk.

3) The most exquisite birds under heaven chose these hills.
Over all other places in creation they loved the Rear’s greatness. Gathering in the branches, their choruses are musical.
Just as Echo hears them, his reply is precise and meticulous.

4) There is a persistent, gleeful, choir-like murmur that inspires the soul; the noise of brooks containing the purest water rushing down the mountainsides.
In spumes, they plunge downward over white waterfalls to gather and bid farewell to this land, as I did in my folly.

5) Cattle, their teeth restless, can be seen grazing on the high grasslands.
Forage for the herds is abundant there, among the hollows and little pastures.
I often listened on a May evening, while barking dogs drove them home; the clear sound of bells striking at every step as they advanced.

6) Trout can be caught in streams that course noisily through the valley.
They flow from mountain-top lakes and circle at the foot of each knoll.
I often went with a fishing line and worm on a bent hook.
With an alder rod in my hand, I wouldn’t have wished for nobility.

7) Although the generous Gaels who settled here at times laboured, there was no lack of food and clothing.
Winter might be dreary, but tasks were completed seasonally.
They were admirable farmers and whatever chore was at hand, the sounds of their songs were always heard.

8) If I was able to regain the times gone by and retrieve my youth’s bearing and vitality, my house would be on a handsome hillside, shaded by branches.
I would keep the fiddle and pipes in tune and raise the choruses of songs.


8. Ged A Sheol Mi Air M Aineol

Although I Sailed Through Foreign Countries

Although I sailed to foreign countries,
Sadness did not linger in my mind,
Although I sailed to foreign countries.

1) We sailed from Boston on a voyage to the Indies.

2) We came to an agreement with a skipper of a handsome ship.

3) Three days before Christmas bad weather descended upon us.

4) The wind blew strongly with rain showers and stinging hailstones.

5) When the inch-thick ropes froze they became three inches in girth.

6) We lost the skin of our hands, and our arms were tired of the struggle.

7) Five of the crewmembers were standing, and seven were prone.

8) I spent three days and three nights at the week during the storm.

9) That is when the skipper said, “Do not yield stout-hearted lads.”

10) “ When you reach port your dram will be certain.”

11) The rigging and the bowsprit were washed away by the rising wave.

12) The top-sail was torn to shreds: it is no fun to tell about it.

13) When the ship would veer to windward she would gain many leagues.

14) My mother is dejected because she does not expect me to return.

9. Moladh A’Chuil


1) In the summertime I like to be climbing about your brooks; primroses and daisies are in abundance on every hill.

2) Any one who travels there will receive much kindness among those excellent gracious people who are never surly to anyone.

3) He will see nature’s work in ways that will improve his zest; there are pleasant sweet fruits and a forest of the most beautiful vegetation.

4) Hay grows in the summer, oats and barley grow there and when winter arrives no one will be scarce of food.

5) He will restore his health among the lofty mountains and in the dwelling houses he will be welcomed hospitably.

6) He will find Gaelic songs in each friendly company and every natural beauty will hold his attention for many a day.

10. Oran Do Sheann Ford

Òran do Sheann Ford Song to an Old Ford
le William Mac Vicar by William Mac Vicar
Tha buaidh air an uisge-bheatha, There is virtue in the whiskey,
Tha buaidh air ‘s cha ghabh i chleith’, There’s a virtue in it and it can’t be hidden,
Tha buaidh air an uisge-bheatha, There is virtue in the whiskey,
‘Son dh’òlainn teth is fuar i. I would drink it hot or cold.
S an cuala sibh ‘san àite seo, Have you heard in this place,
An càr a fhuair a’ Lamanach, About the car that Lamond got,
Gu fan i far na fàgar i, That it will stay wherever it’s left,
Mur tairnear i, cha ghluais i. If it isn’t towed, it won’t move.
S gur siud an càr tha cunnartach, That is the car that is dangerous,
Ma tharas i air buille thoirt dhuit, If it happens to strike you,
An làrach far na chuir i thu, The place where it sends you,
Gu fuirich thu ‘nad shuain ann. You’ll stay there unconscious.
Ma thèid thu ‘steach gu baile leath’, If you go into town with it,
Dhan Abhainn Dhubh gun caillear i. At Black Brook she’ll lose steam,
Cha dean i Cnoc Iain Sheathaich dheth, She won’t make it up John Shaw’s hill,
S cha toir a h-anail suas i. She won’t have the wind for it.
Is ioghnadh leam nach do ghlac iad thu, It’s a wonder to me that they didn’t catch you,
Nuair thug thu far na margaid i, When you took it home from the market,
Cha robh do shùil nach fhac’ thu innt’, There wasn’t an eye that didn’t see you in it,
S do chlàistneachd nach do chual’ thu. Or an ear that didn’t hear you.
`S ghearain Dòmhnall Shandaidh ann, And Donald Sandy was complaining,
An deaghaidh ‘s a bhi ‘ga rannsachadh, After doing some investigating,
Tha ‘n uidheam stiùiridh cam innte, “The steering gear is bent in her,
Mun dèan i call, cuir bhuait i. Get rid of it before it kills someone”.
O, chan eil innte ach sàrachadh, Oh, it is only a burden,
Gun inneal airson a càrachadh, With no tool that will repair it,
Dèan dileab dhan a’ chàrnan leath’, Bequeath it to the grave,
Leig bàs leath’ mun is dlùith’ dhut. Let it die before it hurts you.
O, chan eil innt’ ach trilleach dhut Oh, it’s just a nuisance to you,
gun sion innt` ach pìosanan, Just a collection of parts,
Tha i coltach ri gunna an Innseannaich, It resembles the Indian’s gun,
Gun sìon ach a’ fuaim ann. With nothing in it but noise.

11. Chi Mi Bhuam

I Will See From Me

I can see far off yonder,I can see at the full tide;
I can see my darling Cape Breton,In the distance across the sea.

1) I can see forested Creignish,
With its high, shore-bound slopes;
And Long Point by its side,
Where it was customary to find prosperity and crops.

2) Where the Strathglass people lived
Without want and would put the scythe to good use.
They were courteous and intelligent,
They were confident in their manner.

3) I can see Judique of the sturdy men,
I can see Prominence of the tall men,
The family of James lived there at one time,
Heroes who would win battles.

4) They were virile and intrepid,
Without indiscretion in their deportment;
But when they entered combat
There was no submission to an opponent.

5) I can see Port Hood of the towers,
Where there are shops and a main-street;
I can see Mabou behind it;
That is the place I held dear.


13. Ho Ro Gun Togamaid Hugan Fhathast

Ho Ro, Once More I should Shout for Joy

Ho Ro, once more, I would shout for joy,
and u ho ro, before I go to bed;
Ho ro, once more, I would shout for joy.

1) We will raise a melody by milling the tweed web, we will have music and worthy songs.

2) The tweed would be the better of being in contact with the damsels, they would mill it with their hands.

3) Well-patterned songs, tuneful, sweet, are sung by the maidens.




7) May these sheep be healthy on which grew the princely raiment.

8) May the hand that spun it be blessed, its action was that on an efficient house-wife.



11) When they sit down at the fulling frame, the hum of conversation of each maiden is wont to be heard as she speaks.








14. Clo Mhic Ille Mhicheil


1) Handsome young men with the ringletted hair, it displeases me that you are short of clothing.

2) Scotland will help with the waulking if there are maidens in the country.

3) I will make a waulking group for you of the most expert progeny in all of Christendom.

4) A band will come from Sleat and they will work with diligence on youe waulking board.

5) Clanranald’s young women will come, a handsome troupe who will not fail you.


7) Young women will come from Keppock, young women who wil waulk through the night
without wearying.

8) A group of maidens will come from Glencoe, strange, regal waulkers.

9) We will get another band from Ireland from the Earl of Antrim of the beautiful steeds.

10) Do the hand waulking with venom and bloody the son of a whore.

15. Fhleasgaich Uir, Leanainn Thu

Chorus: Fhleasgaich uir, leanainn thu,

Fhir a’chuil bhoidhich;
Man of the beautiful hair
Fhleasgaich uir, leanainn thu

1) It is me that won’t be going to meet you,
On my soles without shoes

2) On the soles of my feet,
Although there will be stones hindering my path.

3) Although there will be very hard frost there,
And cold snow on the moor-land.

4) Man of the brown curls,
I met you when very young.

5) man of the fair, handsome calve,
Draw your journey through the moor-land.

6) Blood shed on your shirt,
And the deer’s bloodshed on your coat.

7) The young speckled trout shedding blood,
Like bindings about your fists.

8) It is me that traveled all of Glen Ranald with you,
And the two of us near Loch Lochaidh.

9) Departing on sea or land with you,
To reach the boundary of Europe.

10) Although I’m not important to you this year,
It is often you were seeking a kiss on me.

11) I will not be scolding you,
I’ll try to warm to the idea of your wedding.

12) But beseech you good health,
Each day as long as I live.

16. Cumha Do Dhomhnaill MacFhionnghain

Sèist: Ho hi rithill a bha ho Ho hi rithill a bha ho
Ho hi rithill a bha ho Ho hi rithill a bha ho
Ho ro ‘illean, ‘s hog i ò Ho ro ‘illean, ‘s hog i ò
Mo chridhe trom `s cha neònach My heart is heavy and it is not strange
1. Fhuair sinn sgeul an diugh bha bochd, 1. We received sad news today,
Gun deachaidh Dòmhnall `chur fo `n phloc, That Donald was put under the sod,
Dh`fhàg siud do chàirdean fo sprochd, That has left your relations sorrowful,
Do dhachaidh bhochd fo dhòruinn. And your poor family in anguish.
2. Chan urrainn dhomhsa `n diugh `dhol ann, 2. I cannot go there today,
Bho`n a tha iad a’ sileadh dheòir, Since they are all shedding tears,
Feuchaidh mi le cridhe fann, I will try with a faint heart,
Ri rann a chuir an òrdan. To put a verse in order.
3. Tha do pharanatan `nad dhèidh, 3. Your parents survive you,
Chan eil a h-aon aca glè threun, Neither of them is very strong,
Chan eil leigheas air an creuchd, There is no remedy for their wound,
`S ann annad-fhèin bha `n dòchas All their hopes were in you.
4. Chaidh an sgaradh tric air thùs, 4. They were often sorely wounded,
`S goirt an lot tha `n seo as ùr, And this wound has been re-opened,
Nach fhaic iad gu bràch do ghnùis, That they will never see your face,
No `n ùir a chaidh `gad chòmhdach. Or the ground that now covers you.
5. Choisinn thu dhaibh iomadh cliù, 5. You won for them many an honour,
Thuit thu ann an arm an Rìgh, You fell in the King’s army,
`S iomadh òigear tha ri d`thaobh, There’s many a young man lies beside you,
Air raointean na Roinn Eòrpa. On the fields of Europe.
6. Ach, nam biodh mo theanga geur, 6. But if my tongue were sharp,
Mar bha na bàird a bh’ ann o’n dè, Like the bards of yesterday,
Mhollainnsa do chliù `s do bheus, I would praise your character and your virtues,
`S an spèis a thug mi do dh’òigear. And the affection that I gave to the young man.
7. Bho `n nach fhaic sinn thu air talamh, 7. Since we will never see you on this earth.
Guidheam tròcaire do d` anam, I will pray for mercy for your soul.
Nuair a bhios an cruadal seachad, When the hardship of this world is past,
Tachraidh sinn ri Dòmhnall. We will again meet with Donald.

17. Iuraibh O Chan Eil Mi Slan

I Am Not Well

Iuraibh o, I am not well.
Hug orainn o, I cannot stay at rest.
Iuraibh o, I am not well.

1) I am sad cutting flax, the tears from my head are streaming to the ground.

2) If you dealt with me unjustly, Blue Donald, I treated you like the other women.

3) I treated you as your sister did, perhaps even better.

4) I did not beseech God to destroy you although you brought ruin to my household.

5) Although you gave me a croft, I gave you a more valuable gift.

6) Although you took the three (men) from me, their father is decaying in the sod.

7) Although you gave me a golden guinea, the group that went forth to battle was more precious.


9) You took John and Donald, and Alasdair of the fair ringlets, from me.

10) If you had left Hector with me, I would not have complained so much about the others.

11) It would have been better for you to have taken the cattle from the glen than to have to face the piercing cries of woe from widows about their families.

12) It is a pity that I could not assume the shape of a seagull, then lightly would I swim away.

13) I would swim over the channel in order to ascertain whether the boys were treated well.

14) It is a pity that I could not see four men in a boat approaching the shore.

15) Four of my beloved companions who would depart gladly with the oars.

16) And if you understood my cause of grief, you would put the coracle to sea.

17) I would rather put the galley to sea to which would be hoisted the tall sails.

18) And if my feet could touch the bottom of the deep, I would not remain on this promontory.

19) It is the separation of the men from each other that has left me dejected each day.

20) Parting from John and Donald has shed my tears with good reason.

21) May the blessing of God follow you, Hector, you were my choice over all others.

22) I shall now proceed forward whilst the tears from my head are streaming to the ground.

18. Thug Mi Gaol, Gaol, Gaol

1. Thug mi gaol, gaol, gaol, 1. I gave love, love, love,
Thug mi gaol dha’n fhear bhàn, I gave my love to the fair lad,
Agus gealladh dhuit-se ‘luaidh And a promise to you my love,
O, cha dual dhomh bhi slàn. Oh, it is not my fate to live happily.
2. Chaidh am bàta  troimh na chaoil 2. The boat went through the strait,
Leis na daoine Di-màirt: With the men aboard, on Tuesday,
‘S mise phàigh am faradh daor, It’s I who paid the dear fare,
Bha mo ghaol air a clàr. My love was on her deck.
3. Chunn’cas long air a’chuan, 3. A ship was seen on the ocean,
‘S i cur suas nan seòl àrd: And her raising her high sails,
‘N uair i dhiùlt i dol mu’n cuairt, When she refused to go about,
Bha mo luaidh-s’ air an t-snàmh. My love was made to swim.
4. Tacain mu’n do luigh a’ghrian, 4. A while before sunset,
Bha mi’n fianuis mo ghràidh: I was in the presence of my love,
Tha e nis an grunnd a’ chuain, He is now at the ocean floor,
O, gur fuar ‘àite tàimh. Oh, so cold is his resting place.
5. Bha mi’ bruadar a raoir 5. I was dreaming last night,
A bhi’n coimhneas ri’m ghràdh; That I was with my love,
S ’n uair a thug e rium a chùl, And when he turned away from me,
Shil mo shùilean gu làr. Tears flowed from my eyes.
6. Bha mi deas ‘s bha mi tuath, 6. I’ve been south and I’ve been north,
Bha mi’n Cluaidh uair no dhà: I’ve been in Clyde a time or two,
Dheth na chunna mi fo’n ghréin. For all I’ve seen under the sun,
Thug mi spéis dha’n fhear bhàn. I gave my affection to the fair haired one.
7. Cha tèid mise ‘thaigh a’chiùil 7. I won’t go to the inn,
Thuit mo shùgradh gu làr; Mirth has left me completely,
Bho’n a chualas thusa rùin, Since it was heard that you, my love,
‘Bhi ‘s a’ ghrunnd far nach tràigh. Lie deep on the ocean floor.

19. O Iasa Bi’N Comhnaidh Air M’Aire Gach Uair

1) O Savior Jesus be the help,
On my watch each time;
My relief, my heart,
My life, my reward.
Be to me the close obligation,
In my mind that manner,
Is guiding my steps,
With effect to your grace.

2) From the only one, O Savior Jesus,
My life without end;
From the only one, O Savior Jesus,
My resound is without shame;
From the only one, O Savior Jesus,
My good deeds without need;
O enlighten my bounds
With compassionate regard to your belief.

3) O Savior Jesus my healer,
I won’t leave for the sake of time;
Let your star be radiant on me,
The shelters of my thought;
It is you my safe harbor,
From great danger of the mountain high wave;
My refuge, my compass,
My everlasting companion.

4) Make a home in my heart,
O Savior Jesus, my beloved;
Make a home in my understanding,
In my memory, in my thought;
The name itself will be forever,
On the lips of my mouth;
O Savior Jesus do not abandon me,
During the span of my life.

20. Oran Nan Sealgairean

Fonn: Fail il ò ro, fail il ò,  
Fail il ò ro èileadh,  
Hi rithill iùil, agus ò,  
S na hug i ò ro èile.  
S eudar dhomhsa tòiseachadh, I ought to begin
Ri òran chuir ri chèile; To put a song together
Mu dheighinn nan sealgairean, About the hunters
A dhearbh gu robh iad treineil (gleusda). To prove that they were valiant.
Mu dheighinn nan sealgairean, About the hunters
A dhearbh gu robh iad treineil(gleusda) To prove that they were valiant.
Bha iad aig na pòin ud shios, They were at the pond down there
Mu’n rinn a’ ghrian ach èiridh. Before the sun had just risen.
Bha iad aig na pòin ud shios, They were at the pond down there
Mu’n rinn a’ ghrian ach èiridh; Before the sun had just risen.
Cha do dh’fhàg iad tunnag beò, They didn’t leave a duck alive
Taobh shuas do phòn Iain Sheumais. On the upper side of [?? Coopers’ Pond ??]
Cha do dh’fhàg iad tunnag beò, They didn’t leave a duck alive
Taobh shuas do phòn Iain Sheumais; On the upper side of Coopers’ Pond
Na cearc thomain dheanadh fuaim, The partridges that would make a din
Gu’n luaidhe a chuir fo sgeithe.** They put lead shot under their wings.
Na cearc thomain dheanadh fuaim, The partridges that would make a din
Gu’n luaidhe a chuir fo sgeithe,** They put lead shot under their wings.
Gus na lìon iad suas an càr, Until they’d filled up the car
Cho làn ‘s nach rachadh tè-eil’ ann. So full that they couldn’t fit another one in it.
Gus na lìon iad suas an càr, Until they’d filled up the car
Cho làn ‘s nach rachadh tè-eil’ ann. So full that they couldn’t fit another one in it.
S thug iad leoth’ iad sios dhan Bhàr, And they took them with them down to North Sydney
S gun rinn iad bàl is fèisde. And they held a ball and banquet.
S thug iad leo iad sios dhan Bhar, And they took them with them down to North Sydney
S gu’n rinn iad bàl is fèisde; And they held a ball and banquet.
Bha MacCoinnich air an ceann, MacKenzie was awaiting them
S bha “Bonnie Lad” e-fhèin ann; And “Bonnie Lad” himself was there.

Review in Off the Beaten Track Sing Out!

Review of Còmhla Cruinn – Gathered Together (CD), from Off the Beaten Track Sing Out! Vol. 47 #1. Spring 2003

Every now and then a recording comes along which, although not groundbreaking in its musical direction, nor commercially destined for Grammy greatness, is so important to the discussion of folk music in North America and to the function of our industry as a carrier of culture, that it deserve special attention. This CBC CD of traditional Cape Breton work songs is such a recording.

The participants/performers on Gathered Together were gathered in the Fire Hall on Christmas Island to recreate an old-time “milling frolic,” at which village residents have met for hundreds of years in the town hall to “mill” or “waulk” woolen fabric.

Waulking is a tedious, but necessary step in the production of wool in which a length of wet fabric is continually pounded and kneaded on a hard surface. As is common in most tedious activities performed by hand, thousands of rhythmic, repetitive,(and in some cases naughty) songs have been composed for the process.

The singers and musicians – pipes and fiddle are included – range in age from seventeen to eighty. Some are professional, some academics who have studied Gaelic language and folkways in Cape Breton, some just singers-for-the-love-of-it; but all are drawn to these old songs and committed to their preservation.

Unlike the Scots waulking song, with its two line verse and three line chorus, the Cape Breton variant can be a four line verse – often borrowing from the sea songs and other typed of work lyrics. Many of the songs included here are newer ones, written after 1990, some with the teasing, ribald imagery inherent in small-town life. In the various Gaelic speaking communities around Cape Breton (where there are still some 600 fluent speakers!) the listening can detect the accent of Uist, Barra, or Harris, both in the daily speech and in the songs. Singers like Rod Mac Neil and Allen MacLeod remember the songs sung by parents and grandparents, and have passed them on to younger singers like Colin Watson. My only complaint about this recording and its accompanying (and very informative) liner notes is that translations of the lyrics are not included.

What’s most striking to me about this remarkable recording is that the songs are alive. They are in daily use still, not just trotted out for tourists. Fiddler Alisdair Fraser has called Cape Breton music and song the “missing link” in Scots-Gaelic music, revealing what was lost with the industrialization of the 19th century and subsequent Anglicization of the culture. Gathered Together forges that link more strongly into the chain of culture spanning two continents and 300 years.

Review by Frank Macdonald

Còmhla Cruinn: Gaelic recording brings listener to the milling frolic

Review of Còmhla Cruinn – Gathered Together, from The Inverness Oran

On the recently released recording, Còmhla Cruinn, Betty Lord sings the Gaelic song, Clo Mhic Ille Mhicheil, a Jacobite milling song dating back to the mid-1700s. In fact, it is no milling song at all, but a revolutionary message disguised as a milling song, a song meant to spread word through the Highlands of “a rising, naming all the clans who would join in the milling.”

Clo Mhic Ille Mhicheil fits comfortably within the collection of Gaelic songs recorded around a milling table in Christmas Island, because it is at these “staged” millings that the Gaelic-speaking culture on Cape Breton Island carries out its own act of resistence. Over the past century, the Gaelic-speaking population of Cape Breton Island has dropped from 85,000 first-language speakers to an estimated 500 people today. The numbers have diminished, but the passion of the remaining voices is undimmed.

A social event like a milling frolic plays a role in conveying to a mostly uncomprehending audience a sense of what has been lost over the centuries since clearances and famine drove thousands from the Highlands of Scotland to a sister-like island across the Atlantic. More important than its “performance” appeal, however, is the practical function the milling frolic continues to play in communities like Christmas Island. The milling frolic brings together several of the island’s Gaelic speakers for a social event, a gathering where something more than songs are sung. The small community strengthens itself, native speakers giving time, instruction and encouragement to the Gaelic learners.

It was to capture the cultural energy of the milling frolic that CBC and Féis an Eilein joined forces to capture a blending of Gaelic voices. CBC’s Wendy Bergfelt, host of the Gaelic theme radio show, Island Echoes, was the producer of Còmhla Cruinn.

The goal of the recording was to recreate in its electronic reproduction the immediacy of sitting at the milling table with the men and women at Christmas Island, pounding cloth to the rhythm of their songs. Ironically, to achieve this sense of immediacy, required a high-tech approach to the recording which led to the contracting of CBC engineer Rod Sneddon and his considerable experience recording the multi-musical aspects of symphony orchestras. The effect for those homes equipped with superior sound systems is one of close-your-eyes and be there in Christmas Island with Rod C. and Paul MacNeil, Jim Watson, Hector MacNeil, Frances MacEachen, Peter MacLean, Jeff MacDonald, Joe Peter MacLean and Janet Cameron, Colin Watson, Beth MacNeil, Allan MacLeod, Barry George, Paul MacNeil and Tracey Dares, Angus MacLeod, Betty Lord, Jamie MacNeil, Maxie MacNeil, Seumas MacNeil, Mary Jane Lamond, Roddie C. MacNeil and Kim Ells and Neil John Gillis, plus an additional gathering of guests in the chorus.

If you have a standard CD player, nothing is lost in the listening, the purity and passion projects itself in this collection of 18 Gaelic songs interspersed with the Gaelic lilt of pipes, fiddle and piano. Still, it is within the range of songs, some milling, some adapted to the table from other Gaelic genres that gives the recording its momentum, the lead voices changing with each cut, but there is no faltering from one voice to the next. What accompanies the recorded voices is a sense of confidence in what they are doing. Còmhla Cruinn is not a re-enactment of once upon a time;…it is a vibrant rendering of what is in fact the Gaelic-speaking culture of Cape Breton Island. Not, perhaps, the language of the coffee shops and tourist attractions, but these speakers and singers have gathered for this recording not to entertain the uncomprehending, but to assert to themselves and each other, and more importantly perhaps, to the one or two or a few who will listen and come forward themselves, the songs still resonating in their hearts, to learn something more, a song perhaps, or the language itself.

Accompanying Còmhla Cruinn is a thick booklet of Gaelic history written by Hector MacNeil, along with details of the songs within and biographies of the singers themselves, from the youthful commitment of Colin Watson to the posthumous placement among the living voices of a song by revered Gaelic singer Neil John Gillis. Within that booklet, MacNeil writes of the diminishing (not the vanishing) Gaelic presence on Cape Breton Island. Not even the hundred-year decline of Gaelic speakers, resulting in a 95% drop in usage among Cape Bretoners smothers MacNeil’s optimism as he points out, “Today there are as many as 500 Gaelic speakers in Cape Breton.” Not as “few” as 500, but as “many” as…

With the quality of its production, the gathering of so many singers, and its accompanying documentation, Còmhla Cruínn has an historical significance in the Gaelic culture of Cape Breton Island. Its energy, its confidence, and its gathering of generations underlines the fact that while most Cape Breton Gaelic families have lost or surrendered their cultural language, clusters of resistence to its absolute demise gather in fire halls and community halls all around us, teaching, sharing, singing. They are called the tradition bearers.

In his introduction to Còmhla Cruinn MacNeil notes that between 1880 and 1900, the Gaelic-speaking population had dropped from 85,000 speakers to 75,000 speakers, and by 1921 to 60,000. “It is generally agreed that that number has declined by 50% every decade since.”

Those figures suggest that in another decade there will be only 250 Gaelic speakers on Cape Breton Island. Unless, of course, the existing tradition bearers succeed in their mission, which is not primarily to entertain tourists but to carry forth the language. If they do succeed, who knows, in ten years there may be a thousand Gaelic speakers on Cape Breton Island.

Whether you speak the language or simply ache with longing to understand when the words and rhythms of a Gaelic song find their way into your heart, Còmhla Cruinn is a recording to treasure for its voices and its vision.

Review by Margaret Bennett

Review of Còmhla Cruinn – Gathered Together (CD), from The West Island Free Press

Henry Whyte’s ‘Fuadach nan Gaidheal’ is familiar enough to most Scottish Gaels, though few seem to sing it. The tune is better known as the pipe march, ‘Lord Lovat’s Lament’ — brisk enough for keeping step, or even raising morale, providing there’s no connection to the original meaning, (The Eviction of the Highlanders). Although Whyte composed it long after the event, the song seems to have been better assimilated into the tradition of Gaels overseas — Nova Scotian folklorist Helen Creighton recorded a version of it in l947, five years before Scotland had a folklore archive.

A new recording of the song by Cape Breton’s Rod C. MacNeill (Ruairidh Mac Iain Sheumais Dhòmhnaill) coveys the essence of it with total sincerity. The voice is up in years, occasionally it quavers, yet it is all the more moving to hear him sing:

Gur a mise tha tùrsach/ A’ caoidh còr na dùthcha,….,

[How sad I am / Lamenting the state of the homeland…]

The lyrics are accompanied by the distant sound of bagpipes, never overtaking, far less drowning them. Such is the skill of the piper (Rod’s son Paul) and the production team of this CD, which opens with ‘Fuadach nan Gaidheal’. Co-produced by the Comunn Féis an Eilein and the CBC, ‘Còmhla Cruinn: Gathered Together—A Cape Breton Gaelic Celebration’ was launched last October at Cape Breton’s Celtic Colours Festival. It features twenty tracks of over twenty singers and instrumentalists, three of which are scheduled to be guests this year’s Ceòlas in South Uist — Rod C. MacNeil (Gaelic song), Paul MacNeil (bagpipes), and Paul’s wife, Tracy Dares, (step-dance). Better known for her live-wire piano accompaniment of Natalie MacMaster’s fiddle, Tracy exemplifies the versatility of Cape Breton’s traditional musicians, singers and dancers. Spend any time in their company and you can’t but sense how naturally they range the breadth of their traditional culture — it’s second nature to most of them to lay aside an instrument, pick up another one, step-dance, sing or simply join a chorus. Ceòlas will also feature two Cape Breton fiddlers, Shelly Campbell and Troy McGillivray, adding to the promising line-up for the week.

This is the tenth year that South Uist hosts a teaching festival fostering the links between exponents of Gaelic traditions from both Scotland and Cape Breton. Hector MacNeil, (different genealogy) whose 32-page booklet accompanies the CD, gives the Cape Breton view that, “There is an innate tendency to hold on to traditions brought to the new world and a heightened identification with an t-Seann Dùthaich (the old country) that seems to defy passage of time.”

Hector — or, as his kinsfolk might call him, Eachann MacEachainn Mhìcheil Dhòmhnaill Oig — was brought by up Gaelic-speaking parents who, like so many of their time, felt pressure to speak English to their children. (I am yet to meet anyone of that generation, either side of the Atlantic, who would agree they got on better without Gaelic, and the more impassioned among them feel they were denied a birthright.) In Nova Scotia, as in the Highlands and Islands, however, Gaelic songs were retained in many such households — English became the language of speech, Gaelic remained the language of song. (My own family might have been relegated to silence were we to rely on my mother’s repertoire of English songs.)

Having learned Gaelic as an adult, Hector MacNeil speaks it fluently and works tirelessly to promote it. Among other roles he fills, he is Gaelic Program Director at the Gaelic College in St. Ann’s, Cape Breton. His liner notes give biographies of the singers, background and transcriptions of songs, and an excellent summary of the history and culture of Cape Breton. There’s also a sober reminder that there were over 75,000 Gaelic-speakers in Cape Breton at the turn of the twentieth century, and today a mere 500.

Hector (who also sings) describes the ‘milling frolic’, the original setting for most of their songs. Perhaps overly-generous in remarking that the luadh in Scotland is “held from time to time to demonstrate the work process and its attendant social activities” he compares the milling frolic in Cape Breton “as a strictly social event.” Scottish Gaels who have seen the Cape Bretonners in action invariably conclude that such vitality and enthusiasm is almost never encountered in Scotland. Perhaps that is not surprising as the luadh actually survived longer in parts of Eastern Canada than in most of Gaelic Scotland. When Alan Lomax recorded waulking songs in Benbecula and South Uist in 1951, the women re-created a special demonstration luadh, as the practice had virtually ceased by the Second World War.

Aside from John Ramsey of Ochtertyre’s 18th century description of a group of singers holding handkerchiefs when they sang for leisure (as opposed to waulking), I know of no custom in Scotland that compares to the Cape Breton milling frolic with participants invariably seated at the milling table, and all hands on the cloth. It not only draws singers together but also as many people that can squeeze into the room or hall. At the same time, it keeps their songs alive and encourages folk to learn them. Furthermore it reflects the fact that men took a major part in the luadh, in Cape Breton whereas in Scotland (apart from a few exceptions) it was the domain of women.

This milling kicks of with Jim Watson singing Ma Bhuannaich Thu Nighean Ghrinn setting a steady pace, afterwards picked up by Hector MacNeil, then Frances MacEachen followed by Peter MacLean. Typical of such a gathering, the singers take a breather. Time for a song — Jeff MacDonald sings in praise of Christmas Island, then, before launching into the milling again, Joe Peter MacLean plays a driving medley on fiddle accompanied by Janet Cameron on piano. Such vigour and spirit makes it easy to understand why Scottish musicians listen to Cape Breton style music and learn from it.

Quite apart from representing a milling frolic, the changes of pace and reflections of light and shade produce a well-crafted play-list for the CD. The participants range across generations, spanning eight decades. I would hope that young Colin Watson’s lively singing of Ged A Sheòl mi Air M’ Aineol might encourage others of his generation. The other singers include Beth MacNeil, Allan MacLeod, Barry George, Angus MacLeod, Betty Lord, Jamie MacNeil, Maxie MacNeil, Seumas MacNeil, Mary Jane Lamond and John C. Gillis. There is a good balance in the songs, between those known both sides of the Atlantic, those composed in Cape Breton and some from Scotland, including one by South Uist’s Donald John MacDonald whose bardachd will also be featured at Ceòlas.

I think Mary Smith (from Lewis) would agree with me that one of the best nights ever spent in Cape Breton was in the hall on Christmas Island where this CD was recorded — Mary and I were invited to join the singers during Celtic Colours Festival last October. “Packed house! Sold out!” we were told. But nobody had to explain why folk would travel hundreds of miles to be there. The true spirit of authenticity is reflected in the singing and the CD is a real treasure-trove. Contact Comunn Féis an Eilein, P.O. Box 317, Christmas Island, Nova Scotia, Canada, B1T 1R7, or email Ceòlas is in South Uist, July 6 — 14.

Review by Jonathan Dembling

Review of Còmhla Cruinn – Gathered Together (CD)

Recordings of Gaelic songs tend to fall into two categories: the beautiful and the dusty. The beautiful recordings are performed by singers with amazing voices, usually accompanied by professional musicians and advanced production techniques. The dusty recordings are those unpolished field recordings of native tradition-bearers. While the spirit and vibrancy of their singing always shine through the scratches and hiss, there is an inevitable air of antiquity about them, a subtle message that things aren’t really like this any more. What makes Còmhla Cruinn unique is that it so well reflects what it’s like to sit at the milling table today. The beautiful and the dusty join with just about everyone else, and everyone has a go.

The setting is the fire hall in Christmas Island, where Féis an Eilein has held its annual festival for over a decade. A perennial highlight of the Féis is the Thursday night milling frolic, and this CD was recorded at the same milling table. Appropriately, milling songs make up the bulk of the recording, but there are some slower songs and two instrumentals. The singers are an inspiringly diverse group—roughly equally divided between learners and native speakers, young and old and everything in between. Most are from the Christmas Island/Boisdale/Iona area, but a few representatives of other districts join in. What unites this unlikely crew is a common love of Gaelic songs and an eagerness to share them.

The songs themselves are also a varied bunch. They range from the popular to the seldom-heard, from the humourous to the serious, and are balanced between local compositions and older songs carried over from Scotland. The milling songs are the soul of the album. Jim Watson starts things off with a rousing version of Ma Bhuannaich Thu Nighean Ghrinn, and is followed by Hector MacNeil, Frances MacEachen, Peter Jack MacLean, Colin Watson, Allan MacLeod, Angus MacLeod, Jamie MacNeil, Maxie MacNeil, Seumas “Caluman” MacNeil and Neil John Gillis. Colin, the youngest native speaker at the table, shows his ease and confidence in the language with his rendition of Ged a Sheòl Mi air m’Aineol. And I could only marvel at the complex and subtle language rhythms in the songs by the older singers, such as Peter Jack’s wonderful version of Nigheanag a’ Chùil Duinn Nach Fhan Thu? In fact it is a treat to hear everyone bring their own swing to the songs.

Sometimes you need to rest your arms and tend to your raw knuckles, but that doesn’t have to mean a break in the singing. There are three songs praising different parts of Cape Breton: Jeff MacDonald gives a superb setting of one of Hugh MacKenzie’s songs to Rear Christmas Island, Beth MacNeil sings Malcolm Gillis’ Moladh a’ Chùil, and Barry George sings Angus the Ridge’s popular Chì Mi Bhuam. Mary Jane Lamond gives Thug Mi Gaol do’n Fhear Bhàn an easy swing. Rod C. MacNeil sings two songs—Fuadach nan Gàidheal and a hymn—which are not always thought of as part of the Cape Breton tradition, but which nonetheless have a long history here. Rod’s sensitive performance is accompanied by his son Paul on pipes and his daughter Kim on the flute.

The singers twice give way to the players. Joe Peter MacLean, one of the best of the Gaelic-style fiddlers, raises the roof with a set of strathspeys and reels, accompanied by Janet Cameron on piano. This man should not only have his own CD, he should have an entire box set. Paul MacNeil and Tracey Dares (pipes and piano, respectively), do have their own CDs, and they play another great set here, moving from song airs to reels.

What makes this CD special is how seamless the entire range of performances comes together. Mary Jane’s beautiful voice doesn’t overshadow anyone else. The old timers’ authenticity does nothing to diminish the quality of the younger learners’ performances. The preconception of recorded music as either art or archive is turned on its head. Anyone who has observed or participated in Gaelic singing in Cape Breton, whether at a milling frolic, house ceilidh, or any other informal environment, will instantly recognize the aesthetic captured here. This is less a performance than a sharing of songs. Because we get to hear everyone’s voice, the entire tradition is enriched.

Beyond the music itself, the CD includes a 34-page booklet written by Hector MacNeil, giving a history of Gaelic language and song in Cape Breton, lyrics and notes on the background of the songs, and biographies of all the performers. A black and white photograph of everyone is also included, small yet evocative portraits which accentuate the individuality of the songs. A great deal of care was put into both the recording and the presentation of this CD, and it is obvious that such care reflects a commitment to maintaining the Gaelic song tradition in Cape Breton as communal property. Còmhla Cruinn provides a unique and thoroughly enjoyable glimpse of this living tradition.

Jonathan Dembling is Gaelic learner and singer and PhD student at Boston College. He has regularly attended the Féis and milling frolic at Christmas Island since it began 12 years ago.

Còmhla Cruinn – Gathered Together (CD)

Féis an Eilein Gathers Community Together to Release Gaelic CD

Féis an Eilein and CBC Cape Breton are proud to announce the release of the CD CÒMHLA CRUINN /(pro.Ka~ Wa~ Kruinne) Gathered Together — A Cape Breton Gaelic Celebration. This project brings together the talents of the many people who have nurtured the Féis over the years. The singers, musicians, organizers and supporters pooled their talents to complete this historic project.

Click here for lyrics/translations.

Click below to hear a full song, Clo Mhic Ille Mhicheil by Betty Lord


Click below to hear samples from the the album.


Order Online

Select destination (includes $4.00 shipping & handling)

Order by Mail

Order your copy by sending a cheque or money order to:

Communn Feis an Eilein
PO Box 317 Christmas Island
Nova Scotia, Canada B1T 1R7

In Canada $20.00 + $4.00 shipping and handling
In United States $20.00 + $5.00 s/h (CDN)
Overseas $20.00 + $7.00 s/h (CDN)

Produced in cooperation between CBC Radio and Comunn Féis an Eilein.
Recorded on Location at the Christmas Island Fire Hall April 2002

“This is important for the Féis. It is important to our community, and it is important to Gaelic” says Allison Mac Kenzie, co-chair of Comunn Féis an Eilein. “This is truly a community project and one that we can all be proud of for years to come.”


Tracey Dares


Rod C. MacNeil


Peter Maclean


Paul MacNeil

Hector MacNeil

Hector MacNeil

For many years, organizers of Féis an Eilein wanted to make a clear recording of the Gaelic singers and tradition bearers who participate in Féis events. For various reasons they were unable to capture the songs without background noise or technical difficulty. At the same time, CBC Cape Breton was interested in producing a high quality recording of Gaelic singers on location. An intern at the Féis, who was also an employee at the CBC, arranged a meeting between the two parties and a recording date was set for the spring of 2002.


Neil John Gillis


Mary Jane Lamond


Kim Ells


Allen Macleod

Beth MacNeil

Beth MacNeil

The singers were asked to select a local song that they liked to sing that may not have been recorded before. After the tradition bearers selected their songs, the others in the group made sure they knew the choruses. It was all recorded at the Christmas Island Fire Hall one day in April. The musicians were recorded the next afternoon. The recording was produced by Wendy Bergfeldt of CBC Cape Breton and engineered by Rod Sneddon of CBC Halifax. Lisa Patterson and Greg Macdonald from the IT Innovation Center at the University College of Cape Breton videotaped both recording sessions.


Betty Lord


Jim Watson


Janet Cameron


Jamie MacNeil

Maxie MacNeil

Maxie MacNeil

Other members of the Féis community became involved in the postproduction work. Hector Mac Neil of St. Ann’s Gaelic College researched the songs, interviewed the singers and wrote the liner notes. Margaret Williams led the group through the manufacturing process. Award winning photographer Carol Kennedy took the pictures and designed the cover. Paul MacDonald completed the layout. Seamus Watson of the Nova Scotia Highland Village, Frances Mac Eachen of Am Braighe magazine and singer Mary Jane Lamond sifted through hours of tape to find a recording of the late Mr. Neil John Gillis to include on the recording. Neil John was a long-time contributor to the Féis in Christmas Island and the community wanted his singing represented on the CD as well.


Frances MacEachern


Jeff MacDonald


Barry George


Angus Macleod

Seamus MacNeil

Seamus MacNeil

Joe Peter MacLean

Joe Peter MacLean

Colin Watson

Colin Watson


Reviewed by Frank Macdonald for The Inverness Oran

Reviewed by Jonathan Dembling

Reviewed by Margaret Bennett for The West Island Free Press

Reviewed in Off the Beaten Track Sing Out! Vol. 47 #1. Spring 2003

Féis an Eilein: Fichead Bliadhna (DVD)

Celebrating 20 years of Féis an Eilein

feis-dvdOur new DVD Fichead Bliadhna is a 45-minute documentary film, featuring performances and interviews in Gaelic with English and Gaelic sub-titles. It’s a look back at our first 20 years. Filmed by Colette Thomas it was supported by the Center for Cape Breton Studies at CBU and funded by The OGA and NS Tourism and Culture.

Order online

Select shipping destination (includes $4.00 shipping & handling)

Order by mail

Order your copy by sending a cheque or money order to:

Communn Feis an Eilein
PO Box 317 Christmas Island
Nova Scotia, Canada B1T 1R7

In Canada $20.00 + $4.00 shipping and handling
In United States $20.00 + $5.00 s/h (CDN)
Overseas $20.00 + $7.00 s/h (CDN)

“Féis an Eilein is a great example of how culture, sustainability and community economic development go hand in hand.” — Dr Richard MacKinnon Director of the Center for Cape Breton Studies at CBU

“This DVD will be an invaluable resource to educators teaching Cape Breton traditional arts, Celtic studies, or Gaelic language and culture.” — Heather Sparling Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology and Chair of the Department of Heritage & Culture

“It is both fitting and appropriate that Féis an Eilein be the first Gaelic organization to make a DVD of this kind, helping to foster a further sense of pride within the Gaelic Community and sharing with others the wellspring that is Gaelic Nova Scotia.” — Lewis MacKinnon Executive Director, Gaelic Affairs at the Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage