Nova Scotia: The Edge of the Celtic World

To celebrate Gaelic Awareness Month 2016 in Nova Scotia, we are re-featuring this article originally published on September 11, 2013.

Flah of Nova Scotia

In the 1800s the Scots Gaelic community of Nova Scotia is estimated to have exceeded 100,000 Gaelic speakers.

The 18th century witnessed upheaval in the centuries old way of life in the Scottish Highlands and Islands of Scotland. The events following the Scottish rebellion against the British Crown in 1745 caused a disruption in the long standing relationship between the residents and the owners of the Land. The complex history of land ownership in the Highlands and Islands saw landlords, heirs to ancient Clan Chieftainships and in many cases newly ennobled by the British Crown, gradually become estranged from the residents of the land. Economic advantage was to be gained from the removal of the residents so as to facilitate modern farming techniques. Tragic scenes of displacement and eviction followed and led to the betrayed Gaelic speaking residents becoming homeless refugees in their ancestral homeland.

These events led to emigration from Scotland to the new worlds. One of the destinations of the refugees was the Maritime of Canada. Cape Breton, in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia was a primary destination: “Between 1817 and 1838 alone, the population in Cape Breton grew from approximately 7,000 people to 38,000 people. Almost all these people were Gaelic speaking Scots from the Western Highlands and Islands of Scotland.” The new immigrants established settlements in Cape Breton and there quickly developed a thriving Scots Gaelic culture. “Within each of these settlements, the Gaelic speaking people usually preserved the particular dialect of Gaelic that they brought with them from the old country, such that whenever they would move away from their own locality they would hear a different dialect of Gaelic.  Sometimes the dialect would be so different from their own that they would have difficulty in understanding it correctly.” (Nova Scotia Provincial Office of Gaelic Affairs Website)

Ann Glanville – Champion female rower of the world

Ann Glanville

Ann was born in Saltash, Cornwall in 1796 as Ann Warren.

She married John Glanville, a waterman. They had fourteen children and when John fell ill, Ann continued her husband's trade to support the family.

Ann formed a crew of four female rowers who took part in local regattas.

She was noted for her large stature and for her crew who dressed in white caps and dresses.

Their success led to competitions all over the country. One event at Fleetwood was watched by Queen Victoria, who congratulated Ann when they won by beating an all-male crew. The most famous competition was in 1833 when they visited Le Havre and beat the best ten French male crews by 100 yards; this led the press to call her the champion female rower of the world.

Ann continued competitive rowing until she was in her sixties. Into her old age, she was given to circling the warships anchored in the Hamoaze on the Tamar exchanging banter with their crews.

Andrew Pears – inventor of Pears Soap

Pears soap

Andrew Pears was a farmer's son from Cornwall, born around 1770, who invented transparent soap.

His creation of transparent soap came in 1787.

After much trial and error he found a way of removing the impurities and refining the base soap before adding the delicate perfume of garden flowers. His product was a high quality soap, and had the additional benefit of being transparent. Soap refined in this way is transparent and makes longer lasting bubbles. The transparency was the unique product plus that established the image of Pears soap. His method of mellowing and ageing each long-lasting Pears Bar, for over two months, is still used today where natural oils and pure glycerine are combined with the delicate fragrance of rosemary, cedar and thyme.

He eventually moved to London from his home in Mevagissey, Cornwall, where he had trained as a barber.

Elizabeth Catherine Thomas Carne - Cornish geologist, philanthropist, conchologist, financier, banker, natural philosopher and mineral collector

Elizabeth Carne

Elizabeth Catherine Thomas Carne  was the fifth daughter of eight children born to Joseph Carne, F.R.S., and his wife Mary Thomas Carne.

Elizabeth was born at Rivière House, in the parish of Phillack, near Hayle, Cornwall and baptised in Phillack church on 15 May 1820.

At Riviere House the cellars were fitted out as laboratories where smelting processes of copper and tin were tested and minerals and rocks studied for their constituents. To that laboratory had come, before she was born, people such as Davies Gilbert, bringing with him the young  Humphry Davy to view the workings of a scientific environment.

Born into a wealthy and influential Methodist family of mine owners and merchants, Elizabeth was acutely aware throughout her life of the poverty and deprivation in surrounding mining areas and the dire need for education and social support for those less fortunate.

She read widely, studied mathematics and the classics, and learned several languages.

Bran and Sceolan - The Loyal Hounds of Irish Legendary Warrior Fionn mac Cumhaill

Fionn mac Cumhaill

The mythology of the Celtic peoples stretches back through the mists of time into a mysterious lost age. Although much was forgotten the stories passed on through oral tradition from generation to generation carried forward a memory and history of a magical past. Those that remained were preserved in the great works of Irish medieval literature. Tales that are steeped in the pre-Christian religious beliefs of the time. An age of wonder filled with magnificent, often flawed, heroes. Some gifted with supernatural abilities or aided by those possessed with magical skills. Pitted against dark forces also able to draw upon sourcery to achieve their ends. Animals and nature feature strongly in these stories, demonstrating the importance and connection that the Celtic people have to the environment in which they live. One such figure was Fionn mac Cumhaill, who is celebrated in Irish legend as a great warrior. The stories of Fionn and his followers the Fianna, form the Fenian Cycle (an Fhiannaíocht), many of them narrated in the voice of Fionn's son, the poet Oisín. It is one of the four major cycles of pre-christian Irish mythology along with the Mythological Cycle, the Ulster Cycle, and the Historical Cycle.

Fionn had two hunting dogs Bran and Sceolan. Intelligent and skilled in hunting they displayed a great loyalty to Fionn. Dogs are often known for these traits but with brother and sister Bran and Sceolan there was an added factor, for they were related to Fionn. Legend has it that they were born to Fionn’s aunt, Tuiren. This was at a time after she had married and fallen pregnant. Her husband Iollan Eachtach had been the lover of Uchtdealb who belonged to the Sidhe, which is a supernatural race with magical powers known in Irish, Scottish and Manx mythology. They belong to the Otherworld often associated with the Celtic pantheon of the Tuatha Dé Danann. Uchtdealb was jealous and turned Tuiren into dog. She remained in this form until the spell was broken, but by then she had given birth to the puppies who remained as dogs.

The Screaming Orphans – These Donegal Girls Are Celtic Rock Super Stars

The Screaming Orphans

The Screaming Orphans, the four Diver sisters who hail from Ireland’s County Donegal, have been performing together since the early 1990’s. The Diver sisters have built an international reputation that sees them touring throughout North America and Europe. In 2016 they will appear at Celtic festivals in the United States and have embarked on a 17 city tour in Germany billed the “Irish Heartbeat Tour”. The band then return to the States on May 26, 2016 to perform at the “Ireland 100: Celebrating a Century of Irish Arts and Culture”, a major festival highlighting Irish culture at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington.

The Diver sisters call Bundoran in Ireland’s County Donegal home.  Bundoran (Bun Dobhráin in Gaelic translating into “the foot of the little water”)  is on Irelands NorthWest coast near one of the few remaining Gaeltacht areas in Ireland and having spent their early years living here has contributed to the band’s musical style. The Screaming Orphans have been described as having a unique sound rooted in the Celtic tradition combined with the musical influences to which the ladies from Donegal have been exposed during their career.  Since their early days they have performed with Sinead O’Connor, Joni Mitchell, Peter Gabriel and the legendary Celtic band “The Chieftains” among others.

The Rise And Fall of Mary, Queen Of Scots

Mary Queen of Scots

Born in Linlithgow Palace on 7th December 1542, Mary Stuart was the daughter of James V of Scotland and Mary of Guise. James V (10 April 1512 – 14 December 1542) was the son of King James IV of Scotland and Queen Margaret Tudor, a daughter of Henry VII of England. Mary of  Guise was French and the eldest daughter of Claude of Lorraine the Duke of Guise. Six days after the birth of Mary Stuart her father died and she became Queen of Scotland. Her mother was chosen as regent to rule on her daughter’s behalf, and Mary was sent to France in 1548 where she lived as part of the French royal family.

In April 1558, Mary married the heir to the French throne Francis. In July 1559 Francis succeeded his father becoming King Francis II and Mary became Queen of France as well as of Scotland. This uniting of the French and Scottish crowns caused considerable concern to England.  In December 1560 Mary's husband Francis II died after a reign of just 17 months. Mary decided to return to Scotland at the age of 18, a Catholic monarch in what had become a nation where the Protestants were in the ascendancy and on 19th August 1561, she landed at Leith (Scottish Gaelic: Lite). Understanding the difficulty of her situation she took the advice of James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray (c. 1531 – 23 January 1570) who was her half-brother and William Maitland of Lethington. James Stuart had become a supporter of the Scottish Protestant Reformation and despite their religious differences, Moray became the chief advisor to his sister.

The Amazing Courage Of Flora MacDonald - 'Preserver of Prince Charles Edward Stuart’

Flora MacDonald

Flora MacDonald (Gaelic: Fionnghal nic Dhòmhnaill; 1722 – 4 March 1790) was born in South Uist (Scottish Gaelic: Uibhist a Deas) in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. She was the daughter of Ranald MacDonald and Marion MacDonald, but was brought up under the care of the chief of the Clan MacDonald of Clanranald her father's cousin.

She is remembered for the help she gave to Bonnie Prince Charlie after he had been defeated at the Battle of Culloden (Scottish Gaelic: Blàr Chùil Lodair) in 1746. Putting herself at awful risk she helped the Prince at a time when he was being hunted across the Highlands and Islands by the forces of the Duke of Cumberland. Cumberland was the third and youngest son of George II of Great Britain known for his brutality after the Battle of Culloden when he ordered his troops to show no quarter against any remaining Jacobite supporters and where his forces roamed the battlefield and stabbed any of the defeated soldiers who were still alive.

Prince Charles Edward Stuart, (31 December 1720 – 31 January 1788) The Young Pretender, affectionately known as Bonnie Prince Charlie was the grandson of James VII of Scotland and had led the second Jacobite Uprising of 1745 to overthrow King George II. The Jacobite cause was supported by many Highland clans, both Catholic and Protestant. Forced to flee for his life after his defeat at the battle of Culloden Moor in 1746, Bonnie Prince Charlie eventually arrived at the island of Benbecula (Scottish Gaelic: Beinn nam Fadhla or Beinn na Faoghla) an island in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. Here he met 24-year-old Flora MacDonald and it is this young Presbyterian woman's heroic efforts to save the young Catholic Prince's life that has resulted in her name being remembered with great respect in Scottish history.

Remarkable Story Of The Imprisoned Lady of St Kilda

Lady Grange

Kidnapped and imprisoned on a remote and lonely Scottish island the story of Rachel Chiesley, or Lady Grange (1679–1745) as she was known is a remarkable one.  It takes us back to the dangerous period of the Jacobite risings when those that sought the restoration of the Stuart monarchs to the throne took arms against the British government on a number of occasions between 1688 and 1746. A cause to which the Gaelic-speaking Scottish Highland clans were linked and one whose defeat resulted in misery, persecution and would ultimately have a devastating impact upon Gaelic culture and clan society in the Highlands of Scotland.

Rachel Chiesley was one of ten children born to John Chiesley and Margaret Nicholson. Her father was convicted and hanged for the murder of George Lockhart, Lord President of the Court of Session, who was murdered in Edinburgh on 31 March 1689. Rachel Chiesley was described as very beautiful and in about 1707 married James Erskine (1679 – 20 January 1754),  who took the title Lord Grange and was the younger son of Charles Erskine, Earl of Mar. Her husband was a lawyer, who became Lord Justice Clerk in 1710. The marriage produced nine children but then descended into trouble, partly it seems due to his infidelity. The bad relationship that developed between them eventually became public knowledge and led to the remarkable events that saw her abduction and banishment to the remote Scottish islands where she would end her days.

Subscribe to Transceltic - Home of the Celtic nations RSS