Historical Tensions Erupt - Scots Gaelic College in Canada's Cape Breton In Crisis Over Royal Charter

Deep seated resentments towards the historical persecution of Scots Gaelic culture by the British Crown erupted over the past couple of weeks.  Multiple Canadian and Scottish media outlets have covered this story. The Toronto Globe and Mail in an article titled "Royal Designation Reignites Historical Tensions at Cape Breton Gaelic College" gives the following quote:

In a controversey pitting some Nova Scotian's of Scottish Ancestry against each other, the chairman of Cape Breton's recently re-named Royal Gaelic college has stepped down because of a backlash against the school's gaining it's royal prefix from Queen Elizabeth II.

The controversey erupted when the Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Cape Breton Gaelic College, in Nova Scotia,  announced that the Queen had "honoured" the school by allowing it to be called "The Royal Gaelic College".  An immediate uproar ensued with critics pointing to the brutal historical treatment of Scots Gaelic speakers at the hands of the crown.

Allan MacMaster, a member of the Nova Scotia House of Assembly representing Inverness in Cape Breton in the heartland of Scottish Nova Scotia, is quoted in news reports as stating that changing the name of the College to the "Royal Cape Breton Gaelic College" brings back bitter memories:

When we have an institute that is focused on telling people to learn Gaelic and being named with a term that connects to an identity that has a strong role in the history of our people, of eliminating Gaelic, that is what is causing people to become upset.

MacMaster continued:

The people who sought the royal deignation did not stop to think about all the Gaels out there who would find the term offensive and hurtful given the history of the Crown trying to eradicate the Gaelic language and culture.  There was a concerted effort to break the gaelic peoples of Scotland, it was a plan to ethnically cleanse the people.

Allan MacMaster is the son of legendary Cape Breton fiddler Buddy MacMaster, who is a Scots Gaelic cultural icon. Assemblyman MacMaster is also first cousin to Natalie MacMaster, the internationally renowned fiddler who was featured by Transceltic in the September 25, 2013 article "Interview with Natalie MacMaster - Keeping the Culture Alive with a Fiddle".  

A positive outcome of the uproar over linking the Gaelic College to the British Crown is the attention it brings to the Celtic culture of Nova Scotia's Cape Breton. Estimates are that there remain approximately 1200 Gaelic speakers in Nova Scotia, primarily in Cape Breton.  This is down from an estimated 100,000 Gaelic speakers in Nova Scotia in 1900. Efforts have intensified in recent years to restore the language and it can only benefit these efforts if there is a wider knowledge of the legacy of the Celtic tongue in Cape Breton. To put this issue in to context, we give you this excerpt from the September 11, 2013 Transceltic feature article entitled "Nova Scotia - The Edge of the Celtic World": 

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)






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