Nova Scotia Gaelic Online Resources
Here’s a list of free online resources for exploring Gaelic in Nova Scotia. Some of the resources are good for Gaelic language learning, some for learning songs or folklore, and some for history and research projects. I decided to compile this list because although the resources are free and publicly available, you still have to know where to look for them – search engines can’t tell you everything! In fact, I first learned about many of these resources through word of mouth.
I’ve compiled my list from a number of older lists on the websites of organizations like Gaelic Affairs (here and here) and the Highland Village Museum (here), as well as my own experience. I’ve re-checked, corrected, categorized, and winnowed entries down to focus on the resources that are available to the general public. Not all of these resources are equally user-friendly or up to date, but they are all valuable records of Gaelic in Nova Scotia.* The 18th and 19th centuries and every decade from the 1900s through the 2010s is represented here with written, audio, or video resources.
The links in this post may change over time as larger institutions update their websites, so if you find a broken link please leave a comment to let me know. If you have a favourite Nova Scotia resource that you don’t see included below, please leave a comment with the link so Gaelic Revitalization readers can benefit from your experience!
1. Gaelic Organizations and Institutions
An Cliath Clis (Halifax Gaelic milling group)
Colaisde na Gàidhlig (The Gaelic College)
Comunn Gàidhlig Cheap Breatuinn (The Cape Breton Gaelic Society)
Féis an Eilein (Christmas Island Community Gaelic Festival)
Gaelic Affairs Division, Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage, Government of Nova Scotia
Gaelic Council of Nova Scotia / Comhairle na Gàidhlig
St. Francis Xavier University Department of Celtic Studies
Sgoil Ghàidhlig an Àrd-bhaile (Halifax Gaelic Society)
2. Archives of Gaelic Magazines and Newspapers
According to the Gaelic Affairs lists of resources linked to above, Am Bràighe was a “Scottish Gaelic cultural newspaper that was headquartered in Mabou, NS 1993–2003. Gaelic oral tradition, music and book reviews, history, folklore, music, song, dance, interviews, news and features that reflected the authentic Scottish Gaelic Highland immigrant settler tradition of Cape Breton Island in its historical and contemporary forms.” The newspaper was edited by Frances MacEachen and St. Francis Xavier University now houses a complete digitized archive.
Cape Breton’s Magazine
The magazine was published from 1972 to 1999 by Ron Caplan in Victoria County, Cape Breton. The first issue featured an article on “The Future of Gaelic on Cape Breton” and Gaelic-related articles abound in the 74 issues available in this complete digitized archive.
Fear na Céilidh
This is one of a number of Gaelic periodicals from the 1920s digitized and available online from the Nova Scotia Archives. Fear na Céilidh (The Entertainer) was published in Sydney, NS and the Archives hold March 1928–June 1930. The Nova Scotia Archives notes that these various 1920s publications “offer snippets of daily life in Gaelic Nova Scotia, such as church news, community events, local business advertising, Gaelic poetry and stories, and even basic Gaelic language lessons.
The longest-running Gaelic periodical in the world, Mac-Talla (Echo) was published weekly, and later bi-weekly, by Jonathan G. MacKinnon in Sydney, NS from May 28, 1892 to June 24, 1904.
Misneach and Media Monitoring Report
The Gaelic Affairs division of the Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage, Government of Nova Scotia Government, used to produce both a quarterly newsletter (Misneach, 2009-2015) and a weekly Media Monitoring Report, both distributed by email. The staff position responsible for editing these periodicals was abruptly eliminated by Stephen MacNeil’s Nova Scotia Liberal Party government in March 2015. I sorely miss these publications and I hope that an online archive can be made available at some point in the future.
Am Mosgladh (The Awakening) was a periodical produced by the Scottish Catholic Society of Canada and published in North Sydney. The Nova Scotia Archives contain volumes 1–3, 1922–1923.
The official newsletter of An Clachan Gàidhealach (the Highland Village Museum) is packed with Gaelic oral traditions, history, and culture. This section of their website links to the current issue and PDFs of all back issues from 2005 to present.
An Solus Iùil
The Beaton Institute describes An Solus Iùil (The Beacon) as “a monthly periodical published [in Sydney, NS] by the recently created United Church [of Canada]. Its writings are religious in nature with the occasional wedding announcement.” The Nova Scotia Archives collection contains issues labeled volume 1, nos. 1–11, dated 1925–1927.
Teachdaire nan Gàidheal
According to Donald Maclean Sinclair, minister of Fort Massey United Church in Halifax, Teachdaire nan Gàidheal (Messenger of the Gaels) was “edited in Sydney for ten years by James MacNeil, an ardent Gael who took an interest in securing the inclusion of a Gaelic program in the C.B.C. He conducted a Gaelic page in the Sydney Post Record for four years, until his death in 1939.” (p. 255). Nova Scotia Archives holds digitized issues from the years 1924–1929 and 1932–1934.
3. Archives of Gaelic Song and Speech
Cainnt mo Mhàthar
Cainnt mo Mhàthar (My Mother’s Tongue) is an online archive showcasing video and audio recordings of native Gaelic speakers in Nova Scotia. The recordings and website were produced through a project that ran from 2005–2008 with multiple funding partners. More Cainnt mo Mhàthar interviews that were not incorporated into the main website are posted separately on YouTube.
California Gold: Northern California Folk Music from the Thirties Collected by Sidney Robertson Cowell
This is one of the digital collections of the U.S. Library of Congress. As part of this WPA project in the 1930s, U.S. folklorist Sidney Robertson Cowell recorded singers in Berkeley and Oakland, California, singing unaccompanied songs in Scottish Gaelic, Scots, and English from Scotland and Cape Breton Island, Canada. The Gaelic songs are listed here. More background on Cowell and the project is given here
Charles Dunn Collection, Harvard University
The full name is “The Charles William Dunn Collection of Scottish Gaelic Fieldwork Recordings from Gaelic Canada” and according to the website, “The Dunn collection at Harvard is one of the most significant collections of Scottish Gaelic folklore recordings in North America. Charles William Dunn, who chaired the Harvard Celtic Department from 1962 to 1984, began collecting Scottish Gaelic folklore in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia in 1941. Over the years, material collected by Dunn and others, including John Shaw, A. R. MacKinnon and D. K. Ripley, in Nova Scotia, Québec, and Ontario, was added to the collection.” The files are free to download, but are in the proprietary RealAudio format which can only be played in a specific outdated version of the RealPlayer app (app download link is on the site). There are 8 sets of soundfiles with a total of 60 reels; only parts 1 and 2 are indexed; this index, covering 29 reels, contains 259 separate items.
An Drochaid Eadarainn
An Drochaid Eadarainn (The Bridge between Us) was launched in 2012 and its “design framework is based on the Gaelic tradition of local bridges as gathering places for handing on language-based cultural expressions such as songs, stories, music, dance and even courting.” The site is intended to be “a valuable tool for learning idiomatic Gaelic expression” but not a language learning site. It is also intended to act as a social network “to share Gaelic expression through the medium of Gaelic language” and includes videos and text about all aspects of traditional Gaelic culture in Nova Scotia. The material includes videos created for the site and archival content from several sources which include others listed here: Gaelstream, the Gaelic Council of Nova Scotia, the Helen Creighton Collection of the Nova Scotia Archives, etc. The site is organized according to the regions of Nova Scotia that are current and historical areas of Gaelic language use, including Gaelic communities originally formed through chain migration.
Gaelstream / Sruth nan Gàidheal
Sruth nan Gàidheal or Gaelstream is an online archive hosted by St. Francis Xavier University which contains nearly 2000 audio and video recordings and text pieces from Cape Breton Gaels collected in the 1970s.
MacEdward Leach and the Songs of Atlantic Canada, Memorial University
Dr. MacEdward Leach, Secretary-Treasurer of the American Folklore Society, recorded songs in both Newfoundland and Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. This page of the MacEdward-Leach Collection website, hosted by Memorial University, lists 84 Cape Breton Gaelic songs recorded from 25 singers by Leach in 1949. The website says that Leach recorded songs in the genres of milling songs, psalm precenting, homeland songs, love songs, locally composed songs, and war songs, but not Ossianic or Fenian lays or puirt-a-beul (mouth music). Each song page has full lyrics in Gaelic, with English translation, and only a short audio clip with a one or two verses and a chorus.
Music: Cape Breton’s Diversity in Unity
This page is part of a sub-site of the Beaton Institute (see next section), featuring an introduction by John Alick MacPherson (nach maireann) and 30 Gaelic songs with audio files, Gaelic transcriptions and English translations.
4. Gaelic Archive Collections with Mixed Resources
These are larger archive collections in various physical locations which would be of use to Gaelic researchers. These archives are accessible by visiting the institutions in person and following the guidelines on each website. Portions of their contents are also available online as you can see in section 3 above. (There are Nova Scotia Gaelic audio recordings in other archives in the U.S., Canada, and elsewhere, but they are harder to access.)
Beaton Institute Collection, Cape Breton University
The digital collections of the Beaton Institute are available through this website. The Beaton Institute states that “The Digital Archives is an online database that contains archival descriptions from the holdings. This website features a only a sampling of the total archival records in our holdings. We will be adding archival descriptions and digital content on a regular basis.”
Nova Scotia Archives Gaelic Resources – Goireasan Gàidhlig
The Nova Scotia archives have created this guide to their Gaelic resources. The resources are also briefly described in a blog post. The collection of folklorist Helen Creighton also contains Gaelic materials and a gateway to the collection with some online materials is provided here.
Fr. Charles Brewer Celtic Collection, St. Francis Xavier University
The St. FX website gives the following description: “StFX’s Fr. Charles Brewer Celtic Collection – with over 10,000 items from very rare material dating back to 1690 to the most modern scholarship […] located on the third floor of the Angus L. Macdonald Library, at the far end of the Hall of Clans, is recognized as one of the premier collections in North America and the largest of its kind in Canada. […] Established in 1965 when the Angus L. Macdonald Library opened, the collection represents the heritage and culture of university founders and helps preserve and promote the literature, folklore, history, language, and music of the Celtic peoples, specifically the Scottish Gael.” A brochure for the collection is available here. The St. FX Library subject guide to the collection is here.
5. Nova Scotia Gaelic Videos and Films
Bhideothan Gàidhlig / Videos for Learning Gaelic
Goiridh Dòmhnullach has posted videos on his personal YouTube channel for learning to speak Gaelic in Nova Scotia.
Faire Chaluim MhicLeòid / Wake of Calum MacLeod
“The first Gaelic language short film made in North America, ‘The Wake of Calum MacLeod’ is an eight-minute tale about a lonely old storyteller in Cape Breton who is determined to have his children return to the island, even if it’s to attend his own wake! Featuring Angus MacLeod and music by Mary Jane Lamond, ‘The Wake of Calum MacLeod’ has screened in over twenty international film festivals, was nominated for Best Live Action Short Film at the 2008 Genie Awards, and has aired on Bravo!, CBC and BBC.”
The Fiddler’s Reel / Ruidhle an Fhìdhleir
A second short Gaelic-language film (18 min.) set in Cape Breton from producer and writer Marc Almon: “In a tale of love set in depression-era Gaelic-speaking Cape Breton, a farmgirl falls for a mysterious wandering musician, and together they must challenge her domineering father and escape from a powerful bootlegger determined to have her hand in marriage.”
Gaelic Affairs YouTube Channel
Official videos from the division of Gaelic Affairs, Department of Communities, Culture & Heritage, Government of Nova Scotia. Many different kinds of videos are presented, including two animated versions of Gaelic folktales, Dòmhnall agus na Sìthichean (Donald and the Fairies) which is a great favourite here, and Naidheachd a’ Sgadain, The Story of the Pet Herring, an amusing (and to modern ears, slightly absurdist) Gaelic folktale based on the telling of Angus “Cù” MacDonald, Mabou (Cape Breton).
Gaelic Council of Nova Scotia on SoundCloud
Pronunciation soundfiles for some Gaelic expressions.
6. Nova Scotia Gaelic Blogs
Blog posts in English and Gaelic by Angus MacLeod about Gaelic Nova Scotia.
Tha thu an seo. (You are here.) 🙂
7. Nova Scotia Gaelic Books
The final section of this post presents a selection of books and other publications related to Nova Scotia Gaels and Gaelic. With the exception of the first item below, most of these are technically not online resources. However, most of them are still in print and can be ordered online from various sources.
For out-of-print books, check your local library (especially interlibrary loan), or used booksellers, especially Nova Scotia booksellers Doull Books in Dartmouth and Schooner Books in Halifax. The Amazon book purchase links included in this post are affiliate links which support the Gaelic Revitalization website. Books marked with an asterisk are published by my company, Bradan Press.
A. History & Social Science
Michael Kennedy. Gaelic Nova Scotia: An Economic, Cultural, and Social Impact Study. Curatorial Report No. 97, Nova Scotia Museum, 2002.
“Scottish Gaels are one of Nova Scotia’s largest ethnic groups, and Gaelic culture contributes tens of millions of dollars per year to the provincial economy. Yet, there has never been a systematic policy developed to provide support for the culture in Nova Scotia, and surprisingly little accurate information about the province’s Gaelic heritage is widely known or available. This report represents a first attempt to address that need.” This modest abstract belies the extensive history and clear analysis of the situation of Gaels and Gaelic in Nova Scotia. This report is one of my go-to references and it’s available as a free PDF online.
Charles Dunn. Highland Settler: The Classic Portrait of the Scottish Gael in Cape Breton and Eastern Nova Scotia. Breton Books, 1991, 2018 (first edition, University of Toronto Press, 1953).
Alexander MacDonald; Trueman Matheson and Laurinda Matheson, eds. O Cheapaich nan Craobh: a’ bhàrdachd aig Alasdair Ailein Mhóir, Bàrd na Ceapaich (From Keppoch of the trees : the poetry of Alexander MacDonald, the Keppoch bard. Sìol Cultural Enterprises, 2008.
Allan MacDonald; Effie Rankin, ed. As a’ Bhraighe (Beyond the Braes): The Gaelic Songs of Allan the Ridge MacDonald (1794-1868). 2nd ed. Cape Breton University Press, 2004.
Lewis MacKinnon (Lodaidh MacFhionghain). Famhair agus Dàin Ghàidhlig Eile (Giant and Other Gaelic Poems). Cape Breton University Press, 2008.
Lewis MacKinnon (Lodaidh MacFhionghain). Fleodragan-cabair (Raft). Lewis MacKinnon, 2012.
Lewis MacKinnon (Lodaidh MacFhionghain). Rudan Mì-Bheanailteach is an Cothroman (Intangible Possibilities). Cape Breton University Press, 2014.
*Lewis MacKinnon (Lodaidh MacFhionghain). Ràithean airson Sireadh / Seasons for Seeking: Dàin Rumi airson a’ Mhìosachain Ghàidhealaich an Albainn Nuaidh / Poems of Rumi for the Gaelic Cultural Calendar in Nova Scotia. Bradan Press, 2017.
Calum Iain M. MacLeòid [C.I.N. MacLeod]. Bàrdachd á Albainn Nuaidh. Gairm, 1970.
Michael Newton, ed. Seanchaidh na Coille / The Memory-keeper of the Forest: Anthology of Scottish Gaelic Literature of Canada. Cape Breton University Press, 2015.
Lauchie MacLellan; John Shaw, ed. and transl. Brìgh an Òrain – A Story in Every Song: The Songs and Tales of Lauchie MacLellan. McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2001.
“Lauchie MacLellan (1910-1991), carpenter, farmer, and woodsman, was one of this century’s outstanding Scottish Gaelic singer-storytellers. MacLellan, part of a Scottish family with an extensive Gaelic oral tradition who emigrated to Canada early in the twentieth century from Morar in the Western Highlands, helped keep this tradition alive. In his native parish of Broad Cove, Cape Breton Island, such centuries-old songs and stories, supplemented by more recent compositions, have been the primary form of self-expression and entertainment.” (Also available from the publisher.)
Joe Neil MacNeil; John Shaw, ed. and transl. Tales Until Dawn / Sgeul gu Latha: The Life of a Cape Breton Gaelic Story-Teller. McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1987.
“Joe Neil MacNeil holds in his memory a wealth of Gaelic folktales, learned in his youth in Cape Breton. For over a decade, he has told his tales to John Shaw, a specialist in Celtic folklore and fluent speaker of Gaelic. Shaw has recorded, transcribed, edited, and translated the tales and folklore into English. This rich and entertaining collection is the result of their collaboration. Folktales, anecdotes, proverbs, expressions, rhymes, superstitions, and games are presented in translation and, in the cloth edtion, in the original as well. All variations of the genre are represented: a fragment from the Ulster cycle, some items from the Fenian cycle, hero and wonder tales, fairy and witch lore, romantic tales, tales of the exemplum type, tales of cleverness, ‘numbskull’ stories, animal tales, and tall tales.” If purchasing a used copy online or requesting interlibrary loan, note that there are two MQUP editions: a bilingual Gaelic-English edition which is out of print (lavender cover, 483 pages, ISBN 9780773505599) and an English-only edition still in print (red cover, 312 pages, ISBN 9780773505605).
John Shaw, ed. and transl. The Blue Mountains and Other Gaelic Stories from Cape Breton: Na Beanntaichean Gorma agus Sgeulachdan Eile á Ceap Breatainn. McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2007.
“John Shaw has been documenting Cape Breton’s Gaelic traditions since the 1960s. In The Blue Mountains and Other Gaelic Stories from Cape Breton he presents thirty tales recorded between 1964 and 1989. The collection includes popular tales such as The Dragon Slayer, hero-tales of Fionn Mac Cumhail and his warrior band, accounts of the famed carpenter Boban Saor, stories of robbers and thieves, comic tall tales, historical legends, and accounts of clan traditions brought over from the western Highlands.” (Also available from the publisher.)
*Terri M. Roberts. Fionn MacCool and the Salmon of Knowledge: A traditional Gaelic hero tale retold as a read-aloud action story for children. Bradan Press, 2017.
This is the story of the great Gaelic hero Fionn MacCool and why he sucks his thumb. The tale introduces children to Gaelic storytelling and oral tradition and is perfect for reading aloud in a classroom or group. In the introduction, actions or gestures are given that match with nine keywords in the story. The book contains two versions of the action story, the first in English, and the second in English with the keywords in Gaelic, acting as a bridge to build Gaelic awareness in English-language classrooms. Teaching guide available here.
D. Music and Song
John Lorne Campbell. Songs Remembered in Exile: Traditional Gaelic Songs from Nova Scotia. Birlinn, 1999 (out of print).
Sr. Margaret MacDonell. The Emigrant Experience: Songs of Highland Immigrants in North America. University of Toronto Press, 1982 (out of print).
John G. Gibson. Traditional Gaelic Bagpiping, 1745–1945. McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2000.
John G. Gibson. Old and New World Highland Bagpiping. McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2011.
John G. Gibson. Gaelic Cape Breton Step-dancing: An Historical and Ethnographic Perspective. McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2017.
Glenn Graham. The Cape Breton Fiddle: Making and Maintaining Tradition. Cape Breton University Press, 2006.
Barry W. Shears. Dance to the Piper: The Highland Bagpipe in Nova Scotia. Cape Breton University Press, 2008.
Heather Sparling. Reeling Roosters and Dancing Ducks: Celtic Mouth Music. Cape Breton University Press, 2014.
*Web design trends and technologies age quickly, and websites require considerable resources to maintain and update, which government funding does not always cover. A number of these sites still use Adobe Flash, but you can still generally enable Flash on your browser as long as you accept the security risks and are not using an iPad or iPhone.