What Happened to My Gaelic?

Jumping right into the Celtic Colours Festival, I drove to Cape Breton this morning and Celtic-Colours-Cape-Breton-Fiddlersarrived at the Gaelic College in enough time to experience The Cape Breton Fiddlers. I was instantly inspired by fiddlers of all ages and already felt an overwhelming desire to learn how to play an instrument. They moved in unison and harmoniously performed island songs from local artists. But it was when I saw Leanne Aucoin lead the group in musical perfection that I started to wonder, “What happened to my Gaelic?”

Leanne Aucoin is a multi-talented musician from Sydney Mines, Cape Breton who comes Leanne Cape Breton Fiddlersfrom a family steeped in Cape Breton music and tradition. She has performed internationally and teaches students at the Gaelic College. Her debut album was recognized by the East Coast Music Awards and was nominated in the category of Roots/Traditional Solo Recording of the Year in 2008. I went to high school with Leanne yet I never learned anything to do with Cape Breton heritage or culture. Although I loved my high school history classes, I honestly can’t remember ever talking about being a Cape Bretoner or what that meant. I never watched fiddlers or dancers and it wasn’t taught within the schools. What a shame to miss out on my culture during my school years when my peers were obviously immersed in it. It wasn’t just my age group that connected with our culture either.

My 25 year old brother, who is not that far removed from my age group, has a connection to Cape Breton culture through music. He plays the guitar, the drums, the banjo, and the fiddle. If asked to play something local, he has a slew of songs that he can perform. He thrived on self-teaching and continues to excel at music today. Even now, I know that some schools offer Cape Breton history and cultural classes.

Norman and I playing at Christmas

Rankin School of the Narrows, IonaRankin School of the Narrows in Iona, Cape Breton offers a multitude of Gaelic and Cape Breton cultural classes, workshops, and activities. My sister, Gabriella, is in grade 5. She has been taking Gaelic classes for 3 years and can speak conversational Gaelic. She’s participated in cultural workshops such as a fully immersed Highland Village tour where she dressed in traditional clothing, spoke Gaelic, and actively contributed to historic traditions like feedings pigs and making butter. She also, through the school, visited the Gaelic College where she listened to fiddlers and learned several dance steps. The students went as far as singing Gaelic songs, which she remembers today. Actively involving students with their background makes them feel connected to their culture and their ancestors. It’s unfortunate that I, along with so many others, missed that.

As I watched Leanne switch from fiddle to piano and back again, I noticed her ease with Cape Breton music. Actually, everyone on stage appeared to be completely comfortable with the fiddle and it was natural for them. Their talent was mesmerizing and I wished I had something of substance to offer in the way of Cape Breton history, culture, or tradition.

Leanne Cape Breton Fiddlers

Sometimes the things that are closest to us are the furthest away or the most taken for granted. At that moment, I vowed to pay particular attention this week and learn at least one new thing about Cape Breton tradition. Lets say it’s on my bucket list for the week.

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24 thoughts on “What Happened to My Gaelic?

  1. We have a big festival here in Dallas called the North Texas Irish Festival, that I try to make it out to every year. It includes local bands as well as ones that come over from Ireland, Scotland, Wales and other Celtic lands overseas. I really love Irish folk music and dancing. There are quite a few Celtic folk/rock bands that play at NTIF every year that I really enjoy listening to as well. The food and the drinks are great too. I sometimes wonder if I shouldn’t have been born in Ireland. Maybe I was in a past life. Our family has a wee bit of Irish blood from my grandmother’s side so maybe it’s my ancestors bringing out my love of Celtic culture.

  2. This is a very interesting and informative post! I listened to The Cape Breton Fiddlers on Youtube. Great music! I thought the sound was confined to the American South! Thanks. This was fun. :-)

  3. I would love to learn a little Gaelic. There used to be a class for it at Georgetown University, but it was very pricey. A friend of the family used to speak it to me. It’s not a lyrical as I’d imagined it to be.

  4. I know that this isn’t a Gaelic festival, but I thought it was a weird coincidence that you write this article and my hometown just finished their annual Old Time Fiddlers’ Convention this weekend. Studying and reading about Gaelic culture and history is a passion of mine!

  5. I was born in Antigonish, but my family left there for Ontario when I was barely a toddler. No Gaelic for me, either (and I can’t say my French education here in anglo Ontario was terribly effective, either). Like you, I sometimes feel that I missed out on something important there.

  6. Gaelic is a beautiful language – I have recently started learning it as it is an important part of my culture. Although as I live a stone’s throw away from the Scottish Highlands it is good to know even if that wasn’t the case.

    Gaelic learners keep the language alive!

  7. I think it’s great that you feel a pull to the language of your ancestors. Here in Minneapolis-St Paul I’m working with the Somali community to make Somali language lessons available to all kids–Somali and non. The Somalis are worried that their children will lose this link to their history. I think learning the language is essential for knowing the culture.

    Learning a language does not provide the thrill of skydiving, but it is certainly on many people’s “bucket list.” I hope you make good progress!

  8. We were at a camp in Saskatchewan that was also hosting a fiddlers camp. We got to listen to them every day and evening and then a big concert at the end of the week. I know I’m talking about western fiddlers but there’s got to be a resemblance! We loved hearing them and bought a CD so we could enjoy them even more after we went home. So I know a little of how much you enjoyed listening to this music! ;-)

  9. The one thing I have always instilled into my nieces and nephews is to learn as much about their heritage as they can. Traditions, knowledge and heritage dwindles away if someone doesn’t keep it alive. Hopefully, your brother and sister can help keep it alive with you to pass along to your wee one.

  10. Pingback: Highland Village in Iona, Cape Breton Hosts a Milling Frolic

  11. I only just realised how beautiful my hometown is and I left at 21! It’s so easy to not notice it when you’re always looking for the next thing! But they don’t do anything as interesting as speak Gaelic :)

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