Standing 'O' for An t-̉ranaiche
By LEWIS MACKINNON*
GILLEASBUIG Mac-Na-Ceardadh/Archibald Sinclair's An t-̉ranaiche/The Gaelic Songster, originally put into print in 1879, has once again returned to the Gaelic publishing world through the determined efforts of Trueman Mac Mhathain (Matheson, by the way, translates into English as 'son of bear') owner of Śol Cultural Enterprises, www.gaelicbooks.com and resident of St. Andrew's. Matheson painstakingly undertook the task of reviving this revered publication of Gaelic culture. Published by Casket Publishing, An t-̉ranaiche contains a wealth of Gaelic songs many of which were brought to Nova Scotia by Gaelic speaking Highland Scottish settlers, while others were composed here. An t-̉ranaiche represents a cultural composé of Gaelic as it was and as it still can be experienced in Gaelic Nova Scotia today. The song tradition contained in An t-̉ranaiche ranges from love songs, songs of displacement, seafaring songs, laments and protest.
Many of these were sung in taighean céilidh (céilidh or 'visiting' houses) throughout Eastern Nova Scotia in generations past. A number of the songs found in An t-̉ranaiche have become part of the Milling Song tradition in Gaelic Nova Scotia. Inserted in the back cover of An t-̉ranaiche, the reader will find a compilation CD of 21 recorded songs. Songs which can be found within the pages of An t-̉ranaiche itself. These are richly represented in the communal context in which they were meant to be shared through the timeless, melodic voices of Rod C. MacNeil, Jamie MacNeil, Peter "Jack" MacLean and Maxie MacNeil who comprise the Iona Singers. In addition, Catŕona Parsons adds her own beautiful and haunting voice to a number of songs which were commonly sung as 'airs' in Scotland. Other singers featured are the late Lauchie Gillis, Archie Alex MacKenzie and John Angus Beaton. Archie Alex MacKenzie's somber rendition of A' Choille Gruamach (The Gloomy Forest) brings attention to the life experiences of Bard John MacLean who composed this piece during the early years of settlement in Barney's River and is now buried in Glen Bard Cementry, Pictou County a mere few miles from James River.
Matheson succeeded in bringing in internationally respected, competent and capable resource people from St. Francis Xavier University to assist him in the editing and re-publication process: Effie Rankin, Gaelic teacher, folklorist, published and resident instructor; Catŕona Parsons, linguist, published, Gaelic tradition bearer and instructor; and Dr. Ken Nilsen, linguist, researcher, published and Chair, Celtic Studies Department.
Matheson cites Effie Rankin's tireless work and contribution to An t-̉ranaiche as one of the main reasons that the publication was seen through to completion. Taking note of the acute attention made to proper placement of accents and spelling corrections from the original publication, all the while respecting Nova Scotia's unique Gaelic orthography, it is clear that Rankin performed her task with the perfection only someone of her calibre could deliver.
He extends thanks to Nilsen and Parsons for their advice and assistance. In both Nilsen and Parsons, Matheson consulted with two pre-eminent scholars. In short Matheson choose his Gaelic language counsel well.
Matheson also recognizes the ever helpful Maureen Williams, Curator, Father Brewer Celtic Collection, St.F.X. U., the capable and generous Anne Landin, Gaelic learner, tradition and song collector and researcher and George Seto, Gaelic learner and tireless supporter and advocate of Gaelic song. Last, but most certainly not least Matheson recognizes the assistance and support of his wife Laurinda (MacGillivary) Matheson, Gaelic speaker and busy mother of four.
Deep thanks indeed goes to all of the previous mentioned, as An t-̉ranaiche was completed, as Matheson indicates in his introduction, through "a dedicated group of volunteers who gave freely of their time and talent".
Matheson's small business which distributes Gaelic materials from Scotland and Nova Scotia throughout North America is a crucial part of the maintenance of Gaelic language and culture in Nova Scotia now and in the future. More easy access to Gaelic materials for learners and speakers in future is an absolute necessity. Matheson courageously built Śol to achieve just this end. His accomplishment with the publication of An t-̉ranaiche is another feather in his crown of achievements. May all Gaels and friends of Gaelic language and culture join in saying "Meal do naidheachd a Thrueman! 'S e obair mhór a rinn thu!" (Congratulations, Trueman! You have done yeoman's work!)
*Lewis MacKinnon is co-president of the Gaelic Council of Nova Scotia, and a Gaelic language teacher in Halifax.
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