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Music Cape Breton's Diversity in Unity

Tuireadh Nan Hiortach

Sung by Malcolm Angus MacLeod of Skir Dhu, whose own ancestors came from the Isle of Harris. The song was composed by Dr. George Murray, a native of the Isle of Lewis and a minister in Canada and the United States. He wrote it for a fellow clergyman, Rev. Donald Gillies, who was brought up in St. Kilda.

Tuireadh Nan Hiortach. Malcolm Angus MacLeod. T-250. Beaton Institute, Cape Breton University.

Tha Mo Rùn Air A’ Ghille

The singer is Sandy Campbell. The song is a variant of an older song which is published in An t-Òranaiche (p. 209-10).

‘Tha Mo Rùn Air A’ Ghille’, 1973. Sandy Campbell. T-642. Beaton Institute, Cape Breton University.

Tha Mi Sgìth On Tìm Seo ‘N Dè

Finlay Cameron, with Joe Lawrence MacDonald joining heartily in the chorus, sings a fragment of a song that originally had 40 verses. It was composed by The Bard MacLean. Originally from the island of Tiree, John MacLean (1787-1848) came to Nova Scotia in 1819 and settled at Barney’s River in Antigonish County. The best known of his many songs is A’ Choille Ghruamach” (The Gloomy Forest) where he voices his initial disillusionment with the New World.

This song is called Dìteadh Mhic an Tòisich (MacIntosh’s Condemnation). In Antigonish it was known as Òran Dhòmhnaill Màmaidh, after a local character, Donald MacGillivray, in whose name MacLean composed the song. MacIntosh is one of the Gaelic names for whisky; it comes from Ferintosh, the location of a well-known distillery.

The song reflects the views of the “friends of Ferintosh,” including tavern-keepers, a lawyer, a jail-keeper, a doctor and a piper. They were not too pleased when Bishop Fraser formed a Temperance Society in Antigonish in 1841. Most people in his diocese promised that they would observe abstinence for three years. They signed the pledge on New Year’s Day. When many broke their promise MacLean wrote another song of 46 verses. This one is called Aiseirigh Mhic an Toisich (MacIntosh’s Resurrection).

‘Tha Mi Sgìth On Tìm Seo ‘N Dè’, 1968. Finlay Cameron, with Joe Lawrence MacDonald. T-095. Beaton Institute, Cape Breton University.

Rinn Mi Còrr Is Naoi Mìle

The singer is Dan MacNeil. This is one of many variants of this old song. A longer version of it under the title ‘S Dubh Choisich Mi ‘n Oidhche is in An t-Òranaiche (p. 452-453). It is interesting that the first two lines of the song, as sung by Mr. MacNeil, are the last two in the Òranaiche version.

Rinn Mi Còrr Is Naoi Mìle, 1973. Dan MacNeil. T-627. Beaton Institute, Cape Breton University.


Puirt-a-beul (mouth music), like milling songs, are characterized by refrains composed of meaningless vocables and meaningful words, or words alone. The lyrics are light-hearted, but sometimes satirical or even bawdy. They often poke fun at local people or events.

Puirt-a-beul were used as alternatives to instrumental music for the purposes of dancing. Some were composed to assist fiddlers in learning a tune. They may have resulted from the burning of bagpipes after the Battle of Culloden in 1746 or from religious opposition to musical instruments.

The three cryptic samplings of puirt-a-beul are local to Cape Breton but the singer is unknown at this time.

This recording was collected by Kathleen Lamont MacKinnon in 1963.

Puirt-A-Beul, 1963. Unknown singer. T-044. Beaton Institute, Cape Breton University.

Poit-Dhubh MhicFhraing

The best known of the emigrant poets who settled in Nova Scotia was John MacLean, better known as The Bard MacLean. He composed the most famous of all emigrant songs: A’ Choille Ghruamach (The Gloomy Forest). MacLean arrived in Pictou on the ship Economy in 1819. One of his fellow passengers was a 12-year-old boy, Donald MacLellan. During the voyage Donald learned a Gaelic epic poem from MacLean and he himself later started to compose Gaelic songs. Known as Dòmhnall Gobha (Donald the Blacksmith), he became one of Cape Breton’s most quick-witted bards. He settled near the Margaree River and eventually relocated to Grand Mira in 1868. He died in 1890.

The singer of this recording is Angus MacLellan from Grand Mira, the grandson of Dòmhnall Gobha. He was one of Cape Breton’s best tradition bearers. MacLellan died in 1968 at the age of 86. He was a nephew of Vincent MacLellan who published Failte Cheap Breatuinn, a collection of Gaelic songs printed in the 1890s.

Poit-Dhubh MhicFhraing. Angus MacLellan. T-1084. Beaton Institute, Cape Breton University.

Òran Nam Mocaisean

This song, sung by Jim Charlie MacNeil of Sydney, was composed by Murdock MacArthur of Inverness, Cape Breton, who had settled in the Codroy Valley in Newfoundland. Mr. MacNeil learned the song from a Mrs. Campbell, a sister of the composer.

Òran Nam Mocaisean, 1969. Jim Charlie MacNeil. T-278. Beaton Institute, Cape Breton University.