I have much to be grateful for, and I was given another reason on November 14 when I was recognized with the 2018 International Gaelic Award, an award given at an annual celebration in Glasgow. Given the cost of plane tickets and short notice, I was unable to attend in person, but was delighted that my friends Àdhamh Ó Broin and Liam Crouse were able to attend and accept the award in my place (see above).
For some 25 years I’ve been actively engaged in and contributing to the Gaelic community and efforts to bring a better understanding of Gaelic language, history, and culture to the wider world, not least the millions of people in North America descended from Gaelic-speaking immigrants. You’d think that there would be a solid network able to support basic research into its history and to teach it, given the size of the Highland diaspora and the popularity of certain symbols of Scottishness, but, alas, there is virtually none. (See my plea for patronage at the bottom of this page.)
Apart from the 5 years I had a position teaching in Nova Scotia, my efforts have been largely self-funded: I’ve had to juggle this pioneering Gaelic scholarship (which takes considerable time, effort, and mental capacity) with employment in other areas, mostly IT. So it is certainly gratifying to have my efforts acknowledged and honored by those in Scotland who are fit to judge – even if I’ve had a steady stream of notes of thanks and appreciation from many people over these years, and these efforts have enabled me to have the privilege to form relationships with incredible people and communities.
What are these efforts? I’ve not made a careful attempt to keep track of them in the past, but here is a short summary of what I can recall:
I’ve written or edited numerous ground-breaking books on the history, language, literature, and culture of Scottish Gaeldom, in Scotland or North America:
- Seanchaidh na Coille / Memory-Keeper of the Forest: Anthology of Scottish Gaelic Literature of Canada. Sydney: Cape Breton University Press, 2015. 570 pp.
- The Naughty Little Book of Gaelic. Sydney, Nova Scotia: Cape Breton University Press, 2014.
- Celts in the Americas. Sydney: Cape Breton University Press, 2013. This volume contains a selection of the best papers from the conference, five invited chapters, and an introduction, for a total of nearly 149,000 words.
- Warriors of the Word: The World of the Scottish Highlanders. Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2009. 424 pp.
- Dùthchas nan Gàidheal: Selected Essays of John MacInnes. Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2006. 552 pp.
- with Rhiannon Giddens. Calum and Catrìona’s Welcome to the Highlands. 2006. 40 pp. A children’s activity book about Scottish Gaelic culture.
- Scotia27 (2003). Proceedings of Highland Settlersconference. 48 pp.
- “We’re Indians Sure Enough”: The Legacy of the Scottish Highlanders in the United States. 2001. 311 pp. Editions of Scottish Gaelic poetry written in or about the United States, with historical context for those poems and Gaelic immigration in general.
- A Handbook of the Scottish Gaelic World. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2000. 320 pp.
- Bho Chluaidh gu Calasraid / From the Clyde to Callander: Gaelic Tales, Songs and Traditions from the Lennox and Menteith.Stornoway: Acair, 1999; revised edition, Glasgow: Grimsay Press, 2010. 306 pp.
- Gaelic in Scottish History and Culture: An Clochán, 1997. 37 pp.
- Hebridean Odyssey: Polygon, 1996. 174 pp.
I’ve written a great many articles, columns, and reviews for newspapers, magazines, and periodicals on Scottish subjects, including in:
- Cothrom (magazine of Comann an Luchd-Ionnsachaidh) in the late 1990s
- The Scotsman newspaper (mostly late 1990s)
- Am Bràighe(Nova Scotia newspaper in late 1990s)
- The Scottish Banner (newspaper, c.2004)
- History Scotland (magazine, 2003-2006)
- The Casket (Nova Scotia newspaper 2008-12)
- An Naidheachd Againn (quarterly newsletter of An Comunn Gàidhealach Ameireaganach, between 2000 to present)
I wrote many blog posts on the VirtualGael blog, mostly dealing with Scottish Highland topics, as well as conducted quite a few interviews with Scottish Gaelic activists, scholars, musicians, and personalities on the GaelicUSA blog (when the Foundation was active).
I’ve also created several digital humanities resources, including:
- Exploring Celtic Civilizations: An Online Celtic Studies Coursebook
Radio and Television Programs
I’ve contributed materials to many radio and television programs in Scotland, Canada and the US, and been interviewed on many others, including these:
- Contributed research to the BBC Alba series “Na h-Eilthirich” about the Highland diaspora (1999)
- Wrote a series of programs about Gaelic tradition in Highland Perthshire for BBC Radio nan Gaidheal (1999)
- Wrote the script of a program about Gaelic tree lore for BBC Radio nan Gaidheal (1999)
- Interviewed for BBC Alba program “Siubhal nan Salm” about the influence of Scottish Highland immigrants on American Gospel music c.2004
- CBC Mainstreet Cape Breton interview about legacy of Gaelic immigrant and literature in Canada (available on this webpage), 2013
- Interviewed and contributed material to forthcoming video documentary on historical legacy of Highland Clearances “Voices Over the Water”
I conducted extensive fieldwork during the course of my PhD training in Scotland (1994-98), initially on behalf of the John Muir Trust in Skye, then (on my own accord) throughout the mainland of Scotland. I did some further work while living in Nova Scotia (2008-13). Some of that fieldwork has been transcribed and published, but mostly not.
- Recordings done in Strath, Skye, are held by the John Muir Trust
- Some recordings done on the Scottish mainland are archived with the School of Scottish Studies
- Other recordings done in Scotland and Nova Scotia are in my own private collections
- Some recordings related to Argyll have been transcribed and edited by Àdhamh Ó Broin and are available on his website
Organizations and Community Building
A few highlights of my involvement with organizations and events in the community:
- 1996-98: Board member of Comann an Luchd-Ionnsachaidh
- June 2000: Initiated and organized Féis Bhostoin.
- 6-7 November 2003: Was the organizer of conference Highland Settlers, hosted by University of Richmond (see photo, right).
- 2010: Initiated annual celebration of local bards in Gaelic Nova Scotia.
- 29 June – 2 July 2011: Organized conference Celts in the Americas, hosted by St. Francis Xavier University, Nova Scotia.
- 2015-2019: Co-founded and spearhead Scottish Gaelic Foundation of the US // Urras Gàidhlig nan Stàitean Aonaichte, aka “GaelicUSA”
Teaching, Performing, Public Events
I have done so many lectures, talks, gigs, and performances that I’ve lost track of them and it would be tedious to attempt to compile them. And I’ve taught university courses, community classes, and seminars. Some of these are listed on my CV.
It was something of a childhood dream come true to lead a seminar at the Smithsonian in 2003, and certainly one of the other highlights of these experiences was performing Gaelic song and dance with the folklore ensemble Drumalban in France in 1998 (see above).
- Won Best New Gaelic Song competition (Scotland) in 1999 for song “Slighe na Fìrinne” (co-written with Richard Taylor)
- Planned, arranged, and performed on album of Scottish Gaelic songs “Songs of the Scottish Highlanders in the United States” (2001)
- Commissioned to write Gaelic novella Sgeulachdan an Dà Shaoghail. Glasgow: Sandstone Press, 2007.
- Shot, edited, and produced video documentary about Gaelic Nova Scotia entitled “A’ Seinn an Aghaidh na Balbhachd // Singing Against the Silence” (2012)
- Composing original Scottish Gaelic songs available on SoundCloud (2018-present)
Patronage and the Future
I have many files of materials that need attention that I would love to work on in the future – Gaelic literature and tradition from Highland Perthshire as well as Canada, for example, unique texts that provide vital information into the Gaelic experience – but cannot feasibly complete this work without finding substantial support.
I have made substantial contributions of various kinds to living Gaelic communities and to those seeking to understand the legacy of Gaeldom in Scotland and the diaspora. I’ve done so for the vast majority of the last two decades and more without the support of institutions, and unfortunately, this line of work is not self-sustaining. Some people expect that writing books pays for itself, but the reason that most authors of non-fiction enjoy the support of either academia or government is that the proportion of just the cost of living while writing a book to the profits from book sales is, in my experience, about 10 to 1. That is, the royalties I get from writing a book is a tenth of the cost of living incurred during the writing of that book. It’s a losing proposition without an academic position, which is not a luxury offered to scholars of Scottish Gaeldom in North America, and hardly anywhere.
My ability to continue this scholarship at the necessary pace (while raising a child, holding a full-time job, etc.) has pretty much come to an end. I would like to think that this award may help to raise the profile of my work and legitimacy of my aims, and that readers like you will valuable this enough to help me to do the work. Tha mi beò anns an dòchas sin.