Celts past and present

Elizabeth Cran
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The University of Cape Breton Press has brought out a fascinating collection entitled “Celts in the Americas” (27.95).

Edited by Michael Newton, who is assistant professor of Celtic studies at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, he writes, “...these chapters were first presented at the Celts in the Americas conference hosted at St. Francis Xavier University ... and co-hosted by the Centre for Cape Breton Studies at Cape Breton University” in June and July 2011.

“Our gathering,” the introduction to this book goes on to say, “was attended by an enthusiastic audience of scholars and members of the public.”

 The 18 papers presented in full in this volume are followed by summaries of no less than 27 other papers presented at the conference. The scholars themselves come from several British organizations and universities, not to mention various universities in North America. There are also two Breton scholars.

However no one could be found to represent the Isle of Man and its Manx language and culture.

The whole book is divided into five parts: Overviews of Celtic Peoples; Languages; Cultural Expression; Identity and Race; Inter-ethnic Interactions.

Faced with such numerous and varied contributions, the reviewer can only pick out a few that may be of special interest. For instance, “The Prince Edward Island Times became the first North American newspaper to carry a Gaelic column in 1836, although most material was recycled from Scottish sources.”

Then there is a brief but fascinating account of Thomas Irwin, an Irish schoolmaster who emigrated to the Island about 1830, and became a defender of “the Mi’kmaq language and culture.

“He made a direct parallel between the forced Anglicization of the Celtic people ... and that of the natives.”

 To any language teacher or one working in a bilingual area of the Island, there is much to learn from the paper by Emily McEwan-Fajita entitled Gaelic Revitalization Efforts in Nova Scotia. Although the tables in it show the gradual loss of Gaelic, they are equally applicable to the gradual loss of French by Island Acadians and probably to all other similar situations.

Forewarned may sometimes by forearmed — even in the case of a language.

The most important contribution of this book may well be the awareness it imparts to readers of a whole ancient and complex world whose members are scattered — more or less disguised — among us.

The descendants of Highland Scots are visible; but what of their Irish, Welsh, Cornish and even Breton cousins? For long not mentioned officially anywhere, they are now reappearing to add more variety and texture to the world.

Let us hope “Celts in the Americas” may have many successors.

Elizabeth Cran is a freelance writer who writes a book review column for The Guardian. To comment or to send her books to review, write her at Her new address is: 95 Orange Street, Apt. 101, Saint John NB, E2L 1M5. or call her at 506-693-5498.

Organizations: St. Francis Xavier University, University of Cape Breton Press, Centre Cape Breton Studies Cape Breton University North American The Guardian

Geographic location: Americas, Iceland, Antigonish North America Isle of Man Nova Scotia 95 Orange Street

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