Fògradh, Fàisneachd, Filidheacht: An t-Urr. Donnchadh Blàrach (1815-1893) ann am Mac-Talla. Parting, Prophecy, Poetry: Rev. Duncan Blair (1815-1893) in Mac-Talla

Translated by John A. Macpherson and Michael Linkletter. Edited by John A. Macpherson and Michael Linkletter. 2013. Sydney, Nova Scotia: Cape Breton University Press. 256 pages. ISBN: 978-1-927492-43-7 (soft cover).


Reviewed by James E. Doan, Nova Southeastern University

[Review length: 422 words • Review posted on December 17, 2013]


This collection of essays and poetry, edited by two Nova Scotian Celtic studies scholars and published by Cape Breton University Press, highlights the work produced by the Rev. Duncan Blair, born in Strachur, Cowal, Scotland, in 1815. After receiving his education at the University of Edinburgh, he spent time on the Isle of Skye and eventually emigrated as a missionary to Nova Scotia in 1846. He spent the following year in Ontario where he visited and wrote about Niagara Falls in probably his most famous and well-published poem, “Eas Niagara” (included in this collection). Though a native Gaelic speaker, he was educated in English and learned to read Gaelic by comparing the English translation of the Bible with a Gaelic version. The essays were published in Sydney, Nova Scotia, in the Gaelic-language newspaper Mac-Talla (“The Echo”) between 1892 and 1895, most of them posthumously. This paper, the only weekly paper published anywhere in the world in Gaelic during this period, was edited by his friend and fellow Scottish transplant, Jonathan MacKinnon, between 1892 and 1904, when it disappeared due to a lack of paid subscribers.

Covering historical, biographical, topographical, and literary subjects, the essays provide a fascinating glimpse of Scottish Gaelic culture in Nova Scotia and elsewhere in Canada at the turn of the nineteenth century. These include vivid recollections and oral histories of the Highland clearances; accounts of the Brahan seer, Kenneth the Sallow (Odhar) from Uig on the Isle of Lewis; Blair’s own journey to America with a severe storm at sea; his travels through Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island, as well as Upper Canada (Ontario); stories of the “Old Gaels” and the coming of Christianity to Scotland; and the poems of Ossian, still viewed at this time as reflecting early Scottish culture. The poems include a love song addressed to his fiancée, Mary MacLean (“Màiri Lurach”) whom he travelled to Scotland to marry in 1851; a wedding song (“Oran Posaidh”) written for his friend, the Rev. Alexander Maclean Sinclair; a lament by a Pictou woman for her dead lover; poems on the clearances; religious poems; and one dealing with Upper Barney’s River.

Nicely produced, with photos of the Rev. Blair and places associated with him, maps and pages from the original newspaper, and a list of his publications, the book also includes parallel English and Scottish Gaelic texts, facilitating individuals like myself not totally fluent in Gaelic. One hopes to see more works dealing with the rich Gaelic culture of Scotland published in this type of format.

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© Journal of Folklore Research, 2010. Last revised June 21, 2010.