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oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa

05 Mar 04 - 05:04 PM (#1130044)
Subject: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: GUEST,galen


I'm interested in exploring and pursuing the "celtic" tradition of
music in north america. I realize bluegrass embodies this to a large
extent. My tastes lie a bit more toward "traditional"
scottish/irish/other music.

Just curious about this. One problem over here in No. America is that there aren't quite as many scottish/irish/etc. speakers to consult, and I like a lot of the old tunes in the original language, since they are simple and elegant.

We are getting a "pub sing" or "song circle" started to explore this,
since it lies at the root of where all this music came from, no?
We'll print lyrics and take turns leading songs that we sing together, to get familiar with the tunes. We'll also work on pronunciation and singing technique, etc.

Reply to this post or email me if you'd like to talk about this.

If you are in the Maryland/DC/Virginia, (mid-atlantic) area and a musician (including singer) or even just interested in getting involved, you are also welcome to join the following list:

mid-atlantic celtic musicians

Please read the intro message, and feel free to introduce yourself and your interest. Keep in mind you can get a "daily digest" or just read/post messages on the webpage.


05 Mar 04 - 05:10 PM (#1130048)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: nelagnelag


If you want to email me, I posted this thread.


05 Mar 04 - 05:55 PM (#1130075)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: Clinton Hammond

"We'll also work on pronunciation"

Just don't 'affect' an accent to sing a song...

05 Mar 04 - 06:35 PM (#1130097)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: Ed.


Could you please explain how bluegrass embodies the Celtic tradition?

I really don't understand what you mean.



05 Mar 04 - 06:39 PM (#1130103)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: greg stephens

I think English language folksong from the Old World probably had a slightly greater effect on USA folk music than Scottish and Irish Gaelic stuff did.
   Sing it for enjoyment by all means, though, of course.

06 Mar 04 - 06:20 AM (#1130282)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: Sandy Mc Lean

If it is Gaelic songs that you are wanting, Cape Breton is the only place in North America where that tradition still lives. A few of us still speak the tongue of our forefathers. I could direct you to some resources.

06 Mar 04 - 04:50 PM (#1130531)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa

I think Celtic is a ladylike word for Irish, essentially, even though in theory it takes in Scots, Welsh, Breton and Basque, as well as Cornish and Manx.

How does Celtic relate to bluegrass? It seems that the history of bluegrass traces back to Irish music, and "Irish-Scotch" (that is, northern Irish) music.

06 Mar 04 - 05:42 PM (#1130552)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: greg stephens

I have seen a couple of videos and other TV stuff on the history of bluegrass that tended to dwell on Irish or Scots origins(or possibly spme weird amalgam called "Irish-Scots", possibly due to the makers being unaware they are different places). One I watched in Ireland last year specifically identified the orign of bluegraa with "Irish-Scots Gaelic culture from the Appalachians meeting black music". Now I would not dispute the huge influence of balack music on bluegrass, but the gaelic bit seems a little strange. Soemhow, if that was true, I feel it would show up more strongly in the surnames of oldtime/bluegrass musicians, and also tune-titles.

11 Mar 04 - 10:56 PM (#1134418)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: nelagnelag


I'm interested in singing in english and in "irish" and "scottish" and other "celtic" languages. So, I'm not "affecting" anything, just want to pronounce things correctly.

By the way, "affecting" an accent (in the language) actually does speed up the language learning process. It helped a lot when I was learning French and German.

Frankly, I'm surprised you jumped to accuse me of "affecting" something, since I talked about gaelic speakers etc. in the 2nd sentence. Do you mind reading what I wrote before doing this?


Yes, I realize "celtic" is a generalization that some people don't like, and I understand why.

Anyway, I appreciate the debate, though I was hoping for info like that which Sandy provided. I'm sure we can debate "celtic" vs. irish/scottish/welsh/manx/galician/cornish/breton all year :)
I should have been more clear in my original posting without the extraneous stuff.

(notice that "celtic" is much shorter - by the way, there is a reason I put the term in quotes)

Ed, as far as the "embodies to a large extent" - I am happy to be corrected if I misunderstand things. and I did qualify it with "to a large extent" :) I would not claim to be an expert on bluegrass, and shouldn't have mentioned it originally.

Yeah, people in the "west virginia highlands" (as they call it over there) and so on were often called "scots irish". I didn't make any of this up. :) Maybe I'm wrong to call that kind of music "bluegrass". I'll leave that up to the experts.

Anyway, I'll re-say it without the extra wordage and maybe more clearly so I can focus on the info I'm particularly interested in. If anyone else is interested in this, that would be great:

I'm interested in traditional scottish/irish/welsh/breton/manx/galician/cornish/whatdidImiss
music in the original language, preferably in the mid-atlantic region. Please forget the original message.

I am coming from the point of view of enjoying this music, not a cultural statement, so there is really nothing for anyone to get offended about (though I'm sure that's always easy to do, being rude is pretty easy!)

Just that I'd be interested in hearing from people about that. I'm aware of webpages.

thanks for your postings and info,

Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: ClintonHammond - PM
Date: 05 Mar 04 - 05:55 PM

"We'll also work on pronunciation"

Just don't 'affect' an accent to sing a song... \\

12 Mar 04 - 03:18 AM (#1134504)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: nelagnelag

Oh, and to clarify my "question" further (hopefully, I appreciate your indulgence, it's late and I do make mistakes, don't we all):

I'm also interested in the "oral tradition", which was in the original subject. I'll look into Cape Breton. For instance, are there song-circles where people practice singing in the original language from any of these "Celtic" (please bear with me) cultures?

In my humble-and-often-errant hypothesizing opinion, the oral tradition is where all of this "traditional" music comes from, since it was probably often sung by people in the countryside and passed down as such, and maybe not originally played on any instrument (except possibly a whistle or whatever was available, which might not always have been much - I'm talking a long long time ago, when some of the oldest songs we know of originated). So, in this sense the "oral tradition" constitutes the "core" or origin of all of this traditional music and tunes. That's why I think it might be interesting and important to look at that and explore it a bit.

If you disagree or have a correction, I am very happy to hear it and learn from you as long as it's polite and you actually have read my ramblings.

thanks and best,

12 Mar 04 - 04:25 AM (#1134537)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: sian, west wales

The author of "Singing Cowboys and Musical Mountaineers" (I've leant out the book, so can't check) did make some throw-away statement about the blue-grass thing being largely fictionalized. He didn't develop the theme which was a pity ...

And people tend to forget a whole body of 'folk' music when they talk about these things - that is, hymns. Although I don't know anyone who's done any work on it, I remember reading about Fasola - in Song of the Dove? - that its American origins traced back to the Welsh Tract (Pennsylvania was it? I should know that! Shame on me.) and there were other indicators among the 'tradition bearers' that would encourage me to believe that there was a Wales-USA connection there. (And yes, Wales is ALWAYS left out of 'celtic' ... which is why I don't like 'celtic')

And I would suggest that Fasola has a significant effect on American music, yes?


12 Mar 04 - 04:50 AM (#1134550)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: Pied Piper

Oh no, not the "C" word.


12 Mar 04 - 05:00 AM (#1134555)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: GUEST,Boab

"celtic is a ladylike word for Irish"---eh???? The celtic origins of much of Scotland's culture and music is more than "theory". Welsh and Cornish tradition also is unmistakeably part of the celtic genre. And, quite rightly, Breton culture is mentioned. A wee tale [a true one!] which may have some bearing on the "celtic influence " on American music. Ali Bain, whose world-class talents on fiddle are, I'm sure, well known to most of those who frequent the forum here, once in conversation told me of one particular occasion which gave him some personal enlightenment re. the effects of transatlantic culture on American folk music. Ali was building material for a tv series he did on British tv --"Down Home". He told of arriving in Nashville, and being asked to play in a Pub [at least, as far as Ali was concerned it was the equivalent]. He duly took up his fiddle, and launched a medley of Scottish and Shetland reels. Ali reckons that before he was through his first tune, there were SIX fiddlers onstage playing along, note for note! And in every case, they had a different name from Ali for the tune being played. Influence can't be more direct than that, I'd reckon! Just by the way---the same Mr Bain insisted to our group that the finest fiddlers in the world didn't hail from Shetland, Scotland or Ireland---they are to be found in North America, and in Appalachia in particular.

12 Mar 04 - 08:02 AM (#1134668)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: Cuilionn

Ane guid resource for consultation in the "Virginia Highlands" wuid be Dr. Michael Newton, a scholar & Scottish Gaelic speaker whae teaches some "Celtic Studies" courses at a university in Richmond, VA. He wis the host/convener o a November 2003 conference on the legacy o Scottish immigrants in the USA, an Ah'm sure the subjects o Irish & Scots-Irish influence were touched on as weel, seein as how they're weel-entanglit wi the rest o the tale. He micht be able tae direct ye tae Welsh/Breton/Cornish/Manx/Galician resources as weel.

There's alsae a group o Welsh language/culture/music students & devotees in Roanoke, but Ah'm no sairten how ye'd track 'em doon.

Och, an if ye ever happen tae come up tae Maine, aiblins Ah cuid set up a session or ceilidh wi some o the Celtic folk in this area. Ah ken a Cornish concertina player, a few singers o Scots, Scottish Gaelic, & Irish Gaelic, & ithers whae ken tunes an sangs frae Brittany & Wales, plus pipers o every description!

Best o luck wi yir ain sessions, sang circles, & ceilidhs!


12 Mar 04 - 04:11 PM (#1135096)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: Heely

I'd love to know where in the mid-atlantic that you are located. We are in Virginia. I have played in a Sea Chantey/Folk/Bluegrass group since 1970. We do what is called "early" bluegrass. We sing in Irish and Scots Gaelic - some Manx. I have a sea chantey workshop monthly in Norfolk to learn the old chantey tradition from the Old World. Also, I am a piper in the Tidewater Pipes and Drums, we have a gaelic speaking group associated with our Tidewater Scottish Society.
Last year I was honored at the opening of the "Roots of Virginia Music" Display at the Library of Virginia in Richmond. I play concertina, mandolin,fiddle and Guitar. We know -- from being often at Grandfather Mountain (The games have a Gaelic singing competition) and Apalachian State University ( and having lived 15 years in the Shenandoah Valley) that early Bluegrass music is the same tunes and themes as the Old Music of Great Britain. (Connect to threads on the movie "Songcatcher" My son is with the City of Washington Pipe Band in DC. We need to keep in touch . Heely

12 Mar 04 - 07:06 PM (#1135185)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: kytrad (Jean Ritchie)

Bluegrass grew out of Old-Timey music (that's what the early old-time bands called it...e.g. Asa Martin, and earlier ones); Old-timey music grew out of the traditional ballads, love songs, fueding songs, play-party songs, etc. which made up the repertoires of the first settlers (on these shores) from England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, mostly- with remnants of folks from several other countries who made it into the mountains of Southern Appalachia. That's the progression I see because I lived through it all.

12 Mar 04 - 07:21 PM (#1135196)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: greg stephens

Thank you kytrad."England, ireland, Scotland, Wales mostly, with remnants of folk from several other countries " says it all. "Celtic" is a very useful term for classifying language families(but do remember the people concerned didnt call themselves Celtic. An academic linguist started using the term to classify their languages, and the term then started spreading). The most cursory glance at the surnames of oldtime musicians shows that the Celtic/Gaelic/Irish-Scots stuff you read about Appalchian or oldtime music can only represent a fraction of the truth.Folk music is wonderful, and true to life. Its origins dont need fictionalising, the reality is so much more lovely.

12 Mar 04 - 07:39 PM (#1135204)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: Joybell

Oh! Happiness and joy! How great to hear such intelligent comments about the dread "C" word. Of course I've come to expect that from Mudcatters by now. Here in Australia, even though I have an American husband who has studied and sung American music all his life, I still get lectured at by ill-informed people. I'm constantly being told that the roots of all the songs we sing, as well as the roots of all bluegrass and old-timey songs are "Celtic" - by which they mean "Irish". I think that the makers of several documentories shown here over the last decade are to blame. I do wish, as I've just said on another thread, that the
everything's-Irish fashion would go away. Joy

12 Mar 04 - 08:28 PM (#1135240)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: GEST

LOL @ Joybell ~

I have come to believe that all "Celtic" music travelled by way of the sea, and the New World sailor's first port-of-call was Newfoundland. :-)

GEST Songs Of Newfoundland And Labrador

12 Mar 04 - 10:25 PM (#1135297)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: Heely

Joybell, I have to comment. I am an Australian American. My Mum was from Ballarat. Her Grandfather was a church musician for 54 years. His brother was an Australian operatic teacher, but they knew the old music from "home". Actually, home was Wales, for them. I sing Irish and Scottish in the STATES. Say "Hi Ya'll" to your husband. Heely

13 Mar 04 - 10:41 AM (#1135491)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: Alice

Galen, I'm in Montana and I sing traditional Irish and Scottish and British songs. I have a page of music links on my web site that may help you.
Click here

I like getting John Moulden's old recordings of Irish singers. You can order them from the link that says ULSTERSONGS. John's valuable participation in Mudcat threads can be found in many discussions of song origins. Get the old field recordings of singers as they sat in their kitchens and sang songs to collectors - a treasure trove of material.

There is a great book of lyrics, music, and info with 2 CDs of Elizabeth Cronin. You can buy it online.
The Songs of Elizabeth Cronin, Irish Traditional Singer: The Complete Song Collection. Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, editor. Four Courts Press, Dublin. 2000. ISBN 1- 85182-259-3. 332 pp. Book plus 2 Compact Discs

Another great contributor to Mudcat is George Seto. His web site is loaded with song lyrics and info.Click here

Also get recordings of Joe Heaney - there is a great 2 CD set collected by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger, songs and stories, a booklet included with lyrics and stories about Joe and by Joe about the songs.

Look for anything on the net about "sean nós", old style traditional singing. There are a couple of links for sean nós on my page and there are many Mudcat threads.

(Hi, Jean! Nice to see you in this thread.)

Have fun, Galen!

Alice Flynn

13 Mar 04 - 12:31 PM (#1135553)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: The Stage Manager

I have found this to be an extraordinarily wide and fascinating subject. My own interest stems from brief observations, leading to a belief, that much of the history of minority cultures of the "The British Isles" may be locked up in some of the oral traditions in the lands of the Celtic Diaspora. One gets a very different view of the history of the 'old countries' from traditional song, anecdote and a few texts, than that history taught in mainstream 'English' education, certainly of my generation.

As others have noted on various threads, Cape Breton is a great repository, of song and story, and there are some excellent collections that have been made over the years.

I'd be particularly interested to know if you turn up anything from the Carolinas. For example, I keep coming across references to the slaves in the plantations speaking Scots Gaelic. There has been the pretty well publicised research from a professor at Havard that has led to the observation that some black church music in the South is traceable back to Uist in the Hebrides.   

I've been trying to find some transcripts on the recent conference at the University of Virgina on the contribution of Scots Gaelic to present American culture. If anyone can point me in the right direction I'd be grateful.

I wish you the very best of luck, dig deep, because I feel sure that somewhere, there must be some depositories of little explored material. I know of singers this side of 'the pond' who have been stunned to find what they though of as their traditional music sung by or played by musicians from the most unexpected corners of the 'new world'.

What is even more extraordinary that in some cases this music is little altered in more 250 years. When I come across this sort of thing I feel the hairs tingle on the back of my neck.

It may be my overactive imagination, but when you do come across small morsels of this largely forgotten history, you don't so much notice them, they scream out at you! Perhaps you don't find this stuff, it finds you.

From other websites I am aware that there are small groups of people all over the world re-learning the various languages of their various 'Celtic' forebears. It is fantastic when they are able to tie in stories learned from grandparents into actual historical events.

I look forward to reading how you get on.


13 Mar 04 - 02:08 PM (#1135612)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa

Regardless of the origins of some American folk music, evidently neither Scottish nor Irish Gaelic survived as a spoken language anywhere in Appalachia for more than a generation.

Also, despite the commonly held belief that the Southern Appalachians were "mostly" settled by the "Scots-Irish," the evidence, based almost entirely on a comparison of settlers' surnames with names in Ulster, is not terribly reliable, because the circa 1900 researchers counted a name as "Scots-Irish" even if it was equally common (in some cases even more common) in England or Wales.

We know now that the Scots-Irish were almost certainly the largest *single* immigrant group, but they were the largest among many minorities. *Most* early settlers were *not* Scots-Irish. Nearly as large was the second-largest minority, the English.

Immigrants from all of Great Britain made up by far the largest group of settlers from a single country (as Britain and Ireland were until 1922).

13 Mar 04 - 09:26 PM (#1135877)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: nelagnelag


I'd say "thank you!", but that doesn't do your postings justice. Looks like maybe I finally figured out how to ask the question.

So, who's interested in traveling back in time with me and getting some local song-circles going? One thing I'm noticing is that the "green beer singing" that st. patty's day in the US has become sloshes all over the oral tradition that I'm interested in.

I'm in the DC area of the mid-atlantic. Please feel free to send me a private message if you're interested in exchanging email addresses, etc. In my view, all of this started with community and oral tradition playing a big role, and as a fiddle-player friend has said recently, has become a "virtual reality" of sheet music and recordings, which really has little to do with the human side of all of it. (learning songs/tunes by hearing them in person and in the language!)

I am interested in getting back to where it really came from. For instance, what were people like and what was the oral tradition like that would create a song such as "Dulaman" - very poetically about seaweed? This is not a simple "question" I am asking. I walked across Spain this past summer, and started to get some feel for what it was like to really be living close to the land and other people, so I'm interested in exploring that, on a personal level, not just reading about it or imagining. I think I can possibly learn a huge amount about the music, myself, the country/people of origin, the times, and much much more.

Yes, Sean Nos, thanks for mentioning that. I have to look into that a bunch more, along with the other things mentioned.

Yeah, well, it's also my English language, I bought stock back before the bubble ;P , and I don't like the marketing, etc. usage of "celtic" either, but that's not the way I'm using it. I'm using it to describe the music of countries/people that are historically/linguistically Celtic. Of course, there were people there before the celtic tribes moved in, and that would be interesting too if that was very accessible. (Layers of celtic tribes, romans, many various other people, and industrial development/activity makes that difficult, I think.)

And yes, as anyone who has traveled to any place where people have been for a long time knows - old cultures vary quite a lot from village to village, so of course it is not "fair" at all to use a label to describe a big chunk of western europe. Celtic tribes/culture have been found from Ireland all the way to the Black Sea.

You might find things like this interesting or helpful:

While I'm at it, I'll mention: Wouldn't it be interesting to try to reconstruct (very hard to do, I realize) what music was like based on archeological finds and what we know about current local music in various areas in Europe, and the movement of people over time, cultural influences, etc.? Of course, it would be mostly very hypothetical.

As I understand it, the word "Celtic" comes from Greeks who traded and colonized up the Rhone river in SE france and were exposed to the "Gauls" as the Romans called them. The Greek word was "Keltoi".
Correction or more info, welcome by experts, etc.

Anyway, let's all take a moment to realize that reality is much more complex that we can describe, esp. by email.....................

Ok, thanks again! I really learned a lot.

13 Mar 04 - 09:44 PM (#1135882)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: nelagnelag

I have to mention something else possibly very interesting to people on this topic:

The book:

Green hills of magic; West Virginia folktales from Europe by Ruth Ann Musick

is about folktales told, largely by miners, who came from many places in the "old country". Very very interesting, no?


13 Mar 04 - 10:30 PM (#1135890)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: Celtaddict

If you have not yet found him, check out Patrick O'Flaherty. He has a website (can't make a blicky from work but will post address). He grew up in the Gaeltacht in Connemara and on the Aran Islands and so is a native speaker of Irish Gaelic, and one of rather few writing songs in the language. He is currently is the DC area. He sings in Irish Gaelic (and English) and plays accordion and also was described in "Irish Voice" as "possibly the best mandolin player on the planet." He can often be heard at Pat Troy's Ireland's Own.

14 Mar 04 - 12:18 AM (#1135935)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: Uncle Jaque

Clinton - RE.: " Just don't 'affect' an accent to sing a song..."

Is that the same as "FAKE" an accent?

Shucks; I do it all the time!
Mebbie I has a case of "Celtic Envy" or something, do ye suppose?

Living up here in Maine, I really ought to know better; nothing irritates a DownEaster more that some Summer Complaint - or worse, a TV Actor - trying to "Talk Yankee" and butchering it horridly, as they are rather wont to do.

It's proably about the same for a "Real" Celt having to put up with some dipstick Yankee trying to sing with a feaux-brouge, eh?

So if I ever sees ya at a session, I'll try to avoid singing, and just play my tinwhistle or something instead. And if I don't recognize ye and start lilting merrily away when my turn comes, I'll know who ye are pretty quick I suppose - the bright purple complexion, smoke at the ears, and frothing at the nose ought to be a clue by about the third bar... {8^{*~

UJ in ME

14 Mar 04 - 02:36 AM (#1135958)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: greg stephens

I'm intrigued by these slaves that speak Scots gaelic in the USA. Just how widespread was this> Can someone supply a reference?

14 Mar 04 - 04:43 AM (#1135985)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: The Stage Manager

Hi Greg,

This is where the "slaves speaking Scots Gaelic" started for me:

Willie Ruff

My Apologies, Willie Ruff is Professor at Yale not Harvard.

I have mentioned this to people interested in the subject and a number of them have pointed me to literary references. For example, a character in a Rudyard Kipling story is a gaelic speaking black sailor.

Ruff believes that the slaves learned Gaelic from their Scottish slave masters, but there is a body of opinion which points to the possibility that they learned it from fellow white bonded slaves from the Highlands.   There is an incident referred to as "The ship of men" where some of the people that the lairds had "sold" to an unscrupulous captain escaped when the ship stopped off in Belfast on its way to the Carolinas. The incident caused a scandal and some believe is was the threat of this scandal being revived that kept Sir Alexander MacDonald and McLeod of Dunvegan out of the '45 Jacobite rebellion.

There are references to this "white slavery" (it wasn't quite the same as the iniquitous African experience) in "The Lyon in Mourning" A book of eye witness accounts and interviews written after the rebellion. This is a source for every writer on the subject and has been digitised by the National Library of Scotland and is available via the internet.

Gaelic as a language, if not actually supressed, was certainly deliberately marginalised after the '45. There is even a pretty vigorous debate about Gaelic medium education in Scotland today. The more I go into this, the more convinced I become that there is a side to the history of the British Isles that is in danger of being lost. A number of people have indicated to me that the Americas may be a better place to look than the UK, as the emigrants would have carried this history with them.

Sorry I have shamelessly drifted this thread. But I find this is a fascinating topic.


14 Mar 04 - 05:13 AM (#1135998)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: greg stephens

Stage manager: thanks a lot. I will look into this, it looks very interesting. I find it difficut to credit that there can ever have more than a tiny handful of black gaelic speakers, but I'll look it up, and maybe be convinced otherwise. I must say that I do feel that the majority cultural influence on what one might call oldtime music was predominantly English and black, with a hefty admixture of Irish, scottish and Welsh: in contrast to the tendency ofa lot of TV and magazine writing, which tries to push an Irish and/or Scots origin.

14 Mar 04 - 06:10 AM (#1136020)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: The Stage Manager

I would tend to agree with you Greg. I am no expert on how languages developed or spread in America from early immigration to the decision to adopt English. I suspect that different ethnic groups settled in particular areas. Presumably slaves adopted the language of their masters? I would anticipate someone somewhere has done a study of this. I would not be in the least surprised if it were the case that 18th century slaves spoke Swedish, German, French Spanish, or any number of other European languages.

Please forgive my ignorance, but could you be a little more specific by what is meant by oldtime music?   My limited understanding is that some of the European musical traditions 'branched' some surviving more less intact others going into the melting pot as it were. This depending as much on geographical location as much as intent. I understand some bands and performers today, like 'Le Vent du Nord' from Quebec can trace their origins back to the French Breton tradition. Cape Breton in Canada as has been pointed out in earlier postings is rich in Scots Gaelic traditions. Although there was once a strong link between Scotland and the Carolinas, I understand Gaelic has not been spoken in the south for some generations, although interest still survives.   Are there regions of America that might be thought of as being Irish Gaelic or Galician? In this context I fear oldtime music might be one of those terms that means different things to different people.

Galen, I hope all these various points of view are not giving you too much of headache. There must be some Gaelic singers here on Mudcat who could drop into your pub sing or circle. And as you point out this is an oral tradition.


14 Mar 04 - 07:32 AM (#1136060)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: Uncle Jaque

Now I'm beginning to wonder, Greg, if you might be on to a cultural phenomenon that may have existed in the somewhat vague area between "Slavery" and "Indentured Servitude".

An Ancestor of ours, James ADAMS, was a "Loyalist Scot" who came up on the losing side of the Battle of DUNBAR in 1650. Some luck was still with him, however, as he was not among the many Scots who were slaughtered while trying to surrender or flee, and somehow managed to survive the subsequent Death March and squalid confinement with fellow survivors in a little church for months.

At length, he and about 60 of his fellow survivors were packed into the HMS "UNITY" and shipped as "Indentured Servants" to the Colonies where he was essentially "sold" to the Saugus Iron Works in what is now Massachusetts.

Apparently someone, bless their hearts, smuggled some Lawyers in about the same time, and everybody took to suing everybody else for about every real or contrived grievance they could imagine, and within about 7 years of consistant losses the Iron Works went out of business and ADAMS quietly faded away to Salem where he was active in some organization to help and advocate for fellow Scots Immigrants.

Since the distinction between slavery and servitude may have been a bit vague, and in some cases perhaps even moot (I don't think that Adams had a lot of options at the time) it is concievable that they lived and worked together on at least some occasions, sharing cultural elements such as language.

The work of the Mariner seems to have been one of the oldest truly integrated vocations from time immemorial, and even during the American Civil War the US Navy held to this tradition even when the Land Services were strictly segregated.

It well may be that Sailors of Color, slave or free, picked up Gaelic from the Crews and/or Officers of ships they sailed on.

There certainly is a strong African influence behind the whole concept of the "Sea Chanty" as well as their musical construction, so it stands to reason that a lot of cultural interchange went on at sea.

14 Mar 04 - 09:07 AM (#1136091)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: Sandy Mc Lean

The character of the black cook in Kipling's Captains Courages was based on two real people, identical twin brothers John and George Maxwell from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. They both spoke Gaelic as their mother tongue and both were great Gaelic singers. These two men worked on the salt bank schooners . Before Kipling wrote his book he sailed on a schooner to the Grand Banks fishing ground and based his novel , although fiction, on some real life people.
John and George were sons of a runaway slave who escaped from a plantation to Cape Breton, where the common language of the day was Gaelic. That was the enviroment in which these brothers were raised.

14 Mar 04 - 09:53 AM (#1136107)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: Cuilionn

Regairdin the North American revival o Scottish Gaelic, tak a luik at the websicht o "Slighe Nan Gaidheal" in the Seattle area: That's whaur Ah stairtit ma ain Gaelic studies, an they're gearin up for "Feis Shiatail 2004" in mid-June, a muckle guid opportunity for onyane wantin tae study Gaelic music, language, & culture. They bring teachers ower frae Scotland & Cape Breton for several days o instruction & several nichts o unforgettable ceilidhs! Ah'm savin up ma ain siller tae attend... 'twuid be guid fun tae see some ither Mudcatters there!


14 Mar 04 - 10:15 AM (#1136115)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: The Stage Manager

Uncle Jaque, Sandy, I love your posts. I continue to learn. You really can't make up this sort thing, and I rather fancy there are thousand of other similar tales.

One whose outline only I am aware of is that of the Rev Norman McLeod, who started off from Assynt in Sutherland and ended up in New Zealand. They were starved out of one settlement in Nova Scotian and I understand even built their own ships for some of their voyages.

I have a feeling that the extraordinary experiences of some of these individuals, and communities, must be recorded in song in the oral tradition, in one language or another.   I just don't seem to have heard any. Anyone care to point me in the right direction?


14 Mar 04 - 12:36 PM (#1136204)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: Sandy Mc Lean

The following is a few passages from Captains Courageous. The language is racist but the writing was a century ago, in very racist times.

The cook was a huge, jet-black negro, and, unlike all the negroes
Harvey had met, did not talk, contenting himself with smiles and
dumb-show invitations to eat more.

"See, Harvey," said Dan, rapping with his fork on the table, "it's
jest as I said. The young an' handsome men - like me an' Pennsy
an' you an' Manuel - we 're second ha'af, an' we eats when the
first ha'af are through. They're the old fish; and they're mean
an' humpy, an' their stummicks has to be humoured; so they come
first, which they don't deserve. Ain't that so, doctor?"

The cook nodded.

"Can't he talk?" said Harvey, in a whisper.

"'Nough to git along. Not much o' anything we know. His natural
tongue's kinder curious. Comes from the in'ards of Cape Breton, he
does, where the farmers speak home-made Scotch. Cape Breton's full
o' niggers whose folk run in there durin' aour war, an' they talk
like the farmers - all huffy-chuffy."

"That is not Scotch," said "Pennsylvania." "That is Gaelic. So I
read in a book."

14 Mar 04 - 02:31 PM (#1136266)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: Celtaddict

This local query has led into one of the most interesting drifts I recall.
In fact this feels almost a drift to follow up with a concrete message on the original query.
Patrick O'Flaherty's site is < > and contains not only general information and his schedule but links to Pat Troy's in Alexandria.

14 Mar 04 - 06:31 PM (#1136414)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: The Stage Manager


Looks like Kipling was right. Thousands of slaves it seems fled the United States for the 'freedom' of Nova Scotia.   I put 'Negroes & "Cape Breton"' into Google and it returned all sorts of stuff including census returns and reproductions of Contemporary Documents. The link to the Empire Loyalists is particularly interesting.

This is a chapter of History I had absolutely no inkling of. Kipling's cook was probably not an isolated incident. I'm not quite sure what this adds to the discussion about Gaelic singing in the States, but as a potential aspect of Gaelic Language transmission, it is something of a surprise to me.

Amazing what turns up when you start digging.


15 Mar 04 - 09:02 AM (#1136920)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: Sandy Mc Lean

The following is taken from Highland Settler (pub.1953) by Dr. Charles
W. Dunn. Professor of Celtic Languages, Harvard University.            

The most celebrated case in Cape Breton of non-Gaelic speaking persons adopting the language is that of John and George Maxwell, Negro twins. The father of these twins was adopted when a child by a Gaelic-speaking sea-captain whose home was in Cape Breton. Here the boy quickly and inevitably learned Gaelic—the language of the household and of the neighbourhood. When he married he continued to use Gaelic in his own home, and thus his twin sons learned the language. John settled in Malagawatch and died some twenty years ago. His twin brother, George, settled in Whycocomagh and died in 1936 when in his seventies. According to report he always enjoyed speaking Gaelic and sang the Gaelic songs enthusiastically. Since Negroes are much more rare in Cape Breton than in North Carolina, the Maxwell twins are remembered as a sort of monument to the language.

15 Mar 04 - 09:26 AM (#1136939)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: greg stephens

Stage Manager(and others): I was really only discussing the very popular view that the origins of oldtime and bluegrass music can be traced to predominantly "Celtic", Irish, Scottish of "Scots Irish" music from (possibly) Gaelic speakers settling in the Appalachians, and to the influence of black music on this.
I was disagreeing, and saying that I would have thought English traditional singing and fiddling had an equal or greater influence; and I was also suggesting that this downplaying of the English influence is a political thing, at variance with the historical evidence. I totally agree that black music had a huge influence on it. I'm specifically talking about southern American oldtime music here. not Cape Breton, where obviously Scottish settleers had a much more powerful influence. and Gaelic speaking was much more signicant over a substantial period of time.
    The link to a piece about the Scots Gaelic (Outer Hebrides) origins of black gospel singing was interesting, but to me highly unconvincing (except as a minor element in the cultural mix). Students are generally taught something about the dangers of statistical arguments leading to connections where none actually exist. Examples commonly cited are (1) Canadian blanket sales correlate very well with the temperature in London(England). However, you would wrong to assume from this that the temperature in London affects Canadian blanket sales. (2) Having measles is virtually invariably associated with havinf a high temperature. This does not mean that a high temperature is of much use s a diagnostic test for measles.
   I think we have the same thing here with black gospel music and psalm-singing in Lewis and Harris.(I have an excellent recording, which I am listening to at the moment). Yes, they have traits in common. No, I dont think those features necessarily link the two forms of music in a hugely signicant way. I think the professor has got a bee in his bonnet (that's what folk music research does to you, and dont I know it!).

15 Mar 04 - 11:10 AM (#1137032)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: GUEST,Fiona

Just for anyone out there who'd like any information on any aspect of Scottish Gaelic song, - lyrics, recordings, research , composers etc , get in touch with me. I work in the Highlands of Scotland as the Mairi Mhor Gaelic Song Fellow and its my job to encourage as many people as possible to particpate in Gaelic song! So if you need phonetic translations or recordings of a particular song, etc please get in touch with me. reply to this thread and I'll do what i can.
Le gach deagh dhurachd

15 Mar 04 - 11:18 AM (#1137037)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: GUEST,The Stage Manger

The problem with this type of discussion is that all the sources seem to contradict each other. For example:

"The Negroes in the American continent, for instance, speak various languages according to the particular area they inhabit. Most of them speak English; in Brazil they speak Portuguese; in the rest of South America, in Central America and in parts of the United States, they speak Spanish; and in certain areas of the United States and Canada they speak French. "On Cape Breton island in Canada, there are even Negroes who speak Gaelic" (Julian Huxley, We Europeans, 1936 p. 123)."

At some stage I think we have to look at the music itself and consider the 'gut reaction' of musicians who play the stuff, and then look at the "sources".

I'm increasingly convinced the historians only ever see half of half the picture, if that. It why I think the Oral Tradition is so important.

While this side of the Atlantic we have a pretty good concept of what we undersatnd by the Oral Tradition. Because of the history of the States over the last three hundred years that picture is perhaps less clear because of the vast range of competing cultural influences. Whatever else, it gives amazing vitality and drive to the music.

Personally, I would rather hope that an Amercan Oral Tradition would embrace and acknowledge all these influences.


15 Mar 04 - 04:18 PM (#1137352)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: The Stage Manager


A pal just forwarded this link to me. See what you think.

The man himself explains

This came at the same time:Highlanders in the American South seldom overcame the practices and values of slave-holding society, however. Their slaves, being members of a Highland community, also spoke Gaelic. Lady Liston, wife of the British minister in Washington, wrote in the late eighteenth century, "The Gallic language is still prevalent amongst them, their Negroes speak it, and they have a clergyman who preaches in it." John Sinclair wrote in 1872, "I have met with a number of coloured people who speak the Gaelic as well as if they had been raised in any of the Hebrides." Sinclair himself was minister to the freed slaves of Harnett County, and some black churches continued to use Gaelic in religious services well after the abolition of slavery. Some African musicians were acknowledged masters of Highland music, such as fiddler John "Jack" McGeachy who lived in Robeson County, North Carolina from 1769 to 1869.

This is an extract from a text presented at the Highland Settlers Conference Virginia Historical Society and University of Richmond November 6, 2003 by Michael Newton.

Re: Fiona's post


If you've not come across Fiona before...She is a real font of quite extraordinary knowledge on Gaelic music, with access to the best sources and musicians in the Highlands today. And a lovely lady with it.

She really does meant when she says get in touch if you need information. You'll do no better!   


15 Mar 04 - 05:36 PM (#1137420)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: greg stephens

Stage manager: I hope you listen to zydeco music. This must be the most accessible music of the kind you are talking about. French language black Louisiana music, self-contained, traditional and also totally up to date. And a complete product of its own environment, there is nothing remotely like it back in either France or Africa, whether in the vocals or the accordion style. French Louisiana kept going, black white and mixed, in a way that the small Gaelic enclaves of the south did not. An extraordinary and exciting bit of cultural history.

16 Mar 04 - 12:09 AM (#1137678)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: LadyJean

I have been told that the American tune "Bonaparte's Retreat" began as an Irish tune called "The Eagle's Whistle". I know that an Irish tune called "The Beggarman" is called "The Red Haired Lad" here in the U.S. I also know that I danced strasthpeys to a tune very similar to the song my Kentucky cousins sang, "Will your horse carr double Uncle Joe Uncle Joe." and that The Chieftains played it as a finale at one of their concerts.

16 Mar 04 - 01:23 AM (#1137707)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: greg stephens

Ladyjean: the Uncle Joe Uncle Joe tune is one of the all time super-successful tunes(Soldiers Joy and the Sailors hornpipe come into the same category). It seems to have started life as a Scottish tune ""Miss McLeod of Raasay", and became known throughout Britian(played in A) and Ireland(played in G, and occasionally A in north). Generally known as Miss McLeod's Reel, nowadays, and "Hop High ladies" and a few other tthings in America. A great tune, and good for sessions with people you dont know, as everybody knows it.

16 Mar 04 - 02:42 AM (#1137722)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: nelagnelag

Wow again. I'll have to actually read all of this tomorrow when I have a brean...brain.

I'll just throw in that I'm reading about the underground railroad right now, and it's pretty interesting. I'm sure I'll run into connections with all of this.

I do get a sense that many of the people who came to the americas came straight from a very rural background, under extreme duress - financial/health/family/religious hardship - , were very parochial in their thinking, and moved to rural areas, where they could continue to be parochial in their thinking. By parochial I mean "tribal", only aware of their own kind of people and way of thinking.

This is why I mentioned the book by Ms. Musick.

So, you end up with a culture that has a limited/local horizon of understanding about the human experience, who often came here under extreme duress, often in a position of power over another group of people who also came here under extreme duress. No wonder slavery was such an incredibly brutal horror.

Sorry, I guess this should actually be in a different thread.


16 Mar 04 - 07:59 AM (#1137940)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: Pied Piper

Hi ladyJean.
Is that the Bonaparte's Retreat with the extra bar at the end of the A and B music?
I play the Eagle Whistle on the pipes and now you come tmention it there is some similarity.
Bonaparte's Retreat is the title of at least 3 differant tunes that I know of 2 of which I play.


16 Mar 04 - 08:05 AM (#1137947)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: Uncle Jaque

Fiona - Do you know of any popular songs my Ancestor might have been familiar with - or perhaps even sung - prior to the Battle of Dunbar in 1650?

About all we know of his Scottish life is that he was a "Loyalist Scot" and probably from the Lowlands somewhere.

Were there any "laments" written about the massacre at Dunbar?

If Could learn such a song phonetically it might help enhance my understanding of Gaelic a bit I suppose - although I'm not sure that I have the linguistic aptitude or resources to ever get really fluent in it.

One of the ways I remember, honor, and pay tribute to our Ancestors who served to preserve the American Union and abolish Slavery during the American Civil War is to sing their songs as part of my impression as a Reenactor, and It'd be sort of nice, I think, to be able to do that for James Adams - and his People - as well.

Someone here mentioned "Sol-Fa" Music - by that do we mean the style of Musical notation popular in Scotland & England in the middle 19th Century?

We had quite a discussion about that here a couple of years ago, as I recall - it might still be in the Archives (?).

One of the books in my collection - published in the 1880's, i think, is a collection of Scottish Songs all in SolFa notation.
It's rather interesting, although I never could figure it out entirely, despite the kind attempts of a couple of Mudcatters to teach me.
For a while I thought it might have potential for sharing scores on this forum - but alas; few keyboards & WP programs can handle it, as far as I can tell.

Thanks - UJ in ME, USA

16 Mar 04 - 08:13 AM (#1137957)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: greg stephens

Uncle Jacques: in the context of 1650, what does "loyalist Scot" imply? I'm unfamiliar with the term. King, or parliament? And i would guess if he was Lowland Scot, he probably didnt speak Gaelic. That's not an inflexible rule, but in 1650 Gaelic(which tended to be called Irish in Scotland in those days, which is confusing) was mainly a northern and western activity.

16 Mar 04 - 08:56 AM (#1138002)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: Big Mick

Thanks, greg. You beat me to the punch.

16 Mar 04 - 09:28 AM (#1138038)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: Uncle Jaque

I'm pretty sure that would have been "Loyal" to the King... James?

Wasn't Oliver Cromwell the Champion of the Parlimentary Forces at the time (My sense of history is a little rusty here...)
Anyway; whichever side came up the loser (and got pretty badly massacred in the process) was the side James ADAMS was allied with.

I wish we knew more about his Scottish connection - where he was from etc.. but only a few shards of family lore have survived the past 350-some years.

So a "Lowlander" would more likely have spoken / sung in "English"?

Would that have been sort of like the "King James" English a-la the KJV Bible which was translated in 1611?

I don't know as if we have a lot of popular / Folk music from that time period, do we?

Other than the Pipes, harp, or lute - what sort of instrument would the "common folk" likely have played?
I'm thinking some sort of whistle or fife(?)

16 Mar 04 - 12:28 PM (#1138248)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: InOBU

Yes yes yes.... all the above is true... however to really get a sense of Celtic Music in the US ....SORCHA DORCHA will be at the HALF KING restaurant and pub, this Wends. Saint Patrick's Day on 23rd street between 10th and 11th Ave. from 7 pm to 10 ... As expected Lorcan Otway on vocals uilleann pipes flute whistle bodhran and the great Jane Kelton on flute whistle and key board, Seanin An Fear on Mandolin, Joe Charupakorn on guitar... the joint is already rumbling, so stay from Give us a drink of water to An Phis Fluich, all yer ol' favs...
Cheers, Is mise, le meas, Lorcan Otway
(This message was generated on the plugometer designed by Spaw for the use of Lorcan Otway)

17 Mar 04 - 11:44 AM (#1139182)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: Sandy Mc Lean

I have a Gaelic speaking friend in North Carolina who has done extensive research on Gaelic singing both there, and here in Cape Breton. I have sent her a link to this thread in the hope that she will add her knowledge to this discussion.

17 Mar 04 - 11:53 AM (#1139192)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: greg stephens

Uncle Jacqu: it doesnt get more cmuch more complicated than Scottish history c 1650(not to mention Englaish and Irish). Broadly speaking there was a civil war , Charles I got his head chopped off, Cromwell took over for Parliament, he died and Charles II was put on the thrown.Scots were involved on both sides(though it is a gross over simplification to suggest there were only two sides). Gaelic speakers fought on both sides inScotland, as did English speakers.

17 Mar 04 - 02:53 PM (#1139327)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: The Stage Manager


That's very kind of your friend. Sounds like the sort of input this discussion needs.

Elsewhere, someone has thracked down a collection of "Negro songs" from Nova Scotia. I wondered if anyone knows anything about this collection?

Negro Songs - C. Miscellaneous items re: black music and narratives collected by Helen Creighton and others; includes article entitled "Music of the Blacks" by Helen Creighton - ca. 1969, report on black music taped by Marvin Burke for the Canadian Folk Music Society - 1967, "Negro Music in Nova Scotia," Tape 1 collected by Marvin Burke - 1967. MG 1 Vol. 2803 no. 16


17 Mar 04 - 05:42 PM (#1139460)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: The Stage Manager

Uncle Jaque

The battle of Dunbar took place During the English Civil War. This was essentailly between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians. This was the only time England got anywhere near being a Republic!

The Scots were mostly on the side of the Royalists, who were of course the Stuarts, first monarchs to have family claim to both the Scottish and English Thrones. ...All this was to end up with Bonnie Prince Charlie and Colloden 90 odd years later.

The Parliamentarians wre led by Oliver Cromwell, a man renowned for his hatred of Catholicism, and Scots and Irish in particular.

The Covenanters on the Scottish side were a bit of a cheerless lot as well. Between them if they sang anything it would probably have been psalms.

Anyway here are a few bits and pieces that I hope might be of interest

The battle


While Dunbar was commemorated as a glorious victory, the fate of the Scottish prisoners was one of the less glorious episodes in English military history. Of the 10,000 captured, half were released immediately due to their wounds or sickness. Not wanting the others to join up with Leslie and rearm, the rest were marched 118 miles south to Durham with the aim of sending them to the American colonies as labour. Given little food or medical help, and prisoners who tried to escape offered no quarter, only 3,000 staggered into Durham on the 10th of September. Once there, the food intended for the prisoners was stolen and sold by their guards so that two months later, only 1,400 were still alive. Of these, 900 were sent to the colonies and 500 indentured to fight in the French army.

From a Scottish Q & A page:

Is there information on soldiers that were captured in the battle of Dunbar?

The battle of Dunbar took place on 3rd September 1650 during the civil war. Cromwell (after having his men sing the 117th psalm) led his troops in a ruthless destruction of the Scottish troops led by General Leslie. Between 3,000 and 4,000 Scots died on the battlefield and 10,000 were taken prisoner. Around 8,000 Scots escaped, half of whom re-joined Leslie during the following few days.
An excellent account of the whole conflict is given in John D. Grainger, Cromwell Against the Scots, the Last Anglo-Scottish War 1650-1652, Tuckwell Press, East Linton, 1997 (ISBN 1 86232 064 0) from which I took the following quote: "On the day after the battle, in the midst of writing his victorious letters, Cromwell had released the wounded Scots prisoners, which disposed of half of them ... But he could not simply release the fit men to fight again. So the unwounded - about 5,000 men were then ordered south to be held by Haselrig [governor of Newcastle] at Newcastle ... The prisoners were rank and file, separated from their officers. A considerable number simply ran away, as soon as they could, before the English guards were organised ... The rest refused to move at first, until several were 'pistolled on the spot'. No food was provided for their journey ... There were still some thousands who reached England. At Morpeth they were turned into a cabbage field for the night. They were so hungry that they devoured the cabbage raw, roots and all. Sickness inevitably spread amongst them. In Northumberland they were the responsibility of Sir Arthur Haselrig..." (p55)
No-one was sure what to do with the prisoners. Cromwell asked that 'humanity be exercised towards them'. In true British fashion a committee was set up to consider the problem. In the meantime the men continued to die. By the end of October Haselrig reported that of the 5,000 prisoners sent south by Cromwell, only around 3,000 had arrived at Durham. He mentions 600 healthy men and 500 sick. he does not say whether the other 2,000 were living or dead.
The committee suggested using the men as labour in the coal mines or transporting them to America, France or Ireland. In preparation for this the prisoners were moved to London. On November 11th Haselrig was told to deliver 150 prisoners to Augustine Walker, the master of the ship 'Unity' who would take them to New England. Walker sold his cargo for £20 to £30 per man. 60 men went to the Saugus iron works at Lynn (the first iron manufactory in N. America) and 15 men were sent to Berwick, Maine (a few others, exact number not given, went to nearby York). This accounts for about half of Walker's cargo, we have to assume that the rest either died or escaped.
The last mention of the prisoners by the committee was that some of the sick men should be sent to the Blackwall pest house where the proprietor should be responsible for their keep and their recovery.

Your Family History looks to be spot on Uncle J.


13 Apr 04 - 08:59 PM (#1161337)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: GUEST,

Hello my name is Dean Smith. My mother was the daughter of John Maxwell. Her name was Jesse Maxwell and she was born to Minnie and John Maxwell in Marble Mountain. She told me that her father spoke Gaelic and was a twin and since then I've been trying to find out more about these twins. I think John died in a mine although I am not sure. My mother was raised in Truro, Nova Scotia and she passed away in February 2000 at the age of 79. She has two brothers whose names are Bill and Gordon who are also the sons of John Maxwell and who currently reside in Truro. I would really like to learn more about the twins and see some pictures if there are any. Please contact me if you know anything.
Dean Smith

13 Apr 04 - 11:08 PM (#1161401)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: Sandy Mc Lean

Hi Dean,
   I once was told that one of the ladies who sing in the group "Four The Moment" was a descendant of John Maxwell. There are still descendants of George living in Whycocomagh.
As you post an E-mail address I will contact you there.

14 Apr 04 - 04:48 PM (#1161740)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: The Stage Manager


I really hope Sandy's lead helps you out.   I'm awestruck. I really thought Kipling's story was little more than a literary curiosity that might point to something more interesting.

I never dreamed it would provide such an incredible demonstration of the persistence and power of oral traditions carried through successive generations.

Thank you for responding, and the very best of luck in your searches.


14 Apr 04 - 06:13 PM (#1161796)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: McGrath of Harlow

Pedantic note: Celtic is a ladylike word for Irish, essentially, even though in theory it takes in Scots, Welsh, Breton and Basque, as well as Cornish and Manx.>/I>

Basque is only Celtic in the same way that Chinese is. Neither of them are "Indo-European" languages.

15 Apr 04 - 06:11 PM (#1162722)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: Sandy Mc Lean

   The e-mail attempt bounced back to me. You will have to establish contact through this forum, if you so desire.

03 Jun 04 - 05:55 AM (#1199063)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: GUEST,edis kadic Bosnia and Herzegovina

i wuld like to become a usa soldier...if that is posible....please write me at if anyone can do something for me ....please

02 Nov 04 - 12:55 PM (#1314273)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: Sandy Mc Lean


02 Nov 04 - 01:39 PM (#1314332)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: PoppaGator

I was surprised to read about Patrick O'Flaherty residing in the D.C. area; I had though of him as an adopted New Orleanian (like myself), but this explains why I haven't seen him for a while.

Patrick had been part of a local group, The Poor Clares, all of whose other members are enjoying some degree of visibility in their local solo careers. I should have noticed that Patrick was conspiuous by his absense, and now I realize that he's moved away.

His brother Danny is also a performer and singer, also bilingual in English and Irish, as well as proprietor of O'Flaherty's Irish Channel Pub in the French Quarter. I had always assumed the pub was a family business with both brothers involved as partners, but never knew for sure -- none of my business, actually.

Even when he was in town, Patrick was less visible than his brother as publican/businessman; his public identity was always that of a traditional musician, pure and simple. Danny has always taken on more of the role of "genial host" and entrepreneur first, and singer/musician second.

02 Nov 04 - 10:46 PM (#1314732)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: GUEST,Anne Landin

I'm sorry it took me 7 months to respond to this thread, but I think it was going on during the time I was having major computer problems and then I forgot. Anyway, Sandy has asked me to add a few comments.   

In certain areas of NC, the Scottish Gaelic speakers who emigrated in the 18th century were predominant. That would be parts of the eastern and southern parts of the State. This group had nothing to do with the "Scotch-Irish" as they are called here, who were the very early traders in the western part of the state and later comers who mostly migrated down the Great Federal Wagon Road from Pennsylvania.

The Scottish Highlanders came directly to NC from the inner Hebrides, such as Mull, Jura, Islay, Colonsay, Gigha and the mainland opposite this area – Kintyre, and Skye from 1730's to 1805 or so. They were mostly Presbyterian – an important point when you wonder what happened to their music.   Gaelic was spoken for 2 – 3 generations, mostly regenerated by later emigrants, usually relatives of the earlier ones. By the mid 1800's Gaelic was dying out due to various things, probably the influence of other ethnic groups living nearby, and inability to get Gaelic speaking ministers to come to NC.   Fiddle playing and dancing was greatly discouraged there by the ministers by the beginning of the 1800's. Bagpipes were played for some period of time as a few have been handed down in families, although the current owners don't play them.

It has been very hard to find traces of their (Gaelic) music so I believe there was a gap in time between the Gaelic music (such as still exists in Cape Breton) and the old time, mountain or bluegrass music found in NC today. They still play Soldier's Joy and Miss MacLeod's Reel, but they learned it from other musicians, not from parents, grandparents, etc. in a continuing stream. There is a very good article by Larry Bethune from the Berklee College of Music, Boston, in which he traces the tunes of songs back to their origins. He didn't find many traces of Gaelic tunes, however, in current folklore. This paper was published in The Argyll Colony Plus, the Journal of the NC Scottish Heritage Society, within the last year, I think, but I don't have the reference at hand.   Another reference you might find of interest is an article by Rob Gibson called "Cowboy Celtic" in the Folk Tradition, 27, June/July 1998. If it's still available, this info was at:   

I have not been able to find a single mention of any Gaelic Psalm singing in the churches in the NC records. Charles Dunn and Michael Newton say "they must have" done it, but no one has come up with proof. It stands to reason that they did sing the Gaelic Psalms for awhile and probably through the style of "presenting", but if all the ministers except one or two in the earliest days were English (only) speakers, you can imagine it probably stopped very soon.

It will be interesting to see the Scottish TV documentary films which will be released in February (one Gaelic, one in English) which explores Willie Ruff's theories. Part of this documentary was filmed this summer in NC and part was filmed in the island of Lewis.

02 Nov 04 - 11:54 PM (#1314765)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: GUEST,Rob

Hi, I came across this message board while searching some song tab's/chords. Just an FYI - there is a Gaelic College in Englishtown (where the speak, gaelic? :) haha), in Cape Breton. There mission is keeping celtic tradition, including music alive.

Might be a good point of contact for anyone interested.


Contact Information
Gaelic College of
Celtic Arts and Crafts

PO Box 80
Englishtown, NS
Canada B0C 1H0
Tel: 902-295-3411
Fax: 902-295-2912

03 Nov 04 - 02:09 AM (#1314849)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: chris nightbird childs

A LOT of people forget that "Celtics" are Scottish too, and Irish music to most dimwitted Americans is a drunken rendition of "Danny Boy"...

03 Nov 04 - 05:34 AM (#1314973)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: Sandy Mc Lean

Thanks Anne, for sharing your insight with us!
          Moran taing agus cum suas e !

21 Dec 05 - 08:07 AM (#1632045)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: GUEST,Larry Bethune

As you notice, I am very late to this discussion, having found it surfing for more information on "Celtic" music.

My research, alluded to by Anne Landin in an earlier post, focuses on tunes, not words (directly). I have also been in touch with Dr Willie Ruff (also mentioned earlier) as many of his sources are the same as mine. His conclusion, though controversial, has some merit, from my view, though my own research shows that the music of the Hebrides bears some interesting similarities with music from West Africa and even Ethiopia. But that research is very thin at the moment. It would be ironic if the very clues that Willie and I hear in Hebrides music that influenced African-American music in the colonial America has its roots in Africa. What a hoot, eh?

Someone mentioned ship trade routes as being the "carrier" of these musical viruses and, though I have yet to fully explore that idea, it seems a rich track to follow. I agree with the idea that many tunes (remember, I am not focussing on words) hopped on ships with musicians (not pros but amateurs who had other jobs such as sailors and merchants) and traveled to far away places. The routes between North Africa/Mediterranean and the British Isles were many and full of cultural trading opportunities.

Still, part of my thesis is that, while almost anyone can put words to music, very few of us actually are tunesmiths. Ergo, I believe tunes change very little over generations while the words may change several times even within a generation. Though, of course over many generations, the tunes will change, but the DNA that makes the tune distinct rarely changes. Also, as a composer, I believe that popular (or folk) tunesmiths really deviate very little from their cultural norms, pushing envenlopes ever so slightly; adding new ideas they imagine or hear in other composer's music but only as much as the "folk" will allow before rejecting the new music created from a sort of musical dialectic process.


I am now exploring my belief that Cecil Sharpe et al. made several incorrect assumptions about Appalachian music (let the battles begin!).

Most all folk "music" experts are actually folk "lyric" experts. This thread has been arguing about Celtic and Gaelic and it has been properly pointed out that we are mainly discussing language. Language does affect music within song.

But what happens when tunes meet a new language and a new culture? English people singing Scottish Highland/Island Gaelic tunes, for example?

First, we lose the language. So, a Scottish tune now has English lyrics. Then, because the Gaelic affected the rhythm of the tune (TUG-gah, snap from characteristic Scots Gaelic (Scots GAH-lick versus Irish GAY-lic) and then English language, finding TUG-gah foreign straightens it out to two even eight notes from its characteristic sixteenth-dotted eighth. Then, the pentatonic nature of the Scots music gets, say, a leading tone or seventh degree added to make it sound more pleasing to that generations English ear.

So, the Scots pentatonic and Gaelic-rhythmic tune gets English words and the melody gets altered to fit that culture and make the "folk" happy.

Cecil shows up and hears English, hears six or seven tones, and hears rhythms thta sound English to his ears. Ergo... they songs came from England.


Now, I am not on some nationalistic bent. Actually, my quest leads back to Biblical times, more of "what did Jesus and Moses sing?" So, I have to get busy. But, my path so far leads me to believe Cecil jumped the gun, shot from the hip, a bit, and any other firearm image you can conjure up. My reserach shows a good number of his tunes found in Appalachia to have Scottish and/or Irish roots. I can find tunes that with slight alteration (as described) are older and found in Scotland, for example.

Now, that is no proof that they did not originate in England or Morrocco, for example. Maybe we can never find the actual folk tune Garden of Eden. But, so far, the older tunes I have found in Scotland before they got to England and Appalachia. Perhaps they did morph in England and then traveled to Appalachia. But, I would love to fill in the gap between the Colonial Highlanders (which were many in the Cape Fear Valley and beyond up into Appalachia) and the time Cecil and his songcatchers found what they thought appeared to be English ballads.

Enough. Just thought I'd jump in. Love to hear some response. I do not frequent this board so please be encouraged to send me an email at Also, some of my reserach (older stuff) is up at

Thanks for listening.


21 Dec 05 - 04:09 PM (#1632405)
Subject: Lyr Add: THE STORY OF GAELIC (A. McLean)
From: Sandy Mc Lean

Hi Guest Larry! Welcome to this old thread.
Funny but I once wrote a song that addresses some issues that you raise. Nollaig Mhath Dhuibh! Merry Christmas!


Once Gaelic was the language of the land,
Spoken here by every woman, child, and man,
For when God created Adam, He decided he would have him
Speak the tongue in which the angels sang.

Where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers flow,
At a time so many thousand years ago,
The people down in Babel built a tower that would travel
From this earth way up to heaven, so I’m told.

But the Lord, He wasn't very pleased at all,
And decided their construction He would stall;
So He took away their Gaelic, left them all ranting and raving,
Speaking languages each other didn't know.

But then the Lord spoke to a chosen few,
Saying, “Gaelic I will now give back to you,
For I know that you still love me and won't put yourselves above me.
The Gaelic will be just for me and you.”

Father John Angus Rankin used to tell
His people to avoid the gates of hell,
But when heaven's call you're heeding, the Gaelic you'll be needing.
It's the language of the garden; learn it well.

(c) 2002
A. McLean

22 Feb 06 - 10:40 AM (#1675874)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: GUEST,Dean smith

Hi sandy i didn't you posted my families info online thats soo koo, you said there is a woman from the four moments who can be related to us here in montreal. let us/or her know. thanks a lot.

Dean maxwell smith

22 Feb 06 - 04:12 PM (#1676167)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: Sandy Mc Lean

Hi Dean,
Your recent posting seems to be very scrambled, so I am not sure that it is legitamate. I tried posting to that address in the past and it bounced back. If you are for real please post again.

22 Feb 06 - 07:12 PM (#1676280)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: Azizi

Regarding enslaved & free African Americans speaking languages other than English, see this excerpt about the abolitionist speaker/activist, Sojourner Truth:

"Sojourner Truth was born in 1797 in Ulster County, a Dutch settlement in upstate New York. Her given name was Isabella Baumfree. She was one of 13 children born to slave parents. She spoke only Dutch until she was sold from her family around the age of eleven. Because of the cruel treatment she suffered at the hands of her new master she learned to speak English quickly, but would continue to speak with a Dutch accent for the rest of her life"


Here's additional information about Sojourner Truth:

She eventually added abolitionism and women's suffrage to her oratory, often giving personal testimony about her experiences as a slave. In 1851, she spoke at a women's covention in Akron, Ohio. The legendary phrase, "Ain't I a Woman?" was associated with Truth after this speech.

After the Civil War ended, she worked tirelessly to aid the newly-freed southern slaves. She even attempted to petition Congress to give the ex-slaves land in the "new West." Truth continued preaching and lecturing until ill health forced her to retire."

Sojourner Truth

22 Feb 06 - 08:53 PM (#1676367)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: Sandy Mc Lean

This is very interesting Azizi!
It also raises another question in my mind.
There must have been a lot of oral history passed down among the early generations of plantation slaves. This must also have happened using the mother tongues from Africa. I would also think that song and music would have played a large part in maintaining at least remnants of these languages for a long period of time and that the line singing under discussion must have played a part.
   My question is what can be identified today in our English language as being part of this heritage? There must be a lot of hidden treasure there!
   The Gaels and the Blacks both came from tribal societies so there would be inherent similarities. Certainly the American Indian and the Gael have many similar customs that were developed an ocean apart. By examining our differences we often find that we are more alike than we first thought.

22 Feb 06 - 09:11 PM (#1676387)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: Azizi

Sorry, I have no intention of hijacking this thread.

Short answer, there have been studies done on Africanisms in African American culture-among the Gullah people of isolated areas in the coastal South.


and also among other African Americans.

After reading your post, I searched but couldn't find a book I know I have somewhere on African words in {American} English.

However, I did find this book Joseph E. Holloway, editor "Africanisms in American Culture" {Indiana University Press, 1990...

One chapter of that book focuses on "African elements in African American English". That chapter talks about "language behaviors".

There are also personal names that have survived, particularly from the Akan {Ghana, West Africa} cultures.

Of course, no discussion of Africanism would have merit if it did not focus on call & response tradition in music and speech.

That's some random thoughts, all only tangentially related to this thread's subject.

Again, sorry for the digression.

And may I say that I find the central topic of this thread interesting.

Best wishes,


30 Apr 06 - 12:49 PM (#1730579)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: George Seto -

Just found this thread. Thanks, Alice for the kind words.

To Stage Manager, etc.

There is also a note in Highland Settler by Charles Dunn which Sandy didn't quote. He mentions that some emigrants to the states wrote back to Scotland that when they arrived in New Orleans that it was terribly hot. The sun had obviously burnt the skin of some of the people black as they arrived to hear Gaelic being spoken by some of the Southern Blacks working on the docks.

Here in Halifax, about 15 or 16 years back, a local Blues musician, Bill Stephenson, made a comment I keep recalling. Much of the Blues and Jazz owes as much to the Scottish and Irish traditional music as it does to African rhythms. They are an amalgam of the two cultures intertwined.

My own take on it is :
Country and Western music is a direct descendant of the laments of the Scottish and Irish. Their musical themes and dances form a great part of the Hill-billy music that spawned the C&W music as well as the Rock and Roll music which followed it. Add the rhythms of the African-American and you get the other half of the equation forming the Rock and Roll tradition. When you combine them in other proportions, you get Jazz or Blues. The Africans and Irish and Scottish people all worked together at the menial jobs. They suffered together, forming bonds that affected the music they would make. Into the twentieth century, those groupings would re-join again and give us the music we know as Bluegrass.

To me, all of those are related music forms. They're all great!

01 May 06 - 01:32 AM (#1731065)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: GUEST,thurg

Sandy (if you're still following this thread) - I'm a little puzzled over the stories of the Gaelic-speaking black twins, and I'm starting to wonder if there were actually two (or more?) different sets of such twins, and whether some of the stories got melded ... I remember reading an article in Cape Breton's Magazine (or was it still "Down North"?) about "the" twins, which sounded almost identical (so to speak) to your (and Kipling's) story, but if I remember correctly there was an interview presumably done by Ron Caplan with one of the twins, so he at least would have been alive in the 1970's. One of these twins worked as a sea-cook; the other worked more on land. My uncle told me he worked with that twin in the steel plant and that he lived in Whitney Pier. My uncle is 80 or so now, and I got the impression that the twins were more or less of his generation.

Anyway, my uncle told me a story that his brother told him about this guy:

My uncle's brother worked in the steel plant too, and one Saturday he and this black Gael and a couple of other guys were going off on some sort of an excursion. When they came to catch the Englishtown(?) ferry, there was no sign of action, so the driver got out to see what was happening. He came back looking unhappy. "What's wrong?" "We can't go across." "Why not?" "The captain says it's too rough." So, as you can imagine, there were a few sad and silent moments as this sunk in. Then the black fellow said, "Wait a minute", and he got out, walked up to the ferry and went on board. He was gone for the longest time as the others sat and waited. Finally, he came back and hopped into the car. "Okay, boys, let's go; he's taking us across." "What? How come? What did you tell him?" "Oh, nothing in particular; I just had a big talk with him in Gaelic, and he said he'd take us across."

I always liked the idea of that crusty old captain who would accept any man for what he's worth regardless of race, religion or creed - as long as he had the Gaelic.

01 May 06 - 08:51 AM (#1731188)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: GUEST,Jack Campin

Larry Bethune is speculating without, it seems, ever having looked at what Sharp did (and probably hasn't even seen the cover of one of his books, as he can't spell his name).

Look at Bronson's "The Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads" for a comprehensive survey of how these tunes evolved. The two main points as far as Larry's concerned: very few of them are of Celtic origin, and all of them have changed a LOT over the centuries, ramifying into countless variants - tunes are nothing like as fixed as Larry thinks.

14 May 06 - 09:40 PM (#1740828)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa

Jack, I am unsure why you jump to such conclusions over a typo or oversight.

Not only have I seen Cecil Sharp's work, I own both Sharp's and Bronson's work (and the Bronson book cost me dearly) and have analyzed mmuch (not all) of both Bronson's and Sharp's work. It seems you may have fallen into the trap of "variants" when a closer look will reveal very little that has changed in terms of the DNA of these tunes. Of course there are variants, but they mean almost nothing. Anymore than changing clothes can actually change the person. Added approach notes, ornamentations, even redirections do not hide the raw structure of a tune. Simple target note analysis will show that. In fact, often the additions or alterations themselves can lead one to identify the folk culture or "folk" that influenced the variant.

One need only make a cursory analysis of the arrangements of Marjory Kennedy Fraser of songs from the Hebrides to see (hear) how songs originally in Gaelic have been cleaned up and straightened out, and yet one can still find the earlier tunes through both melodic analysis and the comparisons to earlier transcriptions of singers from those islands.

Bronson's work was very good, Sharp's made conclusions based on language, and music analysis, it appears to me, took a back seat. It appears he had little understanding of the Gaelic language that may have affected or been the basis for some of the tunes. Read the work and you tell me on what musical basis he makes claims that certain songs are from England, not Scotland, or Ireland, or France, for that matter.

I would like to learn from you what leads you to believe that Cecil Sharp was an expert analyst. I appreciate his collections and what he did for preserving the music. I simply disagree with his conclusions as to what is English and what is Scottish. I am unsure, myself, but certain "genes" are more common to the music of one geogrphical area than another. In the end, I have read no one who knows where anything originated, but when you isolate a specific time period with a small window of time, one can identify those unique elements that make something Highland and something else Hungarian. With a bit more focus, the same can be done with Highland versus "English."

It's fine that you disagree with me, I am sure many do. But your response offers no factual analysis, falls into old traps, and only takes jabs at me based on the faulty analysis of others.

Odd, but does make interesting reading.

[I apologize for any typos or any other weird moments where I may have simply spaced out. I just don't have time to go back and proof this.]

26 Feb 08 - 08:09 PM (#2273196)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: Sandy Mc Lean

Sorry to re-open an old thread but I found a question to me from Thurg that remained unanswered.
There were two George Maxwells, father and son. George the elder was Kiplings black cook. His son George, also fluent in Gaelic and a great singer in that tradition, moved from Whycocomagh to Sydney as a young man and worked at the steel plant.

28 Feb 08 - 12:16 AM (#2274423)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: meself

Thanks, Sandy. I'm still a little befuddled; I think some of my own impressions of what I've read and heard on the matter must be a little mixed-up. If I ever find that article again, I might get straightened out.

It seems to me that sometime after writing the above anecdote about the ferry captain, I asked my uncle about it again, and he said that the black Gael in question was NOT a twin, so he was probably either the younger George Maxwell that you mention or a Maxwell of the next generation ...

28 Feb 08 - 12:31 AM (#2274427)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: Sandy Mc Lean

"My uncle is 80 or so now, and I got the impression that the twins were more or less of his generation."
Almost certainly George Jr. If he were alive today he would be well into his 80's. He lived at Whitney Pier in Sydney and worked at the steel plant. A bit more here:

28 Feb 08 - 10:06 AM (#2274709)
Subject: RE: oral tradition - 'celtic' singing in usa
From: meself

Thanks for the link - it mentions the magazine article I clumsily cited: "Also [in] the 'Cape Breton's Magazine['], # 28, George Maxwell of Sydney tells
stories of his family. He was the s/o George Maxwell (the twin) and grandson
of George Maxwell, who came to Judique as a small boy with O'Hanley."

So the story of the twins that I remembered reading was, apparently, not the story of the George Maxwell (younger) who was being interviewed, but a story he was telling about his father and uncle. I think I've got it now ... (!)