My Gaelic Speaking Mother

July 11, 2009

My mother, Mary Sarah Rankin Stubbert, throughout sixty years of marriage to my father, Jack Stubbert, conversed in Gaelic when they wanted a private word. This was done primarily when they did not want us, the children, to understand.
Consequently, as a child I grew up hearing the beautiful language spoken by my parents and their many friends. Although our family moved from Cape Breton to Halifax in the early forties, there was never a real separation from our Cape Breton home. In their hearts they carried with them love of the Island, love of tradition, culture, and family bonds.
Planning a ceilidh at our home was always met with great enthusiasm. Two large rooms connected by French doors were emptied; carpets rolled up, chairs placed around the walls, food prepared, and the piano made ready for the Saturday night gala.
Fiddlers and guests soon arrived and the party was on. Square dancing and Gaelic songs sung with gusto and heartfelt pride went on into the wee hours of the morning. A few of us usually stayed up and went to first mass at St. Mary’s; Tired and cold we prayed through the long hour.
At one such ceilidh we were blessed to have as guests, the two best fiddle players in Nova Scotia, Scotty Winston Fitzgerald and Buddy MacMaster. Around four o’clock a.m. the crowd cleared out. Buddy, lying on the chesterfield, listened with eyes closed, murmuring, ‘he’s outstanding’ while Scotty offered up a splendid traditional composition filled with soul. Soon they had changed places, each in turn admiring and enjoying the tremendous talent of the other.
At other times, just a few, maybe ten or fifteen, would gather. Sitting in a circle holding hands, keeping time, they sang Gaelic songs from their hearts. I shall never forget those wonderful people and the music they made.
At this moment I feel very privileged to have an excellent Gaelic teacher, Mr. Donald MacDonald from Harris, Scotland. Not only am I being instructed in the art of Gaelic conversation but I am also a member of a small group learning to sing traditional Gaelic songs.
In the very early stages of my Gaelic education I was astounded by the vivid memories the sounds evoked. I could see and hear in my minds eye, my mother standing before me speaking the words. I could see the expression on her face, the movement of her mouth, as she so many years ago spoke the language of her ancestors. The powerful vision shook me. It was as if I were there in her home sitting in front of her.
Mary spoke only Gaelic until she was nineteen years old. One of her favourite stories pertained to her first attempt at speaking English. Shaking her head and laughing she recalled going to the store for her mother to get molasses. The merchant filled the jug and returned it to her without the cover. Mary, tried her hand at English, saying “I want the head of the can.”
She had a wonderful sense of humour that went along with her warm, caring heart. One evening coming out from the confessional at church she tried in vain to control her laughter. For such a modest, respectful, spiritual woman this was a little out of the ordinary. The story is told; she always said her prayers in Gaelic. The priest more interested in the strange language she spoke rather than in her insignificant sins questioned her about it. They had a very nice chat about the Gaelic; All this being very funny to Mairi Morag Rankin Stubbert.

My mother, Mary Sarah Rankin Stubbert, throughout sixty years of marriage to my father, Jack Stubbert, conversed in Gaelic when they wanted a private word. This was done primarily when they did not want us, the children, to understand.
Consequently, as a child I grew up hearing the beautiful language spoken by my parents and their many friends. Although our family moved from Cape Breton to Halifax in the early forties, there was never a real separation from our Cape Breton home. In their hearts they carried with them love of the Island, love of tradition, culture, and family bonds.
Planning a ceilidh at our home was always met with great enthusiasm. Two large rooms connected by French doors were emptied; carpets rolled up, chairs placed around the walls, food prepared, and the piano made ready for the Saturday night gala.
Fiddlers and guests soon arrived and the party was on. Square dancing and Gaelic songs sung with gusto and heartfelt pride went on into the wee hours of the morning. A few of us usually stayed up and went to first mass at St. Mary’s; Tired and cold we prayed through the long hour.
At one such ceilidh we were blessed to have as guests, the two best fiddle players in Nova Scotia, Scotty Winston Fitzgerald and Buddy MacMaster. Around four o’clock a.m. the crowd cleared out. Buddy, lying on the chesterfield, listened with eyes closed, murmuring, ‘he’s outstanding’ while Scotty offered up a splendid traditional composition filled with soul. Soon they had changed places, each in turn admiring and enjoying the tremendous talent of the other.
At other times, just a few, maybe ten or fifteen, would gather. Sitting in a circle holding hands, keeping time, they sang Gaelic songs from their hearts. I shall never forget those wonderful people and the music they made.
At this moment I feel very privileged to have an excellent Gaelic teacher, Mr. Donald MacDonald from Harris, Scotland. Not only am I being instructed in the art of Gaelic conversation but I am also a member of a small group learning to sing traditional Gaelic songs.
In the very early stages of my Gaelic education I was astounded by the vivid memories the sounds evoked. I could see and hear in my minds eye, my mother standing before me speaking the words. I could see the expression on her face, the movement of her mouth, as she so many years ago spoke the language of her ancestors. The powerful vision shook me. It was as if I were there in her home sitting in front of her.
Mary spoke only Gaelic until she was nineteen years old. One of her favourite stories pertained to her first attempt at speaking English. Shaking her head and laughing she recalled going to the store for her mother to get molasses. The merchant filled the jug and returned it to her without the cover. Mary, tried her hand at English, saying “I want the head of the can.”
She had a wonderful sense of humour that went along with her warm, caring heart. One evening coming out from the confessional at church she tried in vain to control her laughter. For such a modest, respectful, spiritual woman this was a little out of the ordinary. The story is told; she always said her prayers in Gaelic. The priest more interested in the strange language she spoke rather than in her insignificant sins questioned her about it. They had a very nice chat about the Gaelic; All this being very funny to Mairi Morag Rankin Stubbert.

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