6 Òran nan Sealgairean

Laura Stirling

Activity Summary

After learning Òran nan Sealgairean, composed by Archie MacKenzie (Eairdsidh Sheumais) of Christmas Island, students will be able to look at the story within the song as a group. They will identify new or unusual vocabulary, discuss the purpose of the song, identify real places and mythological characters in the song, and finally create a storyboard to tell the story themselves.

Learning Outcomes

Students will:

  • Develop the confidence and skill to tell a Gaelic story;
  • Improve their vocabulary;
  • Learn about a Nova Scotia Gaelic song, its creator, and his local community;
  • Recognize a rhyme scheme in a Gaelic song;
  • Learn about the Fenians, and discuss why they are referenced in Òran nan Sealgairean and how they represent aspects of the worldview of the Gaels;
  • Use this song (and the story within it) to create a new story of their own, such as describing a day out or an adventure.

Gaelic Level

This activity is designed for advanced beginner or intermediate Gaelic learners.  Beginners could be included in the final storytelling session.

 

Lesson Preparation

Students will have learned the song well prior to this lesson.

 

Resources Required

Required Resources:

Optional Resources:

“Big Pond, Nova Scotia” by Capercanuck is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license

Lesson Structure (1.5 hour class)

Time Activity Resources
20 min Discuss the importance of song within Gaelic culture in Nova Scotia. Explain how comic songs would be sung less often, but gave great pleasure to local audiences who would recognize names and events. These songs — a little like an inside joke — were only ever fully understood in the small local community where they originated.

Put up the article “The Songs of a Nation” on the projector for students to read.

F. MacEachen, “The Songs of a Nation” (p. 14)

Òran nan Sealgairean: lyrics and translation

20 min Ask students if they have heard of the Fenians.  Who are they? Together read and listen to a story about Oscar, one of the band of heroes. Discuss why the local hunters of our comic song are compared here to the Fenians. MacIlleathain, R. “853: The Stories of Heroes.”
10 min

Talk about the creator of the song — Archie MacKenzie — and the area where he lived, Rear Christmas Island in Cape Breton.

MacKenzie, Archibald J. History of Christmas Island Parish.

See p. 64 for a concise description of the author, and p. 145 for an entry concerning the early days in the parish: “Some of the Characteristics of the Pioneers of Christmas Island Parish” (St FX Digital Collections)

20 min

Listen together to an archival recording of the song more than once. Discuss unusual words such as .  Make new sentences with it.

Or, to develop a greater understanding of poetic and linguistic rhythm, take one or two lines from the song and substitute words while keeping the same number of syllables.  For example,

’S tìm dhomhsa tòiseachadh ri òran chur ri chéile

’S tìm dhomhsa tòiseachadh ri litir chur gu Annag.

Go around in a circle making up sentences without thinking too much over it, just keeping the syllable count consistent. More advanced students could give greater consideration to long vs. short vowels and/or rhyme (e.g., replacing òran with òrdugh). Allowing silly word substitutions will make this activity easier and more fun for the class (e.g., replacing òran with òrdag). See “variations,” below.

To make it easier, you could suggest each person substitutes just one word to change the sentence, and so on.

Point out the complex Gaelic rhyme scheme within the verse:

’S tìm dhomhsa tòiseachadh
Ri òran chur ri chéile
Mu dheidhinn nan sealgairean
A dhearbh gu robh iad treunail

MacKenzie, John Joe “Òran nan Sealgairean [Audio recording].”
15 min Separate into small groups or work as individuals to tell the story within the song. Give each group a verse or two to paraphrase in their own words. Create simple or silly or dramatic illustrations according to individual ability (stick figures are perfectly fine!), to represent the actions of the story. Ask students to use words from the song while enhancing them with their own words to develop the story further. They can make the story their own.
5 min Put the parts of the story together. If possible, perform it for another group of learners.

Variations

There are many ways to vary this activity.

1. Arrange pieces of flipchart paper on the wall in sequence for each scene of the song. Have the group present the finished story with simple illustrations to a beginner group, and then teach the beginners the chorus so that they can join in with the song.

2. An advanced intermediate group could create their own comic song, following the same complex Gaelic rhyme scheme to celebrate their own local heroic comic event. First, ask them to read “A Fenian Tale” from p. 24 of Am Bràighe (Autumn 1993), which had been published earlier Mac-Talla, a historic all-Gaelic newspaper published in Sydney, NS, from 1892-1904. Then discuss the qualities most valued by the Fenians. It is a long list! What sort of person would possess these qualities today? Do we still value the same qualities in our present-day leaders or heroes?

To aid them in creating their own verses, you could begin by removing a few keywords and asking them to replace the words to create new verses of their own. In this way, they will become familiar with the rhyme scheme, play with the words, and create something original without starting from scratch — a daunting task.  

For example:

S tìm dhomhsa tòiseachadh
Ri òran chur ri chéile
Mu dheidhinn nan sealgairean
A dhearbh gu robh iad treunail

S tìm dhomhsa tòiseachadh
Ri òran chur ri ________
Mu dheidhinn nan sealgairean
A dhearbh gu robh iad _______

As a group, they could start out by brainstorming random two-syllable words that fit the rhyme, in this case the é sound in chéile and treunail. Give the students five minutes to come up with as many words as possible. Have one person write these up on the whiteboard or flipchart at speed. Then allow the students to work individually to make a new verse using the word store they have compiled.

They would then proceed to create a story-song of their own, perhaps incorporating some of the qualities of the Fenians: feats of strength, fighting against all odds “up to nine to one,” mastering 12 books of poetry…

It could be a chance to learn and make use of phrases of comparison such as cho laidir ri each or create new ones. And the common expression cothrom na Feinne, the Fingalian fair play; — i.e. one to one, gaisgeach air gaisgeach agus laoch ri laoch” (Dwelly, cothrom) might be introduced, especially if the students are not familiar with it.

Students could work together to create the song or individually to create their own story and songs in this way.

Preparing for Challenges

If students lack experience or are uncomfortable telling a story within a group,  you might try a few simple warm-up activities:  have them work in pairs, telling the story to each other in their own words. Then, in a circle, tell the story by going around the circle and having each student add one more sentence. Repeating this more than once will build confidence.

If students lack confidence drawing or illustrating the story, remind them that they are telling a story with pictures. The pictures do not need to be perfect. The story is all that matters. It might be an idea to break the ice with a game of Pictionary as a warm-up exercise.

If students are shy about singing within a wider group, remind them that the Gaelic people sang songs for many purposes, often to make work lighter (milking the cow, spinning wool), and often in a communal setting. It rarely involved singing to an audience from a stage!  It was about the song, not the singer. In order to build confidence, make sure the students know the song so well that they do not need to look at the written words. This takes time. Allow extra time, if at all possible, to learn the song really well from the start.

Lyrics

Òran nan Sealgairean

By Archie MacKenzie, translated by Laura Stirling

Seist (Chorus):

Fail ill ò ro fail ill ò ro
Fail ill ò ro éileadh
Hi rithill iùil agus ò
’S na thog i ò ro éile

’S tìm dhomhsa tòiseachadh
Ri òran chur ri chéile
Mu dheidhinn nan sealgairean
A dhearbh gu robh iad treunail.

It’s time to start
To put together a song
About the hunters
Who swore they were strong.

Mu dheidhinn nan sealgairean
A dhearbh gu robh iad treunail
Cha robh leithid anns na linntean
O’n bha ’n Fhinn ri chéile.

About the hunters
Who swore they were strong
There was never the like in the centuries
Since the Fenians were together.

Cha robh leithid anns na linntean
O’n bha ’n Fhinn ri chéile
Cha d’rinn Oisean, Fionn is Diarmaid
Gnìomh a bha cho euchdail.

There was never the like in the centuries
Since the Fenians were together
Ossian, Finn and Dermid never did anything
That was so heroic.

Cha d’rinn Oisean, Fionn is Diarmaid
Gnìomh a bha cho euchdail
Cha do dh’fhàg iad aon tunnag beò
An taobh shìos do phòn Iain Sheumais.

Ossian, Finn and Dermid never did anything
That was so heroic
They did not leave one duck alive
The lower side of John James’ pond.

Cha do dh’fhàg iad aon tunnag beò
An taobh shìos do phòn Iain Sheumais
Na cearc thomain dhèanadh fuaim
Gun luaidh’ a chuir fo sgéithe.

They did not leave one duck alive
The lower side of John James’ pond
Nor could wood grouse make a sound
Without a shot under the wing.

Na cearc thomain dhèanadh fuaim
Gun luaidh’ a chuir fo sgéithe
’S gur ann a mhuinntir a’ Chùil,
An triùir a rinn an euchd ‘ad.

Nor could wood grouse make a sound
Without a shot under the wing
It’s of the people of the Rear*,
The three fellows of these heroic exploits.

’S gur ann a mhuinntir a’ Chùil,
An triùir a rinn an euchd ’ad.
Bha iad aig a’ phòn ’ud shìos
Mun d’rinn a’ ghrian ach éirigh.

It’s of the people of the Rear*,
The three fellows of these heroic exploits.
They were at the pond down there
Just before sunrise.

Bha iad aig a’ phòn ’ud shìos
Mun d’rinn a’ ghrian ach éirigh
’S gu robh am blunderbuss aig Eòs
’Cur ceò dheth gu na speuran.

They were at the pond down there
Just before sunrise
Joe had a blunderbuss
That fired off smoke into the sky.

’S gu robh am blunderbuss aig Eòs
’Cur ceò dheth gu na speuran
Is tunnagan ga’n toirt a-nìos
Nan ceudan bhàrr na sgéitheadh.

Joe had a blunderbuss
That fired off smoke into the sky
Bringing down ducks
On the wing by the hundreds.

Is tunnagan ga’n toirt a-nìos
Nan ceudan bhàrr na sgéitheadh
Gus na lìon ’ad leotha an càr
Cho làn ’s nach rachadh té eil’ ann.

Bringing down ducks
On the wing by the hundreds
Until they filled up the car
So full that not one more would fit in.

Gus na lìon ’ad leotha an càr
Cho làn’s nach rachadh té eil’ ann
Chruinnich uaislean às gach àit’
’S bha “Bonnie Lad” e fhéin ann.

Until they filled up the car
So full that not one more would fit in
Nobles from every place gathered
And the bonnie lad himself was there.

Chruinnich uaislean às gach àit’
’S bha “Bonnie Lad” e fhéin ann
’S gur e Kelly agus Forbes
A fhuair còrr na feusda.

Nobles from every place gathered
And the Bonnie Lad himself was there
And it’s Kelly and Forbes
That got the leftovers of the feast.

*Rear Christmas Island


About the Author

Laura Stirling teaches Scottish Gaelic with Sgoil Ghàidhlig an Àrd-bhaile (Halifax Gaelic Society) in Nova Scotia. Her first love is travelling and, a close second, learning languages. She began learning Scottish Gaelic at university, and has continued, with a stubborn desire to speak the language of her great grandmothers. After her first milling frolic at the Gaelic College in Cape Breton, she wanted to sing it too. She is still learning, and singing, and finds joy in every new word.

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Cànan tro Òrain by Laura Stirling is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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