Even with submissions from the U.S., Scotland and other parts of Canada, the authors of the first and second place poems, selected in the inaugural Sister Margaret MacDonell Prize in Gaelic Poetry, are very recognizable locally.
“In first place, ‘Chunna mi ’n deò ri teàrnadh ’sa ghleann’ - I saw the spirit descend through the glen- by Brìan MacLeòid of Baddeck and Antigonish,” Michael Linkletter, head of the Gaelic Studies department at St. F.X., noted.
“Brian just graduated with an MA in Celtic Studies at St. F.X. and was accepted into the PhD program at the University of Edinburgh starting in September, with two scholarships to fully support his studies there. Brian also published a collection of his own Gaelic poems in 2008 entitled An t-Òran Sìth-bhuan.
“In second place, ‘Cumha do Dhùghlas Dòmhnullach’ - Lament for Douglas MacDonald - by Goiridh Dòmhnullach (Jeff MacDonald) of Bràigh na h-Aineadh, (Kingsville, Inverness County).
“Goiridh is an alumnus of St. F.X., currently works for the N.S. Office of Gaelic Affairs and teaches Gaelic teaching methodology for students in the B.Ed. program in Gaelic at St. F.X. He is a well-known as a local singer and composer of Gaelic songs.”
Third place in the contest went to Deborah Moffatt for her work An Drochaid – The Bridge. Originally from Norwich, Vermont in the U.S., Moffatt now lives in Fife, Scotland.
The winners, who received cash prizes of $500, $250 and $100 respectively, were announced during an afternoon ceremony, May 10, at the People’s Place Library’s community room.
Speaking during the presentation ceremony, Linkletter said the contest started with him being contacted by the Scotland-based Clan Donald Lands Trust last year.
“[Contacted] about establishing a Gaelic poetry competition here at St. F.X.; open to, really, anyone in the world but, hopefully, focusing on contributors from North America,” Linkletter said, noting the trust supports traditional Highland arts, including piping, dancing and poetry.
“The trust requested the prize be named in honour of someone from Clan Donald and I immediately thought, of course, of Sister Margaret MacDonell,” he added, referencing the former chair of the St. F.X. Celtic Studies department and “lifelong champion of the Gaelic language.”
“She is a native Gaelic speaker from Judique, Cape Breton, is professor emerita in Celtic Studies at St. F.X., and has a PhD in Celtic Languages and Literatures from Harvard University. She is well known for her publications on Gaelic poetry in North America, including her highly regarded book The Emigrant Experience: Songs of Highland Emigrants in North America.”
He noted folks with the trust “eagerly agreed to the suggestion.”
Linkletter noted more than 20 poems were submitted for the contest with the majority coming from Nova Scotia. Before turning them over to the adjudication panel, Linkletter noted he removed any reference to the authors.
“The adjudication panel did not see who wrote what,” he said, noting he shared the poems with Sister Margaret while visiting her in Sydney, and she agreed with the panel’s decisions.
A member of the panel, Catriona Parsons spoke to some of the criteria considered.
“Looking most of all for the effect and influence each poem had on us … on the ear and on the heart,” she said, noting the “serendipitous occurrence” of the theme for this year’s Gaelic Nova Scotia Month being the Power of our Songs.
“The poems give us encouragement for the continuing power of our Gaelic poetry and songs, and for the language itself, as we face the future,” Parsons said.
Overall winner MacLeod was a singing a similar tune as he addressed the audience and talked about his poetry living “from its musicality.”
In talking to the Casket after the ceremony, he noted he had only presented Chunna mi ’n deò ri teàrnadh ’sa ghleann’ publicly on a couple of occasions.
“Once at a ceilidh of our student Celtic Society, and once on my radio; I’ve been running a Gaelic language cultural program from the campus radio station for the last five years, with an online audience world-wide,” MacLeod said. “I often present some of the newest works on that program, but only presented this in public a couple of times.
“The muse must be working, the inspiration there … usually I can tell when I finish something if it works to my satisfaction or not,” he added.
As for having a contest now in place to encourage more Gaelic poetry, MacLeod noted he is seeing a “genuine renaissance” for Gaelic going on in Nova Scotia.
“And perhaps what distinguishes what we’re doing here from Scotland, despite all the assets and resources at their disposal; here, I would say, there is more heart, soul and spirit,” MacLeod said. “Especially when I see young people who are keen to recover a precious bit of their own heritage.
“We have seemed to have turned a corner; it’s tentative, but there is more hope here and now than I have ever seen in my time.”