Là Mór a’Bhaile | 55th Annual Highland Village Day Concert

The countdown is on! On August 6th,  you can join us for a fun afternoon of Gaelic arts. Fiddlers, step-dancers, pipers and more come together to treat visitors to traditional Nova Scotia Gaelic culture in this outdoor concert overlooking the Bras d’Or Lakes.

This year’s performers include Mary Jane Lamond & Wendy MacIsaac, Kyle, Stewart & Sheumas MacNeil, Kenneth MacKenzie & Keith MacDonald, Shelly Campbell & Alan Dewar, Donnie Campbell & Jinks O’Neill, Stephanie MacDonald and many more.

See how many familiar faces you can spot in these photos from Highland Village Days past:

This year marks the 55th Annual Highland Village Day Concert, one of Cape Breton Island’s original Outdoor Scotch Concerts. 2-6 pm. $15 per person, children 12 and under free.


Là Fhèill Mìcheil

Là Fhèill Mìcheil | St. Michael’s Day

“Là Fhèill Mìcheil nì sinn sruthan,
Gabhaidh sinn dha gu cridheil càirdeil
Mar bu chòir a bhith”

“On St. Michael’s day we will make a cake, we will partake of it in a joyful, friendly manner, as is proper”

Folk Songs & Folklore of South Uist and Eriskay – Margret Fay Shaw

Celebrating St. Michael’s Day with the Sruthan


St. Michael was the Scottish and Irish patron saint of horses, travel, sea and seafarers. A prominent saint in all the countries speaking Celtic languages, his calendar day was observed in the Hebrides by horse racing, dancing, singing and the eating of a multigrain bonnach called sruthan, (pronounced stroo-uhn).

Struthan Fhéill Micheil | Michaelmas cake, is a cross between what we know today as a cake and biscuit. In honor of St. Micheal, grains from the season’s harvest, such as oats, barley, and rye, were mixed in equal parts. Occasionally, berries and fruits were added, along with wild honey. The sruthan was prepared the night before the St. Michael’s Day celebration might be taken to be blessed by a priest the next morning.The blessed cakes, named after the departed and missing family and friends were then given to the poor.

Baile nan Gàidheal |Highland Village will prepare a special sruthan on site to celebrate Là Fhéill Mhìcheil, along with a St. Michaels’s Day, along with a milling frolic demonstration.

Join us as we celebrate this feast day every September 29th.


With much appreciation, the Village is grateful to Katie MacDonald for her good works and excellent contributions to the Baile nan Gàidheal mission and initiatives. Tha sinn a’ guidhe gach piseach `s buaidh ort `san tìm ri teachd. (Best regards for the future).

Is fheàrr na `n t-òr sgeul innis air chòir. | Better than gold is a tale well told


Stòiridhean (the stories), they are the heart of Gaelic culture. For Gaels the well-known art of storytelling is used as the means of passing down the traditions from one generation to the next.

In the past it was a common occurrence for families, friends and neighbours to be gathered in the kitchen for a cèilidh (visit). During these visits tales were told and songs were sung. These stories offered tales of travel and triumph, heroes, fools, and sometimes loss or tragedy. They were often composed, rarely written down, and retold endlessly by their descendants from memory.


Sgeulaiche (the storyteller), was often renowned for vast number of stories they were able to tell. You could tell a great story by the number of times it was requested and the large crowds who gathered to here it.

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Many of these stories have stood test of time, having been brought with them from their homes in Gaelic Scotland and continue to be told here in Nova Scotia today.

This form of oral transmission of the culture has seen a decline with influence of the modern world. However today there is some resurgence of the storytelling tradition as young learners try to preserve and promote Gaelic culture.

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These year Baile nan Gàidheal | Highland Village presents the Annual Joe Neil MacNeil Lecture on Wednesday, July 29th from 7-8pm. The presentation this year is titled “Restoring Nova Scotia’s Gaelic Identity: Planning a Cultural Nation”, given by Seumas Watson, Highland Village Manager of Interpretation and Marlene Ivey, Associate Professor of Design, Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.

Joe Neil MacNeil of Middle Cape, was well-known as a Gaelic tradition bearer and for contributing the stories to the book Sguel gu Latha | Tales Until Dawn, with over 50 stories recorded just from him.

Joe Neil MacNeil (2)

`S Bòidheach a Chìthear Lake Bhra d’Or | Lovely to be Seen, the Lake Bras d’Or

Am fear a gléidheas long gheibh e là `ga seòladh. |

He who will keep a boat will get a day for sailing it.  

SCAN286-20150717145514                                     Map of Cape Breton Island, drawn by Hugh MacDonald in 1845.

Baile nan Gàidheal | Highland Village over looks the beautiful Bras d’Or Lake. This large inlet sea in the heart of Cape Breton connects the communities surrounding the Lake. 

For many of our Gaelic ancestors who arrived here from the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, settled the Bras d’Or Lake because of it’s familiarity to home. The Lake also provided the Gaels as they settled with a valuable source of food and a means of transportation from one community to another.


Boat built in Alba by Willie and Duncan Kennedy circa 1975

During the time of peak immigration from the late 1700’s to the mid 1850’s, the most common method of travel was by boat. The roads and railways throughout Cape Breton were not developed like they are today. Travel was long, difficult, and time consuming for the people who needed to travel great distances to the next town.

Later, from the 1800’s to the mid 1920’s, shipbuilding and shipping coal and steel were industries of the time that boomed during the later years of settlement in Cape Breton. After communities were built up, goods were shipped to the community from the boats travelling along the shores of the Bras d’Or. Many small villages like our own Iona, became thriving towns with wharfs, general stores, and post offices to supply the people.

Train crossing the train bridge and the ferry docks at Iona. 8 x 10 black & white.

For many years, even into recent memory, a ferryboat transported the people of Iona across the Barra Strait. Today when you arrive you’ll see it has been replaced by bridge.


The last car ferry ran between Iona and Grand Narrows on October 23rd,1993. 

While today the Bras d’Or Lake is not bustling with commercial vessels transporting people and goods around, it is more common to see recreational boating and sailing.


Boats rounding Derby Point as they enter the Barra Strait.

In 2011 The Bras d’Or Lake Biosphere Reserve received the designation of being one of 16 UNESCO Biosphere Reserves in Canada. Visit the Bras d’Or Lake Biosphere Reserve Association website  http://blbra.ca for information, news, and upcoming events.


Na Lochan Bhrad d’Or | The Bras d’Or Lakes

Mar A Bha Sinn Air Éideadh: Early Dress of Gaels in Nova Scotia

If you have ever visited the Highland Village Museum, you may have noticed that all of our animators are dressed in period costumes. There are two distinct differences in our costumes. Early eras show costumes made of wool and linen while the later eras show the change of clothing with the introduction of cotton. 

When our ancestor’s arrived to the new world there were no stores to purchase clothes or materials, nor tailors or seamstresses to make them. This meant what little clothes or materials settlers had, needed to be made by hand.

Clothing at this time was made from the clò mór (great cloth), a broad cloth woven together from wool. Often it was the women in the house who made much of the clothing. They would gather the wool, wash and prepare the fibres for spinning. After the fibres were spun they would be woven into fabric and cut into the shapes needed to make the clothing. This fabric would be sewn by hand into shirts, pants, sweaters, and coats for their family to wear.


Women, at the time wore the ìochdar, a long skirt, made of wool, along with a wool bodice which were worn over linen underclothes.


The guailleachan, a woven wool shall worn over the shoulders and fastened with a metal broche, were also worn by the women for warmth.


Married and older women during that time wore a mutch (currac). These linen caps, or bonnets were worn to cover the hair when working inside the house or in the fields on the farm. Often, a young girl received a mutch from her mother after she was married.


Gaelic men arriving from the Highlands and Islands of Scotland are frequently pictured in what is considered traditional Highland dress of kilts and tartan. But at the time of immigration, from the late 1700s to mid-nineteenth century, Gaels were more accurately wearing a common style of pants and shirts. The lèine was a linen shirt made in light colours, with fabric strings sewn into the shirt to tighten them around the neck and wrists. The men were also wearing triubhas, trousers or dark coloured plants made of wool. Men also regularly wore hats or bonnets known as (bonaidean). Some men wove straw hats to shade them from the sun during the long hours they worked outside in the fields.


As time went by, more settlers arrived and villages formed around them. Many years later these villages built the new general stores around the community. Once these stores were established it became possible for fabric, shoes, dresses, under clothes, coats, and many other items to be shipped from away and brought in. It became more common for people to trade or purchase items from catalogues instead of making their own clothes and shoes at home from scratch.


If you would like to read more visit An Rubha, The Highland Village Gaelic Folklife Magazine online at https://highlandvillage.novascotia.ca/about/rubha-gaelic-folklife-magazine
Be sure to check out the article, Tartan: Its History and Transformation, In Vol. 14 #1 Winter 2014 by Vicki Quimby, textile consultant and animator at the Highland Village.






Féilltean Na Nollaig

Cha robh Samhradh riamh gun ghrian;
Cha robh Geamhradh riamh gun sneachd;
Cha robh Nollaig mhòr gun fheòil;
No bean òg le deòin gun fhear.

Summer ne’er was without sun;
Winter never without snow;
Christmas never without flesh;
Nor willing woman without man.


Our Gaelic ancestors in Cape Breton celebrated the Christmas season differently then we do today. Many common traditions, like putting up the Christmas tree and lights around the house were not adopted until well into the 20th century.

For many Gaels in Cape Breton during the holiday season they celebrated Feasgar nam Bonnag | Evening of the Bannocks which happened on Christmas Eve, and Latha nan Trì Rìghean | Day of the Three Kings took place 12 days after Christmas Day.


If it was possible they would make their way out on the cold winter nights, whether by horse and sleigh or by foot to attend a Christmas service with their families. Christmas gifts were mostly likely small, homemade and often items people needed like clothing or wooden carved tools. This time of year can be remembered as a time our Gaelic ancestors spent visiting with family, friends, and neighbours, enjoying food, telling stories, music, and dance.


On the Highland Village Museum website visit ‘Our Stories’ to learn about early Christmas in Iona as recalled by the late Mickey Bean Nilag MacNeil (Migi Mac Bean Nìlleig Ruairidh Eòin a’ Phlant).


Do you have any family stories handed down of Christmas in Cape Breton? Feel free to share them with us.

Nollaig Shona agus Bliadhna Mhath Ur dhuibh | Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 

Christmas Picture



Marag Gheal

“Whenever an animal was butchered, none of it was ever wasted. The hide was put aside to be cured for leather, the meat kept for the table, then the internal organs, head, trotters and offal were all used and indeed relished for a variety of local delicacies, such as head-cheese and maragan.” 1


Marag Gheal/White pudding has long been a favourite dish of our Gaelic ancestors. The tradition can be traced back from Scotland and is still made today in Nova Scotia. You may be asking yourself what is marag gheal? Marag gheal is similar to sausage but is often larger in size. It was common for this dish to be made during ‘slaughter season’, which usually occurred around November.

In the past in order to make marag, the cow’s intestines would have to be carefully cleaned and used as a natural casing for the marag. Today’s casing can be purchased either artificial or real. A mixture of suet (beef fat), oats and onions is combined together, then salt and pepper is added to season the dish. After the filing was prepared, the casing is stuffed and the ends are tied. The next step is to simmer the casing in water for at least three hours.


While cooking, the casing is pricked with a fork to release some of the fat and prevent the casing from bursting. After the marag is boiled it could be stored in a cold place for a time or cut, into slices and pan fry until the outsides are a crispy brown colour. Marag would often be served with potatoes for supper and eaten as leftovers for breakfast. Recipes vary depending on the family. Each family may add other seasonings to the filling, one example being caraway, while another would add more onion or spices to change the taste how they preferred.

This dish remains enjoyed to the present day by families here in Cape Breton and those adventurous to try the cultural dish.

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The Highland Village Marag Recipe:

2 cups Suet

2 cups Onions

2 cups Oats

Salt – to taste

Pepper – to taste


You can watch video of marag being made at the Highland Village Museum

Or visit An Drochaid Eadarainn http://androchaid.ca/maragan , here you can see marag being prepared and hear the Gaelic language being spoken. 


  1. Bennett, Margaret. Oatmeal and The Catechism. P. 184


Oidhche nam Bòcan |Night of the Spooks


Observing Samhainn (sow-win), or Halloween as we know it in English, marked the onset of the dark months, following harvest time in the old Celtic world. The origins for Samhainn go back to pre-Christian times. It was widely believed in Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Man, and other countries where Celtic languages are spoken, that Samhainn was a liminal time, meaning a brief period when the souls of the dead could wander among their mortal counterparts in an earthly presence. People’s concerns that capricious spirits would remain among the living inspired carving turnips with dreadful faces, for placing in window and doorways, to frighten malevolent souls back to their own place in the world beyond at the conclusion of Halloween. Youth dressed in ugly costumes and visited among village houses for a bit of cheese, or some other treat. Purification rituals also took place by way of bonfires intended to ensure that evils and ill luck associated with the winter months would be symbolically burnt away.


Gaelic custom in Nova Scotia has retained aspects of these historic agricultural times to the present. Turnips have been replaced by pumpkins and school children dress in costume to seek candy from nearby houses. Samhainn divination remains an evident tradition with the continuing practice of placing a ring (fainne), thimble (meuran), button (putan) and coin (bonn airgid) in a bowl of raw oatmeal mixed with cream and sugar. Partakers at the fuarag (foo-ar-ak) bowl delve with spoons for their share of the treat. One’s future is supposedly determined by the object found in the individual’s portion: a ring means marriage, the coin riches and the button bachelorhood. The thimble foretells the likelihood of being an old maid. Marriages were also divined in older times, with customs such as taking a mouthful of water from alt na crìche, the boundary brook between two farms. Should the unmarried be able to hold the water in his, or her, mouth while returning home, their future spouse would appear on the path way.


For a look at the fuarag tradition taking place in a contemporary setting go to An Drochaid Eadarainn (The Bridge Between Us), a Highland Village hosted website for Nova Scotia’s Gaelic language, culture and heritage: http://androchaid.ca/content/16/13

Fuarag recipe:

Mix together:

  • 1 cup rolled oats (toasted oats optional)
  • 3/4 cup sugar (or to taste)
  • 2 cups whipping cream
  • Combine whipping cream and sugar in a chilled bowl, whip together until soft peaks form
  • Fold in oats
  • Serve topped with brown sugar

Here’s a skit from one of our Oidhche nam Bòcan nights:

Anna Nìll Mhurchaidh

Over the past few years, Highland Village animation staff have been transitioning interpretation from 3rd person to 1st person (or role playing). Through this process, staff have developed their own personas each with their own stories and experiences. In this blog, we meet Anna Nìll Mhurchaidh (Anna MacLean), she has made a new home in Alba Nuadh | Nova Scotia. 


Anna and her family live in a Taigh-logaichean (log house), a small one-room house built from logs with a loft for sleeping and a fireplace for cooking. Outside they have a garden for their crops, and a pasture for the farm animals to graze.


Anna must daily tend to the crops in the field. Her crop of lìon (flax) is particularly vital for her to be able to make linen.

Flax Update

After she has harvested the lìon (flax) and removes the seeds, it will go through the method of retting, lìon (flax) being soaked then left to dry. Dry lìon (flax) will be crushed and scraped (called scutching) to reveal softer fibers. Lastly the process of hackling is where she will pull the softened fibers through a series of metal combs from coarse to fine, leaving long fibers which are used for spinning into thread and can be used to weave clothing and blankets for her family.


Carding Mill Day 2013

Anna and her family pass many traditions down verbally. Part of her Gaelic culture involves sharing their history and rituals through songs, poems, and story telling.


– Anna MacLean is portrayed by Vicki Quimby from, Orangedale, Cape Breton. She has been with the Highland Village Museum for the past 24 seasons.



Catrìona bean Sheòrais `ic Alasdair


Over the past few years, Highland Village animation staff have been transitioning interpretation from 3rd person to 1st person (or role playing). Through this process, staff have developed their own personas, each with their own stories and experiences. In this blog, we travel to Scotland to meet Catrìona bean Sheòrais`ic Alasdair, who will soon immigrate to Nova Scotia. 


Catrìona lives on the Isle of Barra in Scotland with her family.

Her days are spent planting and weeding the crops. The staples in her diet are the potatoes, barley, and oats they grow in their field. They have sheep and cattle they care for as well.

Catrìona’s home consists of stonewalls with grassy thatched roofs known as Taigh Dubh (Black House). In the winter the family and animals will live together under the one roof for warmth. During the summer months the animals will be out grazing in the pasture.



Catrìona’s family are tenants on the land. The wealthy landowners lease plots to families who put everything they have into farming the land to pay their rent. Landowners are raising the rents and evicting those who cannot pay. With the tenants evicted, they can replace them with large sheep farms, which will make greater profits.

 She is waiting for a ship to arrive that will take them to the “New World”.

Some of her neighbours have already chosen to leave, while others have been forced out of their homes. Many are struggling to find a way to afford passage on the ship.

In Catrìona’s case her husband has sold their cattle to be able to afford the cost of passage.

Catrìona and her family won’t be able to bring much with them on the ship; some fishing line, tuadh (axe), feàrsaid (drop spindle) for making wool. They will have to leave their animals behind. Many have left with little but the clothes on their backs.


They, like many others from the Highlands and Islands Catrìona, will leave Scotland to immigrate to Alba Nuadh |Nova Scotia.

 Not only is Catrìona leaving her house and lifestyle but she will leave her family. She will bring with her to the new world her strong Gaelic language and her culture she holds near and dear to heart. When Catrìona arrives  she will speak little Beurla (English) and will have no means of communicating with her family back home. However, she will seek out kin who have already arrived in Nova Scotia and settled on land in Cape Breton.


– Catrìona bean Sheòrais ’ ic Alasdair is portrayed by Catherine Gillis, from North Sydney, Cape Breton. She has been with the Highland Village Museum for the past 9 seasons.