Canada // The Maritime Provinces //

Gaelic music on Cape Breton Island


Cape Breton is not just about scenery and sights: the Scottish Highlanders who settled much of the island in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries (many as a result of the Highland Clearances, where they were forcibly evicted by landowners) brought with them strong cultural traditions and today these are best recalled by the island’s musicians, especially the fiddle players. Buddy MacMaster (1924–2014) was one of the greats, and current names to watch out for include his niece Natalie MacMaster, her cousin Ashley MacIsaac and the remaining members of the Rankin Family, not to mention Glenn Graham, Rodney MacDonald and Jackie Dunn – though it’s impossible to pick out the “best” as each fiddler has their own particular style. Local tourist offices will gladly advise you on gigs, whether it be a ceilidh, concert or square dance, and listings are given in the weekly Inverness Oran (w, a local newspaper available at tourist offices and convenience stores. During the summer there’s something happening almost every day – the Saturday night Family Square Dance at West Mabou Hall is especially well regarded (10pm–1am; $8). The largest festival is Celtic Colours (t 902 562 6700, w, with performances all across Cape Breton held over ten days in early to mid-October.

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