Royal Storm hits over Gaelic College Name

A Storm is Brewing at the Royal Cape Breton Gaelic College

A Storm is Brewing at the Royal Cape Breton Gaelic College

A storm is erupting over the Royal designation given to a Canadian Gaelic College by Queen Elizabeth II. Colaisde na Gàidhlig – The Gaelic College in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia is to be styled immediately as The Royal Cape Breton Gaelic College, for its contribution to preserving Gaelic and Scottish culture in Canada.

The designation has caused a huge amount of controversy in the community, resulting in the chair of the college board of governors stepping down over the issue earlier today.

The Member of the Legislative Assembly for Inverness, Nova Scotia said the addition of the word ‘royal’ doesn’t sit well with people who have a strong understanding of the history of the Gaels. Allan MacMaster, who is also the conservative critic for Gaelic Affairs, delivered a speech in the House of Assembly last week following the colleges decision to change its name.

He said you have to look at the history that brought many people to Nova Scotia, and that at one time as much as 80 per cent of the province spoke Gaelic.

“If you look, after the Battle of Culloden (in the 1700s), there were efforts made in Scotland to destroy the clan system and some of that was to try to eliminate the speaking of Gaelic in Scotland,” MacMaster said.

In the 1600s, Scottish Highland clan chiefs were required to send their heirs to other parts of the country to be educated in a different language, he said.

“All of those things emanate from England and from the Crown,” MacMaster said. “To have the Gaelic College today be given the title of royal and connecting it to the Crown, for a lot of people, they find it offensive.”

Situated in the heart of Cape Breton’s earliest Scottish settlement, the institution is the only one of its kind in North America, and was founded in 1938 by Rev. A.W.R. MacKenzie devoted to the study and preservation of the Gaelic language and Celtic arts and culture. During the first half of the 19th century, Cape Breton experienced an influx of Highland Scots numbering approximately 50,000 as a result of the Highland Clearances. Today, the descendants of the Scots dominate Cape Breton Island’s culture, particularly in rural communities. Gaelic is still the first language of a number of elderly Cape Bretoners.

The acting chair of the College, Kirk McRae, says the honour is a welcome one. He said: “It creates more awareness and things with the college,

“It’s a designation that doesn’t come easy. It’s just an honour of name, it doesn’t take away what the goals are of the college and what the goals are of our instructors, students and staff, that is to grow the Gaelic culture.”

The Royal Cape Breton Gaelic College

The Royal Cape Breton Gaelic College

Alex Morrision, a retired military officer, has stepped down as his voluntary role as board chair as a result of the controversy. According to the college’s Facebook page, while Morrison contacted the Queen’s offices without consulting the members of the board, the decision to change the college’s name was not his alone, with the board voting on and accepting the name change.

The response to the name change on the Facebook page has been largely negative, however others thought people were overreacting to the name change. One commenter said: “Good Lord what a tempest in a teapot. So if the Queen provides her coat of arms to HP sauce am I not to eat it?”

MacRae said he was somewhat surprised by the amount of feedback on the name change, but said the board doesn’t plan to reverse its decision.

“There’s going to be no change,” said MacRae. “It’s wonderful the passion people have and I understand their points of view, and I respect their points of view. We (were) bestowed this, and for the board, everyone I felt genuinely thought we were going forward and it was a good thing. The name doesn’t take away from the day-to-day activities of college, and that’s to grow the Gaelic culture and language.”

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About Nadine Lee

Originally from New Zealand, Nadine is a documentary researcher now based in the north east of Scotland.

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