The Blue Mountains and Other Gaelic Stories from Cape Breton.


240 pages
Contains Bibliography
ISBN 978-0-7735-3257-1
DDC 398.2089'916307169




Edited by John Shaw
Translated by John Shaw
Reviewed by Clint MacNeil

Clint MacNeil teaches history, geography, and world religion at St.
Charles College in Sudbury, Ontario.


Whether it is a love for entertaining or a desire to bond with listeners, the Cape Bretoner’s ability to make a good story out of anything cannot be understated. John Shaw, esteemed author, lecturer, and Gaelic language instructor has collected a variety of popular Gaelic stories told by island story tellers that have been handed down over several generations. Given the decline of Gaelic speakers, Shaw’s work represents a painstaking effort to capture these stories before they are lost forever. While this tradition has been in decline since the 1970 due to the cultural and physical isolation of the original storytellers, Shaw’s dedication to publish these stories will hopefully preserve a dying tradition. Making these stories available to a new and wider audience may foster renewed interest in both the language and culture.


Cape Breton storytellers essentially gathered for a ceilidh, or house party, where there was song, food, and stories. According to Shaw, these gatherings were essential in providing “community cohesion” and maintaining “distinctive cultural values.”


Many of the stories have their origins in the Scottish Highlands and were carried by the thousands of immigrants who settled in Cape Breton. Readers may be surprised to discover that others stories have more ancient origins that can be traced as far back to Greece and Asia.


This collection of 30 Cape Breton tales span no less than six generations of original Gaelic speakers. The original tales were recorded between 1964 and 1989. Shaw translated and divided these into six categories: tales of heroes, legends, thieves, warriors, and even the supernatural are included. In addition to the tales themselves readers will appreciate the original Gaelic version and the English translation on the opposite page. Further, Shaw includes biographical information of each of the narrator and distinguishes between the original storyteller and the relater. The inclusion of additional notes on each tale and recording dates is further evidence of Shaw’ attention to detail.


Although by no means exhaustive in its content, The Blue Mountains ultimately serves as a benchmark in the research and publication of Gaelic folklore and can undoubtedly be appreciated by both academics and amateurs.


“The Blue Mountains and Other Gaelic Stories from Cape Breton.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 23, 2024,