MacEdward Leach and the Songs of Atlantic Canada
Photo from Songs Remembered in Exile. Used with permission of Margaret Faye Shaw.

Photo from Songs Remembered in Exile. Used with permission of Margaret Fay Shaw.

Angus "The Ridge" MacDonald

Angus was born in 1866 on his father's farm in Upper South River, Antigonish County. He was the son of Alexander MacDonald and Catherine Cameron. Angus belonged to a branch of MacDonalds from the Braes of Lochaber, Scotland, called "Sliochd an Taighe" or"People of the House," which initially settled near a ridge (hence the family name) in South West Mabou, Cape Breton Island. Other branches of this same family such as the "Hunter,""Tulloch," and "Painter" MacDonalds settled in both Antigonish and Inverness Counties, where their descendants are still known by these patronymics.

Angus' grandfather, Allan (b. 1794), settled on the Mabou Ridge in 1816. He belonged to a long line of poets and tradition bearers that stretched back to Iain Dubh Bohuntin (1513-1547) and the chiefs of the Keppoch MacDonalds. Allan was a well known Gaelic poet whose work, as well as appearing in local newspapers and song collections, was published in A. MacLean Sinclair's Glenbard Collection and Keith N. MacDonald's MacDonald Bards from Medieval Times. The family was widely acknowledged for its talents in music, storytelling, family history and song composition. In 1847, Allan and his wife and children left the Mabou Ridge and moved to Upper South River, Antigonish County. A recent book by Effie Rankin entitled As A' Bhraighe Beyond the Braes The Gaelic Songs of Allan the Ridge MacDonald 1794-1868 (2004, UCCB Press) contains all the known extant poetry of Allan the Ridge MacDonald and a thorough biography and history. In 1847, Allan and his wife and children left the Mabou Ridge and moved to Upper South River. Angus' father Alexander (1823-1904) was also a Gaelic poet, although of a different style to his father Allan. His "Cumhna Cheap Breatuinn" (Lament for Cape Breton) on the air "Chi Mi Bhuam Fada Bhuam" is widely known and loved to this day.

Angus MacDonald was regarded as one of the last of a dying breed of Gaelic poets and oral historians--certainly in Antigonish County, where the Gaelic language was quickly becoming extinct. He was first recorded in 1937 by John Lorne Campbell and Margaret Fay Shaw. Other collectors, such as Helen Creighton and Laura Bolton, also visited the farm in Upper South River to record from Angus. Angus' song repertoire consisted of many songs from the Lochaber tradition and included war songs, as well as some belonging to the milling genre. He also had a repertoire of English songs of varying types and qualities. The stories collected by Leach from Angus MacDonald are a combination of fairytales, legends and humorous character tales.

Apart from ten years spent working as a guard at the Dorchester penitentiary in New Brunswick, Angus spent his life on his father's farm in Antigonish County, where he died on October 27th,1951.

Angus seems to have been visited again by Leach at the very end of his Newfoundland trip, after the Leaches took the boat back to the mainland. The very last two things recorded (at the end of tape 18A) were two songs by an Angus "The Ridge." These have been attributed to an unidentified Angus in an unidentifiable Newfoundland community, "The Ridge." However, the voice on the tapes appears to be the same, and the coincidence of two Anguses somehow affiliated with two separate places named "The Ridge" is highly unlikely. The two songs were English songs: one was the Johnny Burke-penned "The Hat My Father Wore," and the other was an American broadside, "Lather and Shave."

Revised by Dr. Lorrie MacKinnon and used with permission.