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The Celtic Experience
To this day Gaelic is still the first language of a number of elderly Cape Bretoners. Gaelic and Celtic roots run deep on the Island. In the Celtic world today, there are over 2,000 learners of the Gaelic language, of all different ages. Gaelic is a language, whereas, Celtic was a group of people with a specific culture that used the Celtic languages. Gaelic is a language on which our culture here in Cape Breton is based. Scottish Gaelic and culture were able to establish firm roots on Cape Breton island and has managed to survive here into the 21st Century. It has become a distinct Nova Scotia Gaelic culture although it originated in Scotland, adapting and growing within a Nova Scotia context for over 200 years. Both our Celtic ancestry and Gaelic language bloodlines remain strong on the island. Our legacy of traditional Gaelic language and life as it existed in Scotland over a century ago continue to define our unique existence today.
Photo: Gaelic speaker Allan MacLeod from the Cainnt mo Mhàthar (My Mother's Language) project. Photo by Ryan MacDonald.
During the first half of the 19th century, Cape Breton Island experienced an influx of Scottish Gaels numbering approximately 50,000. Descendants with Highland Scots roots dominate Cape Breton Island's culture, particularly in rural communities. Folk researchers will tell you that when people left the mother country and came to isolated places, which islands are, they tend to retain more of what they left. Such has definitely been the case on Cape Breton Island and many people have Celtic roots. The Gaelic language still survives and the music and dance unique to Cape Breton Island’s traditional culture are in themselves, full of Gaelic.
Our well-known Cape Breton attractions such as the dramatic shorelines of the Bras d'Or Lakes, Cape Breton Highlands and Cabot Trail are home to the only living Celtic culture in North America. Cape Breton Island is now host to a wide range of exciting festivities and relaxing environments that preserve and contribute to our Celtic culture. Traditional music, dancing, crafts, arts and storytelling continue to be a way of life in many communities.