Gaelic College, A Centre for Celtic Music & More Along the Cabot Trail

Welcome to the Gaelic College

Is the kilted  man  playing bagpipes and standing in a parking lot simply  a lure for tourists into the Gaelic College of Arts and Crafts?   Possibly, but what better way to demonstrate the sight and sounds of a living culture than to enter into the gateway of this historic institution with celtic music?

The sign says appropriately in Gaelic:  Fàilte dhan a’ Cholaisde Ghàidhlig. Thigibh a-staigh! (Welcome to the Gaelic College of Arts and Crafts)

So what is this place all about?

It’s about a woman learning to make tartan kiltsunderan experienced mentor, or a young fiddler learning from someone like Ed Rodgers or Jennifer Roland, or a student learning Gaelic at the only institution in North America that teaches it, on the only Island where it is spoken.

The director of the Gaelic College is Sam MacPhee and here is what he has to say about what they do and what you will see:

“We are unique in the world,” MacPhee said. “Our disciplines spread right across the breadth of the culture. You can come here and learn to play the bagpipes, learn to weave old highland patterns or learn to step dance.”  Each of these has concerts or craft demonstrations is open in a schedule for us visitors.

Each of these pursuits ties right into the fabric of the Celtic Culture, Arts and Crafts and Gaelic language.

“We think that is really important because when they are learning to dance or play the pipes or the fiddle there is so much of it that ties into the rest of the culture and into the language,” says MacPhee.

In fact, the Gaelic College  is in some ways more faithful to its Gaelic roots located on Cape Breton than if it were located anywhere in Ireland or Scotland..  There is  a kind of time warp going on.

Culture and Geneaology

Inside the Gaelic College, at the Hall of the Clans, is an interactive display.  Here you can experience the songs and dances and language of the “Gaels”  and Highland settlers who originally migrated to Nova Scotia.

Many individuals and families return to Cape Breton to  research and study  their own history and geneology with teachers and other resources at the College.  There is an excellent teacher named Hector Mac Neil involved in these programs.

Music, dance and song

My experience is first hand with the students and teachers of music, especially fiddlers and the odd bagpipers.   One of our first concerts at Cabot Shores featured a  fiddler named Jennifer Roland:  she is not only a gifted fiddler but a proficient step-dancer.

A young guest from Colorado named Cheye has studied with Jennifer for years and one Saturday in July organized  a Ceilidh (concert) at Cabot Shores replete with 11 or 12 other students–an interesting assortment of fiddlers, bagpipers, celtic  harp and bodhran drummers!

At the Gaelic College itself  are weekly Ceilidhs where the College Faculty performs and during October, the College is the residence for Celtic Colours International Music Festival.  The best Celtic musicians worldwide congregate at the Festival Club nightly from 11PM-4AM playing celtic music after doing earlier concerts around the Island.

Stop for that bagpiper

So the bagpiper is not just a lure,   The Gaelic College is a magnet for Gaelic, Celtic tradition and interested guests from all over the world.  Do not miss it when on Cape Breton Island.

Getting there

Follow the TransCanada going east or west to exit 11/the Cabot Trail.  You will see on your left an excellent Craft Store where the products of the mentors and students and local artists are on display.  Have a look.

You will find the Gaelic College on your right as you ascend the hill and, yes, you will probably see the bagpiper even before you hear the music.