Friendship, Faith and the Bard MacLean
Among Canada’s pioneer poets John MacLean is uniquely Am Bàrd MacGilleathan.
His ‘The Gloomy Forest’ gave an eloquent account of tree-felling challenges facing
Highland settlers. MacLean’s background in fertile Tiree, where his bardic skills
developed, was very different. This paper focuses on a friendship between the bard
and a priest, Colin Grant, who shared his knowledge of clan-based society. The
friendship flourished in an area of Nova Scotia where faith communities met.
Protestants from the northern Highlands put down roots in Pictou while Catholics
from further west settled in Antigonish and Cape Breton. The personal friendship
reflected a period of shared Gaelic culture when clergy were in short supply.
Scripture in Gaelic helped to establish Calvinist values, while Catholic belief and
practice continued to draw on an imaginative folk-culture. The bard’s praise-poetry
for the priest followed him to death, but MacLean turned to spiritual verse as faith
communities drew apart.
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