Deep seated resentments towards the historical persecution of Scots Gaelic culture by the British Crown erupted late last year in Canada's Nova Scotia. Estimates are that approximately 1200 Gaelic speakers currently reside in Nova Scotia, primarily in Cape Breton. This is down from an estimated 100,000 Gaelic speakers in Nova Scotia in 1900 and efforts to restore the language to health have intensified in recent years.
The controversy erupted when the Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Cape Breton Gaelic College, in Nova Scotia, announced that the Queen had "honoured" the school by allowing it to be called "The Royal Gaelic College". An immediate uproar ensued with critics pointing to the brutal historical treatment of Scots Gaelic speakers at the hands of the crown. This led to the resignation of the College Board Chairman, Alex Morrison, who in his statement of resignation seemed to refuse to acknowledge the depth of feeling on the part of those opposed. In turn, the remaining Board members were reported determined in their support of the "Royal" designation.
Allan MacMaster, a member of the Nova Scotia House of Assembly representing Inverness in Cape Breton in the heartland of Scottish Nova Scotia, was quoted at the time stating that changing the name of the College to the "Royal Cape Breton Gaelic College" brings back bitter memories: " The people who sought the royal designation did not stop to think about all the Gaels out there who would find the term offensive and hurtful given the history of the Crown trying to eradicate the Gaelic language and culture. There was a concerted effort to break the Gaelic peoples of Scotland; it was a plan to ethnically cleanse the people." Mr. MacMaster, who has emerged as a champion of Celtic culture and the Gaelic tongue of Nova Scotia, is the son of legendary Cape Breton fiddler Buddy MacMaster, who is himself a Scots Gaelic cultural icon. Assemblyman MacMaster is also first cousin to Natalie MacMaster, the internationally renowned fiddler who was featured by Transceltic in the September 25, 2013 article "Interview with Natalie MacMaster - Keeping the Culture Alive with a Fiddle".
Mary Ellen MacIntyre writing in Nova Scotia’s Herald News in an article titled “Celts Rally To Reject The Royal Tag”, quotes another champion of Celtic culture and Gaelic language of Canada’s Maritime, the award winning Cape Breton fiddler , Glenn Graham: “We in the Gaelic-speaking community have worked so hard to increase the number of Gaelic speakers in this province, to keep the culture alive, and over the last 30 years or so, to keep the music alive. To take this name is to reverse all the good that has been done and to return to a symbol of oppression.”
Now we have this curious article from the website of Cape Breton Radio Station 89.7, which shows that the adiministration of the Gaelic College are taking actions which defy Cape Breton majority opinion on this matter: " Canadian Gaelic College CEO, Rodney MacDonald says they’ll honour the institution’s royal designation with a plaque. Adding the word “royal” to the Gaelic College name has been controversial with people in the Gaelic community citing examples of the British Crown trying to wipe out Gaelic language and culture. At a recent meeting, members of the College’s Foundation voted to reject the “royal” prefix by a margin of 45-23. Now the College’s Board of Governors’ say it will drop the prefix from the college’s name and in day-to-day operations. However, the Board says it still plans to properly acknowledge what it sees as an honour in a number of ways."
It remains to be seen what happens next. But I would advise not standing too close to that "Royal" plaque once it goes up.