Researchers to Launch Index of Gaelic Songs in Nova Scotia with ‘Language in Lyrics’ Project

A comprehensive index of more than 6,000 Gaelic songs composed, sung, or published in Nova Scotia will be launched during a live event in Port Hawkesbury, Nova Scotia on Saturday, March 26, 2022.

For the past four years, Cape Breton University’s Dr. Heather Sparling, Canada Research Chair in Musical Traditions and Professor of Ethnomusicology, together with co-applicants Roibeard (‘Robby’) Ó Maolalaigh, Professor of Gaelic and Celtic Studies at Glasgow University, and Lewis MacKinnon, Director of Nova Scotia Gaelic Affairs, have led a team of researchers to compile the Nova Scotia Gaelic song index by drawing from print media, archival recordings, and private collections. The goal was to identify songs that could provide the foundations of a Nova Scotia Gaelic language corpus, which could be used for research, analysis, and possibly a future dictionary of Nova Scotia Gaelic.

“I am so thrilled to be providing tools that will benefit the Gaelic community, both locally in Nova Scotia, and internationally,” shares Dr. Sparling. “The fact that we were able to index so many songs really speaks to the Gaelic proverb, ‘a sharing of gold is but brief, but a sharing of song lasts long’.”

More than 30 fields of data were documented for each song, including composers, singers, song origins, song subjects, and song genres, making it possible to conduct detailed searches. More than 1,000 song lyrics will also be available from the index. Where possible, links are provided to song recordings or lyrics online.

The digital design for the index was created and will be hosted by the Digital Archive of Scottish Gaelic (DASG) from the University of Glasgow. The project also received support from Nova Scotia Gaelic Affairs, The Beaton Institute and the Highland Village Museum. This project was funded by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada.

“It has been a real pleasure to work collaboratively with Dr. Sparling and her team. The Glasgow DASG team was delighted to be able to share our expertise and experience in the digitisation of Gaelic texts and the building of a searchable database containing invaluable metadata on the Gaelic songs captured,” says Professor Ó Maolalaigh. “This international collaboration will result in a resource that will benefit Gaelic speakers and learners as well as researchers and lexicographers on both sides of the Atlantic. The linguistically rich register of Nova Scotian Gaelic song will add considerably to DASG’s Corpas na Gàidhlig resource.”

In addition to the Nova Scotia Gaelic Song Index, Dr. Sparling is thrilled to be launching Cànan tro Òrain (Language through Songs), an open access e-book of Gaelic lesson plans based on songs. The lesson plans were authored by nine Gaelic teachers and are available to teachers and learners to use and adapt as needed.

“I couldn’t be happier with the variety and creativity of the lesson plans,” says Dr. Sparling. “My hope is that Gaelic language teachers – and perhaps teachers of other languages – will be inspired to modify the lessons in this book to suit their own teaching styles and their students’ needs.”

The launch event will take place at the Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre on Saturday, March 26, 2022, from 1:00pm-4:30pm. The event is free to the public, but registration is required. To register, please click here.

To learn more about Language in Lyrics, the Nova Scotia Gaelic Song Index, or Cànan tro Òrain (Language through Songs), visit To learn more about the Digital Archive of Scottish Gaelic, visit