MacEdward Leach and the Songs of Atlantic Canada

Margaret Sarah Gillis

Margaret Sarah Gillis of Gillisdale, Inverness County, Cape Breton, was an informant for Helen Creighton before she worked with MacEdward Leach. Many of her songs appear in Creighton's Gaelic Songs in Nova Scotia. She was also recorded by other collectors, including Gordon Maclennan and Kathleen Lamont MacKinnon. She had a broad repertoire of songs, including the older milling songs, 19th century 4-line songs, and songs by local bards.

Gillis is a common name in the Margaree/Central Inverness County areas. The Gillises (several families) settled in the region after emigrating from Morar, Scotland and Margaret Gillis' song repertoire reflects this area's tradition.

Margaret Gillis was the daughter of Gillis Gillis (Gill-losa mac lain ic Gill-losa) and was married to Sandy Sheumas Gillis. The family was known for its hospitality and its fine singing, and was celebrated in a song by the great Margaree bard Malcolm Gillis, entitled "Cruinneachadh Shandaidh Sheumais" (A Gathering at Sandy Seumas's ) (see Smeorach non Cnoc 's Nan Gleann, p. 38, which mentions her by name). Many of her family, including sister Christine, daughter Mae, and sons Neil, Jimmy, and Angus R were also fine singers.

Margaret also made songs. Her "Cumhna do Iain MacGill Iosa (Lament for John Gillis") was published in the collection Smeorach nan Cnonc 's nan Gleann (p. 145). She was the only female poet published in that book.

Margaret helped many children into the world in her parish of Southwest Margaree, acting as a midwife on numerous occasions. She died on May 27, 1971, in her 88th year.

Leach collected four songs from Margaret Gillis: "'S ann DiLuain Ghabh i'n Cuan (Monday She [the ship] Set Out to Sea)," "Illean Bithibh S j nndach (Boys Be Merry)," "An Gille Donn (The Brown-haired Lad)," and "Ho Roinn Horo Bhi Iù O (Vocables)."

Revised by Dr. Lorrie MacKinnon and used with permission.