Thursday, September 22, 2011

A history of Knoydart-- HIGHLAND PATHS -- KEN MCKENNA

from the Glengarry News Wednesday September 14 2011
A history of Knoydart


(Editor’s note: Highland Paths columnist Ken McKenna passed away last week of heart
failure at the Ottawa General Hospital.)

The late Donald Simon Fraser of the Lochinvar Road once reminded me that I should
always give the original Gaelic spelling of a place with the pronunciation in phonetics and
the meaning of the word in English. This is easier said then done because phonetics are
purely a personal choice; Gaelic is a very old language and has many subtle sounds
that are unknown in English and difficult to render into phonetics. For instance, Donald is Domhnall and you would have hear a Gaelic speaker pronounce it to get it right. The closest I can get to it is Daw-ull, the first syllable rather nasal and the second very short but someone else may prefer different phonetics.

As far as meanings are concerned, Gaelic is such an ancient language that some words are too old or obscure to translate easily.

Knoydart as it is now written in English is pronounced Noydart, the stress, as always in Gaelic, on the first syllable. But in Gaelic it is Cnoideart, and is devilish difficult in English: Kron-dyarsht is the nearest I can get to the proper sound. Knoydart is a special place name here in Glengarry because because so many of the first settlers came from there.

Donald Fraser had a good knowledge of Gaelic, and said he always knew the east of Dalkeith as Cnoideart, but didn't connect it with Knoydart until he heard Gordon McLennan, the Gaelic scholar, pronounce it in Gaelic and in English when he visited Glengarry some years ago. And no wonder Donald was confused! The Gaelic and the English versions are so different that they sound like two different words.

As to the original meaning, I don't really know. It is very old Gaelic and could mean "hilly"
from the Gaelic cnoc , a hill or a high place. If that is so, it is well named, because Knoydart
is one the most mountainous areas in the Highlands of Scotland. It is inaccessible by
road and can only be reached by boat, walking for miles over the neighbouring hills or by

The easiest way to see Knoydart from a distance is from the south end of the Isle of Skye. For there you can view it as it has been since the beginning of time, although in prehistoric
times the Highland hills were forested and are now bare except for areas that have been planted with trees during the last hundred years. Nothing certainly has changed since the people left for Canada two centuries ago.

The population of Knoydart never exceeded a few thousand although it is a huge area of about 400 square miles. But it is almost all vertical: the people lived on narrow strip along about one hundred miles of shoreline between the ocean and the mountains and in a few glens deep in the hills.

The first settlers in Glengarry, along with others from the Scottish Glen Garry, Lochaber, Kintail, Glenelg, Skye and Breadalbane were joined by others over the years from the same general areas. They provided the leaders that helped build Canada.

They gave the lie to the calumny that Scotland was better off without them.

The truth is that the  Highlands never recovered from their loss.

More next time.

Columnist found identity right here in Glengarry

News Staff

When Ken McKenna bought his farm near Glen Sandfield in 1972, he never imagined that it
would be like walking into a gold mine.

Born in Montreal on Aug. 31, 1931, Mr. McKenna spent most of the first part of his life in
Quebec, where he spent much of his time operating the family flower business, McKenna CĂ´tedes-Neiges. In its heyday, the store was very popular. It had been in the family for five generations and, at one time, had five stores in the city. When it finally closed in 1997, many expected Mr. McKenna would have been devastated, but by that time – according to his daughter, Sine – he had gotten a new lease on life.

“The store’s closure freed up time for him to research Highland history,” she says.
“That was his big passion.”

Towards the end of his life, Mr. McKenna had three big passions: his family, his faith, and writing the Highland Paths column for The Glengarry News, something he’d done regularly since the early 1990s. His work even spawned two published volumes – Highland Paths and Highland Paths II, with a third volume scheduled to be published posthumously.

For Mr. McKenna, his Scottish roots played an integral role in his life. He was even carrying a box of bagpipes on that fateful day nearly six decades ago when he met his wife-to-be,
Anne, at Macdonald College in West Island on St. Andrew’s Day. The two quickly bonded
over their love of Highland culture and were soon married. Their union lasted 57 years and
produced five children: Sine, Robert, Jo-Anne, Brigid, and Mary Martha, who passed away four years ago at the age of 48.

At first, he didn’t expect his move to Glengarry to be such an enlightening experience.

“He thought he’d find a few Scottish names here but he didn’t think he’d find a mini Cape
Breton,” says Sine. “Glengarry blew him away.”

Suddenly, he was surrounded by people who also cared about the old country. Very soon, Mr. and Mrs. McKenna started the Glengarry Gaelic Choir. The Gaelic language had long been a passion for Mr. McKenna; he’d long been concerned that it was dying. He dreamed that one day, at least one of his children would be able to sing in Gaelic.

He realized that dream threefold. Today, Sine, Brigid and Jo-Ann can all sing in Gaelic and
Sine even teaches it privately at the University of Ottawa.

Mr. McKenna also had a passion for storytelling, something he demonstrated in his columns. He could remember about 80 per cent of what he read and he usually went throught four to five books a week.

Although Glengarry was his home, Mr. McKenna made it his business to make regular sojourns to Scotland. He used to dream about being a crofter in Europe, which meant renting land from someone and working it. But in the end, Glengarry was his real home.

Mr. McKenna passed away of heart failure at Ottawa General Hospital on Sept. 5, 2011. He was 80. His funeral took place at St. Finnan’s Cathedral in Alexandria on Saturday morning.