JUDIQUE: “The peninsula of Ardnish is across the loch from my house. It has a gorgeous ruined village of nine houses, last inhabited in 1944. It just needed to be written about.”
Angus MacDonald is the author of Ardnish was Home and We fought for Ardnish. He is on tour this month, hosting talks on the life and times of the highlanders, their way of life, and the history of their emigration from the Western Highlands of Scotland to Cape Breton.
“I’ll talk about the people of this part of Scotland from 1900-1944, their lives, and experiences abroad, fighting in the world wars and loves. I’ll even get the audience to join in singing a couple of songs.”
A resident of Arisaig, Scotland – which he describes as a “gorgeous village, in a sheltered bay just below the Island of Skye” – MacDonald is steeped in the history of Lochaber and highland story telling. While on tour in Nova Scotia, MacDonald will discuss his books which follow a family from a remote peninsula over three generations. The novels are partially set in Cape Breton and take place during the Second World War.
“My books are based around the intense love the Gillies family has for their beloved Ardnish – as their neighbours trickle away in search of a viable living.”
The books draw parallels between the two regions, illustrating a strong historical connection to Cape Breton. This is especially noted in We fought for Ardnish.
“The hero, Donald Angus Gillies and Andrew MacDonald [my grandfather in real life], are training in the Rockies……circumstance leads them to the Mabou area, and my MacDonald cousins. Meanwhile Donald Angus heads off to Cheticamp to the parents of the girl he fell for, posted by the Canadian military to help the French resistance in WW2.”
While the heroine is a fictional character from Cheticamp, the stories of Mull River and Mabou are real. MacDonald says the intent to share the vibrant history of his home soil and family heritage were the primary inspiration behind his novels.
“The stories of the highlands are true, true too are the people and way of life in Mabou. The military aspects and the timeline is accurate. What is fictional are the hero and heroine, I use them to weave the story.”
MacDonald’s last visit to Cape Breton was in 2014 – for a family reunion in Judique, and to enjoy Celtic Colours. He says he is looking forward to this month’s visit, eager to engage with those on the tour.
The third novel in the Ardnish trilogy, which MacDonald says is “based on the Boer war; a relatively unknown and shocking conflict” – is due to appear on shelves, early next year.
His upcoming talks will be held at the Judique Community Centre, July 23rd at 7 p.m.; The Antigonish Heritage Museum, July 24th at 7 p.m.; and on July 25th at Common Good Solutions in Halifax.
As a sneak preview of what we can expect, he offers an excerpt from his novel We Fought for Ardinish:
“Ardnish is where God was born. Anyone who has been there on a day in early May, as the sun sets over Goat Isle, would see why it is a certainty. The peninsula is the most beautiful place on earth; the gentle hills behind the village; the towering mountains of An Stac and Roshven facing us, reflected in the sea of a calm day; the curve of the beach in front; and the islands of Eigg and Rum beyond.”