The 39-member cast of Keppoch: The Last Wake will be performing at the Strathspey Place in Mabou on September 16.

MABOU: On September 16, The Ships of 1801 Society’s newest musical theater production, Keppoch: The Last Wake will give Mabou audiences a peek into a ceilidh house on the Keppoch Mountain in Antigonish County.

“People can expect to see a lot of humour, a lot of entertainment, and singing,” said Duncan MacDonald, creator, writer, and producer of the project.

The show, which MacDonald describes as a “thematic concert,” is a mixture of musical performances and spoken dialogue. It features a cast of 39 performers of all ages, including actors, singers, dancers, and musicians.

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“At one time there were 12 fiddlers on the Keppoch, so we have 12 fiddlers in our show,” said MacDonald.

Contributed photo
Brian MacDonald (fiddler) and Joe MacKinnon perform in Keppoch: The Last Wake.

The Ships of 1801 Society has produced other thematic concerts in the past. Their Ships of 1801 trilogy told the stories of the people who arrived in eastern Nova Scotia from Scotland in the 1800s. The society’s most recent production, which is set in the late 1930s, also focuses on the stories and traditions of the Scottish people, but introduces some newer themes.

“This project looks at the people maybe a hundred years later and the traditions they held of telling stories and creating songs, creating music, and getting together for collective decisions,” said MacDonald.

The play begins at an anniversary party. Later, the community gathers for the wake of an elderly neighbour. No matter the occasion, the ceilidh house is the center of the action and visitors are quick to share a story or a song.

“The ceilidh house was a gathering place, and most of the social life and gossip and storytelling would have gone through those houses,” said MacDonald. “The tradition goes back hundreds of years into Scotland and it’s still going on today.”

Keppoch: The Last Wake also depicts a community undergoing changes that were experienced in many parts of Nova Scotia.

“The time that we’re portraying is the transition between Gaelic and English,” said MacDonald. “Grandparents were speaking Gaelic on the Keppoch and the parents probably spoke some and the children were hardly speaking any.”

MacDonald pointed out that some rural communities were also seeing their population in decline.

“A lot of rural communities once were thriving and now they’re dying out,” said MacDonald.

Besides entertainment, MacDonald said one of the goals of the project was to preserve the traditions, music, and humour of the Irish and Scottish people who settled in eastern Nova Scotia. He also wanted to give local artists an opportunity to create new music and to perform while following in the footsteps of these traditions, especially young artists.

“We have 19 young people in this show out of a cast of 39,” said MacDonald. “One of our mandates is to allow them to create and to demonstrate what they can do in front of an audience. To encourage them.”

MacDonald says that one of the most rewarding aspects of these performances has been working with the other artists.

“It’s a cooperative effort and that’s one of the nice things,” said MacDonald. “I think that it’s a feel-good project for the whole group. People like to do it. They come back year after year and It’s gotten to be a bit of a tradition. ”

After three sold out performances in Antigonish, Keppoch: The Last Wake will be coming to Strathspey Place in Mabou on September 16 at 7 p.m. To purchase tickets for these shows visit: www.strathspeyplace.com.