The MacDonnells & Kennedys
The current living descendants of Hughie Dan and Peter MacDonnell of Deepdale/Broad Cove, as well as Archie and Katie Florence Kennedy of Dunvegan, will pay tribute to these families at the 60th Broad Cove Scottish Concert. These families were some of the most influential ambassadors of Scottish traditional culture, music and language in Inverness County, and this tribute number will showcase the many generations of musical talent influenced by these families.
The MacDonnells and the Kennedys were known county-wide for their music, step dancing and Gaelic. Hughie Dan and Peter both owned farms on Deepdale Road, and every Sunday they hosted an ‘open-house’ ceilidh. These ceilidhs were always very well attended; fiddlers the likes of Buddy MacMaster and Mike MacDougall were known to stop by often, and all sorts of spectators from Inverness would travel via the Old Deepdale Road on horse and buggy to attend these infamous ceilidhs. Fiddling, step dancing and Gaelic songs/stories were prominently displayed, along with piping, piano accompaniment, guitar accompaniment, and many other instruments that these family members were capable of playing with ease.
Hughie Dan in particular was known for his storytelling and many of his stories were published in Cape Breton’s Magazineover the years in both Gaelic and English. Most of his stories and tales came from Scottish Gaelic folklore, and many of them were later translated and published by Gaelic scholars such as Dr. John Shaw.
Archie and Katie Florence Kennedy of Dunvegan (and their descendants) were equally as talented. Katie Florence was a Gaelic teacher, and her daughter Christine taught highland dancing in Dunvegan and Inverness. Katie Florence would often take her students to the highland games in Antigonish to allow them to perform and showcase their talent. Over the years the Kennedys were very close friends with the MacDonnells, and eventually these two families came together with the joining of Rannie Kennedy and Penny (MacDonnell) Kennedy in marriage – a natural fit for these two musicians. Members of these three families were all participants in the inaugural Broad Cove concert 60 years ago and many following. Furthermore, Katie Florence is considered to be one of the founding members of the concert itself.
An excerpt from Liz Doherty’s book, The Cape Breton Fiddle Companion, describes the first ever Broad Cove concert.
“The first outdoor concert ever held in Cape Breton (August 7, 1957) at Broad Cove, Inverness County, in celebration of the centenary of the construction of St. Margaret’s Church. Organized by a parish committee under the guidance of Fr. Michael MacAdam, the parish priest, the event featured Gaelic singing, fiddle music and step dancing, and followed an outdoor mass celebrated by bishops, priests and deacons, and a meal; the altar doubled as both stage and platform. Performers were selected by local Gaelic teacher, Katie Florence Kennedy, and included fiddlers Donald Angus Beaton, Cameron Chisholm, Angus Allan Gillis and Theresa MacLellan; Gaelic singers Lauchie Dan N. MacLellan, Donald Ronald Dan MacDonald, Neil Gillis, Alex MacIsaac and Danny MacDougall; step dancers Willie Fraser, Minnie MacMaster and Fr. Angus Alex MacDonnell…” (Doherty, 2015,pg 50).
Cape Breton is known to have preserved the ‘close to the floor’ style of step dancing brought here by the early Scottish settlers. Peter MacDonnells son, the late Fr. Angus Alex MacDonnell, was an excellent example of this style and a crowd favorite! He was also a great example of the critical importance that religion and culture played within these families and the community.
“…. a number of priests are mentioned as examples of good dancers, including Fr. Donald Michael Rankin and the late Reverend Angus MacDonnell, who was a highly acclaimed step dancer whose flowing steps sometimes got him referred to as a “showstopper”. As the noted Cape Breton folksinger John Allan Cameron once said, “when I was growing up, the most important people in the community were the fiddler and the priest.” (Thomspon 2003, quoted in Melin, pg. 164).
Another quote from Mats Melin’s book, One with the Music; Cape Breton Step Dance Tradition and Transmission, describes the talent of Fr. MacDonnell.
“Short-lived but famed step dancer Fr. Angus MacDonnell (1944-1977) from Deepdale was recalled as having “floating feet” and “supple ankles,” and put little extra taps and beats in his nimble dancing. Jean MacNeil recalls he had very supple ankles, which enabled him to put in steps where you could hear a “triplet” sound (very quick staccato foot movements making three sounds or contact noises with the floor in rapid succession).” (Melin, pg. 131).
The MacDonnells and Kennedys had stellar bagpipers in their homes as well, and brothers Harold Joseph and Jimmy MacDonnell have been part of the Broad Cove concert since the early days and will once again share the stage with some of their siblings during this tribute set.
“Perhaps the single most influential piper on the fiddle tradition from the mid-20th century was Sandy Boyd. He amassed a large collection of music books from Scotland and was in close contact with pipers there. Boyd introduced literally dozens of bagpipe tunes to fiddlers such as Angus Chisholm, Cameron Chisholm and Winston Fitzgerald, including marches by John MacColl and William Lawrie, reels by Peter MacLeod, and Donald MacLeod’s “Crossing the Minch” – later called “MacNab’s Hornpipe” by Winston Fitzgerald. Living an itinerant lifestyle he offered instruction in return for room and board for extended periods. Among those he taught were brothers Ken, Iain and Allan MacKenzie of St. Peter’s, Rosemary, Myrna, Marion and Paul MacNeil of Barra Glen, and several pipers in Inverness, including brothers Harold and Jimmy MacDonnell and Rannie Kennedy.” (Doherty, pg. 23-24).
Lots of planning has gone into this tribute number, and all those participating are related and descendants of the MacDonnells and the Kennedys:
Children of Hughie Dan (and Peter) MacDonnell: Penny Kennedy, Johnena MacLellan, Harold Joseph MacDonnell, Jimmy MacDonnell, Sadie Burton, Hughie Dougald MacDonnell, Ann MacDougall
Grandchildren: Kay Dugas, Donna MacDonald, Florence Kennedy, Edward Burton,Rannie MacLellan, Hank Shaw, Trewman Shaw, Brendan Kennedy
Great Grandchildren: Kevin Dugas, Keith MacDonald, Kyle MacDonald, Colin MacDonald, Lauren MacDonnell, Taylor MacDonnell, Jeremy Burton, Caragh and Rowen Kennedy, Bhreagh MacDougall
As families, we are extremely proud of our heritage and the culture passed on to us by our MacDonnell and Kennedy forbearers. We look forward to celebrating these families at the 60th Broad Cove Scottish Concert. See you there!