Joe Neil MacNeil

Doctor of Letters

Joe Neil MacNeil is recognized internationally as the finest living Nova Scotia storyteller. He is the bearer of a tradition which, while going back five or six generations in Nova Scotia, also links him with the oral literature of Gaelic Scotland and Ireland, which extends back well over 1500 years. His recently published book, Sgeul gu Lath / Tales Until Dawn, has made the richness and variety of his repertoire available to non Gaelic-speakers. He was born in 1908 in Reserve, Cape Breton County, and raised in Middle Cape, a rural Gaelic-speaking community. He acquired English at school at the age of seven, but his primary concern has always been with the rich Gaelic culture of the region. Joe Neil’s working life as a carpenter, electrician, mechanic and sawmill operator was in no way extraordinary, but from as early age, he was able to absorb and recite the songs, anecdotes and long elaborate folk tales of Gaeldom’s extensive oral literature. Since 1975, he has recorded these materials and they are a contribution to Gaelic culture and scholarship that is remarkable for a man with so little access to formal education.