Celebrate St. Patrick’s DayAt last, Carlton County residents get a chance to see Séamas Cain’s bilingual (Gaelic and English) historical piece based on Cain’s Irish ancestors, who initially created their own Irish community in southwestern Minnesota.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
At last, Carlton County residents get a chance to see Séamas Cain’s bilingual (Gaelic and English) historical piece based on Cain’s Irish ancestors, who initially created their own Irish community in southwestern Minnesota.
Titled “The Prairie Gaeltacht” – Gaeltacht refers to an area where Gaelic is the principle language spoken – for performances in Ireland last summer, English-speaking Cloquet residents can celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in style (and for only $1) by attending the translated version: “Irish Voices on the Minnesota Prairie.” The performance begins at 1 p.m. March 17 at the Carlton County Historical Society museum at 406 Cloquet Ave., Cloquet.
Like Cain – who is poet, performance artist, novelist and more – “Irish Voices on the Minnesota Prairie” isn’t easy to categorize. Cain narrates what he calls a “documentary drama,” aided by actors reading the words of Irish immigrants to Minnesota from the late 1800s. In Ireland, Irish actors’ lines were written in the Gaelic dialect spoken by Cain’s ancestors. For the Cloquet performance, local actors will speak mostly English.
The content of the script is much the same, with a few adjustments, Cain said.
“In Dublin, we did not need to explain certain things [that] in Cloquet we do need to explain,” Cain said, adding that local actors include Margaret Webster, Robert Tatro, Lyn Sandness, Donald J. Pearce, Cheryl Kramer-Milder, Rick Breuer, Deb Bahen, Kris Nelson and Catherine McDonald. “Vice versa, in Dublin we DID need to explain certain things about life in America – past and present – we do not need to explain [here].”
Three of Cain’s four grandparents were children in Irish settlements in Minnesota’s Swift and Big Stone counties, where they grew up speaking Irish in what were essentially Irish villages on American soil.
Cain and the actors will take the audience from the time of the wagon trains to the day electricity arrived in the village of Murdock, Minn. Along the way, they hear stories of the Molly Maguires, the communitarian Connemaras and their vision of creating a Gaelic socialist utopia on the prairies of western Minnesota, of fiddlers and harmonica players at dances, of droughts, snowstorms and swarms of locusts that would eat a man’s boots in no time.
Audience members will also meet the settlers who, after the failure of many of the Irish colonies on the prairie, re-settled to Cloquet between1900-1909, including Cain’s great-grandfather Pádraig Ó hAndradháin, who was recruited into the Seventh Cavalry just after Custer’s last stand.
“Pádraig was almost immediately swept off into the Pursuit of Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce tribe, one of the more dramatic episodes of the period of the Indian Wars (that followed the Civil War),” Cain said. “Pádraig was even one of the small detachments of soldiers who took Chief Joseph himself down to prison in the so-called “Indian Territories” (Oklahoma today).”
Captain J.M. Paine (for whom the Carlton church is named) also makes an appearance in the play; Paine was an early white pine lumberman and served with Pádraig in the Seventh Cavalry.
“History, real history, has all sorts of intricate interlacings,” Cain noted.
After the St. Patrick’s Day program, punch, coffee and refreshments will be served. Admission is $1 with children under 12 and CCHS members admitted free of charge. The building is handicapped accessible. For more information, call 218-879-1938.
To read Cain’s play in Gaelic, go online to http://seamascainwriternetwork.org.