Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Opinionated? Moi? Q&A turns up in Celtic Life International

  
[The following is a shortened version of the original article.]

Prolific, profound, witty, and opinionated, Canadian author Ken McGoogan made waves recently when he suggested that Canada adopt Scotland as a new territory. Celtic Life International recently spoke with the scribe about his Celtic connections. 

What are your own roots? My roots are Scottish, Irish, and French Canadian. In Scotland, DNA research led me to meeting Jim McGugan, a long-lost “cousin” who lives in Arbroath; and from there to the island of Gigha in Kintyre, where our earliest ancestor is buried. In Ireland, I have tracked my ancestor Michael Byrnes to New Ross, County Wexford, where he was a contemporary of Patrick Kennedy, a forebear of American president John F. Kennedy.

Why are those roots important to you? Tracking my roots drove me to scrambling around on Cruach MhicGougain in Kintyre, and to having many other fun adventures. The process not only gave me a whole new sense of self, but inspired two books: How the Scots Invented Canada and Celtic Lightning: How the Scots and the Irish Created a Canadian Nation. Unearthing my own roots inspired me to conceive of what I call “cultural genealogy.” Canadian intellectuals hunker down with geographers and sociologists. That’s a mistake. We assume geography’s limitations and cease investigating our collective past at the western edge of the Atlantic Ocean. Instead, like genealogists, we should keep sleuthing. This nation’s history crosses the Atlantic. And, given that nine million Canadians trace their roots to Scotland and Ireland, it does so more often to those two countries than to anywhere else.

From your perspective, what are the biggest challenges facing Celtic Canadians today? I see Celtic culture in Canada as egalitarian, pluralistic, and progressive. So I worry about the emergence onto the world stage of a powerful right-wing partnership led by Theresa May and Donald Trump, or the Tories of Little England and the Republicans of the ‘Wild Wild West.’ I worry that, together, they might create some great libertarian beast and set it slouching towards Canada.

Are Celtic Canadians doing enough to preserve and promote their heritage? Not really. In my own small world, that of books and authors, we have regressed. Once upon a time, Canada and Scotland shared a writers-in-residence program. One year, a Scottish writer would come to Canada for three months. The next, a Canadian writer would spend three months in Scotland. One of the founders of that program told me recently that we Canadians were the ones who dropped the ball. We should be fostering closer relations with Scotland and Ireland, creating linkages of all kinds - cultural, economic, and political - not watching excellent initiatives wither and die.


What can be done to change this? We could start by waking up to the great wide world. Obviously, we face domestic challenges. But the current leadership of the country next door, backed by tens of millions of citizens, wants to create a society in which everyone carries a gun and only the wealthy can afford education or health care. Celtic Canadians should smell the coffee and start casting about for stronger alliances elsewhere - beginning with Scotland and Ireland.

(To read this piece in full, along with much else, pick up the magazine by going here.)

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