Anne of Green Gables to be translated into Gaelic as Anna Ruadh

A publisher in Nova Scotia is working on a new version of Anne of Green Gables, translating the famous novel into Gaelic.

'Anna is the Gaelic version of the name and Ruadh actually means red-haired'

Emily McEwan poses with the book cover for Anna Ruadh at the Atlantic Book Awards in St. John's, N.L. (Stephanie Tobin/CBC)

A publisher in Nova Scotia is working on a new version of Anne of Green Gables, translating the famous novel into Gaelic.

The story by P.E.I. author Lucy Maud Montgomery has been translated into more than 30 languages since it was published in 1908, but never the language spoken by many settlers on Prince Edward Island.

Emily McEwan is the founder and president of Bradan Press, which specializes in publishing in Gaelic, and the editor of Anna Ruadh, or Red-haired Anne, as the novel will be called in Gaelic.

The idea for the translation came from a bookstore owner in Halifax who told McEwan she would love to see a Gaelic version of Anne of Green Gables.

Emily McEwan visited Green Gables during the conference in 2018. (Emily McEwan)

"I was really surprised because I thought, isn't there one already because I knew that it had been translated into a lot of languages, over 30 languages," McEwan said. 

"That's what really planted the seed."

Gaelic connections

McEwan said Gaelic is a particularly appropriate language for the novel, because of Prince Edward Island's many Gaelic connections. 

"Over half of the people who originally settled P.E.I. were Gaelic speakers," McEwan said. 

"That has always been a part of the culture of the Island and also of Canada in general."

McEwan said, at the time of Confederation, Gaelic was actually the third-most commonly spoken language in Canada, after English and French. 

The cover of Anna Ruadh, the Scottish Gaelic translation of Anne of Green Gables. Cover illustration © 2019 (Etta Moffatt)

There are also Montgomery's personal connections to the language. 

"L.M. Montgomery was actually married to a native Gaelic speaker," McEwan said.

"He [Ewen Macdonald] was born and brought up on P.E.I. but his parents were descended from Gaels who had emigrated from the Isle of Skye in Scotland."

Emily McEwan, right, with Mrs. Jennie Macneill, left, and Prof. Elizabeth Waterston, University of Guelph, centre, at the Macneill Homestead site in June 2018 for the dedication of the Project Bookmark for L. M. Montgomery. (Emily McEwan )

Lord's Prayer in Gaelic

Last June, during a visit to P.E.I. for the  L.M. Montgomery Institute's biennial conference, McEwan met Jennie Macneill, whose late husband John was first cousin to L.M. Montgomery.

They had restored the Macneill homestead, where Montgomery had been raised by her grandparents.

"She [Jennie] told me that her mother was visited by the Reverend Ewen Macdonald, Montgomery's husband, and that he actually prayed the Lord's Prayer with her in Gaelic," McEwan said. 

"So that was a family story that she shared with me and that was just so special to hear."

Red-haired reference

McEwan said it made sense to choose Anna Ruadh, or Red-haired Anne, as the title for the translation.

"When you translate, you can go literal or you can go more figurative and cultural and so we ended up going more the cultural direction," McEwan said.

"Anna is the Gaelic version of the name and Ruadh actually means red-haired."

Emily McEwan holds a prize she won at the L.M. Montgomery conference in Charlottetown in 2018. (Emily McEwan)

McEwan said there are a couple of challenges to translating Anne of Green Gables into Gaelic.

"The book is actually quite long, it's about 103,000 words and then anything from English that you translate into Gaelic gets longer," McEwan said.

"I think we're going to be up to about a 124,000 words when the Gaelic translation is finished."

These are some of the other books published by Bradan Press. (Emily McEwan)

There is also Montgomery's use of literary references and passages of poetry in the novel.

"We've been working with the translator and talking about that," McEwan said.

"I think she's going to be trying to substitute some Gaelic poetry that's of the same significance in Gaelic culture as the pieces that Montgomery quoted were in English." 

Gaelic students

McEwan thinks the translation will be popular in Scotland, where Gaelic is still being taught, as well as for adults learning Gaelic.

"This novel can actually be a wonderful and enjoyable teaching tool for them especially because people are already familiar with Anne," McEwan said. 

"That helps you put words in context and recognize them more easily and then you can get to the point of having an enjoyable reading experience in the language that you're learning."

There is an online fundraising campaign to raise money to publish the novel, and so far, the project has raised close to $4,000 toward the $15,000 goal.

McEwan hopes to be ready to launch Anna Ruadh at the next L.M. Montgomery conference on P.E.I. in 2020.

More P.E.I. news


Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water or in the gym rowing, or walking her dog.


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