When people in Ireland heard Aidan O'Hara's recordings of Newfoundlanders in the 1970s, they were surprised to hear people who sounded much like they did.
Irish and Irish descendants once made up half the population of Newfoundland, where many Irish immigrants settled in the 18th and 19th centuries. Today, that number is around 20 percent, but the strong cultural influence of the Irish still remains.
In the 1970s, Donegal-born broadcaster Aidan O’Hara traveled to Newfoundland’s Cape Shore to record traditional songs and stories. He eventually created documentaries of the region’s Irish-influenced culture, The Telegram reports.
Because of the area’s isolation, the many Irish immigrants who settled retained the dialect of their homeland. O’Hara says he was struck by the cultural distinctness he found there.
"They seemed to me to have retained much more Irishness, the kind you would find in isolated communities on the west coast of Ireland, say, where traditional language of Gaelic is still alive," O'Hara said.
At the time, people in Ireland weren’t aware of the strong Irish influence in places beyond large cities like Boston and New York. So when O’Hara’s documentaries were released in Ireland, many people were surprised to hear people with accents much like theirs.
"At the time people [in Ireland] didn't think of Newfoundland beyond the weather map," O'Hara recalled. "They were astounded, naturally, at hearing these people who sounded very like themselves."
O’Hara donated his original recordings to the Dublin-based Irish Traditional Music Archives in the 1990s. In 2018, the ITMA launched a digital project, entitled “A Grand Time: The songs, music and dance of Newfoundland’s Cape Shore,” a collection of O’Hara’s recordings, images, and interviews, to bring these recordings home.
The extensive online exhibition can be found here.
*Originally published in 2018. Updated in March 2023.