Fiddler MacIntosh

Robert MacIntosh 1819-1904

Robert MacIntosh
1819-1904   (Collection of Kathryn Sutherland, Mn.)

When not immersed in the never ending toil of farm and forest,  the Scots turned to the pipes or the fiddle to lift their spirits.  Every corner of the settlement had someone with the talent to play the melodies brought from the old country.

The most notable fiddler in the settlement during the 19th century was Robbie MacIntosh.  Robbie was born in Rogart in 1819, the eldest son of William and Betsy MacIntosh.  The family left Rogart in 1825 to come to Earltown and join up with William’s brother, Donald, who had come over a few years earlier.   This MacIntosh family settled on the west end of the Clydesdale Road – a short distance in from the Denmark road.  Robert was the eldest of six children and took over the family farm from his parents.  He had five siblings, none of whom married.

Robbie’s father was an accomplished fiddler in the Old Country and entertained his fellow passengers on the voyage to Nova Scotia.  Robbie took up the fiddle at an early age and became a well known musician.  He was in demand throughout Earltown and West Pictou at dances, fairs, folics and weddings.  He competed in contests and was often the victor.

His most noteworthy engagement was in 1860 when the Prince of Wales,  later King Edward VII, visited Halifax. A ball was held to honour the Prince and Robbie was invited to play the Scottish reels for the Royal Dance.  Robbie had an audience with the Prince and was given a tall silk hat from the Prince’s wardrobe.

Like many of today’s accomplished fiddlers in Cape Breton,  Robbie could step dance while playing the fiddle.  He was still able to master this technique at an advanced age.

When Fiddler MacIntosh became too old to look after the farm,  he went to live with the Graham family at the other end of Clydesdale.  He died in the care of the Graham family in 1904.  His grand silk hat was lost in a subsequent house fire.


Interview:  Josie MacIntosh Graham  ca. 1980

G.R. Sutherland : “The Rise and Decline of the Community of Earltown”  1980