Born in St. Andrew’s, Father John MacPhail attended Public School No. 15, and St. Andrew’s High School. Before entering the seminary, Fr. MacPhail got his teacher’s certificate and taught in his home school. The traditions of playing musical instruments can often be traced to a former generation and this is certainly the case with Fr. MacPhail. He took his first lessons from his father, Roderick, who had a passion for Scottish music; he also took lessons from his high school music teacher, Sister Lucille.
During the years when he was teaching near his home, he formed a small band with his family – he took the fiddle, Jim played the banjo, William played the saxophone and his sister, Flora, accompanied them on the piano. They played at parties and small community dances.
After ordination he served at several parishes throughout the Archdiocese, and in the early 1950s, he was named Rector of St. Finnan’s Cathedral in Alexandria. While there, he started the St. Finnan’s Orchestra where many of today’s fiddlers learned their craft; he also began his still famous concerts at the Alexander Hall.
Not only did he feature local talents, but he reached out and introduced Glengarrians to fiddlers and entertainers from Cape Breton by inviting them to perform at his concerts. He was often accompanied by fellow priest, and successor at St. Finnan’s, Father Leo MacDonell.
Father John not only enjoyed playing the music of his ancestors, but he was a keen promoter of the Celtic music and traditions. He served in the Diocese for 38 years and is remembered for his dedication to his religion and to his music.
Father MacPhail playing “Annie Laurie, Lady Loudon and Caber Feidh”
“Lady Mary Ramsay and Jenny Dang the Weaver”