Monday, August 20, 2012

It's Music to These Irish Ears.....

Cutthroat Shamrocks
I inherited my love of music from my mother and grandmother. My grandmother was an accomplished banjo player and was known county-wide for her talent. She would often take her 11 children (my mother included) to county fairs to sing and play.  

My earliest musical memories come from trips our family used to take on the weekends when I was a small girl. We would jump in the family station wagon, and along with aunts, uncles and numerous cousins, we would trek the 20 or so miles to a magical place called "Frontier Ranch." (I can hear my siblings groaning now ...)

Even though Frontier Ranch was nothing more than an old wooden stage in the middle of a huge field, the icon's of country music showed up for amazing outdoor jam sessions. We were entertained  by such greats as Marty Robbins, George Jones, Hank Williams Jr., and on and was in the 60's, so it was easy to bump shoulders afterward with all of these amazing artists. 

During those concerts I was clueless that what I was experiencing was a genre called "country music."  And I had no idea that the singers and musicians in all those sequined outfits would become mega-stars in the industry. I just knew it was always a fun time and I never wanted to leave. The seeds of my love for music were planted in that old field. And now the roots are strong and deep.

But, in keeping with the theme of this blog, it's Celtic music that I want to highlight today. And hopefully you won't stop reading here because you've no clue or curiosity about Celtic me, this is a genre worth looking at and listening to. And it doesn't matter if your musical tastes run towards country or rock...there is Celtic music for just about every taste. Celtic music has many different faces.  

So "What is Celtic Music?" ....  I'm so glad you asked.

For the sake of this post, when I say "Celtic" I'm referring to music that is influenced by Celtic heritage, history, lore, etc. And geographically speaking, most readers will understand that we are talking about Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and the history and culture that exists there. Not that the music has to come out of those fact Enter The Haggis, one of my favorite groups, comes out of Canada, which is rich with Celtic influence.

My introduction to Celtic music happened quite by accident about 4 years ago, when my friend Kelli Barry introduced me to the Drop Kick Murphys. (Not to be confused with the Murphy's of Ohio, my relatives, who haven't drop-kicked anything or anyone lately that I'm aware of or want to know about).

The Drop Kick Murphys are somewhat of a hard-rock type of Celtic, so they aren't my favorite (sorry Kel). But from there my curiousity (and google) led me to the fun, lively music of Gaelic Storm and Enter The Haggis.  

Na Fianna, out of Ireland

When I visited Ireland last year, I had a chance meeting with one of my favorite Irish bands - Na Fianna - four young guys who we stumbled upon quite by accident in a very cool pub in Kilkenney. I bought their CD, brought it back and passed around to all my friends. I call this "happy" Celtic music. The energy this band puts off makes it impossible not to clap, tap a foot and sing along. 

Another authentic Celtic musical group I've come to really appreciate for their passion for Scottish history through song, is a duo called Whiterose. Dougie and Kevin visited our local pub from Scotland a year ago and it was through them and their music that I became curious about Scottish history. Which led to several blog posts, which led to friendships and an eventual trip to Scotland and Culloden Moor. Music is a wonderful teacher sometimes. 

If you are a fan of tribal drums and pipe music (as in bag pipes) then checkout Albannach, a highly energetic group of Scots who truly fit the phrase "beat of a different drummer." You absolutely cannot sit down when this group is on stage. And they aren't hard to look at either.
I'm barely scratching the surface with these groups, I know. Celtic music can also mean a very entertaining and talented Pipe and Drum Band, as in our own local City of Dunedin Pipe and Drum Band, who recently participated in the World Championships in Glascow, Scotland. They represented very well and came home with awards and honors. Well done, lads and lassies.

Now many towns can say they have their very own Pipe and Drum Band?

Music is a universal language that speaks to our minds and our moods. I cannot think of anyone who doesn't enjoy music in some form or fashion. And diversity in musical tastes is healthy and keeps things interesting, don't ya think?

But for this Irish lass, Celtic music represents and illustrates my rich Irish heritage and the cantankerous and fun-loving people from which I sprang. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Lament of Culloden

As fields go, it's nondescript. Other than having an amazing view of snow capped mountains and Moray Firth, Culloden Moor is pretty stark and bleak. Grass grows and haphazard angles, kinda like a really bad haircut. The ground is thick with briars and chunky patches of uneven dirt. Not easy trodding this field.

We arrived en mass on a bus from Culloden House. We were a colorful lot...plaids and tartans of every color imaginable, kilts, hose, flashes, swords, dirks, bonnets, waist coats and stoles. Lighting from the coach we looked, I'm sure, like we belonged on a movie set. Yet when we stepped down from the bus the sight was like none I've ever seen. 

I felt just like I landed in a scene out of Rob Roy. 

I was escorted by my Scottish friends from the coach, where we slowly made our way past the modern day visitor center to the small pathways leading to the center of Culloden Moor for the Annual Commemoration of Culloden.  We were surrounded by hundreds of people carrying flags of various sorts. As I listened, it was pointed out to me who the groups were..Clan Fraser, Na Fir Dilias, Clan McCloud, Clan Cameron, and of course, A Circle of Gentlemen.  

Looking up I spotted flags rising high against the blue sky. The flags were either red or blue and scattered over the field- I was told later that the red flags represented the British position on the day of battle in 1746, and the blue flags represented the Scottish clans and their positions. I'm no military strategist but even I could see the challenge of the positions of the Scottish clans. 

The Well of the Dead
"Many people think Culloden was about the British and the Scots. It wasn't you know"...Alasdair spoke quietly as we walked, explaining to this sassanach what wasn't quite obvious, given the flags. "It was a civil war, it was also Scot against Scot." 

The accounts of the battle of Culloden are, like any battle, compelling and complex, and open to some interpretation as the years pass. Yes it was Scottish lowlanders against the Highlanders. Yes it was the British against the Jacobites. Yes it was Bonnie Prince Charlie against the Duke of Cumberland. It was all of that. But it was more. It was the last decisive, full scale battle fought on British soil and the last battle of the Jacobites. A little known fact by most sassanach's is that on that day the Jacobites were also joined by men from France, Ireland and yes, England. It was a battle of ideals and passions and all battles are. 

The actual battle lasted only an hour. The results of Culloden, though, produced waves and waves of consequenses that would surpass geography and culture and even time, as was evident on this day. As a result of this battle clans would be dismantled. Tartans outlawed. Families banned from their land. Families divided. And laments held over 200 years later. 

It is said we study history so as not to repeat it. So as not to make the same mistakes. All of the Scots standing on this field this day are too keenly aware of not just what is behind them here, but what is before them as well. The battle for independence from England has not stalled. It has just been moved from the soggy moor to the political halls. Scots will have a choice to vote whether to join the United States and Ireland as sovereign nations in the year 2014. So the battle continues.

Alasdair was right. It remains a civil war of sorts - it is still Scot against Scot. The people are still divided. My quite conversations later back at Culloden house is a testiment to that. Not all attendees to this celebratory day are in favor of full independence. They are still empassioned patriots and love their country, they are just not convinced it is the best thing for Scotland. 

Well, you have until 2014 to decide.

In the meantime, there is much to be learned from that sad, sorry day in April of 1746.  

I asked Alasdair to bring me back to Culloden moor the next day. It was a grey, cold day with only a few people scattered about. As we walked the paths of the moor we talked about that battle. 

"If I understand what happened, Culloden's tragedy and the loss of over 1,200 clansman that day and the subsequent deaths by "The Butcher" rests also at the feet of a very young Charles Stuart, who listened to bad advice to continue with the battle, even knowing the odds were against them."


"Explain to me, then, why Scotsmen today hold him in such high esteem when in actuality he failed them?" I thought it a fair question, and he didn't seem offended or surprised. 

"Well, he did take bad advice. Highlanders fight better in the hills"...Alasdair pointed to the surrounding hills..."he was advised by Lord George Murray to wait and take the battle to the hills. But he didn't listen to this, he instead listened to other advisors."

Our conversation continued - about the Prince, his eventual flight out of Scotland to France, military strategy and the passion for independence. I was the student that day - and was lucky enough to be standing on the battlefield with an empassioned Scottish patriot and scholar of history.

Prince Charles Edwart Stuart "Bonnie Prince Charlie"

One cannot stand on a battlefield and remain unchanged. I learned this when I stood at Gettysburg last summer. And though not a Scot, I felt it when I stood on Culloden Moor. I've a small slice of that cold air and bitter wind in my blood now. I've visions of faces and stones and fields. I've a soft spot for a young Prince and a love for the people of Scotland who continue the battle to this day. 

I'm back home now. But I can close my eyes and still see it. Yes, I really was at Culloden. I really stood on that sacred ground. And I've mud on my boots as proof.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Thus Culloden....

My journey to Culloden Muir started several years ago when I stumbled upon a series of books written by Diana Gabaldon called "The Outlander Series." I was fascinated by Jamie and Claire Frasier and lapped up  the historic accountings of their struggles to survive as Jacobites in Scotland. Actually, when I began reading this series I had absolutely no earthly idea what a Jacobite was.  The books are absolutely dripping with historic facts about Scottish and American history, and if you are paying attention and do a bit of exploring beyond the series, you become keenly aware of why North Carolina has the strong Scottish roots that it has.

If you've read any of my blog postings at all (especially the earlier ones where I explain my fascination with Celtic culture and my Celtic heritage) then you know that my journey of celtic discovery started as a child when I was curiously fascinated by my odd relatives. Through the years, with the help of my cousin Mike, we were able to finally able to find our several-times-removed grandfather John Murphy, who crossed to America from Ireland at the tender and stupid age of 26 long before the famine in 1807. Uncovering this young lad as the instigator of my life in America and my heritage was pivitol and sparked the curiosity for all things Celtic. 

Thus the Outlander Series, which taught me about Scottish history. Thus Culloden.

The Invitation....

It was about a year ago that I stumbled upon a group on Facebook called "The Circle of Gentlemen." I was  voyeuring through their photos when I happened to "like" (fb lingo) one of them. I was very shortly contacted by one of the Circle, who asked to "friend" me. (fb lingo for friends who aren't really real friends...sad really..but that's another post.) So Matthew Donnachie and I became friends and from there it snowballed. Scottish gentlemen and Jacobites started coming out of the woodwork - it was fun and entertaining and educational all at once. They are, after all, an educated, witty, charming and raucous lot. 

Matthew Donnachie
They are also passionate.

Their passion centers - as best I can tell - around two things. First, ensuring that Scottish history is never forgotten. Secondly, they are very passionate about the continued struggle to gain independence from England. I see both of these as the catalyst and motivational center of everything they do. 

One of those historic moments that should never be forgotten is the Battle of Culloden. This battle took place on Culloden Muir on April 16, 1746, between the army of the Hanoverian British government, led by the Duke of Cumberland, and the Scottish Jacobite forces of Charles Stuart, or as you may know him, Bonnie Prince Charlie. I encourage you to look this battle up - the bottom line result that is absolutely heartbreaking and tragic is that the thousands of Scottish clansmen who fought that day to restore Bonnie Prince Charlie to the throne, lost their lives in one of the bloodiest battles ever fought in Scotland. The fields of Culloden are commemorated to this day for this battle. And it is the Annual Lament of Culloden that I will be attending in just a few days time, at the invitation of The Circle of Gentlemen. 

I have a very tender heart where history is concerned. I can run over squirrels and barely look back (sorry)...but put me in the middle of an emotional historical moment and I'm a sap. Go figure. 

So standing on this sacred land is going to be moving, I just know it. Because as I stand there my thoughts will be of all of the men who fought so hard for something they wanted so badly and still to this day have not achieved. 

Friday, March 16, 2012

Everything you ever wanted to know about St. Patricks Day but were afraid to ask an Irishman for fear of getting punched

Every writer needs a muse. Someone or something that inspires.

Na Fianna in Kilkenny
So I find myself sitting here at 0-dark-thirty in the morning surrounded by the doo-dads and what-nots from my recent trips to Ireland, listening to the sweet Irish lads of Na Fianna and their ever-so-Irish tunes, seeking inspiration to come up with something clever and fun to share with you that has not already been said to death about the celebrated day of St. Patrick – and I’ve got to be about it quickly while you can still read it sober so here goes.

First things First –regardless of your nationality or heritage – a very Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you – or as it’s said in Irish Gaelic - Lá Fhéile Pádraig. The one day of the year when you can get away with public displays of drunkenness and wearing of anything green and baudy, including shirts that suggest you swap spit with a total stranger all because you’re Irish.  

Which, by the way, one thing I can promise you – if someone is wearing a “Kiss me I’m Irish” button,shirt, hat…etc…they ARE NOT Irish. All Irish folk know this to be true. REAL Irish people are most likely wearing a shirt that says "Try and kiss me and I'll punch ya."

Let’s get the mundane (but necessary) facts about St. Patrick’s Day out of the way first, then we’ll get to the fun, totally useless blarney
  • St. Patrick really did exist. He was not Irish, however, but British (gasp!). He was born in AD 387
  • When he was 16 years old, our boy Patrick was kidnapped and taken to Ireland as a slave. He musta liked it because when he was freed years later, he returned to Ireland to spread Christianity. Awwww…good on ya lad.(That's Scottish for "way to go")
  • St. Patrick’s Day, as a result of Patrick’s efforts on behalf of Christianity, is now celebrated as a religious holiday in Ireland.
  • As a result of his saving the Irish from themselves, Patrick became Saint Patrick, a celebrated patron Saint of Ireland.
  • More often than not, however, St. Patrick’s Day celebrated as a cultural holiday around the rest of the world. (Translation= a reason to drink to oblivion)
  • In the United States, over 450 churches are named after our celebrated patron Saint.
  • In 1903 Saint Patrick’s Day became the official public holiday in Ireland.
  • The shortest Saint Patrick’s day parade in the world is held in Dripsey, Cork. The parade is just 100 yards and travels between the village’s two pubs.Go figure.
  • The Shamrock is said to have been what St. Patrick used to illustrate the Holy Trinity to the Irish. Cheap prop – smart fella our Patrick.
Now the fun stuff…..Interesting and little unknown facts you can impress your friends with if you can remember them in your inebriated state:
The Chicago River on St. Patrick's Day
  • In Chicago they turn the Chicago river totally green with 40 lbs of green dye. It’s true, I’ve seen it with me own eyes. And it’s emerald. Seriously.
  • Over 100,000 people line the riverbank to watch this happen. Then they all jump in. (I totally made that last part up. But it would be fun, aye?)
  • In the US of A, 83% of people wear green on St. Patrick’s Day
  • Over 31% attend a party
  • 25% decorate their home and/or office
  • Between 1820-1930 over 4.5 million people emigrated from Ireland to the United States.
  • Today 37 million US residents claim Irish ancestry.  (This is more than 7 times the current population of Ireland)
  • So how many Irishman does it take to screw in a light bulb? 21. One to hold the light bulb and 20 to drink till the room spins. (Just seeing if you were paying attention)
  • Before the invention of the thermometer, beer brewers in Ireland used to check the temperature by dipping their thumb, to find whether appropriate for adding yeast. Too hot, the yeast would die. This is where we get the phrase, “The rule of thumb.” This has nothing whatsoever to do with St. Patrick’s Day, but I thought it was fascinating.
  • Contrary to popular belief, kissing the Blarney Stone does not gift you with the gift of gab (blarney). You've either got it or you ain't. Kissing the blarney stone only gets you made fun of by Irish locals and germs left by the 2 million people who kissed it before you. Ewww.
As the one national holiday that is celebrated in more countries around the world than any other, St. Patrick’s Day is the day when everyone wants to be Irish or claims to have the green blood of Eire (Ireland) running through their veins. Well go ahead, we won’t hold it against ya. Just don’t embarrass us whilst claiming to be us.
One of the largest St. Patrick's Day parades is held in Chicago

Slainte and Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!