Galway Girl by Ed Sheeran

Hi, all!

This is kind of an informal blog post, but ever since it’s started trending, I can’t stop thinking about Ed Sheeran’s “Galway Girl” and was hoping people might have thoughts. The first time I heard it, I was immediately struck by the opening lyrics, “She played the fiddle in an Irish band, / but she fell in love with an English man.” In some regards, I was interested in the power dynamics at play: what does it mean that an “English man” (i.e., Ed Sheeran) is portraying a woman from Ireland through an “Irish sounding,” fiddle-esque song? How does that reflect on [In listening more, I was intrigued by the notion of “Galway Girl,” particularly in regards to the traditional relationship with Ireland and femininity. To some extent, the relationship seems to be reflective of a heteronormative relationship between Sheeran and a woman, but it also seems that the evocation of the trope of the “Irish woman” is intriguing. I was also really interested in how it limited Galway to a scene of drunken debauchery in a pub and what that might mean about Ireland on the whole: is it positively conveying jubilee in a happy moment that happens to surround drinking? Or, because it’s written by an Englishman, might it be negatively limiting external understandings of Galway to scenes of drinking? I guess the last thing I was wondering was, could this song qualify as a form of cultural appropriation? Is it cultural appreciation? Generally, I feel like as an American, the cultural appropriation I’m more immediately confronted with and shocked by is perpetrated against POC and others who are continually disenfranchised; however, in recognizing the cultural context of this song particularly, I was interested in the potential colonial history and historical disrespect of Ireland by the English which may be worth investigating further. Again, I realize the song is positioned as a fairly specific, singular experience, and extrapolating information based off of it might be unjustified, but it could also be a source of productive conversation.

If you haven’t heard the song or seen the music video, you can check it out here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=87gWaABqGYs

Again, sorry if this is somewhat disjointed. I’ve been thinking a lot about this song recently, and I don’t have any answers really, but I was curious about what other people thought!

Silly and Otherwise

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A puca, or Phooka, a particularly unpredictable Unseelie fairy.

Fairies are perhaps the most common supernatural presence in British culture. They’re such a thing that they’ve been categorized and recategorized to such an extent that nobody’s certain quite where the divisions are anymore. I’m going to talk some about the classification of fairies, and then address the interesting way in which they change identity and implication across cultures.

W.B. Yeats, early in his career, wrote a book on the  subject, Irish Fairy and Folktales (which can be read here www.gutenberg.org/files/33887/33887-h/33887-h.htm and listened to here: archive.org/details/FairyAndFolkTalesOfIreland ) in which he divided the mythical race into “Trooping Fairies,” that band together and conduct revelries, and “Solitary Fairies,” who wander, rove, and make mischief alone. What constitutes a fairy is itself doubtful, as the Irish term for supernatural creatures associated with nature, death, or magic–the “Sidhe” (pronounced “SHEE”)–are not necessarily fairies, nor are the Welsh Tylwyth Teg (“TUHL-weeth TEG). These are courtly, otherworldly beings who never quite appear in the same category. What remains constant through most of these eerie ranks, however, is a division (similar to Yeats’s) between adherence to a court-like structure and tendency toward solitary life. The terms for these categories, specifically inherited from Scottish folklore, but widely applicable in concept, are Seelie and Unseelie.

The etymologies are themselves a fascinating story, deriving from the Middle English “seily”, from whence the contemporary “silly”. In this case, like the origin of the word “happy”, it carries denotations of fortunate happenstance and luck, rather than any inherent foolishness. This is because it is considered fortunate to meet a fairy of the Seelie variety, as these, while unbound by human morality, tend to abide by human cultural systems such as courts, contracts, and some sense of exchange. These are the Trooping Fairies that Yeats describes–marching in bands, reveling, sometimes for stately reasons, sometimes sinister ones. It is one of these bands that captured and sought to sacrifice Tam Lin in the classic Scottish ballad.

Unseelie fairies are unlucky–solitary, enigmatic, and often malicious. The Phooka pictured above is an example of such a fairy, and it brings us to our main point about the malleability of fairy identity and implication. For the Phooka (or Puca) of old Ireland is perhaps not a fairy at all, but a folklorized distillation of a more ancient deity. This is a common trend in cultures that move from localized societies into a more regulated nationhood–especially under the pressure of Imperialism. The interesting thing, then, is to see what remains of the original entity, and what elements of its identity have been emphasized depending on the tellers. To take the Phooka as a case study:

The Phooka is consistently depicted as a shapeshifter, able to take the form of horses, dogs, donkeys, birds, or people, depending on its needs. While the folkloric Phooka is generally considered a mischievous creature with frightening, but not dangerous, intentions, its Protean capacities and the uncanny appearance (see above) to which representations often default carry echoes of a darker and more dangerous creature than a mere mischief-maker. It is precisely these lighter aspects that have been emphasized not only by the creature’s place in common lore, but by its heirs of other forms. The word Phooka, after all, emerges from Puca, likely a loan word from the old Norse Puki, meaning “unsettled.” The lineage of the word runs straight down from the Old Norse into Middle and Elizabethan English, emerging, most likely, as Puck, the mischievous (though dangerous) sprite immortalized as the comic center of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But Puck himself is no light-hearted children’s character, but occasionally betrays a penchant for true and uncanny danger, as when he promises to taunt the Athenian intruders by chasing them in various and impossible forms (a hog, a headless bear, a fire). These are, perhaps, echoes of the darker, deified origins from which so many folkloric fairies emerge. Certainly, Puck has his own English roots, and, as stated above, the etymology is more likely originally Norse than Celtic. But it is telling of the complicated mess of interaction between these cultures how a word can emerge from one, pick up the character of another, and then have that character reshaped by a third. The Old Norse word passed through Ireland at a time of cultural transformation and repression, perhaps picking up an association with an Irish deity on its way toward fragmentation and dissolution. Then, that deity, by that name, is further watered down and tamed when it emerges in the dominant (English) culture. Yet the echoes remain in the darker edges of the figure, and it is this violence and tenacity which somehow, for better or worse, becomes the marker between what is old, in folklore, and what is new.

Fairies, being such common crosscultural currency, are inevitably the allegorical canvas on which much of these palimpsests are laid. There’s much more coherent and interesting stuff here, but people have written whole books on it, like Yeats, and these people:

 Briggs, Katharine Mary (1976) An Encyclopedia of Fairies. New York, Pantheon Books.

 Silver, Carole B. (1999) Strange and Secret Peoples: Fairies and Victorian Consciousness.

Male Voice Choirs in Wales: A Brief Overview

Eager to hear elderly men with snow-white hair and beer bellies sing about the plight of their coal-stained homeland and their faith in God, and not necessarily in English? Your best bet is to go to Wales. The Welsh male voice choir has become the country’s most treasured and remarkable feature, with nonconformist (e.g. Baptist, Methodist) origins in the 18th century. During this time, congregations in both the north and south of Wales formed tenor-bass choirs that led chapel-goers in the singing of hymns, both in English and in Welsh. Singing in these choirs was one of the crucial methods the Welsh used to establish their rugged individualism, especially in the wake of their dying language, political struggles (miners’ strikes and unionist skirmishes) and cultural constraints from the English (the Anglicization of Welsh national schools). Choirs and solo singers alike performed their repertoire at festivals, namely Eisteddfod (roughly pronounced: “ei-steth-VOD”), an annual gathering of performers in different cities around the nation. Fortunately, these traditions are still (mostly) robust today. Since its pious and political 18th century heyday, Wales has been appropriately referred to as “the Land of Song.”

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The Flint Male Voice Choir.

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The London Welsh Male Voice Choir: the tradition permeates.

Recording of “Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer” set to the traditional tune of Cwm Rhondda: www.youtube.com/watch?v=7s1suWhb5KA

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Music for “Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer.”

Some traditional songs include, as given above, classic hymns like “Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer” (sung most often in worship settings), “Myfanwy” (a tragic love song), “Llef” (a prayerful song for the dead), and “Calon Lân” (a patriotic song and anthem of almost all Welsh rugby matches today).

“Myfanwy”:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=hNtn8B3zz8g

“Llef”:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uh0cD8siSRY

“Calon Lân”

www.youtube.com/watch?v=yYOxBncgmLQ (mixed choir)

www.youtube.com/watch?v=NEAAdqRVJY0 (male choir)

Welsh male voice choirs have become something of a spectacle to the outside world: Only Boys Aloud, a choir made up of 130+ boys aged 14-19 from the financially depressed and socially troubled South Wales valleys, was featured on Britain’s Got Talent in 2012 (and placed third!). Additionally, more localized choirs’ rehearsals are popular sights for tourists, and visitors are often invited to audit or observe them. These intimate rehearsals are typically held once or twice a week, and each town or village has a choir of their own, normally affiliated with the church, though not always.

While media attention does not always capture the raw essence and cultural motivation behind the existence of these choirs (and, in addition, antiquates them and makes them out to be “old-timey”), the continued popularization of these choirs within the country and around the world has yielded benefits. With the most prominent and active members of the male voice choirs rapidly aging, there is a great deal of concern surrounding the preservation of this tradition. Organizations such as The Aloud Charity (from which sprang Only Boys Aloud) help to make these choirs relevant again in the lives of young Welsh men yearning to find a sense of personal and national identity.

My personal understanding of the male voice choir is one that is decidedly political — a stunning reaction to historical cultural takeover (by the English), as well as a continuing soulful singularity that unites generations. When one goes to Wales and hears everything from the Welsh accent to the vigorous sound of choirs resounding in the hill-valleys of the Rhondda, you will also hear the song of a people with lyricism and pride sewn into their hearts.

I can practically hear my great-great-grandfather singing with the other men as he returns home from the coal mine in Maerdy. That is, if he wasn’t tone-deaf just like the rest of my Welsh family…!

“The Land of My Fathers”

Sources:

www.wales.com/about-wales/music-wales/land-song

www.ricksteves.com/watch-read-listen/read/articles/welsh-choirs

www.welshassocmalechoirs.co.uk/aboutus.html

www.theguardian.com/music/2011/feb/01/welsh-choir-only-men-aloud

Irish Dance – Céilís and More

Emily’s already posted a little bit about Irish dance, but I wanted to talk more about the different kinds. I danced with the Karl Drake School of Irish Dance for seven years, so I definitely wanted to write about it. What Emily was comparing to tap is called hard shoe – hence the similarity. There is another kind of Irish step dance which uses soft shoes, called ghillies. The two kinds of shoes are pictured below. The socks are called poodle socks and are traditional attire. For performances and competitions (called feises) you use a special glue around the top to ensure that they don’t bunch up around the ankles as you dance.

Ghillies

www.rutherfordshoes.com/images/extraLarge/gazelle2.jpg

Hard shoes

www.irish-danceshoes.com/images/FLEX-55.jpg

Me

Have a bonus photo of me and my very serious dance face! This was (I think) my second competition; I don’t like them very much, but as I got older they were required to be part of the school. For my first one I just curled my hair, but for this one I am wearing a crazy heavy Irish dance wig! Feises have a tendency to turn into fashion shows. Many of the performers are very young, but the amount of money and time spent on wigs, solo dresses, makeup, self-tanner, etc. is frankly ridiculous. Here I’m wearing a wig but my school’s competition dress instead of a solo dress. Solo dresses have a lot more sequins, pictured here:

Solo Dress

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Both hard shoe and soft shoe are types of Irish step dance, which is what you will see in feises and performances and is the type of dance I most often practiced. Within the division of hard shoe and soft shoe there are subdivisions of types of dances, based on the time signature. In my experience, there are three types of soft shoe dance (a reel, a jig, and slip jig) and two kinds of hard shoe dance (a treble reel and a treble jig), but there may be more kinds that I wasn’t exposed to.

However, Irish step dance is only part of the Irish dance tradition. Step dancing is usually solo but can be part of a group as a performance. There is another type of dance, called céilí, is a social dance. Céilís can be performed in two long lines or with partners in a set of eight dancers (this is sometimes called Irish set dance and considered distinct from céilís, but the tradition I’m familiar with called both formations céilís as a catch-all for social dances). Céilís were also a lot of fun because we only ever got to do them rarely and they’re a social dance! It’s always more fun to dance with other people!

Group dances can be done as part of a performances (we would often perform them when we visited assisted living places or schools or something similar to perform) but in places where more than just one group of elementary – high school girls know how to dance, they are usually part of parties or the focus of the party. Dances can be called, with a caller yelling (or using a microphone) the step before they happen. You need to have knowledge of the steps, but this can be picked up fairly easily. With a caller, a group doesn’t have to practice a dance beforehand, as one would for a performance. Everyone knows what’s about to happen with the help of the caller!

Group dances are really a lot of fun, and if you’ll excuse a little plug, the Haverford Folk Club is having one tonight! It will be contra dance, not Irish dance, but it will wonderful, with a live band, lots of great people, and a caller, so you don’t have to know the dances! There’s a beginner’s lesson at 7:30 to learn the basic steps, and then dancing from 8-11! It would be fun to see some of y’all there! Founders Great Hall, today, 7:30! Be there or be square (that’s a pun because it’s another type of social dance)!

O’Sullivan, Janes, and Crosbie: Modern Celtic Artists

Art has been with me since childhood. Some of my earliest memories involve me sitting at the kitchen table with a fistful of crayons, or glancing at my grandmother’s watercolor sketches–she was an amateur artist herself. In elementary school, I drew all over my assignments instead of actually completing them, and claimed I wanted to be an artist when I grew up. While since then all that has changed, my love for art has not. That said, I confess I know next to nothing about Celtic art or Celtic artists, and decided to rectify that by doing a bit of research and writing a blog post on my findings.

When I say ‘Celtic art’, I’m not talking about the traditional, iconic high-crosses of Ireland, or even the intricate scabbards and torcs done in the La Tène style; rather, I’m referring to painters and sculptors from the last couple of centuries who can, at the very least, trace their ancestries to the Celtic fringe. Evidently, there are many such artists, and more than I could ever hope to detail in a blog post; so I’ve chosen only a few to share.

Celtic High Cross

There is first the Irish painter Sean O’Sullivan, who was born in Dublin in 1906 and died in 1964. Glancing through O’Sullivan’s work, it is clear he is primarily a portrait painter, with a tendency towards bright colors and simplistic, slightly cartoonish renderings of reality. Yet sometimes his pieces are no more than sketches, cross hatches and smudges, really, which work together to create brief impressions of his subjects. Some of O’Sullivan’s portraits include those of Douglas Hyde, W. B. Yeats, and James Joyce.

Portrait of James Joyce by O'Sullivan

Portrait of James Joyce by O’Sullivan

 

Portrait of Douglas Hyde, an Irish academic and scholar of the Irish language

Portrait of Douglas Hyde, an Irish academic and scholar of the Irish language

Alfred Janes was a Welsh artist, born in 1911, and, like O’Sullivan, he was interested in portraits, painting pictures of Dylan Thomas and other close friends. That said, he did not confine himself to one style, and, especially later in his life, also experimented with abstract art. His portraits appear a bit cartoonish, but are still stylistically  different from O’Sullivan’s; his people possess strong, sturdy bodies, thick forearms, and wide eyes gone dark and sharp with intensity. Janes favors dark, muted colors, although his pieces have occasional bright sparks, such as the yellow tie in his portrait of Dylan Thomas, or the yellow-white pricks of light on the apples in ‘Boy with Apples’. This type of palette, while established in his early paintings, bleeds over into his abstract pieces as well. 

Portrait of Dylan Thomas

 

Boy with Apples

Boy with Apples

William Crosbie, the third and final artist I will discuss, was born to Scottish parents in China, although his family returned to Scotland in 1926. Artistically, his style is even more varied than Janes’, and his subjects range from still-lifes, to landscapes, to portraits, to abstract pieces. His abstract pieces suggest Picasso as an influence (see ‘Playing to my Friends’, a more tame example of this), although he was evidently capable of realism as well.  Many of his pieces make use of vibrant colors, although some are done completely in black and white. In sum, it is difficult to attribute one style to Crosbie. 

Self Portrait

Playing to My Friends

Playing to My Friends

I can’t say this brief bit of research has allowed me much insight into modern Celtic art–but I did note that, stylistically, these three artists are making use of techniques employed by other, non-Celtic artists as well. There is nothing that unites or sets them apart, nothing that screams ‘Celtic!’ besides, occasionally, the subject-matter. In the context of the poetry we have been reading, this is especially interesting, considering many of the poems are heavily influenced by Celtic culture and a sense of nationalism, and display these sentiments overtly in language (for example, the use of Celtic words, or the invocation of Celtic myths). The apparent neutrality of these artists presents a striking contrast to this. That said, it is entirely possible O’Sullivan, Janes, and Crosbie felt the influence of their respective Celtic ancestries and are actually conveying this in their artwork; I just might not be learned enough to pick up on these influences.

And just for fun, I’ve included a couple of my own pieces 🙂

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Websites used:

1. “Kooywood Gallery, Museum Place, Cardiff.” Oriel Kooywood Gallery. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Mar. 2017. <www.kooywoodgallery.com/display.php?aid=249&gt;.

2. “BBC – Wales – Arts – Alfred Janes.” BBC News. BBC, n.d. Web. 18 Mar. 2017. <www.bbc.co.uk/wales/arts/sites/alfred-janes/&gt;.

3. “Sean O’Sullivan (Irish, 1906 – 1964).” Mutual Art. ARTFIXdaily, 20 July 2016. Web. 18 Mar. 2017. <www.mutualart.com/Artist/Sean-O-Sullivan/695468CEEDE08090&gt;.

4. “William Crosbie.” The Scottish Gallery, n.d. Web. <www.scottish-gallery.co.uk/artist/william_crosbie&gt;.

5. “Seán O’Sullivan (painter).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 12 Mar. 2017. Web. 18 Mar. 2017. <en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Se%C3%A1n_O%27Sullivan_(painter)&gt;.

Heather Dale’s Celtic Heart

My favorite musical artist is the Canadian singer Heather Dale. I became a fan no later than 2012 and went to her concert in May 2014.

I met my favorite singer. No big deal.

I met my favorite singer. No big deal.

Her music wanders across all kinds of subjects (and genres), but the majority of her original songs deal with myths, legends, folklore, and fairy tales. Above all, she is influenced by Celtic cultures, including her own Cornish heritage. She’s a fantastic storyteller. Though I’m only going to link to three songs in this post—one for each of our three favorite countries—her entire discography is one long masterpiece, so check it out!

First, Wales. Heather Dale has two entire albums devoted to Arthurian legend, plus assorted songs on other albums. It was her music that got me into this stuff in the first place, and now I’m writing my thesis on it. Not all of these songs have a lot to do with the legend’s Welsh origins, but here is perhaps her Welshest song: “Culhwch and Olwen,” which actually just came up on my iPod as I was writing this paragraph. (I have all my Heather Dale songs on shuffle while I write this post.) This song takes its title from a medieval Welsh tale that can be found in the collection known as the Mabinogion. The basic plot is that this guy named Culhwch is cursed by his stepmother to love this lady named Olwen, whose father, the giant Ysbaddaden, will not let him marry her unless he completes a bunch of tasks. Culhwch is conveniently a cousin of Arthur, so he easily gets a bunch of Arthur’s warriors to help him. Heather’s song simplifies the story by only having Ysbaddaden give Culhwch one task: to rescue Mabon, son of Modron. As in the original story, the guys have to talk to a series of ancient animals to discover Mabon’s location. Then they go back, kill Ysbaddaden, and Culhwch marries Olwen.

The song is weird enough, but I recommend reading the original story if you want much more Welsh weirdness/weird Welshness. There’s this part that lists all the members of Arthur’s court and their quirks, such as hailing “from the uplands of hell” or “clear[ing] three hundred acres in a single leap.” In my edition, it goes on for five pages. It’s absolutely wild.

Culhwch and Olwen YouTube link

Second, Ireland. This song, called “Adrift,” is about a character from Irish mythology: Oisín, son of Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn McCool) (who is a way better hero than Cú Chulainn) and father of Oscar. As you will hear in the song, his name is pronounced Uh-sheen. In my Irish mythology class last summer, I wrote my final paper on Oisín, so I know a lot about him. He’s very deer to me. While his father Finn and son Oscar are best known as great warriors, Oisín, though a warrior as well, is best known as a poet and as one of the last surviving members of Finn’s fianna (bands of warriors). According to the twelfth-century Acallam na Senórach (Colloquy of the Ancients) he survived into the time of Saint Patrick. “Adrift” is based on a tale that explains how Oisín came to live so long: he fell in love with a magical lady named Niamh who took him to Tír na nÓg. When he returned to Ireland, he found that 300 years had passed and everyone he had known was dead. “Adrift” is a dialogue between Oisín, who has dreamed that his “mother” (Ireland) needs him to return, and Niamh, who assures him that it’s just a dream.

By the way, Yeats wrote a long poem called “The Wanderings of Oisín.”

Adrift YouTube Link

Third, Scotland. Unless I’m wrong (in which case Anna Mehta can correct me) none of Heather Dale’s original songs are as Scottish as “Culhwch and Olwen” is Welsh or “Adrift” is Irish, so here’s a song from “My Celtic Heart,” her collection of Irish, Scottish, Welsh, and Cornish folk songs. It’s a mash-up of two Scottish songs. The first, “Wild Mountain Thyme,” derives from a poem by Robert Tannahill (1774–1810) called “The Braes o’ Balquhither.” The song may have gained its current form from a Northern Irish family called the McPeakes, but I’m having trouble finding decent sources on that. Anyway, the other, probably more famous song is “Skye Boat Song.” An Englishman, Harold Boulton, wrote the lyrics, but the tune derives from a Gaelic iorram (rowing song). The song is about the escape of Bonnie Prince Charlie (Charles Edward Stuart) to the Isle of Skye after the pro-Hanover army defeated the pro-Stuart army at the Battle of Culloden in 1746. “The lad who’s born to be king” never did get that throne, but it’s still an inspiring song. I got all these facts from this article by the historian Jacqueline Riding about the Jacobite rebellion. Fact #6 in the article is about Skye Boat Song.

Wild Mountain Thyme/Skye Boat Song Bandcamp link

Also, here is a picture of a plant that I think is heather that I took in Scotland when I was eighteen. This picture might have been taken on Skye but I’m not sure.

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P.S. Ashley, if you’re reading this, here is that song about Sir Gawain and the Green Knight that I mentioned to you once. I love the original poem but I also love the twist Heather puts on the story.

Irish Step Dance v. Tap Dance

Between kindergarten and ninth grade, one of the central focuses of my life was dance. My mom, who had been a ballerina through high school, enrolled me in classes at the age of five, and my passion grew from there. Of the many types of dance that were offered at my dancing school, I—along with a group of friends who still dance to this day—was enrolled in two: jazz and tap. While my limited flexibility made me a slightly subpar jazz dancer, I fell in love with tap, practicing it as often as I could; even outside of the studio, I could be found clicking my feet on any hard surface I could find (needless to say, my mom was not thrilled with the number of times I scuffed up her hardwood floors).

During my first year at Haverford, nearly four years after I had stopped dancing to pursue other extracurriculars at my high school, I went to a dance concert on campus in support of my friends and classmates. There, I was thrilled to watch ballerinas, hip hoppers, jazz dancers, and, of course, tappers. Even as I enjoyed the tap dancers, another group—the Irish step dancers—also caught my attention. As I watched them prance across the stage, arms-locked, circling up, their feet tapping against the ground, I wondered: what was the difference between tap and Irish step dance?

In doing more research, I learned that Irish Step Dance is part of a long tradition of dance in the region, dating as far back as 400 BCE: even as the former pagans of the region were proselytized and converted to Christianity, syncretic tactics allowed them to retain the music and dance that were pivotal within the Celtic culture. By the eighteenth century, even as Norman tradition and song had begun to permeate into that of the Celts, the notion of a “dance master” allowed for the tradition of dance to be passed down to younger generations, as standards were high and soloists became highly esteemed. It was in this moment—at the end of the eighteenth century—that step dancing appeared. To this day, the worldwide success of performance troupes and shows such as Riverdance has allowed for the continuity and appreciation of Irish step dance throughout the globe (IrelandsEye).

Tap dance, on the other hand, emerged in America, as a fusion of “several ethnic percussive dances, primarily African tribal dances and Scottish, Irish, and English clog dances, hornpipes, and jigs” (Britannica 1). Effectively, the tap dance, then, embodies a form of unifying rhythm that draws from Irish step dance, highlighting the reasons why they appear to be so similar. Though there is some debate as to the origins of tap dance, it is believed to have emerged from urban environments such as the Five Points District of New York, where a variety of groups mingled and brought their dances together to create a wholly new form of dance (Britannica 1).

Interestingly, the primary difference between tap and Irish step dance seems to stem from both the ways in which the body is utilized and the ways in which the feet actually work. Unlike tap dance, which allows for the syncopation of the entirety of the body and calls upon a person’s whole being to fall into the rhythm, Irish step dance emphasizes a sense of rigidity—that is, in the jig itself, straight lines are emphasized such that the arms and legs seem to remain almost perfectly still. Likewise, tap dance tends to move across space more freely, whereas certain patterns exist within Irish step dance to propel individuals from one space to another.

The costuming of Irish step dance is also unique: unlike tap, which does not mandate a certain form of dress beyond the shoes, Irish step dance (at least in performances) requires a specific type of costuming and attire. Because it is more deeply rooted in Irish tradition and culture, the costumes in Irish step dance typically recall the clothing of the past, the dresses, kilts, and jackets characteristic from two hundred years ago (Ireland’s Eye). Effectively, there seems to be a way in which Irish step dance—because it carries the markers of tradition—tends to be more regulated than tap dance such that it can continue to imbue Celtic culture on the whole.

Recently, both tap and Irish step dance have been popularized throughout the world. For example, in 2014, an Irish step dance group caught global attention with their performance on Britain’s Got Talent:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=WOz_bNVY7OA

Likewise, the Syncopated Ladies captured national attention with their tap performance of Beyonce’s “Formation” and, more recently, their response to the election of President Donald Trump:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=i9T2BH8KQ-A

Overall, even as both tap and Irish step dancing seem to correlate, each maintains the tradition, rhythm, and appearance that underscores their individuated beauty and allows for viewers and dancers alike to foster a profound sense of appreciation for both forms of dance.

Works Cited

Frank, Rusty. “Tap Dance.” Dance Forms. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2009. Web. 23 Feb. 2017.

“The History of Irish Dance.” Ireland’s Eye. Ireland’s Eye, 1994-2004. Web. 23 Feb. 2017.

All videos courtesy of YouTube. P.S. Sorry they didn’t get properly embedded… something went wrong with the links!

Picau ar y maen: an authentic Welsh cake recipe!

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From my Instagram! #foodporn

So…here’s my attempt at interpreting my great-grandma Watkins’s beautiful but illegible handwriting. The more readable writing at the bottom of the note is from my grandpa Jim, who inherited this recipe from his mother and makes these bad boys like no one else.

4 cups flour

1.5 cup sugar

2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

2.5 tsp. nutmeg / 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 box of currants or raisins

1.5 cup shortening

Makes 48 cakes.

Mix all dry ingredients. Then, add 2 beaten eggs. Fill cup with milk. Then [flavored? illegible] currants. If sticky, add a little bit of flour. Roll out to about 5/16″ thick; cut to about 2.75″ diameter (in my opinion, the thinner the better, but tastes vary). Fry on electric skillet until golden (don’t bake them! Grandpa Jim was wrong!) at about 300 degrees. 

Traditionally, the recipe calls for lard instead of shortening, but my family tries to be a bit more cruelty-free.

What I’ve given you here is basically the standard variety of Welsh cake, but traditional recipes vary based on region. My family originates from the coal fields of Glamorgan and cwm Rhondda, which is in the extreme south of Wales, and there, homemade berry jam is added on top of the cake as a teatime staple!

What I love about the concept of a “Welsh cake” is that, in reality, it’s pretty similar to most griddle cakes made in the U.K., but Welsh people are so insistent that this is a Welsh thing, and literally call it a *Welsh* cake — it’s a pretty wonderful assertion of identity through food.

Fun Facts About Harps

Last time I was in Ireland (summer 2014) I got this cute little Irish harp (known more broadly as a Celtic or Gaelic harp, since indigenous Scottish harps are pretty much the same) necklace:

Screen Shot 2017-02-16 at 12.20.05 PM

In Irish this instrument is called a cláirseach. The Irish harp is a national symbol of Ireland and appears on the Irish Euro and the Guinness logo. It was also used as a symbol by Irish nationalist organizations, including the Repeal Association and the Irish Republican Brotherhood. A flag showing a gold cláirseach on a green background was flown above Liberty Hall in Dublin on Easter 1916 and was displayed last year at the centennial celebration of the Easter rising.

The dude is the President of Ireland, Michael Higgins.

The dude is the President of Ireland, Michael Higgins.

The earliest known possible depictions of harps in Ireland date to the 8th century but we don’t know if those are the type of harp that came to be known as the “Irish harp” or if they’re even harps at all. At the very latest, Irish harps had appeared by the 11th century, as shown by this cute little guy on the Breac Maedoc shrine:

Irish_harp-Maedoc

Early harps were made of four pieces of wood held together not by glue but by the tension exerted by the strings on the joints between the pieces of wood. Only three Celtic Harps from the Middle Ages remain. Two of these are Scottish: the Queen Mary Harp (Clàrsach na Banrìgh Màiri) which was allegedly a gift from Mary Stuart, and the Lamont Harp. The third is the Irish 14th or 15th-century Trinity College Harp also known as the “Brian Boru Harp.” A legend has arisen around this harp claiming that after Brian Boru’s death, his son brought the instrument to the Vatican where it remained until a 16th-century pope gave it to Henry VIII. In reality, the harp postdates the death of Brian Boru by about 400 years, but I think the existence of this legend shows that the harp is a powerful symbol of Irishness, if it’s considered worth connecting to one of Ireland’s most famous kings. Made of oak and willow, the Trinity College Harp has been reconstructed at least twice, first because it was falling apart from age, next because it had been taken apart for examination, so it might not look now like it did in 1500.

220px-Trinity_College_Harp

The modern “Irish Harp,” while it looks like the medieval harps, is actually the 19th-century invention of John Egan, though it draws on the ancient Irish harping tradition. Egan took the shape of the medieval Irish harp but altered the instrument with elements of the orchestral harp: gut strings instead of metal strings and, to quote Simon Chadwick, Honorary Secretary of the Historical Harp Society of Ireland, “mechanical semitone-fretting mechanisms.” As I can figure out, that gives you more versatility in terms of the notes you can play.

This summer in my class on Irish mythology, folklore, and music I got to hold and play an Irish harp. I wish I had a picture but it looked something like this:

I wasn't dressed like that though.

I wasn’t dressed like that though.

It was the kind you can hold on your lap, not the huge kind that you have to set on the floor. I don’t know how to play the harp but it’s such a cool instrument that all I had to do was touch some strings and it sounded beautiful. At the time, I knew nothing about the long history of Irish harps. If I had, I might have pretended I was the cute little guy on the Breac Maedoc.

Bibliography

“1916 Easter Rising: Irish Citizen Army flag returned to Dublin by Enniskillen museum.” BBC News, 22 March 2016, www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-35875676.

Chadwick, Simon. “The Early Irish Harp.” Early Music, vol. 36, no. 4, 2008, pp. 521–531., www.jstor.org/stable/27655252.

Dooley, P. (2014). “Reconstructing the Medieval Irish Harp.” The Galpin Society Journal, vol. 67, 2014, pp. 107-142, 267-268, 271. search.proquest.com/docview/1534494343?accountid=11321.

“Mary Louise O’Donnell discusses the Brian Boru Harp.” YouTube, uploaded by Patricia O’Callaghan, 16 March 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=J0ccbVqH8O8.

“Queen Mary Harp.” National Museums Scotland. www.nms.ac.uk/explore/stories/scottish-history-and-archaeology/mary-queen-of-scots/mary-queen-of-scots/queen-mary-harp/.

 

Celtic Hair History

I’ve had an interest in intricate hair styles pretty much since I’ve had hair long enough to braid. After I’d exhausted the books I’d been given on the subject, I turned to other forms of media. The braids in faux medieval fantasy movies where always the best: ridiculous amounts of both braids and hair, pinned and woven in ways which were a struggle to figure out – and a great triumph once I did so. Because of this interest, I decided to research the history of hair keeping and styling among the ancient Celts and then recreate any styles I found described as well as styles which are currently considered “Celtic.”

Generally, the Celts wore their hair long. Soldiers were sometimes an exceptions; they also wore their hair in rounded, bowl cuts. The Celts were usually described as blond, whether naturally or through the use of chalk or lime-water to lighten the hair. Both those substances change the texture of the hair as well, which would allow soldiers to shape their hair into spikes or tufts as a form of intimidation. Upper class men wore both mustaches and beards, which were usually forked or squared, while lower class men wore simply long mustaches, often curled at the ends. Both men and women wore their hair long, often braided or in curls. Women also wore their braids pinned to the head and also incorporated knots and buns in their hairstyles. Decorative pins, golden beads, ribbons, and precious metals and stones were also incorporated, with the materials differing throughout the classes. Both men and women sometime wore bands of cloth or metal across the forehead, and women sometimes wore similar bands across the crown of the head. Combs were made out of bone or horn.

I’ve decided to recreate three hairstyles: one involving a Celtic knot, one described in a primary text, and one with the numerous braids and adornments which characterized ancient decorative Celtic hairstyles. I’ve used modern tools in all but the first one, like bobby pins, corkscrew pins, and hair elastics, but they would all be possible with the Iron Age tools described above, especially for hair more textured than mine.

The first is a recently popular half-back style called a Celtic knot, which is, as far as I can tell, completely unrelated to any actual historic Celtic hairstyles depicted in art or literature. However, the design is reminiscent of traditional, interwoven patterns portrayed in Celtic art, and women were described as wearing their hair knotted.

Celtic Knot

The second is derived from a description of a beautiful woman in the Irish prose epic Táin Bó Cúlaigne. She wears three braids wrapped around her head, with a fourth hanging down her back to her ankles. There is not a description of the configuration of the braids, and obviously my hair doesn’t reach to my ankles, but I’ve taken my best shot.

Táin Bó Cúlaigne

The third is based on a totally untraceable picture from the internet. Despite my best reverse image searching skills, I couldn’t find the original creator of this style. It’s one of many similar styles which are usually described as Celtic or elven. I apologize for the lighting; the sun went down as I was braiding this one, and I had to take the picture indoors.

Celtic Braids

(Please excuse the messiness. I only got one go at this, and some of the braids came out slightly uneven.)

I hope y’all have found this informative and interesting – and maybe even aesthetically pleasing! I really enjoyed the research and the braiding.

Work Cited

Riley, M. E. “Clothing of the Ancient Celts.” 1997, www.marariley.net/celtic/SentToKass/Cosmetic.htm, 15 February, 2017.

Sherrow, Victoria. “Celts, Ancient.” Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History, Greenwood Press, 2006, pp. 77-8.