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Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Month to Celebrate the Irish

I don’t celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Well, when I was teaching I wore green and did some things about the Irish with my class, but that’s the extent of it. I only have a smidgen of Irish in me – one-eighth Scotch/Irish but there is something about that tiny bit in me that has me loving the Irish, and the story of their history in coming to America, and especially Celtic music. I’m not talking about the fancy shows seen on TV, but down-to-earth Celtic folk music. Every Sunday night I listen to Thistle and Shamrock out of Scotland on NPR with hostess Fiona Ritchie.

The Irish immigration to this country because of the potato famine in the 1800s is a well-known story. Nearly a million came to this country because they were starving. For a long while life here was not a whole lot better. In Boston, run by Anglo/Saxon descendants of the early Puritans, they were given the roughest time. The only jobs they could get were the poorest and dirtiest ones, and they were victims of unscrupulous landlords. New York City absorbed them better and that’s where 75% of the Irish population settled. They didn’t suffer as much prejudice as those in Boston received, but they were still taken advantage of by con artists since most of the new comers were fresh from the farms confused and intimated by that huge bustling city.

Early Irish settlers came to the Cuyahoga Valley located between Cleveland and Akron, Ohio where the Ohio and Erie Canal was built. It followed the Cuyahoga River going eventually to Columbus and the Ohio River town of Portsmouth. They had first been recruited to work on New York State’s Erie Canal. When that was finished they came here to work on another canal. Ground was broken for the Ohio Erie Canal on July 4, 1825, and by 1832 the 309 miles between Lake Erie and the Ohio River was open. Much of the canal was hand dug by these immigrants, and when it was finished, they settled with their families in this area of Ohio; Today Cuyahoga National Park is part of the Ohio and Erie Canal National Heritage Corridor.

I am a Friend of Cuyahoga Valley Conservancy. Cuyahoga Valley National Park is comprised of 33,000 acres between Cleveland and Akron. I live too far away to attend meetings, but I join every year paying my dues of $45.00. They offer so much there; not only hiking and bike trails, but events of all kinds some of which involves their scenic railroad. They offer special hikes, historical events, a Lyceum series, and every day events of all kinds for children and adults. I have done a reenactment of the Underground Railroad at night as a slave several times following our guide and running to escape those trying to capture us. We finally escaped by climbing onto a darkened train and then transported back to the barn where we were hiding. I also went on a mystery and wine event on that same railroad, and took my grandchildren on an event for kids. I participated in outdoor learning events there when I was still teaching, too. What fun they were.

But what I enjoy and participate in more than anything else are the concerts they have at a huge lodge called The Happy Days Lodge. It was built by the CCC in the 1930s. It’s a big rustic lodge that seats about 285 people, and from Sept. through April they have two to three concerts there a month, almost all folk concerts of some kind, but sometimes others as well. I’ve seen wonderful pianists, soloists. Musicians like Jay Unger and his wife Molly Mason played there. For those of you who don’t know him, he composed and played “Ashokan Farewell” and other music on the Ken Burns Civil War Documentary. As a nod to the Irish who helped build and settle this area, many of the concerts are Celtic bands or singers. I went to one this past Friday – The Outside Track – a very talented group of four young women and one young man; two from Scotland, two from Ireland and one from Cape Breton. They even did some Irish step dancing to the thrill of the audience. I have seen Cherish the Ladies many times, The Chieftains, The Battlefield Band and Boys of the Lough, to name a few. I’ve also been there for good bluegrass bands, string bands, blues, and in a few weeks we will be seeing Dala, two young women who are Juno nominees and winners of the Canadian Folk Music Award for Vocal Group of the Year. We’ve seen them before and loved them. They write their own music, have produced 5 albums and tour extensively throughout North America. Almost all the bands or musicians who play there are on tour and don’t live locally.

Most of the concerts sell out in advance, especially the Celtic ones, and one of the best things about these concerts is their cost. For Conservancy members it’s $12.00 for most concerts or $17.00 for special ones. You can also create your own subscription and order tickets for three concerts for $30.00. What a deal. The other thing I love about these concerts is that my friend and I almost always get there early enough to get front row seats or at least second row seats so we are very close to the stage and that’s a fabulous location. The third wonderful thing about these concerts is the people who attend. They are all friendly, enthusiastic, love the music and polite enough not to do anything to disturb others around them – well almost never. Sometimes there’s that one person, who was probably dragged there by a wife or husband and doesn’t like music. But that’s rare. The bands who come, and especially those who return, are enthusiastic in their praise of the venue and the audience. It helps that when they finish and leave the stage, there is a standing ovation of clapping and yelling of “More! More!” until they come back and play several more pieces. I almost always buy a CD or two of the band, and at the end, they’re at the back signing their CDs, and during the intermission they come out and visit with people and answer their questions. A young woman in a band last fall laughed at me and said my feet never stopped moving during every song. How can they not when I’m hearing an Irish jig?

Cherish the Ladies
Do you have any Irish in you?

Do you enjoy Celtic music?


Jim Jackson said...

I have Scots, Welsh, English and Northern Irish ancestors. I do enjoy Celtic music and when my NPR stations carried it I enjoyed the Thistle and Shamrock.

My Southern home, Savannah, has the second largest east coast St. Patrick's Day celebration (NYC is #1) -- I make sure to stay away from downtown that day!

~ Jim

Gloria Alden said...

Jim, in addition to Scots/Irish, I'm also one quarter Welsh and 1/8th English. The rest is Slovak. I'm sorry your station doesn't have the Thistle and Shamrock program anymore. I think it can be accessed online, though. I knew NYC had the largest Irish population, but I didn't know that Savannah had the 2nd largest population. Interesting.

KM Rockwood said...

My father's side of the family was not happy when he married a woman of German/English descent (imagine if they'd known the truth--that her father was a Russian Jew who told everyone he was German) Her family wasn't particularly happy that she married an Irishman, so it more or less evened out.

But the real upset was Uncle Neil, who (shudder) married an Orangewoman, from Northern Ireland. People had to be careful not to talk about the IRA around her--you never knew what she might report.

I look now at the generation following me. Polish, Korean, French Canadian, West African, Italian, British--it seems a lot less important now where the ancestors came from, and more important who the people are.

And we all enjoy St. Patrick's Day.

E. B. Davis said...

I'm not Irish, Gloria, but I seem to collect the Irish. One of my best friends is Irish on both sides, so 100%. We've been know to tipple a few on the beach, since she is also a beach-bum.

Frank McCourt's book, Angela's Ashes taught me the most about Irish history and how they came to this country. It was a terrible time, and the discrimination they faced seems inconceivable now.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

I was in Trader Joe's on Tuesday, listening to an Irish jig sound track. We were dancing all over the store, and every customer was smiling.

Jim Jackson said...

Gloria -- to clarify, Savannah has the 2nd largest parade and celebration on the East Coast. Has nothing to do with the number of Irish here and everything to do with Spring Break and open container laws. :)

~ Jim

Terrie Farley Moran said...

100% Irish descent here. Love Celtic Music. I, too, listen to Thistle and Shamrock as well as a number of Irish shows on a public radio station out of Fordham University. Love all the bands you mention except I seemed to have missed the Battlefield Band. I'll have to check them out.

Happy March to ye.

Terrie Farley Moran said...

Jim, I've been to the Savannah Parade and it is very different from what I'm used to in NY. I did like the idea of running out in the street to kiss the marchers!

Kara Cerise said...

I don't know the history of my biological family, but my DNA test indicated that I have a number of Irish and Northern Irish ancestors.

Usually I make corn beef and cabbage in the crockpot to celebrate the day. Unfortunately the supermarket ran out of corn beef this year so I missed out.

Gloria Alden said...

KM, my grandfather, who had a Welsh background was very upset with my mother when she not only dated a Slovak/Catholic, but married him, too. Eventually, he realized my dad was a more helpful than his own sons were.

E.B. I learned a lot about the Irish from Angela's Ashes, too. It was a very good book, both funny and sad.

Margaret, one of the Dollar General stores I go to often, has a manager who loves Celtic music and plays it when he's there. Such a difference to the loud rock music played on the days he's not there. I don't dance there, but I often do at home when I'm playing the music - my own version, of course, not the true Irish step dancing.

Gloria Alden said...

Terri, I have CD's from numerous Celtic bands along with CD;s of other types of music, too, mostly folk or Classical and a few country western. As I mentioned, I'm lucky to have a venue within even driving distance to attend concerts like this.

Kara, I haven't made corn beef and cabbage in years. Now I'm drooling thinking about it. I'll have to check my local grocery store to see if they have any on hand.

Shari Randall said...

Hi Gloria - I'm mostly Italian and lots of other nationalities, with a tiny bit of Scots/Irish, but I'm sure to wear green on St. Patrick's Day. I'm going to look for the Thistle and Shamrock show - love Celtic music. Can't resist dancing to it!

Anonymous said...

Laura Byrnes is a Beta reader for Gloria's Catherine Jewel novels. If you've read them you certainly recognize Gloria's research of Celtic music as well as her character's tapping toes. I do have Irish in my genealogy but I am always surprised how the Celtic music grabs my soul.

Paula Gail Benson said...

I've got some British, Scottish, and Irish connections. Columbia's 5 Points seeks to rival Savannah's celebration. It's not as large, but is certainly entertaining. And, the green water is still flowing in our fountain! Thanks, Gloria, for keeping the celebration going!

Gloria Alden said...

Shari, as I mentioned I'm more Slovak than any other ethnic group, but I love the Irish and Celtic music. At least once a week and sometimes more, I put a CD of Celtic music in my player and listen to it.

Laura, some time I'm going to take you with me when I go to a Celtic concert.

Thanks for stopping by, Paula. Around here the music goes on before, during and after St. Patrick's Day.