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?