Star Wars Ireland 2014: A long time ago, on an island far, far away….ancient Christians established a remote monastery off the wild Atlantic coast of western Ireland. Filming has begun on that same island, Skellig Michael (Irish Gaelic: Sceilig Mhichíl), a UNESCO World Heritage site, which will be the backdrop for a segment of the next episode in the epic Star Warsmovie franchise. The nearby town of Portmagee has been flooded with Star Wars fans seeking a glimpse of the cast or the film’s popular director, J. J. Abrams, because public tour boats to Skellig Michael have been suspended for the three days of filming.
For those intrepid Star Wars devotees thinking of hiring their own private vessel to get out to the island, the Force will not be with them. The Irish Navy (standing in for an Imperial cruiser, no doubt) is patrolling the waters around the island for any unauthorized incursions with a clear warning: this is NOT the Irish island you’re looking for.
For more information on the Star Wars hulabuloo going on in County Kerry and its potential impact on the bird colonies of Skellig Michael, read The Daily News‘ story HERE or Entertainment Weekly’s story HERE.
You can read one of my previous posts about the Irish town of Portmagee and the SkelligsHERE–this beautiful little town on the Iveragh Peninsula is the starting point for the Skellig Experience.
Fall is just around the corner (I know, wishful thinking on my part) and its never too early to start putting together a tartan wardrobe or adding to your tartan and plaid collection, especially if you have Scottish ancestry. Good shoes are a must for any sophisticated closet and tartan shoes always get high marks for style and class. Of course, men appreciate fashionable footwear almost as much as women do, but I’ve seen few men’s shoes with tartan accents–until now.
ScotlandShop.com, an online retailer based in Scotland, is currently selling tartan brogues that you can custom design by selecting the leather and the tartan. You may choose brown, black or burgundy leather and pick from–drum roll, please!–over 500 Scottish wool tartans, woven in Scotland, to further customize your look. I have no affiliation with the company, I simply think these shoes are wonderful for anyone who has Celtic ancestry or loves tartan and plaid.
The shoes aren’t cheap, but then you should not expect hand made, custom leather footwear to sell at bargain prices. Just think of them as a long-term investment in your Scottish heritage, as you would if you bought a beautiful antique sgian-dubh (pronounced skee-un doo) or an elegant wool kilt in your clan’s tartan.
Personally, I think men’s brogues can be a great addition to a woman’s wardrobe–look at photos of style icons Katherine Hepburn and Marlene Dietrich and you’ll see what I mean. If you don’t want the manly look, however, you can buy lovely women’s brogues from the same company and choose from over 500 tartans to personalize your shoes. They may even have national tartans for other Celtic countries, such as Cornwall, Ireland and Brittany, that you can choose for your shoes.
Outlander,the new romantic adventure cable series set in 18th century Scotland, officially made its debut last night, July 25, 2014 at San Diego Comic Con (SDCC) and the clips, peeks, and reviews are starting to pour in. I’ve gathered a few videos and pictures here to whet your appetite until the first episode debuts on August 9th on Starz cable channel; the episode will be available online beginning August 2nd.
The official trailer, just released at Comic Con. I saw it today on the Starz cable channel on my big screen, hi def tv–all I can say is WOW, guess the new tv was worth it, after all.
Starz has also released the beautiful opening credits sequence for Outlander. The song is the well-known Scottish traditional tune, Skye Boat Song, in an arrangement composed by Bear McCreary featuring the vocals of his singer wife Raya Yarbrough. I’m sure this version will be available on iTunes within 48 hours.
Cinema Blend sent a reporter to the SDCC premiere of Outlander, who snapped a shot of this helpful kilted hottie pointing the way to the screening at the Spreckels theater. Read the full reportHERE.
I like this review by on-the-scene reporters because they talk about Outlander from the perspective of someone who hasn’t read the book series, and/or maybe doesn’t even like historical romance. They gave Outlander a shot because they ARE fans of Ron Moore, who also produced the award-winning sci fi series Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009), ultimately giving positive comments for style and adherence to the books.
I, too, am a long time fan of Ron Moore (who also wrote episodes for Star Trek:TNG) so I’m glad to hear that he has been so meticulous with Outlander. It’s good to know there will be no True Blood (the disastrous, from a book fans view, HBO adaptation of Charlaine Harris’ vampire novels) style mangling of Diana Gabaldon’s books, thanks to Ron Moore.
During my frequent travels through the internet world, fulfilling my mission to explore strange Celtic worlds, to seek new Celtic life and civilization, etc., etc., I sometimes see pictures that are mistakenly identified and shared–over and over again–as “Scotland”.
SPOILER ALERT: Despite what you may have heard, the things you see on the net are not always true or correct.
Take, for example, this lovely photo of a castle tower in a remote loch–it’s misty, it’s romantic, it’s magical, so it must be in Scotland, right?
While the scene is perhaps reminiscent of beautiful Eilean Donan Castle in the western Highlands of Scotland, this tiny tower is dollhouse size by comparison. It’s actually a folly tower (meaning it’s merely ornamental) set in the magnificent gardens of Pena National Palace (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) in Sintra, Portugal. Northern Portugal has a strong Celtic heritage, so at least the confused captioner is keeping it in the family, so to speak. The “castle” is one of two such structures that are home to the park’s elegant swans and ducks, which sometimes sit at the base of the towers, preening their feathers for the tourists.
Photos are often shared as is, with the sharer unaware of the mistaken identity of the photo. It happens to the best of us, usually with no one the wiser and no harm done. Honestly, I do understand why the first picture above has been repeatedly misidentified as a Scottish scene, but the research geek in me just has to set the record straight— for posterity, ye ken.
Sunday mornings are perfect for having a leisurely breakfast in bed, especially when it’s brought to you by a Scottish Butler. I’m referring to Scotsman Gerard Butler, of course.
Just two sugars in my coffee, Ger, and a little maple syrup for my oatcakes, please.
We all know Scottish men can be charming, but are they also romantic? I’m not sure who wrote this silly love poem, but it may shed a wee bit of insight on what Scottish men consider “romantic” behavior.
The last native speaker of Manx, the language of the Isle of Man, was Ned Maddrell, a fisherman born in 1877 who died in 1974. This unique Gaelic ( Gailck, in Manx) language is not extinct, and a small portion of the island’s inhabitants do speak it, with an even greater number having at least a basic familiarity with Manx. As with many of the Celtic languages, there has been a strong effort to revive Manx, an undertaking aided by the fact there is both written and audio documentation of the language.
Manx is a beautiful language, as you’ll hear in the following videos, lyrical and unique, with hints of Ulster Irish and northern Scots Gaelic, all flowing together to give voice to the ancient Celtic culture of the Isle of Man.
This is a traditional Manx folk song, a woman’s invocation to the sea gods to bring her fisherman home safely. The English and Manx lyrics are contained in the comments section of the video.
Ushag Veg Ruy( Little Red Bird) is a Manx lullaby, sung here in Manx and English. Click HERE to see the full lyrics in both languages.
This lovely track, Fin as Oshin, is from Ruth Keggin’s debut album of Manx Gaelic songs, Sheear (“Westward”). ClickHEREto go to Ruth’s website and HERE to to preview/purchase the album.
My Caillin Veg Dhone (My Little Brown Girl) is performed here by Caarjyn Cooidjagh(“Friends Together”), a group of singers based on the Isle of Man. Click HEREto see the lyrics in English and Manx and HERE to preview another track from the group.
The Irish Cob, also known as the Gypsy Vanner or Gypsy horse, has long had an important role in Irish life, as a cart horse in the city streets, an all purpose farm horse in the countryside, and a means of transportation and barter for the Irish Travellers. Although this sturdy draft horse comes in many coat colors, the most common is a piebald, or black and white pinto coat pattern. Whatever the color, however, the Irish Cob is a fitting symbol of Ireland: strong, resilient, spirited.
Denise Blake of Donegal wrote a lovely poem about a piebald horse who faced down the dreaded Black and Tans during the Irish War of Independence:
PIEBALD-SOUL It is said in Ceannconn — the Head of the Hound – the Black and Tans came for my great-grandfather’s horse, a piebald horse that ate windfall apples from a child’s palm, who back-burdened their small farm, who cart-pulled a whole clan the miles to Schull for Sunday mass.
They came for his horse as they came for all others, with no intent of any speedy return. Paddy Callaghan, staying gravestone silent, stared at the horse who reared full height on his back legs, brandished hooves more deadly than smuggled Fenian guns.
So the Black and Tans went away, passed the family in their moonlight ransacking. If Paddy and his piebald came wandering towards a boreen checkpoint, the makeshift soldiers stood aside as if he was Lord of West Cork, his family the heirs.
Has his Ceannconn nature passed through our blood, a piebald-soul that can incite bone-crushing wildness? Come between me and mine, and we’ll see.
Irish brewing company Guinness has a new video that shows the best way to end the American Fourth of July holiday weekend—with a nicely poured pint of Guinness… and a patriotic reminder that out of sight doesn’t mean out of mind.
In a world where elaborate projects designed to reuse, recycle and renew make headlines, Wales has just set a new standard by creating a whimsical underground trampoline in an abandoned slate mining cave.
Blaenau Ffestiniog (roughly, pronounced Bly-nuh fes tin-yog) was once the second largest city in North Wales, at the height of the slate mining boom in the late 19th century. The market for slate tanked in the 1950′s and the area turned to tourism to survive. The Llechwedd Slate Caverns, a slate quarry opened in 1836 and abandoned in the 1950′s, is one of the linchpins of local tourism, offering a Victorian Deep Mine tour via cable railway, a zip line said to be the longest in the world and now, Bounce Below, the world’s biggest underground trampoline installed in a huge, historic mining cavern.
Bounce Below, an underground trampoline experience in Wales (image from Colossal)
As this news clip from CBS shows, a visit to the Welsh cave trampoline can be a fun and “amazing!” (from a thrilled child touring the caverns) underground adventure for all ages, one you’ll find nowhere else in the world except in beautiful Wales.
Think of it as one-of-a-kind spelunking in Wales–with bounce!
Read more about the newly opened Welsh cave adventure in these links:
Today, July 4th, America celebrates our declaration of independence from the tyrannical rule of Britain. Though only a small colony with no standing army, America’s untried citizen-soldiers defeated the vaunted military might of the British Empire, showing the world that a strong, unbreakable desire for liberty can overcome against all odds.
During its history, Scotland has fought many bloody battles for freedom from Britain; unlike America, the Scots were never successful in using military force to achieve that liberty. A rare democratic, non-military chance for Scottish independence is on the near horizon. On September 18, 2014, Scotland’s citizens will vote yes or no in answer to this simple question:
should Scotland be an independent country?
Many, if not most, Americans–a large proportion of them with Scottish ancestry–if asked would likely tell the Scottish people that the benefits of independence far outweigh the supposed security of having another country make your decisions. Nationhood is rough in the beginning, but all great things often start with a few missteps. To paraphrase Scottish freedom fighter William Wallace : it’s been hard getting to the ceilidh, now it’s time to see if you can dance.
Time to rightfully claim your freedom, Scotland–vote AYE!
Here are some thoughtful comments about liberty, from famous Americans, Scotsmen, and one small Corsican fellow:
My Son, Freedom is best, I tell thee true, of all things to be won.
–William Wallace, as quoted in William Wallace, Guardian of Scotland (1948) by Sir James Fergusson
“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
― Benjamin Franklin, Memoirs of the Life & Writings of Benjamin Franklin
For so long as a hundred remain alive, we will never in any degree be subject to the domination of the English. Since it is not for glory, riches or honour that we fight but for liberty alone which no good man loses but with his life.
–Scottish Declaration of Independence, letter to Pope John XXII sealed by the barons of Scotland at Arbroath Abbey, 6 April 1320
Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of Liberty.
― Thomas Jefferson
I believe that every Scotsman should be a Scottish nationalist. –John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir of Enfield (1875-1940)
Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than to be able to decide.
― Napoleon Bonaparte
Starz plans a red carpet debut of the first Outlanderepisode, entitled Sassenach at the upcoming San Diego Comic Con on July 25, with all the major stars attending, along with author Diana Gabaldon and series creator Ron Moore. Those of us without Comic Con tickets will have to wait until the US television debut on August 9, 2014, at 9pm. In the meantime, I’ll share a a few new pictures of the show, courtesy of PopSugar and Starz:
Oldshoremore ( Àisir Mòr in Scots Gaelic) is a small, remote crofting village in Sutherland, one of the northernmost areas in the Scottish Highlands. The name Sutherland comes from the Norse, Suðrland (“southern land”), and dates from the time of Norse rule in the Highlands by the jarl of Orkney. The Norse called it “Southern land” in relation to Orkney and Caithness, which are even further north.
Scottish born John Muirwas a visionary wilderness explorer who loved mountains passionately. In 1849, his family emigrated from Dunbar, Scotland, to Wisconsin and John began his lifelong love of America’s rugged mountains, wild rivers and green-graced forests and valleys.
In 1892, Muir helped found the foremost conservation group in the world, the Sierra Club,
to “make the mountains glad.” Though he began his wilderness project to protect American mountains and forests, his words are equally applicable to the Highland beauty of Glen Coe and other wild places in his native land of Scotland. I have no doubt that Muir, a spiritual naturalist, would have counseled Scots as he did Americans:
Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.
The band changed membership throughout the years, but included notable traditional music artists such as Andy M. Stewart, Phil Cunningham and Dougie MacLean. By the time the band went their separate ways in 1988, they had recorded nine albums and toured throughout the world.
I’ve gathered a few of their best songs for you that will, hopefully, inspire you to seek out more of Silly Wizard’s beautiful Scottish and Celtic music.
The Queen of Argyllwas written by Andy M. Stewart and is one of Silly Wizard’s most popular tunes:
On the evening that I mentioned I passed with light intention Through a part of our dear country Known for beauty and for style In the place of noble thinkers Of scholars and great drinkers But above them all for splendour Shone the Queen of all Argyll….
This is a recording of Silly Wizard performing live in Atlanta, Georgia in 1988, a concert I attended–it was fantastic! Donald McGillivray, a song about a fictional Jacobite, is a fast paced traditional song first published in 1820. It’s guaranteed to get your blood up and your feet tapping!
The Fisherman’s Song/Lament For the Fisherman’s Wife was written by Martin Hadden and Phil Cunningham and released on their 1981 album Wild & Beautiful.
By the storm-torn shoreline a woman is standing The spray strung like jewels in her hair And the sea tore the rocks near the desolate landing as though it had known she stood there. But she has come down to condemn that wild ocean For the murderous loss of her man. His boat sailed out on Wednesday morning, And it’s feared she’s gone down with all hands….
The effort to return the House of Stuart to the throne of Scotland cost many, many Scottish lives, especially at Culloden ( read my post on Culloden HERE), the last great battle on British soil. As with the American Civil war, families were sometimes divided, and Scots fought and died on both sides of the battle. Highlanders rallied around the young Prince Charles, fighting boldly for this man who would be king, though he had been raised in Italy and spent less than two years on Scottish soil during his lifetime.
The Valley of Strathmore is a song that often brings on tears (myself definitely, and I’ve seen others crying at SW concerts), yet it is probably the most requested Silly Wizard song. Beautiful and elegiac, the song tells of man’s longing to walk the Scottish valley that he and his love once roamed together. It’s been covered by other artists, but this is my favorite version, from their 1979 album, So Many Partings.
By the clear and the winding stream In the valley of Strathmore Where my love and I have been Where we’ll wander never more
But if time was a thing man could buy All the money that I have in store I would give for one day by her side In the valley of Strathmore…..
It always surprises me to meet people interested in Celtic things–music, heritage, culture–who have never heard of Silly Wizard. Although most of their music is Scottish, they also have numerous songs of Irish origin, and many songs with lyrics that are common to all Celtic cultures. If you don’t own any of their music, but like what you heard above, I recommend checking Amazon for Silly Wizard CDs or digital music. Download your favorite, grab a cuppa or a dram of single malt and enjoy an hour of Celtic zen with Silly Wizard.