Professor Donna Heddle is the director for both the University of the Highlands and Islands’ Centre for Nordic Studies. She is a leading expert on the Norse and has reached the conclusion that Scotland’s famous red hair is a vestige from the invading Vikings. If the compelling case which Heddle makes is true, it means the Vikings were very successful at spreading their DNA in this Northern kingdom.
Heddle explains that the perception that the invading Vikings were blond is a myth. The Vikings were likely red headed. Relatively few people in the world have red hair. Statistics are that only 0.6% of the population have that hair color. However, countries with the highest concentrations of red hair are all part of ancient Viking trading routes. Scandinavia, though long stereotyped for a high number blonds, has a high concentration of red haired people.
“The perception that the Norse were blond is nothing more than a prevalent myth,” she said. “Genetically speaking, the chances of them having blond hair weren’t that likely. The chances are that they would have had red hair. Interestingly, if you look at where red hair occurs in the world you can almost map it to Viking trading routes.”
Professor Heddle explains that in Ireland, the red hair concentrations are in the areas where the Vikings settled. She states that an observation of dispersal patterns shows a dark red spot in Scotland and a corresponding spot in Scandinavia. There is nothing similar to be found in Europe which lends further credence that the DNA gene for red hair had to have been imported from the Vikings and the Norse.
The substantial remains of Neath Abbey lie on the banks of the gentle flowing waters of the Tennant Canal. It was a favourite of the Romantics and is still a very beautiful place to have a picnic. It was founded in the year 1130, and absorbed by the Cistercian order in 1147. At one time it would have been one of the largest and most powerful abbeys in Wales. You can see the extensive remains of the abbey and a 16th-century mansion.
Paddle in the river, climb up the steep hill to Clun Castle and relax in one of the many pubs or cafés in the village of Clun. Built in the 11th century, the powerful Marcher castle defended the English-Welsh border during the Norman occupation.
Much of the large keep still stands high on this naturally occurring knoll overlooking the Saxon village. It’s also not too far from the Offa’s Dyke Path and the Shropshire Way walking routes.
Summertime is the right time for a cookout with my favorite stout, Guinness. To give your ribs, chicken or whatever you’re grilling a Celtic kick, try this tasty “dark side” barbecue recipe from Cooking With Curls.
There’s always time for Guinness barbecue sauce!
Sweet, tangy Guinness Barbecue Sauce is perfect on ribs, chicken, steak, burgers, or just about anything you can get your hands on.
1 cup all-natural ketchup
1 cup apple cider vinegar
11.2 oz bottle Guinness Draught*
1 1/2 Cups organic dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh gound pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
Pour all ingredients into a medium sized sauce pan, and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat and simmer for 30 – 40 minutes.
Serve immediately, or store in a sealed container in the refrigerator.
The body of a French noblewoman found in tomb, buried more than 350 years ago, has been uncovered – and is so well preserved she still has most of her hair, skin and brain intact.
French scientists believe the remains, uncovered during the construction of a convention centre in Rennes, are those of Louise De Quengo, a Breton noblewoman who died in 1656.
~Corpse is so well preserved it still has hair, skin and most of its brain ~French Noblewoman Found in lead-lined coffin alongside heart of husband Toussaint Perrien, a powerful knight from Brittany
It was customary for nobles in France to donate their organs to either a loved one or a religious institution. It is thought Louise went to the convent after her husband’s death, then requested to be buried with his heart
Maybe I’m just a Celtic history geek, but this discovery strikes me as a romantic, medieval love story. Reminds me of Gerard Butler as Marek and Anna Friel as French noblewoman Lady Claire in 2003’s Timeline film, based on the Michael Crichton novel.
It’s CELTIC TRIVIA TIME!
I’ll give you a few clues–see if you can guess the answer without using the internet. The highlighted areas will link you to info in that clue–don’t click until you’re finished. No cheating, aye?
~At the beginning of the 18th century, the Jefferyes family laid out a landscape garden known as the Rock Close with a remarkable collection of massive boulders and rocks arranged around what seemed to have been druid remains from pre-historic times. The grounds also include a Poison Garden, which hosts a number of poisonous plants, including wolfsbane, mandrake, ricin, opium and cannabis.
Born June 3, 1774 in Paisley, Robert Tannahill is Scotland’s second most favorite poet, after Robert Burns. Tannahill was apprenticed to his father, a silk weaver, at an early age. By 1802, however, Robert Tannahill began pursuing his passion: poetry and music. He was a big fan of Robert Burns and paid honor to Burns by writing in the Scots dialect. Paisley was a bustling center of the weaving trade, and produced many other (less well-known) “weaver poets”, in addition to Tannahill. Despondent over a publishing rejection, Robert Tannahill drowned himself in a Paisley culvert in 1810, leaving behind many poems and songs that are still popular in Scotland and around the world.
Let us go, lassie, go
Tae the braes o’ Balquhidder
Whar the blueberries grow
‘Mang the bonnie Hielan’ heather
Whar the deer and the rae
Lichtly bounding thegither
Sport the lang summer day
On the braes o’ Balquhidder
I will twin thee a bow’r
By the clear silver fountain
And I’ll cover it o’er
Wi’ the flooers o’ the mountain
I will range through the wilds
And the deep glens sae dreary
And return wi’ their spoils
Tae the bow’r o’ my dearie
When the rude wintry win’
Idly raves roun’ oor dwellin’
And the roar o’ the linn
On the nicht breeze is swellin’
So merrily we’ll sing
As the storm rattles o’er us
Till the dear shielin’ ring
Wi’ the licht liltin’ chorus
Noo the summers in prime
Wi’ the flooers richly bloomin’
Wi’ the wild mountain thyme
A’ the moorlan’s perfumin’
Tae oor dear native scenes
Let us journey thegither
Whar glad innocence reigns
‘Mang the braes o’ Balquhidder
Here’s The Tannahill Weavers’ version:
In 1957, Francis McPeake, a Belfast singer and songwriter, published a variation of Tannahill’s The Braes of Balquhither, called Wild Mountain Thyme. It has become one of the most popular folk songs of all time, and has been covered hundreds of times (sometimes as Purple Heather or Will Ye Go, Lassie?) by many artists, including Rod Stewart, Joan Baez and The Real MacKenzies.
Here’s a beautiful version with Emmylou Harris and others:
My favorite version is by the grumpy, but inimitable Van Morrison–enjoy!
I’ll close with another popular song inspired by one of Robert Tannahill’s songs, specifically The Soldier’s Adieu. Tannahill’s song became the basis for The Nova Scotia Song (Farewell to Nova Scotia), a wonderful tribute to the beautiful Canadian province’s Scottish heritage:
May 1st is traditionally celebrated in the Celtic countries as Beltane, an ancient feast honoring the beginning of the summer season.
It occurs midway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. For the ancient Gaelic speaking peoples, Beltane rituals were performed to protect their cattle, ensure fertility, and to ward off fairies known as theTuatha Dé Danann.
The May Queen welcomes Beltane at Edinburgh’s festival. Original image by chrisdoniaon Flickr
The name “Beltane” ( rhymes with airplane) is thought to have come from the ancient Irish: Bel from the ancient Celtic god Bel or Belenus, and the Old Irish word tene, meaning fire. In Irish, it is Bealtaine, in Scottish, Bealltainn and in Manx Gaelic, Boaltinn or Boaldyn.
My favorite Beltane song is Jethro Tull’s magical ” Beltane:
Have you ever stood in the April wood And called the new year in? And while the phantoms of three thousand years fly As the dead leaves spin?
There’s a snap in the grass behind your feet And a tap upon your shoulder And the thin wind crawls along your neck It’s just the old God’s getting older
And the kestrel drops like a fall of shot and The red cloud hanging high a come, a Beltane A come, a Beltane…
Beltane was celebrated in some form in all of the Celtic countries. Here’s a lovely Beltane song sung in Welsh:
Although not a traditional Beltane song, Wild Mountain Thyme is a wonderful song about the coming of summer. It’s been covered by many artists, including the Chieftains, Rod Stewart, The Corries and more. Here’s the inimitable Van Morrison doing his stellar version, entitled Purple Heather:
In Scotland, Edinburgh holds a HUGE Beltane festival every year, complete with pagan fertility gods and fire. It is put on by the Beltane Fire Society and is quite popular with tourists from around the world. The fest combines traditional Gaelic Beltane rituals with neo-paganism to create unique, rolling party/play. This video gives you an idea of how Edinburgh celebrates the arrival of summer–caution, includes pagan nudity:
In Cornwall, Beltane is celebrated with the ‘Obby ‘Osstradition, in which a dancer dressed as a stylized black horse dances through the streets, trying to “capture” young maidens under his black cape. “Teasers” chase the horse through the street (albeit slowly, in parade fashion), towards the May pole, whereupon the ‘oss is returned to his stable til next year. The origins of this Cornish fertility fest are ancient, but somewhat obscure; it is definitely pre-Christian and Celtic, possibly connected to the worship of horse deities such as Epona.
You don’t have to be pagan to enjoy Beltane. Just fire up the BBQ grill, crank up the Celtic music and invite all your rowdy friends over to party like a Celt.
Quimper faïence from Brittany is a popular hand glazed pottery that is uniquely Breton.
Quimperware, as this lovely, tin-glazed pottery is known, is highly collectible, especially the older and unique pieces.
Vintage 19th century Quimper faïence binioù (bagpipe) wallpockets from Brittany, France–fabulous!! Image from ebay via Pinterest
Brittany, a former duchy, is known as Breizh in the native language, and has a rich Celtic heritage.
Music is “E Garnison” by Denez Prigent, a Breton singer from Santec, in the Finistère (Breton: Penn ar Bed) region of Brittany, singing in the gwerz and kan ha diskan Breton styles. Click HERE to see the English and Breizh lyrics to this song about a wandering lady and amiable miller.
Quimper ( pronounced “kem-pair”) is the capital of the Finistère department of Brittany in northwestern France. It is also the ancient capital of Cornouaille, Brittany’s most traditional region that was settled by princes from Cornwall fleeing the Anglo-Saxon invasions of 430–1084 AD.
The town’s best known product is Quimper faïence pottery. It has been made here since 1690, and is highly collectible.
Faience or faïence (in French) is the conventional name in English for fine tin-glazed pottery on a delicate pale buff earthenware body. Quimper faience is still hand painted, often depicting men or women in native Breton costume. I’ve even seen a Quimper piece featuring a dragon!
Gold is a beautiful, valuable element, and rare Welsh gold is the most precious Celtic metal of all.
Highly sought after because of its scarcity, Welsh gold is found in only two areas of Wales: in south Wales near the River Cothi and in north Wales, in a narrow band stretching from Barmouth towards Snowdonia.
Ancient Welsh princes wore great torcs of gold, possibly from Wales. The British Royal family has continued the tradition of wearing rare Welsh gold. In 1911, Prince Edward I was invested as Prince of Wales, using regalia such as a coronet, rod, and ring incorporating pure Welsh gold. Prince Charles used the same regalia at his investiture in 1969.
In 1923, the Queen Mother ( Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon) used a nugget of rare Welsh gold to fashion the ring for her wedding to the future King George VI. Welsh gold was also used in the wedding rings of Queen Elizabeth II, Diana, Princess of Wales, Princess Anne, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and most recently, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.
Kate Middleton’s wedding band is made from rare Welsh gold. Image source
Kate’s gorgeous gold band–somewhat overshadowed by her blue sapphire engagement ring– was created by Wartski, a jewelry company founded in 1865 in North Wales. Wartski has been commissioned by the Queen and other royals to create several rings from rare Welsh gold.
One of the oldest of Wale’s gold mines is the Dolaucothi Gold mine in Carmarthenshire, Wales. Dolaucothi was established by the Romans more than 2000 years ago, and continued to produce gold until 1938. In 1941, the mine was donated to the National Trust, which now runs guided tours through the old mines.
The Gwynfynydd Gold Mine in Dolgellau operated from 1860 to 1998. Queen Elizabeth II was presented with a large gold ingot from this mine on her 60th birthday. The mine’s owners used to give guided tours and allow visitors to pan for gold; the Gwynfynydd mine was closed to the public, however, because of potential liability and pollution regulations.
Rock containing rare Welsh gold from the Clogau mine. Image source.
One of the most well known Welsh mines is Clogau (pronounced Clog-eye), also called the Clogau St David’s mine in the Dolgellau gold mining area. Located in Bontddu (bont-thee), in north west Wales, Clogau was the largest and most productive gold mine in the Snowdonia area between 1862 and 1911. The officially recorded output between 1862 and 1911 was 165,031 tons of gold ore from which 78,507 ounces of gold was extracted.
If you are interested in owning a small piece of rare Welsh gold, make sure to do your homework before you purchase anything. Check out a company’s proof of authenticity for its gold pieces, and try to find out what constitutes a ‘touch’ of Welsh gold. Consider auctions when sourcing pieces–you might get lucky and find a truly unique piece of Welsh gold jewelry.
Most importantly, remember– not all that glitters is truly rare Welsh gold.
The Highland Easter coos from the Isle of Skye are here to wish you A’ Chàisg sona, Easter greetings in Gàidhlig.
Happy Scottish Easter from the Highland Easter Coos! Original Image via Bing
Madainn Th’air Eirigh (Morning has Broken), a Scottish Hymn for your Easter Sunday:
The words of this beautiful hymn were penned by Eleanor Farjeon in 1931, using a traditional Scottish Highlands melody known as “Bunessan“–the link takes you to a lovely harp version of the tune. Although Morning Has Broken was made enormously popular by Cat Stevens in 1972, he did not write it. In fact, the hymn was published in 1931 in the hymnal “Songs of Praise”, and also published as a poem called “A Morning Song (for the First Day of Spring)” in a children’s poetry book published by Oxford University Press in 1957.
Bunessan is a small village on the Isle of Mull. Mary M. Macdonald (1789–1872), who lived in the nearby crofting community of Ardtun and who spoke only Gaelic, wrote her hymn “Leanabh an Aigh” to a traditional melody. When the words were later translated into English, the melody was named after the village by the translator, Lachlan Macbean. A monument to Mary Macdonald can be seen near the village, on the road towards Craignure, just after the Knockan crossroads. The ruins of the house she lived in are also nearby.
Sometime before 1927, Alexander Fraser heard the melody in the Scottish Highlands and wrote it down so that it came to the attention of Percy Dearmer, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Martin Shaw. In turn, these editors of the hymnbook “Songs of Praise” requested Eleanor Farjeon to write a further hymn text to the tune.
Ireland is famous for its whiskey, but did you know that it also produces outstanding artisan Irish gin?
Gin, that most colonial, most British of spirits, is now being made in Ireland (formerly ruled by Britain) at two distilleries: The Dingle Distillery in Kerry and the Blackwater Distillery in Waterford. Although gin is usually referred to as London dry gin, this drink of the Empire in fact owes its existence to an Irishman, Aeneas Coffey. Coffey, born in 1780, redesigned the column still to allow a more efficient–and purer–distillation of spirits, giving birth to the classic dry gin. Now the story of gin has come full circle back to Ireland.
The Dingle Distillery produces its artisan Irish gin in small batches of 500 liters. The distillery also makes whiskey (first batch to be released in 2016) and vodka. Image source
The Dingle Distillery in County Kerry prides itself on its use of Irish botanicals in creating their artisan Irish gin:
We are not prepared to reveal our recipe but are happy to give some idea of what is involved in creating the unique flavour profile of Dingle Original Gin.. We use, amongst other botanicals, rowan berry from the mountain ash trees, fuchsia, bog myrtle, hawthorn and heather for a taste of the Kerry landscape. It’s a formula unknown elsewhere and is calculated, amongst other things, to create some sense of place and provenance, what winemakers might call the gout de terroir.. The spirit is collected at 70% abv and then cut to 40% abv using the purest of water which we draw from our own well, 240 feet below the distillery.
Named for the nearby Blackwater River in Cappoquin, the distillery is proud of its bespoke gin:
Our first label – Blackwater No. 5 – is a classic London Dry Gin, distilled from the purest spirit, the finest botanicals and soft local water. Crisp and elegant, it’s great as a G&T, excellent in a cocktail.
As we head towards warmer weather, it’s a good time to taste test these fabulous artisan Irish gins. I will always love whiskey best–sorry, gin. As a resident of a former British colony, however, I’m proud to make my future gin and tonics with Irish gin.
The stunning decline of the euro means an affordable Ireland tour may be in the cards again for Americans.
The ancient Uragh stone circle on the Beara Peninsula, County Kerry, Ireland.
When I was in Ireland in 2014, the euro, the Irish national currency, cost about $1.40. Every where I went, I saw visitors from Germany, the UK, Italy, France–but almost no American visitors. Why? Because the weakness of the dollar against the euro meant a trip to Ireland was cost prohibitive for most people from the U.S. European visitors already use the euro, and the strong pound sterling gave British visitors even more of a bargain.
Crossing the finish line at the Ballabuidhe Sulky races in County Cork, Ireland, August, 2014
I’m terrible at math, but even I can calculate that my trip to Ireland this year will be about 25 % cheaper–woo hoo! Airfares TO Ireland likely won’t be lower, but once you’re IN Ireland, your dollar will buy you more than it has in a decade.
Go ahead, run the numbers and start planning your affordable Ireland tour today–
Basic, inexpensive and multipurpose, these shamrock cookie cutters come in 3 sizes. They’re great for cookies, of course, but you can use them to cut out Jello, brownies, ice cream for the brownies, as a butter mold, fondant for cakes, pizza dough to make mini shamrock pizzas—use your imagination!
It’s not a St Patrick’s day party without Guinness. In Ireland, these Guinness pint glasses are what you’ll find in most pubs. They’re perfect for downing the dark stuff or for ice cream floats. You can use root beer , but trust me–Guinness over ice cream is amazingly good as a dessert! Click HERE for a simple recipe for a Guinness float.
Shamrock lights are perfect for Irish party time. This Luck of the Irish Light set looks great on a mantle. I usually add some of my green Christmas lights for that extra oomph! Tip: using plain green lights (without shamrock covers), stuff them in an empty Jameson’s bottle. Place 2 or 3 around and behind the shamrock lights for real Irish bling. You can do the same with any clear glass piece you like.
You can probably buy St Patrick’s Day table covers at your local party store, usually with green shamrocks or leprechauns and rainbows. Those are fine for a kid’s party. Adult Irish party time needs a bit more sophistication, I think, and these Irish flag table coversare perfect! They come in a set of three, so you’ll have enough to use throughout the house.
Irish party Time: Whiskey in the jar!
Irish party time means lots of toe-tapping music. The best Irish music is in off-the-beaten-path Irish pubs, where you’ll find fine ceilis and craic. Ah, but we can’t all celebrate in Ireland. A good substitute is Whiskey in the Jar, a two CD set that contains a good mix artists and songs. Click HEREto preview the songs or buy them as digital downloads. There are many more albums available for your Irish play list–take your pick!
Lá Fhéile Pádraig!**
Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!!
**Lá Fhéile Pádraig is pronounced Law Ale-yeh Pawd-rig
In the old days, people in the Scottish Highlands observed an annual smack-down between mountain hares, who boxed and scratched each other til one hare ran away. The contest seemed crazy to humans, hence the birth of the well-known phrase. Everyone assumed it was two male hares battling for breeding privileges with the local doe (a female hare). Here’s a video of two mountain hares (in their brown spring coats) in frenzied battle:
Turns out it’s actually a battle between a male hare and a FEMALE hare. She’s weeding out the wimp hares herself, through combat. Only those bucks strong enough to last the bruising round will be considered a worthy mate for her. Female hares are receptive for only a short time, making the local bucks mad to mate–and willing to get punched around to prove their worth.
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