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.
If you find yourself in County Mayo, Ireland, looking for a unique experience, you might try your hand (in a glove) at flying hawks.
Ashford Castle, a medieval castle near the Mayo-Galway border, is home to the oldest established falconry school in Ireland. For a fee, Ireland’s School of Falconry will take you on a one hour Hawk Walk, giving you the opportunity to get up close and personal with magnificent birds of prey such as hawks, falcons, and owls.
The sport of boxing has a long history of Irish and Irish-American men who became legends of “the sweet science” and one of the greatest (all due respect to Muhammad Ali, another boxer with Irish heritage) was born on this day, June 24, in 1895. William Harrison “Jack” Dempsey was born to poor parents with Irish heritage in the small Colorado town of Manassa; by the age of 16, desperate for money, Jack began boxing all comers in alley and bar room settings, and soon made a name for himself in the boxing world. His incredible strength and unrelenting brawling style eventually earned him the World Heavyweight Championship title, which he held from 1919 to 1926.
Dempsey soon became known as the “Manassa Mauler”, a nickname earned by his aggressive—and extremely successful— boxing style:
“Has there ever been a fighter quite like the young Dempsey?–the very embodiment of hunger, rage, the will to do hurt; the spirit of the Western frontier come East to win his fortune.”
– Joyce Carol Oates, On Boxing; Dolphin Doubleday, 1987.
Dempsey was widely popular with people from all walks of during his life time, from the average worker at the local pub, to celebrities such as Harry Houdini, Bob Hope, even Irish writer George Bernard Shaw, who sponsored the fight between Frenchman Georges Carpentier and Dempsey on July 2, 1921, the first time a boxing event garnered a million dollars in gate revenue.
“He was once the most powerful, ruthless, and dangerous unarmed man in the world…Dempsey’s greatness, apart from the power of his punches, was his ability to crush much heavier opposition with the sheer viciousness of his attacks.” Boxing: The Great Ones, by R. Gutteridge, 1975
In September 1926, Dempsey fought Irish-American former U.S. Marine Gene Tunney, losing to Tunney on points after 10 rounds. In a famous quote, Dempsey told his wife, Estelle Taylor, who was waiting for him in his dressing room, “Honey, I forgot to duck.” President Ronald Reagan used the same quote to his wife, Nancy, after Reagan was shot during a failed assassination attempt in 1981. After retirement, Dempsey and Tunney became good friends.
Two famous boxers with Irish heritage: Jack Dempsey and Muhammed Ali: Image source
Jack Dempsey died in 1983 of heart failure, at age 87. He will always be known as one of the greatest boxers of all time, leaving a record of 66 wins, 6 losses, and 11 draws during his entire career. The Ring Magazine, the main publication in the boxing world, lists Dempsey as #10 in its list of all time heavyweights and #7 among its Top 100 Greatest Punchers. In 1950, the Associated Press voted Dempsey as the greatest fighter of the past 50 years. Dempsey was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1951 and the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Jack Dempsey wasn’t the first boxer of Irish heritage to make a name for himself, and he won’t be the last, but you can be sure that all future heavyweights with Irish blood in their veins will be judged against the ferocious Irish fighting style of the great Manassa Mauler.