Galway Girl by Ed Sheeran

Hi, all!

This is kind of an informal blog post, but ever since it’s started trending, I can’t stop thinking about Ed Sheeran’s “Galway Girl” and was hoping people might have thoughts. The first time I heard it, I was immediately struck by the opening lyrics, “She played the fiddle in an Irish band, / but she fell in love with an English man.” In some regards, I was interested in the power dynamics at play: what does it mean that an “English man” (i.e., Ed Sheeran) is portraying a woman from Ireland through an “Irish sounding,” fiddle-esque song? How does that reflect on [In listening more, I was intrigued by the notion of “Galway Girl,” particularly in regards to the traditional relationship with Ireland and femininity. To some extent, the relationship seems to be reflective of a heteronormative relationship between Sheeran and a woman, but it also seems that the evocation of the trope of the “Irish woman” is intriguing. I was also really interested in how it limited Galway to a scene of drunken debauchery in a pub and what that might mean about Ireland on the whole: is it positively conveying jubilee in a happy moment that happens to surround drinking? Or, because it’s written by an Englishman, might it be negatively limiting external understandings of Galway to scenes of drinking? I guess the last thing I was wondering was, could this song qualify as a form of cultural appropriation? Is it cultural appreciation? Generally, I feel like as an American, the cultural appropriation I’m more immediately confronted with and shocked by is perpetrated against POC and others who are continually disenfranchised; however, in recognizing the cultural context of this song particularly, I was interested in the potential colonial history and historical disrespect of Ireland by the English which may be worth investigating further. Again, I realize the song is positioned as a fairly specific, singular experience, and extrapolating information based off of it might be unjustified, but it could also be a source of productive conversation.

If you haven’t heard the song or seen the music video, you can check it out here:

Again, sorry if this is somewhat disjointed. I’ve been thinking a lot about this song recently, and I don’t have any answers really, but I was curious about what other people thought!

Silly and Otherwise


A puca, or Phooka, a particularly unpredictable Unseelie fairy.

Fairies are perhaps the most common supernatural presence in British culture. They’re such a thing that they’ve been categorized and recategorized to such an extent that nobody’s certain quite where the divisions are anymore. I’m going to talk some about the classification of fairies, and then address the interesting way in which they change identity and implication across cultures.

W.B. Yeats, early in his career, wrote a book on the  subject, Irish Fairy and Folktales (which can be read here and listened to here: ) in which he divided the mythical race into “Trooping Fairies,” that band together and conduct revelries, and “Solitary Fairies,” who wander, rove, and make mischief alone. What constitutes a fairy is itself doubtful, as the Irish term for supernatural creatures associated with nature, death, or magic–the “Sidhe” (pronounced “SHEE”)–are not necessarily fairies, nor are the Welsh Tylwyth Teg (“TUHL-weeth TEG). These are courtly, otherworldly beings who never quite appear in the same category. What remains constant through most of these eerie ranks, however, is a division (similar to Yeats’s) between adherence to a court-like structure and tendency toward solitary life. The terms for these categories, specifically inherited from Scottish folklore, but widely applicable in concept, are Seelie and Unseelie.

The etymologies are themselves a fascinating story, deriving from the Middle English “seily”, from whence the contemporary “silly”. In this case, like the origin of the word “happy”, it carries denotations of fortunate happenstance and luck, rather than any inherent foolishness. This is because it is considered fortunate to meet a fairy of the Seelie variety, as these, while unbound by human morality, tend to abide by human cultural systems such as courts, contracts, and some sense of exchange. These are the Trooping Fairies that Yeats describes–marching in bands, reveling, sometimes for stately reasons, sometimes sinister ones. It is one of these bands that captured and sought to sacrifice Tam Lin in the classic Scottish ballad.

Unseelie fairies are unlucky–solitary, enigmatic, and often malicious. The Phooka pictured above is an example of such a fairy, and it brings us to our main point about the malleability of fairy identity and implication. For the Phooka (or Puca) of old Ireland is perhaps not a fairy at all, but a folklorized distillation of a more ancient deity. This is a common trend in cultures that move from localized societies into a more regulated nationhood–especially under the pressure of Imperialism. The interesting thing, then, is to see what remains of the original entity, and what elements of its identity have been emphasized depending on the tellers. To take the Phooka as a case study:

The Phooka is consistently depicted as a shapeshifter, able to take the form of horses, dogs, donkeys, birds, or people, depending on its needs. While the folkloric Phooka is generally considered a mischievous creature with frightening, but not dangerous, intentions, its Protean capacities and the uncanny appearance (see above) to which representations often default carry echoes of a darker and more dangerous creature than a mere mischief-maker. It is precisely these lighter aspects that have been emphasized not only by the creature’s place in common lore, but by its heirs of other forms. The word Phooka, after all, emerges from Puca, likely a loan word from the old Norse Puki, meaning “unsettled.” The lineage of the word runs straight down from the Old Norse into Middle and Elizabethan English, emerging, most likely, as Puck, the mischievous (though dangerous) sprite immortalized as the comic center of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But Puck himself is no light-hearted children’s character, but occasionally betrays a penchant for true and uncanny danger, as when he promises to taunt the Athenian intruders by chasing them in various and impossible forms (a hog, a headless bear, a fire). These are, perhaps, echoes of the darker, deified origins from which so many folkloric fairies emerge. Certainly, Puck has his own English roots, and, as stated above, the etymology is more likely originally Norse than Celtic. But it is telling of the complicated mess of interaction between these cultures how a word can emerge from one, pick up the character of another, and then have that character reshaped by a third. The Old Norse word passed through Ireland at a time of cultural transformation and repression, perhaps picking up an association with an Irish deity on its way toward fragmentation and dissolution. Then, that deity, by that name, is further watered down and tamed when it emerges in the dominant (English) culture. Yet the echoes remain in the darker edges of the figure, and it is this violence and tenacity which somehow, for better or worse, becomes the marker between what is old, in folklore, and what is new.

Fairies, being such common crosscultural currency, are inevitably the allegorical canvas on which much of these palimpsests are laid. There’s much more coherent and interesting stuff here, but people have written whole books on it, like Yeats, and these people:

 Briggs, Katharine Mary (1976) An Encyclopedia of Fairies. New York, Pantheon Books.

 Silver, Carole B. (1999) Strange and Secret Peoples: Fairies and Victorian Consciousness.

Male Voice Choirs in Wales: A Brief Overview

Eager to hear elderly men with snow-white hair and beer bellies sing about the plight of their coal-stained homeland and their faith in God, and not necessarily in English? Your best bet is to go to Wales. The Welsh male voice choir has become the country’s most treasured and remarkable feature, with nonconformist (e.g. Baptist, Methodist) origins in the 18th century. During this time, congregations in both the north and south of Wales formed tenor-bass choirs that led chapel-goers in the singing of hymns, both in English and in Welsh. Singing in these choirs was one of the crucial methods the Welsh used to establish their rugged individualism, especially in the wake of their dying language, political struggles (miners’ strikes and unionist skirmishes) and cultural constraints from the English (the Anglicization of Welsh national schools). Choirs and solo singers alike performed their repertoire at festivals, namely Eisteddfod (roughly pronounced: “ei-steth-VOD”), an annual gathering of performers in different cities around the nation. Fortunately, these traditions are still (mostly) robust today. Since its pious and political 18th century heyday, Wales has been appropriately referred to as “the Land of Song.”


The Flint Male Voice Choir.


The London Welsh Male Voice Choir: the tradition permeates.

Recording of “Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer” set to the traditional tune of Cwm Rhondda:


Music for “Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer.”

Some traditional songs include, as given above, classic hymns like “Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer” (sung most often in worship settings), “Myfanwy” (a tragic love song), “Llef” (a prayerful song for the dead), and “Calon Lân” (a patriotic song and anthem of almost all Welsh rugby matches today).



“Calon Lân” (mixed choir) (male choir)

Welsh male voice choirs have become something of a spectacle to the outside world: Only Boys Aloud, a choir made up of 130+ boys aged 14-19 from the financially depressed and socially troubled South Wales valleys, was featured on Britain’s Got Talent in 2012 (and placed third!). Additionally, more localized choirs’ rehearsals are popular sights for tourists, and visitors are often invited to audit or observe them. These intimate rehearsals are typically held once or twice a week, and each town or village has a choir of their own, normally affiliated with the church, though not always.

While media attention does not always capture the raw essence and cultural motivation behind the existence of these choirs (and, in addition, antiquates them and makes them out to be “old-timey”), the continued popularization of these choirs within the country and around the world has yielded benefits. With the most prominent and active members of the male voice choirs rapidly aging, there is a great deal of concern surrounding the preservation of this tradition. Organizations such as The Aloud Charity (from which sprang Only Boys Aloud) help to make these choirs relevant again in the lives of young Welsh men yearning to find a sense of personal and national identity.

My personal understanding of the male voice choir is one that is decidedly political — a stunning reaction to historical cultural takeover (by the English), as well as a continuing soulful singularity that unites generations. When one goes to Wales and hears everything from the Welsh accent to the vigorous sound of choirs resounding in the hill-valleys of the Rhondda, you will also hear the song of a people with lyricism and pride sewn into their hearts.

I can practically hear my great-great-grandfather singing with the other men as he returns home from the coal mine in Maerdy. That is, if he wasn’t tone-deaf just like the rest of my Welsh family…!

“The Land of My Fathers”


Irish Dance – Céilís and More

Emily’s already posted a little bit about Irish dance, but I wanted to talk more about the different kinds. I danced with the Karl Drake School of Irish Dance for seven years, so I definitely wanted to write about it. What Emily was comparing to tap is called hard shoe – hence the similarity. There is another kind of Irish step dance which uses soft shoes, called ghillies. The two kinds of shoes are pictured below. The socks are called poodle socks and are traditional attire. For performances and competitions (called feises) you use a special glue around the top to ensure that they don’t bunch up around the ankles as you dance.


Hard shoes


Have a bonus photo of me and my very serious dance face! This was (I think) my second competition; I don’t like them very much, but as I got older they were required to be part of the school. For my first one I just curled my hair, but for this one I am wearing a crazy heavy Irish dance wig! Feises have a tendency to turn into fashion shows. Many of the performers are very young, but the amount of money and time spent on wigs, solo dresses, makeup, self-tanner, etc. is frankly ridiculous. Here I’m wearing a wig but my school’s competition dress instead of a solo dress. Solo dresses have a lot more sequins, pictured here:

Solo Dress

Both hard shoe and soft shoe are types of Irish step dance, which is what you will see in feises and performances and is the type of dance I most often practiced. Within the division of hard shoe and soft shoe there are subdivisions of types of dances, based on the time signature. In my experience, there are three types of soft shoe dance (a reel, a jig, and slip jig) and two kinds of hard shoe dance (a treble reel and a treble jig), but there may be more kinds that I wasn’t exposed to.

However, Irish step dance is only part of the Irish dance tradition. Step dancing is usually solo but can be part of a group as a performance. There is another type of dance, called céilí, is a social dance. Céilís can be performed in two long lines or with partners in a set of eight dancers (this is sometimes called Irish set dance and considered distinct from céilís, but the tradition I’m familiar with called both formations céilís as a catch-all for social dances). Céilís were also a lot of fun because we only ever got to do them rarely and they’re a social dance! It’s always more fun to dance with other people!

Group dances can be done as part of a performances (we would often perform them when we visited assisted living places or schools or something similar to perform) but in places where more than just one group of elementary – high school girls know how to dance, they are usually part of parties or the focus of the party. Dances can be called, with a caller yelling (or using a microphone) the step before they happen. You need to have knowledge of the steps, but this can be picked up fairly easily. With a caller, a group doesn’t have to practice a dance beforehand, as one would for a performance. Everyone knows what’s about to happen with the help of the caller!

Group dances are really a lot of fun, and if you’ll excuse a little plug, the Haverford Folk Club is having one tonight! It will be contra dance, not Irish dance, but it will wonderful, with a live band, lots of great people, and a caller, so you don’t have to know the dances! There’s a beginner’s lesson at 7:30 to learn the basic steps, and then dancing from 8-11! It would be fun to see some of y’all there! Founders Great Hall, today, 7:30! Be there or be square (that’s a pun because it’s another type of social dance)!

Eluveitie and the Gaulish Language

Since we’ve been focusing on mostly modern Celtic materials in this class, I figured I’d take a step back and discuss an older group of Celtic speakers: the Gauls.  I became particularly interested in Gaul and the Gaulish language due to the band Eluveitie, a folk metal band from Switzerland that utilizes Gaulish history and occasionally even the Gaulish language in their songs.  Mostly, I was drawn in by the sound of the language, but I also was intrigued by the process that is necessary to use a dead language in modern music.

Before I start discussing Eluveitie’s experience with singing of Gaul and in Gaulish, I think it is important to understand the history of Gaul and its language.  The Gauls existed in the space currently occupied by “France, Belgium, Luxembourg and parts of the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany on the west bank of the Rhine, and the Po Valley, in present Italy” (Bisdent).  This ethnic group settled in these areas prior to the construction of the Roman empire, though they were later contemporary with the Romans.  Of course, like most non-Roman groups during the age of the Roman Empire, the Gauls were not on good terms with the Romans.  The Gauls invaded Rome in 390 B.C. only to be completely taken over by the Romans between the years of 222 B.C. and 52 B.C (Bisdent; Hays).  Following the conquering of Gaul by Rome, “Gaul was systematically romanized,” and the French language resulted from this cultural and linguistic mix (Hays).  Unfortunately, a significant amount of information that is known about Gaul has been provided by the Romans, who portrayed the Gauls as primitive, violent, and superstitious (Bisdent; Hays).

This was Gaul before the Romans decided to stick their aqueducts up in everyone’s business.

As for the Gaulish language, its features would have most clearly resembled those of other Brittonic languages.  Unlike the modern Brittonic languages like Welsh and Breton, Gaulish did not survive past 550 C.E. according to Gregory of Tours, though some speculate that it may have been spoken in “remote rural areas” until the end of the 8th century (“The Modern Gaulish Language” 10).  Even so, efforts have been made to reconstruct this language, which has a decent amount of written materials to draw from.  Still, difficulties surrounding the reconstruction of a dead language are quite apparent here, especially since written material can, at best, only offer clues as to how the language was pronounced.  Additionally, the revival of the Gaulish language relies upon assumptions as to how the language would have evolved over time (“The Modern Gaulish Language”).  Taken together, this means that the reconstructed Gaulish language is not exactly how it would have been if it had evolved naturally over time, but it is still a close approximation.

As I mentioned before, Eluveitie uses the Gaulish language in some of their songs, yet the fact that the language has been extinct for so long has caused issues in some cases for the band.  For example, according to an interview from a website called Hear Evil (which is a super metal website name by the way, though that’s probably the intent since it had focused on heavy metal), singer Anna Murphy mentions how difficult it is “to pronounce and translate it accurately” and states that the band has to work closely with scientists and Celtologists to minimize this issue (“Eluveitie — Anna Murphy Interview”).  Even so, it seems that Murphy finds the difficulty worth it, since she also says, “[w]e use the Gaulish language in our lyrics to make the concept as authentic as possible and simply because we think it’s interesting. It sounds really good and works well with the music” (“Eluveitie — Anna Murphy Interview”).  Bandmate Chrigel Glanzmann concurs with this idea that the Gaulish language adds an aspect of authenticity to their music as he states, “the use of the Gaulish language is rather a form of ‘artistic work’ to me.  It’s more about giving the narration of history some more ‘flesh and blood’” (Stevenson).  For Eluveitie, the Gaulish language thus clearly benefits their art, despite the difficulties involved in using it.

It is not only the Gaulish language that presents issues for Eluveitie.  Indeed, the credibility of sources surrounding the Gauls can also be hard to ascertain.  Anna Murphy discusses this problem when talking about the historical aspects displayed in their album “Helvetios”: “‘Helvetios’ tells the harrowing chronic of the Gaulish war. But it’s not just a chronological account of this terrible war, the album tells the story from the viewpoint of the Helvetians, a Celtic tribe. This wasn’t a very simple task, since history is mostly written by those who triumphed in war which in this case was the Roman empire, Gaius Julius Caesar to be exact. Most of what we know about the Gaulish war nowadays stems from Caesar’s transcripts and that these do not convey the full truth is pretty obvious and also confirmed by historians. His scripture ‘De Bello Gallico’ is political propaganda for his benefit to a great extent in which home and family defending Gauls become ‘belligerent barbarians’ and sheer genocide over Gaulish tribes become ‘glorious battles’ that were fought by Roman legions ‘heroically to protect the Roman people’” (“Eluveitie — Anna Murphy Interview”).  Again, this brings us back to the historical background of Gaul, as the Gauls’ ability to tell their own stories was hindered by the presence of the Romans and the eventual romanization of the area.  Like the Gaulish language, much of Gaulish history then has to be interpreted.  It is really interesting that Murphy brings this topic to the forefront, since it shows the challenges the band must face in weeding out Roman biases while also engaging creatively to fill in the blank spaces of Gaulish history and Gaulish perceptions that are inaccessible to us in modern times.  Of course, because of this creative aspect, Glanzmann warns against using the band as an actual academic source when he states, “I think our albums can be an introduction to the subject and they partly also contain interesting stuff for people conversant and experienced with Celtic history. But if you really want to deal intensely with this matter, then go to university or at least an academic library” (Stevenson).

Now that we’ve gotten all the history and interpretation discussion out of the way, let’s get on to the fun stuff: the music!  Here is one of the the most well known of their Gaulish songs: Omnos.

This is personally my favorite Eluveitie song and the one that got me into the band to begin with.  I’ve attached links to the lyrics below.

Gaulish Lyrics:

English Lyrics:

If you’re like me and don’t believe in clicking on links, I’ll give you guys a brief paraphrase about what the song is about: a girl falls for a guy and uses a bunch of seemingly innocent language (“let us play a game / let us dance a joyful dance / let us sing decent songs”), while the guy is presented as very predatory (“in the woods I hunt / hunt for the flower of your youth”) and eventually rejects the girl by stating that he never loved her.  Though the girl’s language might be sexually suggestive (where a game/dance = sex), I don’t know Gaulish, so I can’t confirm whether or not this is the case.  The later line about her later being “overcome with shame” does make it seem as though that might be the case.  The combination of her rejection and shame then causes the girl to drown herself.  

Another noteworthy aspect of the song is that the boy is constantly referring to himself as “the bad wolf,” but I’m pretty sure he means this in a more metaphorical sense.  Still, in my opinion, the idea of a girl being pursued by a wolf or a wolf-like person gives the song a very folklore-y type of feeling.

I like to image that the guy was a literal wolf. It’s like if Little Red Riding Hood took a really weird turn at grandma’s house.

So, just to sum up, the Gaulish language and Gaulish history are tricky subjects to write in or about, which makes Eluveitie’s music even cooler than it seems on the surface.

Works Cited

Bisdent. “Gaul.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. 28 Apr 2011. Web. 22 Mar 2017. <;.

Carol. “Eluveitie — Anna Murphy Interview.” Skull n Bones. 3 Jul 2012. Web. 22 Mar 2017. <;.

Hays, Jeffrey. “Roman Conquest of France (Gaul) and Britain.” Facts and Details. Jan 2012. Web. 22 Mar 2017. <;.

Stevenson, Rhys. “GMA Interview Interrogation: Chrigel Glanzmann (Eluveitie).” Global Metal Apocalypse. 30 Oct 2014. Web. 22 Mar 2017. <;.

“The Modern Gaulish Language.” Academia. Web. 22 Mar 2017. <;.

Image URLs

Map of Gaul:


O’Sullivan, Janes, and Crosbie: Modern Celtic Artists

Art has been with me since childhood. Some of my earliest memories involve me sitting at the kitchen table with a fistful of crayons, or glancing at my grandmother’s watercolor sketches–she was an amateur artist herself. In elementary school, I drew all over my assignments instead of actually completing them, and claimed I wanted to be an artist when I grew up. While since then all that has changed, my love for art has not. That said, I confess I know next to nothing about Celtic art or Celtic artists, and decided to rectify that by doing a bit of research and writing a blog post on my findings.

When I say ‘Celtic art’, I’m not talking about the traditional, iconic high-crosses of Ireland, or even the intricate scabbards and torcs done in the La Tène style; rather, I’m referring to painters and sculptors from the last couple of centuries who can, at the very least, trace their ancestries to the Celtic fringe. Evidently, there are many such artists, and more than I could ever hope to detail in a blog post; so I’ve chosen only a few to share.

Celtic High Cross

There is first the Irish painter Sean O’Sullivan, who was born in Dublin in 1906 and died in 1964. Glancing through O’Sullivan’s work, it is clear he is primarily a portrait painter, with a tendency towards bright colors and simplistic, slightly cartoonish renderings of reality. Yet sometimes his pieces are no more than sketches, cross hatches and smudges, really, which work together to create brief impressions of his subjects. Some of O’Sullivan’s portraits include those of Douglas Hyde, W. B. Yeats, and James Joyce.

Portrait of James Joyce by O'Sullivan

Portrait of James Joyce by O’Sullivan


Portrait of Douglas Hyde, an Irish academic and scholar of the Irish language

Portrait of Douglas Hyde, an Irish academic and scholar of the Irish language

Alfred Janes was a Welsh artist, born in 1911, and, like O’Sullivan, he was interested in portraits, painting pictures of Dylan Thomas and other close friends. That said, he did not confine himself to one style, and, especially later in his life, also experimented with abstract art. His portraits appear a bit cartoonish, but are still stylistically  different from O’Sullivan’s; his people possess strong, sturdy bodies, thick forearms, and wide eyes gone dark and sharp with intensity. Janes favors dark, muted colors, although his pieces have occasional bright sparks, such as the yellow tie in his portrait of Dylan Thomas, or the yellow-white pricks of light on the apples in ‘Boy with Apples’. This type of palette, while established in his early paintings, bleeds over into his abstract pieces as well. 

Portrait of Dylan Thomas


Boy with Apples

Boy with Apples

William Crosbie, the third and final artist I will discuss, was born to Scottish parents in China, although his family returned to Scotland in 1926. Artistically, his style is even more varied than Janes’, and his subjects range from still-lifes, to landscapes, to portraits, to abstract pieces. His abstract pieces suggest Picasso as an influence (see ‘Playing to my Friends’, a more tame example of this), although he was evidently capable of realism as well.  Many of his pieces make use of vibrant colors, although some are done completely in black and white. In sum, it is difficult to attribute one style to Crosbie. 

Self Portrait

Playing to My Friends

Playing to My Friends

I can’t say this brief bit of research has allowed me much insight into modern Celtic art–but I did note that, stylistically, these three artists are making use of techniques employed by other, non-Celtic artists as well. There is nothing that unites or sets them apart, nothing that screams ‘Celtic!’ besides, occasionally, the subject-matter. In the context of the poetry we have been reading, this is especially interesting, considering many of the poems are heavily influenced by Celtic culture and a sense of nationalism, and display these sentiments overtly in language (for example, the use of Celtic words, or the invocation of Celtic myths). The apparent neutrality of these artists presents a striking contrast to this. That said, it is entirely possible O’Sullivan, Janes, and Crosbie felt the influence of their respective Celtic ancestries and are actually conveying this in their artwork; I just might not be learned enough to pick up on these influences.

And just for fun, I’ve included a couple of my own pieces 🙂

Screen Shot 2017-03-18 at 8.07.50 PM

Screen Shot 2017-03-18 at 8.09.03 PM

Websites used:

1. “Kooywood Gallery, Museum Place, Cardiff.” Oriel Kooywood Gallery. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Mar. 2017. <;.

2. “BBC – Wales – Arts – Alfred Janes.” BBC News. BBC, n.d. Web. 18 Mar. 2017. <;.

3. “Sean O’Sullivan (Irish, 1906 – 1964).” Mutual Art. ARTFIXdaily, 20 July 2016. Web. 18 Mar. 2017. <;.

4. “William Crosbie.” The Scottish Gallery, n.d. Web. <;.

5. “Seán O’Sullivan (painter).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 12 Mar. 2017. Web. 18 Mar. 2017. <;.

Dubious Relations: Clan Hunter

There’s an ongoing semi-joke between my mom and me that if we go to Scotland, we should visit Hunter Castle (or Hunterston Castle, as a little research turned up its real name to be). This is based mostly on the fact that my grandmother’s maiden name was Hunter, which ultimately means… absolutely nothing, considering there are a lot of Hunters in this world. But the mention of the castle and the clan that I may or may not be distantly connected to piqued my interest.

According to what I know about my ancestry (which isn’t much), the chances of any of my family being royalty is pretty low. All four of my grandparents came from humble roots, and all except for my maternal grandmother were first- or second-generation citizens. (I think.) The only exception to that rule is, again, my maternal grandmother. I refer to her as Gammy and she is my last living grandparent, so I’ll just call her that throughout this post. (My grandfather was called Pap-Pap. I don’t know where these names come from. Apparently it’s what my mother called her grandparents, but I don’t know which and I don’t really know why.)

Gammy’s family is the one that may be sort-of kind-of related to George Washington and sort-of kind-of maybe fought in the Civil War. The most explanation about where that side of the family came from that I’ve gotten, according to my mom, is “Ireland-Scotland-England-ish.” Super descriptive. Anyway, back to the neat Scottish castle.

It’s actually not that big or castle-ish.

Hunterston Castle is located in Ayrshire, near to Glasgow, and apparently to one of Glasgow’s important sea access points. (I’ve never been to this place, so I’m going on what I can find, which may or may not be correct. I’m sure Maud will set me straight if I screw up any data.) The castle itself was built in the 13th century by the Laird at the time. There is also a Hunterston House, which is nearby the castle.

If I ever visit, you can bet I’m going to want to say hi to those sheep.

While we’re at it with images and clans, the tartan pattern looks like this.

I’ve seen several different swatches with slightly variant patterns and color intensities, but the green with the blue and red plaid seems to be the common theme. I think there’s some yellow in there, too.

Apparently, the first mention of the Hunter clan in recorded history was in 1116, when a William Hunter was cited as a witness over some sort of land claim dispute pertaining to a Glasgow church. From there, the castle was later built in the 13th century to fortify against Norse invaders. This invader threat was realized in 1263 when the Battle of Largs took place, though how involved any members of the Hunter clan were in that dispute, I can’t confirm or deny. The land itself was granted to a William Hunter (a different William Hunter) by King Robert II in 1374.

Of course, not everybody is as intrigued by dates and history as I am. What’s more interesting on a thought-provoking level is the Hunter clan today. In my research, I came across several websites in various stages of development concerning the modern Hunter clan. The current Chief is a Madam Pauline Hunter of Hunterston, the 30th Laird of the clan and its lands. She appears to spend a fairly significant amount of her time reaching out to the “diaspora” of the clan as a method of preserving and celebrating Scotland’s history, which gives me a nice segway into what this post is actually all about: whether or not I’m even related to this clan, and if I am, does it count?

I’ve mentioned in class a few times that I’m only a wee bit of any sort of Celtic, as it’s about one fourth of my ethnic background… but actually, a whole quarter is kind of a lot when you think about it. A lot of my life has been spent focused on the other aspects of my heritage, though: the half-Jewish part especially, but also the Eastern European roots contributed by my Pap-Pap, whose father was an orphan in the Carpathian Mountains. My mom’s side of the family, the Dulases, still makes pierogi by hand once or twice a year for different special occasions. (We call them pogies, and boy howdy, they do not last long once served. It’s also practically a sin to eat anything else with them except maybe a salad, so get ready for starch.) Regardless, I don’t really know anything about Gammy’s family. I’m sure I could do some serious digging to turn up some results, and apparently there’s a family tree lying around somewhere, but even if I got a look at it, would it tell me anything conclusive?

Many Americans who come from immigrant families seem to know a lot about their family history in comparison to me, and sometimes that makes my own heritage feel a bit… invalidated. I don’t know where my family is from. I know when certain members of my family came to America, but I don’t always know from where, or where their parents might have been from, and so on. All anyone’s been able to give me over time is a shrug because they just don’t know. This might be partially because my family comes from generally modest roots, but that doesn’t seem like it should be the deciding factor. I guess there’s a sense of belonging in having roots in a clan that would be… well, validating for me. But it’s unlikely I really do belong to the clan, regardless of what Gammy’s maiden name was. Hunter isn’t an uncommon last name, and my family does not come from any significant wealth that traces back to Hunterston Estate or the Hunter clan. I might have nothing to do with this family I’ve researched, because a last name is not that much to go on at the end of the day.

I noticed on several of the Hunter-related webpages I visited that they had fairly open sign-up for clan affiliation, so long as you had the right last name, a variation on it, or a relative with that last name. There are events to attend on the grounds during the year. I thought it was strange how open it was, considering pretty much anyone could apply for that whether or not they were really related, but it isn’t my business who Madam Pauline chooses to induct into the family and who she doesn’t.

At some point, I hope I can manage to find out some more about this particular part of my heritage – the Celtic part, that is, however small it may be and however unimportant the people in it may be. Maybe I’m not a member of a fancy clan with its own tartan and a cool, if small, castle. That doesn’t really prove anything except that I’m not a member of the old land-owning gentry class, which I guess is enough to satisfy my socialist heart.

It isn’t going to stop me claiming I’m a vampire because of that great-grandfather from the Carpathian Mountains, though.

(Update: I talked to my mother about that family tree and it turns out I probably am a part of this clan, except the bit of it that emigrated to Ireland and then to America in 1782. So, you know, that’s cool.)


Works Cited:

“Clan Hunter USA.” Clan Hunter USA. 2012. Web. 17 Mar. 2017. <;

“Hunter Clan.” scotlandinoils.com2013. Web. 17 Mar. 2017. <;

Humphrys, Mark. “Hunterston Castle, Ayrshire, Scotland.” HumphrysFamilyTree.comWeb. 17 Mar. 2017. <;

“Hunterston History.” Clan Hunter Scotland. Clan Hunter, 2015. Web. 17 Mar. 2017.<;.

Fletcher, Craig, and Christopher Jones. “Battle of Largs.” UK Battlefields Resource Centre – Medieval. The Battlefields Trust, 2017. Web. 17 Mar. 2017. <;.



Heather Dale’s Celtic Heart

My favorite musical artist is the Canadian singer Heather Dale. I became a fan no later than 2012 and went to her concert in May 2014.

I met my favorite singer. No big deal.

I met my favorite singer. No big deal.

Her music wanders across all kinds of subjects (and genres), but the majority of her original songs deal with myths, legends, folklore, and fairy tales. Above all, she is influenced by Celtic cultures, including her own Cornish heritage. She’s a fantastic storyteller. Though I’m only going to link to three songs in this post—one for each of our three favorite countries—her entire discography is one long masterpiece, so check it out!

First, Wales. Heather Dale has two entire albums devoted to Arthurian legend, plus assorted songs on other albums. It was her music that got me into this stuff in the first place, and now I’m writing my thesis on it. Not all of these songs have a lot to do with the legend’s Welsh origins, but here is perhaps her Welshest song: “Culhwch and Olwen,” which actually just came up on my iPod as I was writing this paragraph. (I have all my Heather Dale songs on shuffle while I write this post.) This song takes its title from a medieval Welsh tale that can be found in the collection known as the Mabinogion. The basic plot is that this guy named Culhwch is cursed by his stepmother to love this lady named Olwen, whose father, the giant Ysbaddaden, will not let him marry her unless he completes a bunch of tasks. Culhwch is conveniently a cousin of Arthur, so he easily gets a bunch of Arthur’s warriors to help him. Heather’s song simplifies the story by only having Ysbaddaden give Culhwch one task: to rescue Mabon, son of Modron. As in the original story, the guys have to talk to a series of ancient animals to discover Mabon’s location. Then they go back, kill Ysbaddaden, and Culhwch marries Olwen.

The song is weird enough, but I recommend reading the original story if you want much more Welsh weirdness/weird Welshness. There’s this part that lists all the members of Arthur’s court and their quirks, such as hailing “from the uplands of hell” or “clear[ing] three hundred acres in a single leap.” In my edition, it goes on for five pages. It’s absolutely wild.

Culhwch and Olwen YouTube link

Second, Ireland. This song, called “Adrift,” is about a character from Irish mythology: Oisín, son of Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn McCool) (who is a way better hero than Cú Chulainn) and father of Oscar. As you will hear in the song, his name is pronounced Uh-sheen. In my Irish mythology class last summer, I wrote my final paper on Oisín, so I know a lot about him. He’s very deer to me. While his father Finn and son Oscar are best known as great warriors, Oisín, though a warrior as well, is best known as a poet and as one of the last surviving members of Finn’s fianna (bands of warriors). According to the twelfth-century Acallam na Senórach (Colloquy of the Ancients) he survived into the time of Saint Patrick. “Adrift” is based on a tale that explains how Oisín came to live so long: he fell in love with a magical lady named Niamh who took him to Tír na nÓg. When he returned to Ireland, he found that 300 years had passed and everyone he had known was dead. “Adrift” is a dialogue between Oisín, who has dreamed that his “mother” (Ireland) needs him to return, and Niamh, who assures him that it’s just a dream.

By the way, Yeats wrote a long poem called “The Wanderings of Oisín.”

Adrift YouTube Link

Third, Scotland. Unless I’m wrong (in which case Anna Mehta can correct me) none of Heather Dale’s original songs are as Scottish as “Culhwch and Olwen” is Welsh or “Adrift” is Irish, so here’s a song from “My Celtic Heart,” her collection of Irish, Scottish, Welsh, and Cornish folk songs. It’s a mash-up of two Scottish songs. The first, “Wild Mountain Thyme,” derives from a poem by Robert Tannahill (1774–1810) called “The Braes o’ Balquhither.” The song may have gained its current form from a Northern Irish family called the McPeakes, but I’m having trouble finding decent sources on that. Anyway, the other, probably more famous song is “Skye Boat Song.” An Englishman, Harold Boulton, wrote the lyrics, but the tune derives from a Gaelic iorram (rowing song). The song is about the escape of Bonnie Prince Charlie (Charles Edward Stuart) to the Isle of Skye after the pro-Hanover army defeated the pro-Stuart army at the Battle of Culloden in 1746. “The lad who’s born to be king” never did get that throne, but it’s still an inspiring song. I got all these facts from this article by the historian Jacqueline Riding about the Jacobite rebellion. Fact #6 in the article is about Skye Boat Song.

Wild Mountain Thyme/Skye Boat Song Bandcamp link

Also, here is a picture of a plant that I think is heather that I took in Scotland when I was eighteen. This picture might have been taken on Skye but I’m not sure.

IMG_0155 copy

P.S. Ashley, if you’re reading this, here is that song about Sir Gawain and the Green Knight that I mentioned to you once. I love the original poem but I also love the twist Heather puts on the story.

Irish Step Dance v. Tap Dance

Between kindergarten and ninth grade, one of the central focuses of my life was dance. My mom, who had been a ballerina through high school, enrolled me in classes at the age of five, and my passion grew from there. Of the many types of dance that were offered at my dancing school, I—along with a group of friends who still dance to this day—was enrolled in two: jazz and tap. While my limited flexibility made me a slightly subpar jazz dancer, I fell in love with tap, practicing it as often as I could; even outside of the studio, I could be found clicking my feet on any hard surface I could find (needless to say, my mom was not thrilled with the number of times I scuffed up her hardwood floors).

During my first year at Haverford, nearly four years after I had stopped dancing to pursue other extracurriculars at my high school, I went to a dance concert on campus in support of my friends and classmates. There, I was thrilled to watch ballerinas, hip hoppers, jazz dancers, and, of course, tappers. Even as I enjoyed the tap dancers, another group—the Irish step dancers—also caught my attention. As I watched them prance across the stage, arms-locked, circling up, their feet tapping against the ground, I wondered: what was the difference between tap and Irish step dance?

In doing more research, I learned that Irish Step Dance is part of a long tradition of dance in the region, dating as far back as 400 BCE: even as the former pagans of the region were proselytized and converted to Christianity, syncretic tactics allowed them to retain the music and dance that were pivotal within the Celtic culture. By the eighteenth century, even as Norman tradition and song had begun to permeate into that of the Celts, the notion of a “dance master” allowed for the tradition of dance to be passed down to younger generations, as standards were high and soloists became highly esteemed. It was in this moment—at the end of the eighteenth century—that step dancing appeared. To this day, the worldwide success of performance troupes and shows such as Riverdance has allowed for the continuity and appreciation of Irish step dance throughout the globe (IrelandsEye).

Tap dance, on the other hand, emerged in America, as a fusion of “several ethnic percussive dances, primarily African tribal dances and Scottish, Irish, and English clog dances, hornpipes, and jigs” (Britannica 1). Effectively, the tap dance, then, embodies a form of unifying rhythm that draws from Irish step dance, highlighting the reasons why they appear to be so similar. Though there is some debate as to the origins of tap dance, it is believed to have emerged from urban environments such as the Five Points District of New York, where a variety of groups mingled and brought their dances together to create a wholly new form of dance (Britannica 1).

Interestingly, the primary difference between tap and Irish step dance seems to stem from both the ways in which the body is utilized and the ways in which the feet actually work. Unlike tap dance, which allows for the syncopation of the entirety of the body and calls upon a person’s whole being to fall into the rhythm, Irish step dance emphasizes a sense of rigidity—that is, in the jig itself, straight lines are emphasized such that the arms and legs seem to remain almost perfectly still. Likewise, tap dance tends to move across space more freely, whereas certain patterns exist within Irish step dance to propel individuals from one space to another.

The costuming of Irish step dance is also unique: unlike tap, which does not mandate a certain form of dress beyond the shoes, Irish step dance (at least in performances) requires a specific type of costuming and attire. Because it is more deeply rooted in Irish tradition and culture, the costumes in Irish step dance typically recall the clothing of the past, the dresses, kilts, and jackets characteristic from two hundred years ago (Ireland’s Eye). Effectively, there seems to be a way in which Irish step dance—because it carries the markers of tradition—tends to be more regulated than tap dance such that it can continue to imbue Celtic culture on the whole.

Recently, both tap and Irish step dance have been popularized throughout the world. For example, in 2014, an Irish step dance group caught global attention with their performance on Britain’s Got Talent:

Likewise, the Syncopated Ladies captured national attention with their tap performance of Beyonce’s “Formation” and, more recently, their response to the election of President Donald Trump:

Overall, even as both tap and Irish step dancing seem to correlate, each maintains the tradition, rhythm, and appearance that underscores their individuated beauty and allows for viewers and dancers alike to foster a profound sense of appreciation for both forms of dance.

Works Cited

Frank, Rusty. “Tap Dance.” Dance Forms. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2009. Web. 23 Feb. 2017.

“The History of Irish Dance.” Ireland’s Eye. Ireland’s Eye, 1994-2004. Web. 23 Feb. 2017.

All videos courtesy of YouTube. P.S. Sorry they didn’t get properly embedded… something went wrong with the links!

St. David

When I was in middle school, I had gone to a school named after St. David.  One thus would have thought that St. David’s feast day would have been a big deal for the school, but most people would be more excited about bedazzling themselves in shamrock themed outfits on St. Patrick’s Day instead.  Finally, in my last year, we got an art teacher who recognized that St. David’s Day actually existed.  For our assignment, we were asked, simply, to draw a picture of St. David.  We were admittedly given very little to work with: all the teacher mentioned was that St. David was the patron saint of Wales, and we were given a badly photocopied image of the Welsh flag to go along with that information.  Naturally, as middle schoolers are wont to do, many included an image of St. David riding a whale.  It was such a clever and original idea that approximately half the class did so.  I went the other route and drew a saintly looking old dude in front of the dragon from the Welsh flag because dragons are awesome.

When involving saints, pretty sure only images of St. David or St. George can include dragon themes without being slightly blasphemous.

Since my knowledge of St. David is obviously lacking in spite of my old school, I figured it would be fun to do some research on St. David for this blog post.  What I learned is… that we actually don’t know that much about him.  Indeed, most of St. David’s background seems to be shrouded in legend.

Even his genealogy appears slightly strange, as many writers, including Geoffrey of Monmouth, refer to him as either the nephew or uncle of King Arthur.

And even if we call him the uncle/nephew of King Arthur, it’s always better than being the uncle/father of the former King Joffrey.

At the same time, St. David appears to have done some normal, saintly deeds as well.  One of his biggest contributions was acting as a missionary to the British, while establishing 12 monasteries along the way.  He eventually became associated with ascetic monks, as he formed these monasteries with the intention of them adhering to such values.  At one of these monasteries, St. David was betrayed by a group of monks, who attempted to poison him.  Luckily—and here is where things get a bit more legendary in nature—St. Scuthyn informed St. David of their evil intentions after traveling to him from Ireland on a sea-monster.  With this knowledge in hand, St. David performed a miracle by blessing the bread to hinder the effects of the poison.

In addition to this story, St. David also did a couple other cool things.  For example, at the Synod of Brefi, St. David raised the earth beneath him for the purpose of being heard from greater distances.  Hopefully, he did not create these hills too often, but, if he did, I guess we now know why Wales looks like Maud’s crumpled up syllabus from our first class.

St. David also became associated with leeks due to his involvement in a battle of the Welsh against the Anglo-Saxons.  For this battle, he insisted that the Welsh warriors wear leeks in their hats, so that they would not be confused as to who was fighting for which side during the battle.  In this battle, the Welsh were victorious.

Farfetch’d later became the second to know the value of a leek in battle.

With regards to St. David’s feast day itself, it is not recognized as a bank holiday in the UK.  Even so, many still celebrate it in Wales.  This holiday appears to be one in which the Welsh celebrate their own culture, as many wear daffodils and leeks, along with traditional outfits, on this day.  Some cities, like Cardiff, also include parades.

So, St. David Day is coming up on March 1st. Get ready to turn up like it’s St. Patrick’s Day!  On the plus side, the bars will be far less packed. 😀


Eysenck, Juliet. “St David’s Day 2016: everything you need to know about Wales’ patron saint.” The Telegraph. 2 Mar 2016. Web. 22 Feb 2017. <;.

Toke, Leslie. “St. David.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. New Advent. Ed. Kevin Knight. N.d. Web. 22 Feb 2017. <;.

Image URLs

Welsh Flag:

Jaime Lannister: