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: www.metrolyrics.com/omnos-lyrics-eluveitie.html

English Lyrics: lyricstranslate.com/en/omnos-fear.html

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. <www.ancient.eu/gaul/&gt;.

Carol. “Eluveitie — Anna Murphy Interview.” Skull n Bones. 3 Jul 2012. Web. 22 Mar 2017. <skullsnbones.com/eluveitie-anna-murphy-interview/&gt;.

Hays, Jeffrey. “Roman Conquest of France (Gaul) and Britain.” Facts and Details. Jan 2012. Web. 22 Mar 2017. <factsanddetails.com/world/cat56/sub368/item2092.html&gt;.

Stevenson, Rhys. “GMA Interview Interrogation: Chrigel Glanzmann (Eluveitie).” Global Metal Apocalypse. 30 Oct 2014. Web. 22 Mar 2017. <globalmetalapocalypse.weebly.com/metal-interviews/gma-interview-interrogation-chrigel-glanzmann-eluveitie&gt;.

“The Modern Gaulish Language.” Academia. Web. 22 Mar 2017. <www.academia.edu/8944307/The_Modern_Gaulish_Language&gt;.

Image URLs

Map of Gaul: www.ancient.eu/uploads/images/preview-343.jpg?v=1485683011

Wolf: http://www.stephenmorrisauthor.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Gray-Wolf-15.jpg

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. <www.clanhunterusa.org/&gt;

“Hunter Clan.” scotlandinoils.com2013. Web. 17 Mar. 2017. <www.scotlandinoils.com/clan/Clan-Hunter.html&gt;

Humphrys, Mark. “Hunterston Castle, Ayrshire, Scotland.” HumphrysFamilyTree.comWeb. 17 Mar. 2017. <humphrysfamilytree.com/Hunter/hunterston.html&gt;

“Hunterston History.” Clan Hunter Scotland. Clan Hunter, 2015. Web. 17 Mar. 2017.<clanhunterscotland.com/&gt;.

Fletcher, Craig, and Christopher Jones. “Battle of Largs.” UK Battlefields Resource Centre – Medieval. The Battlefields Trust, 2017. Web. 17 Mar. 2017. <www.battlefieldstrust.com/resource-centre/medieval/battleview.asp?BattleFieldId&gt;.



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. <www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/wales/12179304/Happy-St-Davids-Day-Who-was-St-David-patron-saint-of-Wales.html&gt;.

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. <www.newadvent.org/cathen/04640b.htm&gt;.

Image URLs

Welsh Flag: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/59/Flag_of_Wales_2.svg/2000px-Flag_of_Wales_2.svg.png

Jaime Lannister: http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2016/06/01/22/34D5B3DE00000578-0-image-m-9_1464818159424.jpg

Farfetch’d: http://cdn.bulbagarden.net/upload/thumb/f/f8/083Farfetch’d.png/250px-083Farfetch’d.png


Baseball in Ireland

So, initially I wanted to post my full paper about Irish society hindering the growth of baseball in Ireland on here that I wrote for a class last semester, but the file is too large. Instead, I’ll post the highlights of the paper.

My Personal Experience:

My experience with Irish baseball began in November of 2015. Both of my paternal grandparents were born and raised in Ireland so I was proud when I finally became an Irish citizen and learned of the potential opportunity to represent Ireland on the National Baseball Team. They did not recruit me by any stretch of the imagination. The only reason I was even aware that there was an Irish National Baseball Team was because the players on the British National Team told me about the Irish team during a post-high school European baseball tour. Following the news that I had become an Irish citizen—two years after my time in Europe—I spent a few hours on the Internet attempting to learn how I could play for the ‘Boys in Green,’ and eventually settled on simply emailing the head coach after coming across the Baseball Ireland website. I sent Coach Sean Mitchell an email telling him that I was interested in playing for the team and followed up by sending a recruiting video to him. He responded a few weeks later and informed me that I had made the team. Six months later, in June 2016, I arrived at my first National Team practice at the International Baseball Centre in Ashbourne with absolutely no idea what to expect. While it was, and still is, a small operation, I was impressed with the time and energy that was put in to make the National Team competitive.


Hitting and Throwing:

One societal difficulty standing in the way of the growth of baseball in Ireland are the sports that Irish children grow up playing. Hurling, an ancient Irish sport, is a sport that is somewhat similar to lacrosse in the sense that each player has a stick that must be used to advance the ball up field. The catch, however, is that the ball must be hit up and down on the stick while running. Although the form of hitting in hurling is different than baseball, this aspect of the game is actually beneficial to helping Irish children learn how to hit, because hurling cultivates hand-eye coordination. This helps young children to have success when first learning to hit a baseball. That being said, hitting is only half of the game. The other half, throwing and catching, provides serious challenges to Irish children because hurling, Gaelic football, soccer, and rugby are all prominent Irish sports that do not include any overhand throwing motion. During my five weeks in Ireland, it became very clear that this is the skill that the Irish struggle with teaching. Baseball Ireland has had difficulty teaching pitching, and the youth clinic that the National Team ran in July brought the struggles with throwing to the forefront. Children as old as fifteen were on the same throwing skill level as six or seven year olds in America.

On another note, there was a documentary made about the founding of the Irish National Baseball Team. It is pretty entertaining, and gives some insight into the initial struggles they encountered PLUS it’s on youtube: www.youtube.com/watch?v=GFlUQfZr3MA



Modern Irish Identity in Comedy: “How to be Irish”

Now that my login issues are sorted at last, here is my slightly ridiculous contribution.

The Internet has been an extremely useful tool for expanding general knowledge about all cultures, as it is accessible to people all around the world, of all sorts of different nationalities and backgrounds. As a result of like being able to find like more easily, communities form: around similar interests, shared beliefs, and identities (to name a few).

The analysis of the transformation of identity as a result of the internet is definitely not a subject I can cover in one blog post because, though fascinating, it would take a metric ton of research at the very least to even begin to comprehend it, and that is far beyond what we’re focusing on in this course. That said, I think the significance of being a member of a niche culture has changed on a global scale, and that includes the Irish. (Not to say that Ireland itself is “niche,” just that it does have a particular culture that is reserved to a small area, i.e. one island in the Atlantic Ocean.)

What I want to discuss today has to do with this specific video by an Irish YouTuber who goes by the name JackSepticEye:

Irish Time With Jack

(Precaution: This YouTuber has a somewhat shrill voice and there is a lot of cursing in this video, so viewer discretion advised. You don’t have to watch it to understand this blog post since I’ll be summarizing the specific aspects I want to talk about.)

This video is called “Irish Time With Jack,” and it begins with his typical intro, a high-five and a rather boisterous, “Top o’ the mornin’ to ya, laddies!” This is characteristic of him as a YouTuber, specifically a Let’s Player. A Let’s Player, for those unfamiliar with the term, is someone who records themselves playing video games and giving commentary. It is generally considered a comedic category of entertainment, so it serves the dual purpose of being able to watch someone play a game one might take interest in while also hopefully getting a laugh. Jack (as he’s popularly known – his real name is Sean) capitalizes on the fact that he is one of the few popular Let’s Players out there (though certainly not the only) who is Irish by co-opting the stereotypical “top o’ the mornin’ to ya” greeting that is so familiarly and stereotypically Irish, usually associated with leprechauns or any similar stereotypes those of us non-Irish exposed to media representations of Irish people would be familiar with.

He goes on, at the start of the video, to mention that he has been asked numerous times whether or not he is “actually Irish,” or if he just puts on the accent for his YouTube persona. He affirms this is not the case: he is Irish, “as if you couldn’t tell by how pasty white my skin is.” (Note: I’ll be putting all of the things Jack himself says in Italics.) He’s proud of being Irish but notes that he is “one of the worst Irish people ever,” and he has thus purchased a particular book to help himself, and his audience, “be as Irish as possible.” The book is titled A Massive Book Full of Feckin’ Irish Slang That’s Great Craic for Any Shower of Savages. “By the end of this video,” Jack says, “we’re all gonna be Irish.”

Appropriately, it is green.

Obviously, becoming Irish isn’t as simple as learning some funny slang, but again, the purposes of this video are purely comedic and not truly instructional. The way he describes being Irish would probably make Yeats roll over in his grave, but being an Irishman by birth gives him a specific perspective into Irish culture, as he is part of it, no matter how poor of an Irish person he believes himself to be. (Whether or not you can be bad at being part of your own culture is another topic entirely, but I’m shelving that for now.)

The rest of the video entails Jack going through this book and describing various Irish slang terms such as “gas,” “howiya,” “how’s she cuttin’,” “craic,” “the black stuff,” and so on. Jack inserts various personal asides into the video as he remembers them and notes that he hasn’t heard some of these words in a long time.

“Of course, the base of learning any culture is how to like, introduce yourself to someone, because it’s all about mannerisms,” Jack notes in preface to the term “howiya.” He says that this means “hello” and in other cultures would entail “how are you,” “but the Irish are so evolved and so evolutionarily smart that we just shorten it all down to ‘howiya.’” He repeats this specific language later on when addressing the term “Jaysus,” saying, “Again, we are evolved, we are descended from potatoes, so… we are carved out of potatoes from the hillsides, so we have… we’ve a funny way of saying things.” As most things in this video, saying Irish people are made from potatoes is being playfully satirical toward the stereotypes about the Irish and their deep, intense relationship with said root vegetable. To me, however, what struck me as the most interesting was Jack’s use of the term “evolved,” and earlier, “evolutionarily smart.” The reason why that strikes me requires only a very brief glimpse into the past:

Not long ago, the English used “scientific” imagery and language to attempt to prove the Irish to be subhuman. Considering that Irish people, particularly Irish Catholics, were second-class citizens until very recently, historically speaking, this was what I found the most intriguing regarding Jack’s discussion of his own culture. Of course, the bit about potatoes is meant to be funny, but he does say evolved and smart. Within a comparatively short period of time, an Irish person is proud to justify the quirks of his culture as being smart or evolved in comparison to the way other cultures speak. (Jack does mention at the beginning that he is proud of being Irish, or, as he puts it, “I’m f*ckin’ proud of it, dammit!” and mentions that one of the purposes for the video is to improve his own Irishness as well.)

A lot of the Yeats we dealt with recently concerned Irish identity, and as I said before, Yeats would be likely rolling in his grave if he knew a video like this existed, or that the contemporary Irish behave this way. And yet, Jack not only makes Irish culture (specifically dialectical differences) into something one can learn, but he presents it as important knowledge. He is sharing an Irish perspective on Irish culture. One could say that he’s possibly trying to justify his own Irish heritage in the face of those who have disputed his nationality, but I prefer to look at it from a lighter perspective than that. Though Jack is clearly parodying the doubt and criticism about his nationality by capitalizing on numerous Irish stereotypes (the Irish are always drinking, they’re descended from potatoes, they spend most of their time insulting each other), he does so playfully, and he lets his audience in on the joke, so to speak. He makes Irishness inclusive instead of exclusive and provides a way, however joking, to access Irish culture in a more natural and far less scholarly way than Pearse, for example, might have wanted.

The silent, judgmental stare of a dead Irish revolutionary.

Instead of instructing his audience in Gaelic, Jack takes a more practical approach: “If you just wanna hang around Ireland, and you just wanna see what the place is all like, […] and then you come in to […] the C’mon Inn, and then you’re just like, ‘ah, Jaysus, ah Jaysus gimme a pint there now, Peter, will ya? Good man yerself, what is it, forty euro? Jaysus, pints are gone up a lot…’ See what I mean? You just work it into your language like that and it just comes out naturally.” He is making Ireland itself accessible to those unfamiliar with the dialect or the language. Of course, this is also largely comedic, as there’s just as high of a likelihood that any Irish person would laugh themselves silly at a foreigner trying to sound too Irish.

I think a lot can be conveyed in comedy, though, and I think this video, in all the fun it pokes at itself, is an interesting representation of how Irish perspectives of Irish identity have evolved since Yeats’ time. Obviously, one Irish YouTuber does not speak for the Irish people as a whole by any means. This video certainly isn’t a reliable source for learning how to actually be Irish, if that is something you can learn to begin with. However, it does explore Irish identity in a contemporary context, particularly regarding how it is viewed externally versus how it is viewed internally (i.e. Jack’s non-Irish viewers’ perspectives vs. Jack’s perspective as an Irish citizen) and where these viewpoints cross, collide, or complement each other. Padraic Pearse might not be satisfied with exactly how Jack goes about trying to teach people to be Irish, but he might be satisfied with the fact that Ireland is free enough and its people confident enough in their heritage that a video like this can be produced.

There is something more profound in this than I can put my finger on, but mostly I just thought the video was hilarious and interestingly relevant to our exploration of Celtic identity, particularly through language. Perhaps someone else can provide further insight using the words I can’t find.


Works Cited:

JackSepticEye. “Irish Time With Jack.” Online video clip. YouTube. Google, 16 October 2016. Web.


Uilleann Pipes

One thing you have to get accustomed to when traveling around Ireland is the really fun pub scene. There are more modern pubs, jazz pubs, sports pubs, but in your standard pub scene there are always people I call hidden musicians. By that, I mean people who put down their Guinness and pick up an instrument from under their table at some predetermined point. There’s no way to tell if they brought this instrument or if it was just there, but without a doubt at some point a band will form and play traditional Irish music, seemingly out of the blue. Amongst the fiddles and flutes, one of the instruments you frequently see is a strange sort of bagpipes with a much softer, lighter sound. They are uilleann pipes.

A set of uilleann pipes

Maud actually briefly mentioned these in class as an “alternative” to bagpipes, and that characterization is pretty accurate. Uilleann pipes are a type of bagpipe that is powered by bellows pinned between the arm the hip. Uillean (roughly pronounced as “illin”) pipe players are unique because they can play in quieter settings, sitting down. A number of Irish traditional music bands use them because the sound has become distinctly Irish. The Chieftains are probably the most famous artists to use the uillean pipes, their pipe player Paddy Maloney is quite good.


You can hear it as part of a band here:

Pipe music in general is very important to Celtic cultural history and tradition. Most forms of bagpipes came from war pipes. Bagpipes are still used today within military contexts because of that history and the power they produce.  While I am a big fan of their sound, I can admit that the most common bagpipes played are unwieldy and very loud, so they don’t lend themselves to indoor playing or listening. Matt Molloy, the flute player for the Chieftains, owns a pub in Westport, Ireland. That’s the pub from the second link. I was there when a local bagpipe band began to play in the next room. A group of fifteen or so students from the music school came out to play. They were really cool to see, but the building was shaking and pictures were falling off the wall. Bagpipes are good for cutting through the cold March air on St. Paddy’s day, but not a great choice for musicians playing for pub audiences. Uilleann pipes don’t drown out every other sound and have become a unique Irish sound.

Pipe band at Molloy's. Note the guitarist in back trying his best.

Pipe band at Molloy’s. Note the guitarist in back trying his best.

The actual history of the uilleann pipes is pretty vague. They were first developed sometime within the late 17th century to the early 18th century, with the first mention of bellow-powered pipes coming as early as 1619. The Irish name, píobaí uilleann, translates to pipes of the elbow referring to the bellow system. They are a distinct instrument with a significantly softer sound that still maintained some of the character of highland pipes. Throughout their history, people also referred to them as Union pipes, in reference to the construction of the instrument, but the uilleann name stuck by the start of the 20th century. Interestingly enough, a large force that drove their original development were the English landowners precisely because of the ability to play indoors. English social customs and culture moved music and life indoors, so the uilleann pipes developed as a way to bring in traditional Irish culture. Most trad music bands nowadays have a set of uilleann pipes, in large part due to the Chieftains and other bands before them. They are also a fairly common sight on the streets of Galway, Cork, and other southern and western Irish towns. Some of the buskers even use them to play American folk music and pop music. Get Lucky sounds incredible on the pipes.

“Love and Stuff”: The Claddagh Ring

I have always struggled to conceptualize the ways in which identity transcends religion. As a Jewish-American woman, I have constantly rooted my sense of both self and community in religious practices and institutions, a relationship which has allowed me to not only maintain my own spirituality but also immerse myself in social, cultural, and historical spaces. Tradition for me has, then, inevitably become a matter of religious practice: though the majority of my friends from my hometown in Wayne, New Jersey identify as Irish Catholic, the tangible ways in which I’ve imagined their experiences have been linked to Catholicism. In attending their communions, visiting their homes on Easter and Christmas, and engaging in conversations about the Catholic Bible, I have seen the ways in which Catholicism has been a manifest presence, continually permeating their lives on a daily basis. Because of this, I envisioned identity—and, more specifically, cultural affiliation—as being devoid of ethnic and national ties.

That is, until one afternoon, when I was sitting and talking to my friend Nicole McCloskey and noticed a small, silver ring on her right hand. The ring featured a pink heart with a crown above it, and I was captured by the way in which the pink gem glittered in the bright light of the midafternoon sun. Yet, the more I stared, the more I noticed something unusual about how she was wearing it, leading to a pressing question which sifted within me until I finally reached the point of asking:

“Why are you wearing your ring upside down?”

“I’m not!” she laughed, fumbling with the silver band of the ring. “It’s a Claddagh ring, you know?”

“No. No, I don’t know.”

“Oh, well, I mean—I guess, like, it’s an Irish thing about love and stuff. So, like, I have a boyfriend, so it points towards me. But if you’re looking for a new beau, you have it the other way.”

“But couldn’t someone just… ask if you’re single?”

“I mean, yeah,” she replied. “But it’s tradition. Kind of like your hamsa.

My hand awkwardly reached toward the light blue hamsa strewn across my neck, the mystic symbol that had been passed down from generation-to-generation and openly screamed, “This girl is Jewish!” Suddenly aware that I had subconsciously conflated Irishness with Catholicism, I was shocked to learn that community could reach beyond religion, could trickle into a national or cultural identity; for me, my connection to Judaism so clearly marked me as Other that I struggled to envision the critical differences that distinguished people from various ethnic and national groups. Inspired by my newfound knowledge of the Claddagh ring, I discovered a desire to uncover its history, its cultural implications, its significance beyond just “love and stuff.”

Claddagh Ring (1)

This is what my friend Nicole’s Claddagh ring looked like. SOURCE: www.kriskate.com/claddagh-rings/1178-sterling-silver-pink-heart-cz-claddagh-ring.html%5B/caption%5D

Upon looking into its history, I learned that the Claddagh ring is a really unique part of Celtic tradition, imbued with symbolism and marked by an ongoing sense of connection to Irish culture. The ring gets its name from the village of Claddagh in Ireland, and legends vary as to its origins. One story, however, claims that:

“…a man named Richard Joyce, who was supposed to be married to his true love [created the ring]. According to the story, he was kidnapped by pirates and sold into slavery, where he worked for a goldsmith and learned to design jewelry. He created a ring with the Claddagh design, and when he eventually managed to escape slavery, he brought the ring back with him. His beloved had never married during his long absence, so he gave her the ring he’d made while in slavery, and they were married immediately” (Crandall).

Although this is not the only legend related to the Claddagh ring, it serves as a particularly useful and unique reminder regarding Celtic tradition. Though in class, we have been reading groups of poem that seem to emphasize the futile attempts of noble Irishmen in the face of struggle—that is, various figures continue to fight for their causes only to experience defeat—this story serves to mark success. In the face of slavery and hardship, Joyce recovers his demeanor, creates something effectual for the Irish people, and ultimately finds himself victorious in his return home. Thus, the different narrative that the story presents serves as a reminder that the underdog still has the potential to emerge the victor, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

The very structure of the Claddagh ring speaks directly to the symbolic meaning—that which my friend Nicole referred to as “love and stuff”—which the item itself actually displays. The ring is designed such that it contains two hands holding a heart topped by a crown. While sometimes, the ring is bejeweled like that of my friend Nicole, it can also simply be made of various precious metals, such as silver, gold, etc.

Essentially, the ring comes to symbolize that the wearer’s heart belongs to his/her/their “one true love” (Fantasy-Ireland). It is, perhaps, for that reason that each way the individual wears the ring signifies something different. According to the Celtic tradition:

Wearing one on your right hand with the heart facing away from you shows that you are looking for love, while wearing it with the heart facing toward you indicates that you are in a relationship. Wearing a Claddagh ring on your left hand with the heart facing away from you shows that you are engaged, while wearing it with the heart facing toward you indicates that you are married (Crandall).

It therefore makes sense that my friend Nicole had opted to wear the ring “upside down”—that is, toward her—on her right hand: she had a boyfriend and certainly would not have wanted people to think she was searching for love.


[caption id="attachment_970" align="aligncenter" width="300"]SOURCE: Google Images SOURCE: Google Images

Not only does the Claddagh ring emerge as a simple token of love—it also marks a sense of communal belonging, a heritage in which individuals of Irish descent take great pride. As I learned more about the Claddagh ring, I was able to reflect on the various ways in which cultures culminate, the complexity of identities which go beyond religious distinctions, and the essential nature of communal history and belonging. Though fairly cliché, I really did have an eye-opening experience wherein I saw myself in the other person and recognized that each of us maintains the traditions of our communities in order to preserve ourselves, whether Jewish, Catholic, or Irish. Effectively, then, I found in the Claddagh ring a site of material culture that allowed me to get closer to the poetry which we are reading, the Irish tradition on the whole, and my friend Nicole, as well.

Works Cited

Crandall, Maegan. “History of Claddagh Rings.” History of Claddagh Rings. Overstock. Web. 02 Feb. 2017.

“Claddagh History, Folklore, and Symbolism.” Fantasy Ireland. Fantasy Ireland, 2012. Web. 02 Feb. 2017.


Welcome to the Blog

Because this blog is supposed to allow you to indulge your interests (or obsessions) in a more freeform and creative way than academic papers permit, I don’t want to establish too many rules. Make it fun, make it pretty, that’s about it. Each week 4 people should post, according to the schedule below– if this schedule is inconvenient for you, then trade with someone. All posts should be up by the end of the day on Friday of that week, but here again, I see no need to make a hard deadline.

Posting when you’re supposed to is only part of your job; you should also take the time to respond to other people’s posts– not all of them, but whatever you find interesting or want to add to.

Like any good general, I will go first (this one doesn’t count).5a3b797d3df6f695babb188726affce0