>For those living away from their suspected land of
>origin), at what point did you realise / suspect /
>hope (which one?) you were of 'Celtic' origin ?
>Did your parents / grandparents have the same
>feelings - i.e. is it part of
>your family traditions that this is your heritage
> (I'm really interested in at what point / generation
this ancestry became important / re/emphasised)?
I was brought up in an area of Ontario where Gaelic
culture is still very much a living tradition. Knowing
your ancestry, being connected to your ancestors and
remembering your ancestors and ancestry is an integral
part of the culture.
Sc. Gaeilge is still spoken in the area we originally
settled (Lanark Ont) and was taught as a second
language in the shcools there when I was a girl.
Another area where the language is still spoken is up
around Meaford on the Bruce Peninsula where we had a
And most recently, an Irish Gaeltacht has been
established near Kingston Ont, which is formally
recognized by the Irish Rep. as the first such
Gaeltacht outside the country.
So for myself, the culture was transmitted to me from
birth. We married within our own up until my Mother's
generation, and continue to observe traditional naming
patterns. As part of our narrative, we remember what
brought us to this country.
In my family marrying outside the culture has proved
disastrous, mostly I think because the "others" dont
have the same way of thinking and behaving as we do.
We were taught "stick to your own" and maybe with good
For instance, after my father died, my mother married
an ex-Old Order Mennonite, which was disastrous. They
were a dour and sour bunch; life was all work, and no
play, and they definately lacked our free
spiritedness. It was a miserable time. It was
definately a clash of cultures.
I married into a Métis family (French Canadian and
Native) and couldnt understand thier way of thinking,
even though they too are technically Celts. There were
huge cultural gaps in the way we thought and reasoned,
as well as in our cultural customs. An equally
I divorced when my boys were 6 and 4 and remarried a
Scot Diasporan descendant, whose family is linked to
my own. This definately works better, although there
are some differences as he is a westerner, and I am an
easterner; some differences are apparent in light of
those two cultural frames-but because of the common
Gaelic background, these are not problematic as we are
more alike culturally than not.
Oddly enough, our families lived close to one another
in Scotland, came to Canada within a few years of each
other, both settled in Lanark, his moved on up to
Meaford and then to Alberta while mine remained in
Ont. It struck me funny that after 7 generations and
him being halfway across the country, that we would
meet in Alberta and marry. Kind of an odd
Our Gaelicness was part of our family and cultural
narrative. We also have quite a paper trail, and a
very strong oral family tradition which subsequent
research has upheld. Part of my family came from
Scotland, but they were Highlanders and Islanders, so
in thier background were more Irish than anything.
When they came to Canada, they married into Irish, so
we ended up being more Irish than Scottish.
>What cultural attributes define this identity?
We kept many of our customs alive, having
ciabharaigh's (shivarees) when a couple married, ( a
Munster custom) wakes when someone died (we waked my
Mother for three nights and had traditional music at
her funeral ceremony) (wakes are Irish Catholic
custom) and many céilidhs, called kitchen parties.
My uncle played the pipes and wore a kilt; Mom played
piano and fiddle and everyone played the spoons; my
cousin and I took Irish dance- she was multi Eastern
provincial champion. At the céilidhs we danced jigs,
reels, step dancing and schottises. The music, is very
similar to what is called east coast music. We call it
down home music when we hear it played out here in
Alberta. Some of what is being passed off today as
Celtic music, is just bad Celtic music, and fails to
observe some of the traditional aspects of the genre.
It makes me cringe to hear it and I find I cant bear
listening to poor facsimile's of it.
We speak an anglicized Irish dialect, with many words
and phrases bastardized from the original language and
with some distinct Irish syntax and inflectional
features, most noticeable when I lose my temper or get
excited. My children have the same speech patterns.
These speech patterns must be inherited as when I
began learning an Ulster dialect I often confounded my
teacher by (as he put it) speaking Munster. I never
noticed the anglo-Irish dialect until I came out here,
as they dont speak it here, and I often had to explain
what the words I was saying meant. But, I have no
trouble understanding east coast dialects and
Newfanese, or even Broad Scots. These are all very
similar in some ways to the langauge I grew up with.
My Grandmother quoted wisdom sayings, which as it
turns out, were word for word english translations of
some of the Irish triads and she often spoken in an
odd mixture of English, anglicized Irish and Irish all
in the same sentence. Made no difference, we
understood it perfectly! But my mother went to great
lengths to ensure we learned to speak "The Queen's
English" so we wouldnt come off sounding uneducated.
We ate alot of traditional food which I still cook.
The way we think is different than mainstream culture.
I would have to say that the norms and values I was
raised with are for the most part distinctly Gaelic,
and these are the important intangibles of the
-the offering or denial of hospitality- and such
nuances right down to who answers the door when guests
arrive. To be kept at the door and not invited in, is
a distinct insult. Who answers the door in terms of
family seniority also indicates honor or insult. When
I was girl we would not turn a stranger away, as it
could bring bad luck- and we took pains at Christmas
to have a stranger among us.
- education is very important and highly valued. Most
in my family are professionals.
-having a quick wit
-having a good ankle and light foot, meaning being a
-honesty and truthfulness are quite important- being
called a liar is the biggest of insults and grounds
for justified bloodshed. Even though we dont like
violence, there are times when it is appropriate and
no one will gainsay it when it is justified. Minor
bloodshed of some sort at gatherings esp weddings and
funerals makes for a good time- its almost as if its
not a really good gathering unless there is a go round
of some sort. Afterwards the whiskey comes out and
the two parties have a drink and its all good again.
But for great wrongs, grudges can be held a long time,
across generations. This sometimes leads to feuds. In
my family there have been splits caused which have
remained so over generations.
-being able to hold ones drink is valued, but being a
slave to the drink is looked down upon, and pitied.
-being a criminal is a huge disgrace- upholding the
law is quite important, although we have a funny sense
of justice, and sometimes our way of justice has
nothing to do with the courts. Going to the courts is
to be avoided whenver possible.
-blood is thicker than water, and there remains a
certain clannishness. We back each other up; grudges
are held, sometimes for generations, and feuds are
still common often causing permanent splits and
frictions between parties.
- Gossip is never indulged in. We keep our own
counsel and bite our tongues if necessary.
-Being gracious and rising above- one doesnt have to
feed the poison. Behaving badly lowers you to your
-keeping your word. We were taught to mind what came
out of our mouths and not to speak carelessly, nor to
give our word lightly. Once given, one's word must be
kept no matter what. I remember business deals still
being made when I was a girl on no more than a man's
word and a handshake. We also mind our words with
strangers and dont give too much information.
Strangers/outsiders arent really trusted and to take
the part of an outsider against that of the family is
a great faux pas.
-duty to parents and obligation to family. Up until my
own generation our elders did not go into nursing
care. We cared for them ourselves, in our homes. In
most cases, the elderly parent/s went to live with the
eldest daughter and her family.
-Exile from family was still practiced when I was
young and ostracization from family and kin was/is the
worst thing that can happen to you.
- we remained quite superstitious, reading omens, and
taking certain actions to uncross things when the
omens were bad;; we did not tamper with the hawthorn
tree that obstructed the field access because
hawthorns usually are the abode of fey.
As well, second sight is quite an accepted thing, and
we believe it runs in family bloodlines, and certainly
not everyone has it as New Age purports. To us, that
idea is just plain silly. Seeing spirits is quite a
normal thing, and we accept the existence of a world
of spirit which intersects and is juxtapositioned with
our material world. While my family does not have a
banshee, we do have a fetch so we always know at a
distance, when one of us is passing. Dreams of a
certain kind are also important and taken seriously.
>What aspects of material culture (including dress) do
you associate with /epitomises your identity
I was raised within the Gaelic Canadian Diasporan
culture, its easier for me to identify what is
foreign to that than what is not.
We continue to attend many Highland Games during the
summer months, and my children and nephew by marriage
have competed. I too hold a few records. We also
attend other cultural events.
My husband wears a kilt in his family colours and I
made my oldest boy his first kilt. I will make a kilt
for my youngest when he turns 21. I am making an
Argyll jacket for my husband, and a Prince Charlie for
my son as well as knitting kilt hose at present.
I have also made baby blankets for family members in
Aran patterns recently associated with various family
names in my bloodline.
I am now in my fourth year of Irish language studies
and taking Irish dance. As well, I like to read the
myths of Irish culture and am invited every year to a
local spring festival to give an Irish tale.
We listen to down home music and songs sung in
Gaelic. We play our music when we have host céilidhs
in our home; as well we still play euchre, although
teaching my western husband has had its frustrating
moments. I also sang traditional lullabies to my
children when they were w'ains- some in english, some
in Irish and I look forward to doing the same with
grandchildren when they come-and passing on the
culture so they will always know who they are and
where they come from.
In considering the answers to these questions I also
just realized that most of my friends are Gaelic
descent, and we understand one another.
My house is decorated with antiques including books,
documents and paintings, kept in my family for
generations, and I have used different family tartans
in different rooms. Knotwork also is prominent. A
couple of my most precious possessions besides the
cookbooks is a 17th century ring made in Scotland, a
sugar spoon from there and three pieces of monogrammed
silver from the Irish side which I am having made into
rings. I also like to wear tartan, and knotwork
The immigrant family's home is now part of the display
at Upper Canada Village. I visited it last summer, and
actually went to the original land and cemetaries in
the area where the immigrant ancestors were buried. It
was quite an emotional journey which has taken some
time to process. We also recently located a branch of
the family in Australia which has been lost for almost
When I remarried, we decorated the hall with clan
crests; used clan plants for boutonieres, corsages and
centrepieces; had a bodhran player and piper, as well
as Highland dancer and Irish dancers. Instead of
toasts we had a seanachie give the tale of our
courtship in traditional style. We used a quaiche for
toasting, and a dirk for cutting the cake, which was
made from an 200 yr old family recipe. We joined hands
through a holey/Holy stone to say our vows, and
recited our genealogies as part of that. I was not
given away, but consented to union as a free
unencumbered woman and we married as equals in life
companionship, not as man and wife, we used the terms
bean cheile and fear cheile instead.
As my eldest son was away in Ontario sitting death
vigil at his Grandfather's bedside, my youngest gave
the welcome to the groom, his family and guests and
spoke for my family at the vows. We observed the three
exchanges- my brideprice was 53 cows with calf at
side, and we symbolized this with cow figurines of all
sorts...ending up with 153 of them which we used as
place markers for our guests, and asked them to take
them home with them as a symbolic gesture of the
sharing of wealth. When my family accepted the
brideprice, my husband was given a gift. We exchanged
plaids, his on my shoulder, mine on his shoulder as
well, and of course the rings, which were custom made,
in knot work and set with topaz from Scotland. We also
had traditional music instead of popular music. And of
course I still cook the food I grew up eating.
Can anybody sum-up what 'being Celtic' means to them;
We dont consider ourselves Celtic. We are Gaelic
Canadian diaspora descendants is how we think of it.
While we are certainly Canadian by default through
birth, we are first, Gaelic, and within that, more
Irish than Scottish, although there is a real mix of
the two nationalities in how my family expresses its
culture materially and intangibly.
To us, Scottish and Irish are nationalities...Gaelic
is the culture, and that is what we are. "Celtic" is a
word and concept we have never applied to ourselves. I
personally avoid it as it smacks of rampant
commercialism and often passing itself off as bona
fide culture which is usually a poor imitation at
If I had to pick one trait that epitomizes the spirit
of the Gaelic ppl, I would have to say...tough.
These people were tough. But they were tough in that
they were hardy, determined, persistent often in the
face of great opposition and odds. When they came
here, failure was not an option, and neither was going
back to the old country. You had to survive and make
do. Teh other option, death, was certainly far less
attractive. It was that simple. I see that same
quality in my own family when faced with adversity.
There's no feeling sorry for oneself, its just a
matter of getting down to whatever needs to be done
and bucking up. There is a quiet courage and
determination about them. And excellence. No matter
what they did, right or wrong, they did it in an
excellent manner. You have to give them that much.
Sorry this is so long. I have drafted and re-drafted
since last week. This is the best I can come up with.
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