It's St. Patrick's Day, the day on which everyone can claim to be Irish. I, like millions of other Americans, do have some Irish blood in my veins, watered down a bit, I'm sure. My maternal grandmother was an Eskew, which was Askew only a generation before her. This family came from Ireland in the 1740s, I think. I have the straight razor that came over on the boat with that first Askew long ago. I also have some Scottish blood, along with who knows what else. Sometime between the arrival of my ancestors in the New World and my childhood, interest in our family's heritage went dormant. When I was a teenager that interest was awakened by a 4-H agent who treasured her own heritage and that of the mountain people of Appalachia.
Jane T. George and her husband, Frank, came to Monroe County some 35 years ago and stirred up the sleeping Celtic gene in a lot of us kids. It started with a folk dance team that progressed from simple square dances to English Contra, Scottish Country, and Irish set dances. There were also individual Scottish and Irish dances, along with traditional clogging, that built self-confidence along with pride in our heritage. Some of us went on to develop musical abilities by learning to play and sing Celtic music, even making recordings that were mildly popular among other Celtic enthusiasts. Into our 50s now, some of us "kids" are still reveling in the many layers of fun, beauty, and mystery that make up the world of Celtic music and dance.
Why, do you suppose, in the mid-1970s did a bunch of typical teenagers in a small West Virginia community become hooked on something our friends considered old-fashioned and definitely uncool? Why did that first immersion into the Celtic world end up lasting into middle age and probably beyond? How has it survived in our busy lives, among jobs, families, and all those other adult responsibilites? Perhaps the answer lies in a quatrain written by former West Virginia poet laureate Louise McNeill in her book Gauley Mountain: A History in Verse.
I call no muse, for the sandaled foot
Should never tread where the brogan lumbers.
I have gulled the pith from a sumac limb
To play a tune that my blood remembers.
A tune that my blood remembers. Perhaps that explains why, after generations of family who paid little, if any, attention to their heritage, the wail of Highland bagpipes can bring tears to my eyes. Or why the driving beat of an Irish reel can make me giddy with joy, and my feet can't keep still. Or why the haunting melodies of Uillean pipes (think Titanic movie) make me long so deeply for something that I can never put my finger on. And it probably explains why, among all the genres of wonderful music so easily available today, I still choose to spend my money and time on Celtic music. A tune that my blood remembers. What generations of ancestors have long forgotten, my blood remembers. And I'm so glad it does!
Oh, and a Happy St. Paddy's day to you, too!