Monday, July 21, 2014

Belfast's Ironic Highland Fling

Photo: The hammer toss. The day's record was about 100 foot.

Aimee planned a third day out, or should I say "oot",  for her mom and aunt.

Yesterday's excursion was to the Belfast (Maine) Celtic Festival, a small local jamboree that is a sort of cross between an actual Scottish Highland Games, an English village fete, and a small Celtic folk music festival.

I was happy enough to be there, but I didn't get any homesick goosebumps. I long ago got over my romantic associations with the various Celtic homelands.

And, I'm afraid, were I back in Scotland, I wouldn't be voting for independence this fall.

Celtic identity, as currently construed by the mainstream of advocates in the British Isles (emphasis intended), is, I'm afraid, a bit of a biological, cultural, historical and political fraud. It took me about thirty years to admit this to myself. But it's true.

It was a dangerous fraud in the days of the Battle of the Boyne or the '45 rebellion.

More recently, in the case of the IRA and PIRA and RIRA terror attacks, it's been an horrific and wasteful fraud.

If you're a biological scientist and have any familiarity with the subject, you do eventually begin to wonder how many of the vengeful perpetrators of such things as kneecappings and car-bombings have good old, ironic Anglo-Saxon or Anglo-Norse Y-chromosomes.

Most, if the latest science is anything to go by. Idiots. Murderous idiots, at that.

The genomes and cultures of the British Isles are all mixed up and have been for hundreds of generations. The entire archipelago shares one large messy culture that these days owes about as much to Darjeeling or Gujarat as it does to La Tène.

If it ever did owe anything to La Tène.

We should fess up and admit that most of the more strident Celtic advocates don't even know what they're supposed to owe in the way of homage to cultural "hearths" like La Tène.

Ignorance breeds stridency.

Being a good loyal grandson of a fine full-sailed Welsh grandmother, with what presumably must be a pretty standard full-on Welsh mitochondrial genome, as well as being a minor-but-published historian of the Highlands and Islands, you'd think I'd have more sympathy, but I've read way too much Celtic history.

There's always been a fine line between nationalism and fascism. I'm a better fan of Orwell than Yeates.

This intellectualizing still only goes so far with me, though. I do have some more mixed feelings, and did walk around the fest with some cultural antennae out, especially when I encountered an exhibit or person that obviously was more completely in possession of the historical and cultural facts.

I was pleased to see, for instance, that the organizers did recognize one or two of the English Celtic homelands, Cornwall and Man in particular, as well as the French Celtic remnant of Brittany. They left Cumbria and the Borders out completely, though, and for some strange reason also omitted New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. But I was pleased for the Manx and the Kernow.

Come to think of it, there are probably more bona fide Celts in Southie, aren't there? Why isn't that an official Celtic homeland, for the purposes of the festival? It's clearly the closest one. That or St. Andrews, NB.

One bagpipe maker I talked to did know something about Northumbrian pipes. But he didn't make them or sell them. I also got a kick out of seeing a very well-armed reenactor couple, the male of the species in a Victorian kilt, carrying a Star Wars-themed broadsword replica and a more modest dirk, with not one but two yap dogs, total mass of couple and accoutrements about 600 pounds.

And I also had some moderately authentic fish and chips, and bought a new D-whistle that has a decent sound. My old one was getting battered.

And all these Americans trying to be Celtic were kind of cute, if you could just get over yourself, Womersley.

Here's what for me was the best view of the festival, that from the beer tent, where, in homage to our fine joint Anglo-Irish military history, I drank an actual, and nicely ironic, Black-and-Tan, to the sound of a Nova Scotian band that, surprise of surprises, covered an actual Dougie MacLean song.

So someone knew something about modern, updated Celtic identity.

Here's the Weight for Height in full throw. The winner made about 16 feet.

And here's the teenage men's cheese roll.

Cheese-rolling, for the record, is English. Full on English, actually, from Dorset. But I guess the organizers don't mind.

No fell or guide's races, though. That, I could get nostalgic for.

But then, there's no fells in Belfast, Maine.

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