Looking Back at the Celts

There are a lot of people who are interested in the Celts and all things Celtic. I certainly count myself as one of those. Some others especially those among the academics find the idea of a Celtic people as ridiculous or probably more to the point they think of people who believe that there is such and want to know more about such a heritage as unsophisticated rabble.

Perhaps that makes me a rabble-rouser. I don’t really see a problem with a popular cultural celticness. Perhaps that is one of the problems that academics have with us enjoying the past without the educational background, we fall prey to the geewizzification of the Celts. Though it is strange that they would have a problem with it, as they don’t believe in Celts at all.

I feel like their objections are a bit foolish. Of course the indo-european people we are talking about didn’t think of themselves as “Celts.” But looking back it seems to me that there was an aesthetic, a way of life, and a people group that it is valid to call by a name, Celts, Gauls, whatever.

Obviously we have to look back in time to see Celts. I’m Irish, or rather Irish-American, from the home of the insular Celts, but it is only in hindsight that we see the ornaments that they wore and the life that they lived had parallels on the continent.

I think my own experience bears on this. I was born in Spokane Washington. I really didn’t think of myself as Celtic, or my background as Irish until long after my formative years. The truth is I was Western if anything. My grandfather admired cowboys. My parents were just plain American. We as a family had no tradition that owed itself to Ireland or any nation but the USA and then we moved to Canada where I learned hockey. (Well, imagine my surprise long after when I poked around the roots of it and found Scot’s Shinty, and Irish Hurling, and what does Lacrosse owe its similarity to? All interesting explorations beyond the bounds of this post.)

And then we moved to North Dakota where I first encountered a culture that owed itself to a nation of origin. I graduated high-school in a Norwegian community. UffDa! Still it was in North Dakota that I got the first inkling of what might truly run in my blood despite all the cultural overlays I experienced growing up. I knew persecution, I was stubborn. Try being a Cowboy fan in Viking’s land…  …among actual Vikings. Interesting, no? An unaccountable aversion to Vikings.

Strangest of all was my first encounter with bagpipes. Our high school only had 35 people in my graduating class, but it had a radio station owing to the enterprise and many talents of our industrial engineering/shop teacher. On a “Wings Greatest Hits” album was the track “Mull of Kintyre.” The haunting skirl of the pipes spoke to me, it brought tears, and I played that song every day after that. Fortunately nobody listened or I’m sure there would have been culturally oriented complaints.

And that was it. I graduated, my family moved to Montana, and to Oregon. I didn’t subscribe to any bagpiping magazines or even buy the album. So much for my blood.

So the bagpipes blindsided me not so long after that. I was going to Community College in Oregon after the army and what should I hear but pipes on the wind. I wasn’t looking for the highland games, the highland games found me. I found a necktie with my maternal grandmothers tartan on it and off we went.

And off we go. I didn’t know I was a Celt. Nobody told me so. But I ran into it and it called to me, like the song in the radio studio unheeded, and then that day when pipes on the wind carried me away.

So, let stuffy academics scoff, I believe in Celts. I feel I am one.

LSO