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Saturday, September 24, 2005

Kiss me, I'm Irish

Today we went to the Highland Games, in the park by the theatre. I had no idea there were so many Scots in Alabama and the surrounding southern states.

We encountered pipes and drums, several different troupes of them, wandering the grounds, playing music. Under one tent, there was a traditional band of musicians playing together. Under another, there was a bakery from Tennessee selling scones and brown bread. A trailer advertised fish and chips, haggis, scones, and deep fried Mars bars. Deep fried Mars bars?? Sadly, I decided those were just too excessive (after last night's meal of debauchery at a wings bar), and I passed.

We watched the largest, most muscular men I'd ever seen wearing kilts toss a big burlap sack of hay over a high bar using a pitchfork. I think we missed the log toss, as well as finding the table for Tim's clan, the clan McKnab (from his mother's side).

They decided to close down the festivities early because the far reaches of Hurricane Rita built up storm clouds above us, and rain threatened, then spilled. The drum major for the games strutted to the center of the playing field, in his tartan, feathered hat, and epaulets, and cleared the way for the pipes and drums. There were about six different groups, and they all gathered for the closing song.

I was stuck on watching one group from Panama City, Florida, named Father Daughter Pipes and Drums. There may have been a son, too, a boy of 16 or 18 who banged and swirled his sticks on a big bass drum. The two daughters manned snare drums buckled to one thigh. Maybe high school aged, maybe a little younger, they both worn knee-high socks of thick wool, sturdy enough to accomodate a knife sheathed in one calf. Half baton twirlers, half drummers, their sticks twisted in their fingers and banged out the beat for all the pipers. Their faces fierce with concentration, fingers graceful, and bodies awkward with the weight of adolescence and heavy drums, they marched off the field to "Scotland the Brave."

My eyes prickled with tears. I am always moved by long-standing cultural traditions, and thought perhaps I could co-opt the country pride, seeing how I have a partially Scottish husband, and I'm partially Irish--which is really close enough anyway. (The trad band playing under a tent really sounded like everything I'd ever heard at Irish pubs in Galway anyway.)

Celebrating my heritage always makes me feel like I'm a part of something greater. Though nowadays I can only do it by listening to traditional music, eating corned beef and cabbage (or kielbasa and bread dumplings), that makes me feel connected again.


Blogger cilee said...

I wish I had more of a defined cultural background. I'm Irish but bout 7 other things as well.

I like that you have a place to go to feel connected.

2:10 AM  

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