Celtic Nations, And Beyond: Introduction to Celtic Americana

Today we have a special guest. We get a fresh perspective about Celtic music through the mind of Christi Broersma. A native of Michigan, her  life has been shaped by the music we all come to love. She just arrived from her trip to Ireland and this beautiful article says everything !

Celtic Nations, And Beyond: Introduction to Celtic Americana

by Christi Broersma

When it comes to Celtic music, I got hooked very early.  I learned to love the fiddle, tin whistle and pounding beat of the bodhran first because the love of that type of music that existed in my father’s Irish family.  But the music actually became a part of my life with the first Irish groups that graced the shores of America.

The very first taste I had of the Celtic music came with the Irish Rovers who graced us here in the States with their first album The First of the Irish Rovers.  I played this LP so much that I wore the record out!  With songs so easy to sing along with it was hard not to, and I memorized many of them.  With songs from “The Irish Rover,” to “Many Young Men of Twenty,” to the rollickingly “Donald Where’s Your Trousers” they offered a real taste of Celtic songs.

There were other groups to follow who had albums on the American folk scene at the time that caught my ear.  One such group was the Clancy Brothers.  Their second album, Come Fill Your Glass With Us is what gave me a first taste of the tunes that became the rage in my high school along with Peter Paul and Mary and others of the folk genre that was exploding on the scene in my little part of the Midwest.

From there I played anything I could find, which sadly wasn’t much until the Chieftains graced our local record stores with their very Irish instrumental sound.  Their first album in 1963 was titled The Chieftains, and what made their music really popular here were of course the traditional pieces they wrote for the movie, “Barry Lyndon,” with Ryan O’Neil.  Though the movie tanked the music really caught on in much of the folk loving music circles of the time.

From then on I haunted the stores for any albums of Irish music I could find.  I was of course still a folk music lover at heart, but found I had such a yearning for those ballads and especially the jigs and reels that became synonymous with the typical Celtic fare of the time.  You see, it wasn’t really considered Celtic music back in the 60s.  What we might know as Celtic music today actually came out of the early songs and music that we actually know as country music in the U.S.  Many of the Irish and Scotch immigrants settled in the South and especially in Kentucky and the Appalachians Mountains.  With their wagons, horses and household goods they brought their music to the world which became the bedrock for truly American form of music that grew and changed as these people integrated into American society.

A real history of my favorite music truly began with the early sounds of country and especially bluegrass music.  When the music re-hit our shores in the 60s there was a receptive Irish America community ready to welcome that old, and new music.  The East Coast and Chicago of course welcomed the music and the cultural traditions that were attached to the music such as step dancing and Irish instrument playing.  They did not want Irish-American youth to lose the feel and love for a home they never got to know.  What grew up to encourage the children and youth in the Irish communities opened the whole city to the music and the fun that has always been associated with the Celtic sound.

Often within the Irish American communities who taught and valued the music and those traditions of the old country there was a growing need to have a place to meet, celebrate and teach so as the communities grew many large American cities developed centers.  Irish Arts Center (begun in New York in 1972) or the Heritage Center (begun in Chicago in 1976) along with many small groups that grew and flourished in smaller cities all over the country.

Did the music flourish and grow here on American soil?  Oh, yes it did!  It grew and expanded through the songs and efforts of groups like The Dubliners, the Corrs, Clannad and so many more.  It took root and their music fostered the beginnings of an Irish/American sound that stepped out of the of the old tunes and into a pop/rock genre that has helped that Irish music sound develop into a world-wide music explosion.  From the Irish group U2 to Enya and back to the traditional roots there has been a reawakening of the Celtic sound in groups like the Elders out of Kansas City, and Cherish the Ladies (a New York Irish band) as well as an off shoot of that group called Girsa that honors the traditional music and gives it their own American flavor at the same time.

The great result here has been a true explosion of Celtic music that has grown to include the music of the Celtic nations, and beyond.  From Canada to Japan, Poland and Russia there are fans and groups that cherish the Celtic sound and are helping grow the music beyond the borders of the traditional jigs, reels, and ballads.  And yet, the music always seems to find it’s way back to the soil and the sound from where it came with a resurgence of those old familiar tunes.   The sound that is so Celtic has become a sensation I still love to follow.  From the pub songs, jigs, reels, to those songs of rebellion the music has grown to stand as great music all over the world, now.  After my visit to the auld sod I am more excited about the music than ever.  The pub where ever I went had the music both old and new that expressed the pains and joys of life so well.

The Irish and all the Celts know how it is to sorrow together, but also they’re the best by far at simply celebrating life in song!

The harp, which serves as the Guinness emblem, is based on a famous 14th century Irish harp known as the “O’Neill” or “Brian Boru” harp, which is now found in the Library of Trinity College in Dublin. The harp  itself has been synonymous with Guinness since 1862.

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