December 28, 2011

New England as One of the 'Nine Nations' of North America




When I was around 12-years-old, my aunts and uncles thought it'd be fun to take us cousins down to North Carolina, where one of our long-lost relatives had a "beach house" on the coast. As it turned out, that house wasn't exactly on the coast, but was instead on a man-made channel, which the locals referred to as "the ditch."

On the first day of chatting with our neighbors on the ditch, it became clear that we had entered an entirely different world. Our spitfire Boston accents resonated in stark contrast to their laid-back Southern drawls, while our get-up-and-go!-go!-go! approach to the day's events were clearly at odds with their let's-sit-back-and-stay-awhile mentality. After just minutes of conversation, these obvious linguistic and cultural differences prompted one of our North Carolina neighbors to inquire facetiously, "Are y'all from northern North Carolina?"

That trip marked the first time that I would witness, first-hand, the concept of there being different cultural regions, or nations, within the confines of the United States. In 1981, Joel Garreau of the Washington Post divided not only the United States, but all of North America into nine cultural nations. Garreau's divisions were based on social and economic data that he gathered during two years of traveling across the continent.

You can see the nine nations on the map above, as well as on the map below:



One of the first things you might notice about New England as a cultural nation is that it extends beyond the United States. In addition to Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine, Garreau's New England includes the Canadian areas of Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador. The reason for their inclusion stems from the fact that these are coastal, predominantly Anglophone (English-speaking) areas of Canada, which share more cultural traits with their Anglophone, American neighbors to the south than they do with their Francophone (French-speaking), Quebecois neighbors to the west.

Here are some of the cultural traits, which, according to Garreau, are characteristic of the New England nation (bear in mind that these are from 1981):

  • New Englanders consider themselves to be more civilized than people from other areas 

  • New Englanders consider themselves to be academic elitists

  • New Englanders have strong, independent characters and are known for their "shrewd trading" and ingenuity

  • New England's cultural imagery includes cast-iron wood stoves, multicolored autumn leaves and maple syrup

  • New England's scenery and surroundings (woodlands, waters) are its primary social and economic assets

  • The dominant industries are leather, apparel and textiles. However, "New England is rapidly transforming itself into North America's first truly twenty-first-century, postindustrial society, and, as such, it is again a land of pioneers." High technology = the future of the New England economy.


 What do you think of Garreau's assessment? Leave a comment below.


Resources:

Marvin Harris and Cultural Materialism: Robert N. St. Clair, University of Louisville
http://epistemic-forms.com/FacSite/Articles/marvin-harris-culture-material.html

Harper College: Nine Nations of North America
http://harpercollege.edu/~mhealy/g101ilec/namer/nac/nacnine/na9new/na9newfr.htm

December 22, 2011

The Puritan War on Christmas in New England: A Timeline



1620

The Pilgrims come to New England, riding a wave of uber-orthodox religious fervor. Christmas is not a recognized holiday. Instead of getting their jollies on with some hearty cups of eggnog (like Captain John Smith's heathens did down in Jamestown back in 1607), the Pilgrims spend December 25th building shelter. Oh, what fun!

1621

Governor Bradford recognizes that some of his Plymouth settlers, specifically those who are sympathetic towards the Church of England (later known as the Episcopal Church), want some time off on December 25th so that they can worship at home. But when the governor discovers these same settlers playing games out in the street on Christmas Day (instead of devoting their attention to the divine), everyone is ordered back to work.

1659

The General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony officially bans the celebration of Christmas. The Court also places bans on other holidays, gambling and essentially all forms of merrymaking. According to Court records, anyone who is caught "observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way" must pay a fine of five shillings to the county "for every such offence [offense]." 


1681

A glimmer of hope! After two decades of Grinch-like rule, the English-appointed governor, Sir Edmund Andros, lifts the ban on Christmas. However, despite Christmas regaining its legality, the Puritan spirit prevails and the majority of New Englanders continue to abstain from Yuletide celebrations.

1712

Reverend Cotton Mather (son of Reverend Increase Mather, who was involved in the Salem Witch Trials) condemns the "wanton Bacchanalian" that is Christmas. According to Mather, Christmas is "dominated by a lord of misrule, who did not hesitate to invade the churches in a time of service..." Despite this condemnation, New England's Church of England/Episcopal Church congregations openly celebrate the December holiday. A few New Englanders from other congregations participate in the Christmas festivities, but the puritanical Congregationalists continue on with their abstention.

1823

In Connecticut, Hartford's Brick Meeting House, which also serves as the city's First Congregational Church, holds its inaugural Christmas service. The Hartford Courant endorses this progressive move, citing, "It has been the wish of many pious people among those whose form of worship differs from the Episcopal Church that the day which gave birth to the Saviour of the world should be generally commemorated by appropriate religious services." Throughout the 1820s and 1830s, Christmas celebrations become more widely accepted across New England. 

1832

German immigrant and Harvard professor, Charles Follen, introduces the tradition of the decorated Christmas tree to New England during a party at his Cambridge home. However, instead of setting up an evergreen tree on the floor in the corner of a room, Follen set up his tree on the dining table.

1870

Christmas is declared a federal holiday on June 26th; the Puritan war on Christmas in New England is officially over.

Source materials: 
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December 20, 2011

5 Reasons Why 'Fairytale of New York' Is the Greatest Christmas Song Ever


If you've never heard "Fairytale of New York" by The Pogues (featuring Kirsty MacColl), stop what you're doing, grab yourself an eggnog, a hot toddy or an equally heartwarming beverage and prepare your ears for some Yuletide euphoria.

Released in 1987, and written by Pogues' founders Shane MacGowan and Jem Finer, "Fairytale of New York" is a sweeping ballad that follows the drunken Christmas Eve exploits of an Irish emigrant in New York City. As IrishCentral recently reported, the song is the "most played Christmas classic of the century."

So what is it about "Fairytale of New York" -- a song that National University of Ireland lecturer, Joe Cleary, once referred to as "a twisted love song" -- that makes it so popular? Here's what I've come up with: 

5. Unorthodox Narrative 

How many Christmas songs begin with the song's protagonist languishing away in a police station's drunk tank? Answer: none (although, that could change if I move forward with writing the much anticipated, "Fairytale of Boston"). In contrast to your typical Christmas songs, "Fairytale of New York" does not focus on the merrymaking of jovial characters, like Frosty, Santa or the mommy that kisses Santa. Instead, it focuses on two young people -- with a love/hate relationship -- who are struggling with alcoholism and drug addiction. Merry Christmas!

4. Underlying Social Significance

In addition to having an unorthodox narrative, the backstory to "Fairytale of New York" is unusual for a Christmas song. While one might argue that "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" is a vehicle for promoting racial equality, the message becomes a bit convoluted by the flying reindeer and nasal luminescence. In comparison, "Fairytale of New York" has very clear social undertones, as the two bickering lovers in the song are undoubtedly Irish emigrants, who are bewildered by the "cars big as bars." As the song progresses, we learn about the realities of Irish emigration and how fairytale lives are not always possible (even in a city with "rivers of gold").


3. Duet Dynamics 

Think of a popular Christmas song that is almost always performed as a duet. Exactly, "Baby, It's Cold Outside." Good job! Now, think of another one.

Apart from the 1944 Frank Loesser classic (mentioned above), "Fairytale of New York" is really the only Christmas song that unambiguously requires male and female  -- or low and high -- parts. The call-and-response portions of the song, when the two characters exchange blows, are especially entertaining. And in the original recording of "Fairytale of New York," the way MacGowan's crude, pagan voice contrasts with MacColl's sweet, angelic voice has a certain enchanting quality to it.

2. Memorable References

If you're going to write a song that references other songs, as well as a famous person, follow MacGowan's and Finer's lead: reference awesome, classic songs and an awesome, classic famous person. "Fairytale of New York" mentions two, well-known traditional Irish songs in the following lines: "And then he sang a song / 'The Rare Old Mountain Dew'" and "The boys of the NYPD choir /
Were singing 'Galway Bay'." By referencing these two classics, MacGowan and Finer illuminate the Irish roots of the characters, despite the fact that the all of the action takes place in New York. Conversely, to emphasize the New York setting, the songwriters' mention Frank in the memorable line, "Sinatra was swinging / All the drunks they were singing."

1. Offensive Language

Let's face it: Christmas songs suffer from a deplorable lack of profanity. MacGowan and Finer did their best to change that.

The first time you listen to "Fairytale of New York," you're swaying, you're getting in that Christmas spirit, you're feeling jolly and then all of a sudden you stop and think to yourself, "Wait, did he really just call her that?" And then soon after you think, "Holy crap, did she really just call him that?!?" Of course, the answer to both of these questions is "Yes." The lyrics are here for you to read. But before you label The Pogues a bunch of intolerant bigots, remember that the "F" word in question apparently has a different meaning in Irish/Liverpudlian slang: it refers to a lazy person.

Controversy aside, offensive language is a part of everyday life, both in New York and elsewhere. MacGowan and Finer use this language to bring a sense of realism to a genre of music that is typically overrun with whimsical, fairytale-like prose.

"Fairytale of New York" Chords and Lyrics 

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December 19, 2011

A Wicked Bard Review of 'A Christmas Celtic Sojourn' in Boston

Melissa McCarthy performing a slip jig at A Christmas Celtic Sojourn (image courtesy of The Irish Echo)
Prior to attending A Christmas Celtic Sojourn with Brian O'Donovan at the Cutler Majestic Theatre this past weekend, my aunt warned me that I would need to "drink heavily" if I were to enjoy the show. This was my dad's sister, on the Irish side of my family.

A few years back, my mother had gathered up the Devaney clan -- my aunt included -- and gleefully brought them to the Culter Majestic for A Christmas Celtic Sojourn. She was fully convinced that my father's siblings, all spirited Irish Americans, would thoroughly enjoy the festive display of traditional Irish music, dance and storytelling. Boy, was she wrong.

Apart from my father, who has a penchant for Celtic culture (Druidism is his current religion of choice), my mother, who is half Swedish and half Italian, was the only one who truly enjoyed the show. The others found it uneventful and boring.

I think the issue here is that a A Christmas Celtic Sojourn is not a Christmas spectacular: there is no flying Santa Claus, no pyrotechnics and while there are plenty of high kicks with the Irish step dancing, there is not chorus line of Rockettes. Furthermore, if you think Celtic music is all about no nay never no mores (The Wild Rover) and mush-a ring dum-a do dum-a das (Whiskey in the Jar), A Christmas Celtic Sojourn may disappoint. There are lots of instrumentals, a handful of slow airs and several traditional Irish Christmas carols that the average New Englander might not be familiar with.

Personally, I enjoyed the show immensely. And I think part of the reason for my enjoyment was due to the fact that I could recognize A Christmas Celtic Sojourn for what it was: a gathering of incredibly, incredibly talented performers who are passionate about what they do.

Hammer dulcimer virtuoso, Simon Chrisman





There was Kieren O'Hare, who has inspired me to invest in a set of uilleann pipes (much to the dismay of my girlfriend and -- more-than-likely -- my neighbors). There was Simon Chrisman, who pushed the limits of what one can accomplish with the hammer dulcimer (which is an instrument that you've likely heard before even if you've never heard of it before). There was Rhode Islander Kevin Doyle, the US Irish dance champion who seemed to defy gravity with his steps. And, of course, there were the young step dancing sensations from the Harney Academy of Irish Dancing who brought ear-to-ear smiles to the faces of audience members.

Apart from the show's host, master storyteller Brian O'Donovan, the star of A Christmas Celtic Sojourn was undoubtedly singer/songwriter Ruth Moody of Wailin' Jennys fame. There's nothing I can write that can do her talent justice. Just listen to her voice (and her original songs). If I were to make one preachy, over-the-top statement about the state of music in America, it would be as follows: we need fewer image-obsessed, overly theatrical, overproduced showboats, like Lady Gaga, and more artists, like Ruth Moody, who let their raw talent and passion do the talking for them.

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December 14, 2011

Top 10 Quotes About New England: The Land of 'Ironic Pessimism'



In no particular order...


"What New England is, is a state of mind, a place where dry humor and perpetual disappointment blend to produce an ironic pessimism that folks from away find most perplexing." 
- Willem Lange

"To the rest of the country, New England has always stood in much the same relation as England has to America -- that of spiritual homeland and mother country."
- B.A. Botkin

"New England is quite as large a lump of earth as my heart can really take in."

- Nathaniel Hawthorne

"The New England conscience does not stop you from doing what you shouldn't -- it just stops you from enjoying it." 
- Cleveland Amory

"The most serious charge which can be brought against New England is not Puritanism but February."
- Joseph Wood Krutch

"New England has a harsh climate, a barren soil, a rough and stormy coast, and yet we love it, even with a love passing that of dwellers in more favored regions."
    - Henry Cabot Lodge

"There is no pleasing New Englanders, my dear, their soil is all rocks and their hearts are bloodless absolutes."
- John Updike

“If you don't like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.”
- Mark Twain

“Oh, the ignorance of us upon whom Providence did not sufficiently smile to permit us to be born in New England”
- Horace Porter

"I moved to New England partly because it has a real literary past. The ghosts of Hawthorne and Melville still sit on those green hills. The worship of Mammon is also somewhat lessened there by the spirit of irony. I don't get hay fever in New England either."
- John Updike

Sources:

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December 9, 2011

Boston Irish by the Numbers: Some Insight into the Early Days of the Irish in Boston

In 1847, the first big wave of Irish emigrants escaping the Irish Famine (also known as the Great Famine, the Great Potato Famine and An Gorta Mor) made their way to Boston.

During this year, 37,000 Irish landed in the Hub.

Prior to the arrival of these Irish immigrants, Boston was a primarily Anglo-Saxon community with approximately 115,000 residents.

Many of these residents were descendants of English Puritans and could trace their lineage back to 1620, when the Mayflower landed in Plymouth.

Needless to say, when Irish Catholics came pouring into Boston some 230 years later, the English Protestants were none too happy.

'Emigrant arrival at Constitution Wharf, Boston' by Winslow Homer
These English Bostonians mocked and laughed at the Irish immigrants, due to the fact that their clothes were "out of fashion" by 20 years.

Landlords in Boston would charge Irish families $1.50 per week to live in single rooms, which lacked ventilation, sanitation, water and -- in some instances -- windows.

A typical room rented to an Irish family in Boston had dimensions of 9 ft by 11 ft.

By dividing up a three-story house room-by-room, a Boston landlord could accommodate 100 Irish, which made for a tidy profit.

Due to the unsanitary living conditions that the Irish were faced with, 60% of Irish children born in Boston during the mid-19th century died before the age of 6.

Approximately 1,500 Irish children roamed the streets of Boston begging and stirring up mischief during this time. 

On average, Irish adults lived just 6 more years after arriving in Boston.

In Boston, an Irish worker could earn up to $1 per day, which was considerably more than the per day an Irish worker might earn back in Ireland. Unfortunately, English Bostonians were largely unwilling to hire the Irish and hung up signs reading "No Irish Need Apply" on the oustides of workshops, factories and stores.


For more information on Boston Irish history, as well as Irish American history in general, check out The History Place, which was where I found the info for this post.

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December 7, 2011

Massachusetts Remembers Pearl Harbor with Ceremony at Battleship Cove

Today, December 7, 2011 marks the 70th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor; an attack that claimed the lives of more than 2,000 Americans and prompted the United States to enter World War II.

Battleships Burning at Pearl Harbor: December 7 (courtesy of History.com/Corbis)
To commemorate the victims of the attack on Pearl Harbor, a memorial ceremony will be held today at Battleship Cove in Fall River, Massachusetts. The ceremony is set to begin at 12:55 p.m., which is the time (on the East Coast) when the Japanese commenced their two-hour long aerial assault on the American naval base near Honolulu, Hawaii.

Today's ceremony at Battleship Cove will feature Manuel Martin of Westport, who is one of the area's last remaining survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack. A film, “The Pearl Harbor Experience at Battleship Cove” (complete with specialized visual and audio effects), will also be played.

Battleship Cove is home to a Pearl Harbor exhibit, which is on the second deck of the USS Massachusetts. Two Pearl Harbor memorials are also on board the battleship: one is inside the BB59 Memorial Room while the other is at Turret Three. The Massachusetts Chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association dedicated both memorials.

The largest Pearl Harbor memorial in the Bay State, however, stretches directly over Battleship Cove. Braga Bridge, which connects Fall River to Swansea via I-195, is named for Fall River-native Charles M. Braga, Jr.

Braga, who was a sailor aboard the USS Pennsylvania, lost his life in the Pearl Harbor attack. He is remembered as the first serviceman from Fall River to die in World War II.

The USS Massachusetts with Braga Bridge in the background (courtesy of travel.gather.com)
For more information about Pearl Harbor history, Battleship Cove and today's memorial ceremony, visit:

December 2, 2011

Boston's Celtic Music Fest (BCMFest) to Celebrate 9th Anniversary in January, 2012


Do you live in the Boston area? Do you love Celtic music? Are you looking for something fun to do on Friday, January 6th and Saturday, January 7th?

If you answered "yes" to the above questions, you should seriously consider picking up some tickets to the ninth annual BCMFest (Boston's Celtic Music Fest). The weekend festival will showcase Greater Boston's top musicians and dancers from the Irish, Scottish, Cape Breton and other Celtic traditions.

Founded by local Celtic musicians Laura Cortese (Scottish fiddle) and Shannon Heaton (Irish flute), the BCMFest organization, which puts on the annual concert as well as other Celtic music events, lists the four following objectives on its website:
  1. To produce locally-based Irish, Scottish and Cape Breton music and dance in an upbeat and all-ages friendly environment. 
  2. To bolster appreciation for traditional Celtic music and dance among youth and the greater Boston community. 
  3. To support a living, changing tradition by encouraging cross-genre collaboration and innovation among dancers and musicians of all generations. 
  4. To produce a variety of collaborative projects and performances for, in and of the greater Boston community. 
    BCMFest 2012 will kick off on January 6th at 7pm with the Roots and Branches concert at Club Passim. The concert promises to offer a "fresh take on Celtic music from North America to Europe and back again" and will include a "diverse roster of special guests." 
     
    Triple Spiral
    Following Roots and Branches, a parade will leave from Club Passim and make its way to The Atrium for Boston Urban Ceilidh.  At Boston Urban Ceilidh, festival-goers will be able to experience a variety of dance music styles, including Scottish (Neil Pearlman and Friends), Breton (Triple Spiral) and New England contra (The Reiner Brothers).
     
    At BCMFest 2012's Saturday Dayfest, performers will include:

    Matt Heaton and Flynn Cohen will spearhead the festival's Saturday finale concert. They will be joined by "some of Greater Boston's most notable Celtic musicians, singers and dancers."

    For more information on BCMFest 2012, visit http://bcmfest.com/.
    Click here for ticket prices.
    You can find BCMFest on Twitter at @BCMFest.
    You can find me on Twitter at @TheBardOfBoston.

    November 29, 2011

    The Best Version Ever of 'Star of the County Down'? You Be the Judge

    Question

    What do you get when you take the most famous Irish traditional music group in the world, The Chieftains; add legendary Northern Irish singer/songwriter, Van Morrison ('Brown Eyed Girl,' 'Moondance,' 'Wild Night'); and task them with performing one of the most popular Celtic music tunes of all time, 'Star of the County Down'?

    Click play to hear the answer:



    There's something captivating about the arrangement... the whistles, the piano, the Northumbrian bagpipes and -- of course -- Van Morrison's distinctive voice. Unlike The Irish Rovers and The High Kings, who speed through their respective renditions of 'Star,' The Chieftains and Van Morrison let the song unfold organically, at a relatively slow (but steady) pace, like moss growing on an old stone wall in the Irish countryside.

    A Little Bit of History

    The melody of 'Star of the County Down' has English origins and dates back to at least the 1700s. It first appeared as 'Gilderoy' in Thomas D'Urfey's Pills to Purge the Melancholy III (1707), but became more 'Star'-like in the 1726 version of 'Gilderoy' that appeared in Musick for Allan Ramsay's Collection of Scots Songs by Alexander Stuart.

    The 'Star'/'Gilderoy' melody has been used as a basis for numerous songs, including 'Dives and Lazarus,' 'Claudy Banks,' 'The Murder of Maria Martin,' and 'My Love Nell.' However, it was Cathal McGarvey (1866-1927) of Ramelton, County Donegal, who penned the 'Star of the County Down' lyrics that we know and love today.

    Your Thoughts

    So, what do you think of The Chieftains'/Van Morrison's rendition of 'Star'? Do you know of a better version? Leave a comment below!


    Further Reading:
    www.contemplator.com: Star of the County Down
    Wolfgang David: Star of the County Down
    'Star of the County Down' Chords & Lyrics

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    Can't Believe I Never Heard This Before Today: The Chieftains and Ziggy Marley Play 'Redemption Song'

    November 28, 2011

    Inspiration for the Work Week: Top 5 Henry David Thoreau Quotes

      

    5.  "I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor."

    4.  "If you can speak what you will never hear, if you can write what you will never read, you have done rare things."

    3.  "Do not worry if you have built your castles in the air. They are where they should be. Now put the foundations under them."

    2.  "Aim above morality. Be not simply good, be good for something."

    1.   "Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined."


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    November 23, 2011

    5 Little-Known Facts About the First Thanksgiving

    Courtesy of britannica.com

    1. The first Thanksgiving almost happened in New York

    When The Mayflower took off with 101 men, women and children on its 66-day trip across the Atlantic, the ship's ultimate destination was the land where New York City is located today. Due to some unanticipated heavy winds, the Pilgrims had to settle for settling in what would later become Massachusetts. 

    2. The Native Americans didn't join the Pilgrims out of sympathy

    On an early autumn day in 1621, four Pilgrims headed out into the woods, muskets-on-shoulders, in search of some food for a harvest celebration. When members of the Wampanoag tribe heard gunshots, they alerted Massasoit -- their leader -- who promptly gathered 90 warriors to go see if the Pilgrims were preparing for war. As we now know, it was a false alarm, and the Wampanoags joined the Pilgrims for their harvest celebration.

    Courtesy of scientopia.org
    3. There was no turkey at the first Thanksgiving

    Most of the food that we today associate with Thanksgiving was not available back in 1621. Instead of eating turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes, the Pilgrims and Native Americans ate shellfish, corn and roasted deer meat.
     
    4. The Pilgrims didn't wear buckles at the first Thanksgiving  

    The Pilgrims didn't wear silver buckles on their shoes and hats, nor did they dress in black, somber attire at the first Thanksgiving. Instead, they dressed in bright colors. Furthermore, despite popular depictions, the Native Americans didn't wear extravagant feathered headdresses or woven blankets at the first Thanksgiving.

    5. The Pilgrims didn't call it 'Thanksgiving'

    While the Pilgrims did offer thanks to God at the first Thanksgiving in 1621, they didn't call the event 'Thanksgiving.' It wouldn't be until 1623 that the first religious 'Day of Thanksgiving' would be recorded. This first Thanksgiving, however, was held in response to rainfall, not the fall harvest. Overtime, the Pilgrims' harvest celebration and 'Day of Thanksgiving' evolved into a single event. Abraham Lincoln kicked off the American tradition of an annual, national Thanksgiving in 1863.

    Further Reading:
    http://www.pilgrimhall.org/f_thanks.htm
    http://kids.nationalgeographic.com/kids/stories/history/first-thanksgiving/

    If you liked this post, you might also like Who Was Paul Revere? Four Little-Known Facts About Boston’s Favorite Patriot.

    November 22, 2011

    A Celtic Sojourn Radio: Boston's Best Source for Free Streaming Celtic Music

    If you haven't already noticed, there is a deplorable lack of Celtic music on Boston-area radio stations. Country music gets its own station (Country 102.5), rap/hip-hop gets its own station (Jam'n 94.5), and before Santa Claus's recent hijacking of 105.7 WROR for the holiday season, Boston had two radio stations dedicated to classic rock (the other being 100.7 WZLX).

    So, as a Bostonian, where do you turn when your ears are craving some Dubliners, some Clancy Brothers, some Christy Moore, some Andy Irvine and perhaps a bit of raucous crooning from The Pogues' former front man, Shane MacGowan? The answer: A Celtic Sojourn.

    Each week on WGBH Boston, A Celtic Sojourn host Brian O'Donovan exposes listeners to both traditional and contemporary music from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man and elsewhere in the Celtic world. A native of Clonakilty in West Cork, Ireland, O'Donovan has lived in Boston for 30 years.

    Apart from the great music and O'Donovan's incredible cultural insights, the best aspect of A Celtic Sojourn is that you can listen to it continuously, 24/7, on WGBH'S Celtic music stream: A Celtic Sojourn Radio. The stream provides a continuous set of recently broadcast Celtic Sojourn programs. In addition to listening to the stream via a web browser, you can find it through iTunes Radio under the International / World subheading.

    Enjoy!

    November 21, 2011

    My Twitter Handle (and Blog Title) Explained: What Is a Bard?

    Courtesy of bosoxinjection.com
    The Bard of Boston is not a reference to Red Sox pitcher Daniel Bard; it is not a reference to Shakespeare performances going on in and around the Boston area; and it is not a reference to the culinary practice of covering meat with bacon prior to roasting (a second meaning of bard)... although that does sound delicious.

    Apart from being a big fan of flaunting the phonetic fun of alliteration, I chose bard to precede Boston in my blog title and Twitter handle (@BardOfBoston) because the term uniquely encapsulates several of the qualities that pertain to my interests, hobbies, career and ancestral past.
    • Celtic: The term bard has its roots in the Celtic linguistic/cultural tradition, a tradition that today applies to persons of Irish, Highland Scottish, Manx, Welsh and Cornish descent. As an Irish American, the Celtic term bard seemed fitting, especially in light of its definition(s).
    • Writer: According to Dictionary.com, a bard is "one of an ancient Celtic order of composers and reciters of poetry." Although I don't compose poetry to pay the bills, I do compose copy and web content. Furthermore, songwriting is a hobby of mine, which ties in with the next bullet point.
    • Musician: Another definition of bard from Dictionary.com is as follows: "(formerly) a person who composed and recited epic or heroic poems, often while playing the harp, lyre, or the like." In my spare time, I play Celtic music; and back in my Montreal days, I even had a Celtic/folk band (Devaney's Goat). But what ties into this definition of bard even more specifically is that I play the Irish bouzouki, which is not too different from a lyre.
    • Historian: Merriam-Webster defines bard as "a tribal poet-singer skilled in composing and reciting verses on heroes and their deeds." In addition, Dictionary.com clarifies in a later definition that bards "recited verses about the exploits, often legendary, of their tribes." As an amateur historian who is striving to keep stories from New England's past alive, I feel that I am performing the equivalent of reciting verses about the legendary exploits of my tribe.

    November 18, 2011

    Can't Believe I Never Heard This Before Today: The Chieftains and Ziggy Marley Play 'Redemption Song'



    Celtic music and reggae music: I would never have thought the two genres could be successfully intertwined before I listened to this collaborative effort from The Chieftains and Ziggy Marley.

    But then again, if you had to choose a reggae song that already had some Celtic undertones, Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" would be a natural choice: it's driven by acoustic guitar, it has melodic qualities that are reminiscent of an Irish ballad and it lacks that classic reggae tempo that is characteristic of songs like "Buffalo Soldier" and "Jammin'." And of course, The Chieftains are some of the best musicians and collaborators in the world. If any band can make Celtic/reggae work, it's The Chieftains.

    The Chieftains and Ziggy Marley recorded their rendition of "Redemption Song" for the The Chieftains' 2002 album, The Wide World Over. The album also features collaborations with The Rolling Stones, Sinéad O' Connor,  Elvis Costello, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell and Sting.

    November 17, 2011

    'Irish Central' Names the Most Irish Town in America... and It Isn't Woburn?

    The popular New York-based online publication, Irish Central, recently reported that the seaside town of Scituate, Massachusetts is the most Irish town in the United States. Census data indicate that nearly 50 percent of Scituate residents are of Irish descent.

    But Scituate isn't the only community south of Boston with a plethora of Irish Americans. In Avon, Braintree, Hull, Marshfield, Milton and Pembroke, at least 44 percent of residents claim Irish ancestory.

    These recent findings show that my hometown (or more accurately, homecity) of Woburn, MA is not as uniquely Irish as I had once thought: only 36 percent of Woburn residents are of Irish descent.

    However, for the sake of being stubborn, I must point out that Woburn, which is about 10 miles north of Boston, has been home to a strong Irish population for considerably longer than the above-mentioned South Shore communities.

    The majority of Irish families now living in the South Shore originally immigrated to Boston. It was only at the end of World War II that they began migrating from Boston to their current homes.

    In contrast, Irish families began pouring into Woburn during the mid-19th century. Between 1864 and 1865, 110 of the 181 children born in Woburn had fathers who were born in Ireland.

    Of course, Irish Americanism isn't a competition: this isn't Christmas at the Dwyers' house, where your 300-pound, college football-playing cousin asks you to "step outside" following a debate over the rules of a board game.

    But if Irish Americanism were a competition, Scituate would win the numbers game, but I readily contend that Woburn would win the history game.

    November 16, 2011

    Meet Poitín: A Killer Celtic Trad Band from the Czech Republic


    In addition to being an incredibly strong distilled Irish beverage, Poitín is an incredibly talented traditional Celtic band from Pizen, Czech Republic.

    After finding them on Twitter (@Poitincz) a few weeks back, I headed over to their ReverbNation page to check out their tunes. I was thinking to myself, "what does a Celtic trad band from the Czech Republic sound like?"

    The answer: they sound traditional. And I mean that in the best way possible. While they do experiment with didgeridoos and saxophones, Poitín readily admits that they are "firmly grounded in the pub session tradition" and like nothing better than sitting round a table in the corner of a cozy pub, bashing out old favorites about "tarry sailors, merry maids and drunken nights."

    The six-person band features guitar, fiddle, banjo, bodhran and tin whistle, and is it just me, or does their lead singer sound a bit like Andy Irvine? Listen to their version of "Calton Weaver" and let me know.



    November 15, 2011

    The Book Every New Englander Should Read: Bootleggers, Lobstermen & Lumberjacks

    There's more to New England's history than lazy Pilgrims, famous Revolutionary War battles and John F. Kennedy. Seriously folks, there's a lot more.

    New Englanders of ole were a spirited, stouthearted and -- at times -- crazy bunch, who spent their days evading bloodthirsty pirates, running from massive floods of molasses and engaging mountain lions in hand-to-paw combat. Or at least that's part of the picture Matthew P. Mayo paints in his book, Bootleggers, Lobstermen & Lumberjacks: Fifty of the Grittiest Moments in the History of Hardscrabble New England.

    Mayo, who spent the first decade of his life in Rhode Island before moving to Vermont's Northeast Kingdom, has succeeded where many traditional grade school textbooks have failed: he's made the history of New England engaging, exciting and -- for those who equate historical study with root canals -- approachable.

    Instead of laying out a broad narrative that painstakingly documents each decade, Mayo selected 50 moments from New England's past and wrote them up as if each were a short story. Where historical records of conversations were absent, Mayo invented witty, relevant dialogue for adding depth and personality to characters.

    My favorite story from Bootleggers, Lobstermen & Lumberjacks: "Rocket Ride." It chronicles the fateful journey of two young men who build illegal slideboards  (which are essentially old-school luges that operate on tracks) and ride down Mount Washington's Cog Railway.

    Spoiler alert: the two Granite State daredevils never put breaks on their slideboards and their descent quickly turns into a ride from hell.

    October 30, 2011

    The Quaintest/Creepiest New England Town You Could Ever Hope to Visit in October

    Quaint because of the Victorian architecture, the locals who all seem to know each other by name and the one main drag that is home to the majority of the town's shops, cafes and restaurants. 

    Creepy for the same reasons.

    Welcome to Chester, Vermont

     
     
    Technically speaking, Chester is a village; a village that packs a population of just 3,000 into a whopping 56-square-mile landmass. If you're looking for solitude, simple living and a setting for a Stephen King-esque horror novel, Chester could be the place for you.

    The village, which is located in southern Vermont's Williams River Valley, boasts two historic districts (Stone Village and South Village), two gas stations and zero stoplights.

    Driving from Boston to Green Mountain National Forest for a weekend of hiking, Chester was an unexpected stop along the way. There was a certain eeriness -- and charm -- to the village that made me want to explore. Maybe it was the old cemetery, the gingerbread-style houses or that long row of storefronts, complete with a grandiose Masonic lodge. 

    Courtesy of explorah

    Courtesy of

    Strolling through the Vermont village, it was hard not to notice the old man with the long, white scraggly beard reading on a bench next to the cemetery. He seemed more like an apparition than a living, breathing person; just another part of the historic scenery, like the statue that was standing guard a few yards away.


    Inside a Chester cafe, the man behind the counter was addressing customers by name and pointing out changes in hairdos and wardrobe selections. It became obvious that the same patrons came to this cafe day after day, week after week, month after month.

    While heading back to the car, Chester offered one last eerie surprise, which immediately got me thinking of The Shining: twin girls in matching outfits, both riding scooters down the sidewalk.

    I swear one of them looked at me and mouthed the words, "red rum," as I disappeared down the road and made my escape from the quaintest/creepiest place I had ever visited.

    September 30, 2011

    What the Hub? The History Behind Some of Boston's Best-Known Place Names


    Faneuil Hall

    Just as you can thank the French for Boston's most famous patriot (Paul Revere, not Tom Brady) you can thank the French for Boston's premier marketplace, Faneuil Hall. The bustling marketplace -- where Samuel Adams (hey, I'm drinking one of those now!), James Otis and other sons of American liberty gave inspiring speeches -- derives its name from Peter Faneuil. Faneuil was the son of a French Huguenot who fled France after Louis XIV decided that the whole Edict of Nantes thing wasn't such a hot idea anymore. Born in 1700 in New York, Faneuil later moved to Boston where he became a wealthy merchant. Somewhat ironically, Faneuil's nephews, British loyalists, fled the country during the Revolution.

    Copley Square

    Back Bay's Copley Square is named after John Singleton Copley. Copley is, arguably, Boston's most famous artist, who made his mark as a painter of important figures in colonial New England. No need to thank the French for this one: Copley was the son of Richard Copley and Mary Singleton Copley, both of Ireland.

    Tremont Street

    Notable stops along Tremont Street include King's Chapel, Boston Common and the Theater District. But before it was one of Boston's main thoroughfares, Tremont was a name for the city itself. Tremont is a variation of "Trimountaine," which means three mountains or three hills. Back in the day, Boston was crowned by three peaks: Sentry Hill (now called Beacon Hill), Cotton Hill (also known as Pemberton Hill) and Mt. Whoredom (also known as Mt. Vernon, and no, I didn't make up the name "Mt. Whoredom"). The reason why no one refers to Boston as Trimountaine anymore? Cotton Hill and Mt. Whoredom were largely removed in order to fill in the water surrounding the Shawmut Peninsula.

    Shawmut

    I pretty much gave this one away. Shawmut Place, Shawmut Street, Shawmut Avenue and Shawmut Center (which was going to be the name of the Fleet Center before Fleet bought out Shawmut Bank), are all references to the Shawmut Peninsula. Shawmut Peninsula was the original patch of land on which settlers built the city of Boston. Check out my post, Filling up the Hub: How Boston got its Shape, for more info.

    Boston

    Before there was a Boston, Massachusetts, there was a Boston, England. Boston, England is about 120 miles due north of London and 32 miles southeast of Lincoln. It is believed that the name "Boston" is a shortened version of "St. Botolph's Town." St. Botolph was a 7th-century monk who -- allegedly -- founded an abbey on the present site of Boston, England in 645 A.D. (C.E.).

    September 13, 2011

    A Taste of the Old Country... in Dorchester

    Whether you're longing for the rich, earthy taste of Irish black pudding or for the melodic prattling of an Irish brogue, I suggest you pay a visit to Greenhills Irish Bakery on 780 Adams Street, Dorchester.


    Let me tell you straightaway that this post is not a paid-advertisement for the bakery... I don't know anybody there, I don't have any long-lost-relatives who work there and I by no means expect to receive a free loaf of soda bread for having written this (although that would be awesome). I'm just a guy who has a constant, uncanny craving for Irish bacon and black pudding. That craving is what led me to the door of the bakery.

    I first heard about Greenhills from everybody's favorite cantankerous TV chef and tour guide, Anthony Bourdain. During his Boston episode of No Reservations (which focused not on "fine-dining establishments," or "what new, young chefs are creating on the cutting edge of Boston cuisine," but rather on the "tough and infamous side of Boston."), Tony strolled into Greenhills for a taste of the bakery's infamous Irish breakfast sandwich.


    As soon as I saw this sandwich on TV I knew I had to experience one in real life. Let's face it, Irish food is by no means outstandingly delicious (why do you think you only eat corned beef and cabbage once a year?). However, where the Irish culinary world really shines is at the breakfast table.

    Irish breakfasts are AMAZING. Thick-cut Irish bacon (also known as rashers), black pudding, white pudding, bangers (sausage) and eggs. Throw all of those ingredients into a freshly baked bun, douse them with brown sauce and you are left with the greatest breakfast sandwich in the history of breakfast sandwiches.  

    Seriously, this sandwich makes an Egg McMuffin seem like a Turd McNothin'. Keep up the good work Greenhills. Sláinte! 



    August 22, 2011

    Wicked Weird: The 3 Most Bizarre Ancient Structures in New England


    3. The Calendar II Chamber

    Courtesy of thecenteroflight.net
    In the woods of South Woodstock, Vermont rests the mystifying man-made structure known as the Calendar II Chamber. The chamber includes nine stone lintels, or horizontal supports, the largest of which weighs just under 6,000 pounds.

    As with the other so-called "calendar chambers" of the South Woodstock/Putney area, Calendar II has an astronomically-aligned construction. For example, on the winter solstice, the sun rises between a notch in two distant hills and then shines into the chamber's entryway. In addition, on the summer solstice the sun rises over a triangular stone set in a nearby stonewall, while two nearby standing stones form a true (as opposed to magnetic) north-south alignment.

    There are two primary schools of thought on the origins of Calendar II. Mainstream anthropologists point to Native American origins, whereas the late Harvard zoologist, Barry Fell, believed that ancient, pre-Columbian Celts from Ireland -- or Portugal -- were responsible for its creation.

    Further Reading:



    2. Mystery Hill: America's Stonehenge

    Image courtesy of newenglandoddities.com

    Scattered across 30 acres of land in Salem, New Hampshire is a complex of man-made walls, chambers and other megaliths. Dubbed "Mystery Hill" in 1936, the site was officially renamed "America's Stonehenge" in 1982. This renaming was intended to help distinguish the site's status from that of a roadside oddity to an area of legitimate archaeological significance.

    Image courtesy of newenglandoddities.com
    One of the most intriguing works within America's Stonehenge is the large, flat "sacrificial stone," which has grooved channels that some argue were used by pre-Columbian ancient Celts for channeling blood. However, mainstream archaeologists put forth that farmers from the 18th or 19th centuries used the site, and the "sacrificial stone," for extracting lye from wood or for making cider.

    Former owner of the site, William Goodwin, was so convinced that ancient Celts were responsible for building America's Stonehenge that he moved many of the site's stones to better support his theory. What an idiot. Despite this archaeological sabotage, Barry Fell was still convinced that America's Stonehenge had pre-Columbian Celtic origins.

    Further Reading:
    http://www.stonehengeusa.com/
    http://www.crystalinks.com/mysteryhill.html 


    1. The Newport Tower

    Image courtesy of caithness.org

    Also known as the Mystery Tower, the Old Stone Mill and the Viking Tower, the Newport Tower is a roofless, cylindrical stone tower that is perched upon a hilltop in Newport, Rhode Island. The tower stands upon eight legs that are topped by irregular stone arches. Throughout the structure are seemingly irregular arrays of windows, holes and shallow recesses, including on second-story recess that resembles a fireplace.

    Image courtesy of gloriaamendola.com
    As is the case with America's Stonehenge, mainstream archaeologists point to colonial origins for the Newport Tower, often citing that it is reminiscent of colonial-era Dutch windmills. However, another school of thought is that vikings, specifically Norwegians and Swedes, constructed the tower in the 14th century before Columbus reached the New World. A third school of thought is that ancient Chinese explorers built the Newport Tower in the 15th century as a lighthouse.

    Like the Calendar II chamber, the Newport Tower has astronomical alignments built-in to its design. For example, on the summer solstice you can peer through the tower's south window and see the sun -- as a narrow slit of light -- set above Windmill Hill through the tower's west window.

    Adding further intrigue to the mystery of the Newport Tower is that a skeleton outfitted with brass weaponry was found in nearby Fall River, Massachusetts. American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, wrote a poem about this skeleton -- The Skeleton In Armour -- in which he references the Newport Tower.

    Further Reading:
    http://www.neara.org/CARLSON/newporttower.htm 
    http://www.unexplainedearth.com/newport.php
    http://www.newporttower.org/html/architecture.html


    If you like this post, check out Wicked Weird: The 3 Most Bizarre Happenings In New England History

    August 14, 2011

    Irish-American Bucket List: Things To Do Before You End Up In The 'Irish Funny Pages'

    Drink a...

    -Black Velvet: 
    Float half-a-pint of stout on top of half-a-pint of hard cider (or champagne)
    -Black & Tan: 
    Float half-a-pint of stout on top of half-a-pint of pale ale
    -Black & Brown: 
    Float half-a-pint of stout on top of half-a-pint of root beer
    -Black & Black: 
    Float half-a-pint of stout on top of half-a-pint of stout (careful now, don't let the two halves mix)

    Go to...

    -The Guinness Storehouse
    St. James's Gate, Dublin 3, Ireland
    -The Old Jameson Distillery
    7 Bow Street, Dublin 7, Ireland
    -A pub where you can drink with your distant relatives
    For me this is Harry's Bar on Rosses Point in Co. Sligo


    Eat some...

    -Black pudding
    What is tastier than a combination of pigs' blood, grains, onions, herbs and spices? Answer: nothing
    -White pudding
    It's black pudding, only with pork instead of blood
    -Coddle
    A pork-lover's alternative to beef stew: it's loaded with sausage and rashers


    Learn to...

    -Speak Gaelic
    Besides just saying "sláinte" and "póg mo thóin"
    -Set dance
    Set dancing is like square dancing, only without the boots, without the Stetsons and without the caller
    -Accept the fact that you're not actually from Ireland
    Be strong, we'll get through this together 


    August 4, 2011

    Celtic Music's Top 10 Lines

    10

    Now Mari and her mother are an awful lot together
    In fact you hardly see the one without the other
    And people often wonder if it's Mari or her mother
    Or both of them together I'm courting
     From: Mari-Mac, Chords and Lyrics

    9

    I'm gonna make me a big sharp axe
    Shining steel tempered in the fire
    I'll chop you down like an old dead tree
    Dirty old town Dirty old town
    From: Dirty Old Town, Chords and Lyrics

    8

    The sun was setting in the west,
    The birds were singing on every tree.
    All nature seemed inclined to rest
    But still there was no rest for me
     From: Farewell to Nova Scotia, Chords and Lyrics

    7

    I go to the Clyde and I mourn and weep
    For satisfied I ne'er can be
    I write her a letter, just a few short lines
    And suffer death a thousand times.
     From: Black is the Color, Chords and Lyrics

    6

    I looked out from under the blanket up at the fireplace.
    The Pope and John F. Kennedy were starin' in me face.
     From: Delirium Tremens, Chords and Lyrics 

    5

    And when I'm dead and in my grave
    No costly tombstone will I crave
    Just lay me down in my native peat
    With a jug of punch at my head and feet
     From: Jug of Punch, Chords and Lyrics

    4

    So drunk to hell I left the place
    Sometimes crawling sometimes walking
    A hungry sound came across the breeze
    So I gave the walls a talking
    And I heard the sounds of long ago
    From the old canal
    And the birds were whistling in the trees
    Where the wind was gently laughin'
     From: A Pair of Brown Eyes, Chords and Lyrics

    3
    But my sons have sons, 
    as brave as were their fathers
     From: Four Green Fields, Chords and Lyrics

    2

    I'm drunk today and I'm seldom sober,
    a handsome rover from town to town
     From: Carrickfergus, Chords and Lyrics

    1

    And all I've done for want of wit,
    to memory now I cannot recall.
    So fill me to the parting glass
    Goodnight and joy be with you all.
    From: The Parting Glass, Chords and Lyrics