Weaving the traditions of Dance, Music, Art & Language

Celtic Junction Arts Center

Best Cultural Center in North America –IrishCentral, 2018

836 Prior Avenue, St. Paul, MN, 55104

A 501(c)(3) organization

Issue 8, Beltane 2013

May Day of Many Miens

Siobhán Dugan  

Last year we heard Irish community-member Teresa McCormick recall local May Day celebrations of a public procession in St. Paul leading to the cathedral. This year I talked with Todd Menton, Center for Irish Music instructor for song, Bodhrán and mandolin and lead vocalist for the fabulous band Boiled in Lead, on how he celebrates May Day. Turns out, he’s a part of a mixture of Celtic, British and Minnesotan rituals as brought together by the local Morris dance community. Let’s hear more.

Bonfire Beginnings

May Day calls for getting out and celebrating a renewal of the earth, best done with the community together-- dancing, singing and enjoying new-greening nature. It’s a time for optimism. Bonfires mark the transition from winter to summer (the ancient Celts not marking the spring as separate season-- and come to think of it neither do we, this year!), and for purification rituals; get rid of that Winter dross! Oh yeah.

The festivity, as Todd celebrates it, begins before dawn with hundreds of people, most of them dressed in Morris dance ‘kit’, foregathering on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. Whether the dawn promises chilly, fair or sodden with pelting rain, people come for the joy and fun, the tunes and the dance. Some carry old Christmas trees and many bear the smooth sticks, white kerchiefs and leg bells needed for the dance. A dozen or so, Todd among them, bring musical instruments; fiddle, drum, accordion, tin whistle and more and these folks cluster in the middle together. A few hardy souls are already there to greet them, having kindled a bonfire, which figures so strongly in the celebration of May Day among the Celts as fiery font of cleansing and renewal.

Round the Tree with Dance


May Day Morris Dancing in Minnesota 2012 -from MPR Archives

As daylight breaks, hundreds of dancers form a ring around a central tree which has been garlanded with flowers and as the music moves them, the first dance begins; the Abram Circle Dance; now we’re in Morris cultural terrain.

Over the next couple hours individual teams (called ‘sides’) of dancers, including the Minnesota Traditional Morris, Bells of the North and perhaps 8-10 teams total, will perform for each other in turn by team--and sometimes with each other in mass dances that include as many dancers as the field will hold.

While Todd started out as a dancer himself some 30 years ago, he finds he is even more drawn to playing the music. “I’m addicted to the music, to the tunes. It might be my very favorite kind of music on earth. If you listen to them, there’s something really, really primal about these particular melodies. Some of them are sweet and simple ---I’ve heard the melodies described as having almost nursery rhyme feel, but that doesn’t diminish the power that pushes it, to me. The tunes are not very complex, but coupled with the dance there’s an amazing pull there, you can tell there’s something spiritual attached to it, at least that’s what I get out of it.”

“I came to this tradition through Martin Carthy,” Todd recalls, “He’s my favorite musician on earth, he’s my primary musical hero. And I heard him play some of this music. And then, when I saw the dancing at the Renaissance Festival I was able to put it together. Ever since I’ve been going to the May morning celebration… I’ve missed only twice in the last 30 some years… just ‘cause it’s a hoot.”

Minnesota Traditions

While the participation in the dancing is limited to performers in the various Morris sides, everyone present can take part in the singing; there are some important May Day songs that are always part of the line- up. As well, “People bring their Christmas trees, their old dried- up Christmas trees, and throw them on the fire,” Todd relates, “They just explode! Again, I don’t know if that’s a ‘thing’, as they say, or it came out of our tribe, a local tradition. It’s a ‘thing’ now. Some years, people also bring Peeps. That started decades ago. Yeah, you know, the marshmallow animals: the pink ones and the yellow ones and the little ducky ones, and the little sheepie ones… Most people just kinda of fling them on the fire, but people do eat them as well. Some years, that’s a great big deal, and other times not. “

“After all the dancing is done, a lot of people have to go to work, of course. But many pile into a neighborhood restaurant --they know we’re coming-- and eat a gigantic breakfast, which break into frequent song.”

After the performances and feast with their own community, many of the Morris dancers then head out to Nicollet Mall and Powderhorn Park to perform for the greater Minnesota community’s May Day celebrations. “I love the dancing. It’s amazing, the music and the community,” Todd says, “More than anything, the community.”


Beyond the Day

In the winter months, Todd joins the local Morris community for mumming, a related antique tradition of a certain type of comedic folk play from both Ireland and the UK, often played around Christmastime. Mummers' performances do often have a common basic script of a character who dies and is revived, but that beyond the telling of that storyline, provides a framework for performers to reach creative, playful and vivid interactions with the audience, gathered together for singing, dancing, and storytelling. In the New World, Newfoundland and Philadelphia are hotbeds of the stuff; in Ireland it breaks out most often on Wren’s Day.

Romanian dancers practicing the magical callus dance. Celtic?

But hey, while Morris dance is strongly associated with the Cotswold area in Great Britain, I'll grant you, records of Morris dance in an early Kilkenny fair show it to been performed in Ireland in 1610, and an Irish language term for Morris dance appear in a document from 1732. At some point after that, the Morris tradition did die out, apparently entirely, in Ireland, until stirrings of rebirth in the 1920’s. In other parts of the Celtic world, there is also an old tradition of Morris dancing from the Welsh village of Nantgarw, and a Border tradition from the Welsh/English interface.

AND for those of you who enjoy myth, try on for size this one that’s floated on the internet: Morris dancing originally came to the British Isles brought by Celts who came from a homeland in what is modern-day Romania. Rationale: a) There were indeed Celts in that region some 2400 years ago; b) there is the presence of a dance form, the callus, that looks ‘Morris-ish’ there yet today (see photo). It’s the bringing a couple thousand miles and the preserving statically for the better part of a couple millennia apart that strike me as dicey. But who am I to spoil a good narrative.

Kist o Riches & Scots Kisses

by Chris Wright

When I e-caught up with Chris he’d been in deepest, darkest Donegal for the last week with the Inishowen (Ireland) Traditional Singer’s Circle delivering a presentation on the connections between the English/Scots songs of Scotland and those of Ireland. Chris is involved in a wonderful project, Kist o Riches/ Tobar an Dualchais, to preserve and make available online the music and folk culture of Scotland, and presented on the project to a rapt audience at The Celtic Junction last year. Presented here are really two articles from Chris, one about the “Kist” project (reprinted with permission from his blog) and the second on his love for Scots song. Enjoy!

The Kist o Riches

For the last few years, I've been working for the Kist o Riches - a landmark project to digitize, catalogue and place online tens of thousands of recordings of Scottish traditions. Most of these recordings are drawn from the archives of the School of Scottish Studies in Edinburgh, whose fieldworkers began collecting material in the 1950s using the then newly-available portable reel-to-reel tape recorder. The recordings document many different aspects of traditional culture, ranging from detailed descriptions of traditional crafts and working practices to performances of the traditional music and songs that have been passed down through generations over hundreds of years.

The Kist o Riches project - or Tobar an Dualchais in Gaelic - began in 2006 with the aim of turning these recordings into a modern digital resource, and by the time we launched our website in 2010, we had around 16,000 recordings online. We've managed to almost double this number in the past year and a half, and are working hard towards getting all of the recordings online in the near future. 


Hamish Henderson with Traveler storyteller Alec Stewart in 1958

My work for the project has focused on cataloguing the Scots- and English-language traditional songs in the School of Scottish Studies archive, many of which were collected by the celebrated folklorist Hamish Henderson (1919-2002). The School has well over ten thousand of these song recordings, and they offer important insight into Scotland's traditional song culture. Our website contains many hundreds of recordings of important traditional singers such as Jeannie Robertson, Jimmy MacBeath, Willie Scott and other source singers for the Scottish folk revival, yet there are many fantastic contributions from singers who are much less well-known, but whose recordings are hugely important nonetheless.

In listening to and cataloguing these thousands of recordings, the Kist o Riches team has essentially been conducting the first ever wholesale review of the content of the School's sound archives, and as a result we've uncovered many interesting tracks, some of which may not have seen the light of day since they were originally recorded on reel-to-reel tape. For the Scots song recordings, we've made a point of cross-referencing these tracks with major song collections, including the Child ballads and the Greig-Duncan Folk Song Collection, and we've also made good use of other internet based resources to provide supplemental information. This approach has led to some interesting discoveries which promise to shed light not only on individual songs, but also on the nature of the oral tradition. One aspect I'm particularly interested in is the interaction between the oral tradition and printed songs.

I've been singing traditional songs for most of my life, and listening to these tapes has been an enormous privilege. As a Dundonian, I've reveled in the recordings made by Hamish Henderson of Mary Brooksbank (left, seated (1897-1978)), the famous Dundee poet, songwriter and activist. Not only does Mary sing her own songs on these recordings, including her renowned Jute Mill Song, but she describes in detail the events that inspired her to write them. Other of Mary's recordings offer an invaluable first-hand account of the events and circumstances that shaped her life, her beliefs, and her lifelong commitment to social justice. Mary Brooksbank is just one of thousands of people from all across Scotland recorded by the School in the 20th century, and these recordings are important contributions to our collective narrative - our cultural memory.

These days, the term 'Celtic' appears to be used largely by people with a fringe or commercial interest in Irish and Scottish music - I've certainly never heard any musician friend use it to describe their own music. However, Ireland and Scotland do have a great deal of shared cultural heritage. For centuries, the western Highlands and Islands of Scotland shared the Gaelic language and traditions of Ireland, and thus formed in effect a single cultural and social continuum. This is reflected in Tobar an Dualchais / Kist o Riches, for example, through the Ossianic tales collected in the Hebrides by Calum MacLean, and which form part of an ancient shared tale tradition with Ireland.

More recent connections can be seen in the Scots and English language songs which economic migrants carried back and forward from one country to the other. The Kintyre peninsula in the south-west of Scotland has, for example, a number of ballads composed by Donegal and Antrim men come to work as thatchers or farm labourers. And a number of 'quintessentially Irish' songs owe their origins to Scotland - a good example being the farewell song 'The Parting Glass' which started its life as a Scots song called 'Goodnight And Joy Be Wi Ye Aa'.

If you haven't already visited the Kist o’ Riches site, you're in for a treat: www.kistoriches.co.uk


Scots Kisses

In May 2012, I was appointed the Kist o Riches' Scots Artist in Residence, with a remit to promote the project and its recordings through performances, workshops, public talks and other events. I grew up in Dundee, an important town and city since about the 12th century, well-known for a 19th century industrial boom in textile manufacture and whaling. However, it suffered greatly in the manufacturing decline of the latter part of the 20th century. Its early Pictish roots have been largely erased, though some of the later Gaelic ones persist in place names, while Scots is the vernacular language, overlaid in the last couple of centuries by the Standard English that everyone was, and is still, required to learn at school.

Scots is a Germanic, not Gaelic, cousin language that developed from Old English in Lowland Scotland. After the medieval period, Scots was the majority language in Scotland, the language of law, education, court, as well as the vernacular language of most Scots until as recently as the mid-19th century. Increasing cultural influence from England in the early modern period, compounded by the loss of political sovereignty suffered by Scotland in 1603 and 1707, caused Scots to be deliberately sidelined by its elite speakers, such that it eventually came to be regarded as the language solely of the working class by the 19th century, and is today often associated (incorrectly) with poor education and disadvantage. 

On the other hand, a theme of portraying the Gaelic language and culture as the defining one for Scotland, goes right back to the Wars of Independence in the 13th and 14th centuries. Scots nobles mythologized the nation's history as solely Gaelic for political reasons in an attempt to convince Rome that they had the legitimate claim to sovereignty which was distinct from, and more longstanding, than that of the English monarchy. More recently still, the rehabilitation of the Gael following the failed Jacobite rebellions of the 18th century, coupled with the 'Celtic Revival' of the 19th century, led to a romanticized notion of a monolithically 'Celtic' Scotland which negates the reality of a broader combination of cultural roots, including Scots.

Scots, like any old European language, has a body of literature, both oral and written, which is extremely rich and diverse, and which forms a key component of the Lowland Scottish identity. While the success in the last twenty years in raising awareness of Scotland's other indigenous language, Scottish Gaelic, among non-Gaelic speaking populations has been enormous, Scots has not been valued or supported by the UK and few Scots speakers can even identify their own language---certainly not with pride-- having been told for centuries that they are speaking a corrupt English, or even ‘slang’.

Most people will be familiar with the Scots language through the poetry and songs of Robert Burns, who also sometimes wrote in a 'light' Scots style blended with English. One of his most endearing songs, 'Green Grow the Rashes O', offers wisdom as relevant today as it was in the 18th century.

My own favourite Scots song actually started out life as an early 20th-century poem by Violet Jacob (1863–1946). Jacob was inspired by the rural life she experienced as a young girl, and wrote in the local Scots vernacular in most of her works. Her poem 'Halloween' is from the perspective of a farm labourer who has lost a friend in the Great War, and who takes the opportunity afforded by Halloween - when the barriers between the spirit world and our own are temporarily removed - to commune with his friend's ghost, describing the scenes that are taking place all around them. It's a very moving poem, enhanced further by a musical arrangement added later by Jim Reid (1934-2009).



The tattie-liftin's nearly through, they're plooin' whaur the barley grew
And efter dark roond ilka stack you'll see the horsemen stand and crack
O Lachlan, but I mind on you

I mind fu' aften we hae seen ten thoosand stars keek doon atween
The naked branches, and below baith fairm and bothy hae their show
A-low wi' lichts o' Hallowe'en

There's bairns wi' guys that's at their tail cloorin' the doors wi' runts o' kail
And fine you'll hear the screechs an' skirls o' lassies wi' their drucked carles
Bobbin' for aipples i' the pail

The bothy fire is loupin' heat, a new heid-horseman's kist is set
Richt's o'er the lamp whaur by the blaze the auld yin stood that kept yer claes
I cannae thole tae see it yet

But gin the auld folks' tales are richt an' ghaists cam hame on Hallow'n nicht
Oh freend, oh freends what would I gie tae feel yer axe yer hand tae me
Atween the dark an' coral licht

Awa' in France across the wave the wee lichts burn on ilka grave
An' you an' me their lowes hae seen, ye'll maybe hae yer Hallowe'en
Yont whaur you're lyin' way the lave

There's drink an' daf (?) an' sang an' dance an' ploys an' kisses get their chance
But Lachlan, man, the place I see is whaur the auld kist used tae be
An' the lichts o' Hallowe'en in France


Introducing Matt Woosnam, New Member of the Celtic Junction Community -in his own words

Connection Point

I first met Natalie in December after being introduced to her by John Dingley, long- time member of the ex- pat community ---and so it seems the only other Welshman in the Twin Cities! My wife, Molly, and I sourced John to sing at our wedding and one day he phoned us up to tell us that we should come along to the expats ball at the Junction. I started as administrator at O'Shea Irish Dance at the end of January this year. I have no background (or clue!) in Irish dance other than knowing about Riverdance when it first came out. It seems I entered the fray at one of the busiest periods in the Irish dance calendar, with the MOA feis imminent and then St Patrick’s Day. I am enjoying it and still learning new things on a daily basis.


I was born in South East Wales in Newport about 15 miles east of Cardiff, our capital city.  Unfortunately I'm not a fluent Welsh speaker but I do know a few bits and pieces of the language.  The most widely celebrated distinctly Welsh holiday is March 1st which is St David’s Day.  A lot of people pin on daffodils or leeks to their clothes, emblems of Wales.  As a kid going to school on St David’s Day the boys usually dressed up as rugby players or coal miners and the girls wore traditional dress.  It's nowhere near as well-known as St Patrick’s Day and no big advertising campaign from Guinness to help that either!  Rugby is a big part of our culture and it's hard to find a pub or bar that isn't packed on an international match day.  Wales being so mountainous, it was always beautiful to head out and go for a walk up the mountain on a nice day and take in the views of the valleys.

I moved to Minnesota in November last year as I had met my now wife, Molly, at the start of 2011.  We got married in January this year and live in South Minneapolis. I am blown away by how friendly and tight knit the CJ community is. It really is a pleasure to enter it and make friends and also be warmly welcomed into it. I think what Natalie and Cormac have done is absolutely amazing and feel genuinely lucky to have stumbled upon it. There is a genuine element where everyone pitches in to help out what they can and it's so great to see and be a part of.

Thoughts for the Future

Back home I was a Deputy Manager of a Fitness/Community Centre that had a large sports hall, swimming pool, dance studio, artificial turf pitch, tennis courts and fitness suite.  The fitness suite and fitness classes were my main responsibility; I also qualified as a personal trainer there.  Certainly, I'd like to get a better knowledge of the Irish Dance and all that it entails, but I would also like to put my stamp on the Junction; I'd maybe introduce some fitness classes, as there is such a big space that can be used throughout the day-- and would love to be able to do some relaxation classes. I have some big ideas for myself, mainly spurred on from meeting Natalie and Cormac, but since I have come in to the junction, I can't imagine not being a part of it. I'm also a trained hypnotherapist.  I got into wanting to train as a hypnotherapist after my dad passed away several years ago when a friend of mine who was already qualified helped me cope during that sad time. I am in the process of setting up a website www.thinkandbreakout.com to start as a blog and eventually I hope to be able to offer my services from there.


STAGE & ON-CAMERA Acting Workshops with Julia Cary at the Celtic Junction

I have wanted to hear these words for a long time "Julia Carey at The Celtic Junction" - and so I must confess to a certain wild excitement as we approach these acting workshops in June with one of the true masters of the craft. -Natalie O'Shea  

Julia began her professional stage career at 14 as Anne Frank in London's West End, attended the celebrated Guildford School of Acting, featured in starring roles at the BBC in several television series before she took her craft from acting to directing her own theater companies and teaching at tremendously prestigious schools. (I have to brag about her here, as she does not spend time looking back.) 

Minnesota was lucky enough to have her for a while as Artistic Director of The Theater Exchange for 5 years where she brought brand new plays for the first time from London's Royal Court Theater to the Midwest but we lost her to New York where she became Creative Director of the New York School for Film and Television and was most recently, Director of Acting for Guildford School of Acting at the University of Surrey back in England. 

She is a Catalyst, with a capital "C" and has a profound effect on the students she works with at all levels.  She is an unequivocal master of her craft and, like with most artists at the height of their abilities, gracefully exposes the truth and the best of the human soul.  You leave her workshops better than you came in - not just as an actor, but as a person.  Truthfully, it is ridiculous that we are able to have her here at all - but for an incredible creative collaboration and friendship of nearly 20 years, we have managed to drawn her in for this brief and shining moment.  Children will adore her.  Adults will just be floored.   She is simply not to be missed... Here is my favorite quote about her:

'Julia Carey’s classes are vital for anyone passionate about acting. She has the power to open the door to dynamic, truthful acting. Julia is Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini rolled into one amazing woman. No wonder two continents want her!’ -James Rana (Royal Shakespeare Company, Classical Theater of Harlem, Ensemble Studio Theater, Law and Order, The War Within, The Assassin.)

In June this year, we will be offering 2 workshops, one for Youth 8-17 years of age and one for adults. The Youth workshop  will provide fun exercises, an understanding of the acting process and the opportunity to develop confidence and performing skills. Students will work with exciting improvisation and text using methods that have been carefully researched and developed to create actors comfortable both on stage and screen. Part of the work will be filmed so that students can see their progress. 

The Adult Workshop for those 17+ in age will teach five essential truths about acting that are the results of 30 years research and practice combining the psycho/physical elements of the actor’s process and the intuitive/spiritual aspects of the actors work. If you are a professional actor wishing to review and refresh your skills or a student with an interest in acting, this workshop can help you. 


The Written Word: Poems by Ethna McKiernan

Why I Lied My Way Through Childhood

Because I loved the textured detail
fiction added to the ordinary real,
the dull navy Easter coat embroidered
with elaborate gold brocade instead.
Because I'd read Pippi Longstocking
so many times I couldn't help believe
she truly was my cousin and we'd lived
together every summer on that island.
Because the landscape of fact was plain
as fishstick-Fridays in Lent, and what harm
was there imagining I'd turned the dial
on Mrs. Hewitt's birth-control pills
a few notches forward when babysitting,
bragging to disbelieving friends
there'd be another baby in the year?
Because I liked the sympathy the nuns
doled like warm honey when they learned
I had leukemia at sixteen.
Because it's well-known the Irish are prone
to hyperbole, and because my parents
refused me acting lessons, holding out
for violin. Because I always wanted
the world to be bigger than it is.
Telling my children tonight about the time
I won Merlin's sword in a stone-toss,
I know they know this is the utter truth
from Mom's childhood.



for Kate Stanley

On the rural roadside,
the grey brush of trees
leaning toward green;

the sound a crocus
makes when surging
through black earth;

the scar on the heart
no longer pink
but silver now; 

all the old renewals,
their ferocious tenderness,
their raw nudges-- 

imperative, their yes.



How to Make a Proper Cup of Tea

The most essential Irish recipe! Tea is not just for drinking but enjoying the process and savoring the taste!! - Máirtín de Cógáin

To make yourself a satisfying cup of tea in the Irish sense of things, you need to start off with the right elements... 

1. Fresh Cold Drinking Water

2. Good tea (Barry's Tea Gold Blend is highly recommended)

3. A form of boiling the water (An electric kettle is the most efficient)  

The Irish traditionally have always made hot, black tea, and drink it with milk and occasionally sugar.

You must use water that you are willing to drink cold if you're aiming to drink it hot.  This should be not the stuff you boiled a few hours ago and is still in the kettle.  You want to start out with Fresh Cold Drinking Water.  Here you will, 'put on the kettle,' or 'put down the pot.'  This should be brought to the boil (100C or 210F).  Your electric kettle will click off at this point or if you are using a whistle kettle, wait for it to reach High G.  This part of the process can not be rushed!  At this moment, if using a Tea Pot, spill some of your boiling water into the vessel to 'Scald the Pot'.  Swirl that scalding water around with the lid back on your pot for a few seconds until the pot is sufficiently warm, then throw that water out of the Tea Pot, this is no longer part of the beverage (let it cool and water your flowers with it if you wish).  This takes the cold out of the vessel and leaves it feeling quite hot to touch. 

Now, put your tea into the pot...2 bags is more than enough and a spúnóg of any loose leaf tea would equate to one bag (if you have no access to a tea pot use a cup and put 10 cents aside each time to buy a pot). 

This is where the taste is lost more often than not...The most important piece of knowledge I shall now bestow upon you.  REBOIL the water!  Back to High G!  Subsequently, as the kettle clicks off, pour your water while it is on a rolling boil on top of your leaves or bags already inside the Tea Pot.  This is referred to as 'Wetting the tae'.  Put your lid on, find the tea cosy that your Granny knitted you to keep the heat in and leave it set for 3 minutes, 5 minutes if you like it strong and 7 if you think you are mighty!

In some parts of the country, people have the tradition of putting the Tea Pot with the tea already wet back on the hob to keep it warm, but this heating from underneath is not recommend as it makes tar of the drink and some would say, 'you could trot a mouse across it'.

Other people like to take the bags out as soon as the tea is brewed to satisfaction, this is quite acceptable. 

A video demonstration by Máirtín and his father Barry (the man who taught Máirtín) can be seen in on his new DVD 'From Cork with Love'.