June 2, 2010

Mug Shots: Celts invade New Albany

In my memory I will always see
the town that I have loved so well
Where our school played ball by the gas yard wall
and we laughed through the smoke and the smell
Going home in the rain, running up the dark lane
past the jail and down behind the fountain
Those were happy days in so many, many ways
in the town I loved so well.

—“The Town I Loved So Well,” by Phil Coulter

I’m here to tout a festive forthcoming weekend in my own town, New Albany. Before doing so, there is a wee bit of back story to cover, so find a chair, pour a jar and smoke ’em if you’ve got ’em.

First, basketball. You may have heard of the SELL-tics (Celtics), a professional team in Boston, which arguably is the world capital of the Irish Diaspora. To my mind, the Celtics should not be the Selltics, but the Keltics. The team’s name comes from the Celts (properly pronounced “Kelts”), ancient tribal Europeans of the Iron Age, and ancestors of today’s Irish. The hard “k” is easier to remember by fixing an image of Bushmill’s, Jameson or Tullamore Dew in one’s head, and asking the bartender for a belt of the Kelts.

Long ago, Celtic cultures expanded into many European territories, but the advent of the Roman Empire gradually pushed them toward the continent’s western periphery, to remote islands and isolated coasts. In modern times, we think of the Celts as comprising Gaels (Irish, Scottish and Manx peoples), Welsh and Bretons.

It’s far more complicated than that, but for our purposes, it’s enough to know that a few central elements of enjoyable living, including music, beer, conversation and food, are a stock in trade of the Celts, and that among Celts, the Irish stand out as visible and enthusiastic proponents of these virtues. Is there any place of consequence on the planet that doesn’t have an authentic Irish pub serving Guinness and some variant of fish and potatoes?

It’s been a quarter-century since I visited Ireland for the first time, draining numerous pints of the national black elixir and depleting adjacent seas of any marine life capable of being battered and fried. About the same time, my well-traveled cousin Don introduced me to albums recorded by the Dubliners, Tommy Makem, Clancy Brothers and other Irish folk bands.

Stouts, Porters and Red Ales do the body good, but the mind craves governing context, and it’s in the words and music that the Irish experience truly comes alive. The recipe is simple. Add equal literary elements of James Joyce, Seamus Heaney, John Synge and W.B. Yeats to gifted instrumental musicianship, complete with fiddles, jigs, tin whistles, reels, guitars and banjos. Spice with speaking voices that transform common English into lilting melody, and golden-throated singers rendering those melodies into the realm of the sublime. Enjoy the results as often as possible.

This is where New Albany re-enters the story. On Saturday, June 12, the Kentuckiana Celtic Fest returns to the revamped riverfront amphitheater with “Celts on the River,” a free concert from 2-10 p.m. This year’s headlining group is the BeerMats, who hail from the town of Ballyfermot, situated just outside Dublin between two liquid signposts of Irish history, the River Liffey and the Grand Canal.

Supporting local and regional artists include Louisville Pipe Band, McClanahan Irish Dancers, Cloigheann, Keltricity, Guilderoy Byrne and Liam’s Fancy. There’ll be food from area purveyors, arts and crafts vendors, and beer from the New Albanian Brewing Company.

Celts on the River also provides support for Blessing in a Backpack, and for those of a more Scottish orientation, a golf scramble at Covered Bridge the previous day (June 11) will bring in monies to help pay for it all. For more info, visit celtsontheriver.com, and enjoy this anecdote, as relayed by the musician Sean Cannon of the Dubliners.


In the Irish love triangle there are three parties involved: A man, and a woman — and drink/And so the girl gives an ultimatum to her boyfriend: It’s either the drink, or me/And he chooses the drink. But afterwards, he relents/They get married and live happily ever after … the three of them.

Roger Baylor is co-owner of the New Albanian Brewing Co. in New Albany. Visit potablecurmudgeon.blogspot.com for more beer. 

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