Celtic Soul Part II, “A Hardworking Lad”


Please see Part One, “A Musical Journey” for the beginning of these musings.

I’m not particularly sure why I feel I have a Celtic soul. As someone of Eastern European descent in a hardscrabble, predominantly Irish and Italian neighborhood of South Yonkers, right above the Bronx, NY, I was bullied for my ethnicity, called “Pollack” (only half true) and to some degree excluded. I had to work my way up, quite physically, through a particular pecking order, stopping short of the two guys who probably shared the alpha male spot in our neighborhood, one of Irish descent and the other of Italian.

But I did go to Manhattan College, perched as it was above the old Gaelic football field, well attended on a beautiful Sunday like today, and above the neighborhood of Kingsbridge, which then still had some recent immigrants from Ireland. Living as some of us did in this neighborhood, we were welcome at The Punch Bowl, which one may still find on the corner of 238th St. and Broadway, right below the penultimate stop on the El, which ends at the College. Maybe this appreciation for things Celtic was infused by old Michael, who stood out in front of our building, probably after having sat in the Punch Bowl, like a doorman saying as we entered “Ah, you’re a hardworking lad/lass.” More likely I picked it up from my favorite professor, Joe Fahey. I also recall breaking up a fistfight that had broken amongst some of the elementary school kids in the neighborhood. At that time I was sporting an Amish beard, a tweed jacket and a collarless shirt, and one of them squinted at me and asked, as if the idea of not fighting were a concept foreign to Irish Catholicism, “Are you Jewish?” “Tin whistles” was the epithet one of my friends lovingly used to refer to the urchins who lived in our building and played on the street outside.

My kids are about one-eighth Irish, and have Celtic names. The idea for my son’s name came from my wife’s distant cousin, who visited us from Ireland one summer. My daughter’s name, Scottish, came from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1934).

Max Welton’s braes are bonnie
Where early falls the dew
And ’twas there that Annie Laurie
Gave me her promise true.

Gave me her promise true
That ne’er forgot shall be
And for Bonnie Annie Laurie
I’d lay me doon and dee.

Her brow is like the snowdrift
Her nape is like the swan
And her face it is the fairest
That ‘ere the sun shone on.

That ‘ere the sun shone on
And dark blue is her E’e
And for Bonnie Annie Laurie
I’d lay me doon and dee.

Like the dew on the Gowan Lion
Is the fall of her fairy feet
And like winds in the summer sighing
Her voice is low and sweet.

Her voice is low and sweet
And she’s all the world to me
And for Bonnie Annie Laurie
I’d lay me doon and dee.

There is also an interesting story about my son’s name as well. A friend of the family came out to visit once telling me about Parker Palmer’s The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life (2007; 1997), about which I have blogged before, and an interesting connection to the Irish author Frederick Buechner and the US singer-songwriter Brooks Williams, whom we all used to follow. (This idea of “inner landscape” also figures prominently later in this post.) Our friend was telling me how Palmer had used this quote from Buechner to define vocation.

During our friend’s visit, however, I took a trip to a used bookstore and found a book by Buechner, whom I had never read. Indeed it was Brendan: A Novel (1987), about Brendan the Navigator, whom every Irish child “knows” was first to discover the New World. I do so love the tale’s infusion of early Celtic Christianity with “the old earth fragrance” of paganism. Indeed, in one chapter of the book Brendan, using druidic arts taught him by Bishop Erc, his mentor, conjures a fog to prevent two posturing armies from fighting. Indeed, it may be because of this connection that the rituals of the Earth Circle CUUPS atmy congregation that earth-centered spirituality has become so resonant with me.

The impetus for my musings on things Celtic are more immediate. Struggling to put this as diplomatically as possible in a public forum, allow me to say that graduation season is a keen reminder for me how both my children have had some difficulty feeling completely a part of their high school experiences. I would imagine there are some in my town who would regard my childrearing somewhat libertine. In musing about the degree to which my daughter, an artist and errant musician, is bohemian, I listened again to “La Vie Bohème” from the soundtrack of  “Rent.”

(I was surprised by the number of references I got. John Cage? Who the heck among your friends has ever heard a piece by John Cage?)

Even as a parent, I do to some degree condone a spirit of rebellion, and even expect it, of young adults, as part of the life cycle. How else do they differentiate themselves from us, and each other, coping with social change. Just as Neville Longbottom is rewarded by Albus Dumbledore for standing up to his friends in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (1998), I think a truly rebellious spirit will eventually allow one to differentiate oneself from one’s peers. Indeed, rebellious ones have as much, if not more difficulty with their peers than with authority, a fine point usually lost on the latter.

But rebellion is not without its costs, and hard, hard, bitter lessons. In thinking about my daughter’s current distress, I couldn’t help but think of one of my favorite scenes in one of my favorite movies, John Sayle’s “magical realist” family-friendly feature, “The Secret of Roan Inish,” (1994), based on the book The Secret of the Ron Mor Skerry (1959). In this scene, Fiona has just returned from the city to “the country,” or actually the seaside, to live with her grandparents. This first “story within a story” helps shape the overall tale in which Fiona plays a major part.

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I love the acting, the storytelling prowess, and the folklore as well as the cultural historical context. Sayle’s directing is pure movie magic. Sean Michael’s story is so elemental not only in its naturalistic elements, but in the way in which a parent’s expectations are dashed, perhaps because a child is taught too well to have self–esteem, and because social structures can completely lack slack and compassion. “Life plays for keeps” is something that I tell my own two children. I also love the subtle humor of the grandmother’s reaction to the story and her own unexamined devotional practices. Speaking of Brigid, I do so remember doing Brigid’s Cross in a workshop with John Friend, whom I think has some Irish ancestry. (Incidentally I, like Fiona, don’t have any Irish, but I’ve come across what I think is a reasonably reliable translation for Sean Michael’s outburst.)

These musings continue in Part Three, “Roots and Shoots.”

About Richard Hudak

I am Senior Adjunct Faculty in Sociology at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, and I have been a practitioner of Anusara™ yoga. I have completed 200 hours of teacher training within its diaspora community, consistent with its philosophy and alignment principles.
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4 Responses to Celtic Soul Part II, “A Hardworking Lad”

  1. Pingback: Celtic Soul, Part III, “Roots and Shoots” | The Considered Kula

  2. Pingback: Canticle, “Grace’s House” | The Considered Kula

  3. Pingback: Bright Solstice Blessings! | The Considered Kula

  4. Pingback: Celtic Soul Part IV, “A Pelagian Optimism” | The Considered Kula

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