Category Archives: folklore and ethnography

King’s Mountain?

Jack’s Wednesday guest post is, OF COURSE, late again –

A Dance called America – James Hunter

This isn’t really a book review, but I thought I’d better head this post that way, as much of what will come next is from my reading of this excellent and informative book.

The Battle of King’s Mountain is seen in this area and taught in US schools as a pivotal event in the American War of Independence. While that is certainly true, there is another way of seeing it that has a lot to do with centuries of Scottish history.

Everyone is familiar with the story of the ‘Scotch Irish’ and their settling in Southern Appalachia. These were the children of lowland Scots who themselves had moved to the north of Ireland and established plantations there. These children grew up to find they were unpopular in Ireland and with little economic prospects. So they moved to the ‘New World’ and specifically to Appalachia.

However Gaelic speaking highlanders from Scotland had already emigrated to the coastal regions of the Carolinas and Georgia earlier. These were relatively wealthy ‘tack men’ very high in the clan pecking order and just below the level of clan chief. Once in the Americas they established cotton and tobacco plantations (which is why Glasgow and Paisley became the tobacco and cotton ‘capitals’ of Europe).

The forces that met at King’s Mountain in 1780 comprised a loyalist army led by a professional British soldier – Major Patrick Ferguson, who was a Scots highlander, and a contingent of patriots who were mostly drawn from the Scotch-Irish immigrant population. On the British side, apart from Ferguson, the army was all volunteer, and they were mainly Gaelic speaking highlanders from the coast. The patriots were all volunteers and their leaders included many with Scots names.

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Patrick Ferguson

It should be noted here that back in Scotland there had been centuries of clashes between the northern clans and the southern folk – a fault line between two distinctly different cultures!

I could never understand, however, why two lots of Scots that had been, effectively, forced out of Scotland would end up on opposing sides in what was at that time pretty much an English colony. It seemed odd to me.

But, as Hunter points out, the highlanders considered themselves ‘upper class’ and aristocratic before all else and saw the patriots as lower-class peasants who needed to be put in their place. So they aligned themselves with their ‘peers’ in London rather than their fellow countrymen. In doing so they inadvertently simply continued a long tradition of Scottish history – albeit in a foreign land.

Footnotes –

When the war ended with victory for the patriots, a great many of the highlanders who had been captured didn’t return to the Carolinas and Georgia. Instead they made new lives in Canada. At the present time there are more native Gaelic speakers in Canada than in Scotland.

The last native Gaelic speaker in North Carolina died in the late 1800s. He was a Presbyterian Pastor and an African-American!

Shortly after these events the highlands of Scotland suffered ‘The Clearances’, and this resulted in a much stronger feeling of solidarity between the Gaelic and Scots cultures, which has continued to strengthen down to the present.

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Filed under book reviews, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, writing

Mony a Mickle maks a Muckle

Jack’s Wednesday Blog – yes – I know!

I’m one of those crazy folks who can’t stop getting involved with folk festivals and folk clubs. I’ve been doing it most of my life so I should have known better by now!

Every time I say ‘never again’ but then ‘again’ comes around and in I dive. I suck in unsuspecting and/or long-suffering friends and even complete strangers.

Right now, we’re 10 days away from the 11th Big Stone Celtic which is our local celebration of the culture of the seven (or maybe eight or nine) connected Nations that have links to this part of the new world. This is the time just before any of these kinds of events when anything that might go wrong is very likely to. It might be overlooked essential details, a last-minute performer cancellation, the complications of expanded offerings or just the everyday pressures of all the other life events that surround us.

Big Stone Celtic is quite unusual for a folk festival this side of the pond. It’s modeled on traditional music events in Ireland and Scotland that take place in small towns and villages using every space available. Here in the US they usually take place in parks outside of towns. Apart from a Friday evening concert in the local community college on the outskirts our festival uses all the nooks and crannies we can find for free in downtown all-day Saturday.

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Lest this sound like a ‘one-man-band’ I should also say that despite all the pressure (and maybe why I keep repeating the torture) it only ever works if there’s a team involved. Some have been in it from the very start and others have joined or left the gang as their other commitments allowed. We have a very strong and hard working group of folk right now, though and seem to have

Wendy and I started this off 11 years ago with a very tentative Saturday afternoon thing in a small local downtown park with no idea whether there would be any interest. Because all the venues are public spaces it isn’t possible to charge entry so we are completely dependent on donations and sponsorship which I’m delighted to say has increased year on year. Our biggest sponsor is the local arts organization ProArt and for the last five years they have enabled Friday concert as well as much of the Saturday music. We have reached the level now when we feature a world class performer each year. Past festivals have featured Barbara Dickson, Alan Reid/Rob Van Sante, Ocean Orchestra, Iona, John Skelton etc.

It’s not all music, though – we go to great lengths to identify all the Celtic Nations (including Appalachia) through food, costume, crafts and all kinds of athletic activities – even sheepdogs!

Anything I might have missed in this blatant commercial can be found here – http://www.bigstoneceltic.com

 

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“Where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light – – -“

Jack’s Wednesday guest post –

The great Scottish novelist Robert Louis Stevenson  was a product of the European ‘Enlightenment’ led by thinkers and scientists based in Edinburgh. The word ‘enlightenment’, of course, plays to my Quaker beliefs as it suggests shining light into the darkness. That movement was very much about lining up rational thought and empirical evidence against superstition and ignorance.

Stevenson expressed his understanding of the battle between these forces wonderfully in ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’, where darkness and light are taken to extremes within the same body.

Like many others of the Quaker persuasion, I have a very questioning  faith that probably comes down at bottom to this: we each have the capability for extreme evil and extreme good within us. There’s a continual battle going on between our Jekyll and Hyde and we aren’t in complete control of that battle. Paul said something like that in the Bible in Romans: ‘we hate what we do and know what we should do, but still do the wrong things’.

What I’m getting to, loyal readers is, Charlottesville and everything surrounding it. Like you didn’t see that coming?

Most of us believe that we want to strive toward good, but sometimes  when the stars align (so much for the enlightenment)  our bad side gets a severe nudge. That’s usually powered by feelings of insecurity (think of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs).

There are large segments of the population in the US (and England) that feel very insecure right now because they see their standard of living threatened and need to blame someone for that. They also feel they need to retreat back to a more comfortable set of circumstances. Hence – ‘Make America great again’ and Brexit (Make England great again).

The enemy, therefore (and as usual) becomes anyone not like we who have the power. The difference can be nationality, color, religion, denomination – anything convenient.

So back to my beliefs and faith – My faith is that light will ultimately prevail, as it’s a living thing and is at the beginning of everything. But the darkness is also powerful and we are the ones who feed it.

Finally – Quakers believe in non-violence and the peaceful challenging of violent behavior. I have absolutely no doubt there were many Quakers in Charlottesville and I’ve no doubt which side they were on – the side of the Light. It may become increasingly confusing to decide who gets to say what is light and what darkness. But it can never be said that genuine seekers of God’s guidance don’t find it. I am holding you, and all of us, in the Light.

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Erin Go Bragh – – –

When you get an email from an old friend saying they’re in New Orleans it wouldn’t normally be an occasion for puzzlement or surprise. But this was our good friend Erin, who is usually pretty much stuck here in town because of her medical condition. Erin has Marfan Syndrome and is also legally blind.

We first met Erin through her enthusiasm for amateur drama and our bookstore. She went on to be a stalwart of our weekly needlework night and eventually a great support to Chef Kelley’s ‘Second Story Cafe’. Many a time she slaved late into the night making desserts for the next day and then came in to help take orders, serve and clean up afterwards. She also makes hundreds of mini Cornish pasties for our annual Celtic festival!

Just a few years ago Erin, who trained as a classroom assistant, took on the local Presbyterian Church Sunday school and the kids love her. I love the idea that she is an example to them that not everyone is the same and that no matter the obstacles it’s possible to succeed in life.

However her greatest gift is with infant kittens. She has her own pets, of course, but she is also an expert with very young orphans. Because of her condition she doesn’t sleep well, so she can feed them at the required four hourly intervals. She carries the babies around close to her so they feel secure and even bought a special buggy to wheel them in when she’s out and about–frequently found parked outside our bookstore.

It’s not uncommon in a small rural town anywhere for folk who are seen as ‘different’ to be stigmatized, but Erin is the equal of anyone who looks at her the wrong way. She has kept us entertained many a time telling about the confrontations she has had on the highways and byways of Big Stone Gap.

nollins

A Spitfire and DC3 in D Day markings

The email she sent me this morning was from the WW2 museum in New Orleans and she included pictures of a number of historic aircraft of the period. She had remembered that I’m pretty crazy about classic airplanes. I replied asking her how on earth she had got there, and she explained that she had attended a Marfan conference in Atlanta and then got a Greyhound bus to ‘nollins’ because it wasn’t much further. She had an old friend there who was driving her around and would be back when she and the city were tired of each other- – –

Erin Go Bragh!

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

The Monday Book – Paradise to Puddledub

Jack’s guest post is the Monday book this week –

Paradise to Puddledub – Wendy Welch (Lyngham House 2002)

As  you can no doubt understand this isn’t so much a book review as a book description. It’s not a marketing ploy either; the book in question is out of print!

PtoP

This was the first complete book by my wife Wendy to be published. She had contributed academic articles before this to specialist journals and story collections, but this was all her own writing. For some years she had written a weekly column for a newspaper based in Maryville Tennessee and she continued to do this after moving to Scotland. Paradise to Puddledub is a collection of some of the stories that were published in the paper during that time.

Immediately prior to moving across the Atlantic she had lived in the tiny Newfoundland hamlet of Paradise near St John’s in Newfoundland where she studied for her PhD in Ethnography. After moving to Fife and getting married she became curiously fascinated by an equally small hamlet there called Puddledub (the joke is that the Scots word for a puddle is ‘dub’ – so the name should really be either Puddlepuddle or Dubdub!).

Of course I was very much part of the critiquing and proof reading at the time the book was being written, so it was intriguing to stumble across a copy as we were tidying a few days ago. It has been my bed-time reading since then. Many of the stories in the book describe events that I was part of, and quite few have been retold at gatherings over the years.

I suppose my only reservation is that most of the columns had to conform to a fairly strict word count because they were written originally to fit half of a newspaper page. That means that there’s more to most of the stories that there simply wasn’t room for. There’s a healthy writing discipline to that, but…

The events described range from the hilarious to the poignant and occasionally horrifying. From my first attempt to eat fast-food in a British car going round a roundabout, to the kids in an Edinburgh housing project getting to grips with a performance during the prestigious Edinburgh arts festival, not to mention the heroic librarian ‘keeping calm and carrying on’!

If Wendy happens to read this guest blog, I’d like her to consider re-publishing the book, but with some of the pieces filled out to include all of the story.

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To See Ourselves as Others See Us

“O, wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!” — R Burns

I don’t write about politics. It’s a rule of mine – make some people mad and other people smug, for what purpose? BobDewardrawing

Jack and I just got back from his annual tour taking Americans to Scotland, my first return in a few years. When we lived there, I used my bi-annual trips to the States as yardsticks, measuring how things were progressing for me and for my country. Living in Scotland as an American back in the 2000s could be tricky. US-ers weren’t popular.

This year, taking nine guests across familiar territory, it was almost unfamiliar. Edinburgh’s High Street has become Myrtle Beach. The smaller towns and hidden gems we led the group through are still hidden and lovely, but the people in them went out of their way to speak to us, to ask where we were from, tell us of their relatives Stateside, wonder how we were enjoying the holiday. Warmth, not patronage. (Well, except in Edinburgh, but that’s expected in a tourism Mecca.)

The “puir wee souls, how ya gettin on there” attitude continued across the Southwest of Scotland, the edge of the Highlands, and even Ulster in N. Ireland. I said as much to Colin, the long-time family friend who is our driver, as we sat in the hotel bar one night.

He gave an eye-averted smile. “The Trump Effect, we calls it,” he said.

A lengthy conversation ensued I won’t bore you with, but the jist was that America had shifted in the minds of most Scots, from “country voted most likely to drag Britain into a war” to a thoughtful consideration that we had outed our true values with the result that your basic poor sod on the street was screwed.

Money. America was always a corporate raider in the minds of Scots, its embodiment less Lady Liberty than a sharp-eyed man in a tailored suit, legal brief in one pocket, gun in the other. A country that talked about Democracy and played shell games with cash.

Now we had voted, in the minds of others, for a guy we thought would make us rich again. But not two-chickens-in-every-pot rich, just get-us-out-of-this-grindinng-poverty rich. Honestly, I never put Scots down for having a lot of good insights into America, their views being largely shaped by Channel 5 TV. If you watch enough reruns of Dallas and The Wolf of Wall Street… but Scots were now explaining to me how sad it was that America’s middle class was shrinking, its wealth consolidating.

Brigitta, the hotel hostess, paused to listen to our conversation. Brigitta had become a hospitality diva in our eyes because of her sweet efficiency, non-stop motion, and natural kindness. A native of Poland who had married her Scottish chef husband twenty years before, she often spiked her English with metaphors to make her meanings clear.

“America, its roots are showing.”

We looked at her, inviting more. She set down the water pitchers in her never-still hands and gestured to the part in her hair.

“Women, you know, we hide the grey, we color, here. Sometimes you don’t have enough money, you don’t do it again, it grows, so. Then roots show you are not who you show you are.”

“America is such. Says one thing, is another. Wants money. But poor people, no blame, of course want money. NEED money. Desperate makes you hope rich man helps. Is mistake, thinking rich man get them money. No. Money from, not for. Why they think rich man wants help anyone get money?” She clicked her tongue, picked up her pitchers, and disappeared.

Colin, Jack, and I stared at one another.

Finally I said, “That is what I have been trying to get to grips with for some time now. It’s that Burns poem come to life, to see ourselves as others see us.”

Colin turned and gestured for the bartender. “Then you’re gonna need another drink, lassie,” he said.

 

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On the Road Again – –

Jack’s Wednesday guest post is on Thursday again – yawn – – –

One of the highlights of the tour I organize on odd-numbered years is the visit to Ballyeman Barn in Beautiful Antrim and the home of our old friend Liz Weir. Despite the fact that she’d only just returned from the US the day before we arrived, she was the perfect host as usual.

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Liz always cooks us a superb dinner before opening up the room for an old fashioned ceilidh with stories, songs and music. She always invites some of her local friends to join us and the entertainment and ‘craic’ is mighty (as they say in Ireland).

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What I wasn’t prepared for this time was the arrival of an old colleague from my teaching career in Dunfermline. I vaguely knew that John O’Connor was Irish but I didn’t know that he was from Cushendall and that he’d returned there when he retired. Just down the road from Liz’s place.

liz 4

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