At This Year’s Eugene Irish Festival

Good Craic

On Saturday, March 8, Jodie and I headed down to Sheldon High School for Eugene’s Irish Cultural Festival. We had a great time, noting that not only were this year’s workshops broader in scope, but there was even more music, too. Here are a few observations from our day at the Eugene Irish Festival…

Food. First thing’s first, and for us the first thing was eats. We arrived around noon, and snagged up a small bowl of potato soup, a grilled reuben sandwich and a bag of chips for $7. Quite reasonable. The soup was savory, with just the right amount bacon. The reuben was grilled bliss.

Irish Calligraphy Workshop. I like to type because my handwriting is atrocious. Jodie is one of the few people in the world who can read it (one of the reasons I’m marrying her). So it was with some trepidation that I attended Anne Merydith’s "Calligraphy in the Irish Style" workshop. That trepidation quickly lifted. In no time at all I was writing characters with a half-decent stroke. I wrote Jodie’s name in Irish calligraphy, and got double fiance points when I proved to Jodie that I actually can have neat handwriting.

Fiddle Workshop. While I sweated over a hot calligraphy pen, Jodie sawed away on Irish fiddle tunes. One thing she liked about this year’s workshop was that in addition to playing the tunes by ear, similar to how you would in an Irish traditional music session, or trad session, was that the instructor had handouts for everyone to take home. This would make learning and remembering the tunes much easier, an improvement over last year.

Speaking a bit o’ the Gaelic. I next sat in on an Irish language workshop, led by Gerry Carthy. Gerry walked us through a poem by the famed Irish poet Antoine Ó Raifteiri (or, anglicized, Anthony Raftery). He went through line by line, explaining enunciation, where to stress, tense, and more, all the while finding plenty of opportunity to slip in interesting anecdotes.

On a personal note, I got to chat with Gerry a little later and found out we had a bit of a connection. Back in 2000, I lived in Galway, Ireland for a couple of months. Just about every night I’d go down to Galway’s Crane Bar, have a pint and take in the incredible music sessions. "Aye, you went to the Crane then," Gerry said as we talked about Ireland, Galway and the language. "I helped start that session, back in the 80s." And here I was, running into him in Eugene, one of the people responsible for the music sessions I’d enjoyed so much as a traveler.

Celtic Knots. Jodie wore one of her knit cabled sweaters to the festival, and took in a workshop where she learned how to ink and draw Celtic knots. Led by the same Anne Merydith of the earlier calligraphy workshop, Jodie came out of the workshop with some impressive bits of inked knotwork, including the design on her hand-knit sweater.

Tonn Nua. While Jodie worked on knots, I sat in the auditorium and listened to Tonn Nua, a group of 5 area teens playing traditional Celtic music with a lot of modern, youthful verve. Between them they play tin whistle, octave mandolin, saxophone (David), fiddle, bagpipes, uilleann pipes (Ansel), guitar, bodhran, brass (Daphne), upright bass, flute (Zoe), banjo, tenor guitar, mandolin (Alison). It was an impressive set, with good coordination between the members and a great flow to the music.

Arts and Culture of the Aran Islands and the West of Ireland. I was really looking forward to this. Most of my time in Ireland was in Galway, Connemara and Inisheer, the smallest of the Aran Islands. Attending UO Professor Dianne Dugaw’s workshop was most interesting. She presented Irish culture in terms of history and its overall differing worldview and philosophy, of a more ever-shifting, ever-changing world. It was intriguing to listen to her comparisons between Irish culture and other Western cultures, and how they have influenced each other over the years. It also really made me want to see Inisheer again – that’ll be a great trip to make with Jodie someday.

Jodie and I had a great time at this year’s Irish Festival. An event like this is always a work in progress, and we both felt the organizers made some improvements over last year’s festival, to make a well-organized, broadly appealing Irish festival. We’re looking forward to next year’s already!

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