Thursday, June 09, 2011

ON THE AVENUES: From the Liffey to the Ohio.

ON THE AVENUES: From the Liffey to the Ohio.

Local Columnist

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

The extent to which I love, and seemingly just as often loathe, my own town of New Albany is a subject requiring more column inches than time permits, not to mention occasional bouts of psychotherapy. Beer helps, too.

But another festive cultural weekend looms, and before it receives its due coverage, there’s a wee bit of back story for us to peruse. Find a chair, pour a jar, and smoke’ em if you’ve got ‘em – before someone makes fun like this illegal.

Consider first the distinctively American sport of basketball. Although the squad didn’t make this year’s NBA finals, you may have heard of the Celtics, the perennially successful team in Boston, itself arguably the world capital of the Irish Diaspora.

To my mind, the Celtics should never be the SELL-tics, as we insist on calling the team, but the KELL-tics. The team’s name comes from the Celts (properly pronounced “Kelts”), who were ancient tribal Europeans of the Iron Age, and the ancestors of today’s Irish.

The hard “k” is easier to remember by fixing an image of Bushmill’s, Jameson’s or Tullamore Dew in one’s mind, and asking the bartender for a belt of the Kelts … or two.

Long ago, Celtic cultures expanded into many European territories. The advent of the Roman Empire gradually pushed them toward the continent’s western periphery, to remote green islands and misty, 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 all that, but for our purposes today, it’s enough to know that a few central elements of convivial living, including music, beer, conversation and food, are stocks-in-trade of the Celts, and that among Celts, the Irish stand out as visible and enthusiastic proponents of these timeless virtues.

It’s 2011, and is there any place of consequence on the planet outside of North Korea that doesn’t have a mostly authentic Irish pub serving Guinness and some variant of fish and potatoes?


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

While Stouts, Porters and Red Ales do a man’s body good, his mind craves a governing context to accompany the liquid, and it is in words and music that the Irish experience truly comes alive. The recipe is simple. One adds equal literary elements of James Joyce, Seamus Heaney, John Synge and W.B. Yeats to gifted instrumental musicianship, complete with fiddles, tin whistles, guitars and banjos, which on occasion can lead to jigs and reels.

Spice the emerging concoction with everyday speaking voices that transform common English into lilting melodies, even when reading the Dublin phone book, and listen as golden-throated singers render these tunes into the realm of the ethereal and sublime. Enjoy the results as often as possible, with pints of black gold at the ready.

This is where the town we (well, something) so well, New Albany, re-enters the narrative.

On Saturday, June 18, the hard-working volunteers from the Kentuckiana Celtic Fest return to New Albany’s revamped riverfront amphitheater with the third annual “Celts on the River,” a free concert running from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.

This year’s musical headliner is Brendan Loughrey, who was born in County Donegal, an isolated, rural area clinging to the northwest coast of the island. Donegal is part of the Irish Republic, but most of its land border is with Northern Ireland, and Loughrey’s childhood coincided with the worst period of the Troubles. While still very young, Loughrey’s father gifted him with a guitar and said, "You'll reach more people with this guitar son, than you'll ever reach with a rifle."

On the 18th, supporting local and regional artists will include Cloigheann, Mark Geary and John Skelton. There’ll be food from area purveyors, arts and crafts vendors, and beer from the New Albanian Brewing Company, including the 2011 releases of Haggis Laddie (Irish Red) and Strathpeffer (honey and heather ale, Scottish-style).

The Irish Exit will be assisting NABC this year with bar service, and the Exit will be hosting the Celts on the River after party (10:00 p.m. to dawn’s early light). The concert also provides support for Kentucky Harvest’s Blessing in a Backpack.

Did I mention that there is no cover charge? For more information, visit, and enjoy this anecdote, as relayed by 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.

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