Due to unforeseen circumstances, the January 9, 2016 event planned for the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, at the University of Tampa, has been postponed to an undetermined date. The event was to be the first stateside meeting of the 235-year-old organization of historians, researchers and archeologists. When new information is available, I will post it here and in the pages of Celtic Guide.
For our final issue of 2014 we featured an interview with actress, singer-songwriter SEM (Sandra Elizabeth Mae) of Austria. Some of her music is available to be heard on our Free Music tab.
by James A. McQuiston FSA Scot, USA
EDITOR’S NOTE: We’ve been lucky enough to land interviews with many great artists, musical and otherwise. For “DeSEMber” we feature an actress, author and singer-songwriter from Austria who goes by the stage name of SEM. In civilian life she is Sandra Elizabeth Mae, and she appears to be taking the Celtic and alternative music world by storm with her latest album, Hero. Let’s get right to the questions.
CG: Welcome to the pages of Celtic Guide. Even though we were aware of ancient Celtic history in Austria, we were very surprised to hear the strong Celtic influence in your music. Where do you think that influence comes from?
SEM: I’ve always loved Celtic music, both Celtic traditional folk music, and also in a “modernized” form, as in Celtic Rock bands or, multidisciplinary, in gothic or symphonic metal music, so I began incorporating these sounds into my own music. Moreover, I am a huge fan of the Arthurian legends, and everything else that has a Celtic or medieval background or influence - mystical fantasy literature like The Lord Of The Rings, for example – so my passion for all these kind of things can be found in my blend of musical sounds.
CG: Celtic music is so timeless. You are quite young and we imagine your music is not considered mainstream by your age group. How are your fans reacting to your unique sound?
SEM: No, my music is definitely not mainstream, that’s why it makes it rather hard to be featured on radio stations over here, since almost all Austrian radio stations focus on the U.S. charts only. I guess my fans mainly enjoy the authenticity and emotionality that my music conveys, and the things I stand for as a person, as well as the mystical and fantastical atmosphere my songs can create. My fans are mainly age 30+ and primarily come from India, Asia and Poland, which surprises me, because I was expecting more Nordic countries to be interested in my music - countries like Norway, Iceland or the Netherlands - where successful symphonic rock bands like Within Temptation come from. Well, maybe they will be interested, and just haven’t heard of me yet ;-)
CG: We’ve read that you began music lessons by the age of eight and wrote your first song by the age of 14. As often is the case – no overnight success for you! Can you tell us a little bit about your latest album, and describe to our readers the nature of your music, overall?
SEM: I like to describe my music as mystic-melancholic and rocking-romantic. My debut album Hero reaches from bittersweet piano ballads to Celtic pop and symphonic rock songs, covering topics like pain and joy, love and grief, doubt and hope. Hero - The Album is about going on, about keeping faith, about overcoming obstacles, and our own fears and sorrows. It’s about that hero who lies within all of us, who keeps us going whenever we think we can’t get up and fight any more. It’s about letting our true colours shine through and wearing our hearts on our sleeves.
CG: We’ve noticed that your music is quite dynamic in that the rhythm can sometimes change abruptly, or the instrumentation. How do you capture those extremely technical ideas while in the songwriting process?
SEM: Actually, I never think of technical stuff while in the songwriting process. It just happens! As far as the instrumentation, I don’t really think about that either, not until the song is finished. Then, I go to my fellow musician, Reinhard Reschner, who runs a recording studio, and together we decide what the final nature of the songs should sound like. My ideas are always quite precise, and Reinhard knows exactly how to implement them perfectly. Let’s say it’s a symbiosis of creativity and common honesty!
CG: Which comes to you first, the music or the words, and where do you find inspiration for each of them?
SEM: My inspirations are drawn from my own experiences in life, my feelings and thoughts, but also from books, or movies, or people who inspire me. When I write a song, most of the time the music comes first and the words follow shortly afterwards. Sometimes it happens the other way round, too, although I don’t really know why. Maybe it depends on how I’m feeling. But one thing’s for sure: both music and lyrics always come from my heart. Sounds cheesy, but it’s true!
CG: Are you regimented in writing music, a certain time of day, or so many hours a day, or is it just when the mood strikes you?
SEM: That’s easy to answer – when the mood strikes me! Once, I tried to sit down in front of my keyboard and write a song because I just “had time to” and felt like I “had to” – didn’t work. Wasn’t really surprised about it, though.
CG: Do you ever get lost in the music?
SEM: Oh yes! And I always feel better afterwards.
CG: Are you involved in other creative pursuits?
SEM: As a professional actress, I’m involved in theatre plays in Linz, Austria, and I’m also part of a show group that focuses on entertainment for company celebrations, Christmas events or other festivities. Moreover, I’m a freelance writer at a local newspaper, which is a really nice way of having creative variety. I enjoy all of these jobs, but my wish is to be more on the spot with my own music and other projects of mine; I write theatre plays and novels as well.
CG: What’s next for SEM?
SEM: Hopefully, a second album and some concert gigs, depending on how well and how quickly my first album finds a market. I need all the support and fandom I can get! I would also love to produce a film soundtrack at some point.
CG: Finally, what is that one thing you’d like Celtic Guide readers to know about you?
SEM: I want to inspire people. I want someone to look at me and say: “Because of you, I didn’t give up” – because it was music that helped me keep going whenever I thought I couldn’t keep the faith and strength any more. I hope to help people the same with my music, to give them comfort or hope, to take them to visionary, adventurous places in their imagination. Thanks for your time and attention, CG readers!
I was thinking about our great contributors and realized that, on a regular basis, we have reoccurring stories pouring in from the U.S., of course, but also from Canada, Ireland, Scotland, England, Australia, New Zealand and Poland. We hope to be picking up a regular author from Wales any minute. We are so proud to cover the Celtic world as we do. Poland harkens back to the old days of Galicia, a country that encompassed about half of Poland and half of Ukraine up until WWI. The name came from its Gaelic settlers, and many a Polish person has the legendary blue eyes and fair hair, as did my own grandfather. There is another similar area crossing over from Portugal to Spain called Galacia, and we've even had several articles from a writer there. In addition, we've featured folks from Austria and Romania bent on recapturing the Celtic musical past of these countries as well. Throw in single contributions from Chile, South Africa, and Germany, in past issues, and we've had a total of fifteen countries involved.
Most of these wonderful authors continue to send their articles in and I think it's fair to say we've dipped our toes in ALL the Celtic waters around the globe. Yahooeee!
Saturday, September 12, 2015, the U.S. National Scottish Fiddling Championship was held at the 22nd Annual Edinboro (PA) Highland Games. One of the judges was the great fiddler Bonnie Rideout, shown here with Jim and Beth McQuiston who performed at the Games as Celtic Creek.
If all goes as planned, Bonnie will be the subject of an interview in our December issue of Celtic Guide. She and her fellow judges gave individual concerts on the fiddle that were just indescribable, and she received a standing ovation for her original song "Lament For the Horses of Uist." It was well deserved. Check out her fiddle music online.
It has been known for a long time that two leading motives for the Scotch-Irish leaving Northern Ireland for America during the early 1700s were rents being doubled and even tripled, and general religious persecution. Another reason was the growing lack of food in Ireland, which actually perpetuated even another reason for immigration to America. This final reason was that many Presbyterian ministers were not being paid by their congregations, due to rising rents and lack of food. This became a downward spiral in that as more people migrated, there were even less left behind to support the ministers.
Often, the local church was all that held the community together. The phenomenon was called clachan, a word generally meaning "a small village with a church" but, in its broader sense, meaning "I got your back."
Some stronger, or more powerful preachers decided to try their luck in America, where opportunity was more available for their parishioners to make a decent living. Thus, many made their intentions known to migrate, and the more loyal parishioners decided to go, too. This led to the clachan movement becoming very strong in the Colonies during the time leading up to the American Revolution. Many a fiery Presbyterian minister proclaimed from the pulpit that Americans owed no allegiance to the King of England.
The Scotch-Irish are most often credited with being the driving force in the Revolution.
According to the celebrated British historian of the American Revolution, George Trevelyan – in the early days of the Revolution British loyalists felt that, “Political agitation against the Royal Government had been deliberately planned by Presbyterians…was fostered and abetted by Presbyterians in every colony.”
Likewise, John C. Miller observed, “To the end, the Churchmen believed that the Revolution was a Presbyterian-Congregationalist plot.”
A Hessian captain, fighting on behalf of the British, told a friend in Germany, in 1778, “Call this war, dearest friend, by whatsoever name you may, only call it not an American Revolution; it is nothing more nor less than an Irish-Scotch Presbyterian Rebellion.”
Andrew Hammond, British commander of the HMS Roebuck, arrived in America just after the American Declaration of Independence had been signed by the members of the Continental Congress. Even at that early stage of revolt Hammond conveyed the perspective of the Anglicans – “It is the Presbyterians that have brought about this revolt, and aim at getting the government of America into their hands.”
Isaac Atkinson, a Maryland loyalist, expressed his opinion of the Revolution, saying that, “It was a religious dispute and a Presbyterian scheme.”
Thomas Smith, a supporter of the crown in Pennsylvania, held the view that, “The whole was nothing but a scheme of a parcel of hot-headed Presbyterians.”
King George III was advised by William Jones, in 1776, “This has been a Presbyterian war from the beginning… and accordingly the first firing against the King’s troops was from a Massachusetts meeting house.”
Even George Washington, leader of the Continental Army, is recorded at Valley Forge as saying, “If all else fails, I will retreat up the valley of Virginia, plant my flag on the Blue Ridge, rally around the Scotch-Irish of that region and make my last stand for liberty amongst a people who will never submit to British tyranny whilst there is a man left to draw a trigger.”
Scarcity and persecution in Northern Ireland led directly to the freedom we have enjoyed in America for so long. We owe all those who fought and suffered so much for their contribution.
Belfast Lord Mayor Arder Carson has called on everyone in the City of Belfast to show support for people caught up in the refugee crisis engulfing Europe. Already, thousands have flocked into Austria, Hungary, Germany and other countries closer to the Middle East crisis. Without a doubt the masses of escapees will make it all the way to Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and other Celtic countries, perhaps even to the United States. The two biggest fears are – How will all these people be fed and assimilated? and – Are terrorists coming in mixed among genuine refugees?
This could prove a major disaster for Europe and the world unless something is done to straighten out the Middle East mess. This is why, in spite of all the questions "Why?," the world community HAS to be involved in peace around the world and stamping out terrorism. There really is no other choice. We're all in this boat called Earth together.
With all that is happening, it is more important than ever that Celtic Guide and other publications and websites like it keep Celtic culture and history alive as the world melting pot simmers.
Below is a map of Ireland from 1572. Its orientation is different than what we'd expect and along the bottom is the coast that would normally face towards the east, or towards Scotland and England on a modern map. You can clearly see Dublin (spelled Dublyn on this map) near the bottom center where it would typically show up along the top righthand corner of a current map of Ireland.
The beauty of this map is that it has many family names on it plus early names of certain areas and towns. I got a kick out of how it list the "Metropolis" of Armagh. Who knew that word was being used so many centuries before Superman!? Guess it's an old Greek word that made its way to this map.
Also of interest is how Carrickfergus is referred to as Knockfergus, both meaning Fergus's Rock.
A 16-17 megabyte PDF file of this map can be downloaded at oireachtas.ie. You'll have to search the site for it and it takes awhile to load into your browser before being saved to your desktop as a PDF. The version below allows for reading of just about everything on the map if you don't want to download it yourself.
President Obama has officially replaced the name of the largest mountain in North America, Mount McKinley, with its Native name Denali. It has been erroneously reported that the mountain was named after President McKinley for the great job he did as president. Not!
The mountain was named for McKinley while he was still running for president, this after throwing a cow off the roof of his college fraternity house!
What most people don't know is that the mountain was previously named after another Scot - Frank Densmore, who had traversed sixty-five miles of the mountain’s slopes, back in 1889. Captain Jack McQuesten, Father of the Yukon, had first recorded Densmore’s entrance into the Yukon Valley just a few years earlier. The Densmore name comes from Dundemore in Fife, Scotland. So this highest mountain in North America actually has gone by two names of Scottish origin, Densmore and McKinley.
Yours truly will be speaking at the University of Tampa, on January 9th, addressing Scots in the Yukon for the first ever U.S. meeting of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, of which I am a Fellow. The event is open to the public so if you want more info, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hi! I'm the publisher of Celtic Guide e-magazine and I'm using this space to add some shorter Celtic news items and to post some featured articles from past issues that were particularly popular. I am very happy to be your "Celtic Guide" on this little adventure of ours.