St. Patrick's events abound in Atlanta
Tis the season to be Irish: March. Back home, there is a lot less celebrating this year. For the first time in recorded history, Ireland's St Patrick's Day Parade has been cancelled, a severe reaction to a new outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease among livestock.
But here in Atlanta, Irish music abounds. The Chieftains started the ball rolling at the Fox earlier the month, and more Irish visitors play in the metro area through early April. Even the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet is adjusting its program at Spivey Hall on March 17 in honor of St. Patrick's Day.
Patrick Street are no strangers to Atlanta, and their Wednesday, March 14, show at the Variety Playhouse provides an opportunity to hear the subtle playing of Bothy Band founding member Kevin Burke (fiddle, Sligo style) and De Dannan and Riverdance veteran Jackie Daly (accordion). It's all held together by Andy Irvine, who helped to start the original (new generation) Irish supergroup Planxty 30 years ago. He accompanies his own unmistakable voice with his rhythmic, Balkan-influenced bouzouki and mandolin. The lads are promoting their new Compendium: The Best of Patrick Street CD on Green Linnet.
John McDermott was born in Glasgow and grew up in Canada. He has a good tenor voice and developed a repertoire that included Irish and Scottish favorites. Four years ago, when he dropped into WRFG's studio in Little Five Points unannounced, he was totally unknown. Within a year, he signed to Canadian Angel/EMI and, before you could say "Danny Boy," he was on public television in this country and playing big halls as one of the three Irish Tenors. He's singing with the ASO at Symphony Hall on March 16 and 17.
While the Irish and Scots traditions have grown apart over the centuries, for both geographic and political reasons, one aspect of their shared heritage was the focus of a full-day symposium at Emory on March 3. "Ulster Roots Southern Branches," sponsored by Emory's W.B. Yeats Foundation and the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland, was followed by a long concert featuring musicians from that province as well as local acts (the Georgia Mudcats, Nonesuch) that have toured there. The basic premise is that many of the people who colonized the Southern states of the U.S. originally were of Ulster-Scots, or Scotch-Irish, stock.
These are the Scottish families transplanted to Ulster, the northern part of Ireland. The Protestant majority of today's Northern Ireland is descended from these people, and eventually, many set sail for the new world, settling in the South. They fought the native peoples and participated in slave ownership, and some became very wealthy and powerful. They can safely claim a number of presidents, from Andrew Jackson and Woodrow Wilson to Bill Clinton.
Despite the peace process, 30 years of sectarian violence had left many in this corner of the small island polarized: the "green" Catholic side in the minority, feeling victimized and marginalized by a legal, political and educational system which favored the majority "orange" Protestant community, itself victim to a debilitating bunker mentality. What's new and exciting — and was highlighted by the many Northern Irish speakers and musicians at Emory — is that some folks in the Ulster Scots community are starting to celebrate the Scottish and Irish aspects of their own traditions, something that was taboo for so long, as traditional Irish music had become so politicized.
Of course, it's hardly surprising that if you live in a place for 400 years you'll pick up a few of the local traditions. The Clatter O' Fowks musicians included fiddler Willie Drennan, who lived for many years in Nova Scotia before returning to his native Ballymena and forming the Ulster Scots Folk Orchestra from which the Clatter is drawn. Multi-instrumentalist John Scott Trotter, a veteran of the Paddy Noonan touring Irish ensembles in the U.S., was a most engaging player and announcer. In case anybody thought they left Scotland behind, seasoned poet James Fenton spoke and read in a dialect derived from the language of Scots bard Robbie Burns. For most assembled, it was about as comprehensible as a history of St. Patrick in Serbo-Croatian.
This year's St. Patrick's Day message is clear: Don't have a cow.
For more World Beat information and archives, visit John Falstaff's website at www.pd.org/~jcf.