THE CONNECTIONS between Ireland and Scotland run deep, deeper than is often realised. Many are aware there is a similarity between Irish and Scots Gaidhlig, our traditional musics, and the distilling of whiskey, but there is more to it than that.
The word Scotland means ‘the land of the Irish’, coming from Scotti - the Latin word for Irishman. Scots Gaidhlig is descended from the Irish language which was introduced into Scotland from the sixth century AD when the Irish began to colonise large areas of the west and north of the country.
The connections between the Scottish and Irish clans was extensive and lasted up until the 1600s. Before that time Highlanders did not see themselves as Scottish, but described themselves as Irish. Scottish soldiers, known as Galloglasses, fought for the Irish families, while Scottish surnames such as MacNeill, Lamont, Matheson, and Ferguson.
Scottish hero Robert De Bruce, the victor of Bannockburn, and King of Scotland from 1306 to 1329, was well aware of these connections and described the Scots and Irish as a people “who proceed from a common root, who share the same race, ancestors, and country of origin”.
There were conflicts. The Highland regiments, kilted in tartan and Gaelic speaking, fought against the Irish in 1798, and patrolled the roads of the country throughout the 1700s. Despite this, a sense of a shared heritage, culture, and an affinity remains between the two nations.
Now a new festival in Galway will explore these connections and seek to help people become more aware of them through music, dance, friendship, education, and a hell of a lot of craic.
Recreating a connection
The Stirling-Galway Session 2010 festival takes place from Sunday June 6 to Monday 21 in both Galway city and in Stirling in Scotland.
The Stirling leg of the festival takes place from June 6 to 12 with shows from Don Stiffe, The Cunningham Sound dancers, Kathleen Loughnane, and Dessie O’Halloran. It then moves back to Galway from June 13 to 21.
The festival is the brainchid of Mick Crehan, who runs The Crane Bar on Sea Road, and Fergus Wood, the Scottish National Party Provost (mayor ) of Stirling. Fergus is a member of the Kinlochard Ceilidh Band and the two men became friends after the band played Galway a number of times.
“We found we had similar interest in community activism and music and we are both passionate about the links between Ireland and Scotland,” Mick tells me during our Monday afternoon interview. “We both feel that relationship is something that needs to be advanced.
“Galway and Stirling have much in common - both have a similar population size, both are university towns, trad music has a presence in Galway city and in the areas surrounding Stirling, and both rely on tourism.
“Stirling has the attractions of Bannockburn, Stirling Castle, etc. We don’t have anything like that in the city but we are good at drawing in and keeping tourists with our festivals and Fergus was interested in that, as many people only visit Stirling on day trips from Edinburgh and Glasgow.”
Both men decided a festival would be a good way of celebrating the links between the Scots and the Irish and as a way of developing cultural and economic links between the cities. Hence the Stirling-Galway Sessions was born.
The Galway leg of the festival kicks off on Sunday 13 at 9pm with a show by Gráda in the Róisín Dubh [see separate feature]. The violinist Zöe Conway, a virtuoso musician at home with both classical and traditional music will be joined by Scottish guitarist John McIntyre for a show in The Crane Bar on Monday 14 at 9pm.
Jimmy Crowley and Máirtín de Cógáin will lead the Captain Mackey’s Goatskin & String Band, for some American Civil War songs in The Crane on June 15 at 9pm. It’s back to things Scottish on June 16 at 9pm at The Crane with The Bully Wee Band for a night of lively folk-rock, acoustic music, and trad.
The big Scottish night of the Galway leg of the festival is the Stirling Showcase, which takes place in Monroe’s Tavern on June 17 at 8pm. The night will feature a feast of Scottish music, stories, and performers, all under one roof.
There will be music by the Kinlochard Ceilidh Band, recitations of Scottish myths, folklore, history, poetry, and song from Paraig MacNeil, and an engaging mixture of comedy and street performance from Big Rory, Oiche & The Seagulls.
Monroe’s will also host gigs by the ever popular Maimín Cajun Band on June 18 at 11pm followed by the young Galway folk/Americana band Sumbrellas on June 19 at 11pm.
The Town Hall will host a concert from Shaskeen on June 18 [see separate feature], and the brilliant Fuaim Chonamara, a tour de force display of Irish dance styles by the Cunningham family from Connemara, on June 19 at 8pm. “This is a fast and exciting show,” says Mick. “What the Cunninghams do is very representative of Galway and Connemara.”
Back at The Crane on Saturday 19 at 6.30pm fiddler Anna Falkenau, with Ivan Murray, Lena Ullman, and Neil Ferguson, will play American folk music directly influenced by that of Ireland and Scotland.
On June 20 The Crane will host a marathon music session, starting at 12 noon and running until late. Admission is free. As part of that event, at 6.30pm The Chieftains’ Kevin Cunniffe and Nashvill’s Jeff White will play. The festival rounds off with a gig from virtuoso guitarist Philip Donnelly in The Crane on Monday 21 at 9pm.
Lectures and exhibition
The festival will also host a number of lectures in the Galway City Museum exploring the deep links between Ireland and Scotland. Folklorist, poet, and songwriter Paraig MacNeil will present the lectures Galway and the Guidman on June 14; Saints and Scholars on June 15, and Gael on Gael on June 18. Harpist Kathleen Loughnane will present a talk entitled The Harpers Connellan on June 16, while Simon O’Dwyer will speak on Ancient Music Of Ireland on June 17. Lectures start at 6.30pm and admission is free.
The museum will also host the exhibition The Men Of Bannockburn, detailing the famous battle that secured Scottish independence in 1314. The exhibition will feature depictions of the clothing, uniforms, and weapons used by the armies at the battle, drawn by Marco Trecalli of the Italian Ministry of Defence.
“We are committed to running this festival for the next three years and expanding it to include American and Canadian musicians, as many would have a dual Scottish and Irish heritage,” says Mick. “We also hope we can further develop the relationship between Galway and Stirling.”