Texas is full of Celts. And folks, that’s “Celt” with a “k” sound. If you’re calling Celtic people “Sell-tick” people, you’re talking about a Boston basketball team, not an ancient population indigenous to Britain and most of northern Europe. Cead mile failte, or “a thousand welcomes” to you from the least known largest ethnic group in the Lone Star State.
It’s Saint Patrick’s Day, not a holiday traditionally associated with Texas, but there is a large Irish population here. There also are Scots, Welsh, Cornish and others of heritage from the original Seven Nations. If you are of Celtic descent, you know that the Seven Nations are actually six: Brittany, Cornwall, Ireland, Isle of Man, Scotland and Wales. The seventh disputed nation is actually two counted as one: Asturias and Galicia. Seems some want to argue whether the Iberian Celts of Spain count. As far as I’m concerned, they count. Galicia has its own version of bagpipes called Galician pipes and if you’ve ever heard them, you know that they give traditional Scottish pipes a real run for their reputation, so viva España y’all.
Among the settlers of Texas were many Scots, Irish, Welsh and Cornish folks mixed in with the English-heritage Americans. Surnames such as Armstrong, Graham, Elliot, Maxwell, Kerr, Fraser and Johnston are numerous in Texas. Those surnames originated from the borders between Scotland and England, home to the most notorious cattle reivers in history. The “border reivers” or “steel bonnets” were the Scots who wore “trews” or pants because, frankly, it’s tough to ride a horse in a skirt. It was a fine English and Scottish tradition to jump over the border and steal each others’ cattle herds ad infinitum. The English would steal Scottish cattle. The Scots would go over and retrieve their cows, plus some of the English herd. The English would go reclaim their stolen property and take a little of the Scottish inventory. And on it would go…forever. The whole notion of Scots and sheep is actually a more recent one. Scots, for the record, are actually professional cattlemen. It was the English who originally favored sheep.
Take that as you will.
Our country and western music has its origins in Celtic music. You know that if you play a country and western song backwards, the protagonist in the song gets his trailer, truck and his dog back from his ex-wife. If you play an Irish ballad backward, the protagonist cheers up and wins the battle against the English.
Surnames such as Williams and Lewis are pan-British. You will find them all over Scotland, Wales, Ireland and even England. The names Davies, Davis and Powell seem to be the front runners as Welsh surnames. No one truly knows what an actual Welsh surname is, since the joke among the Welsh apparently is that they borrow everything. There’s a popular bumper sticker sold at highland games events that reads: “I borrowed being Welsh from my grandparents.”
The Welsh are also known for being excellent singers. It’s a little known fact that the British army got the Germans to surrender after a Welsh unit went about the German countryside terrorizing civilians with four-part harmony singing.
Singing and storytelling in the fashion of the Welsh is something that East Texans are particularly good at. The Welsh influence is heavy in that region.
The Welsh language is not prevalent, however. This might be a good thing. Ask for directions in Wales and you will wash a bucket of phlegm out of your hair for a week.
Proof of our Celtic heritage has survived linguistically in the Texas and Southern dialect. The enigmatic “y’all” is not native to America. I heard it on the streets of Glasgow during a trip to Scotland. It was everywhere. The Texans in the group were blown away. One evening, we were at a ceilidh, which is Gaelic for “party” and pronounced “KAY-lee.” The ceilidh dancing was amazing but not foreign. I recognized the steps from the square-dancing I learned in my seventh grade physical education class.
Earlier this month, Dallas Fair Park hosted the North Texas Irish Festival. The event is huge and worth visiting. It’s generally held the first weekend in March every year, so mark your calendar and plan to make the trip. The Irish stew in bolla bread is worth the drive. To get details, visit http://www.ntif.org/. The NTIF is not just about the Irish. All seven nations are represented.
Don’t worry about having missed NTIF, though. You can experience some Celtic culture at the many renaissance festivals in Texas. Believe it or not, Texas is home to at least five and possibly more. If you are visiting a renaissance festival for the very first time, choose either Scarborough Renaissance Festival in Waxahachie or the Texas Renaissance Festival in Plantersville. The two largest in the state give you an idea of Celtic and English life in the 16th century and a little bit of history with a whole lot of entertainment.
So who were the Celts? Fearsome warriors who managed to drive off the Romans when other nations of the Roman Empire could not. The emperor Hadrian, architect of the famed Pantheon in Rome, built a wall between Scotland and England to keep the Scots out. The Scots actually were Irish who migrated to Scotland and drove out the Picts. Therefore, it is fitting that the most decorated American Soldier in World War II was Sgt. Audie Murphy, a diminutive Texan with the heart of lion. Fearless in battle and the inspiration for an organization centered on the excellence of leadership, Murphy embodied what it means to be a warrior, a Texan…and a Celt.
So it is no surprise that Texas is home to the descendants of the Celts; all seven nations of them. Every Johnston, Davis, Reilly, Hocking, Napier, McRae and Rodriguez--and all their similarly named friends in Texas--can take pride in that.