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Six Songs From the Six Celtic Nations

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Chasmac is a semi-retired guitar teacher who has taught in various schools in London and elsewhere for over 30 years.

Bothwell Castle Ruins, Scotland

Bothwell Castle Ruins, Scotland

The Six Celtic Nations

According to The Celtic League, an organisation that promotes Celtic culture, a Celtic nation is defined as a country or region with a strong Celtic identity and a Celtic language spoken as a mother tongue by a sizeable portion of the population.

By this definition, The Celtic League recognises six Celtic nations:

  • Scotland
  • Ireland
  • Wales
  • Brittany in France
  • Cornwall in Southwest England
  • Isle of Man off the northwest coast of England

Two other regions have Celtic history but they no longer have a living Celtic language so they're not considered Celtic nations by The Celtic League. Those are Galicia in northwest Spain and the north of Portugal.

Each of the nations has a rich and vibrant traditional music scene. They have distinct languages and musical styles, but there's also lots of overlap and songs of one nation may be adopted and modified to suit their use by another nation.

Enjoy this selection of songs from the six Celtic nations.

1. "Fear a Bhata" From Scotland

"Fear a Bhata" (the Boatman) sung here in Gaelic concerns a woman on top of a hill overlooking the sea and waiting for her fisherman lover to return safely to shore. It's sung and performed in the video by the Scottish folk band Capercaillie. There's also an Irish Gaelic version of this song

2. "Drowsy Maggie" From Ireland

"Drowsy Maggie" is a reel that has always been a popular song in Irish folk circles. Its popularity stretched even further when it was featured in the "below deck" music-making scenes of the Irish emigrants in the movie Titanic. That version was played by the California-based Gaelic Storm. The origin of "Drowsy Maggie" is uncertain but it's thought to have been composed in the mid 19th century. The version in the video is performed by Lady of the Lake, also a California-based band with a passion for traditional Irish music.

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3. "Dacw 'Nghariad" From Wales

"Dacw 'Nghariad" is an old Welsh folk song that was collected in 1908. The title, "Dacw 'Nghariad" translates in English to "There is my Sweetheart" and this version is sung by Welsh singer Eve Goodman.

4. "Kimiad" From Brittany

This beautifully atmospheric song is performed by the Breton harpist, Alan Stivell and his band. Kate Bush can be heard singing somewhere in the background, and she also produced the track. The Breton language lyrics tell of the sadness of leaving home. Alan Stivell plays music from all the Celtic nations, not just those of his homeland, Brittany.

5. "An Culyek Hos" From Cornwall

An Culyek Hos is a traditional Cornish song collected in 1889 by the priest and folk song collector Sabine Baring-Gould. Called "The Mallard" in English, the original lyrics referred to eating a mallard duck piece by piece — starting with the feet! Apparently Baring-Gould found the lyrics too distasteful for publication so ignored them. As a result, the song is mostly heard as an instrumental nowadays.

6. "Tree Baatyn Beggey" From the Isle of Man

This pretty dance tune from the Isle of Man is arranged and played by Hungarian multi-instrumentalist and lover of Celtic music, Arany Zoltan. The Manx title translates to "Three Little Boats" in English and the tune is often used to accompany Manx traditional dancing.

The Spread of Celtic Music

All of the Celtic nations are proud of their culture and want to show it off to visitors in all of the arts. Music is the best-known art form and there are always opportunities to enjoy live Celtic music in the cities, towns, and villages of the six nations. In addition, plenty of ex-pats from the Celtic nations living abroad can always be found celebrating their culture, even in far flung countries, from Canada to Cambodia.

When countries, such as Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand were colonised by settlers, many of the settlers were from the Celtic nations. So it's no surprise that there are now large home-grown Celtic communities that have ensured their culture is alive and thriving in those countries, too.

Further Listening

The list of songs above don't even begin to scratch the surface of the vast repertoire of traditional Celtic music. To experience more, check out some of the following great singers and performers:

  • The Chieftains (Irish)
  • Planxty (Irish)
  • Plethyn (Welsh)
  • Clannad (Irish)
  • Runrig (Scottish)
  • King Chiaullee (Manx)
  • Brenda Wootton (Cornish)
  • Dan Ar Braz (Breton)
  • Tony McManus (Scottish)

© 2021 Chas Mac

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