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Night Of The Living Celts

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WHEN THE IRISH Famine refugees started flooding the U.S. in the middle of the 19th century, they brought with them traits that their new countrymen found extremely annoying--things like poverty, Roman Catholicism and a peculiar habit of making merry and roaming the streets on the night of October 31.

Nowadays, Halloween is as American as pumpkin pie, its arrival in America on the waves of Irish immigration all but forgotten. But the holiday started life as Samhain (pronounced "sow-in"), a Celtic harvest feast celebrated by the pre-Christian Irish. The six-day festival of Samhain was our Halloween, Thanksgiving and New Year's all rolled into one. It was a time of thanksgiving, but it could also be dangerous. Summer's life was giving way to winter's death, and the spirits of the dead came abroad among the living.

The Old Pueblo's own Emerald Isle Society offers Tucsonans an opportunity to make like ancient Celts at A Celtic New Year in Tir na nog. At the Friday-night party at the Doubletree Hotel, Irish-Arizonans and wannabes, costumed as ancient Celtic gods and goddesses, will dance and sing to the traditional music of Clare Voyants, an Irish band resident in Phoenix. The ceili, or Irish dance, will be led by the physician Rosemary Browne, a local Irish dance instructor who will teach stalwarts all the step-dancing and jigs they need to know. Wandering magicians and poets will work their arts among the crowd. The dinner menu promises Irish autumnal fare, which inside sources predict will be corned beef and cabbage.

Tir na nog in Gaelic mythology was a sort of Land of the Forever Young. The mortal Oisin, son of the hero Finn McCool, was lured there by a beautiful fairy princess. When Oisin returned to earth, thinking a short time had passed, he found instead that 300 years had gone by.

Anyone from the present day who'd like to sample the wonders of Tir na nog should make reservations as soon as possible by calling Tim Prendiville at 740-0000 or Sharon Danaher Henry at 885-8498. Tickets cost $35. A no-host bar opens at 6 p.m at the Doubletree Hotel, 445 S. Alvernon Way, with dinner and dancing from 7 p.m. to midnight. Profits from ticket sales and a raffle will benefit AMISA's Heart to Heart program and Project YES.

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