I’m several hours into a train journey from Luxembourg to Amsterdam, to visit friends Laurie and Bruce on their houseboat. Keeping me company, keeping me sane, is a collection of songs by one of my favorite Celtic folk groups, Silly Wizard. Andy Stewart sings wistfully:
If I was a blackbird, could whistle and sing,
I’d follow the vessel my true love sails in.
And in the top rigging, I’d there build my nest –
And I’d flutter my wings o’er her lily-white breast…
There’s just something about Celtic folk music. Something that stirs me profoundly, something beyond the feelings of the moment, reaching beyond the parameters of my everyday consciousness, a half-forgotten dream landscape, mine or someone else’s…A friend of ours has the theory that in lieu of reincarnation, the cells of our bodies retain memories of our genetic forebears. Most of my ancestors, those of whom we have any record, have their roots in Ireland, England, Scotland. Some made their way to the British colonies in the New World, others came a century later when their crops failed and their children were starving. Perhaps the music of their homeland wrote itself into their DNA and passed down through generations until it reached me?
Or maybe I was an Irish bard in a past life. Or maybe my mother listened to The Chieftains while I was still in her womb. Whatever it is, the connection of my heart to this music teases me to remember, to catch the words of an ancient, quiet voice. If I was a blackbird…