Celtic Culture Celebration brings festivities to Vimeo this year


Vimeo screenshot

Screenshot of Vimeo video “Irish Nationality Room” from the Nationality Room’s Celtic Culture Celebration.

By Saraya Velez, For The Pitt News

The number of Gaelic language speakers continues to be on the decline. Elizabeth Meyers, an administrative assistant in Pitt Global, hosted a Gaeltacht pop-up event recently, where she taught attendees the Irish Gaelic phrases in an effort to keep the language going.

This event was a part of the Nationality Rooms Program’s annual Celtic Celebration, which returned in a slightly different manner this year with events presented through Vimeo. The event is being held virtually from Oct. 24 through Nov. 30.

The celebration last year was broadcasted via Zoom and also featured videos from performers overseas. The videos on Vimeo can be viewed at the attendee’s leisure, each highlighting the characteristics of Celtic culture.

Myers’ Gaeltacht pop-up event occurred on Oct. 29 in Posvar Hall’s Global Hub in lieu of a large-scale celebration. Gaeltacht refers to regions in Ireland where Irish is recognized as the primary language. During the pop-up, she taught Irish phrases and discussed what embodies Irish culture.

Along with the Irish conversations and mini history lessons, she also encouraged the discussion of current events. Since the event occurred just two days prior to Halloween, she was sure to explore the origins of Halloween with reference to Irish culture.

Celtic culture refers to the similarities in culture and language among the six nations of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, the Isle of Man and Brittany.

The Celtic Culture Celebration debuted six years ago when Jennie-Lynn Knox, the director of the Irish Committee for the Nationality Rooms, teamed up with Dale Richards, the director of the Welsh Committee, to bring Celtic culture to life on Pitt’s campus.

“I said, ‘We need to do something together,’ as in the Welsh Committee and maybe the Scottish Committee,” Knox said. “I said, ‘I don’t know what we can do, but we need to do something,’ so I researched it, and out of our thoughts, we came up with Celtic culture.”

Knox said in previous years, the celebration would be held in the Frick Fine Arts building. It would start with a procession featuring a bagpipe performance by George Balderose of the Balmoral School of Piping and Drumming. The rest of the afternoon would include storytelling, music, dancing, performances and speeches from awarded scholars.

According to Knox, Vimeo videos are accessible for individuals who may not be able to attend in-person events and everyone is provided with an opportunity to stream. Myers hopes to incorporate a blend of in-person activities and events as well as online features for the celebration in coming years. 

Knox said she overlooks the negative aspects of transitioning online and finds the good in it. 

“If you didn’t see the live portion of it then you missed it,” Knox said. “This year they were all videos so you could watch it at 12:05, you could watch it at 4:00, you could watch it at nine at night. Once you have that Vimeo link, it will always be there.”

For Knox, the celebration occupies a special place in her heart. When the Irish room was dedicated in the Cathedral of Learning in 1957, her father, James Knox, was the chair of the committee that led its creation. She followed in his footsteps, serving as the chair and vice chair on and off for more than 20 years. Holding the celebration each year is one of Knox’s top priorities.

“There is not an option of not having it,” Knox said. “But I think this year it was a little bit harder to get everyone motivated because everyone is so busy.”

The COVID-19 pandemic was an obstacle that each of the committees faced, prompting them to transition online for their large-scale event. The exhibition and the pop-up Gaeltacht that Myers organized are two of the in-person events that brought members of the Pitt community together.

Apart from the Gaeltacht pop-up event, the other in-person event was bringing a 13-panel traveling exhibit to Pitt, which displays Irish culture and language. The exhibit can be found on the first floor of Posvar Hall, and was coordinated with help from the Irish General Consulate office in New York.

As for the Gaeltacht event, Myers didn’t coordinate it by herself. She was joined by Maggie Gralinski, the president of the Pitt Irish Culture Club. According to Myers, one of the goals of the Gaeltacht pop-up event was to give students a “global competency” skill set — when a person can engage with multiple cultures from all over the world. 

“A global competency skill set is really valuable and the best part about that is that you can get it for free,” Myers said. “You just have to make friends, bump into some students who are a part of a dance club or a part of a language table, or just go to those events that will help you learn about other cultures.”

Apart from learning language and history, Myers also invited speakers from the European Studies Center as well as Irish Culture Club officers to share opportunities for students. 

Layne Shaffer, a first-year history of art and architecture major, is of Scottish descent. She discovered the Celtic Culture Celebration event through the University events calendar and said she gained a better understanding of not only her culture, but how it relates to different kinds of art. 

“I’m majoring in art history and being able to understand cultural aspects and their relation to all kinds of art I feel is very important not only to myself, but others who are interested in art,” Shaffer said. “I think that being able to appreciate cultures, your own or other than your own, can take you many different directions.”

Although the era of online webinars, video calls and more had its honeymoon phase, both Knox and Myers agreed that now is the time for more live events as conditions improve. 

“The big difference about having something in person is that connectedness and Celtic culture, whether it’s Scottish, Welsh, Irish, or you’re from the Isle of Man or Cornwall or Brittany, it’s very family, very clan oriented,” Myers said. “The togetherness, the gatherings, it’s very important.”