Monday’s Meander: Willamette Heritage Center and Samhain

This is the second year we have attended the annual Celtic Festival for Samhain (which occurs 10/31-11/1) at the Willamette Heritage Center, held in Salem, OR. What an interesting, enjoyable afternoon we had once again. We also like to wander about the five acre grounds. It is a National Parks- designated American treasure.

Per Wikipedia: “Samhain is a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the ‘darker half’ of the year. Traditionally, it is celebrated from 31 October to 1 November, as the Celtic day began and ended at sunset. This is about halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice.”

It’s a pagan celebration and though I am not pagan, I’m greatly Irish (my mother’s maiden name was Kelly) and also of a more inclusive spiritual attitude, perhaps reflective of that heritage. I am at home with Irish music and dance and the storytelling culture (to which my mother belonged, always entertaining or instructing with her expressive tales)…and I am still longing to visit Ireland and other Celtic nations. We did participate in one ceili dance–I so enjoy that and managed one rigorous dance before requiring a bit of a rest due to my ole ticker. All acoustic musicians were top notch, as before, and the bagpipe player was excellent, as well.

One can always sing along even when ignorant of the tune and lyrics. And though I learned a little “fiddling” (as opposed to my usual classical string musicianship) in my thirties, I would more like to play the Celtic harp and bohdran. Let that be prominent on my bucket list–and then get to it.

This year I offer mostly photos of the graceful grounds. (Last year I wrote of a more inclusive experience: https://talesforlife.blog/2018/10/31/wednesdays-words-nonfiction-samhain-a-celtic-festival-and-local-heritage/. ) There are fourteen historic structures to take at study and include the Thomas Kay Woolen Mill (1889, a water powered mill), a Methodist Parsonage (1841) and Pleasant Grove Church (1858), as well as two other houses from the 1840s–there are 14 buildings on the site. I love the lean lines and pure colors of white and red, the indicators of past industriousness and hints of lives once lived. Some places, one can sense and feel the essence of the past, the people who thrived and struggled.

T

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: Samhain, a Celtic Festival and Local Heritage

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I went to a Celtic Festival last week-end and had a grand experience with their version of Samhain. A Gaelic festival, it is thought to have been initiated about 2000 years ago, at the end of harvesting and beginning of winter. Thus, it notes the changeover from summer to winter, from lighter to darker months. and occurs about halfway between autumn equinox and winter solstice. It is believed that the veil between this world and the other world is thinnest on October 31-November 1 and spirits pass through. Ancestors were honored and spiritual or other harm was hopefully warded off with costumery and vivid masks. This, as one can see, relates closely to our Halloween when folks dress in scary or fun outfits and venture into the night for a bit of revelry and treats.

I am part Irish (the common “Kelly” is my mother’s father’s family name) and feel kinship with the traditional music and dance. So, when I discovered a Celtic festival was taking place an hour away I was all in. One of the first things noted was a flag depicting six Celtic territories of Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Cornwall, Isle of Man, Brittany–and the seventh noted is Galicia,  (Spain), which apparently has been disputed. I would enjoy learning the definitive conclusion on this, if anyone knows.

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The festival took place in the Spinning Room located within the Willamette Heritage Center, created by the Mission Mill Museum and the Marion Co. Historical Society.  The old woolen mill was established in 1889 by Thomas Lister Kay, and has been well-preserved. A few more buildings from a missionary enterprise (that sought to convert the Native American population during 1834-44) were relocated from a site 13 miles north along the Willamette River. Those photos will be shared later. You will note a life-sized sculpture of a sheep, the creature whose lush wooliness underlay the booming business.

These are a few initial pictures of the grounds.

The buildings and grounds are  marvelous; we enjoyed exploring all day in between festival events.

Marc and I wandered about the cheery gathering, shopping for a few goodies at the marketplace in the Spinning Room of the Mill Building. We looked at the wool and noted the processes required to make the yarn and enjoyed watching a friendly woman spinning.

And saw kilt folding by Eric Chandler as he demonstrated how men traditionally folded and put on their kilts. He noted that his shirt was on backwards–so he righted that. I lack technical language to explain all this so will simply share what was observed. (A last picture of it being draped over his shoulder did not come out well.)

Entertainment was enjoyable, from Gordon Munro the enthusiastic storyteller to a singer and dancer (Brian O’hAirt and Maldon Meehan) who performed sean-nos, a more casual, free and intimate style of Irish dancing and singing, if I understood correctly. They are quite accomplished. And I am ready to take classes!

Even though I’d hurt my knee recently it has been healing well so I impulsively joined in as the ceili dance got underway. The fine band Biddy on the Bench played for us. It was well worth the effort it to meld with the cheerful crowd, people helping one another learn. I have been to one other and hope to attend Portland’s monthly ceilidhs. This time, after 15 minutes the tender knee required me to sit out the rest, though I tapped my happy feet and bounced about!

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This is music and dance after my own heart. I wished my mother was alive and could have been there with us. Edna Kelly Guenther loved a good gathering and merriment and told stories about big and little things in life that I feel no one can match.

Afterwards we strolled about and looked at and in the mill and missionary structures.

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A few pleasing shops shown below are in the above building; we ducked in to get out of rain. Our favorite was the bookbinder shop and Spencer, the book binder’s son who now runs the shop, shared some of his trade and how much he loves his work.

Buildings that stand to the right of the mill area include houses from the 1840s and Pleasant Grove Presbyterian Church from 1858.

We have come to the end of our Samhain Celtic Festival outing and a big thanks to the Ceili of the Valley Society.

But the real Samhain starts tonight. Have a safe and happy one (or Halloween) if so inclined. And welcome a good winter–our rainy season has begun in earnest here!

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(PS You might take a look at a re-post of last week’s neighborhood sights with a touch of Halloween, since the photos then were a bust–sorry for that glitch. Now they can be seen!  Friday’s Passing Fancy: Historic Irvington Fall Mosey )