"I've noticed that quite a lot of people who are prominent in the animal liberation movement are Jews. Maybe we are simply not prepared to see the powerful hurting the weak." --Peter Singer (Author, Animal Liberation)


JewIrish: The (Unfounded) Celtic-Jewish Connection

My friend David, who converted to Judaism, is of Scottish-Irish heritage. He and his wife don’t celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Halloween, and the like, but he did use Purim as an opportunity to wear his kilt—featuring the Bailey tartan—and sporran. It’s one of several things in the last few weeks that have made me think: Is there a connection between Purim and St. Patrick’s Day? Is there a Jewish connection to Celtic music and culture? Is it time for a follow-up to my 2006 post "Is There a Jewish Connection to Celtic Punk/Rock?"

Just going by anecdotal evidence, David wasn’t alone on Purim last week. I wore a Scotsman apron depicting a kilt and a sporran, and one of the first people I met upon arriving at a Purim party was a Scottish Jew who told me about the new tartan for Jews. Immediately afterward at the same party, I ran into an Irish Jew wearing a kilt.

I saw Celtic folk-punk band The Tossers in New York last weekend, and I attended Shamrockfest in Washington, D.C., yesterday. At the festival, I saw Flatfoot 56 (the Christian Celtic-punk band that says “shalom” in one song) and The Pubcrawlers (whose accordionist goes by the stage-name The Rabbi—for better or for worse, because of impressions the bleach-blond punk-looking fellow does of rabbis). A friend and I both had the initial impression that Scythian’s fiddle-playing sounded more klezmer than Celtic. During Flogging Molly’s set, some excited teens, an older punker, and I spontaneously joined together for a circle dance that resembled a hora (but definitely not a circle pit). I attended the events with two different Jewish friends, both of whom said “L’chaim!” when I explained that “Sláinte!” roughly translates to “Cheers!”

I discovered a wonderfully pertinent article that appeared in The Village Voice last year, which asks, “What makes so many Jewish-Americans with no Celtic heritage pour sweat equity into presenting, producing, writing about, and traversing long distances to enjoy Celtic music?” One Jewish bagpiper admitted, “I always sort of wished I was Irish.” Another noted that he had been interested in klezmer as another form of lively music, but he now enjoys Celtic music in part because there “aren’t too many Jewish pubs”—it’s harder to embrace klezmer in the same way. A third Jewish bagpiper said that the idea of a connection is "kind of a romantic blarney,” adding, “It's just great music.”

I did what any responsible journalist would do: I interviewed yet another Jewish bagpiper. Jim “Yiddle the Piper” Bond is a bagpiper and band manager for Albemarle Pipes & Drums in Charlottesville, Va. Bond credits his exposure to bagpipes as a police officer, not his Jewish background, for his interest in Celtic music and culture. “I am happy to be a Jewish person in a hobby that is traditionally Christian,” he said. He doesn’t think there is a “connection.”

Perhaps someone just needs to forcefully create a connection. For several years in New York, there has been an annual music/comedy event called St. Purim’s Day. “Two great traditions united in inebriation. For one night, everyone's JewIrish,” boasted one ad. Last year’s St. Purim’s Day featured a performance by The Missing Teens, who played a show with Torah hardcore band Moshiach Oi last month. (The band’s drummer was slamdancing wildly during Moshiach Oi’s set and even picked up Moshiach Oi’s frontman while he was singing.)

The Missing Teens aren’t the missing link needed to make a connection, even a forced one. As with my 2006 post, I’m left thinking that the dots could be connected more than they have been so far. As a Celtic-music–loving rabbinical student told The Village Voice, “There is some connection, some reason why Celtic music has sort of a pull for Jewish people. … I'm not sure what it is, but it speaks somehow to our souls.”


  • At 3/15/2009 10:10 PM, Blogger Nick said…

    Yes! Don't forget the Celtic/Jewish connections I suggested after attending that Scottish highland games this summer, at least in ancient times: the cultural and economic importance of sheep, and resistance to the Roman Empire.

  • At 3/15/2009 11:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    My Jewish parents like Celtic music as well, so I thought I would add that to strengthen your argument. :) L'chayim!

  • At 4/04/2009 12:22 PM, Blogger heebnvegan said…

    I didn't get to see The Gobshites at Shamrockfest this year because they played at the same time as another Celtic-punk band. But here they are with legendary Jewish punk Tommy Ramone: http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&videoid=3471084

    (I talked about Tommy Ramone's Jewish roots in my New Vilna Review article: http://www.newvilnareview.com/arts-amp-letters/jewish-punks-embrace-nazi-rhetoric-and-imagery.html)

  • At 7/29/2009 9:39 PM, Anonymous Gabriela Filler said…

    Hi everybody, i was reading you comments i and i would like to ask you if really exist a connection between the celtics and jewish people. If there is, could you explain that to me? Historical, religion, everything? I'm really interested ! Thank you very much, best regards, Gabriela (from Brazil) (e-mail: gabrielafiller@yahoo.com.br)

  • At 8/09/2009 11:59 AM, Blogger Gwen Orel said…

    That was my article in the Village Voice! It kind of went viral. Thanks for linking to it. You might also be interested in this article in the Forward, about the new CD by Irish singer Susan McKeown and Klezmatics leader Lorin Sklamberg, called "Saints and Tzadiks."


    Gwen Orel

  • At 2/18/2010 7:02 PM, Blogger André Jockyman Roithmann said…

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • At 8/26/2010 11:42 AM, Anonymous Viagra Online said…

    I really like to know about new cultures and customs I have a friend that used to listening this kind of Celtic music.


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