Our first Celtic Colours was a resounding, smashing, amazing success. We were only in Cape Breton for four days, and I've only been back a few hours, but I already feel so far away from home. Thursday, we drove Gaelic friend L up to the home of Gaelic friend J in Whycocomagh, where we were invited in for tea and conversation. Afterward, we made our way up the winding, oceanside mountain to Ingonish, where we found our cottage at the Ingonish Chalets cozy and welcoming in a rough-hewn, log cabin sort of way. By then, it was raining cold and hard, so we dropped our things, set Winter up with a litter pan and food and went out to pick up liquor and dinner.
3 Parts Cream de Cacao
1 Part Triple Sec
Mix liquors and float a splash of almond milk on top.
Friday we drove all over the island from the mountains at Ingonish to the sandy coast of Mabou to the cliffs at Iona to the city of Sydney. In terms of vegan fare, the Herring Choker outside Baddeck made a fabulous grilled vegetable sandwich, but Flavour in Sydney served us cheese and butter in tomato soup marked (v) for vegan and slipped a chunk of chicken into our guacamole. Our waitress was very apologetic, but it seemed clear the 'vegan', 'vegan option' and 'gluten-free' menu options were not well-researched or well-understood by the cooking staff. Island Women was a lovely concert, but both Sean and I wish there had been more Gàidhlig singing in it. Still, we came away with a new favorite band called The Once (theonce.ca). Truly, they were the highlight of the show for us. Here they are on Amazon.com. Be sure and listen to "My Husband's Got No Courage" and "Charlie's".
The weather on Saturday shifted from gloomy and temperate to sunny and hailing to sunny and pouring buckets of rain to gloomy and cold to sunny and snowing to sunny and hailing to gloomy and freezing. Welcome to your Cape Breton autumn. So we took it easy, left in the mid-afternoon and snapped some photos on the way to Sydney for the 50 years of Celtic Charm concert. Sean called ahead this time to make certain we'd have somewhere to stop for dinner and found the Allegro Grill, which served us a chick pea and sweet potato stew over rice, a spaghetti with meatless mushroom meatballs and a vegan cream cake with strawberry glaze. While we waited for our order, they chatted us up about their 'vegan cleanse menu' and in general treated us with joyful hospitality. For. The. Win.
Then there was the concert. The Daniel Lapp Band, Mary Jane Lamond and Wendy MacIsaac, the Battlefield Band and The Chieftains along with the Diaga Irish Dancers (I'll get to the dancing part in a minute). The first half of the show belonged to all but The Chieftains, and then they came on after the interval and took my breath away. The Chieftains were the soundtrack of my Celtic passion when I was a younger woman, and even hearing their recorded music entirely transports me into the heart of that time in my life. To see them live, to hear Paddy Maloney speak Irish (I understood most of it!!!), to watch Matt Molloy play the flute like some sort of fey god, to listen while Kevin Conneff sang with that voice - that voice! - it was sweet like a river of honey over a crust of bread.
At the end of the night, they left the stage and returned for an encore performance of a traditional Breton tune, complete with folk dancing from Brittany. The dancers all came down into the audience and snaked their way through the aisles, collecting participants. I remembered the dance from college; I had learned it in the St. Michael's College faculty lounge during a Celtic Folklore and Music class when Breton pipers came to play for us and teach us. So I couldn't resist the chance to dance it again, my bum knee notwithstanding. When they came around to my side of the hall, I rushed toward them. Two Diaga dancers broke the line to fit me in, and off we went. When we came to the backstage entrance, I thought the dance was over. I thought we would all be asked to wait until the concert ended before we returned to our seats. But no. Oh Great Mother, no. We mounted the stage, and with The Chieftains and the Battlefield Band behind us, we danced for thousands. My heart was completely in my throat, and all I could think was that I was on stage with The Chieftains on their 50th anniversary tour, dancing.
I'm still dancing as I write about it now, in my heart.
We went to Festival Club for an hour or two after that and hit the sack around 3:00 AM. This morning, we left the island after promising ourselves that we would drive all the way around the Cabot trail the next time we're there. We snapped some great photos (it's hard to take a bad photo in Cape Breton), and arrived home early this evening to a house gone from the temperate cool of early autumn to a damp cold that needed a furnace and a kettle to bring it back to itself. I missed Cape Breton the moment I crossed the Canso causeway back to the mainland, and I am already thinking about when I might return. Tìr mo ghràidh, indeed.