Ceilidh in the Castle

At times, when I am slogging through the mire that is my coursework, I tend to forget that I am studying abroad. Accented words and foreign tongues simply blend into the background, while the wee quirks of the United Kingdom are simply every day occurrences. Occasionally, I am saddened by this fact: I feel as though I put too much effort into my coursework, electing to stay within my dorm and labor day after day, when I should be out in the world, making the most of this experience abroad. However, this sadness was somewhat sated by the events of last Sunday.

Last week, St Andrews hosted the On the Rocks Festival. Each day was dedicated to various events of artistic expression, whether it be poetry readings, play productions, or art galleries. I actually went and saw a student production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, followed by a comedy show titled “Colin Mirth” (that may have been the only reason I went. I am a sucker for puns.) A few friends of mine are members of the group that put on the show, and the final act of dancing to Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights was a treat.

To conclude the On the Rocks Festival, though, was my favorite event: the Castle Ceilidh. Held in the castle ruins upon the seaside, a ceilidh is a traditional Scottish folk dancing event.

Kilts, fiddle music, castle ruins by the sea, and a gorgeous Sunday evening all made the event a remarkable experience. Grace is not a virtue I possess, so early on I gave up attempting to perfect the intricate dance steps and simply went with whatever my bumbling self thought resembled the steps. Though I probably looked like a fool, I cared not, for many others were ceilidh novices as well. I simply enjoyed participating, and I recall a great deal of giggling on my part.

Below is a video of what one of the dances looks like, taken at the exact event I attended! Unfortunately you cannot see me look like a bumbling fool.


I think my favorites were The Witch’s Dance and Strip the Willow. The first involved, as the kilted emcee described, “bewitching” the men by turning circles about them. I think he also said something about eating their souls at the conclusion of the dance. As anyone who knows me well enough can attest, this influence of magic and folklore was right up my alley, and the mood was only heightened by the gorgeous castle ruins. The second, Strip the Willow, was one of the most intense things I have ever done. It is so difficult to put to words: all one does is spin down a very, very long line of people. Yet “spin” is a gentle term: you are more likely to be hurled down the line by all the participants.

As I look back on such a jovial evening, it really makes me appreciate the fact that I am able to study abroad. There are times when wee rivulets of homesickness trickle into my hearts, especially if I see photos of my friends all gathering together to enjoy the little quirks of my hometown, such as apple orchards in the fall or driving in the country on the first warm day. These moods sometimes make me question if I made the right decision to buck the “traditional college experience” and leave the country for the unknown. Yet when I partake in events, such as the Castle Ceilidh, I remember why I came abroad. These experiences are ones I would never have even dreamed of if I stayed at home for university. Prior to arriving in St Andrews, I never knew what a ceilidh was, much less how to pronounce it (hint: kay-lee), or some of the other little cultural differences Scotland has to offer.

I am so thankful that I get to spend four years in such a special place. Though the year is 2013, the magic of ancient times has not yet passed, for it has retreated to Scotland, tucked within castle ruins or drifting upon the notes of a fiddle. As the semester is nearing its close, I will miss my second Scottish home as I return to America for the summer vacation.

Originally written 20 April 2013

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