Here’s a photo of Dominic Walsh. Or is it Finian Doyle?
It’s actually a photo I took at Padrón market, along the Camino Portugués. The gentleman was smiling a moment before, so that he looked even more Irish. But he’s a Spaniard, a Galician.
Some sketchy thoughts about Galicia, the autonomous region one enters just before O Cebreiro:
Obviously, there are no pure Celts. Celtic persistence has depended on a high degree of gregariousness and impurity. Also, we have to allow for the fads and distortions due to a craving to identify with an alternative and close-to-nature culture. Celtism can be a beat-up.
Yet there are individuals in the north west corner of Spain with strong physical similarities to the Irish: not because they’re Irish, but because the racial blending was similar. (The Galicians don’t get so drastically drunk, at least not openly; so there the Irish resemblance weakens.)
As to climate, the Celtic-influenced region of Spain is, like Ireland, very wet, very green, and influenced climatically by the Atlantic Ocean. Ask any pilgrim who has spent some weeks on the trail there. We often think of Celt-like peoples as being pushed to the damp western edges of Europe – Welsh, Bretons, Cornish, Scots, Irish, Galicians – but there could be an element of preference. Sydney’s Irish ghetto used to be the beaches stretching between Coogee and South Maroubra. (Even to this day, if you are a guest at a surf club down there, someone may gently inquire after your Catholic credentials.) Celts didn’t originate near the sea, but seem drawn to where land is green under maritime influence.
Then there’s the Galician language. To an outsider, it’s a form of Portuguese which is sounded like Spanish. Any amateurish attempt to speak the language as if it were Portuguese will bring uncomprehending stares. If you have a smattering of both Spanish and Portuguese you’ll have no problem reading the signs in Galicia, many of which are now in Galician exclusively. (You can sure tell Franco is dead!) For speaking, however, stick to Spanish or English.
Some people tell you that the Galician language is mainly spoken in villages. In fact, just about everyone speaks a variant of Galician all the time. Because the crossover from Spanish and Portuguese is easy, this does not seem to present a problem to the locals. However the Galician gentleman below, who accompanied me along the trail south of Padrón, felt no need to talk Spanish, even though he was an educated and travelled musician. It did not occur to him that Galician might be a problem to me.
Experts say that there are still Celtic features in the language, though it just seems another neo-Latin to a layman.
All of this means that the Galicians, or gallegos, are cultural gluttons.
They get to participate in Saint Patrick’s Day festivities and all other pan-Celtic traditions. When there are lusófono (Portuguese-language) functions, the gallegos get to attend along with Brazilians, Angolans, East Timorese etc. They can exhibit their ethnic-minority status in gabfests with the Basques and Catalans. And they don’t miss out on anything Spanish: the Galicians are Castilian when they want to be. They’re shrewd in the handling of their ethnic minority status, and less fanatical than others.
Returning to the Camino, and that mountain village where I left off in the last post:
The town of O Cebreiro is full of shops for trinkets, pilgrim items, liqueurs and the famous white cheese of the region. If you like the gaita (bagpipe) music that is pumped into the the town square, you can surely buy the CD of it.
Some people find it a bit too precious, too deliberately recreated. The Church of Santa Maria a Reál is modern, but built on Romanesque foundations recovered in the sixties. It may not be ancient, but it is testament to the ancient Galician mastery of stone. The tradition of the Celtic thatched house, or palloza, is still alive, and the slate is superb.
I loved walking about O Cebreiro in snow. A bit of tourist nonsense, a sello from the little church, bagpipes wailing, maybe some Astorga chocolate to nibble on…just get shallow and enjoy. It’s very well done.