Ancient Gaelic Folk Music Permeates Downtown Franklin 

An authentic Irish jam took place at Rathskeller Coffee Haus and Pub last Saturday, March 2. The musicians will play again March 15 and 17 at Clark’s on Main in Clayton.

Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer

Dave Stewart plays the mandolin, while Marie Dunkle, organizer of the Irish jam sessions, plays fiddle.

Although Scottish culture has a continuous presence in Macon County – primarily due to The Scottish Tartans Museum and Heritage Center – British Isle neighbor Ireland’s presence permeated downtown Franklin last Saturday night, March 2, in the form of a Cèilidh at Rathskeller Coffee Haus and Pub.

According to Dave Stewart, who sings and plays the mandolin, a cèilidh or céilí, is a traditional Scottish or Irish social gathering. “In its most basic form, it simply means a social visit. In contemporary usage, it usually involves playing Gaelic folk music and dancing, either at a house party or a larger concert at a social hall or other community gathering place.”

Margie Swint, guitarist and vocalist, pointed out that there is no “formal band,” but said instead that the jam constitutes “an informal gathering of musicians who get together to play Celtic music. Once a regular ceilidh is established at a pub, restaurant, winery, or some other establishment, you usually develop a group of musicians who are regulars, but that can vary from session to session. Lots of fun!”

Some attending last Saturday’s packed house jam at Rathskeller also participated in Irish dancing. 

Marie Dunkle, who sings and plays the fiddle, started the jam sessions about two years ago. “I was motivated to start this thing because we have these [musicians] and others in the area who love Celtic music and are really quite good and enjoy playing with others.”

Regular players include Stewart, Swint, and Dunkle, as well as Margie MacDonald on the fiddle, Chris Casses plays guitar, and George Morris on the flute. However, since it is an informal gathering, other musicians can join in. It is so informal, in fact, that Dunkle explained, “We don’t practice as a band, but some of us have been playing this music for a great many years and know what songs work well in a session and what others will enjoy hearing. I put together a set list to keep us playing, but we encourage others to introduce great songs (vocal or instrumental) that they love and want to take the lead on. Many of us have good ‘ears’ and can play pretty well after hearing once.”

She added that the players range in age from 23 to 70. “None of us are first generation Irish or Scottish, but most of us have some of that in our heritage,” said Dunkle. “That’s what our Appalachian area is about.”

The next time the group will gather for a Celtic jam, or cèilidh will be at Friday, March 15, from 6 to 9 p.m. at Clarks’ on Main in Clayton, Ga. A St. Patrick’s Day jam will also take place at Clark’s on Main, Sunday, March 17, from 3 to 6 p.m.