Celtic heritage

Local club promotes
Irish-Scottish roots, culture

By Ruth Wright

MADISON, Ind. (October 2003) – According to legend, long before Christopher Columbus set foot on the shores of North America, a colony of Welshmen immigrated to this land. Led by Prince Madoc of Wales, these early settlers arrived in Mobile Bay in 1170 and eventually migrated to an area now known as Clark County, Ind.
Ohio River Celtic Club

Photo by Don Ward

Ohio Valley Celtic Society marches
in the Madison Regatta parade.

There, near the Falls of the Ohio, they remained for many years before most were killed in battle with the “Red Indians.” Walam Olum, the chronological history of the Delaware Indians, references these settlers, and remnants of their existence can be found scattered throughout the Ohio River Valley.
This legend, the legend of Prince Madoc, is one of the country’s most fascinating, and yet least known, traditions of the first white settlers in America. And it’s one that Steve Thomas, owner of the Thomas Family Winery in Madison, wants people to know about.
“It’s our heritage,” said Thomas, who has traced his family roots to the Celtic lands of Wales, Ireland and Scotland.
Thomas isn’t the only person in the area interested in Celtic history and culture. In 1999 he and Thom Pommerehn, Jamie Edwards and Kevin O’Conner, started the Ohio Valley Celtic Society “to explore, educate, share and celebrate” the local history of Celtic people, of which Prince Madoc’s colony played a substantial part. Since then, nearly 40 families have been added to the organization’s mailing list.
Many members of the society, like Thomas, have traced their family lineage to Celtic origins. But you don’t have to be Irish or wear a kilt to join the club, you just need to have an appreciation for Celtic heritage that abounds in the area. “There’s a rich history here,” Thomas said.
Empirical evidence of that history can be found in archeological remains scattered throughout the countryside. The work of Irish and Scottish stone masons is quite obvious, according to Thomas. In particular are the free-standing stone structures built without mortar. These are a trademark of the Scots, said Celtic society member and elder Robert Stewart.
Stewart, who lives in Madison with wife, Peggy, was among the Celtic Society members who helped demonstrate construction of a freestanding stone wall of the Scottish tradition at last year’s Lanier Days. The group also demonstrated brick-making and handed out samples of hard cider, a fermented Celtic brew made traditionally from foraged “wild” apples.
Stewart joined the Celtic Society nearly two years ago but had been researching his genealogy for about six years. He has traced both his paternal and maternal lineage back several generations to Scotland. His surname is more common in Scotland than any other family name, he said. Stewart has also identified a particular red plaid as the Stewart family’s kilt pattern. “History tells us so much about ourselves,” Stewart said.
Like Stewart, many family names common to southeastern Indiana and surrounding areas can be traced to Celtic origins. In the Indianapolis metro area, more than 400,000 individuals claim some level of Irish ancestry, according to Thomas. “It’s a lot more than you might realize,” he said.
One of the Celtic society’s initiatives is to help people explore their Celtic roots. At Lanier Days, the organization provided an Encyclopedia of Surnames, a tool for tracing ancestry, and eventually, Thomas said, he hopes to partner with the library to increase its reference material for all things Celtic and Gaelic. In addition to Lanier Days, members of the society also manned booths at the Kentucky Scottish Festival in Carrollton in May, and the Northeastern Jefferson County Celtic Games in June.
Anyone interested in learning more about Celtic culture or becoming involved with the society can contact Thomas at (812) 273-3755 for more information.

Contributing writer Amy Petery contributed to this story.



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