On Sunday, I had probably my favorite experience in Scotland so far–I attended a ceilidh! (pronounced kay-lee) But first I need to digress a bit. The group who had the ceilidh was the Catholic Society at the university. The Catholic Society doesn’t have it’s own building on campus but instead meets in the Chaplaincy, a space shared by all of the faith communities on campus. They meet on Tuesday nights for socializing and is usually focused on a specific topic. There is also Mass on Wednesdays, followed by lunch. On Sundays, most students go to St. Mary’s, the Catholic parish in Stirling, and then stay after Mass for brunch. I was actually surprised by how few practicing Catholic students there seem to be here. Fr. Kenneth is the chaplain on campus as well as the pastor at St. Mary’s, and he is wonderful. I was anxious to get involved in the Catholic Society, as the Newman Center back home at TU is fantastic and also a big social circle for me, and I’ve gotten used to spending a lot of time in a faith community. I was hoping I would find the same experience here, as I knew being able to have an active faith life would help me adjust to being so far from home. Because the international students are separated from the local students in the dorm, we had been having trouble meeting very many of them. It was kind of discouraging, and we were really looking for a place to get involved and meet people. Fortunately, I have met some amazing people in this group, and it has really helped me branch out and become friends with a lot of students from the UK as well as other European countries–everyone has been so warm and welcoming.
Anyway, on Sunday night I had the opportunity to go to a ceilidh that the Catholic Society was having. A ceilidh is a Scottish social gathering that consists of drinking, eating, singing, and traditional Scottish dancing. They have always been a part of Scottish culture, but have recently been coming back into vogue, and I had been told that they are a lot of fun. I was very excited I was going to be able to go to one, and it did not disappoint! We started the evening with some whisky (which I still don’t like yet), and then sat down for dinner. It was traditional Scottish fare, and we began with lentil soup, a popular dish here. I hadn’t tried it before, and ended up enjoying it. Next came the main dish of haggis and neeps and tatties. Neeps are mashed turnips and tatties are mashed potatoes, and both are often served with haggis. Now let me explain exactly what haggis is, in case you don’t know, so you can fully appreciate how adventurous I was with my eating. Haggis is sheep innards that are ground up, mixed with spices, onion, and oatmeal, and then traditionally wrapped in a sheep’s stomach and cooked for a long time. I intended to try haggis at some point during the semester, as it is pretty much the most Scottish food you can eat. However, I hadn’t gotten around to it yet (you can imagine why), and this was my maiden voyage. It had the same consistency as meatloaf, but had a darker color. I tried not to look at it or think about it, and…I ended up really liking it! Pretty much anyone who knows me and my food preferences will be shocked to hear that, but I can honestly say I enjoyed it and cleaned my whole plate, mashed turnips and all!
After dinner we moved on to the dancing. There were three older people from the community who are part of a group that really enjoys traditional Scottish dancing and often get together to dance and call for ceilidhs (in traditional Scottish dress, complete with kilts!), and they came to help us learn the dances. They would teach us the steps to a dance, and then we would try it, and then dance it to music. The dances were designed for large groups of people paired up together with partners, so I ended up meeting a lot of new people this way. We had a fantastic time, and really had a laugh as we tried (and sometimes failed) to keep up with the steps. Sprinkled throughout the evening there were also some local students who sang some Scottish and Gaelic songs, as well as some international students who sang songs from their home countries. This was a really cool part of the night, and it was fun to hear music from different parts of the world. The ceilidh turned out to be probably the most fun I’ve had since coming here, and I made many new friends and memories.