Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Celts Seek Slavic Ties, And Prehistoric Stout

The last time I went in search of fellow Celts in the remote byways of St. Petersburg was March 17, otherwise known as St. Patrick's Day. It seemed reasonable to expect to find a few elusive Celtic souls partying the night away at Mollie's Bar, one of the two Irish pubs in the city. But when I arrived, there was no traditional band, no jigging, reeling revellers and, most conspicuously, no Irish men or women to be seen anywhere.

When I did finally hear the distinctive lilt of an authentic Dublin accent drifting across the bar, its owner, a gangly, loquacious computer consultant named Eddie, refused to believe who I was.

"You're not a journalist," he yelled, "Yer' a charlatan. Yer' nothing but a downright charlatan trying to con us into thinking you're a journalist."

Any time either he or his friends addressed me during the evening, it was prefaced with, "Well, now, if you really are a journalist ..."

So, it was with a certain amount of apprehension and with all of my various identification cards, that I approached last weeks' symposium at the St. Petersburg Institute of Foreign Languages entitled, "Celtic Language and Culture." Tantalizing items on the fascinating week-long agenda included "Tree metaphors in the Celtic Language." and "The Water Bull in Celtic, Germanic and Balto-Slavonic traditions." The highlight of the event was the first annual Celtic lecture at the British Council, given by a sprightly Welsh professor named Geraint Jenkins from Aberystwyth, an avid Welsh nationalist who favored the establishment of a separate, independent Welsh state.

But the real, biting issue at hand during informal seminar tea breaks was the alleged similarity between the Russian and the Celtic sensibilities, their common devotion, as Boris Grebenshchikov once pointed out, to "drink and death."

Both peoples, according to seminar participants, share a common heritage in what is known as the "Indo-European" group. And the Slavic and Celtic tribes once roamed the same territories of western Ukraine, where, presumably, they drank a few bottles of prehistoric stout together.

While none of the scholars were willing to commit themselves on matters of mere "temperament," it was generally agreed that these are two of the most provocative, warm, volatile and unpredictable races on the globe.

What Professor Jenkins said of the Welsh in his lecture, could just as easily apply to Russians: "We are a proud people, a stubborn people, an exasperating people." And take, as a conclusive example, Eddie, the infuriating Irishman I mentioned before, who is the first person in my many years of working for newspapers in a number of different continents, to brazenly doubt my identity. For the last time, Eddie, I really am a journalist.