Sheila MacKenzie FitzPatrick

storySheila MacKenzie FitzPatrick is one of the co-founders of Prince Edward Island’s new Celtic Learning & Educational Foundation (CLEF). A fiddler and promoter, FitzPatrick noticed a lack of young people attending traditional music shows and decided to establish CLEF as a way to bring Celtic music, dance, language, history and culture back to the forefront for the younger generation. Here, she answers our Seven Celtic Questions

What are your own Celtic roots?
I am of Scottish decent. My mother was a Northpole MacDonald from Little Pond and her mother was a MacInnis from St. Peters Bay. Their ancestors came from South Uist.

Why are these roots important to you?
My roots are very important to me because they form an essential part of my identity. There’s a comfort and strength that derives from knowing where you came from, what your ancestors went through, and what they were able to accomplish. My roots explain my music, and they make me feel connected to something. My Celtic roots and all the people connected to them are a part of me. It’s important to me that I try to preserve the culture they brought with them because this is a culture that was taken away from them.

What does it mean today to be of Celtic Heritage?
To me, it’s all about being a part of a community that is strong in character and rich in history and music and stories with wonderful characters. It’s all about determined people who work hard and play hard.

How are you involved with the Celtic community?
I’m a fiddle player and stepdancer. I was about six-years-old when I started. My whole life, I’ve always had an interest in Scottish history, Gaelic language and of course music and dance. I’ve been going to dances and ceilidhs since I was very young and now I get to take my own children. I’ve always been involved in one way or another. I organize many events, concerts, workshops and that sort of thing. I’ve been the president of the PEI Fiddlers’ Society and I was a member of the Queens County Fiddlers. And now I’m busy these days with establishing CLEF.

Why is it important to help keep Celtic culture alive?
It’s important because we should never forget where we came from, so that we never take what we have for granted. We need to remember all the hardships our ancestors faced in coming here. We need to remember, in order to truly appreciate what they have built for us. We’ve managed to hold onto the old music and ways that have been lost even in Scotland and Ireland. Us being able to hold on to that; I believe that makes us “keepers.” Celtic Culture is so inclusive. It encourages and allows people of all ages to come together. It’s pure, it’s clean and it just feels right. The Celtic culture promotes a real sense of community in younger people especially, and it gives them a safe place to grow up. This is our identity. If we lose it, life will be sad and empty. It will feel void of colour.

Is enough being done to preserve and promote Celtic culture?
I think that, in general, there is a need for more Celtic preservation. There seems to be a great deal of promotion on a commercial level, but in terms of something more in-depth that’s not the case.

What can we be doing better?
We need to work together as Celtic regions. We’ve got to celebrate each other and get people to participate. People need to do more than simply watch; they have to get involved, and we have to bring people in, get them interested in learning and feeling pride in who they are. If we can do that then more people will be able to celebrate their Celtic culture. We need to make it more accessible to everyone. Taking part and celebrating our culture shouldn’t be out of anyone’s reach financially. It should be all about grass roots, and based in the local history of each area. It needs to be fun, lively and integrated into daily living as much as possible. We need to get people of all ages working together because we all have so much to learn from one another, no matter how young or old we are. We could be using new technology to our benefit. We have to figure out how to get people to celebrate their culture every day, and not just once a year when St. Patrick’s Day rolls around!