Danahey on the Loose, Reading About Celtic Women

With her husband, Blair (left), Jacqueline Widmar Stewart discusses her Hidden Women books at Chicago’s University Club in July 2018.

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but Jacqueline Widmar Stewart has found being inquisitive – and writing about her explorations – is a fine way to spend her Modern Maturity years.

I first interviewed Stewart 13 years ago about her book, The Glacier’s Treasure Trove: A Field Guide to the Lake Michigan Riviera.

While her studies, a law career and starting a family took her to Northern California, Stewart grew up in Beverly Shores, Indiana, in a home her parents built not far from the dunes along Lake Michigan.

For a time (and until last year) Stewart and her husband, Blair, spent summers in Michiana, Indiana. While the area now holds huge “look how rich I am” retreats for wealthy Chicagoans, the Stewarts had a modest cottage resting on a bluff overlooking the lake.

They were nice enough to invite me to visit, and I stopped by several summers, enjoying the couple’s company, soaking up the beauty of the area Stewart covered in her guide and frequently picking up some fabled Michigan peaches before heading home.

Stewart went on to travel overseas to research, then write a book about the homeland of her grandparents, Finding Slovenia: A Guide to Old Europe’s New Country; then Parks and Gardens in Greater Paris; then Champagne Regained about the fabled region of France.

In recent years, she’s started a planned series of Hidden Women books, the first two being Hidden Women: A History of Europe, Celts and Freedom and Hidden Women: Celtic Burgundy & Europe.

Stewart’s work mentions Brigid of Kildare, who founded an abbey in 5th century Ireland and whose feast day marks the start of spring. Irish scholar Colomban is noted for playing a role in the building 7th century abbeys in France and Germany.

And Brehon Laws of 5th century Ireland get a nod for having rules for elections – and for Brigh Brigaid, who delivered decisions that served as precedent for hundreds of years.

Stewart’s Hidden Women book make clear that while now we may associate Celts with the Irish, Scottish, Gaelic or an NBA team with a leprechaun mascot, for centuries Celtic culture spread far and wide across Europe. Stewart’s books provide examples that can be found to this day in architecture, engineering, art, tapestries, halls and libraries found across the continent.

This statue at Prüm Abbey in Germany depicts the woman architect behind the structure.

“There is a commonality of languages across Celtic cultures, a reverence for nature and the following of natural law. The Celts also stressed the importance of family structure, and children were seen as treasures,” Stewart said.

As the titles indicate the Hidden Women books point out that, not to be confused with today’s gossamer singing group, Celtic women played key roles in their societies across the ages, including as warriors.

“Julius Caesar found Celtic men tough and Celtic women who fought by their side fiercer,” Stewart said. 

At one time or another, side by side with men, Celtic women were sages, scholars, artists and even druid priests, Stewart said.

Yet, Stewart said, given that the ultimate victors write history, Celts have been called barbarians, while it was the Romans who slaughtered, starved or enslaved millions. And the roles of Celts and of Celtic women in European history have been downplayed.

“Rome did not fall to the Barbarians; it fell to the Celts,” Stewart wrote.

You can get a taste of Stewart’s work online. She has a website for the Hidden Women books 

(www.hiddenwomenbooks.com), a blog (jacquelinewidmarstewart.blogspot.com) and her own webpage (www.lexicuspress.com), not to mention a Facebook page and a YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/channel/UCahgriGZlWvjiMke7m6VlOA).

Stewart said, along with showing the significance of Celtic culture and the importance of their women, she hopes her writings point to getting away from divisions and focusing on our commonalities, “not the artificialities that divide us.”

Stewart also had a suggestion for me: I should find some organization to help pay for me to go from pub to pub in Ireland to research a book to write on Celtic culture there.

Maybe I’ll put together a GoFundMe page before hitting up some Hibernians. Either way, I’ll surely practice at my local.

Blair Stewart models a shirt promoting his wife Jacqueline’s Hidden Women: A History of Europe Celts & Freedom book.