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Some years ago, while visiting a friend in Virginia Beach, my then-girlfriend (now soon-to-be-ex-wife) and I found ourselves in a bar with my friend and some of her acquaintances. One of them tossed out the idea that everything in Celtic (subsuming Scottish, Irish, and Welsh) culture that makes most outsiders scratch their heads and think "what the fuck?" can be directly traced to ancient bar bets. Consider the following examples:

  • The bard's instrument suffers some mishap. He doesn't have a spare. A patron says, "If you're such a good bard, I bet you can't make music with that empty flour sack in the corner!" The bard goes outside and scrounges up some hollow twigs. The result? Bagpipes.
  • One patron scrawls a random string of letters on a parchment and bets another that he can't pronounce it. The result? All those lovely words that don't seem to have enough vowels, like Cymry and Annwn.
  • A patron loudly proclaims that he'll eat anything on a bet. Another challenges him to try a stuffed sheep's stomach. And thus we have haggis.
  • (everyone's favourite) One patron bets another that he can't lift the fallen tree outside the bar. The challenged one says that he will not only lift it, but he'll throw it. And thus the caber toss.
  • Why else would a whole race of people charge into battle wearing nothing but blue paint? (I know, that's more of a Pictish thing, not Celtic.)
  • Depending on whose theory you believe, Stonehenge makes a lot more sense in the context of a bar bet.

My ex is half-Irish. She thought it was hysterical. Only bagpipers have taken issue with it, and even they insist that it couldn't have been a flour sack, since it wouldn't have held the air in.

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