You may wonder what these two things may have in common – well 2 things actually – firstly they are both great passions of mine and secondly and possibly more importantly as far as you’re concerned they are 2 things that in this very modern and changing Ireland have not changed very much at all.
Let’s take Irish Dancing first of all. And I don’t mean the Irish dancing that conjures up visions of little girls in traditional costumes and goldilocks ringlets. What I’m talking about is Set Dancing which is a completely different thing altogether.
Long ago if you were going on a date in Ireland, if he wasn’t bringing you to the pictures he’d be bringing you to a dance. Now ‘a dance’ might bring to mind ladies in ball gowns dancing sedately, but in Ireland a dance was quite a different thing! So much so that they were never held without the parish priest patrolling the hall to make sure things didn’t go too far (you’ll be glad to hear this is one tradition that has died out!)
If you’ve ever seen a set you’ll know that it’s a formation dance made up of four couples not unlike a square dance, just pick up the speed about 10 fold and add in some ribald traditional Irish music. And if you’re wondering about the priest let me just explain that you have to get fairly up close and personal when you’re lepping around the floor at high speed.
After a couple of sets you might take a break to do a ceili dance such as the Haymakers Jig or the Seige of Ennis. These dances were popular as they involved a lot of partner swapping so if you positioned yourself right you might get to dance with the object of your affection even if you hadn’t had the gumption to ask her to the dance and had only gotten as far as making eyes at her across the floor.
Half way through the night a cup of tea and some cakes and sandwiches would be served by the ladies of the parish to keep the strength up. And you’ll still be treated to these refreshments at any ceili to this very day!
So if you’d like to experience the delights of ‘a dance’ as it might have been fifty or sixty years ago in Ireland just ask your Ireland guide if they can include a rural ceili dance on your itinerary.
What about the GAA you ask (as you well might after reading Paul’s blog below – as well as the heated debate taking place in the comments!)? Well check back soon and I’ll tell you all about it!