Celebrating traditional Irish music and dance in film!

Film award season has just concluded with the Oscars earlier this week, and happily a number of Irish films won BAFTA awards and also received Oscar nominations, including the very beautiful and gentle The Quiet Girl (An Cailín Cuain as Gaelige), and the absolutely stonking Banshees of Inisherin.

And of course, an Oscar winner! Big congratulations to James Martin who won on the occasion of his 31st birthday for his performance in An Irish Goodbye for best live action short film.

It has started me thinking about all those scenes in films that have entertained us with Irish music and traditional dance.

Mostly those dances have been part of the story: showing how important gathering for music and dances was to the various social and political power plays going on, like in The Field, based on the John B. Keane play.

Also in Jimmy’s Hall, a story about a young Irish man who returned to his rural homeland after 10 years in the US, who creates trouble by re-establishing a community centre for people to meet, talk and dance. This illuminates the divide in political sympathies within the community, including that of the church.

And then there’s the delightful breakout just for the craic – tapping feet, whoops of joy and some simple céilí dancing in Dancing at Lúghnasa . This is the penultimate moment for all the key characters before that gentle country Irish life fell apart and faded away.

There’s a short, sweet music session in The Banshees of Inisherin, led by the key protagonist, Colm Doherty played by Brendan Gleeson, who in real life is an accomplished Irish fiddler. This is a soft and gentle spot in a film that can otherwise be confusing, jarring and very, very funny.

And last, but not least, is the iconic dance scene from The Titanic.  No, this film is not an Irish film but we can claim the dance, the music, if not the ship itself which was built by Harland and Wolff in Belfast. Not sure Jack and Rose would win any dance medals but they sure have the right attitude!

So, what I noticed about all these films is that they are all set in the first half of the 20th century from 1912-1936 or thereabouts. This was an important time  of change for the world, with two world wars, a depression and a lot of social upheaval. In Ireland, there was the Easter Rising of 1916 and the emergence of a new and difficult republic, that created great strain between friends and families.

It was also a dangerous time for our beloved dancing, as there were forces at work to try to rid Ireland of any music and dance events in private homes with the Public Dance Halls Act of 1935.

Happily, the dancing survived all that.  What I would love to see now are some films set in our current day for all the world to see, showcasing the bright, beautiful and very talented musicians and dancers who are  carrying on an amazing legacy.

Blessings of St.Patrick’s Day on you.
Nora Stewart
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Irish Fare: Farls, Wheaten Bread and Whiskey Brack

WITH ST.PATRICK’S DAY just around the corner, I thought I would share three of my favorite Irish recipes that you might like to prepare and share with your friends and family.

I am a total foodie and I do love to bake but I’m not great with fiddly, complicated recipes. So I am hoping these  three lovely recipes will be simple enough even if you’re someone who doesn’t cook much.

Continue reading

Your Top 3 Irish Céilí Dances

“Well, that was embarrassing!” Not a great start for a blog post but that is about the size of it. The results are in from the global poll and I received a grand total of 91 voters, the lowest response by far of the three polls I have conducted.

This is despite the fact that almost 3 times that many people read the blog post, two-thirds of you readers did not vote.

However, my thanks to those who did vote, and the High Cauled Cap was in front all the way. Continue reading

Green Beer and Wigs Are Not Irish

After my blog post a few years ago now, I promised myself that I was going to be as positive as possible leading up to this St.Patrick’s Day but I find myself increasingly dismayed at the lack of thoughtful, intelligent or genuine opportunities to celebrate the best of Irish on this day of days.

Some weeks ago, I received a phone call from a local establishment enquiring if we were interested in “bringing some of our girls to dance on St.Patrick’s Day”. I patiently explained that we are a group of mature adults, not kids and we don’t get dressed up or wear wigs and also that our styles of dance- Irish set dancing & Irish sean nós dancing – were a bit different to the Riverdance style. To his credit, he listened to what I had to say and was open to the idea of our group dance.

However, once I started thinking about performing while surrounded by an audience of very drunk, not very interested people, it turned me right off. And frankly, those young dancers who do perform for those audiences are doing themselves a grave dis-service. So much effort and talent, and so little respect in return.

I think the sniggering, constant jokes about drinking and being drunk, the colour palette that is stuck on forest green and the frankly ludicrous circus-like approach to St. Patrick’s celebrations has had it’s day.  I saw a frightening program on TV Old Before My Time the other night about under 30’s binge-drinkers in the UK and the terrible damage they are doing to their health. There’s nothing funny about it at all.

Why do Irish people put up with the standard stereotypes that are about a nano-metre deep? C’mon folks, you, me and we the Irish are much better than that and I think the stereotypical drunken lurching with a pint of green beer, Gu*@&#@ess shirt and hat should be consigned to the dustbin of the 1980’s.

Time to sharpen up the act, refresh the image with a celebration of the deep and rich culture that Ireland has brought to the world. Time to include alternatives that include wit, fun, conversation, stories, great energy and creativity as well as a deep soulfulness that is rightly part of a holy day.

How else to celebrate St.Patrick’s Day?

Be activeDance, of course! And if dance isn’t your thing, do our fun fast fitness program and get fit at the same time.  Or do some gentle Tai Chi to Irish music
Be happy Listen to some great Irish music whatever your mood is – soulful, joyful, uplifting.
Be confident – Sing an Irish song or organise a group sing-song.
Be reflective – gaze at a beautiful view or photo, visit a church or holy place for you.
Be generous – Make  a donation or fundraise for an Irish charity doing good work internationally, such as Trócaire or Chernobyl Children International or Save The Children give generously to a friend or neighbour in need.
Be witty – Write a limerick or host a limerick competition- such good fun.
Be hospitable – Host morning tea or a lunch with beautiful Irish food-a gorgeous brack, a dozen scones or bacon, cabbage and potatoes! Check out a few recipes online
Be learned – Celebrate Irish history, Irish writers & poets – seek information online, go out and buy or  borrow books from your local library. Or learn a few words of Irish!
Be funny – Learn 5 new jokes to tell your friends or send them your favourite funniest & uplifting YouTube videos for a laugh.
Be charming – Seek out people you’ve never met before, listen and genuinely engage with them. The Irish are the best people-magnets I know 🙂Nora and Martin strawboys

And at the end of it all, if you like, a small glass of something you’re having yourself – a hot whiskey, a port or even a pint-would be grand.

Keeping happy and healthy is all part of the day.
Sláinte agus sonas!

Nora Stewart
Irish Bliss

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Wanna Be Irish St.Patrick’s Day? Dance, Don’t Drink

I love my Irish heritage – very proud of that and no more than on St.Patrick’s Day, when everyone wants to be Irish for the day. It does feel sad to me, however, that despite such a rich, creative and complex culture, that it all seems to boil down to one thing on the one day: drink.

Now don’t get me wrong. I really enjoy a glass of wine or two, have been known to enjoy the odd Irish coffee and love mellow Irish hot whiskeys in the winter.

But not when I’m dancing. If you ever want to feel like you’re really part of a slow-motion 3D movie, then half a dozen pints and then on to dance the Clare Plain Set is your man.

Most people who’ve been dancing a long time recognise that dancing and drinking don’t really mix, and the ones that don’t, look in the mirror the next morning and hope nobody recognises them. Continue reading