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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