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Z časopisu CÉIM 17. 1. 2016

History of Irish dancing

This question of the antiquity of Irish dancing is one that has never been satisfactorily answered. We know from the literature of other lands that dancing is a very ancient pastime in practically every country in the world. However, regarding our own literature in Irish or English – there is not one paragraph, not even one sentence, not even a word in reference to dancing in Ireland. Hence one might conclude that such a thing as dancing was never indulged in, in Ireland: but such a conclusion would be wrong as I shall endeavour to show you.
Now what explanation can be given for the non-mention of dancing in our own literature. I can think of but one and that is that dancing was so general in every part of Ireland that our writers never bothered mentioning it – no more than they would write about the number of meals per day, one consumed. However, reason and common sense tell us there must have been some form of dancing in Ireland, as there was in other European countries.

CÉIM Nr. 4

History of Irish Dancing (2)
Last month I wrote about the lack of certainty regarding the antiquity of Irish dancing. I drew your attention, also, to the fact – a most astounding and almost unbelievable fact – that there is no mention, whatever in our literature (in Irish or English) regarding the practise of dancing amongst the Irish people.
Of course you all know that the social life of the Irish people, during the greater part of the 700 years of British occupation, is an a closed book to us. After „Briseadh Cionn taille“ (Defeat of Kinsale) in the year 1601, harpers, pipers and poets were outlawed. Harps and warpipes were destroyed in thousands. Manuscripts of music and poems were piled upon a bonfire – hence the scarcity of music and poetry composed prior to 1601. Those harpers who escaped capture found refuge in remote parts of the country, while some made their way by devious routes to Scotland and were made welcome by the Chieftains of that celtic country. Of those who found refuge in Scotland, the two most famous were Rory Dall O Cathain of Derry County and Tomas O Conallain of Sligo – of these more anon.
Poets were prohibited by law from mentioning the name of Ireland in their poems, but they got around this, by writing what we call Allegorical Poems – that is they gave to Ireland such beautiful names as „Roisin Dubh; Caitlin ni Uallachain; An Ros Geal Dubh; Cait ni Dhuibhir; agus Site ni Gadhra.
I mentioned that pipers also were outlawed, but the Irish people were so fond of music, that they made whistles from porn cobs (the woody centre part of a stalk of porn). They then cut holes in it for the fingers, and it thus became somewhat similar to a tin-whistle. It was named a „Corn-Pipe“. Is not this name very close to „Cornphiopa.“ It was not until around 1700 that the modern Uillean Pipes were invented. This newly invented instrument had a much milder tone than that of the War-Pipes. Thirty years later regulators were added to the chanter, and contributed greatly to its charm; and as the harpers had all gone, the Uillean Piper cecame the most populár of all musicians. But soft, leasing, haunting as the pipes may be, the truth is, that they are delightful, or the reverse (!), according to the skill of the hand that rules them. If the piper fully understands his instrument he can produce a hive of honied sounds.
So far I’ve mentioned the prohibition of music and poetry, but I’ve never come across any any statute or law prohibiting dancing; but I think we can be reasonably certain that the ruling British authorities would see to the curtailment of dancing, just as they did with music and poetry.
Our own literature being silent regarding the art of dancing in Ireland, we are found to depend on the writings of Scotsmen and Englishmen for whatever knowledge we possess regarding dancing in Ireland during the period of British occupation. Indeed the very first reference we have is found in 1569 in a „State“ letter written by Sir Henry Sydney – one of Queen Elizabeth’s courtiers in Ireland. In this letter to his Queen, Sir Henry mentions that he had witnessed in Galway, the dancing of an Irish Jig by a number of Irish ladies. He then gave a description of this dance, together with the formation of the dancers in two straight lines; and this description leads one to believe that the dance was the one known to all of us as „The Rinnce Fada,“ a really beautiful, simple dance – one which was very populár when I was a lad, and I hope it will be brought back to our Ceilis again.
I did come across two other references to Irish dancing, both by unnamed English Statesmen, around the years 1570 – 1571 neither of whom described the dances, except to say they were beautifully and rhythmically danced. Later on we shall quote further references to Irish dancing from the writings of Scotsmen and Englishmen, who were amongst the foremost writers of thein day.
Now let us examine the term we all know so well „Jig.“ The derivation of this word „Jig“ as well as the word „Reel“ has never been satisfactorily settled. Most writers of the last century, held the opinion that the term „Jig“ was of Italian origin. Now there was indeed a type of musical measure very popular in Italy during the 18th century, termed „a Giga,“ and most writers affirm that our Irish Jig was derived from this particular type of Italian music, popularised by two great Italian musicians, „Corelli and Geminiani.“ But all the writers and authors seem to have ignored the fact that tunes, termed „Irish Jigs“ had been already published in the several editions of „Playfords Dancing Master,“ and these booklets were published during the years 1650 to 1700 – many years before the birth of „Corelli or Geminiani.“

Tuille le teact ar an grad uimhir eile de „Céim.“

Václav Bernard

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