Now that we’ve reached modern times in our origins series, it’s impossible not to mention Riverdance. If you were around in the 90s or early 2000s, chances are it’s how you heard about Irish dance in the first place. Riverdance was a global phenomenon that’s still considered one of the most successful dance performances of all time, grossing, by its 20-year reunion, over a billion dollars worldwide. And while the most traditional aspects of Irish dance live on, it would be impossible to deny the new life and interest that Riverdance helped breathe into the time-honored artistic sport that is Irish dance.
It all began in 1981, when composer Bill Whelan was asked to write and produce an interval act for the Eurovision Song contest (which is now something like a pan-European X-Factor, but all music-based, and at the time was considered a very serious music competition.) This first piece was called “Timedance,” and featured Irish folk group Planxty playing baroque-inspired music with ballet dancers accompanying. When Bill Whelan was approached again (with 7 wins, Ireland has won the Eurovision contest more than any other country) in 1994, he decided to do something closer to Ireland’s roots. He created the most successful interval show in Eurovision history, “Riverdance”—a score filled with traditional Irish instruments like drum and fiddle, paired with “haunting vocals” and, of course, Irish dancers, all with a modern twist!
People around the world (the performance was initially seen by 300 million people worldwide) were stunned and amazed by this seven-minute introduction to traditional Irish dance and music, which up to this point was only well known in Ireland and areas with high populations of Irish immigrants. The audio recording stayed at the top of the Irish singles chart for 18 consecutive weeks (it’s still the second best-selling single in Irish history, only following Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind”) and a repeat presentation was held at the Royal Variety Performance (a yearly charity event held by the British royal family) that year. Husband-wife production team Moya Doherty and John McColgan saw the opportunity for this short performance to become a full-length theatrical event, and within six months Riverdance, the show, had its first performance in Dublin.
Gathering together the music stylings of Bill Whelan and choral group Anúna with choreography largely by American-born Irish dance champions Michael Flatley (yes, the “Lord of the Dance”) and Jean Butler, Riverdance was not only an immediate, but a consistent hit. The opening night didn’t just sell out, but the first five weeks at the Point Theatre in Dublin, as well as a four-week run at London’s Apollo (and a second run, which was extended twice--over 120,000 tickets initially), as well as every date at New York’s Radio City Music Hall. The original production of the show would run for 11 years, but additional tours stretched the longevity to 23 at 515 venues in 47 countries on six continents!
But Riverdance wasn’t just your grandmother’s Irish dance—it combined new, sleeker costuming (no elaborate, heavy dresses with Celtic designs or high-bouncing curls) with influences from other dance traditions, expanding the insular world of Irish dance for the world stage. While it made use of Irish dance’s iconic forms and steps, it also used choreographed arm movements and emotional ebullience to complete the performance, instead of the traditional stiff upper body and relatively controlled expressions. Drawing from other cultural dance traditions, such as flamenco and tap, Riverdance placed Irish dance as part of world dance tradition rather than completely apart (and engaged the audience in new, theatrical ways not entirely reliant on technique, as is all-important in the world of competitive Irish dance, as well!) The producers likened Riverdance as a mirror to the cultural revolutions happening in Ireland and throughout the world. Ireland of the 1990s was embroiled in the Troubles and Riverdance became a symbolic representation of the way Irish society was changing.
Little known to the casual Riverdance-enthusiast, Flatley actually wasn’t in the show for long. While he and Jean Butler were the stars of and choreographed the original, Eurovision performance, Flatley left the theatrical show only a few months after it originally premiered. There appears to not be one reason he left, but many—Flatley’s desire for complete creative control, his refusal to sign a contract over profit-sharing, salary, and royalty disputes, or, according to Jean Butler: his own ego. (Click that link for Butler’s more detailed description of working with Flatley—it’s an interesting read!) Flatley’s lawsuit against the production wasn’t settled until 1999, but it didn’t stop Flatley from garnering international acclaim from his own spin-off shows, Lord of the Dance and Feet of Flames among them. Flatley even holds the title of “Highest Paid Dancer” in history in the Guinness Book of World Records.
While Riverdance might not be exactly the traditional Irish dance we teach at SRL, its influence lives on and had the positive affect of making Irish dance a household name worldwide. The show opened this once narrow cultural practice to those outside of Ireland, revived interest within its home country, and no one can deny—it’s quite a show! If you’re ever able to catch a performance don’t hesitate--the 25th anniversary show is even touring now!
This post is part of a series. Read our last origins of Irish dance post, all about sean-nós, here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
Last time we did a technique review, we covered rhythm. So you may be asking yourself…isn’t timing the same thing? While the two are definitely related, not quite! While rhythm refers to a dancer’s synchronization with the music, timing refers to the pace at which a dancer performs individual movements. Or, to say it another way: rhythm is how the pattern of movements correlates to the music’s pattern, while timing is the relationship of one movement to another. You can think of it as pacing too…but it’s a brain-twister!
The truth is, it’s hard to separate timing and rhythm, and issues with one will generally cause issues with the other. Going back to the “Happy Birthday” analogy from last time—someone with rhythm issues won’t be able to stay on beat with everyone singing, while someone with timing issues may extend one word too long and then maybe speed up singing another part of the song. In Irish dance, especially in the more advanced levels, individual movements have individual timings (think of a sliding movement in a hornpipe dance versus fast-flying feet in a slip jig) and while keeping to the beat (rhythm) is one struggle, timing those individual movements is another. Essentially, one move may be meant to take two beats of the music but the dancer does it in one or three.
There’s two separate kinds of timing issues on a basic level: too fast or too slow. While too slow is probably easiest to see with the naked, non-dancer eye (as it skips over too many beats in between or during movements)—too fast is equally common and might manifest itself with a dancer finishing a phrase (i.e. a set of movements) and then needing to pause to begin the next phrase. Sometimes timing issues stem from nervousness or difficulties with a particular move or phrase, and sometimes it’s an inability to hear the music. Dealing with timing issues, like rhythm, needs to be looked at on an individual basis, but there are a few things you can help with at home!
First off, if it’s an individual movement issue, YouTube is your best friend! Look for a video of the move done correctly, then slowed down and explained, and then put to music that your dancer will be able to watch over and over again outside of the classroom setting. Sites like Target Training Dance or Irish Dance Magazine’s YouTube are amazing resources—Irish dance may be a small world, but it’s a supportive one, and there’s a dearth of information out there! When trying to figure out how multiple movements fit together (like when you learn a new step), we always recommend that dancers record a video of it slowed down with no music as well as a video with the step danced to music. Back in the day, we used tape recorders of our teachers singing or lilting steps before cameras were built into every phone!
It may also be the type of music that’s the issue—perhaps it’s specific instruments (some dancers can hear a fiddle, but not the downbeat from an accordion, for example) that cause confusion or a music with a particular beat (to review the differences in Irish dance music, check out this past post!) This problem has the same suggestions for home practice as rhythm issues (see that post from last week here)—see if your dancer is able to clap along to the beat of the music. If they’re not able to hear the music they won’t be able to feel the music while they dance, which will throw off the timing of their moves.
Musicality is a learned skill for many dancers and the biggest key for improvement? Consistent practice, determination, and possibly a private lesson or two for good measure (as small as SRL classes are, sometimes a little one-on-one time is needed to better suit one dancer’s particular learning style or better determine where the disconnect is.) At home, they can try dancing to the beat of a metronome or simplified beats (stripping back the music to simply beat will make is easier to hear!) You can also try singing steps alongside the music or using your hands to keep time to the music on the floor to help your dancer visualize the beat—every kid learns differently! The important part is to not give up, and ask your dancer’s instructors for help as needed!
This post is part of a series. Read our last technique review, all about rhythm, here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
Last time we did movie recs, we covered some of the best children’s movies set in Ireland (check that out here!), but kids aren’t the only ones who can get the mid-winter blues. This time, we’re here with recommendations for our SRL parents (and some of our older dancers, at your discretion.) So tuck your littlest dancers in, make some hot cocoa, stop worrying about being possibly snowed in tomorrow morning, and dive into one of these beloved films that will whisk you away to Ireland and make you laugh, or cry…or both!
1. Once (2007, R)
97% Rotten Tomatoes
Rent on Amazon Prime
Set in Dublin, Once follows an Irish vacuum repairman and hopeful musician (known only as “Guy”) and a Czech immigrant flower-seller (known only as “Girl”) in the journey of their burgeoning love and attempts to follow their shared dreams. This stripped-down musical (all about the music with none of the fanfare and dance numbers) begins when Girl reaches out to Guy to let him know that she’s also an aspiring singer-songwriter and a partnership is born. When that partnership deepens into something more, something beautiful happens—and we’re not just talking about the Oscar-winning original song “Falling Slowly.” But the movie is hardly a romantic comedy, as the course of true love never did run smooth, so get ready for something more soul aching and bittersweet than saccharine. Eventually adapted for the stage where it became a Broadway hit, Once is a simple story, but one that will charm the coldest heart this winter.
2. The Guard (2011, R)
94% Rotten Tomatoes
Rent on Amazon Prime
The Guard is a kind of buddy cop/crime film, but just remember that Irish humor tends to skew a little dark. Beloved Irish actor Brendan Gleeson (we could spend a whole blog post listing his accolades, but let’s just mention that he was Professor Moody in Harry Potter) stars as Garda (that’s Irish for police) Officer Boyle who’s a little bit…much. Crass and eccentric Boyle is knee-deep in an investigation when he stumbles onto a much bigger crime ring, causing a straitlaced FBI agent (played by Don Cheadle) to get involved. Set in Connemara in western Ireland, the story follows the unorthodox pairing as they try to track down the criminals, with a healthy dose of both hilarity and tragedy in equal measure. The film was warmly received critically and at the box office (actually becoming the highest grossing independent Irish film to date,) with Gleeson even being nominated for a Golden Globe for his role.
3. Sing Street (2016, PG-13)
95% Rotten Tomatoes
Watch on Amazon Prime
When you consider Ireland’s long history of musicality, it’s not surprising that there’s two musicals on this list. Sing Street is set in 1980s south inner-city Dublin and based on writer and director John Carney’s experiences as a teenager (he even attended Synge Street CBS, the school the plot revolves around.) The film follows Conor Lawlor as he’s transferred to this new school due to issues at home and starts a band with his new friends in order to impress his crush. As you’d expect from any teenage tale, this venture is tumultuous, but ultimately gives way to a story of found family, the power of love, the restorative nature of creativity, and dreams of escaping your small town. While the adult actors are an all-star cast, Carney chose to cast all unknowns for the younger roles to keep the narrative as relatable as possible. Full of slightly fantastical elements paired with realistic 80s nostalgia, Sing Street has a levity to it, even as it tackles difficult issues (with a song or two thrown in!)
4. Waking Ned Devine (1998, PG)
84% Rotten Tomatoes
Rent on Amazon Prime
Touted as an “Irish Weekend at Bernie’s,” Waking Ned Devine is a film that finds humor even in the darkest topics. Set in the tiny village of Tullymore (population: 52) where everyone knows everyone’s business, senior friends Jackie and Michael are gob smacked when they find out someone in town has won the lottery! A ham-fisted investigation of sorts ensues that reveals that local recluse, Ned Devine, is not only the winner—but promptly died of the shock. But Ned has no family and he’d want to share his winnings with the whole village…right? What follows is a romp of high-spirited hijinks perpetrated by the entire, mostly elderly population in order to trick the claims inspector—fully of the silly and macabre in equal measure. A film full of heart and community as much as jokes, Waking Ned Devine was considered a delight by most reviewers, an updated comedy of manners with a bit of bawdiness for fun. (Oh, and it was also nominated for and won a ton of awards!)
5. The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006, Not Rated)
90% Rotten Tomatoes
Rent on Amazon Prime
The highest grossing independently made Irish film in history before surpassed by The Guard and widely considered one of the most important Irish films of all time, The Wind That Shakes the Barley is the historical pick on this list. Set in County Cork during the Irish War for Independence (1919-1921) and the Irish Civil War (1922-1923,) the film follows brothers Damien (portrayed by Cillian Murphy of Peaky Blinders fame) and Teddy as they fight a guerrilla war against the British. This film tackles one of the most difficult times in Irish history through an interpersonal story that grounds it for the viewer, with nods to Ireland’s troubled history (the title comes from a Robert Dwyer Joyce song of the same name, set during the 1798 rebellion.) It may not be rated, but definitely expect some heavy topics and violence due to the subject matter, but not necessarily gratuitously so--it did win the coveted Palme D’Or at Cannes.
Happy (or not so happy…) viewing!
This post is part of a series. Read our last Modern Ireland post, all about University College Dublin, here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
University College Dublin
Not to be confused with our last uni spotlight, Trinity College Dublin, or London’s University College London (the UK has some serious overlap in uni nomenclature,) we’re here tonight to talk about another one of Dublin’s esteemed schools: University College Dublin (or UCD.) UCD is Ireland’s largest university at over 33,000 students and has been in existence (though the name has changed multiple times over the years) since 1854. Divided into six colleges and 37 schools within the larger umbrella of the university, there’s almost no subject your dancer wouldn’t be able to study at UCD.
Despite its size, the focus at UCD always remains on the academics—this research-intensive university (with research endowments in the multi-millions) is regularly ranked in 1% of schools, ranking 185th worldwide. With five Nobel laureates amongst its current alumni and staff and the highest percentage of graduate study in Ireland taking place there, it’s known for cutting-edge research across all academic fields, as well as its thriving arts and literature programs. UCD’s archives rank as some of the most extensive in all of Europe with its National Folklore collection that concentrates on Irish history, oral tradition, and folklore (and which was added to the UNESCO Memory of the World Register in 2017.)
But it’s not just about the school itself at UCD, they help prepare their students for the real world, too. UCD ranks top in graduate employability, above all other Irish unis (as well as 78th in the world,) while a study in 2015 reported that UCD graduates contribute 1.5 billion to Ireland’s economy annually. It’s also considered Ireland’s top networking university, with over a quarter million current alumni out in the world, making an impact in wide-ranging areas from the arts and sciences to politics and industry.
Known as Ireland’s “global university,” UCD has approximately 8,000 international students from over 138 countries. But it doesn’t stop its global reach at Ireland’s borders—UCD has global centers all over the world to help find and support their international students complete with high school outreach, partner institutions, and points of contact for parents (and students!) within home countries.
UCD’s campus used to reside on St. Stephen’s Green in the heart of Dublin, but continued expansion and desires for more modern facilities for students and research purposes led to its exodus to Belfield—only 4 kilometers outside the city center. And it’s a good thing they did as UCD now has one of the largest urban campuses in Europe and some of the most updated and extensive student accommodations in Ireland. It also ranks as one of Ireland’s safest campuses, as beyond the relative safety of Dublin there’s 24-hour security.
Student life is considered a happy one at UCD, with an activism-centered focus to match the school’s motto: Ad Astra; Cothrom na Féinne or “To the Stars; Justice and Equality.” Between their active Students’ Union and their multiple student newspapers (not to mention radio stations!), UCD students have gained worldwide attention multiple times over the years for their focus on social justice and human rights. But there’s fun to be had too—over 60 sports clubs (not to mention that the Leinster Rugby team’s headquarters reside on campus,) and an equal number of student societies. There’s a community feeling, despite the number of students, with touches like every new student being given a scarf with the school’s colors—St. Patrick’s blue, saffron, and navy—at their welcome ceremony that students also wear to their graduation.
With a uni this large, there’s almost too much to say! Tune back in next time for Ireland’s smallest undergraduate population: Maynooth University in County Kildare.
This post is part of a series. Read our modern Ireland post, all about contemporary Irish poetry, here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
Fun Facts About Ireland: Volume IX
Read our last ten fun facts here.
1. The seventh lion used in the famed MGM opening title sequence was born in the Dublin Zoo, located in the city’s beautiful Phoenix Park. His reign as a movie star began in 1957, and he’s the one we still see today! While they called every single one of the lions used “Leo,” this Dubliner was the only lion where it was actually his name!
2. Ireland is one of the only countries in the world whose population has been decreasing over the last two centuries. Before the Great Famine in the 1800s, the population was estimated to be 8 million people. Just afterward—6.5 million. And today? Only 5 million!
3. In the 19th century, County Cork was the world’s biggest exporter of butter (there was even a large market deemed the “Cork Butter Exchange”.) The butter made its way to not only the UK and France, but all the way to India and Australia! (If you ever visit Cork, you can even explore the Cork Butter Museum!)
4. Ireland loves an unusual holiday. Take the “Puck Fair” in Killorglin, a small village located in the Kerry Mountains. Every year, locals wrangle a goat from the surrounding wilderness and crown the animal king for three days with much fanfare. After, the goat is safely re-released into the wild.
5. Speaking of Australia, there’s a privately owned island near Dublin that’s home to a population of wallabies. It’s not some quirk of natural selection, but a not-so-surprising culprit: man. The owners of Lambay Island imported a family of wallabies in the 50s, and they’ve been there ever since!
6. Dublin houses the oldest continuously operating maternity hospital in the world--Rotunda Hospital in Dublin. Opening in 1745, it’s been around for 275 years!
7. You can see the Northern Lights from Ireland! While we usually associate the beautiful natural display with Iceland or Norway, the most northerly point in Ireland (Malin Head in Inishowen) is also a great place to watch. Just make sure to find a day with clear skies and no bright moonlight for the best show!
8. Ireland, on the stage of world politics, is neutral (something we generally associate with Switzerland.) This started during WWII, where Ireland officially stayed out of things (though there are many a story of them helping the Allied forces, including supplying the weather report that allowed for the D-Day landing, and they were bombed multiple times, though it’s thought that was accidental. The UK is an island too, after all.) Ireland technically isn’t even a part of NATO!
9. Despite being neutral, Ireland’s always been a politically progressive place. Take Leo Varadkar, who served not only as the country’s youngest prime minister starting in 2017, but also as the first of Indian heritage (as well as being the first openly gay party leader.) Talk about a lot of firsts!
10. Ireland holds some of the most unexpected (and funniest) Guinness World Records, including: world’s largest tea towel, most cups of tea made in an hour by a team of 12, the highest combined age, and the most cookies baked in an hour (yum!)
This post is part of a series. Read our last ten fun facts here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
Read our first post about this topic here.
It’s January, and we all know what that means: the winter doldrums are here. It’s hard getting back into the swing of things after the excitement of the holidays for adults, and it’s twice as hard for kids. Return to routine in the midst of a cold winter can feel daunting, but we’re here tonight to talk about the importance a parent’s influence has on a dancer’s development and why it’s more important this time of year than ever!
First off, the first thing to remember is that every dancer has different goals, but that this is the time of year that can help determine how close they come to meeting those goals during this dance year. Every student that walks through the SRL doors has unlimited potential, but they don’t always want the same things. We’re starting to gear up for St. Patrick’s Day performance month here, followed by recital, and, for our more competitive dancers, Nationals and even Worlds—but a goal to make friends in class and participate in the parade is no less important than making it to the big stage. While this is the time of year it can be easy to let the lack of light get to us, it’s also the beginning of the second half of the all-too-short dance year, so here’s a few tips from Miss Courtney and some experts to help keep your dancer feeling encouraged, no matter how big or small their goals:
Show interest! It’s a simple thing, but can get the most burned-out dancer motivated for the classes ahead. An article in Journal for the Education of the Gifted explored this subject over a two-year study in relation to dance specifically, and found that parents “being there, sharing, and knowing” about the dancer’s classes were the most important factors in dancer development—even above specific pedagogical practices. What’s true for their academic life is equally true for their athletic and artistic development--parent engagement is the best predictor of success. It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle of day-to-day life, shuttling your kids between school and all their extracurriculars and you still have to figure out dinner…we get it! It’s a perfect storm that’s all go go go and very little time to slow down and ask about an activity when they still have homework to get done. Our suggestion is that even if it’s five minutes a day, or on the drive home, make sure to ask them questions—about their friends in class, what they learned, to show you something…a little goes a long way.
Next, encourage, but don’t force them to practice! While no one in the studio is going to tell you practice isn’t a positive, forcing kids into practice can create a mental block that erases the positive effects (especially the psychological ones) of their favorite activities. There’s definite debate about this in the parenting world (check out this New York Times article that bounces back and forth between both sides of the argument,) and we know that you know your kids best, but we’d encourage you to think outside the box in terms of what “practice” may mean. You don’t necessarily see them tippy-toeing their way around their classroom, or skipping on the playground—or all of the small moments dance has crept into their life. To quote Miss Courtney: “In my book, dancers who are self-directed and enjoying their practice time will be so much more successful in the long run than dancers who set a timer with a frown on their face because mom or dad is making them practice.”
Then: embolden them to break out of their comfort zones! This one is especially for our nervous or shy dancers. We’re not saying, and will never say, to push them, but experts agree that acknowledging your boundaries and knowing when breaking them will lead to personal growth is a life skill key to continued success in all areas. Dance is the perfect arena to help your dancer learn and internalize this lesson. With so many performance opportunities coming up in the next few months, March is the perfect time of year at SRL to reframe performing as something fun rather than intimidating, a celebration of their dance achievements rather than something to be nervous about. It’s always a good time to help them see that new experiences can be positive ones!
Lastly, make sure they feel prepared so they can feel confident! A dancer that comes to class in their school colors, hair neatly back, and on time, is going to have a better start than someone who runs in ten minutes late without their shoes. We’re all about letting your dancer take age-appropriate responsibility when it comes to getting ready, but creating a checklist you can go over together (whether it be for a performance, the recital, class, or a feis) is a great way to help them see their expectations so they can know when they’re meeting them. The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology agrees—going so far as to say that preparation in any field increases confidence across all other aspects of life!
While we always want your dancer to succeed in studio, SRL also wants your dancer to succeed outside the studio, and we see these two facets and inextricably linked. But we’re only part of the equation! With a boost from the parental figures in their life—some interest, encouragement, and help preparing—we know every single one of our dancers can achieve whatever goals they set.
This post is part of a series. Read our last 411 post, all about positive social media use, here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
Poetry Recommendations, Part 1
Poetry isn’t the most popular literary genre out there, sure, but there’s no denying that Ireland has produced some of the greatest poets of all time—perhaps the names Oscar Wilde, William Butler Yeats, or James Joyce sound familiar from your freshman lit class? But Ireland didn’t stop producing incredible poets in the 19th century! We’re here tonight on the blog to recommend some of Ireland’s greatest modern poets for your reading pleasure.
1. As If By Magic: Selected Poems, Paula Meehan
One of Ireland’s premiere living poets, Meehan grew up in Dublin to a working-class family before traveling extensively throughout Europe. This expansiveness is reflected in her poems, which she’s been writing since a student at Trinity College Dublin in the 1970s, revolving around Dublin and its suburbs, but also look outward into the wider world. She’s a poet not quite of contradictions, but of intersections, looking into where nature and man, urban and suburban, man and woman, meet rather than divide. With poems ranging from the ecological and feminist to historical and personal, all are brought forth with her trademark passion and cutting wit that gives way to the utmost compassion and a desire to heal. This collection of poems spans 1991-2016 and includes some of her most courageous pieces—read more praise of Meehan’s Selected Poems here. Her accolades include being shortlisted for “A Poem for Ireland” in 2015 and being named the Ireland Professor of Poetry by Irish President Higgins in 2013.
2. Selected Poems 1968-2014, Paul Muldoon
In the poetry world, Paul Muldoon needs no introduction. With over thirty collections to his name and innumerable prizes (including a Guggenheim Fellowship and the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry,) he’s an Irish institution. Muldoon grew up in Northern Ireland where his parents worked as a farmer and a teacher, and published his first collection of poetry, Knowing My Place, at the ripe age of 19. Unlike many poets that came into prominence in the 60s and 70s, Muldoon is known for his use of traditional verse forms—though always with twist, innovating by creating a new space within the already existing structure of the poetic tradition. Muldoon’s work can be slippery, elusive, challenging the reader with his subtle humor and love of puns while exploring Irish history, literature, and politics. Though he currently resides in the U.S., Muldoon’s poems are quintessentially Irish at their core: examining the push and pull of identity—personal and communal—through the evocative magic of language.
3. The Unfixed Horizon: New Selected Poems, Medbh McGuckian
Another truly prolific writer with over 20 collections to her name, Medbh (pronounced Maeve) McGuckian was born in Belfast to a family steeped in academics and the arts. She attended Queen’s University for both her BA and MA, eventually returning to the campus as the school’s first ever female writer-in-residence (though early in her career she had to enter a contest under a male pseudonym in order to be considered—she won!) McGuckian’s work concentrates on domestic, internal landscapes, diving into a feminine space with expansive emotional reflection—work that leans heavily toward universal within the personal. In her own words: “I think the waking state is familiar and the dream state uncanny. Poetry is like a bridge between them.” Her awards include an Ireland Arts Council Award, the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature, and the Forward Poetry Prize, among many others.
4. 100 Poems, Seamus Heaney
A mentor to both Muldoon and McGuckian, Seamus Heaney may be Ireland’s most popular poet of the last 100 years, as well as one of the most revered poets of the last century worldwide. In fact, it’s extremely likely you read his poem, “Digging,” in high school or college (best known for its poetic depiction and veneration of manual labor.) While no longer with us, he was honored in 1995 with the Nobel Prize for Literature while teaching at Oxford, before moving on to teaching at Harvard until 2006. Heaney’s subject matter is what made him appeal to the masses and English teachers alike—most of his work delves into modern Northern Ireland’s landscape, making both the beauty of the land and the struggle of political upheaval feel intensely personal. Heaney is considered the voice of his country—both Northern Ireland and Ireland proper—to many to this day. Click this link to hear Heaney reading “Digging” shortly before his death in 2013.
5. New Collected Poems, Eavan Boland
The insanity of 2020 took many things away from us, and one of those wonderful things was the poet Eavan Boland. Boland was born in Dublin, but spent much of her childhood in London, where her father served as the Irish Ambassador to the United Kingdom. She returned to Dublin in 1962 to attend Trinity College Dublin and it was there she published her first collection of poetry as a first year student. It was the beginning of a long and illustrious career for which she received many accolades, including being inducted into the Academy of Arts and Sciences while a professor at Stanford University and the Lannan Literary Award for Poetry. Her work concentrated on the female experience in Ireland with an undeniable feminist slant, combining the magic of the Irish landscape and folklore with the real lived experience and oppression of women. She is beloved by the Irish people (and the poetry world) for her unwavering commitment to exposing the troubled place of Irish women in a turbulent history and culture.
Bonus: Careful Cartography, Devon Bohm
Only an Irish poet if you’re counting her heritage and the fact she’s currently employed by SRL Irish Dance Academy, Bohm’s first book of poetry was published in November of 2021 by Cornerstone Press out of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point as part of their Portage Poetry Series. We’ll let the press tell you more about the collection: “Careful Cartography, the striking debut collection from Devon Bohm, doubles as life writing and poetry. With her detailed geographic narrative, Bohm plots out her autobiography through both external and internal landscapes. Strong in style and voice, these impactful free verse poems create a map through wordscapes that equate to topographical locations, a search culminating in the most elusive and unmappable of locations: a home.” Careful Cartography is available for purchase on both Cornerstone Press’s website and Amazon, for your convenience!
This post is part of a series. Read our modern Ireland post, all about some of Ireland's premiere charities, here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
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