Name: Laura F.
Dancer at SRL: Emma F.
How old was your dancer when they started Irish dance? What is your earliest memory of them dancing?
Emma began Irish dance at 8 years old. My first memory of her dancing was sitting in the local Irish-American club on a Saturday morning watching her learn her Point-2-3s.
How long has your family been dancing with SRL?
We joined SRL in April of 2017
Emma was looking for a focused experience that would allow her to continue to advance competitively. Working with Courtney, and now with the addition of Christian and Bailey, Emma has continued to improve as a dancer. While, as of this writing, she has not yet qualified for Open, I can honestly say the time spent working with the teachers at SRL and the friendships she has forged with other dancers are by far the best things that have happened to her.
Best dance memory?
There are so many! Looking back, I appreciate all the pre-dawn departures for feis and all those drives. In the moment, it wasn’t always fun to be up before the sun and be pinning a wig on a cranky teen but those hours spent driving to and from when it’s just us are such great memories. Without dance, we wouldn’t have had all those adventures together.
Any dance parent fails or funniest moments to share?
We’ve never lost a wig on stage but we have had capes come loose and numbers fall off.
If your dancer is retiring, which parts of being so involved with the Irish dance world will you miss the most?
Emma is planning to continue dancing in college, but now that she will be away and competing with a college team, I see my time spent at feis coming to an end. I’ll miss seeing our dance families and friends from other schools. It has always been so nice to catch up with everyone. As crazy as things always get at Oireachtas, I will miss a weekend spent watching not only my child compete but to spend time cheering for her friends, running from stage to stage trying to watch everyone. It’s this amazing dance family we have built over the years that I will miss this most.
What’s the most important life lesson you think your dancer learned from Irish dance?
I would have to say resilience and grace. In competition, it can be a struggle to keep going to achieve the placements you need to move up and you have to withstand the disappointment and grace to accept that it is a journey that isn’t always easy but you keep at it and get a little better each time along the way.
What are your dancer’s plans for the future so far?
Emma will be attending the nursing program at Sacred Heart University this fall. She has also auditioned for and been invited to join the Irish Dance Ensemble, The Claddagh Dancers, which is a collegiate competition team.
Any advice to graduating dancers?
I wish all our graduating dancers the best of luck in whatever their next steps may be and wherever life takes them. Enjoy this next chapter and stay in touch with your dance family because we love you all and are so very proud of each and every one of you!
To younger dancers and their families?
Try not to become overwhelmed and don’t be discouraged if progress takes a little while. Enjoy the moments because it goes so quickly. Our kids do this because they love to dance, first and foremost.
What are your hopes and dreams for your dancer’s life?
Dance has been such a big part of her life for so long that I hope Emma keeps dance in her life in some way, be that with continuing to compete or as an assistant in classes or maybe as teacher herself one day. Most of all, I hope she continues to find joy in her life. I want her time away at college to be happy and for her to be successful as a student as well as have fun and make amazing memories and ultimately find a job that she loves in her chosen field.
This post is part of a series. See our last spotlight with Judy D. & Cayla B. 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.
Irish History: Volume VIII
Springtime Traditions, Part 3
If you have any friends from Ireland on social media, you may have noticed something odd over the years: they wish their mom a Happy Mother’s Day over a month before you’ve even started thinking about it! In the United States, Mother’s Day (just a reminder: it’s May 9th this year) is the first Sunday in May and has been a national holiday since 1914. The US creator, Anna Jarvis, argued that a holiday was needed to highlight women’s achievements, particularly all the sacrifices mothers make for their children. (Though, she would later go on to criticize the commercialization of the holiday, upset over what she saw as a private time of spiritual reflection becoming another marketing opportunity.)
But where did Anna get this idea? While springtime celebrations of mothers and motherhood have been occurring in a variety of forms as long as humans have existed (one could even count Imbolc as one of these early traditions,) the origin is more closely linked to the early-Christian tradition of “Mothering Sunday.” Celebrated on the fourth Sunday during Lent (which moves just as Easter does,) the first incarnation of the holiday only included moms as a secondary aspect of the celebrations.
Originally, Mothering Sunday was created to bring families together spiritually during the Lenten season. It was common in the Middle Ages for children to not reside at home, but rather go out to work as servants or farmhands. Mothering Sunday was one of the few times the families would be reunited, as everyone was let off of work to return home to their mother churches to make donations. It’s said that the children would pick the early spring flowers for their mothers on their way home, and voila! A day celebrating not only their mother church, but actual mothers, eventually became the norm! While this technically isn’t a national holiday in Ireland, the secular version experienced a resurgence after WWII, rolling off the swell of support the holiday had by Irish immigrants in America.
One of the most long-lasting traditions in Ireland is that of food on Mother’s Day. While Americans love a big breakfast in bed or a brunch, the Irish are particularly fond of a Simnel Cake. Simnel Cakes are a kind of spring fruitcake, or even an extra-sweet and denser version of Ireland’s favorite springtime treat: hot cross buns! While Simnel Cakes can have many variety and regional variations, one ingredient links them all together: marzipan. A treat more popular in Europe than the US, marzipan is a combination of almond flour, powdered sugar, and egg white that becomes a moldable paste that’s usually layered within the cake, as well as on top. While Simnel Cakes (and their marzipan) may be flavored with anything that sounds appetizing, it’s the 11 marzipan balls on the top of the cake (to represent the 11 loyal disciples) that make it “Simnel.”
This year, Ireland celebrated Mothering Sunday on March 14th—but what did it looks like? Turns out modern Irish Mother’s Day looks a lot like modern American Mother’s Day: flowers and gifts and homemade cards for mom, making her a meal (or a Simnel Cake) or bringing her to her favorite restaurant, maybe a trip to the park or the movies or church, and all kids and dads (and pets!) on their best behavior, taking over all of the chores mom usually completes. Most moms (or, at least if you ask mine,) are more interested in the appreciation (and hopefully break from their never-ending responsibilities!) than the commercial part. I’m sure Anna Jarvis would be happy to know this, but, still, who doesn’t like a present? We’ve gathered together a few of the most original gift guides we could find for you, just in case you’re not sure how to show a mom in your life how much you appreciate all she’s done and continues you do. Check out these suggestions:
1. Uncommon Goods Mother’s Day Gift Suggestions
2. Good Housekeeping: Unique & Heartfelt Mother’s Day Gift Guide
3. Business Insider’s Funny & Inexpensive Mother’s Day Gifts
4. Buzzfeed’s Gifts to Make Mom LOL
5. The Little Market’s Sustainable and Ethical Mother’s Day Gift Guide
So, a little early to be sure, but, Happy Mother’s Day to all our amazing SRL moms! And we mean all of you: traditional moms, adopted moms, step-moms, mother-figures, pet moms, moms we miss a little extra today, and all the grandparents and fathers and aunts and uncles who have stepped in and are amazing moms to our dancers! We appreciate you, your kids appreciate you (even if it doesn’t always seem like it,) and we hope you take a moment today (even if it’s not our Mother’s Day) to appreciate yourself and all you do!
This post is part of a series. Read all about the (confusing) history of Easter and Irish Easter traditions 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.
Staff Recommendations: Courtney
Welcome to our new series, where you can get to know SRL’s staff better with some hand-picked recommendations! Next up is our Miss Courtney—director of SRL and an instructor at all levels!
Irish Music Groups/Musicians: Goitse, Flook, Beoga, Kan, Socks in the Frying Pan, Damien O’Kane, We Banjo 3
Strange, But Delicious Food: Cucumbers with salt and vinegar. For all the times you really crave fish and chips!
Recipes: I love to cook and making new recipes so I get a HelloFresh box once/month to change up my diet and learn something new!
Take Out: Sushi or poke always! Mei Tzu for sushi and Pokemoto/Joy Bowl for poke.
Games: Monopoly for board games, Phase 10 for card games, and The Sims for computer games.
Small Business in Area: I have so many that I love! Gina’s Total Fitness is part of my daily routine and I love to go to Luann’s in Ellington any time I can.
Small Business Online: Cavology… for people like me who spend more on dog clothing and accessories than they do on themselves.
Vacation (One Day!): There are so many! I love a beach trip so my ultimate favorites over the years have been Maui, Fort Lauderdale Beach, Honeymoon Island, and my childhood vacation spot Isle of Palms.
Restaurant: I love to eat good food so this will also be a long list – Abigail’s in Simsbury, @ the Corner in Litchfield, Max’s Oyster Bar in West Hartford, and my most recent find is OKO in Westport
Instagram Accounts: @zillowgonewild, @on_a_beach_somewhere, @swaggingtarget, @traderjoesobsessed
Dessert: Anything smores-related, Tiramisu, or a chocolatey cheesecake.
Ice Cream Flavor: Mint Chocolate Chip. Secondary options are a good coffee ice cream or anything chocolatey.Outdoor Activity: Beach! You really won’t catch me outside much unless it’s a dog walk or beach day.
First Job: SRL! Fun fact I have never worked for anyone but myself (and I’m not sure I ever could!)
Irish Dance Social Media Accounts: @targettrainingdance, @tc_ad_life,@dancedpt,@davidgeaney94, @gardinerbrothers, @irishdancevids, @irishdancing_memes, @notirishdance
Gift to Give: Things that someone has expressed they like/want but don’t expect you to get for them.
Way to Spend a Sunday: Well, I used to spend every Sunday at a feis but COVID has given me time for the first time in almost my entire life to see what else one can do on the weekend! When the weather is nice, Chris and I like to take a day trip to a nice town and walk around with Maeve grabbing coffee and a trying a new restaurant. When it’s too cold, too hot, or too rainy – nothing beats making breakfast to rival a B&B at home and then spending the day watching a documentary or TV Series.
What to Take to a Desert Island: Oh I would never survive on a desert island…. I’m covering all my bases by bringing an RV, my phone, and my WiFi router.
Road Trip (One Day!): Mystic is always a fun day trip from the Hartford area. Water views, good food, ice cream by the drawbridge! A weekend trip I like is visiting Cape Cod.
Skill to Learn: There are so many skills I wish I learned in school but only learned them just in time to solve a crisis or survive adulthood (some are still a work in progress) – general handiness, financial literacy, car maintenance basics, and home improvement come to mind.
Tips for Productivity: Tackle the most important task of the day or the one you’re tempted to put off FIRST. You’ll feel lighter just by completing it and you know that even if you don’t accomplish anything else on your list that day, you’re still ahead by completing that one most important thing. Also, a to-do list/scheduled day.
Coffeeshop: Luann’s in Ellington, Birdhouse Coffee in South Windsor, and GG & Joe’s in Westport.
Podcast: Gymcastic, School of Greatness, Entrepreneurs on Fire, Smart Passive Income, Almost 30, The Dream
Advice for Dancers: 1) Everyone has a natural weakness to overcome – your success comes down to your patience with yourself and commitment to working through your weaknesses and challenges. There is never an easy or quick road to success. 2) Use your resources – not only do you have access to classes and your teachers, you have feedback from judges, the ability to record your dances and reflect back on them, free exercises and stretches on YouTube & social media, and so much more!
This post is part of a series. You can learn more about Miss Courtney here, in her Q&A, or read our last set of recommendations with Bailey 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.
Young Adult Books, Part 1
What’s the age range for Young Adult books? Depends on who you ask. We’ve seen the range as wide as 12-25, or as narrow as 13-16. But these guesstimates and the name itself give you a good idea of what the category means beyond a term dreamed up for marketing: it’s for people whose life is in constant state of flux and confusion, trying to sort out how to grow into independence and, well…grow up. Ireland is particularly furtive ground for such stories, with its long history of political and religious turbulence, as well as a cultural tradition of prizing self-reliance and inner strength. Because what else does a YA book do if not show us—no matter our age—how we can do better for those around us, and ourselves, by showing us another perspective, another story of how someone else figured it out? Or at least started to?
Tempted to read along? You should--here’s a great article about why adults should be reading YA too!
1. The Radiant Road, Katherine Catmull
This fantasy novel tells the story of Clare Macleod, an Irish teenager who’s spent much of her life in America. When Clare and her father return to the house in Ireland where Clare was born—a home built into an emerald green hill with one wall made up of an ancient tree—Clare is swept up in a world of fairytale and romance (both the light and dark sides.) Clare’s story weaves together Celtic mythology and the contemporary ups-and-downs of being a teenager through dream-like, poetic prose and a tale of fast-moving adventure. Since YA fantasy novels tend to get a lot of flak (probably Twilight’s fault,) we often forget the true purpose of fantasy in literature: it’s a safe way for us to explore our fears, a pure way to exercise the imagination, and has the ability to help us see our own selves and own world all the more clearly for having seen it through a funhouse mirror—essentially, it can give us all a new sense of perspective.
2. The New Policeman, Kate Thompson
The first in a fantasy trilogy, Thompson’s novel tells the story of 15-year-old J.J. Liddy, a teenage boy born into a family of traditional Irish musicians in Kinvara, Ireland. With modern life leaving people less time for the pleasures of music, J.J.’s mother laments that all she wants for her birthday is more time—a wish that sets J.J. on more of an adventure than he bargained for. While many have noticed the mysterious disappearance of male protagonists in YA fantasy (and YA in general,) Thompson brings J.J. to life by interweaving his adventures in Tír na nÓg with that of his own family’s secrets and the town’s (rather hopeless) new policeman. By using music as the interconnecting theme—between worlds, times, and people—Thompson’s novel is both a comic adventure and a dive into Irish culture and mythology (Not to mention a winner of both the Guardian Children's Book Prize and the Whitbread Children's Book Award.) Quick note: this series is best for YA readers on the younger side.
3. A Swift Pure Cry, Siobhan Dowd
Winner of both the Branford Boase and the Eilís Dillon Awards in 2007 (among many other awards,) Dowd’s story is definitely one for the older range of Young Adult readers (think late teens!) Fifteen-year-old Michelle “Shell” Talent is growing up in the small Irish village of Coolbar in County Cork, trying to manage her suddenly overtly religious father and two siblings after the death of her mother. When a new priest comes to town and Shell’s family is thrust into poverty due to her father’s newfound devotion, Shell experiences her own reawakened spirituality and becomes close with altar boy Declan and his girlfriend, Bridie. Though the story may be tragic and complicated, Dowd weaves a tale that explores multiple subjects that are closely tied to the Irish experience (particularly in the 1980s, when the true story it’s loosely based on occurred): religion and pregnancy, immigration and death, and the strange complexities of growing up in a small town. Readers also highly recommend Dowd’s Bog Child (another ‘80s inspired award winner!)
4. The Unknowns, Shirley-Anne McMillan
Set in modern day Belfast (where “the Troubles” are both in the past and have never really ended,) McMillan’s novel tells the story of Tilly, a teenage girl who feels out of place wherever she goes. But when Tilly has a chance encounter with a boy who calls himself Brew, she’s catapulted into a world she didn’t know existed right under her feet—one of parties and mischief, but also support, kindness, and hope in the most unexpected places. McMillan’s books are known for their engaging plots that sweep you up and carry you along, but also the way she captures the still turbulent cityscape where many have no faith in the political system. While McMillan’s stories are unflinching and take hard looks at what it means to be different in a society still often looking for conformity, they’re also a guide for how to cut your own path and find your own dreams. Want to learn a little more about this title before you purchase? Check out this interview with the author, all about the book!
5. Circle of Friends, Maeve Binchy
Maeve Binchy’s books have been considered Irish teen classics for years—this book came out over 30 years ago, but is still highly recommended to this day. (It was even made into a movie in 1995 starring Chris O’Donnell and Minnie Driver, with appearances from Alan Cumming, Aidan Gillen, and Colin Firth.) Set in the 1950s in a fictional, rural Irish town, the story follows childhood best friends Benny and Eve as they escape their small town for University College Dublin. Upon arrival, their circle of friends expands to include students Jack and Nan, and follows all four as they try dipping their toes into the world of adulthood in this historically and distinctly Irish setting, with all its complexities, heartbreaks, and joys. Binchy drew on her own experience for the character of Benny (and the Dublin/University setting,) and it gives the book both a straightforward realism and true readability. The New York Times put it best: "There is nothing fancy about 'Circle of Friends.' There is no torrid sex, no profound philosophy. There are no stunning metaphors. There is just a wonderfully absorbing story about people worth caring about.”
This is Volume VI of a series, read about some Middle Reader book recommendations 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.
Family Spotlight: Michaela
Name: Michaela J.
Dancer at SRL: Colby J. (and Me)
How did you get started with Irish dance?
My best friend signed us both up for the adult class, and kept going back even when she had to stop; and she signed Colby up for his classes after his interest in joining the adult classes.
What did you want to be when you grew up when you were little? Why?
I actually wanted to be a dancer (or gymnast) when I was kid! I always loved watching them move, and thought it was so graceful and beautiful.
How did Colby get started?
He would sit in during the adult class I was in when I didn’t have a sitter, and eventually he started peeking into class and joining in learning the steps with us. After the adult session ended, we signed him up for his own class!
How did you pick your dancer’s name?
When we were coming up with names, his dad suggested it as a potential girl’s name; but I didn’t like it. Weirdly enough, I liked it as a boy’s name, and it really sounded nice. It’s also a joke that we named him after Colby Jack cheese, as we met at culinary school and both enjoy food.
What benefits do you get out of the adult class?
I enjoy the social aspect, as someone who didn’t get out much after moving here, it’s nice to have somewhere to go and people to interact with while learning the fun of Irish dance. I also like that I can go through some of the steps with Colby while he’s learning; it’s something new and fun for both of us!
What do most people not know about you?
Probably a lot, I’m not really one to open up much! I guess one thing would be that I like pickles on my tacos. Also, I really enjoy baking, and went to school for baking & pastry.
How do you think joining in has positively affected Colby?
It’s been great for working on his balance as well as giving him a way to learn something fun that he enjoys.
If you were a fictional character, which one would you be? Why?
I can’t say anyone specific, but probably a witch or magical being, because who wouldn’t want magical powers?!
Why do you think people dance?
It’s a great way to express themselves, and to let loose.
What’s the most important quality to have in life?
I guess I would have to say perseverance, and empathy. But honestly, it’s hard to choose.
This post is part of a series. Meet our last spotlighted parent, Christina H., 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.
Irish* History: Volume VIII
*More like "Western World History" this week!
Springtime Traditions, Part 2
Bunnies Laying Eggs?
You might notice that this Easter post, while still coming early in April, is arriving a little after that anthropomorphic bunny and his (?) eggs. Be honest, now...didn’t we all think Easter would be later this year? And, well, if Easter moves around, why not a post about it? Ever wonder why that is, or, like us, have you just accepted it and googled when it is every year?
Perhaps it’s not surprising that Easter, very much a Christian holiday, doesn’t have any particular ancient, Celtic roots beyond what it’s become to many in our increasingly secular world: a celebration of spring’s return (see last week’s post for more about Imbolc—the Celtic, pagan welcoming of spring.) Even the confusing, roving nature of Easter’s date isn’t Celtic in origin. Though Easter falls on the first full moon after spring’s arrival, this is due to church decisions to try to align better with corresponding Judaic celebrations (as the Judaic calendar follows lunar cycles.) And remember: while nothing sounds more Celtic than following the world’s natural movements, the pagan Celts were sun worshippers above all else.
Then where did this mish-mash of traditions to celebrate a very Christian holiday come from? Some scholars say from what’s now Germany, and some say…they don’t know. The name “Easter” is said to have come from an ancient, pagan (but not Celtic!) Northern Anglo-Saxon goddess Ēostre (pronounced yow-str.) Ēostre’s realm of influence was incredibly similar to Ireland’s springtime goddess, Brigid: fertility, fecundity, and all things revolving around new growth and life. Ēostre’s symbols included, among others, hares (continually a symbol of fertility) and eggs (for obvious reasons,) giving rise to the somewhat confusing combination we retain on Easter to this day. Or not. This has been the accepted story for many years, but a recent research inquiry by a Library of Congress employee (among a few other skeptics) calls this into question.
According to folklorist Stephen Winick, there’s not only no actual evidence to support this version of Easter’s origins, but the worship of Ēostre as a goddess at all. The only mention of her in early written records is a singular mention in the St. Bede’s medieval tome The Reckoning of Time. After that, there’s no textual evidence of the goddess (and definitely none that links her with Easter imagery) until the Brothers Grimm in the 1800s, who even proposed that Bede’s statement about the goddess was pure conjecture and “Ostara” (the Old High German version of Ēostre) was only a reference to the season, no goddess at all. An 1874 publication by a German mythologist found the already established connection between Ēostre, hares, and eggs a completely mysterious one—but, in the end, our best guess is simply that all our Easter symbols are simply spring-like, so we celebrate with them all over the world.
While the origins of our Easter traditions are a bit fuzzy, we do know that they’re pretty similar between Ireland and America. Ireland not only has their own Easter bunny delivering small gifts to children who have kept Lent (cue all that sugar,) but the same egg hunting and painting (and rolling and racing…) traditions we know and love on this bank holiday. Since we know Ēostre probably has nothing to do with these eggs, it’s more likely that these games and art projects were a result of the happenstance of an overabundance of eggs—they’re traditionally not eaten during the Lenten season.
The rest of Ireland’s traditions, even if not your own, all make a certain springtime sense: the purchasing of new clothes for Easter mass, spring cleaning and, at one time, repainting your home, priests making rounds to bless said newly painted homes, people traveling to celebrate together after winter weather has kept them apart, and, like all good holidays, feasting (similar to the U.S. lamb and ham are the most common main dish served.) Most iconic beyond the rabbits and eggs are Ireland’s hot cross buns, a spiced, sweet bread roll commonly eaten on Good Friday. While the tradition of baking sweet treats for springtime celebrations is as old as any record we have, the hot cross bun has been adapted to Christianity’s needs: the spices are said to represent embalming herbs, while the cross is a reference to the crucifixion.
While worldwide Easter customs vary (take the Australian Easter Bilby or France’s inexplicable flying bells and fish chocolates,) one thing is clear: it took more than one country’s traditions to make into the holiday it’s become. But spring has just begun. Tune in next time for another dip into Ireland's springtime traditions with: Mother's Day!
This post is part of a series. Read about the early spring fire festival of Imbolc in our last installment 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.
Dancer Spotlight: Colby
Name: Colby J.
How long have you been dancing with SRL?
Almost 3 years!
How did you get started with Irish dance?
I started watching Mommy in the adult class and Miss Courtney let me join in; then I joined the pre-beginner class
Who do you look up to?
What’s the best gift you ever received?
There are a lot of gifts that I love, I can’t choose one!
What’s your favorite dance memory?
My first recital!
If you were an animal, which one would you be and why?
A cheetah because then I can run fast.
Why do you dance?
Because it’s my favorite thing to do to music!
What do you want to be when you grow up?
A pizza man
What’s your favorite snack and favorite TV show to watch while you eat it?
Chocolate. Dinotrux and Octonauts. Octonauts because it teaches me about the sea animals.
What’s the best advice you can give a new dancer?
Have fun and maybe good luck!
What’s your favorite thing about dancing?
This post is part of a series. Meet our last spotlighted dancer, Aubrielle, 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.
Irish History: Volume VIII
Springtime Traditions, Part 1
Spring is here! And, as we’ve discovered on this blog, many of our modern celebrations here in America come from ancient, Celtic, and often pagan traditions. Just as Samhain welcomes autumn and Yuletide winter, the people of ancient Irish had a number of festivals to welcome back the warm weather and promise of growth and change.
Pagan springtime traditions begin in Ireland not in March or April, but the beginning of February (that’s around the time we’re all about ready for spring, after all) with Imbolc/Imbolg (pronounced im-bohlk) or, it’s Christianized incarnation: St. Brigid’s feast day. One of the four major fire festivals (along with Beltane, Lughnasadh, and Samhain,) Imbloc falls squarely between the winter solstice and the spring equinox on February 1st into the 2nd and heralds the upcoming change of the seasons. “Imbolg” means “in the belly” and before it became the feast day of St. Brigid/Bridget (an actual historical figure we’ll have to do a post on someday soon!) it was the dominion of the fertility goddess Brigid. Brigid (who deserves her own post as well,) oversaw not only birth and pregnancy, but also poetry, crafts, and prophecy as a goddess of creation. As an early agrarian society, this festival also aligns with the breeding cycle of sheep—long a staple feature in Irish farm life and a symbol of fecundity.
Imbolc was traditionally celebrated like all fire festivals with, you guessed it, fires! For Imbolc, the blazes signify the sun’s return and the beginning of the “light half” of the year. While the two biggest fire festivals (Samhain in October and Beltane in May) were (and still are!) usually large, communal affairs, Imbolc was a time of reflection at your own hearth with your family before all the work that would come when spring fully arrived. Additionally, it was tradition to take the time to visit holy wells to leave offerings to the gods so they would help spring arrive quickly and provide good weather for the growing season. Supplicants would walk “sunwise” around the well and provide food from their feast tables (everything from cheeses to bannocks,) coins, and “clooties”—strips of cloth often used in healing rituals, often left in nearby trees.
(So far, none of these traditions sound much like anything we practice today, but just wait…does this bit remind you of anything?) Weather was of particular concern to Irish pagans whose reliance on the land was one of the tenants of their religion, and Imbolc was also a time to look for omens regarding that summer’s weather. Bad weather on Imbolc was considered a good omen for the coming season, based all around the rather terrifying legend of the Cailleach (meaning literally “old woman” or “hag.”) The Cailleach is associated with storms and winter, and sleeps through the warm months—so if it’s a bad day out on Imbolc she’d said to be already asleep. Because, of course, if she needed more wood for more winter it’d be nice out to facilitate her gathering firewood!
Did you guess? That’s right, Imbolc is the root of Groundhog’s Day! Even though this relatively silly holiday didn’t appear until 1887 (and Imbolc’s roots lay far in the distant past,) it prescribes to the exact same superstition: a cloudy day means Puxatawny Phil doesn’t see his shadow and spring is on its way! If you missed it this year, Phil did predict six more weeks of winter in 2021. Luckily, we’re already past it!)
Similarly to the Christian church’s adaptation of other pagan holidays, there was a natural changeover from Imbolc (which, reminder, was always closely associated with the goddess Brigid as she’s part of this lighter half of year with her creation associations) to the Catholic feast day it’s become. No, the church isn’t celebrating a pagan goddess, but an abbess from the 5th century who also held this traditional Irish name and whose good works and miracles (founding Ireland’s first nunnery, converting her own Druidic father, restoring sight to the blind, and even creating beer out of water) had her canonized and named one of Ireland’s two patron saints. Those familiar with Catholicism will recognize this time (February 2nd, more specifically) not only as celebrating the Saint Brigid, but also as Candlemas—a day where many Irish people still bring candles to their churches to be blessed. The influence of the ancient fire festival is easy to see (though with the advent of electric heating, it makes sense our hearths and bonfires have become the more readily available candles.)
But, you might be thinking, Imbolc only covers February and spring is a whole season! Don’t worry, we’ve got you. Tune in again next week for more connections between Ireland’s past and present, and how we continue to celebrate around the world today!
This post is part of a series, read our last installment, all about St. Patrick's Day in modern Ireland, 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.
Welcome to our new series, where you can get to know SRL’s staff better with some hand-picked recommendations! Next up is Bailey—associate instructor for all age groups!
Advice for Dancers: Every champion was once a beginner; you have to trust the process and acknowledge that success and progress take time. Also, always listen to your teachers, we want your success as much as you want it!
Books: The Harry Potter series (my favorite one is Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince!)
Strange, But Delicious Food: I like ketchup with scrambled eggs or omelette ...I don't know if that’s weird?
Take Out: Chinese food is always a good idea, or Panera!
Instagram/Social Media Account: Feis App has a really inspiring Instagram page, as they post videos of very talented dancers!
Favorite Brand of Dance Shoes: My hard shoes and ghillies are from Rutherford's! I also get my buckles and shoe laces from them as well.
Favorite Irish Dance Wigs: Camelia Rose wigs have been the best, I used to wear the Alliyah bun wig in a dark brown color.
Way to Spend a Sunday: In my pajamas, relaxing and watching TV with my cat, Elton.
Music/Song: My favorite Irish dance song to listen to (it's on Feis App) is “Vibin Set, Reels 113” OR “Molly McAdam Set, Heavy Jig 73.” Any songs by Anton & Sully are always fun to practice to (also on Feis App.) My favorite non-Irish dance song would have to be “I'm Still Standing” by Elton John.
Favorite Quote: "The hard days are what make you stronger." --Aly Raisman, Olympic Gymnast and gold medalist
Outdoor Activity: Skiing (in the winter) or hiking!
Tips for Productivity: Turn off your phone, or any device that is distracting! Set aside a designated time and place to practice where you have no distractions. 30 minutes of uninterrupted practice time is much more beneficial than an hour filled with distractions.
Advice for Dancers #2: Never be afraid to take a day off. Dance is physically and mentally demanding, so taking time away to clear your head can be a good idea! I used to take 1-2 days completely off of dance per week to allow my body and mind to reset and refresh.
This post is part of a series. You can learn more about Bailey here, in her Q&A, or read our last recommendation corner with Miss Codi 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.
Find all of our latest news on our Scoil Rince Luimni Facebook page!