411: Testimonials from Dancers
Interested in trying out Irish dance, but aren’t entirely sure? We could talk all day long about the benefits Irish dance has, physically, mentally, and socially (and we have—check out these posts to learn more!) but why don’t we let some of our dancers tell you a little more about why they love Irish dance here at SRL! We hope you’ll join us!
Looking for: exercise?
“I love all kinds of dance but Irish dance is a fun fast kind of dancing!”—Rooney
Looking for: long-lasting life skills?
“As an adult, my time at SRL taught me the value of time management, passion and persistence. Until college, I was a multi-sport athlete, competitive dancer and a participant in various other extracurricular activities. I learned quickly how to manage my school load with these other commitments to keep everything in balance. I hold myself to a high standard to do everything the best I can, so being able to manage that while maintaining a passion for the sport taught me so much. Today, I approach everything I do with passion and persistence while remembering I have to manage my time well to accomplish all of my goals.”—Tara
Looking for: enjoyment and self-expression?
“I believe there are many reasons behind why people dance, including because friends or family members did it in the past or currently do it now. But I think that some people dance for the same reason I did: for a way to escape reality from time to time. I remember going to the studio, totally forgetting about the outside world, and just living in the moment that was happening throughout dance class.”—Christian
Looking for: cultural enrichment?
“I think people dance because it is freeing. In Irish Dance, it is you and the floor working in harmony to produce something beautiful and culturally significant. It is a personal challenge…where the only opponent is yourself. It is also an opportunity to celebrate a culture very few understand. To represent and celebrate my Irish heritage through dance has connected me more with my family’s ancestry.”—Tara
Looking for: a supportive environment?
“SRL is an amazing community where all the dancers and teachers are very motivating, inspiring, and caring.”—Bailey
Looking for: friends?
“SRL has provided me with so many opportunities and memories that will last a lifetime.”—Lindsey
Looking for: peer mentors?
“I always loved my time as an assistant teacher for Courtney and still keep in contact with some of my students today. When they finally got their jumps or skips, it was such a proud moment for me. I miss working with them!”—Tara
Looking for: something to be passionate about?
Just take Colby’s word for it when asked what he loves most about Irish dance: “Everything.”
If your dancer is looking for it, SRL has it! While classes run on a school year schedule from September to June, we have a special offer to let new dancers get a taste before they sign up in the fall! SRL’s Intro to Irish Dance Summer Camp sign-ups are now open for new dancers 2-12, at work-friendly drop off times for parents. Learn more about the program here, or feel free to reach out to our Office Manager at email@example.com. They’re happy to help!
This post is part of a series. Take a look at our last 411 post—tons of testimonials from parents!— here. Also: 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 XX
Amazing Woman in Irish History, Part 1
While SRL is certainly proud of our male dancers, we’re also all about empowering young women to be strong, confident, and successful leaders in a world that often encourages females to make themselves smaller. Irish dance is certainly full of role models, but Irish dance’s country of origin provides even more examples of women who broke barriers, rocked the system, and didn’t let anything stand in the way of their dreams. There’s too many to cover in one (or two, or three…) parts, but here’s a little sampling of amazing women in Irish history!
Lilian Bland: Aviator
“I had proved wrong the many people who had said that no woman could build an aeroplane, and that gave me great satisfaction.”
When we Americans think of pioneering female aviators, our first thought is Amelia Earhart—but Lilian Bland not only flew Ireland’s first powered biplane, but was the first woman anywhere to design, build, and fly a plane…all while Earhart was only 12 years old! A bit of a tomboy who loved to watch the birds in Carnmoney while growing up, Bland didn’t let the conventions of her time stop her from doing anything she was interested in. She became a sports journalist and press photographer before attending the first official aviation meeting in Blackpool and becoming obsessed with flying, taking detailed notes as she studied the designs and habits of the male aviators that dominated the scene. Through trial and error, she bravely tested her own inventions before landing on a successful design and flight, even selling her planes and gliders for a short time. Bland eventually traded her obsession with planes for one with motorcars, becoming Ford’s first agent in Northern Ireland!
Maria Edgeworth: Novelist
“Those who are animated by hope can perform what would seem impossibilities to those who are under the depressing influence of fear.”
Just as we quote Earhart in aviation, most would call Jane Austen one of the first female novelists—but Ireland’s own Maria Edgeworth published her first novel when Austen was still in diapers (though they did eventually become admirers of each others’ work.) She’s still considered today by many to be one of the primary figures in the evolution of the novel. Edgeworth lived all 81 years of her life with her family, never marrying but devoting her life to her loved ones and good works--including her prolific writing for both children and adults. Her mostly quiet life didn’t stop her from taking a firm stand in her work on economic, educational, and political subjects, or from forming friendships with some of the greatest literary minds of the time--Sir Walter Scott and David Ricardo included. While her work is marked by its clear style and humor, as well as rather straightforward morals, it doesn’t hide from topics that often got her in trouble with censors, such as Irish independence and British absenteeism. The end of her life coincided with the Great Famine, during which she used her privilege to serve her community.
Veronica Guerin: Journalist
"I am letting the public know exactly how this society operates."
Veronica Guerin was truly a modern woman and a jack/jill-of-all-trades: she was an accomplished athlete, playing for both the Irish national basketball and football teams, before starting her professional life as an accountant. She then pivoted into public relations and economic reporting, until settling on the career she’s best known for: investigative journalist. Guerin was known as a bulldog of a reporter, obsessed with getting the first-hand sources, often at a detriment to her personal safety. She used her accounting knowledge to follow the money and was highly respected among both her law enforcement and criminal contacts for her dogged commitment to the facts—though she also made plenty of enemies. There were multiple threats to and attempts on her life between 1994-95, and in 1996, at only 37-years-old, Guerin was taken out in a professional hit by a Dublin drug gang—making her one of 38 international journalists to die in the line of duty that year. Her death caused an uproar all over the country and led to numerous policy changes and even the formation of Ireland’s Criminal Assets Bureau. Her story was made into a film in 2003, staring Cate Blanchett.
Dr. Kathleen Lynn: Medical Doctor, Politician, and Activist
“[E]very child [is] an individual and must know himself, or herself, loved.”
Dr. Kathleen Lynn could make this list simply for the fact she graduated from the Catholic University Medical School to become a practicing physician in 1899, but her contributions to Ireland’s history only begin there. After practicing medicine in both the United States and Ireland for over 10 years, her distant relation, Constance Markievicz (more on her next week,) got Lynn involved in the fight for women’s suffrage, labor unions, and Irish independence, as well as both social and health care reform. Lynn had decided to become a doctor after growing up in the aftermath of the Famine, and it was this same experience that turned her into a revolutionary, using her medical skills to support the 1916 uprising. She was arrested for her efforts, but this didn’t stop her—after a brief deportation to England, Lynn was eventually elected the vice president of the Nationalist Sinn Féin party, and into the Dáil Éireann (though she never took her seat, as a form of protest.) While she eventually became fed up with the lack of change she saw in the political sphere, she refocused back to medicine and established Saint Ultan’s Children’s Hospital, a facility which concentrated on helping Dublin’s inner-city, impoverished mothers and children.
But this is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to incredible women in Irish history—check back next week for more!
This post is part of a series. Read our last Irish history post, all about the lack of an Irish Independence day, 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.
411: Testimonials from Parents
Is your child interested in dance, but you’re not sure where to start? Why not Irish dance? We won’t try to convince you (check out these multiple posts in case you want some more convincing—we do have a strong case,) but thought we’d let our amazing community of parents tell you why SRL is the right choice, instead!
Looking for: exercise with purpose?
“It’s been great for working on his balance as well as giving him a way to learn something fun that he enjoys.”—Michaela
Looking for: a confidence boost?
“[Irish dance has given my dancer the] confidence in herself to be able to perform in front of large audiences. She is able to give herself goals to work towards and she knows that it will take time and hard work to achieve and is willing to put the effort in because she can see the progress happening.”—Jill
Looking for: dance that teaches life skills?
“There’s the movement, the exercise and athleticism, the focus that some children need to burn off the extra energy while learning self-discipline in a fun way.”—Siobhan
“The most important lesson [my dancer’s] learned are the benefits of hard work and never giving up.”—Judy
Looking for: peer mentoring opportunities?
“I think Irish Step Dancing has been the first time [my dancer] has really felt challenged. But because she enjoys it so much and because of the guidance from the older girls…and of course from Miss Courtney’s teaching and motivation, she continues to try even when she gets so upset that she is not getting a step the first time around.”—Andrea
Looking for: a unique, year-round activity?
“Go for it!!! Some of the reasons I love it are because it is a year-round outlet for my daughter (and her dance mates.) She does not have to wait a whole year for one recital. She has competitions in the fall, performances throughout the winter and early spring, more competitions in the spring and summer, camp and other regular opportunities to dance, hone skills, perform, and become close with her friends.”—Siobhan
Looking for: musical appreciation?
“[Irish dance’s] upbeat cadence and structure definitely appeal to [my dancer] more than ballet or jazz dance. And as a musical family with 3 violin players, we love hearing the beautiful reels and jigs!”—Becca
Looking for: a talented staff?
“[We were] 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, [my daughter] has continued to improve as a dancer…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.”—Laura
Looking for: community and support?
“[Our dancers] have learned how to set long term goals and create plans to achieve them, time management and how to take corrections, the importance community and volunteerism, these are just a few.”—Ken & Dana
“I’m amazed at the choreography [my dancer] memorizes. I was so proud that she quickly gained the confidence to participate in a public performance and also do her first feis. I enjoyed watching her teach a dance to some younger Girl Scouts at one of our meetings last year, and I love that she has volunteered to help out at SRL classes with younger children—it’s all been a great growing experience for her in many ways.”—Becca
Looking for: a happy kid?
“Give it a whirl! Just be aware that anything hanging on your walls will be off kilter from your student constantly jumping and kicking down the hallways. 😉”—Becca
Looking for: a way to try things without commitment?
“[Our dancer] quit soccer, basketball, ballet, tap, AND jazz! We were just hoping something would stick. Courtney offered a week-long mini-camp that gave [our dancer] a chance to try it out before committing to anything long-term.”—Ken & Dana
If you’re looking for it for your dancer, SRL has it! While classes run on a school year schedule from September to June, we have a special offer to let new dancers get a taste before they sign up in the fall! SRL’s Intro to Irish Dance Summer Camp sign-ups are now open for new dancers 2-12, at work-friendly drop off times for parents. Learn more about the program here, or feel free to reach out to our Office Manager at firstname.lastname@example.org. They’re happy to help!
This post is part of a series. Take a look at our last 411 post, all about our Tiny Jig program, here. Also: 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 last ten fun facts here.
1. Walt Disney himself had Irish ancestry (though his family immigrated to America in the 19th century.) His great-grandfather, Arundel Elias Disney, was born in Gowran, in County Kilkenny.
2. The first woman to be awarded an engineering degree in the UK and Ireland was Alice Perry of Galway in 1904 (only a few years after American Elizabeth Bragg in Berkely, California.)
3. County Clare is home to the westernmost European airport--the Shannon airport. It makes sense when you learn that the concept of duty-free shopping was invented there (by a local man named Brendan O’Reagan) in 1947.
4. Ireland featured heavily in some of the most recent set of Star Wars movies! Most prominently shown are Skellig Michael in County Kerry (aka Luke Skywalker’s island,) Malin Head in County Donegal, Loop Head in County Clare, Brow Head in County Cork, and both Sybil Head and Dunmore Head in Dingle.
5. While it’s something we usually associate with Scandinavia, Ireland is home to three glacial fjords: Killary Harbor, Carlingford Lough, and Lough Swilly. These beautiful places were formed in the ice age by a glacier carving a u-shaped valley, after which the sea floods it—resulting in a deep, high-walled inlet usually deeper than the nearby ocean.
6. Despite Ireland being a largely Catholic country, there are currently no Catholic cathedrals in its capital city, Dublin. All the original ones were converted to Protestant churches or the Church of Ireland by British officials, and have yet to be changed back.
7. Returning to popular media filmed on the Emerald Isle--Game of Thrones filmed many of its scenes (both studio and on-location) in Northern Ireland! Famous locations include the Magheramourne Quarry, Dunluce Castle, Ballintoy Harbour, and the Dark Hedges.
8. On that note, ever felt lost about the whole Northern Ireland/Ireland thing? Ever since 1922, Ireland is its own country, while Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. It is not, however, part of Great Britain (which includes the rest of the United Kingdom, i.e. Scotland, England, and Wales.)
9. Dublin’s O’Connell Bridge that spans the River Liffey has a very unique feature—it’s the only traffic bridge in Europe with the same width and length!
10. The name isn’t just a coincidence--the Guinness Book of World Records was established in 1954 by the company as promotional material. The concept was originally meant to help settle arguments that arose it pubs.
This post is part of a series. Read our last batch of 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.
411: All About Tiny Jig!
If you can walk, you can dance!
Think your preschooler is too young to start dance? Think again! SRL Irish Dance Academy is proud to offer the Jump’n Jig program for our littlest dancers, aged 2 to 5!
Split into two age groups (2-3 Tiny Jig and 4-5 Pre-Beginner,) this program was designed by early-childhood expert and ADCRG, Fiona Holmes. Classes start with helping our newest dancers learn how to act and engage within a dance class and move on to developing motor skills and musicality (all while making sure there’s plenty of fun in the meantime!) And with each class starting with a friendly welcome where they can bring along their favorite stuffed friend from home, SRL’s adoption of the Jump’n Jig program has helped get even the most reticent new dancer into the studio!
There’s plenty of benefits to starting your child in Irish dance (and starting them early!) and both our Tiny Jig and Pre-Beginner classes cover all the bases: safe social interactions with peers, instructors, and student mentors, working on not just foundational dance skills, but listening skills, and a way to grow a sense of personhood and independence. Beyond that are the physical benefits! We utilize two movement stations—circle time for direct interaction and a “track” across the room to practice skills solo—to work on single leg balancing (adding accessory movements gradually,) leg and foot strength, foot placement for Irish dance, moving on or around markers and targets, and concepts like right/left and front/back. These skills form a strong base for all forms of movement (think about football players taking ballet!) and many Tiny Jiggers move on through the levels and become life-long Irish dancers!
Irish dance has a long and rich tradition and history behind it, but you don’t need to have Irish heritage to be an Irish dancer. While the steps and the music are part of Ireland’s cultural heritage, Irish dance has become a global community—and SRL is a tight-knit and supportive community within that larger sphere. In this encouraging environment, dancers are exposed to a culture beyond their own while they develop a strong sense of musicality and rhythm—learning to actively listen to the music, find the beat by clapping, and utilizing props so they can dance with the music instead of to the music (the hardest thing to teach a dancer!)
A successful SRL dancer isn’t just strong on technique—we see success as a confident, happy, and comfortable dancer! While classes run on a school year schedule from September to June, we have a special offer to let new dancers get a taste before they sign up in the fall! SRL’s Intro to Irish Dance Summer Camp sign-ups are now open for new dancers 2-12, with two sessions available at work-friendly drop off times for parents. Learn more about the program here, or feel free to reach out to our Office Manager at email@example.com. They’re happy to help!
This post is part of a series. Take a look at our last 411 post, about the benefits of Irish dance, here. Also: 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.
Middle Grade, Part 3
Summer is in full swing, and that means it’s time for summer reading! The middle grade age range (8-12) is one of the most important times in a young reader’s development—when they learn deeper comprehension, strategic reading, to increase their vocabulary and reading speed, and help develop their writing and communication skills along the way. These middle grade books are set in Ireland, to help our Irish dancers not only get interested in reading, but even more interested in the country their favorite hobby comes from along the way!
1. Skulduggery Pleasant, Derek Landry
The first book (of 15!) in the Skulduggery Pleasant series follows 12-year-old Stephanie as she inherits her horror-writer uncle’s estate upon his death. One night, alone in the house, Stephanie is rescued from a mysterious man by a walking, talking skeleton mage named Skulduggery Pleasant, and discovers that her uncle’s books may not have been fiction after all. Stephanie and her new friend team up to defeat the evil wizard Serpine, who’s looking for a magic specter that will give him tyrannical powers. Full of gallows humor (what else would you call a wisecracking skeleton?), this is a series of action, adventure, and magic, with a dash of finding yourself thrown in. The series has won numerous awards (including Publishers Weekly Best Books, ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults, and the IRA/CBC Young Adults’ Choice, among others) and a screenplay is in the works! Perfect for the pre-teen who loves all things creepy and good, long series to tuck into.
2. So Far From Home: The Diary of Mary Driscoll, an Irish Mill Girl, Barry Deneberg
This is a personal recommendation from our Office Manager, Devon, who was obsessed with this series of “diaries” written by young woman throughout American history called “Dear America” when she was a middle grade reader (there’s one for every era you can think of, and a related series about young royals, as well!) This particular book focuses on the Irish immigrant experience, following a fictional girl named Mary Driscoll who escapes the Great Famine by coming to America—landing in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1847. The narrative is chock-full of Irish idioms and speech patterns of the time, as well as astoundingly accurate historical detail that will really bring the time period to life for young readers. Due to the historical nature of the books, they often deal with serious subjects (in this one: multiple deaths—particularly of parents—dangerous mill conditions, disease, and poverty), but hold both historical (there’s even an appendix with historical details—like popular songs and fashions) and life lessons within the hard truths.
3. Benny and Babe, Eoin Colfer
Technically the second book in Colfer’s (of Artemis Fowl fame) Benny duology, but readers can enjoy the books in any order! When 13-year-old Benny Shaw returns to Ireland for the summer from his new home in Tunisia (see the first book, Benny and Omar, for that story,) there’s not much to do at his lighthouse-keeper grandad’s on the coast. That’s until Benny meets Babe—the town tomboy and entrepreneur—who involves him in her “business”: reselling fishing lures to the same fishermen who lost them. A competition arises between the pair and bad boy ex-con Furty Howlin, but when danger arises community proves more important than their fight. Described as full of strong character development and a vibrant narrative voice, as well as plenty of Irish colloquialisms and humor, this coming-of-age novel deals with everything from bad home lives and first loves with a sensitivity and candor young readers will appreciate.
4. Across the Divide, Brian Gallagher
Amazingly, we’ve managed to find TWO Irish middle grade books with male protagonists—something unfortunately hard to find in the children’s book sphere. This historical novel follows best friends Liam and Nora during the 1913 Dublin Lockout, where they find themselves as purported enemies. With Nora’s father being a successful wine merchant and Liam’s father being a mechanic and trade union member, their families find themselves on opposite sides during this major industrial dispute that included strikes and riots—one of the most significant disputes of its kind in Irish history. Liam and Nora’s perspective as young people caught in a conflict they don’t fully understand is an excellent window into this complicated and turbulent part of history for a young reader. Rife with danger and hardship, but always keeping humor at the forefront, this adventure will make—or break—Nora and Liam’s friendship. Learn more about the book from the author himself here.
5. The Singing Stone, O.R. Melling
One of the older books on the list (published in 1987—so not that old,) Melling’s coming-of-age fantasy novel combines a modern protagonist with the deep mythology and legend of Old Ireland. The story follows a young, orphaned artist named Kay as she returns to her homeland of Ireland from Canada after she begins experiencing dream-visions. In something like a middle grade, Irish version of Outlander (which is definitely adult-only,) Kay is transported back to the Bronze Age where she becomes responsible for recovering the lost treasures of the mythical race known as the Tuatha Dé Danann while a foreign invasion happens around her. With moral lessons that mirror modern ones worked into the complex tapestry of Celtic themes Melling weaves, we’re given historical context along with something to bring into our lives in real time. With excellent ratings across platforms, “it’s a time-slip adventure story with a lot of heart.”
This post is part of a series. Read our last modern Ireland post, with picture book recs for our littlest dancers, 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.
411: Benefits of Irish Dance!
The question Irish dancers get asked the most is: why Irish dance? There’s a lot of amazing things to love about this artistic sport—its long and storied history, cultural enrichment, and beautiful costumes, to name a few—but the benefits of this particular type of dance can be wide-reaching, both physically and mentally, and even life-long! Let’s explore a few:
Motor Skills & Mind-Body Connection: At the youngest age range—we offer classes starting a 2-years-old!--we concentrate on motor skills and correcting any left/right imbalances early in their development. Starting dance at any age is beneficial, but check out our post about the benefits of starting your dancer early here.
Flexibility, Balance, Coordination, and Strength: While many dance studios in the past concentrated more on the steps than the conditioning, SRL has always been committed to providing balanced training that looks at what the whole dancer needs, not just their feet! All age groups are doing more than learning to dance, they’re stretching and completing exercises in class that strengthen the whole dancer.
Independence: Whether your dancer is 12 or 2, they’ve been spending A LOT of time with you over the last two years. Going into dance class by themselves can be the first step toward forming their own personhood in this time when kids have been isolated at home more than ever. It’s also a fun, safe space for your dancer to make new friends without parental influence!
Musicality: Irish dance is unique in many ways, but its connection to music is particularly strong! (Learn more about music in Irish dance here.) Dancers not only develop their sense of rhythm and a deeper understanding of music, but also cultivate an appreciation for traditional Irish music, often choosing to supplement their dancing by learning to play an instrument.
Social Skills and Teamwork: Not all of Irish dance is a solo performance! Dance class is a great time for your dancer to practice appropriate social skills, as well as make new friends. Later goals can include céilí dancing and teams, where dancers learn to dance in unison and work together.
Goal Setting and Self-Determination: Whether the goal be big (going to Nationals!) or smaller (getting to perform in a fancier dress,) SRL is all about small, every day steps leading to larger goals. We help each dancer set personal goals in their dance career, and this example has proven to carry through in many dancers’ school performance and at home behavior. Irish dance is more about building up skills over time, and is less about instant gratification and more about hard work and dedication—skills that will serve them all their lives!
Community: SRL is a community-focused studio where we’re all about supporting each other, even when we’re competing! But Irish dance is more than our studio, it’s a tight-knit, but also global community. All you need to enter that community is a love of Irish dance, and then you’re welcome!
Interested in seeing all that Irish dance has to offer? Check out SRL’s Intro to Irish Dance Summer Camp for your dancer! This is a low-commitment way for students 2-12 (and their parents) to gage interest before signing up for classes. Check out the details (and the deals your session will include!) here. We hope to meet you soon!
Have any questions? Feel free to email our Office Manager at firstname.lastname@example.org. They’re happy to help!
This post is part of a series. Take a look at our last 411 post, a longer explanation of our Intro to Irish Dance Summer Camp program, here. Also: 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 IXX
Irish Independence Day?
We probably don’t need to say it, but: this is a very abbreviated history of incredibly complex topic! Check out this list of suggested books if you’re interested in learning more.
Happy Fourth of July (aka American Independence Day) from all of us here at SRL! While we’re taught all about the American Revolution in school as US citizens, most of us probably don’t know much about the Irish counterpart. While technically there’s no equivalent day celebrated in Ireland, what we do have in common is the way we shucked off British rule to become our own nations (at least mostly.) We’re here today to catch you up to speed!
First, some background. The British have been involving themselves in Ireland’s business for over 700 years, starting with the original Norman conquest in the 12th century—though Britain didn’t gain full rule of their neighbors until 1541 under Henry VIII. Henry’s famed departure from the Catholic church set up the Irish for religious rifts for years to come, as new Protestants flocked to Ireland to become landlords—displacing the already existing Catholic landholders. 17th century wars solidified Protestant rule in Ireland, much to the native population’s dismay, eventually leading to Ireland’s parliament being dissolved into 1801 when the United Kingdom was formed.
But why did England cling so hard to this neighboring nation that clearly wanted them out? The British empire at its height (around 1913-1920) covered an astonishing 13.71 million square miles (almost a quarter of the world’s land) populated by 412 million people (23% of the world’s population at the time.) After centuries of conquest and expansion, the British empire (on which it was said “the sun never sets”) was the largest ever in human history to date—but it still begs the question: why? The simple answer is trade, power, and money (just like most things in human history.) Regarding Ireland specifically, a relatively small, agricultural society, it had more to do with the strategic advantage it offered to a country who relied so heavily on their reputation as a global naval power (and worries about foreign countries using it as a launch point for an enemy invasion.) That, and of course, the conscripted manpower available to them through the Irish populace so their expansion could continue and their power could grow.
The Irish War of Independence came much later than you might imagine—lasting from 1919-1921—but those dates don’t account for the violence that proceeded or followed. The Irish population was decimated by the Great Famine (something the Irish at the time and modern scholars largely put on the shoulders of British rule) and the necessary immigration it caused. With Irish numbers decreasing from 8 million to under 5 million, the island suffered a generational economic setback as manpower decreased. Much like the American Revolution, the Irish were fed up with the British taking rather than giving to a nation they claimed was theirs, and the IRA (Irish Republican Army) was born.
Those of us in 2022 will largely remember the IRA from its role in The Troubles in Northern Ireland from the 1960s-1990s—but that’s a story for another post (here’s some recommended books to read if you want to learn more!) In their original incarnation, the IRA was also called the “Irish Volunteers” as they were essentially a homegrown, voluntary group of Irish patriots who were against British rule. The 1916 Easter Rising—the week-long armed rebellion in Dublin—left over 500 dead and reinforced the popularity of the Sinn Fein separatist party, showing that Irish public opinion had swayed toward Irish independence. When the party won the General Election in 1918 and declared an Irish Republic (which landed half of parliament in jail,) things began to escalate between the Irish and their British overlords with the IRA at the helm.
The first shots of the war were technically fired in 1918, the day the Sinn Fein party first met, but the majority of the violence didn’t begin until 1920. The IRA began using guerilla tactics combat the issue of having smaller numbers and less weaponry (much like the American Revolutionaries,) targeting the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), i.e. the British-run police force in Ireland. The campaign was fairly successful, leaving the IRA in control of much of the countryside by the end of the summer 1920. The British took steps to quell the insurgency by dispatching parliamentary troops made up of WWI veterans called “the Black and Tans”—but this only escalated things further.
By the summer of 1921 more than 1,500 people had perished in the conflict, leading to a truce between the southern forces and the British on July 11, 1921. The conflict however, continued in the north and the more solidified agreement, the Anglo-Irish treaty, wasn’t signed until December 6th, 1921—establishing the Irish Free State, made up of 26 of Ireland’s 32 counties (aka the British, as they still do today, retained control of Northern Ireland.) So why not celebrate Irish independence on July 11th or December 6th? Well, because the violence didn’t stop when the treaty was signed. Between scrimmages with the British forces that remained throughout the country and the continued fighting in Northern Ireland, another 1,000 people or so died before the end of 1922. And, on top of that, the Irish Civil War (yet another topic to explore!) broke out in 1922. Essentially, from the Irish perspective, there isn’t really a reason to celebrate those particular days.
So, today, let’s eat our hot dogs and wave our flags—for though America isn’t perfect and certainly had its share of conflicts in the years following 1776 (and continues to do so,) we at least have an end date for the particular conflict that won us out independence. The Irish patriots of the 1910s and 20s have a lot in common with the American ones from 1760s and 70s, though our outcomes, largely due to distance, certainly ended differently. So let us wish a complicated happy 101st anniversary of independence to Ireland, too!
This post is part of a series. Read our last Irish history post, all about Granuaile, the pirate queen, 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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