Judaism in Ireland
Happy first night of Hanukkah, one and all!
Ireland is a country known for its religious turmoil, but specifically between Protestant and Catholic factions. These headlines are so overwhelming that it’s easy to forget that Ireland has residents who don’t proscribe to either of these religions, but the fact remains that Judaism has been practiced in Ireland for centuries. While the Jewish population of Ireland current day is definitely a small one (estimated at about 2,500 people present day,) they still exist and have their own rich (and equally tumultuous) history on the Emerald Isle. In honor of Hanukkah, we’re here tonight to tell it all: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
The story of the Jewish people in Ireland is the story of the Jewish people everywhere: a difficult one. The first known Jewish relations with Ireland began in 1079 when five merchants attempted to immigrate and were denied entry into the country because of their religious affiliations. By the 12th and 13th centuries, a few practicing Jews had made it in, but when the English expelled all Jewish citizens in 1290, British rule extended to Ireland and the same fate befell the Irish Jews. But, in the 15th century a new Jewish community was established, largely refugees from the Spanish Inquisition, and for the next 300 years Jews seeking a safe haven were able to find one in Ireland. Most Jewish people in Ireland lived around the Dublin area (largely still true today,) leading to the establishment of congregations there and in Cork in the 18th century. However, with a rise in conversion due to denial of citizenship to Jewish people, numbers began to dwindle.
1822 saw a new rise in the Jewish population as more immigrants arrived from Germany, England, and Poland. This eventually led to an estimated 4,000 Jewish people residing in Ireland in 1901. Jewish communities were established in Londonderry, Waterford, Belfast, and Limerick, though Father John Creagh of Limerick took umbrage to this. This one man’s sermons were so incendiary against the “threat” of the Jewish people that most Jewish people in Limerick were forced to flee the country.
Despite being relegated to second class citizens by Irish law and regard, Jewish communities in Ireland were generally supportive of Irish nationalist cause in the early 20th century. Many housed rebels during the 1916 Easter Rising, with several prominent Jewish citizens joining the Irish Republican Army. This led to the 1937 constitution of Ireland recognizing Judaism as a minority faith, assuring the Jewish people in Ireland freedom from discrimination hereafter.
While the ravages of WWI lead to Ireland denying all refugees during WWII, including Jewish ones, the Jewish population in Ireland remained safe during WWII—one of the only European countries to hold this honor. And, of course, some brave citizens skirted the rules…including the Jewish community in Northern Ireland saving hundreds of Jewish children from Vienna and the Taoiseach of Ireland allowing over 100 Czech orphans to relocate to Ireland. As a result of this bending of the rules, the Jewish population of Ireland hit an all-time high in the 1940s at approximately 5,500-8,000.
Modern day Ireland, perhaps because of their history of oppression and rebellion, has become a relatively progressive country—a far cry from their past. Irish papers love to cover Hanukkah and educate the Irish populace about Jewish traditions. Interestingly, despite the small numbers of the Irish-Jewish community, menorahs are immensely popular in Ireland (a trend that began in the 1990s) as Yuletide decorations, with this article claiming you can see them by the hundreds in windows come December. Waterford Crystal, a famed glass making company out of—you guessed it—Waterford, even makes an exorbitantly priced glass menorah. There are events all over Ireland, concentrated mostly in Cork and Dublin, that invite people of all faiths to experience the magic of Hanukkah. While many of these experiences--like Cork’s public celebration of the last day of the 8-day festival—have moved online in recent times, they’ve just allowed more people to participate.
Because isn’t that what Hanukkah is all about? Togetherness, hope, freedom of religion, freedom from oppression—something the Irish, after their centuries of foreign and religious oppression, know all too well about. So, happy first day of Hanukkah to all—and remember, as children’s book author Norma Simon said: “The spirit of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, is shared by all people who love freedom.”
Want to know a little more about Hanukkah in Ireland? Check out this great article!
This post is part of a series. Read our last Irish History post, all about the Irish connection to American Thanksgiving, 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.
A Very Irish Thanksgiving
Okay, we don’t think we have to tell anyone this, but…they don’t really celebrate Thanksgiving in Ireland. (Though, it’s not just celebrated in America--as many as 17 countries have taken up the holiday!) Since the connection between Ireland and America is so strong, (and Ireland is home to tens of thousands of Americans, to say nothing of the 17% of Irish citizens that hold dual citizenship) you’ll probably still be able to find Thanksgiving dinner, but, overall, the Irish just don’t have the occasion on their calendars. However, they may be at least partially responsible for the celebration!
We know what you were taught in elementary school: the first Thanksgiving took place in 1621 when the Pilgrims, fresh off the Mayflower and starving in their new home, befriended the Native American Wampanoag tribe. The Wampanoag shared their knowledge of the land to help the colonists survive, and, in a gesture of friendship and gratitude for a successful first harvest, the Pilgrims invited the Native Americans to share in a feast. But what if we told you that wasn’t necessarily the whole story?
Just a few years ago, it was reported by The Boston Post—which had the largest circulation in the country in the 20s and 30s—that they had discovered a different iteration of Thanksgiving in their archives. According to the paper, and backed up by Irish-American historian Michael J. O’Brien, among others, that while a three day festival did occur with the Wampanoag, the real first Thanksgiving may have been celebrated 10 years later with the arrival of an Irish ship called The Lyon. Or, at the very least, the Irish saved the holiday from extinction!
In February of 1631, in the midst of another lean winter that had further decimated the Pilgrim’s numbers (along with increased hostilities with the Native American tribes,) The Lyon docked at Nantasket (in modern day Hull, MA.) This ship had been sent, laden with provisions, by a Dublin merchant whose daughter was married to one of the colonists. Grateful for this saving grace, the Pilgrims dubbed the day after the ship arrived, February 21st, “A Day of Thanksgiving.” The date of Thanksgiving has been moved around throughout the years, so many scholars now believe that the 1631 celebration, rather than the 1621 celebration, is the true origin of the holiday.
But why isn’t this story in our history books? It’s possible the anti-Irish prejudice in America that lasted well into the 20th century is to blame. When the story came out in the 1930s in The Boston Post, the writer failed to mention that the ship was Irish or even name the ship—despite being called out by numerous Irish organizations for the slight.
Trying to pinpoint the “first” of anything can be pretty subjective--some people think the first Thanksgiving really occurred in Virginia or even Texas—especially when the events happened centuries ago. In any case, while the Pilgrims were most definitely from England, it may be due in part to the Irish that these settlers were able to continue on through the generations to become Americans and establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday. So, whenever the first Thanksgiving truly occurred, we definitely have to thank the Irish for the fact we’re celebrating today!
This post is part of a series. Read our last history post, all about the Irish origins of Halloween costumes and trick-or-treating, 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.
Middle Grade, Part 2
Check our Part 1 here!
We’re back with more recommendations for the middle readers in your life, meaning kids around 8 to 12. (Though every reader differs and we’ll always advocate for adults reading all possible levels.) From nonfiction to fantastical, from the 1800s to modern day, these picks are sure to keep your middle grade reader busy over Thanksgiving Break. They might even learn a thing or two about Ireland while they’re at it. (Or just delve into a new fantasy world—anything to get them reading!)
1. The Hunger, Carol Drinkwater
Subtitled “My Story: An Irish Girl’s Diary 1845-47,” The Hunger is told through the voice of Phyllis McCormack, a 14-year-old Irish girl living through The Great Famine. The narrative follows Phyllis as her family struggles to not just keep food on the table, but survive the potato blight entirely. With her radical brother off to fight for an Irish free state and the rights of the Irish people, Phyllis goes out to work as a maid to help feed her parents and beloved dog (even as her brother’s actions cause Phyllis’s family to be watched and questioned by authorities.) Drinkwater doesn’t spare the reader from the horrors of true poverty, loss, and needing to grow up too fast, but she does balance it by emphasizing Phyllis’s resilience, big heart, and helpings of both familial and romantic love. A tragic story, but a beautiful one.
2. The Star-Spun Web, Sinéad O’Hart
Calling all fantasy lovers! Described by one reviewer as “His Dark Materials for children” (though we’d argue that those books are for both middle readers and adults!), The Star Spun Web follows orphaned, science-loving Tess de Sousa and her pet tarantula Violet on an amazing adventure. When a previously unknown, distant relative arrives at Ackerbee’s Home for Lost and Foundlings to take Tess to her new home at Roedeer Lodge, Tess’s life is turned upside down. The mysterious Norton F. Cleat seems to know more about Tess’s life before the orphanage than Tess does—including what to do with the star-shaped device Tess had with her when she was abandoned as an infant. Small spoiler alert: the Starspinner can open a door into a parallel world that’s in big trouble, and it may be up to Tess to help. Want to know more? Read an interview about the book with the author here!
3. Cave of Secrets, Morgan Llywelyn
Llywelyn’s tale of pirates in 17th century Ireland follows a thirteen-year-old boy named Tom Flynn as it balances an engaging narrative with historical detail. Feeling unwanted by his family as his father goes off to Dublin to try to keep his land and money safe in the shifting political climate, Tom likes to escape to the beautiful Roaringwater Bay in West Cork to hide among the cliffs and caves. There, he meets Donal and his little sister Maura, whose family keeps to the traditional Irish way of life despite all the English laws in place forbidding it–making their living under the radar of authorities by smuggling. Donal opens Tom’s eyes to the realities of English-Irish relations (Tom and Donal are even based off real people!) as Llywelyn weaves a story of buried treasure, family, and forgiveness.
4. Rocking the System, Siobhán Parkinson
Subtitled “Fearless and Amazing Irish Women Who Made History,” this is our only fully non-fiction pick this week. Geared to appeal to readers from 9-12, Rocking the System contains 20 beautifully illustrated essays about both historical and contemporary Irish women who defied the odds. There’s the story of strong-willed and legendary Queen Meadhbh who ruled Ireland for 60 years during the Ulster cycle of Irish mythology, of architect and furniture designer Eileen Grey who pioneered Modernism in male-dominated fields, of politician and suffragette Constance Markievicz who was the first female cabinet member in all of Europe, and of track and field groundbreaker and record-breaker Sonia O’Sullivan, among many more. This book was published to celebrate 100 years of women’s suffrage in Ireland and covers everyone from artists and writers to activists and stateswomen—rebels all!
5. The Easter Rising 1916: Molly’s Diary, Patricia Murphy
We’ve got a second recommendation tonight that’s told as a diary of a young girl living through a historic time period (Just like…anyone else remember the Dear America books from the ‘90s? They were a favorite!) Molly’s Diary covers the events of the Easter Rising of 1916—when many Irish nationalist refused to fight on behalf of the British in WWI and instead rebel against the crown. Molly’s family is caught squarely in the crossfire: while Molly’s father works for the government repairing telegraph lines in dangerous Dublin, her brother runs messages for the rebel forces, and Molly aids both sides by training in first aid. Molly’s there to witness it all and tell your middle reader what it was like in an easy, accessible style—from looting and rioting to heroism and idealism, from the Proclamation at the GPO and the Battle of Mount Street Bridge to the arrival of British forces. Murphy (and Molly!) really help history come alive.
This post is part of a series. Check out our last Modern Ireland post, all about the University of Limerick, 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.
Part 1: University of Limerick
Welcome to our new series, Uni Spotlight, where give you a quick rundown of Ireland’s top universities! We know our dancers love Irish culture, so we thought we’d give them (and their parents!) a look into some of the secondary education options they offer on the Emerald Isle. While no parent is going to be overjoyed about the prospect of their child heading to uni (it’s never “college” in Ireland!) in a foreign country, we’ve covered some of the benefits of the Irish university system before if you’re interested!
First up we have Miss Country’s alma mater (and where SRL gets the L in its name): the University of Limerick! Situated overlooking the longest river in Ireland, the River Shannon in the south of Ireland, the University of Limerick (aka UL) was founded in 1972 and gained university status in 1989—the first university to be granted it since the Republic of Ireland was established in 1922. With just over 15,000 students (around 2,400 of those international!), this 340 acre suburban campus is known for its international focus and dedication to both the arts and sciences.
UL’s motto is Eagna chun Gnímh, which is “Wisdom for action,” a completely fitting name for a school with an outstanding Cooperative Education program. This program is one of the largest in Europe, and has led to graduate employment rates far higher than the national average. Cooperative Education (we might call in an internship program) concentrates on making sure students graduate with not only academic accomplishments, but professional experience by setting up over 2,000 students a year with 6-to-8 month work study placements. Around 30% of students are placed with international companies and the program encompasses 56 different courses of study!
The wisdom for action continues with UL’s research-heavy science programs—highly specialized disciplines that aim to work together to achieve breakthroughs that can only be accomplished through interdisciplinary cooperation. But UL knows that wisdom doesn’t only lie in the sciences—it has well-developed art programs as well, including housing the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance, the Irish Chamber Orchestra, and an extensive fine arts collection. The word “dance” may have caught your attention there, and it should! UL offers the only degrees specifically in Irish dance and music in the world (both a BA and MA.) (As you may have guessed, Miss Courtney graduated from this four-year bachelor’s program before she returned home to Connecticut to open SRL!)
Miss Courtney probably felt right at home studying at UL, since it’s considered the “American University in Ireland” due to their adoption of a few American practices. UL is on a trimester schedule that mirrors most American colleges, and also uses the same scaled GPA system we’re used to. In addition, like many large schools in the good ol’ U.S.A., UL is known for its superior sporting facilities (though their football looks a little different.) They actually have the largest all-weather sports complex in all of Europe!
But what about student life? While there’s five student villages, there’s not a dearth of on-campus housing. Instead, the Limerick suburb of Castletroy has become what we would call in America a “college town,” with most students finding a home there (making the majority of their population during the school year UL students!) Overall, life at UL seems to be a happy one—it’s considered the most popular uni in Ireland with an 85% student approval rating. With over 70 clubs and societies, a buddy program for international students, and an extremely active student union that emphasizes community, UL is known for having an enthusiastic student body. And it doesn’t hurt that while the campus boasts beautiful, bucolic views, the 3rd largest city in Ireland is only minutes away!
But, that’s only one of Ireland’s incredible schools! Tune back in next time to take a look at Ireland’s top-ranked school academically: Trinity College Dublin.
This post is part of a series. Read our last Modern Ireland post, all beloved Irish snacks, 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
Missed Part 1? Check it out here!
In America, we’re solidly in snacking season. You know exactly what we mean: between Halloween’s treats, Thanksgiving’s feast, and December’s month-long excuse to eat just one more cookie, there’s no time of the year more inundated with snacks than the end of it! Tonight we’re not here to discuss the bog standard American snacks, but rather, introduce you to some of the delicious indulgences you’d be able to find if you happened across the pond to Ireland…
Okay, so you can’t currently get these in Ireland (or anywhere!) as they’ve been discontinued, but the number of articles we found demanding ice cream manufacturer HB bring them back led to them being included on this list. These very sweet, green apple and lime-flavored popsicles (aka “ice pops” in Ireland) are a favorite childhood memory for many and have even spawned a fan page on Facebook. Every year, the Irish clamor all over social media for a return of their precious frogs, and every year HB responds: “We cannot confirm.” Don’t worry—Irish love for this product is so strong, we’ve got a recipe so you can make them at home!
These marshmallow, coconut, raspberry jam delights with a biscuit base are associated with children’s birthday parties in Ireland. While there’s also a French biscuit with the same name (though a very different composition—more like Pocky sticks!), these biscuits apparently date back to 1888 and remain a favorite to this day (though many are a little unnerved by the bubbly pink appearance.) Sold by some brands under the name “Jam Mallow,” these sweet treats have a softer base than most Irish biscuits, making them more of a cookie!
This one seems to be as controversial as licorice is in the U.S.—you either love it or hate it (and the older you get, the more you seem to love it?) These boiled sweets are an Irish tradition and are always red and white, flavored heavily with clove (probably why they’re not always a fave!) With their origins in the 1800s, these sweets are more strongly associated with grandparents (think butterscotch candies, but spicier) with boiled sweets generally having fallen out of flavor. Still—you can find them at many a corner shop, with families like the Linehans of Shandon Sweets in Cork using the same recipe since the 1920s!
Not just popular in Ireland, but also one of the UK’s favorite sweet treats, Jaffa Cakes were originally invented in Scotland by Robert McVitie in 1875! McVitie’s is still the top producer of these snacks, an orange-flavored sponge smothered with orange-flavored jelly and covered in chocolate. There’s a long-standing controversy over whether Jaffa cakes are a biscuit or a cake, a designation they originally claimed to avoid luxury taxes levied on biscuits (whereas “cakes” were considered a staple and not taxed as heavily--this matter literally went to court.) Though they are biscuit-sized, the base hardens when stale versus getting softer—which we’re pretty sure does make it a cake. But why…Jaffa? Apparently, they’re named after the particular variety of orange originally used to flavor the treat—Jaffa oranges from Israel!
Lastly, you’ll need something to wash this all down! Club Orange is a carbonated orange drink (well, 11% juice,) and was actually the first orange juice product ever sold commercially in Ireland! Dating back to the 1930s, this drink was invented when the Kildare Street Gentleman’s Club commissioned C&C to create an orange-flavored drink (also where it gets its name!) Known for its real fruit “bits” (what we Americans like to call pulp,) this remains one of the most popular soft drinks in Ireland with 66% of the market share of citrus sodas. You’ll know it by its slogan” “The best bits in the world.”
Interested in trying some of these Irish treats out? Thanks to the internet, you can! Besides the obvious (we all know Amazon has everything these days,) there are numerous Irish snacking sites to choose from. Happy eating!
This post is part of a series. Read our last modern Ireland post, with contemporary Irish fiction 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.
Name: Jennifer S.
Dancer at SRL: Maggie S.
How long has your family been with SRL? Why SRL?
We joined in 2019 looking for a more competitive program to offer new steps, stylish contemporary choreography, and a higher level of dancing and we have been so pleased with the excellent instruction and well run program at SRL.
Why Irish dance?
Maggie joined Irish Dance because her big brother Pat was dancing. We love our Irish heritage and while I never took Irish Step as a child, all of my college roommates at Holy Cross did and Pat and Maggie wanted to try it too.
How did you choose your dancer’s name?
Margaret Frances is named after her 2 Irish Grandmothers who are in heaven.
What’s your favorite place you’ve ever been and why?
Ireland might be tied with Italy. They both have such breathtaking landscapes and amazing people. (I didn’t travel to Europe until after I turned 40!)
What’s your favorite dance-related memory?
Maggie winning the ORIECHTAS for Traditional set. Her face was absolute surprise, joy and bliss. The trophy was as big as her.
How do you think dance has positively affected your dancer?
Dance is an opportunity to have special friends apart from school and an opportunity to work hard and see your hard work pay off. Dance is the perfect combination of working as a team and individual with loving supportive friends. It is also a sport- it is a great workout!
If you had a theme song, what would it be?
“Roar” by Katy Perry.
What advice would you give parents who are looking to try out Irish dance?
Irish dance is something fun, different, hard and rewarding. It connects you with your Irish heritage, and if you aren’t Irish then a great group of people. The parents are as fun as the dancers. I have enjoyed making friends with other parents.
How has the pandemic effected your dancer and their dance experience?
The pandemic was hard. We loved that Maggie had the structure of dance, even if it was in the basement. It gave structure to our days. Even though I am busy driving from Feis to Feis this fall, I feel blessed that she gets to compete and improve after so much time at home when she couldn’t compete.
What’s the most important quality to have in life?
Perseverance. Each time you have a great accomplishment, like moving up a level, you go back to not placing. It is humbling, exhilarating, and never boring!
This post is part of a series. Meet our last spotlighted parent, Michaela J., 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.
In our Origins of Irish Dance series, we’ve covered everything from Irish dance’s druidic origins and 18th century dancing masters to competitive levels and modern costuming. However, there’s something we breezed right past, as it’s a deviation from the standard Irish step we teach at SRL: sean-nós dance! (Though we have dabbled in sean-nós before with dances like Maggie Pickens and a summer masterclass with guest instructor Annabelle Bugay!) Tonight, we’re taking a step back to take a look at this branch of Irish dance tradition that has had wide-reaching influence on not only Irish step dance, but other forms of dance as well.
Sean-nós, meaning “old-style,” is a solo, percussive, usually improvised style of Irish dance strongly associated with Connemara on the west coast of Ireland. Unlike Irish step dance like we teach at SRL, which is highly regulated by the CLRG in Ireland, sean-nós is a more casual dance form that predates any modern records and developed differently in disperse areas over time. Sean-nós dancers, due to the improvisational nature of the dance that favors personal style over precision, normally dance alone, though many often take turns dancing to the music. Generally danced in a social setting, like a pub, party, or cultural festival (though competitions now exist, as well as some “standard” steps!), this form of Irish dance is more stripped down than step in both presentation and musical choices.
While Irish step dancers perform highly choreographed routines in often elaborate costumes with stiff arms and high kicks, sean-nós Irish dancers throughout time have tended to favor their street clothes, improvised steps, free arm movement, and footwork that stays low to the ground. Additionally, while adjudicators expect a competitive step dancer to move over the entire stage during a performance, sean-nós was traditionally performed in tight spaces: a door taken off its hinges, on a tabletop, or even on the top of a barrel! There was even an old saying about how a good dancer could perform on a silver serving tray, but a great dancer could perform on a sixpence. (Though sean-nós dancers these days generally just prefer a hardwood floor.)
Then, there’s the shoes. While any Irish dancer knows all about ghillies and hard shoes (check out a history of Irish step shoes here,) sean-nós dancers don’t have a particular type of shoe they’re tied to. However, they are looking for something that can make some noise! Sean-nós concentrates on what they call the “batter” i.e. hard, percussive sounds that emphasis the accented beats in the usually 8-count music being played as they dance. Many modern sean-nós dancers actually prefer tap shoes!
While Irish step hard shoe and sean-nós have has much in common as they do differences by way of proximity, sean-nós also made a huge impact on the world of American dance forms. With the influx of Irish immigrants in the 1800s during the Great Famine, sean-nós made its way to the U.S. and subsequently became a part of our culture, whether we realized it or not! While sean-nós itself isn’t widely found in America modern day, it highly influenced the vaudeville era of American dance, lending its style to soft shoe, flat-footing, hoofing, and clogging—all precursors to American jazz and tap!
So, while SRL may not have a sean-nós class, this old-style of dance is still an intrinsic part of the story of Irish dance’s (and American dance’s) history. And it still lives on in many a pub and party today. (Can’t forget a pretty epic flash mob in Galway in 2013 to promote the 116th Oireachtas Festival there! Watch a video of it here.)
This post is part of a series. Take a look at our last “Origins of Irish Dance” post, all about modern male costuming, 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.
Name: Maggie S.
How long have you been dancing with SRL? Why SRL?
I've been dancing at SRL for 3 years. I was looking to improve my dancing, and SRL had very successful dancers at their studio.
How did you get started with Irish dance?
My brother did Irish dance, and so I started doing it with him.
If you were an animal, which one would you be and why?
If I were an animal I would be a lion because I’m a Leo. Also, Lions have pretty hair.
What’s your favorite dance-related memory?
My favorite dance related memory was when Izzy and I got 1st and 2nd, getting us both into open!
Where’s your dream travel destination and why?
I want to travel to China because I am currently learning Chinese, and I would love to be able to use it. I love Asain cuisine and I want to experience Chinese culture.
What’s your favorite thing about dancing? Why do you dance?
My favorite thing about dance is that it's a great way to bang out my issues, and it's therapeutic for me. I dance because I love my family here and I love it.
What’s your (current) dream job and why?
My dream job would involve traveling the world and trying new things. I want to experience new things and I really enjoy change. I don’t have a certain job in mind yet.
How has the pandemic affected you and your dancing?
The pandemic has given me a lot of time to improve my dancing on my own, but it has not been as helpful as I wished. Not being able to compete all the time is hard, and online dance took almost a year away from me.
Who do you look up to and why?
I look up to Orla Godley. This is because she is a very successful dancer, and she is super sweet. She has inspired me to try harder because anything is possible.
What’s the best advice you can give a new or younger dancer?
My advice for younger dancers is to push yourself. You're not going to get better by wishing.
This post is part of a series. Meet our last spotlighted dancer, Rooney, 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.
Three Spooky Samhain Tales
Read last year’s spooky tales here.
While we’ve covered Samhain treats and costumes already this year, we haven’t told you as much about the why. It’s all in the name of protection, of course! As Samhain marks a time when it’s believed the veil between worlds is at its thinnest, there’s the question of who or rather what may cross over to our side. With your delicious feast and costume to distract them, you don’t need to be worried, but here’s a few spooky Samhain legends so you’ll at least know what you’re up against if you happen to see any of these faeries or monsters on All Hallows’ Eve!
First up we have Stingy Jack, the legend that also explains the origins of the jack-o’-lantern. Jack was a mischievous mortal trickster living in ancient Ireland who invited the Devil to have a drink with him. When the time came to pay, he asked the devil to transform himself into a silver coin to cover the bill—but when he did, Jack tucked him away into his pocket alongside a cross, trapping the Devil inside the coin! Jack made the Devil a deal: if he left Jack alone for a year and promised not to claim Jack’s soul when he died, he would release him. A year passed, but the Devil didn’t learn his lesson—this time Jack asked the Devil for an apple, and trapped the Devil in a tree by carving a cross in the bark. This time, Jack managed to finagle a ten year reprieve! However, Jack died of natural causes before the ten years were up. The Devil, annoyed by this devious mortal man, kept his promise to never claim Jack’s soul, expelling him from the afterlife with only a burning coal. Jack put the coal inside a carved out turnip (that’s right, the first jack-o’-lanterns were turnips, not pumpkins!) and still roams Ireland, scaring travelers in the night.
While Jack’s story is a bit of fun, most Irish Samhain legends are decidedly not. Take the Sluagh, possibly the most feared creatures in all the fey realms. Sluagh means “host” in Gaeilge, and are also known as the “restless dead”—some say becoming one of the Sluagh is a punishment for those who gravely sinned in life. It’s said that Death itself fears the Sluagh and defers to their wishes and that the creatures, though once human, have transformed into bird-like creatures without mercy, loyalty, or reason that now prey on mankind by stealing their souls. From afar, the Sluagh appear as a “vast and ominous” flock of ravens flying in from the West. Up close, you can see traces of their human form, though they still remain bird-like with large, leathery wings. Curious how to pronounce Sluagh? We’re not going to be the ones to tell you! Apparently speaking the name out loud will call them to you…we’re just hoping typing or reading the name doesn’t have the same effect. Just in case, do as many in Ireland do: keep your West-facing windows shut to hold them off!
Our last tale tonight is one you’ve heard in many incarnations: the Dearg Due, aka “the red blood sucker,” aka a female, Irish vampire! The epitome of “a women scorned,” the Dearg Due’s origins came about two thousand years ago when a beautiful young woman fell in love with a poor farmer. Though her real name is lost to time, it’s said that her pale blonde hair and blood-red lips made her beauty legendary and men came from far and wide to try to win her hand, but she only loved her farmer. However, the love match was denied to her by her father, who was looking only for the biggest dowry, and she was instead married off to a cruel, much older man. When the abuses of this man became too much, the Dearg Due died, renouncing God and promising vengeance, and was buried in Co. Waterford under Strongbow’s Tree. But this was only beginning of her tale—the Dearg Due rose from her grave a creature of venegence, looking for blood. She’s said to still roam Ireland, whispering siren songs to young men in the night, taking each new bridegroom back to her grave with her. (Between this and the Dwarf King/vampire called the Abhartach, it’s easy to see where Irishman Bram Stoker got Dracula from!)
We could go on all night, telling tales of the Morrigan and the Carmun, changelings and the Fear Gorta, or even the Alp-luachra, Dullahan, and Gancanagh…but we don’t want to scare you away! There’s no end to terrifying tales in Irish folklore, so it makes sense that protective rituals like feasts, costumes, and jack-o’-lanterns have survived the trials of time and immigrated as the Irish did. Whether you love Halloween for the tricks or the treats, one thing is certain: you have the Irish and their creepy lore to thank!
This post is part of a series. Take a look at our last Irish Mythology post, all about the Lugh and the crane 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.
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