A Samhain Feast!
Last year, we covered the Irish holiday of Samhain is great detail (check out these posts if you want to know more!) But, to sum it up—the origins of modern-day Halloween can be traced back to the Irish Pagan tradition of Samhain (pronounced sow-inn,) an ancient fire festival marking the beginning of the “dark half of the year.” Druidic priests would build a large communal bonfire, and, as it was believed that the veil between our world and the “otherworld” was thin on this night, costumes and treats became part of the celebration (to trick bad spirits and feed good ones!)
But, after the fire and turnip jack-o’-lanterns, what was the most important Samhain tradition? A feast, of course! Pretty much all festivals in ancient Ireland included a feast, but the Samhain feast was special and almost like our modern, American Thanksgiving—it was a time to come together as a family and a community before the harder, leaner months of winter. With the last of harvest upon the table, it was a time to take stock and celebrate before minds turned toward survival. In honor of this ancient tradition, we thought we’d clue you in to some of Ireland’s delicacies (both old and new, and with recipes!) so you can have your own Samhain feast at home this year if you wish!
First off, the carbs! As you might assume for such a spooky holiday, there’s quite a few ghostly and fortune-telling traditions revolving around foods eaten on Samhain, and the traditions of eating soul cakes, bannocks, and barmbrack are no exception. Soul cakes are a bit like a shortbread cookie made with sweet spices (and often dried fruit,) but they have a very important job to do: you leave soul cakes out for any hungry spirits (or hungry guests) that may pay your home a visit on Halloween night. Bannocks—a term which covers a dearth of large, round quick breads—were once eaten year-round in Ireland (though aren’t quite as popular now,) but some Samhain-exclusive recipes have the addition of extra salt. Legend has it that if an unmarried lad or lass was to take three bites of a salty bannock on Samhain Eve and then go to bed without speaking (or drinking!) they’d have a dream of their future spouse. Lastly, barmbrack, a sweet bread filled with tea-soaked fruits, was often baked with trinkets inside. Each trinket had a meaning for those whose slice included it, meant to tell of your future—a button means you’ll remain a bachelor, a silver coin for those destined for riches, etc.
Then, you have to have something to drink (though this particular tradition is for the adults, not our dancers!) Mulled wine is traditional all winter throughout the UK, Europe, and Ireland, and nothing smells more delicious than a pot of mulled wine bubbling away on your stove! While spices were precious in ancient Ireland, as it was and is an island (probably where that bland food reputation stems from,) mulled wine’s origins can be traced back to 20 A.D.! While we tend to associate Guinness with Ireland (though it’s technically more popular in Nigeria!), there’s a winter spirit with an even longer tradition--poteen. Also called poitín, it’s essentially Irish moonshine, and was similarly made illicitly, hidden away in a pot from whence it gets its name (it also may be the original whiskey, as it was once generally made with a malt barley as its base.)
Don’t worry, the dancers can have something sweet while the adults are imbibing. How about a traditional apple cake or tea cake? It turns out apples and dried fruits are traditional for an Irish Autumn, just like here! In fact, traditional Halloween activities (that don’t get much play anymore) like bobbing for apples originated in Ireland—though the original version had an apple dangling from a string with contestants trying to take a bite out of it!
Lastly, what about a main course? While traditionally there wasn’t much meat served for Samhain (it being the end of the harvest and all,) the closest to tradition one could get would be some kind of meat pie, stew, or sausage (delightfully nicknamed bangers—as they were prone to explode during the lean war years when they had to use water as filler!) Here’s a recipe for a Guinness and steak pie, or a lamb stew—it’s all about something warm and hearty on a cold Halloween night! But it wouldn’t be an Irish meal without potatoes (it may sound like a stereotype, but these root vegetables are known to last through the long, cold winter—stereotypes do come from somewhere.) You can try out the beloved (to this day) Irish side of colcannon, essentially mashed potatoes with cabbage, kale, or anything green snuck in! Or how about boxty—more or less a potato pancake? Purists can go for champ, which is essentially mashed potatoes with scallions, or fadge, a kind of potato bread…there’s truly no end to potato recipes in Ireland!
No matter what you eat to celebrate Samhain this year—candy and toffee apples or barmbrack and boxty—you’re taking part in an ancient tradition of warding off the darkest part of the year just a little bit longer through celebration. So gather your family together at your table, light a roaring fire, and dig in! The spirits from the other side of the veil have some soul cakes to finish off.
This post is part of a series. Read our last Irish history post, all about the many invaders of 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.
Contemporary Fiction Recs, Part 2
1. Beautiful World, Where Are You, Sally Rooney
New release alert! Sally Rooney’s much-anticipated third book just hit the market a few weeks ago and has proven to be an instant best-seller around the world. This erudite 30-year-old writer took her evocative title from a 1788 Friedrich Schiller (best known for “Ode to Joy”) poem, reflective of the larger social questions the narrative poses. Largely an epistolary novel interspersed with Rooney’s sharp, witty narrative, the plot follows two best friends, Eileen and Alice, as they navigate both their own friendship and romantic relationships as they enter their 30s. Set in both Dublin and a small, oceanside Irish town, Rooney criticizes class hang ups and late capitalism in Ireland all while asking the question: is it moral for one’s focus to be on what’s beautiful in life instead of what’s wrong? But don’t expect Rooney to hand over the answers—instead you’re given a tenderly wrought story of complex connections that lets each reader experience their own answers as they’re drawn through. (Note: this one comes highly recommended by our Office Manager, Devon, but you can read a more critical review of the book here.)
2. This Must Be the Place, Maggie O’Farrell
Maggie O’Farrell’s 2020 book, Hamnet, was considered one of the best books of its year (by more or less every literary outlet,) but as it was set in England instead of Ireland, we’re here with another one of this beloved Irish author’s works. This Must Be the Place is instead set in rural Donegal and is considered to be O’Farrell’s “breakout book” that placed her on the contemporary literary map. The novel follows two Americans building quiet lives (mildly in hiding) for themselves in the Irish countryside—former linguistics professor Daniel and former (famous) actress Claudette. Through multiple, time-hopping (but easy to follow,) and dynamic storylines, the reader is treated to a tantalizingly slow reveal of the character’s inner conflicts and pasts as they hurtle toward what may or may not be predetermined fates. Take it from NPR’s Heller McAlpin: O’Farrell’s “fascinated by women who refuse to conform, by the secrets withheld even from our nearest and dearest, and by the unpredictable, serendipitous nature of life, the way a chance encounter can change everything and come to feel inevitable.” As the joy is in the discovery here, we won’t say anymore!
3. The Blackwater Lightship, Colm Tóibín
Best known in the U.S. for his 2015 book, Brooklyn, (and the award-winning movie adaptation starring Saoirse Ronan) about an young, female Irish immigrant in New York in the early 1950s, Tóibín’s body of work has several overarching themes: the Irish identity versus personal identity, the creative process, and the self when confronted with loss. The Blackwater Lightship, one of his 3 “Wexford” novels, is no exception, inspired by the death of Tóibín’s own father and his own childhood home of Enniscorthy. Set in Ireland in the trouble-filled 1990s, this is a family story—of family lost, family found, and family chosen—concentrating on three generations of estranged women confronting the untimely, upcoming death of a beloved brother, son, and grandson. With a light hand and sparse prose, the narrative is an exploration into forgiveness, memory, and the seeming impossibility of a future beyond loss, backdropped by the Irish sea. The novel was short-listed for The Man Booker Prize in 2014 and adapted by Hallmark into a made-for-TV movie of the same name (though possibly not set in Ireland as it’s starring, of all people, Dianne Wiest and Angela Lansbury.) While we’d recommend the book, jury’s out on the movie version.
4. Exciting Times, Naoise Dolan
While Dolan’s novel may be set in Hong Kong, it’s still a definitively Irish novel. Narrator Ava, a Dublin-born ex-pat, is in her early 20s, directionless and in China teaching English to the children of rich natives. When she meets English Julian, a well-off and highly educated banker, she embarks on a strange and ill-defined relationship that will change the way she sees herself and the world around her. Then…enter Edith (Hong Kong born and bred,) and things get even more complicated. Similar to Rooney’s exploration of personal relationships as a gateway to larger, societal issues, Ava’s experiences are given to us as a representation of the worldwide experience of the Irish diaspora and the perception of the Irish identity outside of Ireland. Deftly avoiding love-triangle tropes with her equally deadpan and witty prose, this is Dolan’s debut novel. (Note: this is another personal recommendation from Devon, but the reviews have been divisively both for and against—it’s an either you love it or hate it kind of book! But we’re a fan of Vogue’s summation: “This debut novel…is half Sally Rooney love triangle, half glitzy Crazy Rich Asians high living—and guaranteed to please.”)
5. Strange Flowers, Donal Ryan
Winner of An Post Irish Book Award Novel of the Year in 2020 and set in Tipperary in the 1970s, the story opens upon Paddy and Kit Gladney’s discovery that their 20-year-old daughter Moll has disappeared with a suitcase and without a trace. Five years pass in a blink, and just when the couple is coming to terms with their loss, Moll returns with as little an explanation as she left with. This family story of seclusion, secrecy, and class hierarchies within Irish villages has an idyllic, almost hermetic backdrop that belies the tumultuous country it resides it, instead concentrating on the turmoil within his character’s hearts and relationships. Donal has been twice long-listed for the Man Booker Prize, but many reviewers claim that this, his sixth book, is his best to date. (Here’s a more in-depth review to peruse!)
This post is part of a series. Read our last Modern Ireland post, all about Irish language in Irish schools, 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.
Children’s Books, Part 2
With the summer winding down and regular dance classes about to start up again, it can be hard to get back into the school year groove. Back to school burnout is real and it happens to a lot of our dancers—so why not get them excited instead? We’ve gathered together five highly reviewed children’s books all about Ireland (and one about Irish dance!) that will get your dancer excited to be back in the studio (or at least more excited about it than school.)
1. Am I Small?
Philipp Winterberg & Nadja Wichmann
This story follows a young girl named Tamia as she takes a journey through a whimsically illustrated landscape, interacting with all sorts of magical and realistic creatures, and asking each of them: Am I small? But this book does more than tell a beautiful story (that comes to conclusion that size is relative and everyone is perfect just as they are)—it also has the distinction of being a part of the World’s Children Book project. Writer Philipp Winterberg has dedicated himself to not only writing books with positive messages, but has gotten over 400 translators in on the fun in an attempt to find universal touchstones for all the world’s children. Imagine a world where across every culture and border, we’ve all read Am I Small?! While the copy we’re linking is a bilingual copy in English and Gaeilge, the official language of Ireland, the book comes in over 200 languages, with a goal of 500 languages in the future.
2. The Children of Lir: Ireland’s Favorite Legend
Laura Ruth Maher & Connor Busuttil
In this version of one of Ireland’s most beloved legends, Maher’s rhyming, lyric poetry is paired with Busuttil’s rich illustrations that call to mind the illuminated manuscripts of ancient Ireland. The story is one older than written record, stemming from a tale from Ireland’s millennia-old oral tradition, and tells of King Lir and his four children: Fionnula, Aodh, Fiachra, and Conn (this is also definitely an opportunity to learn some new names!) But, like many fairytales, all was not well in King Lir’s court after a mysterious woman arrives and becomes his wife. Like most fairytales, this new stepmother isn’t all she appears to be and transforms the children into swans, a form they remain in until the curse cam be lifted. This is a typical Irish legend, so not the happiest story, but don’t worry—it’s being told for little readers and skips the scarier parts! Want a preview before you buy? Check it out here.
3. O’Sullivan Stew
Meet Kate O’Sullivan: bold, brave, and always getting into trouble. When the witch in Kate’s village has her horse stolen, the whole town feels the effects: no fish in the nets, no food in the fields, and no milk from the cows. Kate takes matters into her own hands and enlists her brothers to help her steal back the horse and save the town from hunger—but there’s a problem: it was the King who took the witch’s horse! When the palace proves too challenging for a heist, Kate finds herself in front of the King with only her wits to save her and her family. Luckily, Kate is an excellent storyteller and the wild stew of stories she concocts just might do the trick! This rollicking adventure is full of creative, fantastical details, humor, and the most Irish thing of all (besides dance, of course): a good story or two! Sound interesting? Check out an elementary school principal out of Oregon reading it out loud for all!
4. Let’s See Ireland!
Come along with Molly and her cat, Mipsy, on their tour of Ireland! Bowie is a Dublin based author and illustrator with a comic art style perfect for children of any age—with some learning snuck in! Your child will meet the animals of the Dublin Zoo before stopping to feed the pigeons at Christ Church Cathedral, and then it’s on to peering over the Cliffs of Moher. Full of humor that doesn’t take away from the facts, from the Giant’s Causeway to Hook Lighthouse and Newgrange, Molly’s story will introduce all of Ireland’s most beloved sites—even the Titanic Belfast! While most kids will be able to recognize Big Ben or the Eiffel Tower from a young age, why not let them in on all the coolest sites in the country their favorite activity is from? (And it sure beats the price of a plane ticket!) Hear (and see!) the story, read by a staff member from the Kilmihil Library in Ireland in her beautiful accent, here.
5. Rínce: The Fairytale of Irish Dance
Gretchen Gannon & Don Vanderbeek
Does the word rínce (ring-ka) look familiar? It should! It means dance in Gaeilge and is the R in SRL, after all! This fanciful story creates an original myth about the origins of Irish dance, that, while not necessarily factually accurate (check out our “Origins of Irish Dance” series on the blog for that!), is certainly fun! Gannon’s narrative brings us back to ancient Ireland, where faeries and humans lived together peacefully in a town called Rínce. This richly told and illustrated account (that anyone who loves fairytales will delight in) tells of Irish dance evolving from a pact between the Fae and the humans—creating a new legend for everyone to enjoy! Gannon might never have been an Irish dancer herself, but she married into the world—her mother-in-law hails from Limerick and founded the St. Louis Irish Arts School of Music & Dance—and this book is clearly a labor of love: her two young daughters have been Irish dancers since the age of four!
This post is part of a series. Read our last set of book recommendations, for YA readers, 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 Devon—our Office Manager and New Student Concierge!
Books: I love all books, but Margaret Atwood is my favorite writer (and Ada Limón is my favorite poet!) For younger reading levels Rick Riordan is my favorite and for teens, Rainbow Rowell. If you want a personal recommendation, tell me what you or your dancer is into and I’ll come up with something. I’m always excited to talk about books at any level!
TV Shows: I recommend The Great British Baking Show (or The Great British Bake Off in Britain!) to quite literally any person that asks. It is the most soothing, delightful program I have ever seen—so wholesome. Nothing like an American competition, but it is on American Netflix.
Coffeeshop: I LOVE Rebel Dog Coffee (they have locations in Farmington and Plainville) and I started going to Birdhouse Coffee in South Windsor on my way in to the studio on Saturday mornings—it’s the cutest!
Restaurant: I think about Bricco’s Nutella Pie on a near-daily basis and my last meal would be a cheeseburger from Plan B Burger Bar.
Favorite Quote: “Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”
--Leonard Cohen, “Anthem"
Vacation (One Day!): I grew up in San Diego and can’t recommend it enough for a vacation. Balboa Park (and the beaches, of course) should be top on your list, and definitely, definitely Mexican food all day, every day. (Just make sure to get a California burrito while you’re there—they’re exclusively a San Diego thing and there’s French fries inside!)
Dessert: Go to any location of Taste by Spellbound and pick any dessert (there’s a few in the immediate area!) They’re all incredible.
Music: I used to not like Taylor Swift—no reason, just wasn’t really my thing. But it’s been months now and I can’t stop listening to folklore and evermore on repeat. I am now her biggest fan?
Important Thing to Learn: Be kind. You’re never going to regret being the bigger person, or taking the time to think about others.
First Job: Everyone should have to work in retail and food service before they’re allowed to be a customer. It really makes you appreciate how much work goes into your everyday experiences and have a newfound respect and kindness when interacting with people!
Gift to Give: If you can swing it, an experience over a thing every time. My go-to wedding gift is usually a cooking or dance class!
Artist: Nan Lawson is an incredibly talented illustrator who takes pop culture and cult favorites an adds her own style to them. (I own Harry Potter and Salinger prints from her and they’re gorgeous. She only does limited runs, so check her out on Etsy!)
Cheesy Song That’s Actually Great: “Tiny Dancer,” Elton John (I mean, remember that scene in Almost Famous?)
Strange, But Delicious Food: Did you know you can make a float out of pretty much anything carbonated? Fruity-flavored seltzers with vanilla ice cream may sound weird, but it’s actually amazing!
Must See Natural Wonder: This is an obvious one, but when I saw the Grand Canyon I was completely stunned. Nothing does it justice—even being there in person it feels unreal. (And I wrote this before I realized I'd be posting it after so many of our dancers were at Nationals in Phoenix!)
Current Obsession: I was late to the party with this one and it’s the first video game I’ve ever played…but I love Animal Crossing. It’s essentially a digital dollhouse in the form of an island (though you have a house to decorate and an avatar to dress, too!)—low consequences, just arranging items and performing small tasks. It’s perfect for a type-A person to unwind.
CT Outdoor Activity: Hiking up to Hueblein Tower or reading in Hartford’s Elizabeth Park (the tulips come out in April and check in early/mid June for the roses--but there's beautiful flowers all summer!) Also love the West Hartford Reservoir for a run!
Advice for Dancers: Nothing happens overnight. Progress happens so slowly you won’t even see it and then all of a sudden…you’ve got it! You can’t see yourself growing taller day to day, but you are—you’re becoming a better dancer every day you practice, too!
Local Business: I just bought several pairs of earrings from Hannahbees Jewelry when she was selling them at Birdhouse Coffee. Lightweight and beautiful, 10/10 would recommend for all earring-wearers (and she does custom orders!)
Charities to Donate to: Did you know Dolly Parton doesn’t just help fund vaccine research, but is responsible for children receiving millions upon millions of books over the last 20 years? I’m a huge literacy proponent and think Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is a truly worthy cause! Check it out!
This post is part of a series. You can learn more about Devon here, in her Q&A, or read our last set of recommendations with Miss Courtney 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.
Kid-Friendly Movies About Ireland, Part 1
So, your littlest dancer isn’t just interested in Irish dance, they’re curious about Ireland—why not use that screen-time to show them something of the culture that created their favorite activity? We’ve collected five, kid-friendly movies that show life in Ireland during varying time periods, with a healthy dose of mythology, family, and fun all mixed in. Take a look:
1. Wolfwalkers (2020, PG)
99% Rotten Tomatoes
Watch on Apple TV
This movie is a (weekly) recommendation from one of our Beginner dancers, Natalie W.! Natalie loves the beautiful, hand-drawn animation (inspired by the illuminated manuscripts of old Ireland) and storyline centered around two strong, female warriors learning to do what’s right. This is the last of director Tomm Moore’s “Irish Folklore Triology” and is set in 1650 with the (albeit light) political undertones to match. The main story centers on hunter Robyn Goodfellowe, who’s come to Kilkenny with her father (voiced by the legendary Sean Bean) at the behest of the English Oliver Cromwell in order to wipe out a wolf pack in the nearby woods. Robyn’s curious spirit leads her right into the wolves’ trap, but also into their secret world and a new friendship with a wild, forest-dwelling girl named Mebh who may be more than she seems. This is a truly Irish production with an all-Irish voice cast and with music performed by Bruno Coulais and folk group Kíla. This Oscar-nominated film is recommended for ages 8+ due to moderate animated violence and characters facing peril.
2. A Shine of Rainbows (2009, PG)
70% Rotten Tomatoes
Purchase on Amazon
Set in the turbulence of Ireland in the 1960s, this tale follows an orphaned boy, Tomás, as he’s adopted by Marie and Alec O’Donnell and goes to live with them on a quiet isle off the coast of Ireland. Things don’t start out perfect—families never are—but with the help of his new friends, Nancy and Seamus (portrayed by Jack Gleeson—another Game of Thrones alum,) and the unconditional love of Marie, Tomás begins to grow comfortable in his new home. Slight spoiler alert: while this movie was called “a feel-good movie” by Ebert, all paths of inspiring self-discovery and adventure does have deep moments of sadness…but you don’t get the rainbow without the rain. This story centering around found family has a beautiful, whimsical backdrop and is recommended for children 10+, as it is an intensely emotional film.
3. The Secret of Kells (2009, not rated)
90% Rotten Tomatoes
Watch on Prime Video
The first of Tomm Moore’s “Irish Folklore Trilogy” centers about the creation of Ireland’s famed (and real!) Book of Kells—an artifact known for beautiful illuminations of both Christian and Celtic mythologies. Young Brendan, a boy living in the remote Abbey of Kells in 9th century Ireland, becomes an apprentice to Brother Aiden, a mysterious illuminator. This decision leads Brendan on a madcap adventure, wrought in beautiful detail, where he needs every ounce of bravery (and some help from his new fairy and wolf friends!) Set in another difficult time for Ireland—this period was full of Viking attacks on the isle as they tried to expand their territories--this film combines the magic of ancient Irish mythology with Ireland’s very real and often troubled past in lush tapestry of animation. This Oscar-nominated (it lost to Up that year) story is recommended for children 9+ due to scenes of mild danger and animated violence.
4. The Secret of Roan Inish (1994, PG)
96% Rotten Tomatoes
Watch on Prime Video
Set in 1946, the film tells the story of young Fiona, sent to live with her grandparents on the tiny fishing village in Co. Donegal after her parents died during the war. Her grandparents like to tell Fiona all about their ancestral home, a small island off the coast no longer inhabited called Rón Inis, which translates to “Isle of Seals.” Tales of selkies (generally: magical beings who can shed their seal skins to become beautiful woman) abound and Fiona becomes convinced there’s selkie in her ancestry—leading her to head out to the island with her cousin to investigate. We won’t spoil the story for you, but this film has its touches of magic about it, making what could be a sad story one full of love, hope, and family. Recommended for children 8+ due to some heavier topics of loss.
5. Song of the Sea (2014, PG)
99% Rotten Tomatoes
Rent on Prime Video
We’re rounding out this list with the second of Tom Moore’s trilogy (they don’t need to be watched in order!)—these hand-drawn, animated films are just too beautiful not to! This is another tale drawing inspiration from the folklore of the selkie, but set in 1980s Ireland. Ben lives in a lighthouse off the coast with his mute little sister, Saoirse, and their father, a man still devastated after the disappearance of his wife six years earlier. When their Granny comes to visit, the siblings’ small world is upended and the secrets surrounding Saoirse’s birth are revealed—leading the pair on an adventure to the magical realm of Tír na nÓg to discover the true meaning of love and family. (And some SRL parents have let us know that this may be Moore’s most beautifully done film!) This movie tackles the complications of sibling relationships against the backdrop of magic and folklore versus modernity and is recommended for children 7+.
Bonus: something very exciting is coming out May 28th! Watch the trailer for Riverdance: The Animated Adventure or learn more about the film here.
This post is part of a series. Read our last post, all about YA 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Welcome to our new series, where you can get to know SRL’s staff better with some hand-picked recommendations! First up is Miss Codi--associate instructor for our younger students!
Books: Twisted Fairy Tales. Seeing the different ways those could have gone is so interesting!
Food/Recipes: Our go-to is a pasta dish with lots of veggies and ground turkey. Recently we’ve been doing a meal kit, and I love the variety we eat now.
Take Out: Vegetarian sushi, especially if they have mochi for dessert!
Video Game: Hidden object video games are lots of fun. My husband and I put them up on the TV to play together, and see who can find the objects first.
Small Business in Area: Farr’s Sporting Goods. We went in to get disk golf discs, and were pleasantly surprised at how much of a selection they had.
Must See Natural Wonder: Niagara Falls
Coffeeshop: Starbucks. I try to go to different local shops, but I keep coming back.
Restaurant: Carlito’s Bakery or Market on Main.
Dessert: Mochi or macarons!
Ice Cream Flavor: Cherry
Outdoor Activity: Disc Golf. Love the course at Wickham, but there are so many now, it’s great!
Board Game: Disney Sorry. Easy to talk around with friends, but still fun to play with everyone.
Vacation (One Day!): Disney World. I also would love to go on a train tour of Europe, but that’s a little farther out.
TV Shows: Currently WandaVision, but all of the new Disney+ content has been awesome. I loved The Mandalorian and am really excited for the Loki show (as well as the Boba Fett show!)
First Job: “Tour Guide” for 5 Wits. I got to spend my time leading Spy Missions and Guiding Tours through being trapped in the Nautilus.
Guilty Pleasure: McDonald’s Happy Meals. I try so hard to stay away from fast food, but if I’m going on a long drive I’m always tempted.
Pets: Two cats, Luna and Rowena. They are sisters and almost 5 years old, but still love to cuddle with each other!
Tips for Productivity: Make a list so you have a visual representation of what needs to be done and you can see your progress. Tackle things in small pieces, so you don’t get overwhelmed.
Advice for Dancers: Try to practice several times a week. Record yourself so you can see what you need to work on, instead of trying to fix it in the moment.
Tips to Cheer Up: Go for a walk, cuddle with animals, or talk out the situation. Removing yourself from the situation by going for a walk helps to give some perspective, which is the same with talking it out. Cuddling with animals just gives you time to calm down.
This post is the first in a series. You can learn more about Miss Codi here, in her Q&A! 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 1
If the term “middle grade” isn’t familiar to you in terms of books, the name is relatively revealing: it just means books written for children around the ages 8-12. You know: out of the picture book stage, but perhaps not ready for either the level or themes of Young Adult fiction. A lot of SRL’s dancers fall right into this category, so we wanted to give them a way of learning about Ireland that will capture their imaginations in that magical way only books can do! (Unsure if a book is too advanced for your dancer? While you know your child’s reading levels best, just remember that kids like to read up—i.e. an 8 or 10-year-old generally wants to read about a 12-year-old, and so on!)
1. Kathleen: The Celtic Knot, Siobhán Parkinson
Illustrated by Troy Howell
This story of Irish dance and life in Ireland during the Great Depression is part of the “Girls of Many Lands” series by American Girl. (And yes, there used to be a doll! Unfortunately, she seems to be discontinued, but pops up on eBay. She was so beloved there’s even fan pages for her character.) Kathleen Murphy is a curious 12-year-old girl growing up in Dublin in 1937, who loves to Irish dance and is a clever dancer. Unfortunately, Kathleen’s family doesn’t have the money for the lessons or a costume for her. The book follows Kathleen on her journey to being able to compete, teaching us lessons about compassion, honesty, and Irish life during a time of political, religious, and financial strife with a light hand. American Girl’s books always strike that fine balance between history and story that make the past’s realities accessible for younger readers.
2. Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer
This 8-book series may sound familiar: the film version, directed by Kenneth Branagh, was released this past summer on Disney+ to widely negative reviews. The main complaint? Too many changes from the acclaimed source material—we’d recommend just getting the first book instead! (There’s a graphic novel version, as well.) Artemis Fowl is the name of the series protagonist, a 12-year-old criminal mastermind and millionaire from Ireland. The first book concentrates on a modernization of classic, Celtic fey mythology, with Artemis kidnapping a tough, pint-sized faerie named Holly Short for a king’s ransom: the faerie’s pot of gold. If you’re unsure about letting your kid read about a child racketeer, don’t worry: this series has been a parent favorite since its debut in 2001 for the main character’s gradual redemption. Focusing on themes of greed and entitlement, this book is for the kid who loves Percy Jackson and adventure. (It may be about Greek mythology, but we highly recommend those as well!
3. Granualie: Pirate Queen, Morgan Llewelyn
Morgan Llewelyn is an award-winning writer of historical and mythological fiction (and some non-fiction!) and has several more middle grade Irish book offerings, but this tale based on the real life story of female pirate, queen, chieftain, and rebel, Grace “Granuaile” O’Malley is sure to excite! Considered now to be a woman ahead of her time, Granuaile was a fearless leader of her clan and an untiring defender of Ireland and its culture. Llewelyn tells her story largely through letters to Granuaile’s son, Tibbot, but also weaves through the historical and political realities of the rise of Elizabeth I and the resulting oppression of the Irish way of life. With many cameos by great figures in Ireland’s history, this story has the hook of adventure, but lessons about girl power, acceptance, and the importance of family, tradition, and standing up for what you believe is right.
4. Scholastic Classics: Irish Fairy Tales, Myths and Legends, Kieran Fanning
While we covered some Irish mythology picture book anthologies in our previous installment, Fanning’s book promises a slightly more elevated version of these classic tales. It’s not fully illustrated, but rather its beautiful cover’s drawings represent different stories in the collection as a reminder of the contents inside. This book covers the first three cycles of Irish mythology: Mythological, Ulster, and Fenian—from the miraculous Tuatha Dé Dannan and Children of Lir, to stories of famed heroes like Cuchulainn and Fionn Mac Cumhaill. While mythology and fairy tales always have a bit of a dark side, reader reviews promise that all the more difficult subject matter is dealt with matter-of-factly, but delicately. This version is perfect for the middle grade age range, letting them feel more adult, while at the right level for them in both content and difficulty.
5. A Slip of a Girl, Patricia Reilly Giff
Patricia Reilly Giff has won two Newbury Honors for her work, which concentrates on strong, brave young women in trying times in history (there’s plenty more where this comes from. Lily’s Crossing is about WWII in America, but is a personal favorite from childhood.) A Slip of a Girl depicts life in rural Ireland through narrative free verse in the wake of the Great Famine. Told through the eyes of Anna—whose siblings have gone off to the New World and whose mother has passed, leaving Anna to care for her younger sister with special needs–and in her lyric voice, the story is one of resilience in the face of deprivation. A much quieter, contemplative read than the others on our list, this family tale is a poignant depiction of the tensions of a feudal, agrarian community and the self-determination adversity can teach.
This post is part of a series—take a look at our recommendations for Adult Contemporary Fiction and Children’s Books. And 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.
Looking for the perfect Christmas gift for a child in your life who loves to dance, wiggle, or move? Our taster session will give them the gift of dance!
We know not all of our SRL families necessarily celebrate Christmas (as we always say: you don’t need to be Irish to do Irish dance!) But what we mean by stocking stuffers are some last minute, smaller gift ideas for your dancer! Sometimes you just need one more thing to add on. Though you’ll find some bigger business links throughout, we’ve tried our best highlight small businesses in the Irish dance community wherever possible and we hope you’ll join us in that goal!
1. Hand Sanitizer Holder
This year calls for hand sanitizer above all else. Help your dancer stay safe and healthy with a personalized hand sanitizer bottle holder that’s so cute they don’t mind keeping it on their bag! There’s personalized options, as well as more dance specific ones—it’s something everyone needs but wouldn’t necessarily think to buy (what other criteria do you need for a gift?)
Irish Dance Holder
Cartoon Dancer Holder
2. Zipper Pull Add On
These are a versatile gift that are both practical (some of those costume zippers can be tricky!) and decorative (many of these are advertised as sweatshirt pulls!) Between the stereotypically Irish (see the shamrock pull below) and the personalized options (even ones for male dancers pictured above,) each and every dancer can get something to add on to their bag or clothing. It’s always the little things we never think of!
Dancing Girl Pull
Personalized Name Pull with Color Options
3. Small Tech Items
For your tech-savvy dancer (who are we kidding, aren’t all kids tech savvy these days?), why not something for their most used item? Below we’ve also listed some phone cases, in case they’re not in the pop socket lovers camp, as well as a phone tripod—perfect for filming their sets to upload for their online class! We’re all learning to adapt this year.
Irish Dance Sets Phone Case
Irish Dance Wallet Phone Case
4. Poodle Socks
Can your dancer ever have enough of these? (A few more pairs and the laundry can be done less often!) While you can pick up a pair of plain white ones from the SRL office (we can even just charge it to your DSP account,) you can also pick up some fun colors and styles to help them mix up their look for class. (Besides, all the adults reading this know there’s no better holiday gift than socks!)
Swarovski Crystal Poodle Socks
Another Tie-Dye Option
And One More!
5. Cookie Cutters
So maybe not a dance accessory per say, but what’s the holidays without some treats? (I mean, we all need cheering up through the magic of butter and sugar throughout the winter.) Cookie cutters are a great way to get your dancer excited to contribute to the holiday table this year, while also teaching them an important life skill! (By which we mean baking cookies and not just eating the dough.)
Triquetra Celtic Knot Cookie Cutter
Irish Dance Dress Cookie Cutter
Claddagh Cookie Stamp Cutter
This is Volume VI of a series, read last week’s Saturday post with suggestions for presents for the Irish dance parents in your life. And 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.
For Parental Figures
Looking for the perfect Christmas gift for a child in your life who loves to dance, wiggle, or move? Our taster session will give them the gift of dance!
You didn’t think we’d forget the parents and guardians of our dancers, did you? Here’s a gift guide that caters toward those who cater to our dancers—we know they couldn’t do it without you! Whether you’re treating yourself or buying for someone else, here are some Irish dance themed gifts for the people who have been spending so much time waiting outside in their cars this year. Though you’ll find some bigger business links throughout, we’ve tried our best highlight small businesses in the Irish dance community wherever possible and we hope you’ll join us in that goal!
1. Insulated Travel Mug
Sláinte! With as many performances as possible being outdoors this year, you’re going to need something to keep that…coffee warm? Look, we won’t tell anyone what’s inside, but we all might as well cheers with a properly insulated drink in hand.
Inspirational Ghillies Travel Mug
“Irish Dance is the Best Dance” with Handle
Irish Dance Mom Travel Cup
2. Water Bottle
Your dancer isn’t the only one to get thirsty at a feis! Make sure you and your fellow dance parents stay hydrated too with their own water bottle (some more options with personalization are listed below.) This year, staying healthy is more of a priority than ever—and we all know that good health starts with water!
Sláinte Custom Water Bottle
Irish Dance Dad Water Bottle
Dance Dad Water Bottle
While all these ideas could easily be for mom, grandma, an aunt, or any Irish dance parental figure, they’re great options for your dancer as well. (Perhaps even some matching ones for mom and daughter, or whatever combination makes up your home!) Many of these options have beautiful, subtle personalization options such as a birth stone (of your dancer or dance mom!) or letter detail.
Ghillie Post Earrings
Personalized Heart Dancer Necklace
Celtic Knot Dangling Earrings
While Dad might not want a necklace necessarily, let him show his support through his gear too! We have some mom options below as well, and even one for grandma. There’s a way to let every member of your family show their support of your dancer—bonus points if you embarrass them just a little (we all know they secretly love seeing your support, no matter what they say!)
“Nothing Will Feis a Dance Dad” Tee
Irish Dance Mom Tee
Irish Dance Grandma Tee
This one might not seem as intuitive, but who wants to stand all day at a feis or performance? In fact, when we inquired with our parents about their feis essentials, something to sit on came up frequently (though not as much as this tip: remember your shoes!) With us not fully knowing what future competitions and performances will look like, this gift’s versatility makes it an even better buy (and that personalization means you’ll never walk away with the wrong chairs!)
Rechargeable Heated and Massaging Bleacher Seat
Personalized Bleacher Seat
Another Personalized Camp Chair
This goes along with chairs as something that can be: often personalized, always multipurpose, and a great gift for everyone! Keep warm while showing your support of your dancer at the next outdoor performance, or while snuggling up by a fire. Who doesn’t like to be cozy?
“Like a Normal Sport But Harder” Blanket
Personalized Photo Blanket
Personalized Sherpa Blanket
This is Volume V of a series. Come back next Saturday for the last installment or read last week’s for some wearable gift options. And 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.
Feis Survival Basket
Tonight we’re coming at you with a multifaceted gift idea for our competitive dancers: why not make them a “Feis Survival Basket”? We asked our parents and dancers to help us compile everything you could think of (and a few things you wouldn’t normally consider…) to bring to a feis. While we might not be attending as many feiseanna this year as in the past, these competitions were a vital part of your dancer’s life up until this year, and this gift has a bonus: a sense of normalcy, even as we learn to adapt.
And, 2020 notwithstanding, we’re still figuring out ways to make sure more feiseanna can happen! So, consider helping make the rest of your dancer’s competitions this year as seamless as possible by providing them with something truly unique, special, and practical this holiday. (P.S. Don’t forget a basket! It can always be home décor later.) Though you’ll find some bigger business links throughout, we’ve tried our best to promote small businesses in the Irish dance community wherever possible and we hope you’ll join us in that goal!
1. The Look
I can’t count how many times we were told the most important thing to bring to a feis is: everything. As in, make sure every part of your costume (and every member of your family) is in the car! Make it a little easier for them (and you!) to remember everything with a personalized checklist like the one pictured here.
But the look isn’t just the costume, is it? Below, we’ll list some staples you can pick up at your local drugstore or order on Instacart, however you’re shopping these days—but by having these items already set aside for a feis, you and your dancer are much less likely to forget them! And why not make some of them extra special? Think about adding in an Irish dance themed makeup bag (makeup is definitely on the list of things not to forget if they wear it!), a personalized compact mirror, and/or a personalized hairbrush to make their gift extra special. You could also consider adding in a new number clip! Here’s a bejeweled option, and some that are less glittery, more Celtic in design.
P.S. You can also check out our “For Your Competitor” installment of our “Irish Dancer Gift Guide Series,” for some additional add ons like customizable dress bags and shoes bags!
-Your costume, socks, and shoes
-Shoe buckles if desired
-Makeup bag and makeup
-Favorite lotion for legs and hands
-Sock glue if they use it!
-Hole punch for numbers
2. Rescue Items
These items are the real heroes, and maybe the most necessary things to include since they’re not the most obvious ones. Below you’ll find a list of many, many kinds of tape among other items that might come to the rescue one day, but there are some items you can make fun as well! While there’s always a good, ol’ utilitarian travel sewing kit, there are some cute options out there too. Same with scissors—sure, any old pair would do. But why not add something more fun in the mix with their favorite color, SRL’s colors, or even some glitter? That way everyone knows that pair of scissors belong in their feis survival kit, not anywhere else!
-Travel Sewing Kit
-Electrical tape (black for shoe repairs!)
-Rescue tape (2-sided fabric tape) in case a shoe catches a hem!
-Safety pins in various sizes
-Black shoe polish
-Their preferred deodorant
3. Staying Alert
Okay, I was wrong. These items are the real heroes, and not just because they involve snacks. These are the things to remember to help get you, your dancer, and anyone else from your family that’s attending through a long, long day. You know your dancer’s favorite snacks and I’m sure they’d be delighted to have them, but there’s always another option…something brand new! Companies like Munch Pak or Try the World offer one-offs or subscription services for a variety of tasty treats sourced from all over the world—the UK included. And don’t forget the most important fuel for every dancer: water! (Also, depending on their age, coffee.) A personalized water bottle or travel mug (more suggestions in coming gift guides!) is the easiest way to make sure they’re picking up the right one—something more of a concern than ever these days.
Beyond the three main food groups: snacks, water, and coffee, what else do you need to make it through? Something entertaining, of course! Include a pack of cards in the basket, an age-appropriate coloring book and colored pencils, or some books. While you can check out our Irish book recs here and here (and we have more for various age groups coming!) one fun option for those in the middle reader age range would be Grace’s Feis Survival Guide—what else could be more appropriate?
-Boredom killing activities (books, cards, etc.)
Next we have all the extras to consider: extra socks, extra laces, extra crystals and glue for their Champion costumes…not the most exciting part of basket, but just as important! We sell socks in the SRL office (and can just charge your DSP, very hassle free,) and you know where to buy laces and the type of crystals they might need. The rest of these extras are for you as much as them: cash in case this brilliant idea fails and you still forget something, medicine for the inevitable headache that follows that many hard shoe performances, and wet wipes (because they’re always useful—especially after all those snacks.) One more thing to consider: somewhere to sit! Portable camp chairs are a great option for some, bleacher chairs another, and collapsible stools (this one has a cooler backpack!) for those who may be wearing their competition dress—you don’t want your dancer getting tired or messing up her costume before the performance. (Though, if you go with one of these seats, you may need a bigger basket!)
-Extra crystals and glue if needed
5. Your Support!
The idea of this gift isn’t really about buying your dancer a lot of tape, of course. It’s about showing your support for all their hard work and passion! To quote one of our amazing parents, make sure to “pack your patience and an attitude that can celebrate that needed first or comfort a disappointing day.” For something extra special, maybe pre-write them some notes to be opened upon completing their next few feiseanna—kind of like packing them an encouraging note in their lunch. You know what your dancer will need to hear in case of success or failure more than anyone else, even if the moment hasn’t happened yet! In our “For Your Littlest Dancer” installment of our gift guides, you can find some fun (and some custom!) stationery options—all Irish dance themed—but we all know the real gift is in your encouragement.
This is bonus post of a series, come back next Saturday for the next installment or read the previous one all about Irish dancer décor here! And 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.
Looking for the perfect Christmas gift for a child in your life who loves to dance, wiggle, or move? Our taster session will give them the gift of dance!
This week on our Irish dancer gift guide series, we’re looking at apparel! Whether it be to relax in or for class (don’t worry, almost everything is available in SRL Academy colors,) these items are sure to excite an Irish dancer of any age. Though you’ll find some bigger business links throughout, we’ve tried our best highlight small businesses in the Irish dance community wherever possible and we hope you’ll join us in that goal!
While I’m sure everyone’s already ordered their SRL masks, we’re suggesting a few more options for both in the studio and out. So much has changed this year and that can be scary—personalized and/or decorative masks that show off your dancer’s interests can help demystify and normalize something that’s become our new reality. (And we all know we need more masks than we have if we want to wash them as directed—it’s time to start collecting!)
“Keep It Reel” Mask
While your dancer’s SRL hoodie is cozy, it does have to go in the wash sometimes. Here are a few options so they can rep their love of Irish dance no matter how long it takes to get to the laundry. The above option and the last option are unisex!
“Keep It Reel” Hoodie
Irish Dance Outline Hoodie
“Keep Calm and Feis On” Crewneck
3. Practice Tanks and Tees
While it might be getting chilly outside, once your dancer starts dancing, the studio can really heat up! Help them layer with a fun tank for under their sweatshirt and coat or gift them something new to sleep in at night. While most of these suggestions are for our female dancers, see the last one below for a great unisex option!
“Keepin’ It Reel” Tank
Harry Potter/Irish Dance Tee
“Keep Calm and Feis On” Tee
4. Light Tote
I know we all have a million tote bags, but don’t you use them all the time? From dance class to grocery shopping, school to a sleepover (fingers crossed we get back there,) a tote bag is one of the most versatile gifts you can give. For those dancers who don’t necessarily want to wear a dance tee, this can be the perfect way for them to show their passion for dance in a more understated way!
Irish Dancer Outline Tote
Custom Tote with Pocket
Dance Sets Print Tote
5. Key Chains/Bag Accessories
Then, there’s always an even more understated way to show your love of Irish dance: with a small bag accessory! For the male or female dancer (some non-glittery options below,) this is a great way to know which one is yours while also adding a fun and decorative element to your dance gear, purse, or school bag. And with so many personalized options out there, there’s something for everyone!
5, 6, 7, 8 with Tassel
Assorted Irish Dance Bag Tags
“I Love Irish Dance” Key Chain
6. Charm Bracelets
While this might not be the right thing for every one of our dancers, jewelry that commemorates their love of Irish dance could be a smash hit this holiday! Charm bracelets have a classic, old-fashioned appeal with the added bonus of being able to be added on to year after year. We’ve given some additional jewelry options below in case your dancer would be more interested in something with a little less jangle.
Irish Dancer Dangling Earrings
Personalized Bar Pendant Necklace
Modern Charm Bracelet
This is Volume IV of a series. Come back next Saturday for the next installment or read last week’s for some décor gift suggestions for your dancer. And 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.
Looking for the perfect Christmas gift for a child in your life who loves to dance, wiggle, or move? Our taster session will give them the gift of dance!
This week in our installment of gift guides for your Irish dancer, we have something for everyone within our next topic: Irish dance décor! From the glittery to subdued, Christmas ornaments to mugs, there’s something for every dancer who might come into the studio. Though you’ll find some bigger business links throughout, we’ve tried our best highlight small businesses in the Irish dance community wherever possible and we hope you’ll join us in that goal! (Fun note: most of the items are customizable with SRL’s (or your child’s bedroom) colors!)
Keep them dreaming of dance by having it be the last thing they see at night and the first thing they see when they wake up with these completely customizable prints. There’s as many ways to go with this idea as there are ways to decorate your home, but we’ve gathered a few, diverse options for you to peruse. From the artistic to the inspiring, help your dancer make their room an expression of their passion (while still keeping everything coordinated!) Who knows, maybe it will even help them pick up their room (note: not a guarantee.)
Name and Color Personalized
Male Irish Dancer Print
Outline Drawing Print
2. Wall Decals
Don’t worry, Mom and Dad, they peel right off! (And without harming standard paint!) Nothing gets a kid more excited than a “new room” and that can be achieved with only a few details! Get some wall decals, a new comforter, and maybe some of the prints above, and everything feels refreshed. What better holiday present could there be then redecorating the space we’re now all spending so much time in?
Inspirational Ghillie Decal
Male and Female Dancer Decal
Shamrock Heart Decal
If your family puts up a Christmas tree, why not commemorate their love of dance with an ornament? Whether you’re celebrating them beginning their dance journey, or celebrating their wins (see the second one below,) an ornament is something they can keep forever—one day putting it on their own family’s tree. A fun and sentimental keepsake!
Female Personalized Ornament
Qualifier Personalized Ornament
Another one for those of us who celebrate Christmas: why not a stocking to go with that ornament? It might not match the rest of your holiday décor, but it sure will give Santa a laugh when he sees this personalized ghillie stocking! We’re all trying to find ways to make these holidays as wonderful as possible with everything this year has brought, and something like this customized to your dancer is a perfect way to make them feel special.
Female Dancer Stocking
Personalized Photo Irish Stocking
5. Bedside Light
If you don’t want to commit to hanging or sticking something to your walls, consider something a little less permanent—like this customizable bedside light. For what’s been posted so far, can also choose to just purchase the decal and apply it wherever you want (and who doesn’t love a good sticker?) Below are some more fun options for a variety of tastes:
With Academy Name
Irish Dancer Silhouette Light
Female Irish Dancer Nightlight
The above mug may be specific to Irish dance sisters, but we know we have a lot of them at SRL! See the suggestions below for more mug options if your dancer doesn’t have a sibling. Might as well get something fun for your dancer to drink their cocoa out of this winter!
“Reel Deal” Mug
Male/Female Dancer Personalized Mug
This is Volume III of a series. Come back next Saturday for the next installment or read last week’s for some gift tips for your feis-obsessed dancer. And 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.
For Your Competitor
Looking for the perfect Christmas gift for a child in your life who loves to dance, wiggle, or move? Our taster session will give them the gift of dance!
This week on our Irish dancer gift guide, we’re concentrating on a different group of dancers: the feis enthusiasts! Is your dancer laser-focused on perfecting their moves before the next feis? Do they love moving up through the levels? Are you running out of places to put their ribbons? Then this is the guide is for you. And though you’ll find some bigger business links throughout, we’ve tried our best to uplift small businesses in the Irish dance community wherever possible and we hope you’ll join us in that goal! (Fun note: most of the items are customizable with SRL’s colors!)
1. Ribbon Hangers
This one’s a no-brainer for the dancer who has more feis ribbons than they know what to do with—who doesn’t need more organizational options in their life? There’s more options for these than I could possibly post here, so there’s an option to fit every dancer’s style. (And, if your dancer is more about dancing recreationally—or just younger—they make a pretty cute jewelry or coat hanger as well!)
Dancing Girl Ribbon Hanger
Comes in a Variety of Sizes
2. Shoe Bags
One pair of ghillies looks like every other pair of ghillies—so help your dancer come home with her own shoes with these personalized Irish dance shoe bags! Beyond that obvious benefit, this will keep whatever they stepped in from getting anywhere near the rest of their things, as well as protect those expensive shoes.
Personalized Dance Shoe Bag
3. Water Bottles
Almost everything in this post is able to be personalized, and for good reason—many kids and teens aren’t always the most careful with their personal belongings. These days, a personalized water bottle is more than a cute present, it’s a safety measure that will help your dancer steer clear of cross-contamination with their friends (or someone else with a blue water bottle.) The option pictured comes in a variety of fonts and colors, and there’s even male and female dancer decals you can add!
Personalized Bottle with Shoes
Lidded Cup with Straw
4. Makeup Bags
Get your little treble maker something to keep false lashes and stage makeup in! Makeup bags run in that same realm of avoiding any cross contamination with friends, while also ensuring your dancer comes home with their own belongings. They can also be used as regular makeup bags, pencil cases, or general carryalls for those who prefer not get under those bright lights.
“Feis Face” Bag
“Hard Work Beats Lazy Talent” Bag
“Eat, Sleep, Dance, Repeat” Bag
5. Custom Competition Mask and Tiara
This gift idea goes the extra mile and really embraces the reality of all the 2020 feiseanna. This Etsy seller will work with you to create two pieces that matches your dancer’s costume perfectly, along with a coordinating wrist band to hold the mask! Not many people do this kind of specialty work, so below I’ve linked a few fun hair accessories (for practice days,) instead.
Ghillie Hair Bows
Sequined “Dance” Shamrock Headband
6. Dress Bags
Those competition dresses have all kinds of embellishments and can be pretty pricey—might as well make sure they’re well protected! Note the “lemon wedge” shape, perfect for keeping that full skirt as neat as when it was hanging in the closet. See below for a personalized garment bag versus dress bag—perfect for our male dancers’ costumes!
With Matching Duffel
Customizable Sizes with Claddagh
Personalized Garment Bag
This is Volume II of a series. Come back next Saturday for the next installment or read last week’s for some gift tips for our youngest dancers. And 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.
For Your Littlest Dancer
Looking for the perfect Christmas gift for a child in your life who loves to dance, wiggle, or move? Our taster session will give them the gift of dance!
With the holiday season creeping up on us, often so does the stress—and no more so than this year. We know a lot of parents have been feeling extra pressure to make holidays special for their kids in a year that’s been so out of the ordinary, so we’re here to help! Check out the blog every Saturday until the end of December for holiday gift guides for your Irish dancer—from stocking stuffers and accessories to prints and ideas for Mom and Dad—we’ll post a little something for everyone. Though you’ll find some bigger business links throughout, we’ve tried our best to promote small businesses in the Irish dance community wherever possible and we hope you’ll join us in that goal! First up, some fun ideas for our littlest dancers:
1. Picture Books
While a lot of Irish dance related books feature a female Irish dancer in traditional competition dress (which is fun, too! see more picture book suggestions below…) this book, written by Anna Marlis Bergard and illustrated by Leighanne Dees, is a rare children’s book about male Irish dancers. Set in old Ireland, Flying Feet: A Story of Irish Dance tells the story of two competing Dance Masters (learn more about them in our Origins of Irish Dance series here!) in the town of Ballyconneely. (It’s even reportedly based on a true event.)
Irish Dancer: Oireachtas
Kathleen O’Byrne: Irish Dancer
Irish Dancing Girl
(P.S. If none of these books are your style, check out our other Irish children's book recommendations here.)
2. Stuffed Animals
Get your Tiny Jig or Pre-Beginner dancer something new to bring into class with them! While the bear featured in the picture has a competition dress on, this toy maker, Paddy Pals, has a wide variety of Irish bears, each with their own occupation and story. Check out their website—you won’t be disappointed in the care they put into each bear! (Or look below for a few more bear and non-bear options.)
Personalized, Various Animals
Stuffed Dancer Doll
3. Dolls and Doll Clothes
For your dancer with her eye on the prize, this Etsy seller has created a mini-version of a competition dress (advertised for American Girl dolls, but it should fit any 18 inch doll!) While they may not be able to compete just yet, setting goals and achieving them is one of the biggest benefits of starting your littlest in dance classes early. Help your dancer visualize their goal through play!
A Male and Female Pair!
Another Option with Ghillies
Irish Dancer Nutcracker
4. Coloring and Activity Books
Sometimes, it’s hard to get your kids to practice. There’s nothing that will help that more than getting them excited about dancing, and activity books like these are the perfect way to have them thinking about dance even when they’re sitting still! And, not to mention, coloring has been proven to help improve motor skills, improve concentration, and develop a rich creative life—it’s a lot like dance that way.
Irish Dancer Activity Book
Irish Dance Coloring Book
Another Coloring Book
This one may seem out of left field, but I loved receiving stationery as a kid: it makes you feel grown up (especially if they’re personalized like these!) There are some benefits (outside of the excitement over the new gel pens I’d recommend as an addition) too: learning about our mail system, practicing writing, and teaching manners. Who knows—maybe you can even get grandma or one of your dancer’s cousins to write back and start a pen-pal relationship! Who doesn’t love getting real mail?
Personalized Male Irish Dancer Cards
Irish Dancers Rock Cards
Irish Dancer Cards
6. Dance Bag
This personalized, sequined dance bag is the perfect present to make each dance class feel special. Our smallest dancers don’t have a need for a larger, studio duffel just yet, just somewhere to put their water bottle and teddy—these drawstring backpacks are the perfect size! And for our less glitzy dancers, check out some non-sequined options below:
Dancing Girl Tote
Plain Cinch Backpack
This is Volume I of a series, come back next Saturday for the next installment! And 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.
Children’s Books, Part 1
So, your child is interested in Ireland. While an appreciation for Ireland’s art of music and dance can be obtained by taking some Irish dance classes at SRL (of course,) what about the rest of the country’s culture? We’ve gathered together a few picture books that may intrigue them and will definitely teach them more about Ireland’s rich history and traditions:
1. Fiona’s Luck, Teresa Bateman
Illustrations by Kelly Murphy
This story is an original, but pulls from the ancient legend of one of Ireland’s most beloved myths: the leprechaun. Fiona and her people are newly arrived to the Irish shore, and the Leprechaun King is fed up—these “big folk” are hogging all the luck! When the King locks all the luck on the island away, Fiona and her village face many hardships before Fiona, with intelligence, ingenuity, and a dash of cunning, comes up with a plan to get it back. While both Bateman and Murphy are Americans, the reviews agree that the soft, delicate illustrations really bring Ireland to life. Take a break and let a librarian read this tale to your little one, with Storytime Now!’s YouTube channel (a great resource for many a reading!)
2. This is Ireland, Miroslav Sasek
If your kid is looking for facts instead of flights of fancy, this is the book for you! Part of a series that travels all over the world, Sasek’s history of Ireland for children was originally written and illustrated in the 1960s but has lost none of its charm (don’t worry—anything that needs to has been updated for this century!) This is Ireland is recommended all over as what to read your child before you take a trip to Ireland (one day again, maybe…) as it spans the entire Emerald Isle: from Trinity College to the Blarney stone, from bustling Dublin to peaceful fields of shamrocks. Sasek, primarily a painter, gives an accurate depiction of Ireland while keeping a sense of whimsy with his vibrant, stylized illustrations.
3. Brave Margaret: An Irish Adventure, Robert D. San Souci
Illustrated by Sally Wern Comport
Does your child love Disney’s Brave? This is a similar story set in old Ireland instead of Scotland! Margaret is a farmer’s daughter in County Donegal when a ship arrives in the harbor with a young Prince who promises adventure. But when a sea serpent attacks and Margaret is separated from the ship, she finds that she has the strength inside her to defeat monsters all on her own. Truly in the spirit of “girl power,” the author cites his source as a West Irish tale dating back to the 1800s and its timelessness is a must read for children of all ages. A fifth grade teacher recorded a wonderful bedtime reading of this story (in her pajamas,) which you can access here.
4.Tales from Old Ireland, Malachy Doyle
Illustrated by Niamh Sharkey and narrated by Maura O’Connell
Written by a Northern Irish native, this collection of seven fairytales comes with a bonus: the included audiobook was recorded by legendary Irish folk singer, Maura O’Connell. Though this is a picture book, it is a very traditional book of fairytales—make sure to check over the stories for content before your littlest ones start reading or listening (some details of the stories: here.) Complimented by rich, muted borders and a full-size painting for each story, Doyle even includes a pronunciation guide for unfamiliar Irish words and names. Think of Tales from old Ireland as an Irish version of Mother Goose (or maybe, more accurately, the Brothers’ Grimm.)
5. Brigid’s Cloak: An Ancient Irish Story, Bryce Milligan
Illustrated by Helen Cann
Brigid’s Cloak is another tale that harkens back to the ancient days of Ireland, but this one is a classic retold for children’s ears. St. Brigid (along with St. Patrick) is both a historical figure and the patron saint of Ireland in the Catholic tradition, but this story concentrates on one aspect of her legend: her cloak. The fable goes that Brigid was given a beautiful, blue cloak when she was born by a mysterious, Druidic figure. As she grew older and became a kind, charitable young woman, the cloak grows more tattered, but it still harnesses a very special power that allows her to perform a miracle that reflects her generous heart. Reviews all praise the book’s lyric prose and its ability to truly represent the conflicting aspects of Ireland (pastoral, but representing the Pagans, Christianity, and a belief in magic) in a child-friendly way that doesn’t take sides. So, while there are some religious aspects to the story (Brigid meeting the baby Jesus in Bethlehem, for instance,) it concentrates more on Brigid’s famed generosity than her beliefs.
This is Volume IV of a series, read about some Irish Adult Contemporary 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.
Adult Contemporary Fiction, Part I
It’s 2020, and that means you’re still probably spending more time than you used to at home. What better time to actually start reading more? (You know you always say you’re going to.) The following are a few recommendations for books by some of Ireland’s best contemporary authors to help you make a start!
Content warning: these books deal with a variety of adult topics and are only recommended for our parents and our oldest dancers!
1. In the Woods, Tana French
This one is a bit of a cheat: Tana French is technically an American, but even the Irish have dubbed her the “First Lady of Irish Crime,” so I think it’s appropriate to include this long-standing resident of Ireland. The opening for French’s Dublin Murder Squad series (which don’t have the be read in any particular order) will be perfect for anyone who loves 1) true crime, 2) detective novels, and 3) a slow-burning mystery. The book follows the cynical voice of Rob Ryan as he and his partner, Cassie Maddox (narrator of the next book: The Likeness,) investigate the murder of a 12-year-old girl—a case that very well may be connected to Rob’s childhood. This critically acclaimed book is now a series titled Dublin Murders on Starz.
2. Normal People, Sally Rooney
At only 29-years-old, Sally Rooney is the new wunderkind of adult contemporary literature with her two lauded novels: 2018’s Normal People and 2017’s Conversations with Friends. These are quietly psychological novels, concentrating on all the complexities tangling up the relationships of (in both cases) college students. In Normal People, we follow Connell and Marianne as they try to navigate their unspoken, but deep connection to each other as they grow out of their small town in County Sligo into something like adults while students at Trinity College in Dublin. This startlingly intimate book has been made into a hit limited series on Hulu, with Conversations with Friends optioned and due to start filming any day now.
3. Skippy Dies, Paul Murray
A darkly funny take on the classic boarding school novel, Paul Murray’s second book’s title reveals the crux of the entire plot: the main character, a 14-year-old boy named Skippy, falls down dead in a donut shop in the first few pages. The expansive novel (600 pages!) that follows retraces how we got there and deals with the aftermath of a grieving community in a tragic comedy full of everything from string theory to Celtic mythology, with plenty of biting satire in between. Long-listed for the 2010 Booker Prize, Skippy Dies is based on Paul Murray’s own time at an Irish all-male boarding school and it’s the interplay between that almost gothic setting with an adolescent coming-of-age story that creates its balanced tone and finds the humor in life’s inherent spots of darkness.
4. The Wonder, Emma Donoghue
Emma Donoghue may be best known for Room (which was made into a movie that netted Brie Larson her Best Actress Oscar in 2015,) but The Wonder has a more distinctly Irish feel. Though set in 1859, the book metaphorically tackles something key to even the modern Irish identity: the relationship between the Irish and the English. The Wonder tells the story of an English nurse named Libby Wright who travels to a small Irish town to investigate a medical anomaly…or a miracle. The case is that of eleven-year-old Anna O’Donnell who hasn’t had a morsel of food for months, and the interest that springs up around her shapes itself into a slow-moving but deeply felt mystery that transforms all in its reach. Donoghue is a prolific, usually historical writer (this book is based on stories of “fasting girls” from the 16th-20th centuries,) but this is her first book actually set in her home country of Ireland.
5. A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, Eimear McBride
Eimear McBride’s debut novel has won many a prize and with good reason: A Girl is a Half-formed Thing was called “blazingly original” by no less than The New Yorker. While its unique style might make it a more challenging read for some, McBride tells her story through an almost stream-of-consciousness narrative poem that tackles the biggest possible topics: religion, abuse, illness, death, and even love. The reader exists intensely within the head of the unnamed, young, female narrator, brought along as she processes her brother’s childhood cancer and deals with her chaotic family life in an unspecified Irish town. With all the details stripped away, the book becomes somehow more Irish as its almost Joycean lyricism gets you closer to a sense of true identity than anything more neatly delineated—something felt rather than explainable.
This is Volume III of a series, read Volume II about modern Irish slang 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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