Middle Grade, Part 3
Summer is in full swing, and that means it’s time for summer reading! The middle grade age range (8-12) is one of the most important times in a young reader’s development—when they learn deeper comprehension, strategic reading, to increase their vocabulary and reading speed, and help develop their writing and communication skills along the way. These middle grade books are set in Ireland, to help our Irish dancers not only get interested in reading, but even more interested in the country their favorite hobby comes from along the way!
1. Skulduggery Pleasant, Derek Landry
The first book (of 15!) in the Skulduggery Pleasant series follows 12-year-old Stephanie as she inherits her horror-writer uncle’s estate upon his death. One night, alone in the house, Stephanie is rescued from a mysterious man by a walking, talking skeleton mage named Skulduggery Pleasant, and discovers that her uncle’s books may not have been fiction after all. Stephanie and her new friend team up to defeat the evil wizard Serpine, who’s looking for a magic specter that will give him tyrannical powers. Full of gallows humor (what else would you call a wisecracking skeleton?), this is a series of action, adventure, and magic, with a dash of finding yourself thrown in. The series has won numerous awards (including Publishers Weekly Best Books, ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults, and the IRA/CBC Young Adults’ Choice, among others) and a screenplay is in the works! Perfect for the pre-teen who loves all things creepy and good, long series to tuck into.
2. So Far From Home: The Diary of Mary Driscoll, an Irish Mill Girl, Barry Deneberg
This is a personal recommendation from our Office Manager, Devon, who was obsessed with this series of “diaries” written by young woman throughout American history called “Dear America” when she was a middle grade reader (there’s one for every era you can think of, and a related series about young royals, as well!) This particular book focuses on the Irish immigrant experience, following a fictional girl named Mary Driscoll who escapes the Great Famine by coming to America—landing in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1847. The narrative is chock-full of Irish idioms and speech patterns of the time, as well as astoundingly accurate historical detail that will really bring the time period to life for young readers. Due to the historical nature of the books, they often deal with serious subjects (in this one: multiple deaths—particularly of parents—dangerous mill conditions, disease, and poverty), but hold both historical (there’s even an appendix with historical details—like popular songs and fashions) and life lessons within the hard truths.
3. Benny and Babe, Eoin Colfer
Technically the second book in Colfer’s (of Artemis Fowl fame) Benny duology, but readers can enjoy the books in any order! When 13-year-old Benny Shaw returns to Ireland for the summer from his new home in Tunisia (see the first book, Benny and Omar, for that story,) there’s not much to do at his lighthouse-keeper grandad’s on the coast. That’s until Benny meets Babe—the town tomboy and entrepreneur—who involves him in her “business”: reselling fishing lures to the same fishermen who lost them. A competition arises between the pair and bad boy ex-con Furty Howlin, but when danger arises community proves more important than their fight. Described as full of strong character development and a vibrant narrative voice, as well as plenty of Irish colloquialisms and humor, this coming-of-age novel deals with everything from bad home lives and first loves with a sensitivity and candor young readers will appreciate.
4. Across the Divide, Brian Gallagher
Amazingly, we’ve managed to find TWO Irish middle grade books with male protagonists—something unfortunately hard to find in the children’s book sphere. This historical novel follows best friends Liam and Nora during the 1913 Dublin Lockout, where they find themselves as purported enemies. With Nora’s father being a successful wine merchant and Liam’s father being a mechanic and trade union member, their families find themselves on opposite sides during this major industrial dispute that included strikes and riots—one of the most significant disputes of its kind in Irish history. Liam and Nora’s perspective as young people caught in a conflict they don’t fully understand is an excellent window into this complicated and turbulent part of history for a young reader. Rife with danger and hardship, but always keeping humor at the forefront, this adventure will make—or break—Nora and Liam’s friendship. Learn more about the book from the author himself here.
5. The Singing Stone, O.R. Melling
One of the older books on the list (published in 1987—so not that old,) Melling’s coming-of-age fantasy novel combines a modern protagonist with the deep mythology and legend of Old Ireland. The story follows a young, orphaned artist named Kay as she returns to her homeland of Ireland from Canada after she begins experiencing dream-visions. In something like a middle grade, Irish version of Outlander (which is definitely adult-only,) Kay is transported back to the Bronze Age where she becomes responsible for recovering the lost treasures of the mythical race known as the Tuatha Dé Danann while a foreign invasion happens around her. With moral lessons that mirror modern ones worked into the complex tapestry of Celtic themes Melling weaves, we’re given historical context along with something to bring into our lives in real time. With excellent ratings across platforms, “it’s a time-slip adventure story with a lot of heart.”
This post is part of a series. Read our last modern Ireland post, with picture book recs for our littlest dancers, here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
Children’s Books, Part 4
With summer vacation just now getting underway, there’s a lot of extra time to fill for all our SRL parents! We’re here with some book recommendations for our littlest dancers (aka picture books) to help keep your child’s interest on Ireland and Irish dance over the break while entertaining them. (Maybe it will even inspire some practice!) Enjoy!
1. The Irish Cinderlad, Shirley Climo
Illustrated by Loretta Krupinski
This one is an incredible mash-up, with a twist to boot: not only is it a reimagining of Cinderella mixed with Irish folklore—it’s a gender-swap with a male protagonist! Becan’s always been worried about his big feet, but his worries multiple when his father remarries and his stepmother and her three daughters treat Becan cruelly. Becan runs away to escape a life with only bread crusts to eat and toiling in the field, and finds himself on a grand adventure. With a magical bull for a fairy godmother for help, Becan defeats creatures out of Irish lore and rescues a princess—running off and leaving only his remarkably large boot behind. When the princess is searching the kingdom for the owner of the giant boot, Becan wonders: what will be his fate when his feet give him away? This book has overwhelmingly positive reviews on Goodreads and Amazon for its mix of familiar fairytale with Irish myth (and for being one of the rare fairytales that centers on a male!)--get a preview with this video of the book being read out loud!
2. Kathleen O’Byrne: Irish Dancer, Declan Carville & Brendan Ellis
Books about Irish dance are rare, and we’ve covered a few already in previous posts (check out part 2 or some holiday gift ideas for more,) but if you look hard enough you can find a few hiding out there on the internet! This one tells readers about a young Irish dancer named Kathleen, who practices her jigs, reels, and hornpipes any available moment of the day. Kathleen longs to wear an embroidered dress at a feis like the older dancers, and she’s absolutely crushed when she’s told she isn’t quite ready for that step. However, with the help of some neighborhood friends, she learns how to deal with disappointment and that the most important part of Irish dance isn’t the costumes or competitions, but the joy the art can bring her and others! This very important lesson for any Irish dancer to learn is complimented by beautiful illustrations painted by medical illustrator Ellis and even has a special feature about the history of Irish dance!
3. Fin M’Coul: The Giant of Knockmany Hill, Tomie dePaola
Tomie dePaola’s books are all classics for multiple reasons: his iconic and instantly recognizable illustrations, his ability to translate the mythology of a multitude of cultures for little readers, and his ability to fill any lore with charm, kindness, and grace. This ALA Notable Book is no different as dePaola tackles one of the most iconic stories in Irish mythology: Fin M’Coul and the creation of the Giant’s Causeway. When Fin M’Coul is spending his days in peace on Knockmany Hill when he’s challenged by the Scottish giants across the sea. M’Coul spends his days building a causeway to go confront the Scottish when he learns that a much bigger and stronger giant, Cucullin is the one waiting to fight him. Terrified, M’Coul tells his wife Oonagh of his fears, and she comes up with a clever plan full of magic and cunning to save her husband. Along with the detailed borders based on ancient Irish metalwork, you can’t get more Irish than this! (And don’t miss dePaola’s other Irish books: Jamie O’Rourke and the Big Potato and Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland.)
4. Irish Dancer: Oireachtas, Katherine Monahan
Illustrated by Katy Jackson
That’s right, we managed to find not one, but two books about Irish dance! For our Irish dance parents a little newer to the world, let us explain the second part of the title: Oireachtas (pronounced, roughly, ee-ruck-tuhz) is a larger dance competition for dancers competing at a higher level (a step above a feis, let’s say—you have to qualify to compete!) Monahan is a veteran Irish dancer who started dancing at 9 and ended her career by attending the Oireachtas World Championship in Ireland, so you know she knows her stuff! Accompanied by Jackson’s lively illustrations that help capture the unique movements of Irish dance out in the wider world, this story follows an Irish dancer as she practices and prepares for a big competition. But it’s not just about competing! It’s about determination in reaching your goals, as well as the happiness, confidence, and the strength that comes from the incredible artistic sport of Irish dance—a must read for our future World Champs! Listen to Monahan talk about her book on The Irish Dance podcast here.
5. A Pot O’ Gold: A Treasury of Irish Stories, Poetry, Folklore, and (of course) Blarney, Kathleen Krull
Illustrated by David M. Phail
With a classic illustration style that will remind parents of the nursery rhyme treasuries of their childhood, Krull’s collection tackles the huge historical, mythological, and literary lore of the Emerald Isle. Combining everything from beloved recipes and stories to timeless poems by Yeats and Joyce and traditional songs (never forgetting those bits of blarney all the way through,) this collection is meant for families to enjoy throughout the years together. These tales and this rich history has engaged imaginations throughout the world for thousands of years—and these legends of everything from leprechauns and faeries to the real life culture of Ireland helps continue the tradition. A truly unique volume for both its expansiveness (over 50 individual entries!) and its effectiveness, this is one that every generation can enjoy together.
This post is part of a series. Read our last modern Ireland post, all about 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.
Young Adult Books, Part 2
Check out part 1 here!
As the school year creeps to a close, it’s easy for our YA-aged dancers (somewhere in the 13 to 18-year-old range) to feel bogged down all their school work. So why not give them something to read for fun instead? We’ve gathered together five (very different) YA books by Irish authors, set in Ireland, perfect for the YA Irish dancer in your life!
1. Perfectly Preventable Deaths, Deidre Sullivan
In the first part of this two-book series, readers are introduced to 16-year-old twins Catlin and Madeline as they move into a castle located in a small, isolated Irish town called Ballyfran. Even as the girls begin to grow apart—Madeline discovering her skill at witchcraft, and Catlin falling in love—they begin to realize that Ballyfran isn’t all that it seems. The seemingly sleepy town holds many a dark secret (and more than a few even darker inhabitants,) including the fact that for the past 60 years, teenage girls have mysteriously gone missing from the town. When Catlin finds herself in trouble, Madeline must really look at who she is—and who she’s willing to become—to help her sister. Eerie and haunting, but beautifully wrought, Sullivan’s book is full of twists and turns as if the reader is traversing the darkling wood alongside the twins as readers reflect on family and sacrifice.
2. Hope Against Hope, Sheena Wilkinson
Wilkinson, a five-time winner of the Children’s Books Ireland award (among other accolades,) tackles one of the most turbulent times in Irish history in this emotive and moving novel. Polly is a 15-year-old girl in 1921, living in the fictional town of Mullankeen near the border that’s been recently drawn between Ireland and Northern Ireland. When Polly’s difficult home life becomes too much, she takes off to even more turbulent Belfast where she finds solace and a new home at Helen’s Hope—a feminist and non-sectarian hostel for young women. Set against a richly described backdrop of a gritty and violent Belfast, Wilkinson balances the historical details against a character-driven plot that tells us more of the time than history books alone. This book is technically the third in a loosely connected series depicting important events through a young, female protagonist—readers can also check out Name Upon Name, set in 1916 during the Easter Rising, as well as Star Upon Star, which depicts the General Election of 1918, when woman first had the right to vote in Ireland.
3. The Carnival at Bray, Jessie Ann Foley
In this award-winning (and heavily nominated) book, Foley tells the story of 16-year-old Maggie Lynch as she’s made to move from Chicago to a small town on the Irish Sea with her mother and her mother’s latest boyfriend. The year is 1993, and Maggie misses the music scene of the big city and her grunge-rocker, 20-something Uncle Kevin, finding it just as hard to fit in in Ireland as she did in America. However, the small town begins to open a new world to her and through her friendships with the locals—a 99-year-old man, a bookish girl, and sweet boy she may just be falling in love with—Maggie finds pockets of security in amidst familial turmoil. With the twin formative experiences of death and first love happening in tandem, this powerful and transformative story anchors itself in the evocative and deeply felt world of music. Make sure to check out more of Foley’s work as well—the Irish-American streak runs strong!
4. The Bull Raid, Carlo Gébler
On an original and very different note, Gébler’s adapted a famous, epic Irish poem, “The Cattle Raid of Cooley” for YA readers, melding ancient myth with modern telling. Presented as a story within a story, almost lost to time, the narrative follows the half-human, half-god Cuchulainn. Since childhood, Cuchulainn has shown himself to have supernatural powers, including escaping from the curse that plagues the rest of the men of Ulster. The curse saps the strength of the men during the winter, leaving the covetable Brown Bull of Ulster vulnerable to attack by the renowned Queen Maeve of Connacht–which leaves Cuchulainn to take on an army all on his own. Gébler takes an old tale and breathes new life into it, creating real characters out of legend—including a teenage boy with too many responsibilities on his plate—in this beautifully told, if sometimes brutal, saga.
5. Into the Grey, Celine Kiernan
Kiernan’s novel brings us a rarity in typical YA fiction: a male protagonist. Well, two! Twin brothers Patrick and Dominic are devastated when their family home burns down and they’re forced to move into a summer seaside cottage in mid-winter. This eerie, fog-drenched, Irish setting sounds like the setup of a ghost story—because that’s exactly what it is. Pat and Dom are beset by nightmares soon after they move in, but slowly discover that these nightmares aren’t just their imaginations, but something more sinister from the past. Set in the early 1970s, Kiernan combines family and local history into a story about love, loyalty, and what we’ll do to protect those we care about in this deft combination of historical and supernatural fiction. Poetic, touching, and occasionally scary, this energetic story is punctuated by Irish diction that helps you sink into the world of the story.
Want a few more options? Check out this great list of YA by Irish authors!
This post is part of a series. Read modern Ireland post, all about DCU, 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 Movies, Part 2
As March comes to a close, so does much of the celebration revolving around Ireland—but for an Irish dancer, that never really ends! Participating in Irish dance is a year-round celebration of Irish culture and music, so why not bring that into your home? Here are five kid-friendly films revolving around Ireland and Irish lore (including a particularly exciting new release, all about Irish dance!)
1. Riverdance: The Animated Adventure (2021, G)
77% Rotten Tomatoes
Watch on Netflix
For the little Irish dancer, this is the most exciting new release in years! (And this film has led a lot of new dancers to SRL’s doors, so you know it’s got to be good.) The film follows a young boy named Keegan from the Irish village of River’s End where his grandfather (a former Irish dancer) loves to tell him stories from Irish lore—like the tales of the giant deer called Megaloceros Giganteus whose magical dancing gives water and life to the region. However, when Keegan has to face the loss of his beloved grandfather and the new responsibilities that come with it, he’s understandably overwhelmed. With the help of his Spanish friend, Moya, Keegan travels to a land of myth and legend where he learns his grandfather’s stories were more than stories—and his village may be in trouble! Full of fun and whimsy, with plenty of Irish culture thrown in (though brought together in a whole new fairytale,) the music and dance sequences will have your dancer jigging along! (And with Pierce Brosnan, Brendan Gleeson, and Lily Singh among the talented voice actors, there’s something for the adult viewers, too.)
2. The Luck of the Irish (2001, G)
53% Rotten Tomatoes
Watch on Disney+
Millennial parents might remember this one! While this isn’t the most Irish movie on our list per say, this Disney Channel Original Movie has the nostalgia factor for some, and doesn’t skimp on the entertainment for new little viewers. Junior high basketball player Kyle Johnson seems like just your average teenager, with more than average luck—but he doesn’t know the details of his family’s history. When Kyle finds out his family’s secret, straight out of Irish lore, he also learns the importance of honoring your past while concentrating on the present—with some leprechaun-laden hijinks in between. It’s not the most cohesive film of all time, but that’s part of the fun! It’s a little bit of St. Patrick’s Day silliness for young watchers who will love a scene of leprechauns playing basketball and won’t question magical gold coins dispensing luck. It’s classic 2000s Disney Channel in every possible way—ridiculous, but a heart (or pot) of gold.
3. Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959, G)
77% Rotten Tomatoes
Watch on Disney+
The oldest film on the list, but the second with Disney origins, this film was the brainchild of Walt Disney himself (conceived of on a trip to Ireland and announced there in 1948—though it would take a decade for the film to be made due to WWII.) The story follows the titular Darby O’Gill who’s railing against being forced into retirement when a scare from a pooka causes him to fall down a well and into the stories of his ancestors. What follows is a rollicking adventure where Darby must match wits with the King Brian of the leprechauns to win his proverbial pot of gold. A young Sean Connery plays Darby’s replacement (and his daughter Katie’s love interest—and no, that’s no actually him singing,) and the film uses camera tricks rather than our modern CGI to create the leprechaun illusions—a fun throwback to another time. While kids may not recognize the nostalgia, they’ll enjoy this early Hollywood film that feels fully Irish, rather than Irish-American (don’t take my word for it, check out this think piece in The Irish Times.)
4. The Best of Riverdance (2005, Unrated)
Buy on Amazon
So this one isn’t a narrative storyline like the others, but it is a must-watch for those just beginning to fall in love with Irish dance! This may be a documentary, but the majority of screen time is devoted to incredible dancing, from the original stars Michael Flatley and Jean Butler to the most recent performances. Included are clips of the original 1995 Eurovision contest performance, a 1997 New York performance with Colin Dunne replacing Flatley, and a 2003 performance in Geneva featuring new leads: Brendán de Gallaí and Joanne Doyle. As the show has gradually evolved over the years with its different performers, this film is a rare and unparalleled experience as it splices three different iterations of the spectacular stage experience together into one. (And, if you’re interested in more of the history, the DVD includes behind the scenes footage, a separate documentary, and further performances!) Want a preview? Check out “Reel Around the Sun” (from 11 years ago, a 1996 New York performance!) here.
5. The Magical Legend of the Leprechauns (1999, PG)
80% Rotten Tomatoes
Watch on Prime
Here’s the thing—children’s movies about Ireland are pretty heavy on the leprechauns, which is how we ended up with three on this list. However, this is the only one with Whoopi Goldberg (yes, you read that correctly.) But let’s backtrack a moment: this made-for-TV fantasy film follows two storylines—one about an American businessman visiting Ireland who makes a leprechaun friend, and the second about a pair of star-crossed lovers à la Romeo and Juliet (if they were a faerie and a leprechaun.) The two storylines eventually entwine, but the journey there is full of magic and whimsy, and the overarching theme of the power of love. Also starring Randy Quaid and a very young Kieran Culkin, among other familiar faces, the film is reportedly “charming” (at least to those at Variety,) though it has more than its fair share of fantasy tropes (which is sometimes just the thing for relaxing viewing.) Just give this wonderfully dated trailer a look-see!
This post is part of a series. Read our modern Ireland post, all about St. Patrick's Day around the world, 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 Book Recs, Part 3
St. Patrick’s Day Edition!
What better way to get your dancer excited about St. Patrick’s Day than a good book? We’ve gathered five books themed around March 17th and all the traditions that come with the holiday here for you! (And if you’d like a few more suggestions, check out our first two sets of Irish children’s book recommendations here and here!)
1. The Night Before St. Patrick’s Day, Natasha Wing
Illustrated by Amy Wummer
Wing’s imaginative tale is part of a series of “The Night Before…” books, all modeled after (and in the verse form of) the Christmas classic, but taking place just before alternative holidays. Full of humor and whimsy, the story follows siblings Tim and Maureen as they stay up the night before this Irish holiday setting traps to catch, you guessed it, a leprechaun! The story breaks from its source material by extending into the next day, when the kids awaken to the smell of green eggs cooking and the sound of Dad’s bagpipes (no, this isn’t a mistake, there’s Irish bagpipes too!) But what are they supposed to do when they realize their trap actually worked? Will they be able to get the leprechaun to lead them to his pot of gold, or will the little trickster outsmart them? If you want a preview of the story before buying, check out a read along here!
2. A Fine St. Patrick’s Day, Susan Wojciechowski
Illustrated by Tom Curry
With a moral that stays solid rather than straying into the saccharine, Wojciechowski brings readers the story of two rival villages: Tralee and Tralah, who compete each year in a St. Patrick’s Day decoration contest. Our heroine, feisty but kind six-year-old Fiona O’Reilly, lives in Tralee—the town who’s never quite won the golden shamrock for best decorations, but she knows this will be their year. But when a small stranger appears in Tralah needing help to rescue his cows, only to be turned away by the busy villagers, Fiona is the one who keeps her priorities in check. Rallying her own town to the man’s aid, even though it takes them away from their contest preparations, Fiona’s kindness (and the town’s) is rewarded with a little Irish magic! Richly illustrated with gorgeous, bold paintings of a bucolic green countryside, this tale is one of cooperation and compassion over personal gain. See a read along of the story here!
3. Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland, Tomie dePaola
If you want to go with a slightly more historical route, check out renowned author-illustrator Tomie dePaola’s child-friendly account of the man the holiday is named for! A Connecticut native (Meriden-born!), dePaola is the product of an Irish-Italian upbringing and his bold and rounded, simple but effective, artistic style is immediately familiar to anyone who was a child from the 1970s-today. Best known for his Strega Nona books, among others, dePaola brings the folktales and customs of a variety of cultures to life, including his own Irish heritage (this book about St. Patrick is one of many!) The narrative covers both all we know to be true about St. Patrick—from his noble upbringing to his captivity in Ireland and subsequent visions that led him to his spiritual vocation—and all the rumored folklore (from driving out the snakes to his association with the shamrock.) As dePaola has won virtually every awards a children’s book author can, you know this one will be both entertaining and educational!
4. Tim O’Toole and the Wee Folk, Gerald McDermott
Caldecott Medalist author-illustrator McDermott is, like dePaola, known for his impressively diverse work that travels the globe to teach children about different cultural mythologies. And among his man tales, we have one that focuses on the most popular of Irish myths: the leprechaun. Based on a tale common to many mythologies—a man who wins three magical gifts/wishes—McDermott brings this familiar tale to new life with his “well-honed, Irish lilt” and “lively, expressive” illustrations. This story of a poor Irishman and his wife (Tim and Kathleen) who stumble upon some kindly, but mischievous leprechauns (and the dastardly landlord Mr. McGoon!) is both a delight for kids and teaches an important lesson about following directions! Enjoy this read-along before buying!
5. The O’Brien Book of Irish Fairy Tales and Legends, Una Leavy
Illustrated by Susan Field
Irish author and poet Leavy brings ten classic tales from her homeland’s lore to life in this richly illustrated collection. Irish fairy tales are sweeping epic stories of bravery, lost love, and the oldest magics, certain to enchant readers of all ages. From tricky leprechauns (certainly a theme in all St. Patrick’s Day books!) and Oisín’s descent into Tir na nÓg to the sad tale of the Children of Lir, Leavy’s training as a poet, as well as Irish oral tradition, shines through her beautifully told takes on the age-old fables. Complete with an Irish Gaelic pronunciation guide that will help you and your dancer read along, this book captures the true spirit of St. Patrick’s Day in its skillful and faithful adherence to Irish cultural tradition. Not to mention the beautiful illustrations—which Field has said were all inspired by ancient, Celtic artwork—that help you see these tales through new eyes. (And consider trying the audiobook simultaneously—narrator Aoife McMahon’s beautiful accent does wonders to make you feel like you’re really in old Ireland as you read!)
We hope these get you and your dancer into the St. Patrick’s Day spirit--Lá Fhéile Pádraig sona duit!
This post is part of a series. Read our modern Ireland post, all about NUI Galway, 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.
It’s February, and you know what that means…love is in the air (or at least on your TV screen.) Since we’re not going out nearly as much as we used to these days, we thought we’d provide you with some Ireland-related romantic movies to snuggle up on the couch with this upcoming Valentine’s Day (that’s right, it’s only a week from today!) From the touching stories to the beautiful scenery, your date will thank you.
1. Leap Year (2010, PG)
23% Rotten Tomatoes
Rent on Amazon Prime
Okay, so this definitely isn’t the highest rated movie on the list, but it may be the funniest (Irish romances tend to be a little serious, but this one’s technically an American rom-com.) Anna Brady (played by the ever-delightful Amy Adams) is a little uptight, but a romantic at heart, and is doing her best to make it to Dublin for a very special day. She’s planning on proposing to her boyfriend (played by Adam Scott) on February 29th, aka Leap Day, on which Irish tradition dictates that a woman can propose to a man and he must say yes. Unfortunately (or fortunately,) inclement weather lands Anna in the small, Irish town of Dingle with no way to Dublin but a surly, handsome innkeeper named Declan (played by Matthew Goode—who’s actually English, but never mind) who only agrees to take her to save his bar from foreclosure. But the course of true love never did run smooth, and neither has any rom-com in history—so the road to Dublin is paved with many a fun and funny mishap (and some absolutely gorgeous shots all over Ireland—the real reason to give it a watch!) This movie may not be perfect, but you can’t beat the setting and it doesn’t skimp on fun!
2. The Quiet Man (1952, G)
91% Rotten Tomatoes
Rent on Amazon Prime
If you and your date are more into the classics, then you may want to check out John Wayne’s (yes, the cowboy) turn as an Irishman in this landmark piece of cinema (it’s even part of the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry, where films that are “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important” are preserved.) The film follows Wayne as Sean “Trooper Thorn” Thornton as he retires from his Pittsburgh-based life as a boxer and returns to his hometown of Innisfree and his old family farm. He immediately falls for the red-headed girl next door, Mary Kate Danaher (played by the actually Irish Maureen O’Hara,) but Mary Kate’s brother Will is having none of it. It turns out Will is interested in purchasing the same family farm Sean is after buying…and has decided to prevent the union out of spite. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, and won two: for Best Director and Best Cinematography (in color!) While it’s known best for a long and comic fist fight, tune in for the Oscar-winning shots of the Irish countryside!
3. Brooklyn (2015, PG-13)
97% Rotten Tomatoes
Rent on Amazon Prime
This one, as you may be able to tell by its name, is largely set outside Ireland, but does have the distinction of being the top-rated movie on this list, based on a best-selling book! (By Irish author Colm Tóibín, with the screenplay by another best-selling author: Nick Hornby.) The film follows Enniscorthy-born Eilis Lacey (played by triumphantly by Saoirse Ronan—this role won her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress) as she leaves Ireland for New York to find employment…and finds love with a local, as well. Set in the 1950s, the film is an exploration of the Irish immigrant experience as much as it’s a love story, the interplay between a home country and a new identity, the life you’re born to and the life you chose for yourself. It was widely regarded as one of the best films released in 2015 (it was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, among so many other accolades we couldn’t possibly list them here,) and while it may largely be set in New York, it has some truly stunning Irish moments in it too! (Bonus points for also starring Irish actor Domhnall Glesson.)
4. P.S. I Love You (2007, PG-13)
25% Rotten Tomatoes
Rent on Amazon Prime
Another American film, but more of a tearjerker (though with some levity throughout!), P.S. I Love You stars Hilary Swank as Holly, a young widow. When Holly’s husband Gerry (played, in flashbacks, by Gerard Butler) dies of cancer, Holly withdraws from her life—until her 30th birthday, when the letters Gerry wrote her before his death start arriving. The letters lead her to his homeland of Ireland where she begins a journey of grief that may, the viewer hopes, lead her to a new self and new love. With a star-studded supporting cast that includes Harry Connick Jr., Lisa Kudrow, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and Kathy Bates, the film takes the typical rom-com and does something different with it. While Butler’s Irish accent isn’t the best (he has since apologized,) and most of the cast is American, the film still makes excellent use of its Irish setting. Between some interior Dublin shots (Whelan’s Bar, one of Dublin’s beloved live music venues, among them) and the exterior shots of Wicklow Mountains National Park, it will make you feel like you’re on vacation in Ireland yourself.
5. Wild Mountain Thyme (2020, PG-13)
26% Rotten Tomatoes
Watch on Hulu
Our newest release on the list, starring the ineffable Emily Blunt and Jamie Dornan (who’s actually Irish—Blunt is a Brit) with a supporting cast of Jon Hamm and Christopher Walken, this film tells the story of two strange and introverted neighbors, Rosemary and Anthony. The two have lived their entire lives on adjacent farms, and Rosemary has always been in love with Anthony—though he’s never shown any interest. But family and love are always more complicated than they seem, and sometimes communication is the hardest bit of all. Set among the stunning fields of County Westmeath, this film didn’t garner amazing reviews, but the incredible cast does bring a charm to a strange love story. Director John Patrick Shanley adapted his own (Tony-nominated) play, Outside Mullingar, for the big screen himself, expanding it from its original four-person cast. If you’re looking for something different—this one’s for you.
This post is part of a series. Read our last modern Ireland post, all about Maynooth University, here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
Last time we did movie recs, we covered some of the best children’s movies set in Ireland (check that out here!), but kids aren’t the only ones who can get the mid-winter blues. This time, we’re here with recommendations for our SRL parents (and some of our older dancers, at your discretion.) So tuck your littlest dancers in, make some hot cocoa, stop worrying about being possibly snowed in tomorrow morning, and dive into one of these beloved films that will whisk you away to Ireland and make you laugh, or cry…or both!
1. Once (2007, R)
97% Rotten Tomatoes
Rent on Amazon Prime
Set in Dublin, Once follows an Irish vacuum repairman and hopeful musician (known only as “Guy”) and a Czech immigrant flower-seller (known only as “Girl”) in the journey of their burgeoning love and attempts to follow their shared dreams. This stripped-down musical (all about the music with none of the fanfare and dance numbers) begins when Girl reaches out to Guy to let him know that she’s also an aspiring singer-songwriter and a partnership is born. When that partnership deepens into something more, something beautiful happens—and we’re not just talking about the Oscar-winning original song “Falling Slowly.” But the movie is hardly a romantic comedy, as the course of true love never did run smooth, so get ready for something more soul aching and bittersweet than saccharine. Eventually adapted for the stage where it became a Broadway hit, Once is a simple story, but one that will charm the coldest heart this winter.
2. The Guard (2011, R)
94% Rotten Tomatoes
Rent on Amazon Prime
The Guard is a kind of buddy cop/crime film, but just remember that Irish humor tends to skew a little dark. Beloved Irish actor Brendan Gleeson (we could spend a whole blog post listing his accolades, but let’s just mention that he was Professor Moody in Harry Potter) stars as Garda (that’s Irish for police) Officer Boyle who’s a little bit…much. Crass and eccentric Boyle is knee-deep in an investigation when he stumbles onto a much bigger crime ring, causing a straitlaced FBI agent (played by Don Cheadle) to get involved. Set in Connemara in western Ireland, the story follows the unorthodox pairing as they try to track down the criminals, with a healthy dose of both hilarity and tragedy in equal measure. The film was warmly received critically and at the box office (actually becoming the highest grossing independent Irish film to date,) with Gleeson even being nominated for a Golden Globe for his role.
3. Sing Street (2016, PG-13)
95% Rotten Tomatoes
Watch on Amazon Prime
When you consider Ireland’s long history of musicality, it’s not surprising that there’s two musicals on this list. Sing Street is set in 1980s south inner-city Dublin and based on writer and director John Carney’s experiences as a teenager (he even attended Synge Street CBS, the school the plot revolves around.) The film follows Conor Lawlor as he’s transferred to this new school due to issues at home and starts a band with his new friends in order to impress his crush. As you’d expect from any teenage tale, this venture is tumultuous, but ultimately gives way to a story of found family, the power of love, the restorative nature of creativity, and dreams of escaping your small town. While the adult actors are an all-star cast, Carney chose to cast all unknowns for the younger roles to keep the narrative as relatable as possible. Full of slightly fantastical elements paired with realistic 80s nostalgia, Sing Street has a levity to it, even as it tackles difficult issues (with a song or two thrown in!)
4. Waking Ned Devine (1998, PG)
84% Rotten Tomatoes
Rent on Amazon Prime
Touted as an “Irish Weekend at Bernie’s,” Waking Ned Devine is a film that finds humor even in the darkest topics. Set in the tiny village of Tullymore (population: 52) where everyone knows everyone’s business, senior friends Jackie and Michael are gob smacked when they find out someone in town has won the lottery! A ham-fisted investigation of sorts ensues that reveals that local recluse, Ned Devine, is not only the winner—but promptly died of the shock. But Ned has no family and he’d want to share his winnings with the whole village…right? What follows is a romp of high-spirited hijinks perpetrated by the entire, mostly elderly population in order to trick the claims inspector—fully of the silly and macabre in equal measure. A film full of heart and community as much as jokes, Waking Ned Devine was considered a delight by most reviewers, an updated comedy of manners with a bit of bawdiness for fun. (Oh, and it was also nominated for and won a ton of awards!)
5. The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006, Not Rated)
90% Rotten Tomatoes
Rent on Amazon Prime
The highest grossing independently made Irish film in history before surpassed by The Guard and widely considered one of the most important Irish films of all time, The Wind That Shakes the Barley is the historical pick on this list. Set in County Cork during the Irish War for Independence (1919-1921) and the Irish Civil War (1922-1923,) the film follows brothers Damien (portrayed by Cillian Murphy of Peaky Blinders fame) and Teddy as they fight a guerrilla war against the British. This film tackles one of the most difficult times in Irish history through an interpersonal story that grounds it for the viewer, with nods to Ireland’s troubled history (the title comes from a Robert Dwyer Joyce song of the same name, set during the 1798 rebellion.) It may not be rated, but definitely expect some heavy topics and violence due to the subject matter, but not necessarily gratuitously so--it did win the coveted Palme D’Or at Cannes.
Happy (or not so happy…) viewing!
This post is part of a series. Read our last Modern Ireland post, all about University College Dublin, here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
Poetry Recommendations, Part 1
Poetry isn’t the most popular literary genre out there, sure, but there’s no denying that Ireland has produced some of the greatest poets of all time—perhaps the names Oscar Wilde, William Butler Yeats, or James Joyce sound familiar from your freshman lit class? But Ireland didn’t stop producing incredible poets in the 19th century! We’re here tonight on the blog to recommend some of Ireland’s greatest modern poets for your reading pleasure.
1. As If By Magic: Selected Poems, Paula Meehan
One of Ireland’s premiere living poets, Meehan grew up in Dublin to a working-class family before traveling extensively throughout Europe. This expansiveness is reflected in her poems, which she’s been writing since a student at Trinity College Dublin in the 1970s, revolving around Dublin and its suburbs, but also look outward into the wider world. She’s a poet not quite of contradictions, but of intersections, looking into where nature and man, urban and suburban, man and woman, meet rather than divide. With poems ranging from the ecological and feminist to historical and personal, all are brought forth with her trademark passion and cutting wit that gives way to the utmost compassion and a desire to heal. This collection of poems spans 1991-2016 and includes some of her most courageous pieces—read more praise of Meehan’s Selected Poems here. Her accolades include being shortlisted for “A Poem for Ireland” in 2015 and being named the Ireland Professor of Poetry by Irish President Higgins in 2013.
2. Selected Poems 1968-2014, Paul Muldoon
In the poetry world, Paul Muldoon needs no introduction. With over thirty collections to his name and innumerable prizes (including a Guggenheim Fellowship and the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry,) he’s an Irish institution. Muldoon grew up in Northern Ireland where his parents worked as a farmer and a teacher, and published his first collection of poetry, Knowing My Place, at the ripe age of 19. Unlike many poets that came into prominence in the 60s and 70s, Muldoon is known for his use of traditional verse forms—though always with twist, innovating by creating a new space within the already existing structure of the poetic tradition. Muldoon’s work can be slippery, elusive, challenging the reader with his subtle humor and love of puns while exploring Irish history, literature, and politics. Though he currently resides in the U.S., Muldoon’s poems are quintessentially Irish at their core: examining the push and pull of identity—personal and communal—through the evocative magic of language.
3. The Unfixed Horizon: New Selected Poems, Medbh McGuckian
Another truly prolific writer with over 20 collections to her name, Medbh (pronounced Maeve) McGuckian was born in Belfast to a family steeped in academics and the arts. She attended Queen’s University for both her BA and MA, eventually returning to the campus as the school’s first ever female writer-in-residence (though early in her career she had to enter a contest under a male pseudonym in order to be considered—she won!) McGuckian’s work concentrates on domestic, internal landscapes, diving into a feminine space with expansive emotional reflection—work that leans heavily toward universal within the personal. In her own words: “I think the waking state is familiar and the dream state uncanny. Poetry is like a bridge between them.” Her awards include an Ireland Arts Council Award, the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature, and the Forward Poetry Prize, among many others.
4. 100 Poems, Seamus Heaney
A mentor to both Muldoon and McGuckian, Seamus Heaney may be Ireland’s most popular poet of the last 100 years, as well as one of the most revered poets of the last century worldwide. In fact, it’s extremely likely you read his poem, “Digging,” in high school or college (best known for its poetic depiction and veneration of manual labor.) While no longer with us, he was honored in 1995 with the Nobel Prize for Literature while teaching at Oxford, before moving on to teaching at Harvard until 2006. Heaney’s subject matter is what made him appeal to the masses and English teachers alike—most of his work delves into modern Northern Ireland’s landscape, making both the beauty of the land and the struggle of political upheaval feel intensely personal. Heaney is considered the voice of his country—both Northern Ireland and Ireland proper—to many to this day. Click this link to hear Heaney reading “Digging” shortly before his death in 2013.
5. New Collected Poems, Eavan Boland
The insanity of 2020 took many things away from us, and one of those wonderful things was the poet Eavan Boland. Boland was born in Dublin, but spent much of her childhood in London, where her father served as the Irish Ambassador to the United Kingdom. She returned to Dublin in 1962 to attend Trinity College Dublin and it was there she published her first collection of poetry as a first year student. It was the beginning of a long and illustrious career for which she received many accolades, including being inducted into the Academy of Arts and Sciences while a professor at Stanford University and the Lannan Literary Award for Poetry. Her work concentrated on the female experience in Ireland with an undeniable feminist slant, combining the magic of the Irish landscape and folklore with the real lived experience and oppression of women. She is beloved by the Irish people (and the poetry world) for her unwavering commitment to exposing the troubled place of Irish women in a turbulent history and culture.
Bonus: Careful Cartography, Devon Bohm
Only an Irish poet if you’re counting her heritage and the fact she’s currently employed by SRL Irish Dance Academy, Bohm’s first book of poetry was published in November of 2021 by Cornerstone Press out of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point as part of their Portage Poetry Series. We’ll let the press tell you more about the collection: “Careful Cartography, the striking debut collection from Devon Bohm, doubles as life writing and poetry. With her detailed geographic narrative, Bohm plots out her autobiography through both external and internal landscapes. Strong in style and voice, these impactful free verse poems create a map through wordscapes that equate to topographical locations, a search culminating in the most elusive and unmappable of locations: a home.” Careful Cartography is available for purchase on both Cornerstone Press’s website and Amazon, for your convenience!
This post is part of a series. Read our modern Ireland post, all about some of Ireland's premiere charities, here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
Check out part 1 here!
Last week, we brought you three Irish charities to donate to in lieu of a gift or two this year: Barretstown, a free camp for children with cancer and serious illnesses, Cuan Mhuire, a fully funded addiction rehabilitation program, and the Irish Wildlife Trust, a not-for-profit organization focused on environmental conservation. But we’re not done yet! We’re back at it with three more worthy causes (all based in Ireland) to fulfill your season of giving this year. (And if you’re still looking for gift suggestions for your dancer, never fear! Just check out the recommendations section of our blog—all the gift guides are there!)
First off, let’s talk about The American Ireland Fund aka The Ireland Funds America. The American branch is based in Boston (with chapters all over the country,) and was originally called the American Irish Foundation when it was founded by none other than John F. Kennedy and Irish president Éamon de Valara in the 1960s. The Ireland Funds was originally a separate charity based solely in Ireland (founded in 1967) before the two merged in 1987 on Saint Patrick’s Day, complete with a function at the White House. But why merge? The goal of both organizations was and remains the same: a global, charitable network of “friends of Ireland” that promotes culture, arts, education, peace, and community across the Irish diaspora. The Fund has dispensed over $600 million to over 3,200 charities worldwide, but they remain focused on the goal of improving the world around them (and preserving Irish culture and helping those of Irish descent as they do.) With a “Give with Confidence” rating on Charity Navigator and an accountability rating of 100%, you know your money is going to a good cause!
Next up, we have the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation. Established in 1974, right in the midst of the Troubles and in response to them, Glencree is devoted to peacebuilding, dialogue, communication, and education. They believe in nonviolent solutions between disparate communities with the goal of reconciliation and are a non-governmental organization with no specific political leanings beyond peace between all parties and pacifism. Based in Northern Ireland with offices in County Wicklow just outside of Dublin, they offer safe, neutral spaces for people of all ages to address issues of sectarianism and discrimination, which are still an issue in Ireland to this day. But they don’t just address Irish issues—their Sustainable Peace Project brings together participants in the wilderness of South Africa where they learn and discuss socio-economic inequalities stemming from the legacy of Apartheid. And Glencree is devoted to not only worldwide education, community-building, and open conversations in the hopes of non-adversarial solutions, but the use of arts and culture to bring people together and all heritages can be equally celebrated!
And lastly, we wanted to talk about the oldest surviving charitable organization in Ireland: The Sick and Indigent Roomkeepers’ Society (the first clue to its age is definitely in the name.) Founded in—get ready—1790!, this organization was created by a group of men working in largely blue collar jobs (rather than the stereotypical upper class philanthropists,) bent on making a charitable organization that served the poorest of their city, regardless of religious affiliation. This group of grocers, carpenters, stonecutters, etc. each originally donated two pence a week for the honor or nominating a person or family in need. Today, the organization has expanded its reach from the territory between two of Dublin’s canals to the whole of the city, and tends to focus on those who need one-off assistance versus the ability to qualify for ongoing state assistance—so they’ve been particularly busy during the pandemic! As a private charity, they’re able to pick who receives their donations on a case by case basis—from helping families pay their bills while their child is in the hospital to buying an elderly couple a bed when they couldn’t afford one when theirs broke. It’s essentially a neighborhood charity for Dublin that looks at the smaller cases versus the bigger picture! (And now anyone can submit an application—for themselves, or others!)
No matter where you choose to donate this year—near home or abroad—we wish all our SRL families the happiest holiday season!
This post is part of a series. Read our last Modern Ireland post, with three additional charitable giving options, here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram
Last year, we posted pretty extensive gift guides for every kind of Irish dancer and Irish dancer gift we could think of: the littlest dancer, the competitive dancer, Irish dance décor, Irish dance apparel, a feis survival basket, Irish dance parental figures, and even stocking stuffers! All those suggestions are still up to peruse (just click on the category that strikes your fancy,) but we thought we’d go a different route this year. While material gifts are always going to be exciting, the events over the past almost two years (crazy!) have really brought to light what matters most: helping others as part of a global community. Inspired by all those hearts and thank yous all over for essential workers, we’re here to let you know about some of our favorite Irish charities to donate to in lieu of a present or two this holiday season.
First up, we have Barretstown! This not-for-profit camp for children with cancer and other serious illnesses is located in County Kildare at the beautiful Barretstown Castle in Ballymore Eustace. It was founded in 1994 by Paul Newman (yes—that Paul Newman) and provides what they call “therapeutic recreation” for the campers aged 7-17 that helps enhance the children’s lives and rebuild self-confidence in the face of the struggles they’re facing. The camp is a member of the Serious Fun Group, a global children’s network dedicated the improving the quality of the lives of children who have been impacted by serious childhood illnesses. Their first camp was right here in Connecticut in 1988, but there are now 30 worldwide—including Barretstown in Ireland! The camp is completely free to campers, which means they need to raise €4.5 million a year to keep it running. Well, along with the 1,200 volunteers or “caras” (it means friend in Irish!) who donate their time to the campers! (And good news: as of this year, the Barretstown program is open to US-based children as well!)
Next, we’d love to turn the spotlight on Cuan Mhuire. The name means “Mary’s Harbor” and it was founded in 1966 by a nun named Sr. Consilio and her order, the Sisters of Mercy, to help people struggling with alcohol, drug, and gambling addictions. Since that time, it’s charitably treated over 100,000 individuals in its locations throughout Ireland, with approximately 40% of patients experiencing homelessness at the time of their admission. Between the harmful stereotypes that still persist about Irish alcohol consumption to this day and the cultural norms that perpetuate addiction problems throughout Ireland, Cuan Mhuire is providing an invaluable public service and has been honored innumerable times over the years. This was the first purpose-built rehabilitation center in all of Ireland and focuses on uncovering underlying issues that led to addiction and treating the whole person, rather than the disease, through a variety of therapeutic techniques. With their primary philosophy being that all people are worthy and that there are no hopeless cases, we think it’s a worthy cause!
Lastly, we’d love to take a moment to talk about the Irish Wildlife Trust! They’ve been around as both a lobbyist in Irish politics and a national conservation-based charitable organization since 1979. The IWT’s goal is multifold: to conserve wildlife and their habitats throughout Ireland, while also encouraging understanding and appreciation of the natural world and educating the populace on both the importance of this and how to pitch in. It would take a whole new blog post to list all the environmental impact groups they’re a part of—from Seas at Risk and the European Environmental Bureau to Bat Conservation Ireland and Badgerwatch Ireland—and they have branches all throughout the country (check out a list of their current campaigns here.) Between their work on national parks and the numerous studies and surveys they perform, IWT is on the front lines of environmental conservation that not only serves Ireland, but every tourist that visits to see the island’s natural splendor.
But these are only a few of Ireland’s many laudable charitable causes! Check in next week for a few more options, (or check out this (not comprehensive, but extensive) list--List of Charitable Organizations in Ireland—in the meantime.)
This post is part of a series. Read our last Modern Ireland post, all about Trinity College Dublin, here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
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.
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.
Find all of our latest news on our Scoil Rince Luimni Facebook page!