Irish Inventions, Part 3
Check out part 1 and part 2 first!
1. The “bacon rasher” (aka English/Irish bacon versus the “streaky bacon” we colonists prefer,) was invented by Waterford butcher Henry Denny in 1820. This technique—cutting thin slices of pork loin and sandwiching them in between layers of salt to better cure it aka give it a longer shelf life—allowed for the long-distance distribution of meat, opening Ireland’s meat production to buyers beyond its shores.
2. Less delicious, but equally innovative, Castlebar-born Louis Brennan invented the guided torpedo in 1874. Though he started his career as a watchmaker, his patent for his invention was reportedly purchased by the British War Office for over £100,000 (more than 12 million pounds today.)
3. Born in Wexford, Ireland in 1822, Dr. Arthur Leared is now best known for inventing the binaural stethoscope—but only years later! The good doctor presented his work at the 1851 Great Exhibition and the next year an American named George Camman had created the first commercially sold stethoscope…but history has righted things, and we all know the truth now.
4. Did you know croquet, the mainstay of very English gardens, is actually, originally Irish? The game of croquet was invented as far back as the 1830s by the Archbishop of Tuam in County Galway. He even hosted tournaments—the popularity of which made sure the English had their hands on the game by the 1850s.
5. Known as “the father of emergency medicine, Professor Frank Pantridge is the inventor of the portable defibrillator. Born in County Down, the cardiologist’s medical training was interrupted by WWII, but he survived and went on to conceive of this device that’s now saved countless lives by 1965.
6. Speaking of life-saving medical marvels, we can’t forget the likes of Dr. James Barry, who performed the first successful cesarian section in 1826. Dr. Barry was born as Margaret Ann Bulkley in Cork in 1789, and kept the secret of her birth gender until her death in 1865, saving countless lives as a doctor (which she couldn’t have worked as if the truth was known) and obstetrician in her lifetime.
7. County Down-born Harry Ferguson is the man we have to thank for much of the food on our tables—he invented the modern tractor in 1936. His real break came when Henry Ford decided to back the project in 1939, allowing for a larger commercial production, but that relationship soured and the two were caught up in litigation for years. Still beats the plough!
8. Dubliner Walter Gordon is another military inventor—he’s who we have to thank for the tank! An engineer for the British forces during WWI, helped shock and overrun the German forces on the Somme in 1916, though the original design has been much improved in subsequent years.
9. Though Sir Charles Algernon Parsons was born in London, his heritage was Irish—he was the son of the Earl of Rosse, with a family seat at Birr Castle in County Offlay. Parsons’s father was known for interest in astronomy, but Parsons set his sights down to earth, where he invented the steam engine in 1884 and helped pioneer the use of electricity.
10. And lastly, we have Irish-American immigrant and laborer Humphrey O’Sullivan, who invented the rubber soled shoe. O’Sullivan worked at a print shop in Lowell, Massachusetts, and was suffering from fatigue from standing on hard floors all day—so he nailed a rubber floor mat to the bottom of his shoes. He started production in 1899 with only a $7k investment, selling the business in 1908 for approximately $4 million!
We hope all these incredible Irish inventors inspire you to go out and create, solve problems, and make the world a better place!
This post is part of a series. Read our last Irish History post, all about Irish Nobel Laureates, 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.
The second letter in SRL’s core values of GREATER is, of course, R for Respect. On a basic level, respect has two closely related and essential definitions: 1) “a feeling of admiring someone or something that is good, valuable, important, etc.” and 2) “a feeling or understanding that someone or something is important, serious, etc. and should be treated in an appropriate way.” At SRL, we try to instill in our dancers that respect doesn’t just mean acknowledging that someone or something is due respect, but an action that needs to be shown to others, the larger community, and also to their selves.
Irish dance begins like any other dance disciplines—before any of the competitions and shiny costumes or awards—in the classroom. Classroom settings, academic and dance alike, are where children are taught the basics of the social contract: listening to your teachers, waiting your turn, giving each other space to learn, celebrating the successes of others, and treating fellow dancers with kindness and empathy, among other active examples of respect. Respect for others is the most basic tenet of a functioning society, and it begins with these small consequence actions, so they’ll be better prepared to make good decisions in higher consequence situations as they grow. A dance class is a microcosm of the larger society they’ll eventually enter as adults, and gives them a chance to practice enacting respect for others so they’ll better know how to treat and others (and how they, in turn, deserve to be treated.)
Speaking of the larger world, the community that Irish dance fosters gives us another opportunity to help our dancers learn the importance of respect. Becoming part of a community with shared goals and interests opens your dancer’s awareness to respect on a larger scale than one-on-one interactions. The Irish dance community shows their respect for each other through their support of one another—whether it be through cheering at feisanna, donating used ghillies, or helping walk a newer dancer through a step or the confusing competition system. Through experiences like our student helper programs and buddy systems for big competitions, we make sure that dancers feel the joy the support of community brings and understand that it’s something they can contribute to, as well—bringing joy to others. And, even beyond that, the deep roots of Irish dance, its adherence to a centuries-old practice that is intrinsically tied to the identity of a nation other than the comparatively young U.S., also help give a sense of respect for history, tradition, and cultures outside their own—opening them to respect for others and others’ communities on a global scale.
And, of equal importance to the above, is helping our dancers learn the concept of self-respect. Self-respect is a complicated topic to tackle, but at SRL we think of self-respect as a facet of the hard work we expect our dancers to put into their dance practice. Working hard isn’t just a way to get better at a jig step, it’s a way to show that you respect yourself—when a dancer puts the effort in to achieve their goals, they are deeming themselves worthy of success, worthy of the time and effort it takes to accomplish it. Self-respect doesn’t come from the accolades and medals, or even positive comments from the teacher, but the actions each dancer takes to improve themselves—seeing and feeling their potential and striving for more. And, in a world rife with media complicating the already complex mire of body image, dance helps that self-respect extend to a self-love and self-acceptance as dancers learn to be confident and comfortable in their own skin and see all the beautiful and powerful things a body can do!
Respect isn’t a nebulous concept—it’s something we help our dancers see as something to be acted upon again and again, each and every day. Respect is not deference, but rather a kind of giving—to your fellow dancers, your community, the world, tradition, your self—a way of showing value rather than simply declaring it. And here at SRL, we make sure to emphasize that these acts of service we do for others and ourselves are as important as any success we can measure on any stage.
This post is part of a series. Read our core values post, all about growth, here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
Irish Nobel Laureates, Part 2
We’re back with the second half (and then some) of Ireland’s Nobel laureates (if you missed part 1, check it out here.)
Seán MacBride: Peace, 1974
MacBride was born in 1904 in Paris, but his Irish heritage and his father’s death in the struggle for Irish liberation led to him joining the IRA by the age of 13. He parted ways with the IRA in the 1930s (though he continued to use his law degree to helped defend members,) and went on to receive his prize "for his efforts to secure and develop human rights throughout the world." MacBride served as an Irish politician in a variety of roles throughout his life, but was also a member of the United Nations, the International Peace Bureau, and founded Amnesty International, among other peace-keeping efforts.
Mairead Maguire and Betty Williams: Peace, 1976
Together, Maguire and Williams founded the Northern Ireland Peace Movement (later renamed Community of Peace People,) and shared their award "for the courageous efforts in founding a movement to put an end to the violent conflict in Northern Ireland." The only women on this list, both were born in Belfast in the early 1940s, they spearheaded the women’s peace movement, drawing women of disparate communities together to protest the violence they were living in the midst of. Their efforts have been credited in reducing the death toll by half.
Seamus Heaney: Literature, 1995
Heaney, the eldest of nine children raised in County Derry, was born in 1939 and is one of the major poets of the 20th century. The committee gave Heaney his award, after his lifetime work of over 20 volumes of poetry and criticism that explored both modern and mythic Ireland, "for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past." Heaney collected innumerable accolades throughout his life and taught at both Harvard and Oxford--learn more about his work in our post about contemporary Irish poets.
John Hume and David Trimble: Peace, 1998
Both from Northern Ireland, Hume and Trimble share their prize, awarded "for their efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict in Northern Ireland." Hume was a Londonderry-born politician who was not only the leader of the Social and Democratic Labour Party in Northern Ireland, but served as a minister in British Parliament, the European Parliament, and the Northern Ireland Assembly. Belfast-born Trimble was the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party and a member of British Parliament—and together the two men helped broker the Good Friday Agreement, a multiparty peace accord that helped stop the violence that plagued Northern Ireland.
William C. Campbell: Physiology or Medicine, 2015
Our most recent Irish Nobel laureate, Ramelton-born Campbell, received his award for looking to solve problems further abroad than his home country, specifically “for their discoveries concerning a novel therapy against infections caused by roundworm parasites.” Along with his colleagues (his award is shared,) Campbell looked for an easier cure for diseases that largest affect the most impoverished countries on earth (roundworm parasites can cause blindness, along with chronic and disfiguring swelling.) Campbell’s treatment consists of an oral pill that paralyses and destroys the worm, and he even helped persuade his institute, Merck, to donate large amounts of the medicine through the WHO.
Though Ireland didn’t win any awards in the 2021 ceremony, keep an eye out for 2022—the Irish have a lot more to give the world!
This post is part of a series. Read our last Irish history post, all about the phrase "the luck of the Irish," 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.
The Goddess Ériu and the Etymology of Ireland
Etymology, the study of the origin and development of words, is a tricky beast—some words we still use today predate written language and none so much as in a place like Ireland, with such a strong oral tradition. Tracking down the true source of words in the Irish language can be a bit of a wild goose chase, except on the off chance there’s a story behind it. March is indisputably the month of Ireland, especially at an Irish dance school, so today we’re diving into why Ireland’s called Ireland—a myth as old as any on the island, as it refers to the mother of the land itself.
The name for Ireland in Irish is Éire, a word meaning “bountiful,” “plentiful,” and “abundant,” which is derived from the name Ériu (and its anglicized version—Erin)—a goddess in ancient, Irish mythology. First described in print in the 11th century text The Book of the Taking of Ireland (i.e. Lebor Gabála Érenn,) Éiru is known as a sovereignty goddess, representing the country and the land itself in the form of a woman. Together with her two sisters, the lesser known Banba and Fódla (aka a trinity, a symbol strongly connected with Irish culture,) this triumvirate of goddesses were known by a number of epithets: the fair women, a famous throng, the clear voice of achievement, and the bright women of spirited speech.
But why is the island named after Ériu? Legend tells us that when the Milesians invaded Ireland, Éiru and her sisters, members and rulers of the race of the god-like Tuatha Dé Danann, stood against the colonizers, demanding they leave. When the tides began to turn against the Tuatha in the battle for their land, Éiru and her sisters each took the high ground on top of their favorite hilltops to concede to the invaders, on one condition: that the land be named after them so their names would be remembered. The Milesians—Gaels who traveled through Spain in order to reach their new home, ancestors of those we consider Irish today—agreed, but as Éiru was standing on top of the sacred peak of Uisneach, hers became the main name used (though Banba and Fódla remain poetic terms for Ireland.)
Over time, Éiru has become a personification of Ireland, appearing in innumerable nationalist poems and songs into the modern era. Using the concept of Ireland as a woman, often weeping and emotive over the state of the country, has been used for years as a way to stoke the fire in the hearts of Irish patriots. One of the best known pieces of literature that uses this trope is William Dreannan’s 1884 poem “When Erin First Rose,” which is also considered the text that first called Ireland “the Emerald Isle”:
When Erin first rose from the dark swelling flood,
God bless’d the green island and saw it was good;
The em’rald of Europe, it sparkled and shone,
In the ring of the world the most precious stone.
Of course, we know it even better in slogan form, as in: Erin Go Bragh! The anglicization of Éire go Brách, meaning literally “Ireland till the end of all time,” this rallying cry stems from the Irish rebellion of 1798. (Though it’s still often used today as the motto of Irish athletics clubs, politics parties, and even war battalions with Irish members in other countries, as a song or poem title, and generally to expressed Irish national pride.)
One more fun fact? If you remove the accent from the e (i.e. “eire” instead of “Éire,”) the name of the country transforms into Irish word for burden—a fact that, with Ireland’s complex political history, must get a chuckle out of the Irish. Erin Go Bragh and praise Éiru!
This post is part of a series. Read our last folklore post, all about Irish winter superstitions, 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.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day, one and all! As shockingly American as this holiday is (though with approximately 32 million people of Irish ancestry in the U.S., maybe not so shocking,) it’s still a day to celebrate all things Irish—and not just here. Turns out, Ireland is so beloved (and those with Irish heritage so spread out…) that St. Patrick’s Day has traveled far abroad from its Celtic roots. Come explore some (we couldn’t possibly cover them all!) of the most surprising countries that put on their own St. Patrick’s Day celebrations (besides our own!)
There are only two countries in the world where St. Patrick’s Day is a public holiday—Ireland and the island of Montserrat! This mountainous Caribbean Island is technically a British Overseas territory and is home to a disproportionally large number of people of Irish heritage stemming back to the days of colonization. The celebration reflects this complicated history—St. Patrick’s Day in Montserrat is part of a ten-day-long festival of independence celebrating a failed slave rebellion and the island’s unique mixture of Irish and African ancestry. It’s one of the most unique St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the world!
Next, we travel to Singapore, the capital of which has the largest St. Patrick’s Day parade in Southeast Asia. Festivities include dying the Singapore River green (à la Chicago,) a full cavalcade of costumed celebrants, and, of all things, a Harley-Davidson convoy kicking off the affair. But that’s not all—the St. Patrick’s Society Singapore (made up largely of Irish ex-pats who have made the island city-state their home,) throws a lavish ball each year at Singapore’s luxurious Shangri-la Hotel. A far cry from green beer at your local pub!
But Singapore and Chicago aren’t the only places with a penchant for turning things green in honor of St. Patrick’s Day—just check out Mumbai’s Gateway of India around March 17th. The arch’s colorization isn’t the only nod to the Irish holiday—India loves a celebration, and as St. Paddy’s falls just around the Holi festival (a celebration of spring and love best known in the West for its playful spreading of colors) it’s an easy way to keep the festivities going! There’s an astounding number of Irish pubs and restaurants in Mumbai that are packed for the holiday, many of which host large events that are dotted throughout the city (including a parade or two!)
South America isn’t known for its parades, but rather its wild street parties, and St. Patrick’s Day is no exception! Buenos Aires, Argentina marks the day (which they call El Dia de San Patricio) with a celebration organized by the Argentina-Ireland Association and the Irish Embassy—which does include a parade, but also a street party full of costumed dancers and live music, as well as Irish pubs serving dark beer and Irish meals cooked in Argentinian fashion. Maybe all this excitement for Irish culture has something to with the fact that an Irish-born man, William Brown, founded the Argentinian Navy in 1814?
As a country, Japan has begun to take to St. Patrick’s Day in recent years, with at least 13 cities across the island hosting March events celebrating Irish culture and history (sorry, possibly 15!) The largest event (the “I Love Ireland” Festival in Yoyogi Park) happens, unsurprisingly, in Toyoko, followed by the largest parade in the same place—an event held by the Irish Network Japan. In recent years, these events have even repeatedly hosted different Irish governmental officials—like the Irish Minister for Culture in 2019. As the weather is rather mild in Japan in March (and St. Patrick’s Day coincides with the cherry blossoms blooming!), it’s become an affair with over 180,000 participants!
If Japan seems far afield from Ireland, get ready for this one: there’s a St. Patrick’s Day celebration held approximately 11,500 miles away, very literally the furthest point on the globe one can get from Ireland, in New Zealand! This is another place where many citizens claim Irish heritage (1 in 6!), and in honor of that a large parade is held in Auckland (and more around the country, like Wellington and Christchurch,) before the Auckland Sky Tower is lit up green for the night!
This is barely the tip of the shamrock! There’s more celebrations and St. Patrick’s Day traditions to discover from Brazil to Lithuania, from Paris to Egypt, not to mention all the incredible parades and parties North America has to offer. But however and wherever you’re celebrating Ireland today, we do hope you’ll take a minute to dance!
This post is part of a series. Read our last modern Ireland post, recommendations for St. Patrick’s Day children’s books, 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.
Luck of the Irish
With roughly 32 million people in the U.S. now claiming Irish descent (with at least one in every county,) it can be easy to overlook the difficult history of the Irish immigrant within the States. Many of the stereotypes of the Irish we still hold on to today, ones that rear their ugly heads most prominently every year in March, were born from a legacy of intolerance and purposeful cruelty. Claims of the Irish as heavy drinking (even though pubs were closed by law on Saint Patrick’s Day until the 1970s,) red-haired (only about 10% of Irish people are redheads,) hot-tempered (though there are finally calls to combat the offensive “Fighting Irish” Notre Dame mascot in recent years and Ireland is known for its lack of serious violent crime,) deeply religious (though the number of people in Ireland who don’t identify with any religion has risen over 70% in recent years and are the second largest “religious” group in the country,) and as liars (plainly defamatory and probably stemming from the Irish tradition of storytelling and oral history) may be more of a joking matter now, but were once the basis for very real and harmful discrimination.
There’s one stereotype that seems like it couldn’t possibly be harmful, but like most origins, has a darker side: the luck of the Irish. These days we associate the phrase with rainbows, leprechauns, and pots of gold—though only one of those items is at all related. The fact of the matter is, the phrase “the luck of the Irish” was originally meant to be derogatory.
Edward T. O’Donnell, an Associate Professor of History at Holy Cross College, has determined the phrase has a western American origin, linked to the silver and gold rushes in the second half of the 19th century. As many of the most successful miners in this period proved to be Irish immigrants and Irish-Americans, the term “the luck of the Irish” found its feet—but not in a congratulatory way. Rather, the phrase was meant to imply that its only by sheer, dumb luck that the Irish were succeeding, rather than through their intelligence or hard work. This stereotype, of the Irish as lazy or dumb (tell that to a country with the highest rate of third level education in the EU,) coupled with the many others, led to a decidedly negative experience for the Irish immigrant during this time period.
In fact, life in 19th century America was certainly far from lucky for many Irish immigrants—many of whom never even made it across the Atlantic as they fled the Famine, leading to the term “coffin ships” for Irish vessels docking on the Eastern seaboard. If you made it to the U.S., you may have been greeted with “No Irish Need Apply” signs or signs in boarding house windows that said “No Dogs, No Irish” (these remained common in Britain into the 1950s.) And these examples are only the tip of proverbial iceberg—the full weight of the troubles the Irish suffered in America could, and does, fill many books. As the Irish were considered barbaric, savage heathens by the invading British as far back as our records go, that close-minded attitude continued to affect the U.S. populace long after we severed our ties from England.
This month we celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day—and we’re not here to rain on that parade (fingers crossed it’s a beautiful day for the Hartford one!) However, as we don our green clothing and drink our green beers, it’s important to remember that our country hasn’t always celebrated all things Irish and pay respect to the more complicated history that lies behind us. While Irish luck has certainly turned in the past century as the Irish have spread across the globe, reminding ourselves of history is the best way to make sure we don’t repeat it.
This post is part of a series. Read our last Irish history post, all about Irish inventions, 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.
March is here, and for the Irish dancer that means one thing: performance time! Irish dance performances are never more in demand than in March, and we’re so excited for the number of opportunities this St. Patrick’s Day will have for dancers at all levels and dispositions. But after the last few years have posed more than the normal number of hurdles for in-person performances, we now have dancers that have been with us for multiple years that have yet to been able to perform with us on this most Irish of American holidays. Some dancers may be ready and raring to go, while some may be nervous…and we’re here to support and encourage your dancers no matter their stance on the matter!
First off, why perform? While we definitely don’t require it, we certainly do encourage it for a number of reasons. To begin, taking dance classes without the further step out into performance is a bit like going to basketball practice, but never playing a game. The act of performing is another part of your dancer’s training—where they learn to dance outside of the “safe space” of the studio and adapt to their audience and environment, lending a gravitas and feeling of accomplishment that just can’t be replicated in class. While their nerves could get the better of them, part of what dance teaches us is how to persevere and overcome, building self-confidence as we improve—both in the studio and on the stage!
Beyond that, while Irish dance can be performed alone, it doesn’t exist in a vacuum! Irish dance comes from a rich, age-old tradition that may stem from one country, but now links millions around the world. Performing has always been at the heart of the Irish dance community—and it’s a community that will welcome your dancer with open arms. From the support of the fellow SRL dancers and parents, to the small, low-stakes, and always grateful audiences St. Patrick’s performances can provide, March at SRL is the perfect opportunity for a dancer to make their first foray into the Irish dance community and feel its embrace. This will also help them gain confidence for the showcase in June!
But don’t take our word for it, we’ll let the dancers who have already experienced this speak to it! Here’s what a few of our veteran dancers have to say about why they love performing:
“Irish dancing is a part of my life. It brings me, and my family joy when I dance. So it’s amazing when I can give this joy to other people as well. This is why I perform, and I love to do it.”
“I love the joy in people’s faces when you dance, and all their cheering gives you energy and confidence! Also, it’s great to have a way to show off everything you’ve been working on all year.”
“ I like the preparation it takes. I love learning the new steps, and working with other dancers—it takes away some the stress of performing solo and makes it fun!”
“I like performing because it’s fun to do it with all my friends and the dances are so funny to learn—you get to cool moves you might not get to do in a normal dance. And…it doesn’t have to be perfect, it’s just for fun!”
“I like to show the reason why I love to Irish dance—the fun part of performing. And I love encouraging younger dancers to start Irish dance!”
The deadline to signing up for any performance is 48 hours in advance. All the information you may need is in the 2022 Performance Handbook (or check your email and the parent portal for details about different performances!) but if you have any questions about the best performances for your dancer to attend, what they’ll be performing, how it works, costuming, etc., feel free to reach out to email@example.com. We’re here to help!
This post is part of a series. Read our last 411 post, all about the parental role in dancer development, 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.
Galway, also known as the cultural heart of Ireland, the festival capital of Europe, the fourth largest city in the Republic, and home to one of Ireland’s top universities: National University of Ireland, Galway (NUI Galway or NUIG.) Located in the heart of the city on the River Corrib, NUIG first opened its doors in 1849 as Queen’s College Galway and the western Irish city continued to build itself around the school. It’s come a long way since then—from less than 100 students to over 19,000, from 173 years in the past to one of the leading public research universities in the world.
Ranking in the top 2% of universities in the world, with 98% of graduates working or pursuing higher study within 6 months of graduation, NUI Galway’s reputation has been on the rise in recent years. In fact, in the past five years, NUIG has been the only university in Ireland to consistently rise in ranking in both the QS and Times University Rankings. This is mainly due to NUIG’s concentration on cutting edge, inter-disciplinary research programs that are of pressing importance to the wider world, drawing experts in five urgent fields: Applied Social Science and Public Policy, Biomedical Science and Engineering, Environment, Marine, and Energy, Humanities in Context (including Digital Humanities,) and Informatics, Data Analytics, and Physical and Computational Sciences. These programs include partnerships with over 3,000 outside institutions in 114 different countries.
As you can tell from the above, there’s essentially nothing that’s not on offer at NUI Galway—including the arts and not only Ireland’s, but all of Europe’s vast and expansive culture. Galway is a city just on the edge of Europe, meaning there’s nowhere better in Ireland for opportunities to travel and to expand students’ cultural experiences. And with international students making up 18% of the NUIG student body—that’s over 4,000 students from over 110 countries—the school itself is also a chance for students to explore new cultures…all while in the heart of Ireland’s own rich and vibrant culture (just check out their Celtic Studies department!)
With the motto Shared Vision, Shaped by Values, NUIG’s core tenets are respect, excellence, openness, and sustainability—looking toward kindness, striving for equality, and using academic greatness as a jumping off point to empower students to change the world for the better. It’s this view that education is for the social good versus individual edification that helped NUIG become the Sunday Times’s 2022 University of the Year—but also its reputation as a place where creativity thrives, no matter the subject matter. They’ve also made huge changes to adapt to the way the pandemic has challenged the traditional college experience, allowing students to explore more broadly in their first year before specializing—this “Designing Futures” program is a departure from most Irish and European schools.
The campus proves to be yet another plus—considered and consistently voted one of the most beautiful campuses in Europe, it combines the charm of a university town and all the benefits of a larger city (though the student body does make up 20% of the population during term!) Only moments away from a cosmopolitan experience with non-stop cultural (and plain old fun) festivals on one end or the rugged Irish country of Connemara and the Aran Islands on the other, NUIG has something for every student. And with details like their Aula Maxima being a replica of Christ Church’s in Oxford (but built of local stone,) these diverse experiences are also steeped in rich tradition. Student life is as varied as academic life—besides all the opportunities beyond the school’s walls, there’s a booming art and media scene, volunteer work, tons of sports clubs, and over 100 student societies to join. And while, like most schools in Europe, housing is largely outside of campus, NUIG does all it can to help facilitate the process!
Tune in next time, where we’ll be covering something a little different…one of Ireland’s technological universities!
This post is part of a series. Read modern Ireland post, all about UCC, here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
Irish Inventions, Part 2
Catch up on part 1 here!
1. While Robert Fulton was technically born in Pennsylvania, it was in 1765, (before it was America,) so we’re counting this son of Kilkenny immigrants as Irish. He’s not only credited with perfecting the steamboat, but is the inventor of the submarine (in 1800, no less!)
2. Dr. William Brooke O'Shaughnessy was born in Limerick in 1809 and would go on become a visionary in both the worlds of telegraphy and medical science. Not only did he bring the use of the telegraph to India in the 1840s and vastly improved upon the system there, but years before that innovation, he also managed to establish a cure for cholera—the first use of intravenous (IV) therapy.
3. Born in Dungarvan in 1903 as the son of a Methodist Minister, Ernest Walton went on to become a Nobel Prize winning Physicist for his work with his English colleague, John Cockcroft--the two men were the first to artificially split an atom. The device that achieved this, the Cockcroft-Walton Accelerator, was the precursor to projects like the Large Hadron Collider.
4. Ironically, a man by the name of Aeneas Coffey was responsible for a revolutionary invention in service of another beverage—whiskey. Born in Dublin in 1780, Coffey is the inventor of the patent still, a closed-system whiskey still that helped standardize the distilling process and create a smoother beverage with a higher ABV.
5. John Tyndall, a Leighlinbridge-born scientist working in the mid-1800s, discovered in 1859 that that gases (like carbon dioxide and water vapor) can absorb heat, i.e. infrared radiation (i.e. he helped invent the science of climate change!) While he can’t fully claim the discovery of the greenhouse effect (an amateur, American scientist named Eunice Foote made the connection in 1856)—he did make his discovery simultaneously with no knowledge of Foote’s work and is credited with applying that knowledge to explaining why the sky is blue.
6. If you’ve ever taken a chemistry class, Lismore-born 17th-century scientist Robert Boyle will sound familiar. Considered the father of the modern chemistry, he’s best remembered these days for Boyle’s Law: the discover that the volume of a gas decreases with increasing pressure (and vice versa.) He also invented the first vacuum pump—a way to create a small-space vacuum chamber for scientific experimentation.
8. Born in Dublin in 1810, Robert Mallet essentially invented the science of earthquakes and is thus called “the father of the seismology” (he even coined the word—and the word “epicenter.”) His work (with his son as his partner) includes the first known photographs of earthquake devastation and the creation of isoseismal maps.
9. Ireland has been through it when it comes to political oppression, so it’s no surprise that the Irish are the inventor of the word and concept of “boycott.” When Charles Cunningham Boycott, an English agent in County Mayo, evicted 11 tenants in 1880, the locals set about on a campaign of isolation—shops in the area refused to serve him, and he became unable to leave his house due to the mob outside.
10. Dublin-born Lucien Bull was a pioneer of “chronophotography,” defined as high speed photograph that created “a set of photographs of a moving object, taken for the purpose of recording and exhibiting successive phases of motion.” Essentially, the precursor to modern cinematography and animation. He also, in a completely different field, invented an improved version of an electrocardiogram (EEG,) similar to what we still use today!
But we're not done yet...there's a part 3 coming!
This post is part of a series. Read our last Irish History post, all about Irish Nobel Laureates, 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.
At SRL, our goals aren’t all about dancing, but rather to help your dancer become GREATER—i.e. instill our core values of Growth, Respect, Excellence, Appreciation, Transparency, Enthusiasm, and Resiliency. The world of Irish dance has a wealth of experiences, opportunities, and skills that help impart these ideals to our dancers, and we’re committed to fostering the development of values that will serve your dancer both in and out of the studio. In this new series, we’re looking forward to delving into what these core values really mean to us, and how Irish dance can be so much more than just the steps you learn in class! First up is the capital G: Growth.
With our Tiny Jig program, the growth of our dancers can be taken very literally—taking dancers as young as 2 means we get the privilege of watching them grow up—as dancers, and as people. (Not only that, but we have several dancers that have been with us since the start, 8 whole years!) Dance is undeniably good for your dancer’s physical development--it promotes spatial awareness, flexibility, coordination, balance, etc., the list goes on and on—but at SRL, we try to look beyond the physical.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that dance is also a boon for your dancer’s emotional growth as well. (After all, psychologists have found that “the better children were able to synchronize their movements with music, the more they smiled.” And as Time recently reported, happy kids are more likely to turn into successful adults.) Not only is there room for pure joy in every dance class, but studies show that dance helps build important social-emotional learning skills, including how to better express their own emotions, emotional regulation, and to understand other’s emotions.
Beyond emotional growth, we also look toward helping our dancers grow as people into creative, focused, hard-working, intelligent, problem-solving, empathetic young adults. The microcosm of the studio, and then the secure world of performance and competition, can be seen as a crucible to hone extremely valuable life skills, rather than just a perfect jig! (Though we do that too!)
An example of this growth? For our youngest dancers, this growth comes in small steps: learning to wait your turn, listen to instructions, be kind to your fellow classmates, practice and be prepared for class, and let loose and have fun in an environment outside the home! Then, as our dancers continue to develop and move up through the levels, they’re met with new challenges: goal setting, dealing with the rejection that can come with competition, working as a team, lifting up others rather than comparing yourself to them, how to be both a student and a teacher, and above all: hard work and the knowledge that they’ll only get out of anything what they put into it.
Overall, capital-G Growth means more to us at SRL than measuring your success at each feis—it means maturing as a person, as a whole. While we always make sure to balance it with fun (dancing is, above all, incredibly fun, after all!), the way we approach Irish dance isn’t just about improving in one aspect of your life. It’s about how growth in one facet can mean growth in all others.
This post is part of a series. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
Irish Nobel Laureates, Part 1
We’ve all heard of the Nobel Prize and know it’s an incredible honor, but what are they exactly? Simply put, they’re intended to be “the most prestigious awards given for intellectual achievement in the world.” Conceived of (and continuously funded) by Swedish inventor and industrialist Alfred Nobel in 1895, the awards have run every year since 1901 in five categories: Chemistry, Physics, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, and Peace. A sixth award, for Economics, was added in 1968 (funded by the Bank of Sweden.) Today we’re going to explore many of the Irish winners over the prize’s 120-year history (including those from Northern Ireland, of course! Less than half of people in Northern Ireland reportedly think of themselves as British, despite being a part of the UK, after all.)
W.B. Yeats: Literature, 1923
Yeats was born in Dublin in 1865 and is considered one of the foremost figures in 20th century literature (and also served as a Senator for the Irish Free State.) He was a poet, a dramatist, and a prose writer who, despite being born into the ruling Protestant, Anglo-Irish minority, both clung to and celebrated his Irish roots throughout his lifetime body of work. The Nobel committee chose Yeats in 1923 "for his always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation."
George Bernard Shaw: Literature, 1925
Another Dublin born writer (1856,) Shaw was a comic dramatist, social propagandist, satirist, and literary critic. He was chosen to receive his award "for his work which is marked by both idealism and humanity, its stimulating satire often being infused with a singular poetic beauty." Despite his often-controversial opinions, his more than sixty plays are infused with his dedication to political activism and change, and their influence continues to be felt 70 years after his death.
Ernest T.S. Walton: Physics, 1951
Walton was given his award with his research partner, British Sir John Douglas Cockcroft, "for their pioneer work on the transmutation of atomic nuclei by artificially accelerated atomic particles." Born in Dungarvan in 1903, Walton’s work at Cambridge with Cockcroft led to the development of the Cockcroft-Walton generator, which split the atom artificially for the first time—and led to our ability to create particle accelerators. This device allowed scientific research in particle physics to move forward exponentially.
Samuel Beckett: Literature, 1969
The third Dublin-born writer on this list (1906,) Beckett was given his award "for his writing, which—in new forms for the novel and drama—in the destitution of modern man acquires its elevation." Beckett wrote in both French and English, and his most influential works were all produced in a highly productive period in the 1940s after his experiences as part of the French resistance during WWII. During his lifetime, he was a poet, translator, director, novelist, short story writer, and dramatist—all of his work was imbued with his intensely dark humor.
But there’s still five more to go! Keep an eye on the blog for the next installment of Irish intellectual excellence!
This post is part of a series. Read our last Irish history post, all about love stories in Irish history, 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.
Real Life Irish Love Stories, Part 2
Valentine’s might be a few days gone, but we’re stretching the celebration of love into a week this year by coming back with a part 2 (check out part 1 here!) of love stories in Irish history. While Irish love stories may not always be happy ones, they are often the big, beautiful, epic love stories we associate with literature and poetry…except these ones are real. As another ill-fated lover in Irish history, Oscar Wilde, once said: “The truth is rarely pure and never simple, ” and, even more appropriately, “Hearts are made to be broken.”
Charles Stewart Parnell and Kitty O’Shea
A bit of a scandalous story, but one beloved in Irish history all the same, Parnell was known as the “uncrowned king of Ireland” before he met Kitty O’Shea. Parnell was a formidable Irish politician in the late 19th century who wielded almost unheard of power in his campaign against British rule, making him a hero to all of Ireland as he backed the bid for Irish independence (even the British were impressed!) But public favor turned against him when it was revealed he had risked his career for love of a married woman—Kitty O’Shea, wife of fellow politician, Captain O’Shea. Many people knew of the affair, including O’Shea (it was called “the worst kept secret in London,”) as the couple had been together for many years and even had multiple children together. The real scandal came when O’Shea filed for divorce (he had been waiting for an inheritance from one of Kitty’s relatives that never came,) something unheard of in highly Catholic Ireland. O’Shea spitefully made the divorce as public as possible, which caused Parnell to be forced to step down from his position as the leader of the Irish party lest he destroy Ireland’s chance at independence. Parnell and Kitty married in a register office when they were denied a church wedding, and lived the rest of their short lives in obscurity—but at least together.
Michael Collins and Kitty Kiernan
Michael Collins was an Irish nationalist revolutionary who was imprisoned, but luckily not executed, for his part in the Easter Rising of 1916—after which he met Kitty Kiernan, the daughter of wealthy landowners in Longford in 1917. After a bit of a competition for her affection between Collins and his friend, Harry Boland, Kiernan chose Collins and they embarked on a love affair that would last the rest of Collins’s life. Shortly after their first meeting, the couple was engaged to be married, but as Collins became a major player in the Irish resistance to British rule, him and Kiernan often found themselves separated. As Collins became a brilliant tactician and made devastating blows against English forces, he wrote to Kiernan every day of his love for her--over 300 letters. His hard work led to the Anglo-Irish treaty, but even as he signed it, Collins knew many would disagree with how many concessions he had made—and he was right. The signing of the treaty was the beginning of the Irish Civil War, which led to Collins’s eventual death at the hands of an anti-treaty faction. While Kiernan was inconsolable for a time, she did eventually marry—though she kept a portrait of Collins hung in her home for the rest of her life, and even named her second son Michael Collins Cronin, as proof of her enduring love.
Patrick Kavanaugh and Dr. Hilda Moriarty
As many Irish love stories begin, this one too begins with a poet: this time, with impoverished poet Patrick Kavanaugh and his love for a young medical student named Hilda Moriarty. When Kavanaugh moved to Dublin from Monaghan he first lived in a boarding house on Baggot Street, near Raglan Road, where he first spotted a beautiful, dark-haired young woman he immediately fell for. The paired dated for a short time before Moriarty moved on at her parent’s behest (and because of her own disinterest,) largely owing to the fact that there was 18 years between them—Hilda was 22 when they met, and Kavanaugh 40. But while Moriarty finished her medical degree and went on to marry Donagh O’Malley (a political leader under multiple Irish governments, eventually the Minister for Education,) Kavanaugh never stopped loving Moriarty and even immortalized his love in verse. Kavanaugh’s poem “Dark Haired Miriam Ran Away” (Miriam being his pseudonym for Hilda to save her any embarrassment) eventually became the beloved Irish song “Raglan Road,” known best for its opening: “On Raglan Road on an autumn day I saw her first and knew / That her dark hair would weave a snare that I might one day rue.” Kavanaugh became a lauded name in Irish poetry over his lifetime and when the documentary Gentle Tiger was made about him after his death in 1987, Hilda Moriarty was interviewed about her influence on his work and opened up about their continued friendship that had led to some of his greatest work.
Next week we’ll be back with something more uplifting, but we’ll leave you with one more Oscar Wilde quote to lift your spirits: “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.” Aka, we know when to sign off. Happy Valentine’s Day!
This post is part of a series. Read our last Irish history post, with three more love stories from Irish history, 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.
Real Life Irish Love Stories, Part 1
We’ve covered it before: Irish love stories tend to be tragic ones, and it’s thought that this tradition (old as it—going back before the written word into mythic times) has been a major influence on dramatic love stories throughout the ages. But for every myth, theatric, and literary romance, Irish history has a real-life love story that matches up to the imagination. From the tragic to the beautiful (with most somewhere in between,) we’ve gathered a few of Ireland’s most epic, historical romances this Valentine’s Day!
William Butler Yeats and Maud Gonne
W.B. Yeats is one of Ireland’s most famous and lauded poets, and the inspiration behind much of his work was the striking actress and Irish republican activist Maud Gonne. Gonne was significantly younger than Yeats when they met in 1889, and not particularly interested in his pursuit of her. Yeats proposed not once, not twice, but at least four separate times by the early 1890s—and she turned him down each time, though they remained friends. His love for her resulted in some of his most iconic lines, such as the last lines of “He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven”: “I have spread my dreams under your feet; / Tread softly for you tread on my dreams.” When Yeats tried to insist he couldn’t be happy without Gonne, she is said to have replied in 1914 (25 years after their first meeting!): “Oh yes you are, because you make beautiful poetry out of what you call your unhappiness and you are happy in that. Marriage would be such a dull affair. Poets should never marry. The world should thank me for not marrying you.” Yeats proposed once more in 1917, after Gonne’s husband was executed for his part in the 1916 Easter Rising, but she remained steadfast in her refusal.
James Joyce and Nora Barnacle
Fiction writer James Joyce had more luck in love than Yeats—his muse was his partner and eventual wife, Nora Barnacle. After a tumultuous childhood for Barnacle (including two boyfriends dying before the age of 20) and being disowned by her family for her relationship with a Protestant, the pair met on June 10th, 1904 at Finn’s Hotel in Dublin. Their first date occurred later that week on the 16th, and they proved inseparable from that day forward until Joyce’s death in 1941. The couple had their share of difficulties—constant relocations across Europe, financial struggles, creative struggles, two children and their daughter’s subsequent mental illness and institutionalization, as well as their naturally opposing personalities and differing interests—but they made it through. Their love was so famous that it was quite a surprise when they were discovered legally marrying in 1931, 27 years after they first met—everyone had assumed they were already wed! Joyce even commemorated their love by setting his magnum opus, Ulysses, on June 16th, 1904—the day of their first date—and reportedly modeling the main heroine, Molly Bloom, after Barnacle.
Joseph Plunkett and Grace Gifford
Joseph Plunkett is a poet (his collection The Circle and Sword was published when he was only 24,) but one better known for his revolutionary activities and his tragic love story with artist Grace Gifford. Plunkett’s whole affluent Dublin family was supportive of the Irish Nationalist movement, so when poor health kept Plunkett from taking an active role he turned to his education to support the fight instead. This led Plunkett to co-found and edit the revolutionary magazine The Irish Review, where he met his twin flame in caricaturist and cartoonist, Grace Gifford. The couple was meant to marry on April 23rd, 1916, the day before the Easter Rising (which Plunkett was heavily involved in planning)—but the chaos of that time led them to postpone. Unfortunately, Plunkett was captured and sentenced to death for his role in events, though the British allowed Plunkett and Gifford to marry just hours before his death (with guards pointing bayonets at them as their witnesses.) Gifford continued the fight, eventually being interred in the same jail (Kilmainham Gaol) as Plunkett, where she painted images on the walls of her cell that are still there today (she was eventually released as the tides turned.) She never remarried, and when she died in 1955 the President of Ireland attended her funeral—and awarded her full military honors.
But we’re not done with these romantic stories yet—as sad as they sometimes can be. Come back Thursday for three more stories that celebrate love in Irish history!
This post is part of a series. Read our last Irish history 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.
University College Cork
We’re traveling to a new part of the country for this week’s uni spotlight: picturesque Cork! University College Cork (UCC) is perched on a limestone bluff above the River Lee, a beautiful spot chosen for its proximity to Saint Finbarr’s ancient monastery and school. Saint Finbarr is the patron saint of Cork, as his monastery essentially founded the city, and was the impetus for the school’s motto: Where Finbarr Taught Let Munster Learn.
The school was originally established by Queen Victoria at the same time as universities in Belfast and Galway in 1845, but became a national university in 1908 with the enactment of the Irish Universities Act. Today, UCC is an award-winning university in every category with approximately 22,000 students (about 3,000 international, from 104 different countries!) They’ve even received an “Award for Outstanding International Student Satisfaction” with a score of 9.5, with their International Education Office at the forefront of adapting students to life in Ireland. Students can study almost anything they can dream of and receive a degree in 3-4 years, with the school roughly divided into four colleges: Arts, Celtic Studies, and Social Sciences, Business and Law, Medicine and Health, and Science, Engineering, and Food Science. UCC consistently ranks in the top 300 universities in the world and has a student rating of 4.4 stars (by survey site StudyPortals) for its high quality of both study and student life. It’s also been named Irish University of the year on five separate occasions by The Sunday Times.
UCC is considered the leading research university in the country (and top 2% worldwide,) with the highest research income in the state (in 2016, for example, the university had €96 million in funding and a five-year allocation plan.) The university chooses what research to fund based on global need for innovation, considering impact over monetary gain, and its top research subjects include food, health, and perinatal medicine. Many top research labs are located at UCC, including the Environmental Research Institute (which studies climate change, sustainable living, and the circular economy) the APC Microbiome Institute (which looks into alimentary health and functional foods,) and the Tyndall National Institute (concentrating on microsystems, nanotechnology, and photonics.)
But science isn’t the only place where UCC is innovating: the university houses 40 Gateway companies that were started as high-potential start-ups with UCC’s support. With a focus on entrepreneurship, UCC enjoys a graduate employment rate of over 90% with many courses of study including internship and work-study programs (often utilizing the on-campus companies!) Even their Humanities programs put innovation first with its groundbreaking Digital Arts and Humanities degree, which utilizes technologically advanced tools to explore the arts of humanities in new, pioneering ways. (Though, don’t worry, it’s set against Ireland’s rich history—for example, the university’s extensive archival holdings include the Ogham Stones, the earliest known artifact of a written Irish language.)
Alongside the rigorous academics, attendees experience a balanced student life living on a quiet campus in the middle of a bustling, cosmopolitan city (this is another college, like most in Ireland, with a wealth of student-friendly accommodation throughout the city, versus on campus—though there is international student housing.) Cork is the second largest city in Ireland, after Dublin, housing everything from the famed Blarney Castle and Crawford Gallery to jazz festivals and culinary marvels. The campus also strikes a balance between the old and the new: while the Aula Maxima (the “Great Hall”) is original to the school’s 1847 construction, UCC was the first school to be awarded the international Green Flag for its environmental friendliness. This sense of history within positive change creates a close community at University College Cork—from long held superstitions (it’s rumored if you walk across the Aula Maxima’s quad before graduation you risk failing your exams) to over 100 student societies (including a beloved Irish language club,) 50 sports clubs, and innumerable charitable efforts throughout all the various colleges. UCC is undoubtably a place that both holds the past close while looking forward!
Next time, we’re off to yet another part of Ireland: Galway! Check back soon!
This post is part of a series. Read our modern Ireland post, all about romantic movies related to 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.
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.
Okay, so, maybe stretching isn’t part of Irish dance’s technique per say, but it is a key component to every dancer’s success. It’s also the most often and easily skipped part of a dancer’s at-home practice—especially younger dancers, as younger muscles are more elastic (as we age, our muscles begin to shrink and lose mass.) However, that doesn’t mean stretching is less important for younger dancers! Stretching remains the primary way dancers can protect their bodies from the fatigue and strain that can build up over a lifetime (or even just their first few years!) of dance, and help prevent both minor and major injuries.
But what are the benefits of a regular stretching practice? First off, the key word is regular. Researchers make clear distinctions in their findings--occasional stretching can actually decrease muscle strength if immediately followed with activity, while regular stretching enables muscles to work “most effectively.” But that’s only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. While the obvious benefit is an increase in flexibility (and what dancer doesn’t want that?), it’s also proven to improve performance in all physical activities as it increases joint mobility and, as we’ve mentioned, prevents injury. This is because stretching increases blood flow to your muscles as you temporarily lengthen your muscle fibers.
Here’s the number one tip for stretching, one we could shout from the rooftops if we could: stretching is NOT a warmup! Your muscles should be warmed up (some low intensity cardio where you’re not overextending yourself is all it takes) before the stretching starts--stretching cold muscles can potentially cause strain, pulls, or tears. Stretching after dancing is just as important—this is when your muscles are at their warmest. This is a dancer’s best opportunity to really increase flexibility without causing undue strain, as this would be the most pliable your muscles are during a workout.
Other tips? While genetically most dancers have one side they favor and are most flexible on, Irish dance strives for symmetry and your stretching should too! Make sure you’re repeating each side-specific stretch on both sides, while focusing on major muscle groups and your most used joints. This will also help with a dancer’s balance! While your dancer stretches, we’re looking for smooth movements with good posture that are held for 30-60 seconds. No bouncing allowed, as this can cause both injury and muscle tightness—and that smooth motion and hold should under no circumstances be painful. What you want to feel is tension, not pain!
And don’t forget: make sure your dancer’s stretching routine is sports-specific. That means making sure the stretches they’re doing aren’t just the generic ones they might learn in P.E. class, but a stretching routine that benefits Irish dancers and the ways they move their bodies specifically. There are innumerable resources specific to Irish dance out there, but, of course, Miss Courtney and our SRL instructors are a wealth of knowledge of what stretch to do for specific issues, and the stretches our dancers learn in class will always be a good idea for at-home practice. Our most loved resources here at SRL include Target Training Dance (here’s an Irish dance-specific stretching YouTube playlist from them!), as well as Irish Dance and Culture Magazine (here’s a great article!) and Ready to Feis (and another!), but always feel free to share what you find in our parent and dancer Facebook group—it’s a community effort!
Does your dancer get bored while stretching and tend to rush through it? Remember there’s more than one kind of stretching! While we’ve largely been discussing tips for static (i.e. holding a stretch) stretching in this post, dynamic stretching is recommended by many as one of the best options for before dancing (while static is best utilized after dancing, when the muscles are their warmest. Dynamic stretching is a series of controlled, activity-specific movements performed at a gradually increasing intensity to help prepare your muscles for the activity you’re about to do. Check out Celticore Pilates for a great workout that includes dynamic stretching, for example!
The most important thing to remember? Keep it up! Making stretching a regular practice—whatever that practice looks like, as long as it’s done safely and with Irish dance in mind—is the primary factor in whether stretching will be beneficial to your dancer. It’s something that can be done every day, in a variety of places and situations, even if there isn’t time to practice their slip jig. Making it a part of your dancer’s everyday life and practice will only be a benefit!
This post is part of a series. Read our last technique post, all about timing, here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
Irish Inventions, Part 1
While the Irish have long been known as masters in the world of arts and letters (for example, Dublin holds the claim of being the only city in the world that’s birthed four Nobel Literary Laureates, but more on that another time,) what’s often overlooked are all the incredible inventions the Irish are responsible for. Below is a roundup of some of Ireland’s claims to fame—everything from your favorite snacks and cool devices to the most practical tools and medical and scientific innovations. It’s pretty inspiring, and shows that the Irish have far more than just luck!
1. This one’s perfect for a cold January day: Irish Botanist Hans Sloane invented hot chocolate/chocolate milk! Sloane spent time in Jamaica in the 1700s where the locals gave him cocoa to drink—but he couldn’t stomach it until he tried it mixed with milk. He brought it back to Britain and Ireland, where it was mainly sold as a medicinal compound for many years (which makes sense when you learn Sloane was also the physician for three different British monarchs!)
2. This one will only be exciting to any philatelists out there (aka stamp collectors!) Henry Archer was the son of an Irish landowner and educated at Trinity College Dublin before he invented the first postage stamp perforating machine in 1848. (There was a bit of competition between him and his contemporary, Archer Roulette, but Archer’s proved to work better and was sold to the Irish Postmaster General for £4,000—which would be approximately £500,000 or $686,000 today!)
3. The next invention pairs science and religion together: the induction coil was invented by Louth-born Reverend Nicholas Callan in 1837. Not sure what that is? Neither were we, but it’s pretty important for most of our everyday activities. An induction coil (i.e. a “spark coil”) allows for the generation of intermittent high voltages from a direct current—essentially, how electricity is converted into use! (He even tested it out on the Archbishop of Dublin—don’t worry, he was just knocked unconscious!)
4. Born in 1854 right here in Connecticut to Irish immigrant parents, Samuel O’Reilly invented the tattoo gun! Body modification has been a part of many cultures (including Ireland’s) since before written history, but O’Reilly most likely learned the art of tattooing while in the Navy. He patented his invention (a spin on Edison’s failed electric pen,) in 1891 and the rest is history!
5. In one of the most important medical advancements of the 20th century, Cork-native Dr. Vincent Barry led a team in the late 60s and early 70s that developed Clofazimine at Trinity College (aka the cure for leprosy.) This innovation has saved the lives of over 15 million people since its adoption by the Indian government in 1981 (and subsequent adoption around the world.) Today, leprosy remains extremely rare and is completely treatable.
6. Another Irishman who managed to save many lives is James Martin, the engineer responsible for the invention of the ejector seat (which led to increased safety in aviation, particularly in wartime.) Martin was born in County Down and formed the engineering firm Martin-Baker with Captain Valentine Baker—the test pilot for the ejector seat. Though experimentation led to Baker’s untimely death, the model he was testing is still the one in use today!
7. Apparently, before 1954, potato chips didn’t even come salted (there was a salt packet included you had to sprinkle on yourself!) But thanks to Irishman Joseph “Spud” Murphy, we not only have salted chips, but flavored ones, as well! Murphy founded the still-beloved potato chip (apologies, crisp) company Tayto and came out with the first flavored crisp in history: cheese and onion, which remains one of the most popular flavors in Ireland today!
8. The (well, original) reason you can talk to your Irish relatives across the pond? Belfast-born Lord William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin, who solved the issues facing transatlantic telegraph cables and helped connect the old world to the new in 1866 (after five attempts!) Bonus points: he’s still considered one of the most influential physicists and theoretical mathematicians in history.
9. Another medical marvel that came out of Ireland was the hypodermic syringe, invented in 1844 by Dr. Francis Rynd while he worked at Dublin’s Meath hospital. It’s first use was an attempt to relieve a patient who suffered from nerve pain in her face—when drinking a morphine solution was of no help, Rynd made the first subcutaneous injection, essentially also creating localized anesthetic in the process!
10. Lastly, guess who we have to thank for all the beautiful photos we take on our phones day in, day out? An Irishman, of course! John Joly invented his “Joly Color Screen,” which made color photography possible for the first time, in 1894. Joly was a physicist and inventor whose contributions also include the early development of radiotherapy to treat cancer, as well as massive contributions to the fields of geology and engineering. Talk about
But we’re not done yet. Keep an eye on the blog for another set of Irish inventors—there’s plenty more to celebrate!
This post is part of a series. Read our last Irish history post, all about Irish new year traditions, here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
Though the last two universities we covered were based in Dublin (and there’s more to come,) and most universities in Ireland are based around already existing city centers, there is one exception…Maynooth University! Only 25 kilometers (just over 15 miles) from Dublin in North Kildare, Maynooth is located in Ireland’s only university town, and a historic one at that. Technically Ireland’s youngest university (until the establishment of Technological University Dublin in 2019,) Maynooth became independent from National University of Ireland in 1997 (though it still functions under its umbrella)…but its history is a little more complicated than that.
The earliest iteration of Maynooth dates back to 1518 when it was called the College of St. Mary’s, though it didn’t last long under British rule. When The Royal College of St. Patrick was established in 1795 on the same land, it stuck (though it did become Royal University when the Church of Ireland was dissolved in 1886) until the National University of Ireland absorbed the school in 1910. It was re-founded and separated in 1997, with the focus on the Sciences, the Arts, and Celtic studies, with an outreach campus at St. Kieran’s College in Kilkenny. This makes it both one of Ireland’s oldest and newest higher educational institutions! Fast forward to today, and Maynooth is divided into two campuses: the south/old campus and the north/new campus, which marries Maynooth’s historical significance with its cutting-edge academic programming.
Like most of Ireland’s universities, there’s very little not on offer for study at Maynooth, but the school is divided into three main sections: Celtic Studies and Philosophy, Science and Engineering, and Social Sciences. It’s ranked 49th in the world in universities under 50 years old, and as it’s adjacent to Ireland’s equivalent to California’s Silicon Valley, internships and employment in the high-grossing tech industry is a common path after graduation. In fact, employment rates for graduates of Maynooth are high across the board, no matter your course of study, with 93% of graduates reporting they left Maynooth and secured employment or pursued a higher course of study after graduation. Maynooth is known for their flexible curriculum that lets students help design their own education and tailor it to their purposes, pivoting away from the typical UK/Ireland model of all classes within a specific discipline and allowing students to pursue something more akin to a liberal arts education if they so choose. All classes focus on critical thinking and communication over rote memorization.
Maynooth also has the distinction of being Ireland smallest (though fastest growing) university, with approximately 13,000 students. The student body is a diverse one, as it has Ireland’s highest proportions of mature students (16%) and access students (i.e. students who aren’t fully enrolled, generally part of the community auditing classes, at 22%). And it’s a happy student body, as well, with the international facet of the student body the happiest in all of Europe—they even won the StudyPortals International Student Satisfaction Award (beating out even all those Nordic countries that rate so high on the World Happiness Report every year.) Those surveyed cited Maynooth’s “charming and lively” campus, the small class sizes, the friendly faculty, and the close community feeling of the student body as the biggest pluses to attending Maynooth.
Despite its small size, Maynooth doesn’t skimp on the extracurriculars. With over 100 clubs and societies on campus, student life is full and thriving, with scholarship offered academically and for sport. There’s also the host of traditions you’d expect from an institution with such deep roots. While there’s no big game per say, Maynooth and Dublin City University are rivals and have a yearly competition called “35s” where all the sports clubs compete against each other. Around Christmas, students can enjoy Christmas Carols in the chapel on the old campus and each October there’s the Hamilton Walk to commemorate mathematician William Rowan Hamilton. While there is accommodations on campus for students, its , Maynooth isn’t only a university town in name—the students are its main residents!
But we’re not done yet! There’s still more schools in Ireland to cover…join us next time for a journey to Cork!
This post is part of a series. Read our last Modern Ireland post, full of movie recommendations for our SRL parents, 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.
Now that we’ve reached modern times in our origins series, it’s impossible not to mention Riverdance. If you were around in the 90s or early 2000s, chances are it’s how you heard about Irish dance in the first place. Riverdance was a global phenomenon that’s still considered one of the most successful dance performances of all time, grossing, by its 20-year reunion, over a billion dollars worldwide. And while the most traditional aspects of Irish dance live on, it would be impossible to deny the new life and interest that Riverdance helped breathe into the time-honored artistic sport that is Irish dance.
It all began in 1981, when composer Bill Whelan was asked to write and produce an interval act for the Eurovision Song contest (which is now something like a pan-European X-Factor, but all music-based, and at the time was considered a very serious music competition.) This first piece was called “Timedance,” and featured Irish folk group Planxty playing baroque-inspired music with ballet dancers accompanying. When Bill Whelan was approached again (with 7 wins, Ireland has won the Eurovision contest more than any other country) in 1994, he decided to do something closer to Ireland’s roots. He created the most successful interval show in Eurovision history, “Riverdance”—a score filled with traditional Irish instruments like drum and fiddle, paired with “haunting vocals” and, of course, Irish dancers, all with a modern twist!
People around the world (the performance was initially seen by 300 million people worldwide) were stunned and amazed by this seven-minute introduction to traditional Irish dance and music, which up to this point was only well known in Ireland and areas with high populations of Irish immigrants. The audio recording stayed at the top of the Irish singles chart for 18 consecutive weeks (it’s still the second best-selling single in Irish history, only following Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind”) and a repeat presentation was held at the Royal Variety Performance (a yearly charity event held by the British royal family) that year. Husband-wife production team Moya Doherty and John McColgan saw the opportunity for this short performance to become a full-length theatrical event, and within six months Riverdance, the show, had its first performance in Dublin.
Gathering together the music stylings of Bill Whelan and choral group Anúna with choreography largely by American-born Irish dance champions Michael Flatley (yes, the “Lord of the Dance”) and Jean Butler, Riverdance was not only an immediate, but a consistent hit. The opening night didn’t just sell out, but the first five weeks at the Point Theatre in Dublin, as well as a four-week run at London’s Apollo (and a second run, which was extended twice--over 120,000 tickets initially), as well as every date at New York’s Radio City Music Hall. The original production of the show would run for 11 years, but additional tours stretched the longevity to 23 at 515 venues in 47 countries on six continents!
But Riverdance wasn’t just your grandmother’s Irish dance—it combined new, sleeker costuming (no elaborate, heavy dresses with Celtic designs or high-bouncing curls) with influences from other dance traditions, expanding the insular world of Irish dance for the world stage. While it made use of Irish dance’s iconic forms and steps, it also used choreographed arm movements and emotional ebullience to complete the performance, instead of the traditional stiff upper body and relatively controlled expressions. Drawing from other cultural dance traditions, such as flamenco and tap, Riverdance placed Irish dance as part of world dance tradition rather than completely apart (and engaged the audience in new, theatrical ways not entirely reliant on technique, as is all-important in the world of competitive Irish dance, as well!) The producers likened Riverdance as a mirror to the cultural revolutions happening in Ireland and throughout the world. Ireland of the 1990s was embroiled in the Troubles and Riverdance became a symbolic representation of the way Irish society was changing.
Little known to the casual Riverdance-enthusiast, Flatley actually wasn’t in the show for long. While he and Jean Butler were the stars of and choreographed the original, Eurovision performance, Flatley left the theatrical show only a few months after it originally premiered. There appears to not be one reason he left, but many—Flatley’s desire for complete creative control, his refusal to sign a contract over profit-sharing, salary, and royalty disputes, or, according to Jean Butler: his own ego. (Click that link for Butler’s more detailed description of working with Flatley—it’s an interesting read!) Flatley’s lawsuit against the production wasn’t settled until 1999, but it didn’t stop Flatley from garnering international acclaim from his own spin-off shows, Lord of the Dance and Feet of Flames among them. Flatley even holds the title of “Highest Paid Dancer” in history in the Guinness Book of World Records.
While Riverdance might not be exactly the traditional Irish dance we teach at SRL, its influence lives on and had the positive affect of making Irish dance a household name worldwide. The show opened this once narrow cultural practice to those outside of Ireland, revived interest within its home country, and no one can deny—it’s quite a show! If you’re ever able to catch a performance don’t hesitate--the 25th anniversary show is even touring now!
This post is part of a series. Read our last origins of Irish dance post, all about sean-nós, 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 a technique review, we covered rhythm. So you may be asking yourself…isn’t timing the same thing? While the two are definitely related, not quite! While rhythm refers to a dancer’s synchronization with the music, timing refers to the pace at which a dancer performs individual movements. Or, to say it another way: rhythm is how the pattern of movements correlates to the music’s pattern, while timing is the relationship of one movement to another. You can think of it as pacing too…but it’s a brain-twister!
The truth is, it’s hard to separate timing and rhythm, and issues with one will generally cause issues with the other. Going back to the “Happy Birthday” analogy from last time—someone with rhythm issues won’t be able to stay on beat with everyone singing, while someone with timing issues may extend one word too long and then maybe speed up singing another part of the song. In Irish dance, especially in the more advanced levels, individual movements have individual timings (think of a sliding movement in a hornpipe dance versus fast-flying feet in a slip jig) and while keeping to the beat (rhythm) is one struggle, timing those individual movements is another. Essentially, one move may be meant to take two beats of the music but the dancer does it in one or three.
There’s two separate kinds of timing issues on a basic level: too fast or too slow. While too slow is probably easiest to see with the naked, non-dancer eye (as it skips over too many beats in between or during movements)—too fast is equally common and might manifest itself with a dancer finishing a phrase (i.e. a set of movements) and then needing to pause to begin the next phrase. Sometimes timing issues stem from nervousness or difficulties with a particular move or phrase, and sometimes it’s an inability to hear the music. Dealing with timing issues, like rhythm, needs to be looked at on an individual basis, but there are a few things you can help with at home!
First off, if it’s an individual movement issue, YouTube is your best friend! Look for a video of the move done correctly, then slowed down and explained, and then put to music that your dancer will be able to watch over and over again outside of the classroom setting. Sites like Target Training Dance or Irish Dance Magazine’s YouTube are amazing resources—Irish dance may be a small world, but it’s a supportive one, and there’s a dearth of information out there! When trying to figure out how multiple movements fit together (like when you learn a new step), we always recommend that dancers record a video of it slowed down with no music as well as a video with the step danced to music. Back in the day, we used tape recorders of our teachers singing or lilting steps before cameras were built into every phone!
It may also be the type of music that’s the issue—perhaps it’s specific instruments (some dancers can hear a fiddle, but not the downbeat from an accordion, for example) that cause confusion or a music with a particular beat (to review the differences in Irish dance music, check out this past post!) This problem has the same suggestions for home practice as rhythm issues (see that post from last week here)—see if your dancer is able to clap along to the beat of the music. If they’re not able to hear the music they won’t be able to feel the music while they dance, which will throw off the timing of their moves.
Musicality is a learned skill for many dancers and the biggest key for improvement? Consistent practice, determination, and possibly a private lesson or two for good measure (as small as SRL classes are, sometimes a little one-on-one time is needed to better suit one dancer’s particular learning style or better determine where the disconnect is.) At home, they can try dancing to the beat of a metronome or simplified beats (stripping back the music to simply beat will make is easier to hear!) You can also try singing steps alongside the music or using your hands to keep time to the music on the floor to help your dancer visualize the beat—every kid learns differently! The important part is to not give up, and ask your dancer’s instructors for help as needed!
This post is part of a series. Read our last technique review, all about rhythm, 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.
University College Dublin
Not to be confused with our last uni spotlight, Trinity College Dublin, or London’s University College London (the UK has some serious overlap in uni nomenclature,) we’re here tonight to talk about another one of Dublin’s esteemed schools: University College Dublin (or UCD.) UCD is Ireland’s largest university at over 33,000 students and has been in existence (though the name has changed multiple times over the years) since 1854. Divided into six colleges and 37 schools within the larger umbrella of the university, there’s almost no subject your dancer wouldn’t be able to study at UCD.
Despite its size, the focus at UCD always remains on the academics—this research-intensive university (with research endowments in the multi-millions) is regularly ranked in 1% of schools, ranking 185th worldwide. With five Nobel laureates amongst its current alumni and staff and the highest percentage of graduate study in Ireland taking place there, it’s known for cutting-edge research across all academic fields, as well as its thriving arts and literature programs. UCD’s archives rank as some of the most extensive in all of Europe with its National Folklore collection that concentrates on Irish history, oral tradition, and folklore (and which was added to the UNESCO Memory of the World Register in 2017.)
But it’s not just about the school itself at UCD, they help prepare their students for the real world, too. UCD ranks top in graduate employability, above all other Irish unis (as well as 78th in the world,) while a study in 2015 reported that UCD graduates contribute 1.5 billion to Ireland’s economy annually. It’s also considered Ireland’s top networking university, with over a quarter million current alumni out in the world, making an impact in wide-ranging areas from the arts and sciences to politics and industry.
Known as Ireland’s “global university,” UCD has approximately 8,000 international students from over 138 countries. But it doesn’t stop its global reach at Ireland’s borders—UCD has global centers all over the world to help find and support their international students complete with high school outreach, partner institutions, and points of contact for parents (and students!) within home countries.
UCD’s campus used to reside on St. Stephen’s Green in the heart of Dublin, but continued expansion and desires for more modern facilities for students and research purposes led to its exodus to Belfield—only 4 kilometers outside the city center. And it’s a good thing they did as UCD now has one of the largest urban campuses in Europe and some of the most updated and extensive student accommodations in Ireland. It also ranks as one of Ireland’s safest campuses, as beyond the relative safety of Dublin there’s 24-hour security.
Student life is considered a happy one at UCD, with an activism-centered focus to match the school’s motto: Ad Astra; Cothrom na Féinne or “To the Stars; Justice and Equality.” Between their active Students’ Union and their multiple student newspapers (not to mention radio stations!), UCD students have gained worldwide attention multiple times over the years for their focus on social justice and human rights. But there’s fun to be had too—over 60 sports clubs (not to mention that the Leinster Rugby team’s headquarters reside on campus,) and an equal number of student societies. There’s a community feeling, despite the number of students, with touches like every new student being given a scarf with the school’s colors—St. Patrick’s blue, saffron, and navy—at their welcome ceremony that students also wear to their graduation.
With a uni this large, there’s almost too much to say! Tune back in next time for Ireland’s smallest undergraduate population: Maynooth University in County Kildare.
This post is part of a series. Read our modern Ireland post, all about contemporary Irish poetry, 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.
Fun Facts About Ireland: Volume IX
Read our last ten fun facts here.
1. The seventh lion used in the famed MGM opening title sequence was born in the Dublin Zoo, located in the city’s beautiful Phoenix Park. His reign as a movie star began in 1957, and he’s the one we still see today! While they called every single one of the lions used “Leo,” this Dubliner was the only lion where it was actually his name!
2. Ireland is one of the only countries in the world whose population has been decreasing over the last two centuries. Before the Great Famine in the 1800s, the population was estimated to be 8 million people. Just afterward—6.5 million. And today? Only 5 million!
3. In the 19th century, County Cork was the world’s biggest exporter of butter (there was even a large market deemed the “Cork Butter Exchange”.) The butter made its way to not only the UK and France, but all the way to India and Australia! (If you ever visit Cork, you can even explore the Cork Butter Museum!)
4. Ireland loves an unusual holiday. Take the “Puck Fair” in Killorglin, a small village located in the Kerry Mountains. Every year, locals wrangle a goat from the surrounding wilderness and crown the animal king for three days with much fanfare. After, the goat is safely re-released into the wild.
5. Speaking of Australia, there’s a privately owned island near Dublin that’s home to a population of wallabies. It’s not some quirk of natural selection, but a not-so-surprising culprit: man. The owners of Lambay Island imported a family of wallabies in the 50s, and they’ve been there ever since!
6. Dublin houses the oldest continuously operating maternity hospital in the world--Rotunda Hospital in Dublin. Opening in 1745, it’s been around for 275 years!
7. You can see the Northern Lights from Ireland! While we usually associate the beautiful natural display with Iceland or Norway, the most northerly point in Ireland (Malin Head in Inishowen) is also a great place to watch. Just make sure to find a day with clear skies and no bright moonlight for the best show!
8. Ireland, on the stage of world politics, is neutral (something we generally associate with Switzerland.) This started during WWII, where Ireland officially stayed out of things (though there are many a story of them helping the Allied forces, including supplying the weather report that allowed for the D-Day landing, and they were bombed multiple times, though it’s thought that was accidental. The UK is an island too, after all.) Ireland technically isn’t even a part of NATO!
9. Despite being neutral, Ireland’s always been a politically progressive place. Take Leo Varadkar, who served not only as the country’s youngest prime minister starting in 2017, but also as the first of Indian heritage (as well as being the first openly gay party leader.) Talk about a lot of firsts!
10. Ireland holds some of the most unexpected (and funniest) Guinness World Records, including: world’s largest tea towel, most cups of tea made in an hour by a team of 12, the highest combined age, and the most cookies baked in an hour (yum!)
This post is part of a series. Read our last ten fun facts here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
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