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Country Dances of Ireland
By Danny Hathaway, 1991

Danny Hathaway


Country dances of Ireland, without doubt, have their origin in European popular tradition, steps, and figures. They passed over in whole or in part, inspiring Dance Masters in Ireland to incorporate figures and steps at their whim into new creations, or more truthfully, new combinations. Many of these dances have died out, others have survived in whole or in part, while still others entered the "Feis" circuit of competitions and found acceptance in complete form, with adjustments to stepping and styling, into the official list of "ceili" dances. Others entered that same list after major surgery.

Body and figure combinations are one trademark of the European Country Dance tradition. Ceili dances most notably from this tradition are "The Sweets of May," "Haste to the Wedding," "The Three Tunes," "Trip to the Cottage," 4-hand reel/jig, 8-hand reel/jog, and "the Humours of Brandon," many danced to a specific tune of the same name.

Beside the 4-hand and 8-hand dances, there were also 6-hand dances, doublings of 8-hand to become 16-hand, and quadruplings to become 32-hand (16 couples), although the latter is not common. Square and longways formations are a part of the country dance tradition. There were also numerous 2-hand dances in this tradition which were and are also part of Irish tradition: barn dances (the source of the ceili dance "Rince Beirta"), highland flings, mazurkas and varsouviennes, polkas, schottisches, waltzes, marches, 1-steps, 2-steps, et cetera.

Most of these dances, some more interesting than their ceili altenatives (prodigal offshoots), were and are outlawed. Fortunately, not everyone listens to the "Big Brother" who professes to represent the "true" tradition, as if it were limited to one thing. I use the term "Country Dance" loosely to refer to the European popular social dance traditions in general, up to and including the 1800s.

Used with permission of the author.
Reprinted from the 1991 University of the Pacific (Stockton) Folk Dance Camp syllabus.