From as early as the 1630s immigrants from Ireland were arriving on the shores of North America, joining the mixture of nationalities in a steady stream, and sometimes in waves, up to this very day. They brought with them a strong devotion to their native culture, appreciated their freedom to express it here in the States, and shared it generously until many colorful influences from Irish culture became part of the fabric of American and Canadian culture.
So in this month of March, designated to celebrate Irish American Heritage in the US, we’ll take a look at three aspects of American culture and how the Irish left their mark on them.
Before the American Revolution, most Irish immigrants were Protestants from Ulster, also known as Scots-Irish. They tended to settle in the Appalachian Mountains. American bluegrass, folk, country, and Western music can trace its roots back to the Celtic folk tunes they played. There are many well-known American songs that sound a lot like their Irish counterparts.
One good example is the classic Western song “The Streets of Loredo”.
Compare it to “The Unfortunate Rake” and see if you can hear the similarities.
English is a language cobbled together from several languages, and American English is especially peppered with words from other languages due to our long history of immigration. And our Irish ancestors have contributed many. Here are a few examples:
“Slew” as in “a whole slew of dancers at the céilí,” comes from the Irish word slúa which means "many."
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Irish Americans began to sort into two classes known then as the “lace curtain” Irish and the “shanty” Irish. The lace curtain group had prospered and joined the middle class, while the shanty Irish lived in poorer conditions. The word "shanty" comes from sean tí, Irish for “old house.”
And there were plenty of political rallies where people chanted catchy phrases. These reminded Irish immigrants of sluagh-ghairm, the yell of a crowd or a battle-cry. That’s why we call them “slogans” now.
Two more Irish words will likely sound familiar: clann which means "family," and gleann which means "valley."
There’s a book called How the Irish Invented Slang by David Cassidy, but I only mention it to let you know that it has stirred up quite a bit of controversy. Most experts in the Irish language consider it complete nonsense and an academic scam. So now you won’t fall for that one.
The Virginia Reel, a popular party dance throughout the 1800s, was influenced by English country dance and the Haymaker’s Jig, an Irish céilí dance. American square dancing, too, shows some aspects of Irish céilí and set dances.
But the Irish contribution to the most uniquely American dance form is probably the most significant. Tap dance originated when enslaved African people and Irish people saw each other’s dance moves in the 1800s. Somewhere along the line English clogging joined the mix. Then Vaudeville performers took this early fusion and refined the steps over time. Later, dancers took tap even further in movies and Broadway shows and it keeps evolving to this day.
Here’s an excellent 5-minute documentary, featuring some cool vintage dance footage, that traces the eclectic mix of cultures that gave us American tap dance.
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Irish Exercise for the New Year
Every year in January most of us renew our dedication to exercise with all the best intentions to keep it up all year long. And it’s no secret that some of us keep this resolution going past St. Patrick’s Day and some of us don’t get quite that far. It’s hard! And it’s even harder if your chosen exercise isn’t much fun.
This year to help you out with that, we thought we’d do an article on Irish dancing. There are three main types, each with different energy demands, but all danced to the best tunes in the world.
You’ve probably seen this type at Irish festivals and in Riverdance. It looks complicated and can be a little tricky at first, but if you keep at it you’ll soon get the hang of it. And then you’re skipping and stepping to jigs and reels, spinning and swirling in patterns with your classmates like a kaleidoscope. There are many schools of Irish dance throughout New York and a Google search should turn up one near you. Though most of their classes are geared towards kids age 4-18, some offer classes for adults.
To see some top-notch Irish step dancing performed by The Academy Irish Dance Company at the Dublin, Ohio, Irish festival, click here. Then give it a try yourself with this instructional video:
Translated to English, the name of this type of dance means “old style”. Compared to step dancing it’s looser, with your arms free to move about and the steps closer to the floor. This is more of a solo dance without the group patterns like step and céilí dance. When the opportunity arose a couple of years ago, Craobh Dugan hosted sean-nós teacher Rebecca McGowan from Boston to teach a live class in Utica. We hope to do that again in the future, but you can learn a few steps now from this video:
Céilí is an Irish word for “gathering or party”. So céilí dancing requires more people, ideally at least eight. The dancers' feet can be doing skips and side-sevens commonly seen in step dancing (which can really get your heart rate up) or simple walking works too. The fun part is learning the patterns and how all the people weave together like threads on a loom. In the video below, you can see a good example of The Seige of Ennis, one of the all-time favorite céilí dances. It looks complicated at first, but it’s easy to learn, especially with the help of Craobh Dugan’s céilí dance group.
Every Friday at 7:00pm the group meets at the Seton Center at Our Lady of Lourdes Church on Genesee Street in Utica with plans to move to the new Irish Cultural Center of the Mohawk Valley when it’s finished later this year. You can bring your own partner or find a partner at the class. You don’t need any special shoes. Sneakers or any footwear you feel comfortable walking in will do. The classes are free and open to the public. Just to make sure nothing has come up to cancel class, we do recommend you call Jim O’Rourke (315-336-5966) before heading out.
Every year in October, Craobh Dugan members gather to eat, drink, dance, play music, and be generally merry. And we manage to squeeze a meeting in there too.
Looking back over last year, we had some wonderful successes to celebrate:
And looking ahead to the coming year we have some new projects in the works.
And before adjourning the meeting and beginning the music, we took a moment to remember our dear members who passed away this year. Both Jim O'Looney and Carl Sturtevant were long-time Craobh Dugan members and served generously as chairmen of the branch.
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The English word "galore" comes from the Irish "go leor" which means "enough". And by all accounts there sure was more than enough to do at this year's Great American Irish Festival, affectionately known as the GAIF.
The 15th annual GAIF brought out thousands to celebrate Irish culture July 27-28 at the Herkimer County Fairgrounds. And many Craobh Dugan members were on hand to contribute to the festivities with music, dance, language, and history.
The Cultural Cottage, part of the Cultural Building this year, acted as a mini museum crafted by Craobh Dugan members with the help of some friends. They put together displays teaching festival goers about the Irish language, history, musical instruments and Gaelic sports. Eight-year-old Mackensie Griffin researched and created a display about the horses of Ireland. And Mike Carroll gave a musical talk about the history of the Irish in song. Representatives from Two Rivers Gaelic League in Albany were also on hand to translate festival visitors’ names into Irish. And Cindy Wood spoke about tracing Irish ancestry through genealogy.
Though Craobh Dugan musicians have performed at all of the GAIFs, this year we played on the Traditional Stage for the first time. Our dancers in full costume demonstrated ceili dances like the Haymaker’s Jig and the Walls of Limerick. Later the dancers gave festival goers a chance to try out the dances themselves over at the Cultural Cottage.
Finally, on Saturday evening, Craobh Dugan members offered an Open Session inviting anyone who plays a traditional Irish instrument to join in. This gave us a chance to meet Anton, a singer and guitar player from Australia, who was traveling through the area and found out about the festival online.
The GAIF hosted 16 excellent bands with some of the best performers in Celtic music today. Though long time favorites The Elders bid farewell to the GAIF as they are disbanding after this year’s tour, new bands like We Banjo 3 and 1916 made their first appearance. Plenty of food trucks were on hand along with beer and wine tents. Special events like whiskey tasting, comedy acts, and an artistic sip ‘n’ paint gave people even more to do along with the annual massed pipe band march and competition, the state championship highland games, and the 5K Ranger Run. Wow! There’s always a lot going on at the GAIF!
On Sunday Craobh Dugan musicians provided music for the Irish Mass held at St. Joseph and St. Patrick Catholic Church in Utica. Deirdre and Jim McCarthy continued the tradition of singing the Our Father in Gaelic and the Mass was offered for our late founder Jim O’Looney and Matt Sullivan, the founder of the GAIF who also passed away recently.
Here’s a gallery of photos featuring Craobh Dugan’s activities at the the GAIF. For more photos and lots of videos of the festival check out the GAIF Facebook Page.
There's nothing that will put a lilt back in your step so much as an Irish traditional "house concert" and you won't want to miss this one! Craobh Dugan has secured Caitlín Nic Gabhann and Ciarán Ó Maonaigh for a one-day engagement in Utica. These are top musicians, acclaimed by the international press! Read on to find out more about them - and get your tickets while you can!
Acclaimed Irish musicians each in their own right, Caitlín Nic Gabhann and Ciarán Ó Maonaigh
have joined forces to create one of traditional music’s most impressive acts. The pair’s spirited
music and dance is rooted in the tradition; brimming with soul and life. Through fiddle, concertina
and dance, Caitlín and Ciarán breathe fire into musical pieces, combining their arts with chemistry
Caitlín and Ciarán have a connection as deep as the Irish folk traditions they come out of. Their
music is a joyful unleashing of talents learnt at the hearths of their parents, family and friends.
Ciarán’s fiddle is complimented by Caitlín’s concertina and dance, her footsteps expertly tapping
out the rhythms and elevating the duo’s musical excellence.
Their 2015 debut CD release 'Caitlín & Ciarán' received a 4-star review in The Irish Times.
Here's what people who really know Irish music have said:
We had such a great time at our last house concert and we're hoping you can all come out for this one too! That's why we're keeping the ticket price really low at only $10. The concert will be at Turning Point Church (438 Columbia St., Utica, NY 13502) on Sunday, Oct. 15, at 2:30pm. Tickets are available online through Eventbrite. You can buy them very easily and securely via Pay Pal by clicking the orange button below. See you there!!
The Craobh Dugan-O'Looney blog is written by Sue Smith Romero. Questions? Corrections? Send them on to her at firstname.lastname@example.org