On a cold evening in Boston dozens of friends, acquaintances, and complete strangers gathered close together. Some sat on chairs, others leaned against the windows and walls, all to enjoy a night of Irish music and dance. Connolly House served as a buoy of warm coffee and warmer smiles for those with Irish blood to stop in, and out of the brisk air. As everyone settled into their seats, a low murmur rose as people introduced themselves to their neighbors. After a few minutes, the musicians and dancers appeared at the front of the long room.
Gaelic Roots Music & Dance was one part of the larger Gaelic Roots Series, presented by the Center for Irish Programs. The series’ goal is to present a variety of events, from concerts to lectures, to those in the Boston College community looking to experience part of Irish culture. This evening’s event featured two classes: Intermediate Irish Fiddle, led by Sheila Falls Keohane, a professor in the music department and interim director of the Gaelic Roots Program; and Traditional Irish Dance, led by Kieran Jordan, a faculty member in the Irish Studies Program.
The event began with a brief introduction by Falls Keohane, introducing herself and her fellow event coordinator, Jordan. She also made sure to tell the audience that the evening was a casual affair, and that if people wanted to sing and dance with them, they would be more than welcome. She even asked if any members of the crowd had brought their instruments with them, but unfortunately, that was not the case. She and three of her students began by playing a beautiful piece of Irish fiddle music live. After the applause that followed, Jordan stepped to the center of the space to introduce her performers. She, and three of her students, would be performing a dance in the traditional Irish step style. One of her students had a number of years of step dance under their belts, while the other two had entered the class with no prior knowledge. In spite of this, the three stepped and spun together quite admirably for the disparity in experience between them.
When listening in rapt attention to the rhythms and melodies from across the Atlantic, audience members felt themselves transported to the rolling green grasslands of Éire in a unique fashion. Irish culture, even at a school like BC, is not typically experienced this way. Most students get a taste of this culture when they go to a show put on by BC Irish Dance in Robsham Theater, or even in Conte Forum for Showdown. These events are enjoyable, but the experience is quite different from an evening like this. The Gaelic Roots Series event in Connolly House was an intimate and casual affair. The best description for an evening like this comes from the Irish language: Cèilidh. The word means a social gathering or a social visit, usually with the connotation of music and dance. This sort of gathering was very reminiscent of the way things have been done in Ireland for centuries between friends and family, as Jordan described.
“It’s the real old-fashioned comfort of sitting around the living room sharing dance and music,” she said. “This event represents a chance for us to get together.”
Later on in the evening, after a few more pieces of Irish fiddle music, Jordan and her students once again moved to the center of the space. The class was only made up of four people, including Jordan, but she had felt it was important for the students to learn a group step dance. For this, they made good on their invitation of audience participation. Four intrepid volunteers each paired up with a performer and received the briefest of lessons in Irish step. After, the eight people performed for the rest of the attending, and were met with congratulatory applause and quick words of “Good Job!” and “Nice Work!” upon return to their seats. Apparently this type of participation is quite common in Cèilidhs, as Falls Keohane described.
“It’s a friendly kind of music that people shouldn’t be afraid to join in and get up and dance,” she said.
The evening drew to a reluctant close after both classes had run out of pieces to play. A friendly buzz drifted through the house as those present wished each other well and confirmed the details of the next event in the Gaelic Roots Series, a performance by folk/fusion trio Ten Strings and a Goat Skin. A few distinct Irish accents lingered as some met for the first time and others caught up as old friends. Ex-audience members shrugged on coats, donned scarves, and interlocked arms with their companions as they grabbed a cup of warm coffee and stepped out into the cold night.
Featured Image by Meg Dolan / Heights Editor