Issue 7, Imbolc 2013
Dear Celtic Junction Community: The holidays are over and it’s finally the New Year. Naturally its time to begin to think about the next important event in all of our lives, Saint Patrick’s Day! As we get ready for the season of music, dance and festivities I’d like to share a bit about this tradition we all so clearly love. -DE
Origins of Irish Dance, a Needed Reconnoiter
If you go and talk to any of the musicians up at the Center for Irish Music, I bet they have a pretty good grasp on the history and tradition of the music they play. And talk to anyone with family who’s immigrated from Ireland and they probably have a good grasp on other aspects of Irish tradition. But what about that dancing? We know what it is (jigs, reels, leaps, skips, hardshoes, solo dresses, wigs, sequins and so on), but where did it come from?
People often ask me, where did the tradition of dresses come from? Why do Irish dancers hold their arms at their sides? And why do they wear those wigs? Those are the most obvious questions for people to ask. You don’t have to be “in the know” to ask about a wig or a costume. But it’s the less obvious questions; the ones that rarely get asked that have the really interesting answers. The fact is, the Irish dancing we see and do today is riddled with elements of the old traditions (note: traditions, plural), but it’s become its own beast with the complex rhythms, special style of music, wigs and sequins and even hard and soft shoes. In reality, while the dance tradition today is a clear grandchild of the old tradition, in some ways it is also just a shadow of the past. Rewind 100 years, and you’ll find a very different tradition in the world of Irish dance. I write this as I travel from Tralee, Co. Kerry to Holywood, Co. Down in what has become my mobile office while I research and write my MA thesis here in Ireland - the train! For those of you who don’t already know, I’ve received a scholarship to spend 2 years in Ireland researching the history of dancing in Cork and writing an MA thesis on the subject. I’ve spent my time researching in the Traditional Music Archives in Dublin, the National Dance Archive at UL, in Cork City Library endlessly searching through microfilms of newspapers from centuries past, and on the ground interviewing and learning from dancers and historians with first- hand knowledge of my subject.
Irish Dancing in Cork
Although dance traditions exist in many forms throughout the country, the Munster region, encompassing Cork, Kerry and Limerick, was for a long time the hub of traditional step dancing. The dancing master tradition was carried from Italy to France (the dancing master lies at origins of ballet in Italy) to England and finally landed in Ireland by way of the British gentry. They employed dancing masters to teach their children popular dances of the day (the origin of Irish set dancing), etiquette and deportment (i.e. manners and behavior), fencing and a number of other practices important to the upper class of the time. As in Italy, France and England, the concept of the dancing master was also adopted (and adapted) by the Irish peasantry. The new Irish dancing masters taught similar subjects to their British predecessors, and eventually formed their own styles of solo dancing. At the same time, Irish set dancing was taking off in cities and rural areas in Ireland, also a product of the same line of movement originating in Italy.
As I said, Munster was a hub for the dancing masters (although there are accounts of dance masters from all over Ireland). Each dance master had his (always men in those times) own style and his own steps, and each locality had their own style of set dancing, and usually their own local set. When I say set dancing here, I mean group dancing.
Irish Dance as Identity
These styles of dancing all took off during colonial times in Ireland and in the late nineteenth century, with the Nationalist movement at the forefront, a sense of “being Irish” became extremely important. A result of this was the need for an assertion of that “Irish-ness”, and so, the Gaelic League was formed. They promoted everything Irish (well not everything, as I’ll argue in my thesis) and worked to revive and protect the Irish traditions of language, sport, music and dance. For dance, this resulted in a very interesting history. The League (and later the Irish Dance Commission) chose the style of the Cork dancing masters to be the model for their standard of Irish dance. Thus the dancing we see today, in Riverdance, at feiseanna and all over the world, stems primarily from the Cork dancing masters. Although… nothing is ever as simple as that, there are other influences and in fact the Belfast style of step dancing has also influenced Irish step dance in more recent times.
So there you see the Cork connection. Cork is the birthplace for the dancing everyone calls Irish these days. In fact, many of the traditional sets that Irish dancers compete with these days – The Blackbird and St. Patrick’s Day, to name two – were invented by Cork dance masters. The steps dancers do today, though, are not the originals. The original steps can still be found in Cork with a generation that is quickly slipping away. I was fortunate enough to have learned from one of that generation, Peggy McTeggart, who passed away last year. As I learn more about this history, I realize more and more how special that opportunity was. The steps I learned from Peggy were many of the original dancing masters’ steps, which she would have learned in the early twentieth century from the masters themselves.
There’s much more to this story and my research: the rebellion of the Cork dancers which resulted in keeping the Cork tradition alive, a comparison of the Cork dancing masters to the Kerry dancing masters, the Cork Pipers’ Club and its influence on Dance, Joan Denise Moriarty and the National Irish Ballet, gender roles in Irish dance and the Cork women, and so on.
I look forward to sharing more with you all at some stage. I’m certainly enjoying my research over here and feel honored to have this opportunity to learn from and interview people from Irish dancing’s past. Keep an eye out around the Junction, in the IMDA newsletter and on my website, www.danielleenblom.com for more on my research. I hope to offer dance workshops and seminars sometime this year to share more of this fascinating story!
by Teresa McCormick
“May the blessed time of Imbolc
Kindle the soul of all beings,
Bringing birth to innocence and integrity
From the depths to the heights,
From the heights to the depths,
In the heart of every soul.” Imbolc 2013
Blessed Imbolc to all. Celtic spirituality emphasizes the appreciation of nature and all forms of life. This year's celebration of Imbolc begins the turn toward spring. Clear away the clutter. Prepare for new growth. Cultivate. Plan what to sow in the earth. Gather the seeds.
It is a sacred time to honor the springtime in ourselves. Journey within. Take time to embrace the shadow-self. Clear the clutter by looking at what we have stored up -- thoughts that have festered all winter that should be cleared out to make room for the new -- parts of ourselves that we might have pushed into the unconscious, whether anger, sexuality, destructiveness or even creativity. Whatever we have disowned, has power. Look at the shadow. Reclaim these thoughts. Embrace them. Turn them over as a cultivator would, to prepare the soil for new growth.
The human being is a package deal, and avoiding one's whole self does not serve us. Brighid, the goddess of poetry, smithcraft and healing, can be a help and guide to the full embrace. It is her Feast Day, actually the Christianized Saint Brighid’s Feast Day, February 1, which is known as Imbolc – celebrating spring, lambing and lactation.
Imbolc marks the beginning of a glorious season of renewal as February 1st marks the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. It is a time to consider intentions and tools, a time to clarify aim and dedicate one's self for the coming year. Despite the Northern Hemisphere's snow and cold, Celts celebrate Imbolc and the returning light. Spring cleaning, letting go of the physical and mental clutter, is best before the warm breezes of summer appear. Still in the dark time, our inner focus can be directed to the year to come. We are poised in a reflective moment, a time to set the course.
So settle into a warm, cozy chair with a cup of tea. Open reflective books such as Celtic Devotional by Caitlin Matthews. Explore creativity and spirituality. Consider the many ancient Imbolc prayers-to-the-elements found in the Celtic tradition. Read wondrous invocations and declarations of the bards of the Scottish, Irish and Welsh traditions. Within the twilight times between dusk and dawn, journey the mystical pathways along which we can re-invent our life and ultimately re-invest our life with meaning.
Ask yourself: What gets my creative juices flowing? What stands in the way? How can I minimize obstacles, both inner and outer? Have I gathered my tools? What needs to happen? What keeps me happy and inspired? Connect with mentors, teachers, musicians, dancers, poets and artists. Overcome fear. Cut through excess material, information, demands, learning curves and the clutter of excess stuff and excess wants, anything that gets in the way of hearing Spirit and acting on our own best intentions. Sharpening our insight can help maintain our aim in the months to come.
For many, Imbolc, this day dedicated to Brighid, is complex and powerful. It continues to be about the forging of tools, the insight of poetry and the ability to render whole and holy that which has been hurt. Those who dedicate themselves to Brighid each year, leave offerings at her wells throughout Ireland, because the wells are believed to be portals to spiritual realms and great sources of healing.
Here is the beautiful song, Brighid’s Kiss, as sung by the Lá Lugh; a traditional Irish Gaelic prayer followed by present-day spiritual interpretation of Brighid’s story:
Gabhaim molta Bride
Ionmhain í le hÉireann
Ionmhain le gach tír í
Molaimis go léir í
Brighid of the sunrise, rising in the morning
Rising with the springtime, greening all the land
See you in the soft cloud, see you in the raindrop
See you in the winds of change, blowing through the land
You, the red-eared, white cow, nourishing the people
Nourish now the hunger, souls longing in our land
Bird that is unfolding, now the time’s upon us
Only have we eyes to see, your epiphany
With Imbolc’s strong reverence for the earth and agriculture, the birthing of lambs, and flowing milk, we are to nurture the seeds of intention, let go, focus, cleanse, clarify and prepare. Ourselves.
The Written Word: Clan of ‘Pangur Dubh’
Years ago I went to a photo exhibit with portraits of siblings as the subject matter. What a wonderful show! The walls were full of visual variations on a theme, and the commonalities and contrasts were intriguing. In one family, two opposite color palettes playing out- like Black and Red Irish might- across contrasting body types, willowy vs. fireplug. Sometimes a photo had a set of faces of much the same stamp if you paused to really look, but such distinctly different spirits animating the features that they gave an impression of marked dissimilarity.
In the following pages are four English versions of a beloved poem from the 9th century about the quiet life of a cat and scholar called ‘Pangur Bán’. Bán means ‘white’ and Pangur has something to do with the felting trade, so I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest the notion was to convey ‘Felty’, like a cat today might be called ‘Fluffy’. The original poem, written in the Irish language, was found in the margins of a manuscript in an Austrian monastery and I include it as well.
It’s a great poem, and many Irish writers have been tempted to try their hand at translating it. Really the interest lies in its re-interpretation-- either intentionally, adding another dimension, or trying to best give the fresh flavor and spare, yet rhymed and rhythmed structure of the original in another language for a broader readerage.
Savor, then, this whole clan of Pangur Bán. I start with the most literal translation by Gerard Murphy, a renowned scholar who rendered a great deal of early Irish writing, sagas and myths and so forth, into direct, enjoyable English. That’s his deal; he wasn’t into coy, embellished or re-interpreted, he wanted to convey what the Irish writing said in a straightforward manner --and he wasn’t a poet.
Next, the most well-known version of the poem, translated by Robin Flower, a scholar of Irish and Anglo-Saxon, translator and poet largely remembered for his valuable work in conveying the culture and life of the Blasket Islands. It’s a very enjoyable poem as Flower renders it, but Seamus Heaney is right when he comments that this version feels like a children’s poem, with language that is perhaps “faux naif”.
How could I not include a version by Seamus Heaney, Nobel Prize winner in Literature and the most widely read Irish poet of the current age? To me this version feels a little hard, a little …smartass. But you might find it very different, right on the mark.
And now my very favorite, the version of the poem by Eavan Boland. Fresh, a little wry and nerdy, and playful.
Lastly, the original in the Irish language. It will be opaque to you, fairly so even if you know modern Irish, because this is the idiom from over a thousand years ago. Still, by examining it and listening to it, you can get some feel for the simplicity of style, with the short lines; also garner a sense of the rhyming pattern and syllable count. Dáithí Sproule reads it aloud for us with the caveat that we don't really know with any certainty what Old Irish sounded like; some sounds might be downright wrong -- but anyway an approximation.
by Gerard Murphy
I and white Pangur
practice each of us his special art:
his mind is set on hunting,
my mind on my special craft.
I love (it is better than all fame)
to be quiet beside my book, diligently pursuing knowledge.
White Pangur does not envy me:
he loves his childish craft.
When the two of us (this tale never wearies us)
are alone together in our house,
we have something to which we may apply our skill,
an endless sport.
It is usual, at times, for a mouse to stick in his net,
as a result of warlike battlings.
For my part, into my net falls
some difficult rule of hard meaning.
He directs his bright perfect eye
against an enclosing wall.
Though my clear eye is very weak
I direct it against keenness of knowledge.
He is joyful with swift movement
when a mouse sticks in his sharp paw.
I too am joyful when I understand
a dearly loved difficult problem.
Though we be thus at any time,
neither of us hinders the other:
each of us likes his craft,
severally rejoicing in them.
He it is who is master for himself
of the work which he does every day.
I can perform my own work
directed at understanding clearly what is difficult.
Nobel Prize Poet Translation
by Seamus Heaney
Pangur Bán and I at work,
Adepts, equals, cat and clerk:
His whole instinct is to hunt,
Mine to free the meaning pent.
More than loud acclaim, I love
Books, silence, thought, my alcove.
Happy for me, Pangur Bán
Child-plays round some mouse’s den.
Truth to tell, just being here,
Housed alone, housed together,
Adds up to its own reward:
Concentration, stealthy art.
Next thing an unwary mouse
Bares his flank: Pangur pounces.
Next thing lines that held and held
Meaning back begin to yield.
All the while, his round bright eye
Fixes on the wall, while I
Focus my less piercing gaze
On the challenge of the page.
With his unsheathed, perfect nails
Pangur springs, exults and kills.
When the longed-for, difficult
Answers come, I too exult.
So it goes. To each his own.
No vying. No vexation.
Taking pleasure, taking pains,
Kindred spirits, veterans.
Day and night, soft purr, soft pad,
Pangur Bán has learned his trade.
Day and night, my own hard work
Solves the cruxes, makes a mark.
Day and night, soft purr, soft pad,
Pangur Bán has learned his trade.
Day and night, my own hard work
Solves the cruxes, makes a mark.
Most Famous Translation
by Robin Flower
I and Pangur Bán, my cat
'Tis a like task we are at;
Hunting mice is his delight
Hunting words I sit all night.
Better far than praise of men
'Tis to sit with book and pen;
Pangur bears me no ill will,
He too plies his simple skill.
'Tis a merry thing to see
At our tasks how glad are we,
When at home we sit and find
Entertainment to our mind.
Oftentimes a mouse will stray
In the hero Pangur's way:
Oftentimes my keen thought set
Takes a meaning in its net.
'Gainst the wall he sets his eye
Full and fierce and sharp and sly;
'Gainst the wall of knowledge I
All my little wisdom try.
When a mouse darts from its den,
O how glad is Pangur then!
O what gladness do I prove
When I solve the doubts I love!
So in peace our tasks we ply,
Pangur Bán, my cat, and I;
In our arts we find our bliss,
I have mine and he has his.
Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade;
I get wisdom day and night
Turning darkness into light.
Siobhán’s Favorite Translation
by Eavan Boland
Myself and Pangur, cat and sage
Go each about our business;
I harass my beloved page,
He his mouse.
Fame comes second to the peace
Of study, a still day
Unenvying, Pangur's choice
Is child's play.
Neither bored, both hone
At home a separate skill
Moving after hours alone
To the kill
When at last his net wraps
After a sly fight
Around a mouse; mine traps
On my cell wall here,
His sight fixes, burning,
Searching; my old eyes peer
At new learning,
And his delight when his claws
Close on his prey
Equals mine when sudden clues
Light my way.
So we find by degrees
Peace in solitude,
Both of us, solitaries,
Have each the trade
He loves: Pangur, never idle
Day or night
Hunts mice; I hunt each riddle
From dark to light
Original in 9th Century Irish with recording by Dáithí Sproule
Messe agus Pangur Bán,
cechtar nathar fria shaindán:
bíth a menmasam fri seilgg,
mu menma céin im shaincheirdd.
Caraimse fos, ferr cach clú
oc mu lebrán, léir ingnu;
ní foirmtech frimm Pangur bán
caraid cesin a maccdán
Ó ru biam, scél gan scís
innar tegdais, ar n-óendís,
táithiunn, díchríchide clius
ní fris tarddam ar n-áthius
Gnáth, húaraib, ar gressaib gal
glenaid luch inna línsam;
os mé, du-fuit im lín chéin
dliged ndoraid cu ndronchéill
Fúachaidsem fri frega fál
a rosc, a nglése comlán;
fúachimm chéin fri fégi fis
mu rosc réil, cesu imdis.
Fáelidsem cu ndéne dul
hi nglen luch inna gérchrub;
hi tucu cheist ndoraid ndil
os mé chene am fáelid.
Cia beimmi a-min nach ré
ní derban cách a chéile
maith la cechtar nár a dán;
subaigthius a óenurán
Hé fesin as choimsid dáu;
in muid du-ngní cach óenláu;
du thabairt doraid du glé
for mu muid céin am messe.
Celtic Cuisine: Beef and Guinness Pie
Nothing too difficult or fancy about this but the Guinness gives the meat a very nice flavor. Perfect for the chilly winter weather.
- Tony Ayriss, aka FatHead Brennan, Itinerant Pieman
Serves 4 Hungry People
- 2lbs steak, cubed and rolled in flour.
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar<>
- 2 large onions, chopped.
- 4oz mushrooms.
- 12 oz. Guinness.
- 8 slices of bacon (optional)
- Enough pastry to make a pie, store- bought or home-made.
What to do:
1. Grill the bacon cut into pieces and put in a saucepan with the steak.
2. Fry the onions and mushrooms and put in the saucepan with the steak and bacon.
3. Add the sugar and Guinness, cover and simmer for approximately 2 hours.
4. Stir occasionally and add a little more Guinness if the gravy gets too thick.
5. Line a deep pie dish with half the pastry and bake at 220 C/ 425F for 10 min.
6. Add Guinness and beef cover with top layer of pastry.
7. Wash top of pie with beaten egg for a nice brown crust and bake for another 10/15 min.
Serve with a hearty red wine or - never afraid to state the obvious -Guinness!