Nov 012013

Irish Set Dancing - dancersThe calendar that has been on for years showing Irish related events in the Boston area is now being updated by and includes Irish set dancing classes and ceilis held in the Boston and New England area. If you’re looking for Irish social dancing opportunities, check it out!

Go to Irish Set Dancing .org to view future posts about Irish Set Dancing!

Oct 072013

Dancing at the Crossroads Original Photo

I’ve rediscovered the historically interesting “Dancing at the Crossroads” original photo.

Locate this photo in the NUI Galway library archives at

Locate this photo in the NUI Galway library archives at
Be sure to click on the photo to view a full-sized version.

The photo is in the library archives of the National University of Ireland in Galway, Ireland (NUI Galway). It is part of a collection of photographs collected by Joe Burke dating as far back as the 1890s – this photo being from approximately 1891, according to the NUI Library blog about Joe Burke. It is an amazingly well-preserved and scanned image that tells a story in itself.

Historical Significance of Photo

The photo is famous among set dancers. There are two sets of eight dancers standing in a circle as if waiting for the music to begin, although the musicians appear to be playing their instruments. The accordionist is prominent and seated while there are two younger boys (with knickers on) standing and playing what appear to me as a flute and a tin whistle (or recorder). The onlookers are seated on the wall or gathered around and they are of all ages. There is even a dog in the photo. There are fields in the background, a few houses, and a late arrival coming down the road. The building on the near left is likely an out-building – I imagine equipment is stored there or animals are housed there. I would love to learn more about the time period of this photo and what is going on in Ireland and in locations such as this one.

The History of Irish Dance (a award-winning website created by three young dancers from California) talks about crossroads dancing and tells a story about a time in Ireland when dancing was prohibited by the clergy for its “immorality.” During the 16th and 17th centuries “crossroads dancing” became very popular. The clergy condemned “crossroads dancing” so the Gaelic League introduced the first Ceili in 1697. This let dancers dance indoors under supervision. The Ceili was not held in Ireland but in London. Traditional Irish culture continued in secrecy until the 1700s. Around 1750 less strict attitudes allowed Irish dance to flourish.

Links to NUI Galway

NUI Galway is on Facebook:

NUI Galway archives blog about Joe Burke, who donated this photo to their collection:

The University is located on University Road in Galway, Ireland (Telephone: +353 91 524411).

Related Articles

See related post on from February 2012 with comments on the photo’s history:

More about the crossroads themselves: :

“Children Dancing at a Crossroad” at the National Gallery of Ireland, artist Trevor Fowler (fl.1830-1844)


Apr 032013

photo of the author Cynthia NealeCynthia Neal, American born daughter of an Irish father and an English mother, has recently* published her second novel, a sequel to The Irish Dresser.


The Continuing Story of the Irish Dresser

Hope In NYC book by Cynthia NealeThis new novel picks up in New York City. Nora and her family are settled in an apartment. Life in America for this Irish immigrant is not at all what she had imagined it would be. We first encounter Nora, dressed as a boy hawking newspapers before school in the morning; the “disguise” is to ensure she will get newspapers to sell. It’s a tough business but Nora has a friend.

The book, like its predecessor, The Irish Dresser, is written in an easy to read style with an interesting story in its own right. There’s an emerging love story, a developing friendship, the family dynamics, the longing for “home,” all in the backdrop of New York City in 1849. The references back to life in Ireland compared to life in America help to put into perspective the famine from which the family has fled and what life was like for an immigrant in the mid-1800’s in America.

Read more about The Irish Dresser and about Hope in New York City on the author’ website. Read an article in the Portsmouth (NH) Herald [3/15/2008] about the author, her novels, and the Irish. Here’s an excerpt, Cynthia speaking:

Some Irish were able to buy tickets out of the country. “They were going to be driven off the land because they were unable to pay rent when the crops failed. …; The landlord would come with a constable and do what is known as tumbling, they’d burn the house to the ground. If another neighbor took them in they’d be burned too.” But a larger percent were put on boats by the landlords who supplied passage. Sending them elsewhere was cheaper than paying the poor house rent, says Neale.

Read more about the history of the famine or the emigration from Ireland, and the history of the Irish in America on Irish Thymes.

*This article was originally posted in IrishThymes shortly after Cynthia’s novel “Hope in New York City” was published in May 20o7. It is resurrected here in this revised website.

Apr 032013

The Irish Dresser by Cynthia Neale

"The Irish Dresser" book cover

“God help us, Nora, we’re all poor in Ireland,” Kate says, trying to comfort me.
“But never did I see bones walking in coats,” I answer.
“Let’s be on our way before it gets too late,” Kate says, and though we are weakened from not enough food, we run the rest of the way to the O’Connors’ cottage.
Mrs. O’Connor cries out when she hears us knock on her door, “We’ve nothing in the kettle, and not even a kettle do we own now. Away from us, for we have nothing here to eat!” Mrs. O’Connor thinks that we are starving people traveling on the roads.
“It’s Nora and Kate,” I say.
The door opens and Kate and I are warmly invited in for a sup of tea. …

[Book excerpt, page 44; read more excerpts from the first three chapters of “The Irish Dresser” on Amazon.]

image of open bookIt’s been a while now since I finished reading this small novel about the Irish Famine called The Irish Dresser by Cynthia Neale (published 2003) but the story plays out in my mind still. It’s not just because it’s interesting to read about the famine or because it’s Irish that I like it; it’s because of the story that made that period in Irish history come alive.

The Irish Dresser is her first novel, and the sequel, Hope in New York City, will be available in mid 2007. [Update: publishing was delayed until 2011.]

Cynthia is a local writer of Irish decent, who grew up in Watkins Glen, New York and now lives in New Hampshire with her husband and daughter. Cynthia is a set dancer, too, which is how I made my acquaintance with her.

With my curiosity peaked from reading her book, I rented the only movie I know of made about the famine, The Hanging Gale. Although I enjoyed the movie, it was dark, solemn, and hopeless, perhaps appropriate for a dark, solemn and hopeless time in Ireland’s history, but Cynthia’s treatment of the subject not only described the horrific conditions the Irish lived under but also kept hope alive, even if only by a bare thread. I think this book could be made into a terrific movie and wouldn’t be surprised if it happened.

Read an “e-pinion” from a reader and a short book review. Visit the author’s website where she talks about her book and the sequel she is writing, soon to be released, a story of questioning where home is and learning that true belonging endures in the human spirit as well as in the love of family and friends. HOPE in NEW YORK CITY The Continuing Story of the Irish Dresser comes out in 2007 [update: published early 2011]. I’m looking forward to reading about Nora, the heroine in the book, who has made the journey like so many others from Ireland to America in hopes of a better life. I know, from what I know of history, that it won’t be all that she expected, but I’m not afraid to read it because there is HOPE in the title.

[Originally published by IrishThymes in 2006 – refreshed for this current blog post.]


Mar 182012

TThe Joy of Sets - Irish Set Dancinghe Joy of Sets is a blog just for Irish Set Dancing in the greater Boston and the broader New England area that includes information on classes, events, venues, and the traditional Irish music that makes the dancing so lively and fun.

Welcome to those who are new to set dancing! There are many classes in various locations around New England to learn the many fun sets that are danced in Ireland and around the world. There are a few basic simple steps used in dancing the sets; these are combined in various dances in a way that gives each set its unique style. When it’s time for the new dancer to “branch out” and dance at other locations in the community, there are many classes and dance sessions just about every night of the week to expand your repertoire and your social network.

Set dancers are encouraged to share information about set dancing with other greater Boston set dancers and notify the community about upcoming events.  Check the list of special workshops, ceillis, and other events for times and places.


Feb 242012
Win a FREE trip to Ireland courtesy of the Boston area’s Irish Cultural Centre of New England!

Your $50 membership dues will put you in a drawing for a chance to win. If you join or renew your ICC Membership by March 17, 2012 you will be entered into a grand prize drawing for a chance to win a FREE vacation in Ireland for 2, for 5 nights and a $1,000 air voucher! All ICC Members who are paid up to date on their dues will be entered into the drawing.

The drawing will take place the evening of Saturday, March 17th during our St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.

Good Luck!

Nov 302011

“… the Irish identity is as much a product of those who left our shores as those who stayed at home” . Conor Lenihan, Minister for Integration, 2008

Boston, Massachusetts, might well be regarded as the capital of Irish America. As a percentage of the population, Massachusetts is the most Irish state, with about a quarter of the population claiming Irish descent. New England remains the most Irish-American part of the country, with New Hampshire contributing a good portion of its population.

Other cities in America with a large Irish population are Philadelphia, New York CityChicago, and San Francisco.

Interestingly, because of its history as a mining center, Butte, Montana, is also one of the country’s most thoroughly Irish-American cities. Many of the miners from the Beara Peninsula, who had worked in the copper mines in Allihes in southwest Cork, traveled to Butte for work in the mines.

There are large populations of Irish Americans in the South, as well, particularly in Charleston (South Carolina) and New Orleans (Louisiana) and also in Washington, DC, and the states of Delaware and Florida.


Nov 282011

wreathOriginally published December 26, 2005, and carried over from a prior Irish Thymes blog, this was the introduction to the slideshow presented at our family Christmas party at Harrington’s in December 2005. Happy Holidays 2011! Each year has its unique style and setting. The tradition continues and we will be at a function hall again this year for our family Christmas celebration. By the way, the swap is back by popular vote (another post – another year).


‘Twas the week before Christmas and Harrington’s was buzzin’,
With aunts and uncles and somebody’s cousin,
The kid’s were dressed up and told to be good,
But they couldn’t go out in the neighborhood
For we broke with our usual Christmas tradition
Of hanging around in somebody’s kitchen
Or den to gather and chat and to eat
While awaiting the time for our special treat,
The Yankee Swap.

This year we are here in the party room
Of our favorite pub and now very soon
Instead of a Yankee swap, as you know
We’ll be watching an old photograph show.
The show isn’t old, just the folks in the photos
The Maney’s when they could touch their to-oes
The Stewart kids and Uncle George,
Little Ann and Rover, our family dog,
The Slideshow.

Uncle John has been working for months be it told
To gather and scan these pictures of old
For us to enjoy and to take home and store
For the young folks who one day cannot ignore
The fact that they too used to look so thin
Or so handsome and had such a grin
As Jerry or curls such as we did
Or looked just like Grandpa when he was a kid.

So we sing and recite and perform in a play
And dance a few jigs and a reel on this day
Instead of baked beans and broccoli bread
And a gourmet concoction from Pat, we’re fed
By Harrington’s chef in the function hall
Cause none of our houses can hold us all
But we’re happy to be here together again
For another great family gatherin’.
Merrry Christmas!

Eileen, Christmas 2005

Nov 282011

a Yankee Swap giftYankee Swap
The swap is back, we’ll have you know
We took a vote and it’s a go!
Back to the kitchen and den, as well,
We all think that that’s just swell.
Off to Wenham we will trudge
With our Irish Bread and chocolate fudge,
And casseroles for a meal that’s hearty
At our annual family Christmas party.

THE SWAP IS BACK was originally published in a prior Irish Thymes blog on October 21, 2006. The year before that we eliminated the Yankee Swap because our family was growing so large, but it was and continues to be a fun part of our family Christmas gathering. Happy Christmas (as the Irish say) 2011!

Nov 282011

If you’re in the Boston area, you can find an Irish set dancing class or session just about every day of the week. On the 2nd and 4th Monday of each month, unless otherwise notified, a small group gathers in the Back Room at The Burren in Somerville (MA) for a set dancing class from 8 to 10 PM. Beginners are welcome to join in anytime; the class is taught by Ger Cooney. At 10, the dancers move to the front bar for dancing to live music. To find out about this class and to get on the mailing list, visit the “burrensetdancers” Yahoo Group at

Irish Set Dancing at The Burren

Location: The Burren Irish Pub & Restaurant

Room: Burren Back Room
Street: 247 Elm Street, Davis Square
City State Zip: Somerville, MA
Phone: (617) 776-6896