about the show
An Irish Christmas brings the traditions of Ireland to the stage and shares the meaning of Christmas through music and storytelling. A folk theatre performance, the show exhibits a variety of everyday practices: dancing on the half-door and traditional “straw boys” are both part of the show. It emphasizes the importance of community in Irish traditions through lively song and dance.
Butter making: In times gone by, butter making was a cottage industry in Ireland and an important task for many farming families. It played an important role in the household economy. During the churning, everybody, young and old who entered the farmhouse, had to take a turn at the churn which lightened the labor of churning. There were many customs associated with the production of the butter: salt or a drop of holy water was added to ensure that the butter was protected from those that would like to ‘steal the butter’ for their own use, work songs were an essential part of the magic of the ritual performed to ensure the success of the butter making (to get more butter, of course), and dances were danced around the churn in a joyful expression of that success! Of note: Ireland was the leading exporter of butter to the known world in the 18th century.
La an Dreoilin: “The Day of the Wren,” celebrates the old custom of ‘The Wrenboys’ -- groups of boys, girls and adults who, on the feast of St. Stephen (26th December) went about from house to house dressed in various disguises, playing music and performing dances. They carried with them a wren tied to a holly bush. The hunt for the wren sparked much fun and excitement leading up to “The Day of the Wren” when the celebrations began before dawn and continued until late into the night. All houses in the district were visited and all welcomed the Wrenboys who would dance, sing and make merry in exchange for a “penny to bury the wren.”
Shoemaking: Every village and town in Ireland had a shoemaker (An Gréasaí Bróg). The shoemaker worked from morning ‘till night protecting the feet of all! He lengthened the life of shoes and boots, made new shoes and boots to order and prided himself on his fine workmanship as would any craftsman. Traditionally in Ireland, leather was the principal material used. We honor their rhythmic craft tonight and in so doing remind you too that the airy dancer who wears these shoes is indeed a great dancer!
Straw Boys: this ancient tradition of acting out old stories and songs had the men dressing in disguise and using stylized straw hats to hide their faces. They would randomly appear at celebrations to perform their songs and dances and they usually requested and received food, money or some token of gratitude in return. In former times when house weddings were the norm it was common for Straw Boys to appear. They were always welcomed and the captain of the Straw Boys might well "kidnap" the bride, demanding a ransom of porter!
The Dance Master’s Shoes: A pair of dance shoes become the embodiment of not only all that was lost in Ireland's long and troubled history, but everything that was saved - everything that is still cherished in the Irish folk traditions. The dance master's shoes, in a sense, symbolize the wealth of Irish culture. These are magical shoes, they have a life of their own and they take us on our journey
The North Kerry Blackbird: 'The Blackbird' is the oldest known solo set dance. The dance steps you will see in the 'Blackbird' dance are the original Jerry Molineaux steps. From North Kerry, he was a well-known dance master in the sean-nos tradition. These steps were gathered from Fr. Pat Ahern, founder of The Irish National Folk Theatre, who learned the steps directly from Jerry Molineaux. These steps are close to one hundred years old!
Popular Irish Instruments
Bodhrán: The bodhrán takes its name from the Irish word bodhar which means deafening. It is a frame drum which stretches back to the 14th century. The bodhran was used as a work implement for many years and it was used particularly in the mumming traditions of Kerry and Cork, to chase out the wren on the 26th of December (la an dreoilin). The bodhran has changed in the last century from a primitive frame drum played with the hand, to a very complicated tonal and rhythmic percussive instrument. It was first popularized by the group Ceoltóirí Chualann, under the leadership of Seán Ó Riada.
Uilleann Pipes: The uilleann pipes are a cousin of the more common Scottish great highland bagpipes. They took on their current form during the second half of the 18th century and sparked a golden age of pipe making and playing which lasted in Ireland until the Great Famine. After nearly being completely forgotten, the uilleann pipes are now enjoying a revival which has been sparked by the great efforts of hundreds of folk musicians since the early 1960s. Uilleann pipes differ from most other forms of bagpipes in that they have a range of two fully chromatic octaves, are able to achieve both staccato and legato phrasing, as well as providing chordal and rhythmic accompaniment to itself via the regulators.
Dancing on the half door: The ‘half door’ was an important part of Irish social life. Placed in front of the front door it possessed no latch. It would swing back and forth in free movement! It admitted light and kept animals out. It was a wonderful center of ‘gossip’ and was no doubt, the bearer of many secrets. It became the ‘stage’ when an evening of fun or competition was called in the community. The half door would be removed from its position and dropped to the floor whereupon the dance challenge was delivered! . Sometimes the half door was soaped to make the competition more challenging! It is said - ‘a good dancer could dance on a tray, and an excellent dancer could dance on a half-penny’. The best dancers danced as it were, underneath themselves, trapping each note of music on the floor, and as each dancer attempted to outdo the other with more intricate steps the fun knew no end. The dancers always gathered at the end of the dance in one friendly step, much to the joy of the observer!
The Brush Dance: The brush dance is performed with a brush or broom. There are many stories about the origins of this traditional dance: the women doing their daily housework would drop their brooms and break into dance as a welcome respite from their work; it was a friendly, competitive dance between men and women; it is also written that this dance was performed by the traveling people when they went from house to house selling their wares, including brooms. They would perform the dance to attract attention and make it easier to sell their goods.
The Kerry Dance Troupe. The Kerry Dance Troupe was established by Kerry Records with the intention of promoting and celebrating Irish culture and its rich traditions through the medium of dance and introducing these often forgotten Irish traditions to new audiences. These ‘ambassadors’ of Irish dance work with Kerry Records on various aspects of Irish folk-dance, incorporating old Irish dance styles into modern Irish dance styles and thus forging the path between the old and the new. Through this process the best of ethnic and modern Ireland is represented, exposing audiences to the beauty, value, passion and uniqueness of our traditional ways that play such an important part in the life of the community.
Ciaran Maguire (Featured Irish Dancer). Ciaran comes from a large family of Irish dancers and started dancing at the age of three. His parents Michael and Kathleen Maguire run a successful Irish dance school in the London area. Ciaran joined the cast of Riverdance at the age of sixteen. He then went on to work with former Riverdance stars Colin Dunne and Jean Butler in their co-production Dancing on Dangerous Ground, which saw him perform in prestigious theatres around the world. Over the past ten years Ciaran has collaborated and trained with some of the biggest names in Irish dance. He joined Magic of the Dance in 2001 and is the show's Principal Dancer.