Monday, February 11, 2013

Irish Dance

I recently started a new book, The Great Hunger, Ireland 1845-1849, by Cecil Woodham-Smith.

On page 24 I read this re. the pre-famine Irish peasants:

"Dancing was the universal diversion, and Lord George Hill, who owned property in Donegal, has left an account of removing a cabin with dancing and fiddling. 'The custom on such occasions is for the person who has the work to be done to hire a fiddler, upon which engagement all the neighbours joyously assemble and carry in an incredibly short time the stones and timber upon their backs to the new site; men, women and children alternately dancing and working while daylight lasts, at the termination of which they adjourn to some dwelling where they finish the night, often prolonging the dance to dawn of day.'"

Dancing has been an important part of island social life since the very first Irish, English, and Scottish settlers arrived on Ocracoke. Over the last half century rock & roll dancing has mostly supplanted traditional Ocracoke Island square dancing (a type of "big circle" dance).

Traditional Ocracoke Square Dance, 2012

But the old style dance, which was once popular throughout coastal Carolina, still survives only on Ocracoke. Ocracoke Alive, local non-profit cultural, artistic, educational, and environmental organization, will be sponsoring several dances in upcoming months. Look for more information soon. 

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of windmills on Ocracoke. You can read it here:


  1. Debbie Leonard6:03 AM

    This type of work party was widely practiced throughout the Appalachians for things such as corn shucking, barn raising, etc. since many of the mountain settlers came from the British Isles.

    I have been to a few such parties for making apple cider and also molasses where we worked and played music but haven't participated in a cabin moving yet!

    As for square dances, the old time circle dances are still practiced in the state; there is one monthly in Denton.

    1. Debbie, thank you for sharing. As I read your comment I realized that I hadn't been clear in my post. You are correct. Big circle dances survive (often robustly) in the Appalachian areas of North Carolina and other states. I even participated in one in Indiana. However, to my knowledge, the big circle dance does not survive anywhere else in coastal North Carolina except on Ocracoke Island, although they were once popular on the Outer Banks and elsewhere in eastern NC.

  2. Vickie Pavlik6:57 AM

    Did he mention how food was provided?

    1. Several pages later the author writes, " the backward any food other than the potato had become a lost art." He then quotes a mid-nineteenth century official who wrote, "There is scarcely a woman of the peasant class in the West of Ireland whose culinary art exceeds the boiling of a potato."

  3. Anonymous9:22 AM

    well today if a peasant has cable, which most do, watching the food channel a peasant can learn a multitude of skills. Also with so many instant just add water usually boiling water hey these companies are building on existing skills one can consume other things.

  4. Yes, I would like to add that square dancing was popular in the Midwest, especially in the fall after the harvest and corn shucking. It was said that if a man found a red ear of corn he could kiss his sweetheart! There are dances twice a month in Fort Wayne featuring some of these old dances. I call a few here as well with a great band! Dancing around the world!