The Quiet Man joined me this week to put some London interjections into my Woking ramblings and the songs we grew up with.
Irish dancing first in the back of the red house (now O’Neills) and then at St Dunstans school with Mr Kelly who travelled down from London to teach us – London!!!
Catch Up of the St Patrick’s Day Special show starts 9mins in here have a little listen while maybe having a little read…….it is an important day always in our family and always has been and in Woking we always had a high old time of it.
St Patrick’s day to us was a meaningful celebration, it was before Riverdance, before it was turned into a major Guinness marketing campaign with floppy hats in abundance, before the Pogues made being Irish edgy in an acceptable way. In our early days – the other Irish kids at school (which was basically Irish or Italian in numbers reflecting the nuns and teachers who taught us) with decorated lapels rosettes or shamrock that grannies sent over – would it come in time? Or the Irish Association got hold of it and we all wore it later to the Dance or ‘THE DANCE’ the big one of the year at the Centre Halls. Woking had a massive, well organised Irish community and the Irish Association were active, we went on seaside trips (load the coach with crates of beer, stop half way, all get out, children running about, have a drink and a sandwich and then all back on the coach til we saw the sea. Tony Fuller always had his guitar and entertained everyone, stop at a pub on the way back)
It was like that bit in fame where the teacher said – ‘fame costs and this is where you start paying!’ Except there was nothing so egotistical as fame involved fame? fame!? It was just an ordeal we were sent to like every other Irish kid to keep our culture alive and literally, kicking.
No you served……..served the high holy Irish jig….I remember severely hurting my toes once, convinced I had broken it I didn’t dare say anything and carried on (I have since learnt I have a low pain threshold for physical injury and I probably stubbed it)
All standing to attention hands firmly by your side…..
First bar of the song up on your toes, slight rotate to the side and and yer off!!
Jumpety jump jump…one two three four five six seven
If you were flash that wobbly ankle thing and back again…..
If you were really really good then you went into
And then your Mum got this green felt stuff and someone had a pattern and cut it out and then you got the plain green dress and the more dancing and Feis you did the more pattern got embroidered on them and you had hair put in rags (I never reached that goal) I gave up when I was worried people could see my knickers on the high kicks.
The boys had green kilts, grey blazers and socks with little green ribbons out of the side.
There was none of this flouncy shirts and big sleeves and Riverdance lothario look
When my brother grew out of his kilt he refused another and his irish dancing career withered into the distant past (if it was a soap opera this would be the bit where the credits would go silently up over a film of my mum holding his too small kilt and saying ‘Nooooooooo!’) My 13 year old baby Mod stirrings purloined the tailor made blazer and it became part of my wardrobe, its service as a badge of Irish culture now morphed into my youth cult of choice.
As we have all grown up we now try to re enact our Irish dancing prowess especially at family parties, anyone not Irish thinks we know what we are doing because we have serious looks on our faces, anyone with any idea (basically everyone post River dance knows we are a shower of shite) whatsoever knows we are saving up all the showing off we weren’t allowed to do as kids and it is erupting on the dance floor. Also, none of us really ever remember how long the River Dance song is (we learnt to dance to songs like ‘Round the Dresser & Up the Stairs’ or ‘If I had Maggie In The Wood’) and so when we ask the dj to play it at family parties and enthusiastically flock to the floor, five minutes later of huffing and puffing and desperate pelvic floor exercises usually does us in vowing never again. Until next time. Real experts like my cousin Mary-Theresa do doubles and that thing where you hold hands with someone in a really complicated cross over way and then try and do ‘sevens’ in sync. Once my son said ‘Mum all of you think you can Irish dance but you can’t; you either look like horses with your arms by your sides pawing at the floor or penguins going around and around – when will you realise we know you don’t know what you are doing?’ My shocked response at his dismissal of our sacred dancing still rebounds in my heart. The other week though I danced in Lizzie McAleese’s kitchen my dancing partner of old when we were kids, we are fifty now and still no better at it. It’s nice to have a dance with the same old friend and laugh the same old way though. Alcohol may be a factor in my later dancing prowess and also lack of it.
And we went to the St Patrick’s day dances which were a holy day of obligation. The best of the set dances was the ‘Seige of Ennis’ four people face four people dance in/dance out/divide into twos dance up and back/ grab the partner in front go apeshit round and round. It was a great laugh for many reasons:
It was great to see the faces of the people who you dragged in but who didn’t know what you were doing.
There was always a wild card who nearly threw you in the air.
As you reached adolescence you would do complicated logistical forecasts so you were in the right position to be thrown round and round by a nice fella (who just two goes before ends up swapping with a hairy old fella with string for a belt)
Everything your parents wanted you to do was under the guise of a holy day of obligation. And later this also counted when they wanted you to do something that you would never be allowed to do eg
Have the day off after St Patricks day – ok because celebrating a ‘Holy Day of Obligation’ was good
Having a day off college with a hangover in later years – not ok because you’d end up and omaduan and they and other parents worked hard to build the school that got you the brains to go to college…..??
Dads all at the bar
Women all at the tables
Mum’s dancing with each other or making you dance with them
Kids completely unsupervised doing what we liked, sliding on knees, leaving the building to watch older ones go snogging, trying to nick sips of people’s beers, babycham, brandy & pep.
Dads bringing drinks back and fifteen bags of crisps balanced under their arms, a bag gripped between their teeth and thrown on to the table
By the time you were old enough to go to these dances your older brothers and sisters were off out doing shenanigans with people who not being from the same background thought we were all weird and so you took on the mantle.
And the family parties where we were all in one room with our music and our parents, uncles, aunts, their friends, in another drinking whisky out of glasses that said Sham 69 on and singing the songs from their area of Ireland til the early hours and into the next day…..
And then Celtic punk happened, and for once, those records that looked so untrendy, the fellas with matching Arran jumpers kneeling down holding a fiddle or a banjo and looking cheerful, became the treasure seam of songs we would take and change from green field to pavement street walked over by our boots in the 1980’s Thatcher’s Britain……….and the songs became our own again and eventually when we, with these same experiences of defiant song and ballads that could tear your heart in two, made a band it was with that same spirit that we were taught kept our families going through generations; so it had to have the Irish heart (chroi) in its name. So many people have told us it is an odd name and get that ‘look’ when they hear it, and it well maybe – but google it, the name rises to the top, like the Irish hearts of our parents, their parents and generations gone by.
And now it seemed in getting the show done, it would be easy to laugh and pick those old songs that we said were cheesy that our Mums liked or just to document a time and place, but that can’t happen without bringing up all those memories, the songs that Mum sang that we rolled her eyes and teased her about, that she isn’t here to celebrate today, her anniversary is also this week, and the Uncles and Aunts so strong, now so frail or gone too…. meant it wasn’t a dry eyed preparation for this show, and there were so many songs that couldn’t go it.
It really was a special time when St Patrick Day was the meaningful day it was about wearing green as a show that you can’t crush culture, before it became a fluorescent parade; but, if that is the price of people putting down barriers and celebrating together about what is good then it is a small price to pay and we still have precious memories…………..and so say the people here in Neck – Everybody is Welcome to THE HOOLEY!!! And new horizons for all in common
The Songs, all played for different reasons, different people and times.
1 Irish Washerwoman Trad
2 Extract from Foil Arms & Hog see the video here
3 Fields of Athenry – Tony Fuller & The Free MacGuinness Band
4 Nora – Johnny McEvoy
5 Do you want your auld lobby washed down? Brendan Shine
6 Whisky In The Jar – Thin Lizzy
7 My Perfect Cousin – The Undertones
8 Seven Drunken Nights – The Dubliners
9 Danny Boy – Celtic Woman
10 Irish Rover – The Dubliners & The Pogues
11 When You Were Sweet Sixteen – The Fureys & Davey Arthur
12 Hay Wrap – The Saw Drs
13 Don’t Forget Your Shovel – Christy Moore
14 Oro se do bheatha ‘bhaile – Sinead O’Connor
15 Rare Auld times – The Dubliners
16 Ride On – Christy Moore
17 Four Green Fields – Phoenix Chroi Collective