Printer Friendly

Dancing between decks: choreographies of transition during Irish migrations to America *.


NOSTALGIA is the disease of the homesick, a break with a place and a past and an uneasy fit with the new, a wound that has not healed. In his poem "Neither" (1976), Samuel Beckett wrote about the condition of being caught between worlds, of belonging neither to one place nor another.
   As between two lit refuges whose doors once neared gently close, once
   turned away from gently part again beckoned back and forth and turned away


   heedless of the way, intent on one gleam or the other then gently light
   unfading on that unheeded neither unspeakable home. (1)

Beckett knew intimately what it was like to exist between realms, between countries, and one might argue that he made such liminal spaces famous in his writing. Perhaps in this poem he sought to express the movement inherent between two realms: between the known and the unknown; between Ireland and America, Cork and New York City; between the light left on in the Phoenix Park mansion for returned emigrants, and the torch light in the Statue of Liberty that met them in America. Between these "lit refuges" are the movements of many in search of home. For emigrants and exiles, and people on the move, home is unutterable; it is not a name or a place, but something we learn to carry with us. Home is inside us, it is in our bodies and our movements, or as Irish poet Paula Meehan writes, "you must live in your skin, call it home." (2)

During great social movements such as migration, which carried people far from their familiar surroundings and traditions, emigrants depended on the "mobile arts" for cultural expression and remembrance. (3) Portable, yet deeply connected to the landscape of home, song, music, and dance were prominent features of migrant culture. Many of the Irish melodies, lyrics, and ballads that gave voice to the experience of emigration have survived to become popular all over the world. The history of dance in relation to migration is more difficult to trace, but was not a less palpable expression of Irish identity. Dance happens in the moment and leaves no discursive record to mark its occurrence, yet this invisible choreography is registered and remembered through the body. Sociologist Paul Connerton suggests that cultural memories are sedimented or amassed in the body, and as a bodily expression, dance articulates those embedded stories. (4) For Irish emigrants traveling to America, dance was a performance of memory and an expression of belief in the life to come. Dancing through familiar patterns and figures, a choreography that was inflected with intimate remembrances, was a way of embodying a particular past and a local landscape of memory.

To examine dance as part of emigrants' experience we must attend to what Joseph Roach terms the "kinesthetic imagination," which involves movements that are real, remembered, residual, or imaginary. (5) For Roach social memories are transmitted and preserved through bodily performances that accompany forms of travel, departure, and displacement. Roach's concept of circum-Atlantic performance locates sites of memory that have been created through exploration, travel, and racial trauma. In thinking about the dances that were performed en route to America, dances that embodied the past while imagining the future, I want to invoke Roach's concept of the "kinesthetic" in relation to memory in order to consider migration through dance's familiar movements. In reconstructing what might have happened on board those immigrant ships nearly one hundred and fifty years ago, I must attend to the dances described in words as well as those that are retained or imagined in the body. I want to highlight the significance of these movements for Irish emigrants during their journey out of Ireland, and draw attention to the importance of dance throughout the immigration process--from dancing at American wakes, to dancing on board ships, to dancing in America.

For Paul Gilroy the Atlantic passage is a circuitous route, a physical journey out of Africa and an imagined return, accompanied by "the movement of key cultural and political artifacts: tracts, books, gramophone records, and choirs." (6) I am also interested in traveling culture, how cultural practices such as dance have been engaged and transformed by emigrants. And yet is dance a cultural artifact? Dance is a cultural expression that is intimately associated with the physical body and therefore grounded in the lived experience of the dancer. The desire for return may have manifested itself for some emigrants as a real homecoming, but more likely it was an imaginary journey performed through the ballads, rhythms, and movements of remembrance. I am plotting a journey that imagines a return, namely, the journey of Irish dance as it left Ireland in the bodies of emigrants, and as it continues to extend the map of Ireland through the figure of the moving body.

It is no coincidence that the popular Broadway-style dance review Riverdance tells the story of Irish migration through dance, for there is a fundamental relationship between choreographies of departure and the expanding geography of Ireland. Even as Riverdance dramatizes the painful separation of emigrants from Ireland, the show simultaneously demonstrates the survival of those emigrants and the arrival of Irish culture beyond Ireland. It is not my purpose to trace the history of Irish dance throughout the Irish diaspora, but to suggest that dance movements encode a history of loss through the embodiment of memory: that diasporic dances are rituals of departure that become celebrations of recovery. The tension created through the dynamics of departure and recovery is what animates the movement of migration.

Nearly seven million Irish emigrants have left Ireland to seek their future in North America since 1700. This exodus was concentrated between 1800 and 1900, with more than five million Irish men and women embarking on the voyage across the Atlantic. Their mass movements followed many choreographic routes--ships tracing back and forth across the Atlantic to America, Canada, Ireland, England, and Scotland; thousands of passengers, cargoes, and letters crisscrossing the ocean; and the movements of dance that punctuated these larger social movements. Many have viewed the Atlantic as a site of trauma, and indeed each history of that journey is fraught with loss. To view migration as social choreography is to consider the interconnections between the physical, emotional, and spatial movements involved in the journey. Gilroy considers ships as important sites of connection between various points in the Atlantic which complicate the history of travel and commerce because they moved between different interfaces of power: "[Ships] were mobile elements that stood for the shifting spaces in between the fixed places that they connected." (7) For Gilroy the ship offers a view of a world in motion, and through its movement connects different political and economic systems, cultures, and traditions. Within these "shifting spaces" emigrants were in limbo, between states, suspended on the threshold of experience. In this literally floating world people of different religions, nationalities, and classes came in contact with one another and began to negotiate, contest, and redefine their identities. Not only were ships floating on the waters of uncertainty, they were transitional spaces where emigrants moved between Ireland and America, and between the known and the unknown. Immigrant ships, in motion and unanchored to the fixity of place, are ripe sites for charting the movements of migration, those social and bodily movements that became the link between worlds.

In his Journal of a Tour of the Hebrides, James Boswell articulated the connection he saw between dance and the social movement of migration. He remarks in his journal:
   In the evening the company danced as usual. We performed, with much
   activity, a dance which, I suppose, the emigration from Sky has occasioned.
   They call it America. Each of the couples, after the common involutions and
   evolutions, successively whirls around in a circle, till all are in motion;
   the dance seems intended to shew [sic] how emigration catches, till a whole
   neighborhood is set afloat. (8)

The choreography of the dance invokes the wider movements of migration in the community, and literally sets it "afloat" on the ships bound for America. For Boswell movement is contagious, drawing one and then another into its collective energy. Here, not only the journey but the destination is figured as a dance, a dance called America, initiating what I believe to be an enduring connection between dance and departure. During the various stages of emigration dancing accompanied and in some cases mediated emigrants' experiences of departure, travel, and arrival. The dance of departure called America enacts a formal parting and symbolizes the journey that is already in motion.

Dancing was a common feature of the departure ceremonies in Ireland known as "American wakes," "live wakes," "farewell parties," or, in Northern Ireland, "convoys." In his extensive history of Irish emigration Kerby Miller suggests that the custom of dancing on the eve of an emigrant's departure derived from the practice of dancing at traditional funereal wakes. Both traditional wakes and American wakes mourned the "departed," but made little distinction between dancing to death and dancing to America. Emigration to America was considered a kind of death and was marked with expressions of grief, but in some cases it was seen as a cause for celebration. Miller notes that from as early as 1844 American wakes were a mixture of sorrow and hilarity, prayers and keening, after which "young folk danced to the music of fiddles, pipes, flutes or melodeons. Between dances the guests cried, sang songs, told stories and drank away the night." (9) These wakes often allowed, and even encouraged, the release of contradictory expressions. Arnold Schrier refers to the traumatic doubleness of the American wake as a combination of "mourning and merrymaking." (10) Dancing at these wakes embodied this duality by affirming the ties to one's home and family, while also setting in motion the withdrawal of the emigrant from the community.

Tom Brick, from Ballyferriter, Co. Kerry, recalled the atmosphere during his own farewell party on the eve of his emigration to South Dakota. "There was singing and dancing, some drink and lots to eat such as we had. The large flag stone in front of the fire-place hearth took a terrific beating that evening while Sawneen played the wind that shook the barley on his fiddle for the eight hand reel, for the four boys and girls dancing it." (11) Margaret McGuinness, who emigrated from Sligo just a few years later, similarly recalled the activities preceding her departure: "[T]here was a dance which lasted until morning, which is the custom before one leaves for America. So many friends came and danced until it was time for me to leave for the train." (12) Dance figured as an inherent part of the leaving ceremony, as if one could not go to America without dancing first. The repetition of the familiar movements inscribed a "kinesthetic" sense of place (the kitchen or hearth) onto the body of the emigrants, and also left them with a vital memory of those nearest to them.

Emotions ran high during these ritual partings where emigrants were among their family and friends for the last time. Miller cites a particularly moving scene between a father and son where they confront their pending separation on the dance floor: "Get up here son and face me in a step for likely it will be the last step ever we'll dance." (13) It is significant that despite the sorrow of the occasion, dancing was part of this ritual, as if moving through the familiar figures and steps of the dance provided emigrants a last intimacy with their family and friends. Letters indicate that it was also common for emigrants to take a piece of clothing, a cutting from a favorite dress or shirt, or a lock of hair from a loved one and keep it near them during their journey. Literally cut from the body of the beloved, these remembrances prolonged the sensation of contact. There are other references to the dreaded final moments of departure described in explicitly physical terms: the final look back at one's parents or the last touch of a sister's hand, the parting blessing of a parish priest. Separation was a physical condition, and perhaps dancing was a way of rehearsing that final embrace.

Like American wakes, wakes for the dead were occasions for the living and the dead to physically be together for the last time. Family and friends stayed with the deceased to assist in their transition from this world to the next. In his study of the amusements and games that were practiced during Irish wakes, Sean O Suilleabhain confirms that "dancing was a normal feature of Irish wakes during the past three centuries." (14) Such celebratory amusements, he offers, originally came from "the attempt to heal the wound of Death, and to do final justice to the deceased while he was still physically present." (15) Not only did dancing at wakes help to pass the long hours through the night or keep people awake, it was also a curative practice that helped to revive or placate the spirits of the dead. O Suilleabhain comments that sometimes at a wake the corpse would be danced around the floor to make sure that the person was really dead or to include them in the festivities. At such wakes the dead were literally danced into the next world, borne to the next realm through movement. Dance mediated the passage between this world and the next and between Ireland and America.

One of the many wake-amusement games that O Suilleabhain describes was known as Building the Ship, which involved enacting or miming the construction of a ship: "[T]he keel was laid first, followed by the prow and stern of the ship; then a woman who was taking part in the game, would raise the mast with some gesture and speech...." (16) In another account four men actually use their bodies to configure the boat by sitting astride one another and using their arms and legs to form its parts. Like boats, bodies are modes of transport, bearing spirits, dreams, and dances between worlds. (17)
   Dancing Class

   We have dancing on the main deck,
   and preaching down below,
   We have swearing in the foretop,
   As through the waves we go.


Death and travel conveyances merged in the figure of the "coffin ship," which reinforced the sense that emigration was a departure without return. American wakes sent out the "living dead" to meet their fate in America, provided they made it through the traumatic Atlantic voyage. Many emigrants who made the voyage from Ireland to America did so under terrible circumstances, either beginning the journey already ravaged by hunger and disease or departing Ireland only to perish along the way. Disease, seasickness, and overcrowding contributed to the precarious condition of emigrants who were poised on the edge of survival. Edwin Guillet's study of Atlantic voyages since 1770 draws on Scottish and Irish migration histories and English, American, and Canadian shipping documents to create a picture of what life must have been like for emigrants on board. Passengers traveling by sailing ship were at the mercy of the weather, which could greatly slow the trip during a storm or halt it completely for lack of a decent wind. While the voyage to America was calculated to take between six and eight weeks, it could take as long as twelve, leaving the passengers lengthy amounts of time to occupy themselves. According to Guillet, once over their initial seasickness, passengers fished, read, prayed, and attended to cooking and cleaning duties, while some organized games and entertainment. Among these activities Guillet cites many references to dancing on board: "Dancing was a common pastime on shipboard ...; on the John Dennison there was a dance almost daily." (18)

Dancing on board was occasioned by various circumstances, from relieving homesickness to celebrating the end of a storm at sea, or to just providing relief from the tedium of the voyage. As early as 1818 Hugh Campbell, a Protestant emigrating from County Tyrone, attributed the dancing he witnessed on board to emigrants' feelings of homesickness. "The greater number of our steerage passengers (in order to drive away the sorrow which a separation from their native land produced) entered into the greatest extravagance in dancing, drinking, singing &c." (19) It seems as though dance helped to assuage the feelings of loss associated with leaving Ireland. The movements were inflected with memories, reminding emigrants of their last dance at home only hours or days before. For some emigrants dance was a performance of memory that connected them to their native land even as they moved away from it. In addition to relieving homesickness, dancing offered passengers a chance to move and engage in a form of physical exercise despite their confinement on board. James J. Mitchell, emigrating to America from County Galway in 1853, observed the following during his voyage:
   The passengers ... dressed gaily in the evenings, promenaded on deck, while
   some triped [sic] the light fantastic, or gathered in groups listening to
   the strains of some gifted songster. All, according to their different
   tastes trying to while away the weary hours of their confinement on ships
   board. (20)

Passengers with access to the upper decks of the ship could freely move about and enjoy the space and the fresh air, but for those steerage passengers who were denied access to the decks, dancing must have helped to revive their bodies and their spirits.

In his story of an Atlantic voyage, The Amateur Immigrant (1895), Robert Louis Stevenson draws attention to the spatial architecture of the ship in his account of a dance below deck. Because he travels as a cabin passenger, he is able to move throughout the different compartments of the vessel. His own mobility lies in contrast to the confinement of the steerage passengers to the lower decks of the ship. These berths left little room for movement; but, despite the cramped quarters, the passengers danced:
   Below, on the first landing, and lighted by another lamp, lads and lasses
   danced, not more than three at a time for lack of space, in jigs and reels
   and hornpipes. Above, on either side, there was a recess railed with iron,
   perhaps two feet wide and four long, which stood for orchestra and seats of
   honour. (21)

Certainly, space was at a premium on board, and perhaps the jigs and reels that Stevenson describes were best suited for the purpose because they do not require a large amount of space. One can imagine a group of emigrants clustered together, dancing in a small area like the one described above, alternately hammering their feet down into the ship's floor only to rebound back up into the air, to be caught by a partner and whirled round and round. Irish dance is known for its vertical axis, maintained through a strong torso, while the legs perform intricate footwork that propels the body up and down. The complexity and physicality of Irish dance would not have been lessened by the lack of space. Irish dance already contains a resistance to forms of confinement. Many have viewed the rigidity of the upper body in Irish dance as a response to pressure from the Catholic church to conform to notions of propriety, and yet, despite efforts to "discipline" the dancing body, the lower part, the legs, articulate the passionate physicality of the dance form. (22)

A description of a dance that took place on board the Hope underscores the practical nature of Irish dancing in confined spaces. This selection highlights the "appropriate" nature of Irish dancing on board because of spatial constraints, but also reveals a negative attitude toward the Irish dances. The narrator of this passage may have been a cabin passenger who had gone below deck, or he could have been watching his own party dancing Irish steps.
   In the confined space of a ship's deck polkas and quadrilles are out of the
   question, though at first much affectedly fastidious disinclination is
   expressed against the reel and the jig. But it is not long before these
   last reign triumphant, and the delicate forms and choice spirits foot the
   monotonous but merry-going measure with as much enjoyment as if they moved
   in a minuet before hundreds of eyes. (23)

He indicates that the Irish dances were fine, as long as there was not enough room for the more refined movements of the polka, quadrille, or minuet. The comment implies an acceptance of other national dances, such as the Eastern European polka and the French quadrille and minuet, dances that had been revised, popularized, and accepted in English ballrooms, but harbors a lingering distaste for dances of Irish descent. This commentator provides useful information about what kinds of dances were danced, where, and by whom, but also reveals an implicit tension between passengers of different backgrounds. Letters and travel diaries indicate that dancing was an activity enjoyed by both steerage and cabin passengers, illustrating dance's potential as a site for exchange between these groups.

An illustration from the London Illustrated News shows a group of emigrants engaged in a lively dance (see page 82). The image, labeled "Dancing Between Decks," depicts a group of men and women, children and adults, gathered around a small clearing on deck to watch a dance. The spatial and social positioning of dance "between" decks is important here. Ships were subdivided into different compartments and stratified according to levels, with many of the poorer Irish emigrants occupying the lower holds of the ship in steerage. Often, the worst conditions were lower down in the ship, while the more expensive accommodations were located nearer to the upper decks. If the spatial architecture of the ships reinforced the social divisions between passengers, then perhaps dances that were held "between decks" brought them briefly into contact.
   The scene of a party of emigrants, male and female, dancing between
   decks--to the music of the violin--played for their amusement, by some of
   their fellow passengers, is not a rare one. Sometimes a passenger is
   skilful on the Irish bagpipe, and his services are freely asked and freely
   given for the gratification of his countrymen and countrywomen--not simply
   while in dock, but, according to the reports of captains and others, during
   the whole voyage. (24)

This is one of several examples that refer to dancing on a landing, or "between decks" where the ship's crew, steerage passengers, and cabin passengers might come together for a dance. Because dance was an activity that most people on board could join in, it became a site of contact and contest between passengers of different classes and ethnic backgrounds. Dancing on board occurred in the spaces "between," i.e., physically between steerage and cabin landings, and socially between classes and cultures. Perhaps this "crossing" was possible because the ship itself was in motion. As a contained socio-political unit, the ship highlights the tensions and sympathies that existed between passengers, but it can also be viewed as a site of fluidity or mobility, where people inhabited a transitory space that allowed them to move "between" identities. Perhaps "dancing between decks" referred not only to dancing between steerage and cabin but to dancing the line between social divides as well.

Dancing could also bring out antipathies between groups. An account from a ship carrying Protestant and Catholic emigrants illustrates how dancing could be a cultural battleground. (25) According to Guillet, "On one vessel a Protestant clergyman performed family worship every evening for all who cared to attend, `but the Irish Roman Catholics take great pleasure in dancing Irish jigs over his head during the service." (26) Whether or not this anecdote is accurate, it points to the perception that Irish passengers were likelier to "give in" to excessive revelry on board than other immigrant groups. There are other accounts by Welsh evangelists reproaching Irish passengers for dancing too vigorously. One letter of 1870 records a Welshman's disdain for the Irish on board: "Indulgence, frivolity, and instability are the special characteristics of the Irish.... During the whole journey when the sea was quiet there was nothing to be heard except their singing, dancing, shouting, and noise. I saw them ... dancing etc., even on Sunday 24th." (27) Their energetic dances were considered proof that the Irish were a barbaric and unruly group. The wider feelings of distrust or dislike for the Irish harbored by some passengers on board were concentrated in the disapproval of their dancing and general merrymaking. Tom Brick acknowledged the anti-Irish sentiment that he saw among the English sailors and attributed it to the uneasiness caused by the Boer War. The following scene interestingly inverts the placement of the Irish on the upper deck, while the (English) sailor emerges and then retreats back into the lower depths of the ship:
   During the first three days of our voyage while the weather was fair, there
   was much activity on the upper deck especially among the Irish steerage
   passengers who had access to a certain part of the promenade upper deck
   with dancing and singing music being furnished by one man fiddler and girl
   playing the accordion. The fourth day out the Irish group, while dancing a
   reel or square dance were interrupted by a stoker who came up from the
   engine room and threw something unwieldy ? [sic] into the dancing set. The
   only thing that saved him from being thrown overboard was a very hasty
   retreat below deck and down to his stoker job in the engine room. (28)

The attempt by the sailor to extinguish the dance (did he throw a burning ember?) was a gesture meant to put an end to the dancing. But perhaps it was also meant to stifle the expression of an Irish tradition that was at the time becoming closely linked with Irish nationalism. With the rise of the Gaelic League in London and Dublin, Irish dances, along with Irish theater and language, were becoming politicized expressions of Irish culture. In America dancing would also take on a political resonance as the Gaelic League of New York became active in hosting social gatherings, which included dancing, to gather support for the Irish nationalist movement.


The Gaelic League was responsible for reviving an interest in Irish dance and began standardizing popular dances in order to develop a coherent Irish dance "tradition." The boycott of any dance that could not be directly traced to its Irish roots meant that many of the old-style dances, adapted from quadrilles, were declared "foreign," in favor of the newly devised ceili dances. Irish music and dance scholar Brendan Breathnach believed that this act of purging Irish dance of all traces of its past was a fatal gesture responsible for erasing many indigenous qualities of the dances. (29)

During the Irish dance revival in America, initiated by the Gaelic League, it was observed that some of the dances actually retained their indigenous style. A dance guide published by the Gaelic League of the State of New York calls on teachers to make the dances uniform so that they would appeal to wider audiences. However, it was noted that some of the classes failed to alter the traditional steps: "The necessary changes were adopted by some of the classes and not by others, and one or two adopted a style peculiar to certain localities in Ireland." (30) For some, dancing provided a social connection with other Irish emigrants, but it also momentarily shifted the ground on which they moved. To perform the movements of a dance that was preserved as it was danced in Tralee, Co. Kerry, was to be momentarily transported. The dance figures trace a familiar route through space and, by moving through this choreography, emigrants embodied the sensation of home. (31) By embodying memory, dance unearths those sedimentary layers to reveal just where we come from. Differences and variations in dance style were attributed to the regional style of a dancing master or dance teacher. As Irish dance historian John Cullinane points out, the great migrations from Counties Cork and Kerry, which were considered the cradle of Irish dancing, brought many of the dances from these rural regions to America, where they became popularized among the larger immigrant populations. "It was the strong and fast Cork-Kerry style of dancing that was preserved, almost unaltered, in the New York area and throughout North America." (32) The transportation of a distinct and local style of dancing to the dance halls and ballrooms of New York City is a journey made and remembered by the body. The figures of these dances mapped a circuitous route back to Ireland--not just an imagined return but an embodied recovery.

A focus on dance illuminates an important aspect of the journey to America undertaken by almost seven million Irish emigrants. By attending to dance, I have made connections between the rituals of departure, the Atlantic voyage, and emigrants' arrival in America, because each of these events involved the physical body in a series of translations. This is what dancing finally offered Irish emigrants--a way to translate their memories of home into experiences of the new. On arrival emigrants began to make physical adjustments in order to become part of American life. A photograph included in Kerby Miller's photo essay, Out of Ireland, shows a somber group of young Irish men and women dancing. They stand in two distinct rows, men on one side, women on the other. They seem to belong to different worlds as they look across the floor at one another. Their shoulders are square as they gaze straight ahead, their postures quietly erect. They are so formal that it seems as if they are not moving at all. The heading for the photograph reads, "The Monaghan Men's Dancing Class learning the social skills of the American middle class." (33) Dance was part of a physical process through which emigrants learned to embody American values and cultural codes. American citizens were cultivated through movement, with dance and other forms of physical culture shaping those immigrant bodies.

One of the first gestures that emigrants were instructed to learn on arriving in America, as described by Irish emigrant Tom Brick in 1902, was to take off their caps to salute the Statue of Liberty as they passed it. With this motion emigrants began a process of bodily integration into American life. These gestures were often small--learning to tie a bow in your hair or how to carry a pocketbook--but they were part of a larger system of movement that encouraged emigrants to get in step with the ordered rhythms of American life. Although many emigrants would always hover between Ireland and America in their dreams, dancing reminded them that their Irish shoes now moved on American soil.

(1) S.E. Gontarski, ed., Samuel Beckett: The Complete Short Prose, 1929-1989 (New York: Grove Press, 1995), 258.

(2) Paula Meehan, Pillow Talk (Loughcrew: Gallery Press, 1994), 72.

(3) Patrick O'Sullivan, ed., The Irish World Wide: History, Heritage, Identity, Vol. 3. The Creative Migrant (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1994), 2.

(4) Paul Connerton, How Societies Remember (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 74.

(5) Joseph Roach, Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), 27.

(6) Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994), 4.

(7) Ibid., 16.

(8) James Boswell, The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson Lld, (London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1786), 228 (emphasis mine).

(9) Kerby Miller, Emigrants and Exiles: Ireland and the Irish Exodus to North America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), 558.

(10) Arnold Schrier, Ireland and the American Emigration, 1850-1900 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1958), 87.

(11) Tom Brick, "Memoirs," 1902 (private collection of Kerby Miller), 17.

(12) Margaret McGuinness, "My Life--An Adventure" (memoir donated to Kerby Miller by Miss Alice L. McGuinness), 1.

(13) Miller, Emigrants and Exiles, 560.

(14) Sean O Suilleabhain, Irish Wake Amusements (Cork: Mercier Press, 1967), 30.

(15) Ibid., 172.

(16) Ibid., 76.

(17) See S. J. Connolly, Priests and People in Pre-Famine Ireland, 1780-1845 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1982) for an extensive discussion of the games performed during "festive wakes." Connolly describes a game called "Drawing the Ship out of the Mud," in which the male players engaged in sexually symbolic activities. Connolly claims that the subversive behavior allowed during wakes would in other contexts have been prohibited. He notes that wakes that mourned a young person's untimely death were far less festive and would most likely not have included games or dances. See also Gearoid O Crualaoich, "The `Merry Wake'," in James S. Donnelly, Jr., and Kerby A. Miller, Irish Popular Culture, 1650-1850 (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1998). O Crualaoich sees the merry wake as a form of resistance to civil and clerical efforts to control the Irish peasantry.

(18) Edwin C. Guillet, The Great Migration: The Atlantic Crossing by Sailing-ship since 1770, 2nd ed. (Toronto: Toronto University Press, 1963).

(19) Hugh Campbell, "The Journal of Hugh Campbell," Bulletin of the Missouri Historical Society 23 (1967), 241-68.

(20) Jas. J. Mitchell, "Journal," 1853 (Kerby Miller's private collection), 5.

(21) Robert Louis Stevenson, The Amateur Immigrant--The Silverado Squatters (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1923), 29.

(22) The first efforts to discipline Irish dancing came from the church, but later the Gaelic League standardized the style and technique of Irish dance to conform to a nationalist ideal. In 1935 the Public Dance Halls Act was passed in Ireland in an effort to regulate commercial dance halls. Despite these efforts, Irish dance remains a vital cultural form that has not only physically embodied disciplinary moves but has also demonstrated a resistance to sanctions against it. See Helen Brennan, The Story of Irish Dance (Dingle: Brandon, 1999), for more on historical efforts to control Irish dance.

(23) Guillet, Great Migration, 79.

(24) Illustrated London News, 6 July 1850.

(25) See Brennan, Story of Irish Dance. In Chapter 2, Brennan comments that the Gaelic League created a "cultural civil war with dance as the area of combat" (31). The League sought to determine which dances were "foreign" and which were "native" to Ireland in order to establish an authentic canon. Irish dance was seen as a cultural barometer of Irishness. One example of how dance could bring to the surface tensions related to Irish identity can be found in James Joyce's "The Dead." As Gabriel and the Republican Miss Ivors dance "The Lancers" (named for the weapons carried by British soldiers), they engage in a sparring session about Gabriel's tendency to neglect his Irish roots. The fact that their exchange occurs as they are dancing draws attention to the political subtext of the dance itself as an expression of Irish nationalism.

(26) Guillet, Great Migration, 71.

(27) Alan Conway, ed., The Welsh in America: Letters from Immigrants (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1961), 48.

(28) Brick, "Memoirs," 22.

(29) See Breandan Breathnach, Folk Music and Dances of Ireland (Cork: Ossian Publications, 1996), 46-47.

(30) Rinnce na h-Eireann, A Simplified Work on the Performance of the Dances of Ireland, (New York: Gaelic League of New York, 1907), 3.

(31) The connection that I am making here between choreography and the Irish landscape is clarified in my Ph.D. dissertation, "Social Choreography: Dance in Irish Culture and Politics." In this case I am thinking about how the pattern figured in prefamine Irish culture as a choreography that traced a direct connection to a specific landscape. See Diarmuid O Giollain, "The Pattern," in Donnelly and Miller, eds., Irish Popular Culture. While some "patterns" (i.e., patron-saint-day celebrations) ended with an actual dance, the movements of the pattern itself were a series of choreographed circuits and rounds. The choreography of these ritual movements was intimately associated with the spiritual significance of the landscape. I consider the regional dances performed by Irish emigrants in America to be choreographies that brought them in touch with the familiar landscape of their homeland, and hence dancing as a ritual connection to place.

(32) John P. Cullinane, "Irish Dance World Wide: Irish Migrants and the Shaping of Traditional Irish Dance," in O'Sullivan, ed., Creative Migrant, 203.

(33) Kerby Miller and Paul Wagner, Out of Ireland: The Story of Irish Emigration to America (London: Aurum Press, 1994), 99.

* I would like to thank Professor Kerby Miller for his generosity and assistance in locating the letters used in this article.

J'AIME MORRISON is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Performance Studies at New York University. Her dissertation is entitled "Social Choreography: Dance in Irish Culture and Politics." She is also a choreographer and has been an artist-in-residence at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, the Foyle Arts Centre, and the Wexford Arts Centre. In 1998 she was the NEA/Exchange Award recipient in Belfast.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Irish American Cultural Institute
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Morrison, J'Aime
Publication:Eire-Ireland: a Journal of Irish Studies
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2001
Previous Article:"White," if "not quite": Irish whiteness in the nineteenth-century Irish-American novel (1).
Next Article:The famine's scars: William Murphy's Ulster and American odyssey.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters