The Evolution of Irish Dance

Many years ago my daughter Emma was entered in one of the dance categories of the Jersey Eisteddfod. She practiced her ballet-based piece of work for weeks beforehand and, on competition night, she pulled it off perfectly. Three little girls performing bog standard Irish jigs took the three prizes.

Traditional Irish step dance has its origins in the 1700s when dance masters travelled the country teaching the dances. These visits were apparently very popular with the townsfolk as they represented a chance to have a bit of a party.

In 1893 the Gaelic League was formed. This was a kickback against colonial oppression and the perceived anglicisation of Irish culture. As well as promoting indigenous Irish sports, the League standardised step dance in the country and re-branded it Irish dance.
In 1935 the Public Dance Halls Act effectively confined dancing to Catholic-controlled dance halls. Irish dance2The style of dancing thus remained isolated from outside influences. It continued to be a rather formal and chaste affair, arms stiffly by side, upper torso rigid. Girls and women wore colourfully embroidered velvet dresses, boys and men kilts, though dark trousers started to become accepted. The Irish Dancing Commission retained strict rules concerning the teaching of Irish dance, and the rules of competition were unbending.

The Eurovision Song Contest was held in 1994 at the Point Theatre (now the 3Arena) in Dublin. Ireland were hosting the contest as the previous year’s winners. The national broadcaster RTE televised the show across the continent. Irish danceDuring the intermission half way through the contest a dance performance took place. Those seven minutes revolutionised the perception of Irish dance. Riverdance, fronted by American-born champion dancers Michael Flatley and Jean Butler, took everyone’s breath away. It was sensational. Irish dance was suddenly a theatrical performance. It was energetic, freed from convention, progressive, sexy, smiley. The costumes were now light, modern, sequinned, allowing freedom of movement. It perfectly captured the mood of modern Ireland and the Celtic Tiger years.Riverdance

Irish dance expanded worldwide, outside its heartland and those of Irish descent worldwide. Riverdance became a full-length show which is still touring the world 26 years later. Flatley broke away to run his own shows. If you’ve never seen Lord of the Dance, it is still touring. If you can’t see it live then it’s worth 90 minutes of your life watch it here, with Flatley himself.Michael Flatley

And, I understand anyway, back at non-theatrical competition level, the judges now accept innovation as part of the evolution of this ancient dance form.

Lilian Grandin, Jersey’s first female doctor

Recently we here in Jersey were treated to a lovely little playlet which portrayed six ‘forgotten’ Jersey women, those that defied convention and helped others to follow on more easily. I’ve blogged before about the ‘Surreal Sisters’ Lucie Schwob and Suzanne Malherbe. Others to feature were Caroline Trachy (politics), Elinor Glyn (literature) and Florence Boot née Rowe (philanthropist).

In truth, Lilian Mary Grandin was never entirely forgotten, but maybe one Jersey resident in a hundred would recognise the name today. We think nothing these days of women doctors, but it was noteworthy in the extreme until fairly recent times.

Ms Grandin was born in Regent Road in 1876, where a plaque commemorates that fact. She was educated at Jersey Ladies College. A devout Methodist, she was determined to serve as a missionary. To this end she studied medicine and chemistry in Edinburgh, midwifery in Dublin (no doubt at the Rotunda) and tropical and eye diseases in London. She was sent off to Yunnan Province in China where she was to spend what remained of her life.

Lilian Grandin JCG

Pupils from Jersey College for Girls visit Grandin’s grave in 2014.

In Yunnan she set up a clinic and leper colony and trained many Chinese women as nurses. In 1912 she married the author Edwin Dingle but continued with her profession.

In 1924 she developed typhus symptoms, but gave her remaining dose of typhus medicine to a patient. She died a short time later, aged just 48.

Lilian Grandin stamps

Commemorative stamps issued in 1976

The clinic she founded in Yunnan is now a hospital which treats 60,000 patients a year. There Grandin is remembered as the Angel of Zhoutong.

So, how’s retirement Roy?

The last six months have been…interesting. Certainly I have no regrets about packing in full-time work when I might have carried on for some years yet. I don’t miss the daily grind – being at one’s desk for 9am, shifting into mental gear and only unwinding at the end of the day. 45 years of accounts and finance is enough. And even though it has given me a living it was still probably a path I wouldn’t choose again. Sure, it’s not coal mining or fighting ISIS, but I’m not sure it was ever my calling.

The first two months were a honeymoon period having been paid a generous bonus. I could afford to do absolutely nothing if I’d wanted. As it was, I stepped in to do a few shifts for a friend at the Channel Islands Military Museum. As Dire Straights put it, ‘That ain’t working, that’s the way to do it.’ And what with continuing my voluntary tour guiding at Mont Orgueil for Jersey Heritage, I was keeping out of mischief.

CIMM1

A great opportunity to kick my running onto a better level, you’d think, but disaster struck. My first-ever running injury after many years. A knee injury which basically put me out of action for months. I feared the worst at my age, it could have been the end of the running malarkey. However, with careful management, it’s much better now. Hopefully I can press on a bit now in the New Year.

There remains the issue of earning a living. The Jersey pension and other benefits might keep one alive, but not much more. I have savings but I’d eat through those quickly enough. So in the New Year, maybe some paid work with Jersey Heritage? A bit of part-time accounts work perhaps. But I’ve started doing a little freelance writing – a little classified ad in the local paper has indicated there might be a local market for that sort of thing. Certainly my diary is filling up nicely, so we’ll see how that goes.

snoopy

And right now I’m helping out with the Christmas rush at Jersey Post. It’s an eye-opener, seeing what goes on in the beehive behind the scenes. Resources seem continually stretched, methods in some areas are (to my mind) somewhat archaic, but there’s no doubting that the guys and gals all work hard and well and I have great respect for everyone involved at the coal face there.

Finally, my apologies to my blogging friends. I’ve neglected my own blogging, but also the blogs of others. There is a backlog awaiting. It’s no reflection on you guys that I haven’t read, liked or commented on them for many weeks. I’ll try to do better.

Happy Christmas to one and all.

Pierce Turner (2)

It was 10 years ago, during my Irish years, that I first blogged about singer/songwriter Pierce Turner. One of Ireland’s most talented, original and prolific musicians, Turner remains a niche performer, unheard and unappreciated by most, even in his native land.

He has released his latest album which I commend to you. It’s entitled Vinegar Hill, which was the site of one of the bloodiest battles of the 1798 Rebellion. The site is in Turner’s native county Wexford.

The production of the album was largely crowdfunded, Turner’s fans bunging in a sum of money in return for various goodies. One of those was an offer by Turner to handwrite the lyrics of one of his songs. Here is my prize of the words to Moonbeam Josephine, from Turner’s signature album from 1995, Mañana in Manhattan.

Moonbeam Josephine

Here’s the link to the song itself.

The Mañana in Manhattan album set the bar high and Turner has not always cleared it since. Yet he works on in the studio and sparingly in concerts in New York (where he lives) and in his native country to a devoted audience.

With his new album Vinegar Hill, Turner takes some old Irish songs and tunes, throws them skywards, retains melody and words but reworks the arrangements in a rollicking manner that might outrage the traditionalists.

Maybe in another 10 years I’ll let you know what the latest is with Mr Pierce Turner.

They Got Their Answer

During the spring of 1940 the army of the Third Reich rampaged westward through the Low Countries and France. As the danger to the Channel Islands became imminent, the British Government arranged evacuations for those who wished to leave. They also withdrew all British troops from the islands leaving them demilitarised and defenceless.

No one told the Germans.La Rocque1

High-level reconnaissance by the Germans proved inconclusive as regards the level of defences in the islands. On the late afternoon of 28th June three Heinkel bombers left Cherbourg to find out. Here at La Rocque they made a low level sweep, machine-gunning the vicinity. Three people were killed instantly outside their homes.La Rocque2

The bombers went on to attack St Helier and St Peter Port harbours with 41 further deaths and many injuries.

They got their answer. There were no defences. Two days later the Occupation began.

The Stardust, justice to be served?

48 kids never came home from the Stardust nightclub in north Dublin on Valentine’s Day, 14th February 1981. I have posted before on the subject here and here. The bare facts are

Stardust1

  •  A fire broke out in the upper part of the building. It quickly spread to the main nightclub area, which was packed.
  • There was panic, those inside fled for the exits. Some of the fire exits were chained shut and padlocked. The lights failed.
  • 48 died, 214 were injured, some very badly.
  • A Public Enquiry found that arson was the probable cause. This enabled the building’s owners, the Butterlys, to claim compensation of 580,000 Irish pounds.
  • A further enquiry in 2009 ruled that there was no evidence of arson. (No repayment of compensation of course.)
  • Despite the original enquiry finding clear evidence of ‘recklessly dangerous practices’ against the operators of the nightclub, no one has ever been charged with any offence.
  • The Butterlys have brazened it out to this day, re-launching their business on the site with never the hint of an apology or regret.
  • In recent times much more evidence has been gathered that, if accepted, would prove beyond doubt that the fire was the result of an electrical fault in the roof space. And who is responsible for ensuring electrical safety?

Now, after more than 38 years of campaigning, the Attorney General has ruled that fresh inquests into the 48 deaths will be held.

Will the new inquest finally see justice done, as with the Hillsborough tragedy?

Stardust2

Christy Moore’s 1985 song for which he was found guilty of contempt of court. The lyrics are still libellous in Ireland.

Ray Heffernan’s beautiful song of remembrance.

The Hero Horse

The de Carteret family, of Normandy stock, have been around in Jersey for nearly 1,000 years. For most of that time they have owned St Ouen’s Manor in the north-west of the Island.

St Ouen's Manor 1904

St Ouen’s Manor 1904 (credit Jerripedia)

In 1467 the Seigneur, Sir Philippe de Carteret was peacefully fishing in St Ouen’s Pond, then part of the manorial land. It was during the years of the little-known French Occupation. French soldiers crept up on Sir Philippe, whereupon he mounted his horse and rode for his life.

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St Ouen’s Pond

It is over a mile, and up a steep escarpment, from the pond to the Manor. His horse tiring, Sir Philippe reached the deep, narrow valley named Les Charrières, just south of the Manor. He would only escape the French if the horse could leap across the chasm. He urged the horse on and just made the other side. The French could not follow and Sir Philippe was safe.

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Les Charrieres – was the epic leap here?

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Or here?

 

But, exhausted by its efforts the horse dropped dead at the entrance to the Manor. Sir Philippe ordered that a portrait be made of the horse and that it be buried in the Manor grounds.

 

 

In 1904, bones were unearthed at the Manor. They were send to the British Museum who concluded that they belonged to a horse which had died over 400 years previously.

St Ouen's Manor

Today, if you are lucky enough to gain admittance to the Great Hall, you can see both the portrait and a bone of the hero horse.

The Surreal Sisters

They were exotic for sure, certainly by Jersey standards. Lucie Schwob (aka Claude Cahun) and Suzanne Malherbe (aka Marcel Moore) step-sisters and life partners, rocked up in Jersey in 1937. Lucie was then 43, Suzanne two years her senior. Both had been born in Nantes, a French city well known to present day Jersey drivers heading south.

Lucie & Marcel

Lucie & Suzanne

They were both artistic, of the surreal persuasion. They are best known for their ground-breaking photography, daring to shock with their avant-garde and gender-challenging work which has attracted a new audience in recent times.

Lucie portrait
They purchased a property – La Rocquaise – in beautiful St Brelade’s Bay. In July 1940 the Channel Islands were occupied by Nazi-ruled Germany. In October of that year the occupiers enacted the First Order, requiring all Jews to register. Lucie and Suzanne ignored it. Furthermore, they made it their business to listen in to BBC news broadcasts on a forbidden wireless set. They then typed up the bad (from Germany’s point of view) news on slips of paper which they then discretely placed where they would be found and read by occupying soldiers. News of the Allied victories and destruction of German cities would certainly have undermined morale.

La Rocquaise

La Rocquaise

They were informed upon (sadly not unheard of in Jersey) and were arrested. Well aware of their likely fate, they overdosed on their way to prison. The suicide attempts failed and they were duly sentenced to death. Only on appeal by the Bailiff Alexander Coutanche were their sentences commuted to life imprisonment, on the grounds that they were female.

St Brelades Bay

St Brelade’s Bay

A few months later the islands were liberated. Lucie’s health, never the best, deteriorated and she died in 1954. Suzanne moved to the property Carola in Beaumont where she committed suicide in 1972.

Lucie & Marcel grave

Reunited, St Brelades’ churchyard

A full appreciation of Lucie and Suzanne’s lives and works with many photographs can be found here.

Summer Fairs in Ireland

I was about 8 years of age. The various stalls in the field next to the racecourse were doing a roaring trade. A bit bored, curious, I wandered around to the back of a tent and pushed back a flap to peak in. Immediately there was a stinging slap across my earhole and a mouthful of unintelligible words from the gypsy woman. Crying, I ran to tell my Dad. ‘Well, you must have deserved it so,’ was his comment.

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Ballabuidhe 2014

The Ballabuidhe (Bal-a-bwee) Races have been held from at least 1615 when King James I granted a charter to Randal Og Hurley to hold Ballabuidhe Fair in Dunmanway, west Cork in Ireland. The 414th edition has just ended and the pubs are counting their takings. For in every fair and festival to be held in Ireland during the summer, horses and drinking are the main distinguishing features. By day there is music, dancing, beauty competitions. Then there is horse trading, especially among the travelling community. Exiles from all over the world come back for the Gathering. And the bars serve non-stop with no one appearing to bother with licence restrictions and all that. No need even for the traditional ‘lock-in’ when the Gardai cruise past after closing time to make sure that the pubs ‘appear’ closed.

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Ballabuidhe (skibbereeneagle.ie)

After Ballabuidhe the travellers and their horses might head westwards to Killorglin and Puck Fair. Their charter dates from 1613. There the only difference is that a wild goat is crowned King Puck and presides over the messy festivities.

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Puck Fair (irishamerica.com)

And all over Ireland there are horse racing festivals held once a year. Tralee, Dingle, Galway. The travellers will happily follow the crowds. Maam Cross in wild Connemara mixes horse trading with that of sheep and cattle all year round.

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Puck Fair (irishcentral.com)

Ireland may be a more prosperous and outward looking nation these days but you don’t have to look hard to find life as it has been lived over the centuries.

Whatever became of Ginger Lou?

The Channel Islands were occupied by Nazi invaders between July 1940 and May 1945. During that time there was inevitable fraternisation between the often charming and handsome German soldiers and local women. Only the women could attest to their motives, though physical attraction and love would often have been present. Some though tended to side with their German lovers and against their neighbours, maybe to obtain extra rations or other favours. The women were known as Jerry bags, and the worst of these in Jersey was Alexandrine Baudains, or Ginger Lou.

Ginger Lou

Pic credit theislandwiki.org

Mistress of a high-ranking German officer she identified herself completely with the ‘Master Race’. She would drive around in a chauffeur-driven car, flaunting her favoured status. Given the opportunity she would denounce or ‘shop’ anyone to the Nazis for minor acts of defiance or resistance. If she saw a queue outside a shop she might go in and buy all of the precious rationed goods, leaving the queue to disperse.
When the Channel Islands were liberated in May 1945, she lay low, fearing reprisals. She was wise to do as, when she ventured out for a spot of fresh air, she was set upon in Seaton Place by a crowd, mainly women. She was saved from being lynched from a lamp post by members of the British Army and she and her son were taken into police custody for their own safety. There they remained for 11 months until a journalist discovered their whereabouts.

A Doctor's Occupation

Old wounds were opened and the pair were ejected from prison to be taken in by the Little Sisters of the Poor. From there they were packed onto a boat for England with instructions never to return.

I wonder what became of them?

Sources – Doctor John Lewis, Roy McLoughlin, theislandwiki.org