GAA and Foreign Dances - 10th Jan 1948


Gaelic Games And Foreign Dances: Text Version

10th January 1948


Some time ago my eye happened to catch, in the usual weekly array of advertisements in the Leader, the following: "Sensation at Patrickswell -– Grand Dance in aid of" –in aid of what, do you think, good reader? – in aid of "Patrickswell G.A.A. Club." (Yes, I have said all this before! But bear with me for a moment and you'll understand my reason for repeating myself). I thought the matter called for comment. How come if that the members of a great organisation that styled itself "Gaelic," cared so little for Gaelic pastimes, that they couldn't do better than offer their patrons the usual "Grand Dance," with its blaring saxophones, and its graceless and unedifying foreign dances? Remember, there was no mention of the Walls of Limerick, the Rogha an Fhile, the Humours of Bandon, the Sixteen Hand Reel or any of our lovely national dances in that ad.; and the person who enjoyed such dances would hardly be attracted to a function that, to judge from its published description, might offer only a medley of jazz, swing and boogie-woogie. So I made the comment that hundreds of others have made from time to time on seeing foreign dances advertised by G.A.A. clubs: Why not a ceilidhe?


"Centre Field," apparently the spokesman for the Patrickswell Club, has replied to my remarks; and I am very glad that he did so. He states that my "attack" brought "a bit of a shock" to him, "and to everyone who reads 'Odds and Ends.' " In the short space that had elapsed between the publication of my notes and the publication of "Centre Field's" letter, I am not sure how he ascertained that this "attack" of mine brought "a bit of a shock to 'EVERYONE' " who had read my column. A shock thee may have been for some people, but not the kind of shock that "Centre Field" thinks -– or would have us believe he thinks thee was. It was the shock resulting from a realisation of how far some G.A.A. clubs have strayed from the ideals of Gaelic Ireland.


"As long as I can remember, hurling clubs are running foreign dances," states "Centre Field." It is a strange admission, doubly strange when we remember how vehemently the G.A.A. opposes foreign games. Do G.A.A. clubs think that Gaelic dances are so infinitely less important than Gaelic games that even boogie woogie is preferable to them? We know full well that our national games are in a far stronger position than our dances, our music and our language. Youths, scarcely out of their toddling clothes, will instinctively grasp a hurley. Tens of thousands flock to see the great Gaelic matches every year in all parts of the country. It is comparatively easy to get people to play any game. But moral courage is needed to call for an Irish dance in a hall of jitter-bugs, or to speak Irish in the presence of a crowd of scoffers. It is not fair for any Gaelic organisation knowingly to injure any part of the heritage of the Gael, even if it derives some benefit by so doing. Why then should any G.A.A. Club seek to strengthen itself at the cost of something that is far more important to what is left of our ruined culture than any game. From the dance hall come the songs and music and dances that become so much a part of the life of the people. They go into the homes, they become the property of man, woman and child, and ultimately they influence their outlook on life. For every one that hurls a thousand dance. How then can field games be so important as "Centre Field" would have us believe?


This grand dance in Patrickswell was run for funds; ceilidhes, "Centre Field" informing us, not being a paying proposition. Is the making of money the new objective of the G.A.A. in some places? And if so, I suppose it is only reasonable to expect that it is a case of the end justifying the means - the end being £ s. d., the means foreign dances – no connection of foreign games, of course. What had the Patrickswell G.A.A. Club against the holding of a concert or a card drive? Could they not have learned a few plays and staged them, if they were in earnest about Gaelic culture. After all, the choice does not lie between a "grand dance" and a ceilidhe. And if, as "Centre Field" informs us, Irish dances are in such an unhappy position, it is the Patrickswell G.A.A. Club and every other club and society that sponsor foreign dances that must be blamed. I'd like to know from "Centre Field" what the Patrickswell Club ever did to revive an interest in Irish dances.


"I think that our Gaelic games are the only means of holding our language, and if they are allowed to drop, everything is lost. We want Gaelic games here in Patrickswell, and are we going to lose everything by standing down with our mouths open without a club, all because of finance." So writes "Centre Field." He must have been but half awake when he wrote it. By what stretch of his imagination "Centre Field" believes that our games are the only means of holding our language I cannot understand. Could he tell me, by way of example, what the general run of the G.A.A. members are doing for the language in Limerick county? The young men of our playing fields must all have a reasonable amount of Irish, but from my own experience, and from enquiries I have made, I can tell "Centre Field" that the Gaelic player who attends an Irish class is the exception, not the rule, in most places.


"Centre Field" says that the Patrickswell G.A.A. Club resents my mentioning their name. I have no apologies to offer. But I have nothing against them more than I have against any other G.A.A. Club that holds foreign dances. When I wished to comment on what I consider little short of hypocrisy on the part of the G.A.A., I selected a particular cast – which happened to be the Patrickswell one. I agree with "Centre field" when he says that hundreds of other G.A.A. clubs have been running foreign dances; and everything I've written about Patrickswell applies to these un-named clubs just the same.

"But for the 'blare' of the saxophone, etc., thee would be very little clubs or very little use trying to have a club," says my friend, "Centre Field." Alas for him and for all Gaelic Athletic Association members who can utter such sentiments! They have missed the whole idea of the Gaelic renaissance, and suffer from a false sense of proportion. We must bring everything with us in our march to the Gaelic Ireland that is our goal, language, music, dances, songs and games. But if Gaelic games can survive only by spreading jungle music and Negroid dances from village to village and town to town, then, though it is hard to say it, our Gaelic games were better dead.


Lovers of Gaelic games, love also our songs and dance and language, and then I'll feel that Brian O'Higgins was justified when he wrote:

"A song for the faithful and fearless,

The glory and hope of the Gael,

Whose names shall be honoured in Erin,

Whose hearts will not falter or fail;

Who are true to the land of their fathers,

Who crawl to no Sassenach king,

Who are proud of their strength and their manhood-

The athletes of Erin I sing.


God strengthen the athletes of Erin,

To free her from Sassenach thrall,

To stand as the guard of her honour,

And march to the fight at her call.

When honour we give to the toilers,

Who strove through the gloom of the night

To combat the wiles of the Saxon,

When crushed was the cause of the Right,

Let us think of the athletes of Erin,

Who vowed by the graves of her dead,

To win back the light of her freedom

And raise up her sorrow-crowned head.

Though slavelings kneel down to the tyrant

And kiss every link of her chains,

The old hope still lingers in Erin

Of a fight for her mountains and plains.

And whenever the red light of battle

O'er town and tochar shall glow,

In the vanguard the athletes of Erin

Shall crash through the ranks of the foe."

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