Winter Dancing In Bare Feet

For the Irish, winter has always been a time of gathering with family and friends around the hearth fire. Through Joe Neilan’s recollections, included in Joe McGowan’s book, Inishmurray; Island Voices, we can almost feel the heat of the fire and hear the music.

On a winters night we used to have a thundering big roaring fire. All the neighbors would gather into a different house every night and the’d start telling stories, singing songs, an’ reciting poems. The flute players’d be there an’ the fiddle. There’d be lilting and dancing. Someone would bring in the half door and the’d leave it down on the floor. You’d see an old woman coming in or an old man up to 70 or 80 years of age. The women in their bare feet, an’ they’d start step dancing an’ more of them lilting tunes along the fire, and singing, and the fiddle an’ the flute.

Then, after all the playin’ an’ dancin’, eveyone’d have a wee respite to draw their wind and the bottle’d go round till they all got a drink. Out of the drinking then they’d all start again. Everyone had to sing, and it was all the rale old Irish songs. Mostly in Irish the songs were sung. Out of the singing of the songs then they’d start storytelling. … One word used to borrow from another, one entertainment used to join another an it’d be two o’clock in the morning before the company’d break up, to make home for their own house.

Imagine. They had no money and no tradition of frenzied shopping or frantic holiday preparations. Their wealth was in community – and night after night after night of music and singing and dancing in bare feet.