Allen Feldman, with Eamonn O’Doherty, The Northern Fiddler: music collected by Allen Feldman, Eamonn O’Doherty & Natalie Joynt (Belfast: Blackstaff Press 1979), Preface [notes & extracts].

Wolfe Tone, during the Belfast harper’s convention: ‘Strum, strum, and be hanged’ [Journal].

Richard Head observing Sunday pastimes in 1674 saw ‘in every field a fiddle and the lasses footing it till they are all of a foam.’ John Dunton, whose letters Head published for the first time, described a wedding where ‘we had a bagpiper and a blind harper that dinned us constantly with their music, to which there was perpetual dancing’ He also mentions that the custom of planting a special tree as a gathering place: ‘hither all the people resort with a piper on Sundays and Holydays in the afternoon, where the young folks dance till the cows come home.’ These details are quoted from Edward McLysaght’s Irish Life in the Seventeenth Century.

Arthur Young noted all the poor people, both men and women, love to dance, and are exceedingly fond of the amusement … besides the Irish jig, which they can dance with the most luxuriant expression, minuets and country dances are taught; and I even heard some talk of cotillions coming in.’ He further remarked that ‘dancing is very general among the poor people, almost universal in every cabbin. Dancing masters of their own rank travel through the country from cabbin to cabbin, with a piper or blind fiddler; and the pay is sixpence a quarter … Weddings are always celebrated with much dancing; and a Sunday rarely passes without a dance.’ As for their source of energy, he deduced: ‘the sparingness with which our [English] labourer eats his bread and cheese is well known; mark the Irishman’s potato bowl placed on the floor, the whole family on their hams around it devouring a quantity almost incredible, the beggar seating himself to it with a hearty welcome, the pig taking his share as readily as the wife … No man can often have been an witness of it without being convinced of the plenty, and I will add cheerfulness, that attends it.’

Eugene O’Curry (in his Manners and Customs, 1873, vol III) wrote: ‘It is strange, and will, I am sure, appear to my readers almost incredible, that, as far as I can ever read, there is no reference that can be identified as containing a clear allusion to dancing in any of our really ancient MS books.’ O’Curry’s reproves his contemporaries in Ireland: ‘Why have we banished to contempt and poverty the ever good-humoured and often talented … wandering professors of this, the proudest inheritance of our ancient heritage?’

William Hamilton Maxwell in his Wild Sports of the West (1832; 1850 ed. pre by EP Publishing, 1972): ‘I carried prejudices as unfair as they were unfavourable [but] found my estimate of their chracter false, for kindnesses were returned tenfold and the native outbreakings of Kilesian hospitality met me at every step.’ On a typical evening, ‘the piper is merrily at work, for some of the peasant girls have come to visit us, attracted by the joyful news that a “pieberagh” was included in our suite. the fondness of these mountain maidens for dancing is incredible at times of festival, on the occasion of a wedding, or “dragging-home”, or whenever a travelling musician passes through these wilds, they assemble from prodigious distances and dance for days and nights together. … the piper, whose notes for the last half-hour had been exceedingly irregular, now evinced unquestionable symptoms of being “done up”. Instead of the lightsome and well sustained jig, strange and dolorous noises issued from the chanter, and as one of the fair sex observed … “a body could no more dance than do the Patre o’Pee [Battre au pied] to a coronach at a wake.”

Mr and Mrs Hall, in Journey Through Ireland (London:Virtue 1870), show themselves no friends of traditional Irish music in their account of a meeting with a piper at Kincora who was ‘wrathful exceedingly on two or three points; the decay of mountain skills, the decline of dancing, and departure of all spirits out of the hearts of “the boys” and, above all, the introduction of “brass bands” from which was to be dated the ruin of Ireland. [..] These “brass bands” are becoming nearly as numerous as the branches of the Temperance Society; and we hope they will increaSe, for the wonderful change that has been wrought in the habits of the people has, unquestionably, driven the piper and the fiddler out of fashion.’

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