Study Guide to accompany Michael Londra / Celtic Fire
Area: 70,282 sq. km. (27,136 sq. mi.); slightly larger than West Virginia.
Terrain: Arable 10%, meadows and pastures 77%, rough grazing in use 11%, inland water 2%.
Climate: Temperate maritime.
Population (April 2010): 4,470,700.
Cities: Capital--Dublin (pop. 506,211). Other cities--Cork (119,418), Galway (72,414), Limerick (52,539), Waterford (45,748).
Population breakdown: 0-14 years (22%), 15-24 years (12%), 25-44 years (32%), 45-64 years (23%), 65 years and over (11%).
Population growth rate (2010 est.): 0.3%.
Ethnic groups: Irish, with English minority.
Religions: Roman Catholic 86.8%; Church of Ireland 3%; Presbyterian 0.5%; Methodist 0.25%; Muslim 1%; Jewish 0.1%; other 8.35%.
Languages: English, Irish (Gaelic).
Education: Compulsory up to age 16. Enrollment rates--first (primary) level 498,914; second (high school and vocational) level 341,312; third (university and college) level 139,134. Literacy--99%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--3.71/1,000. Life expectancy at birth--male 76.8 yrs., female 81.6 yrs.
Work force: Services--74%, industry--21%, agriculture--5%.
Type: Parliamentary republic.
Independence: December 6, 1921.
Constitution: December 29, 1937.
Branches: Executive--president, head of state; prime minister (taoiseach--pronounced "TEE-shuck"), head of government. Legislative--bicameral national parliament (Oireachtas--pronounced "o-ROCK-tas"): House of Representatives (Dail--pronounced "DOIL") and Senate (Seanad--pronounced "SHAN-ad"). Judicial--Supreme Court, Court of Criminal Appeal, High Court, Circuit Court, and District Court.
Administrative subdivisions: 26 counties, 34 local authorities.
Major political parties: Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Labour, Green Party, Sinn Fein (pronounced “FEE-na Fall,” “FEE-na Gale,” and “SHIN Fane”).
Suffrage: Universal at 18.
Nominal GDP (2010): $208.3 billion.
Real GDP growth (2010): -1.6%.
Nominal GDP per capita (2010): $46,592.
Natural resources: Zinc, lead, natural gas, barite, copper, gypsum, limestone, dolomite, peat.
Agriculture (2% of GDP): Products--cattle, meat, and dairy products; barley; hay; silage; wheat.
Industry (29% of GDP): Types--food processing, beverages, engineering, computer equipment, textiles and clothing, chemicals, pharmaceuticals.
Trade (2010, Ireland Central Statistics Office data): Exports--$119.9 billion (excluding services): machinery, transport equipment, chemicals, food, manufactured materials, beverages. Imports--$59.9 billion (excluding services): grains, petroleum products, machinery, transport equipment, chemicals, textile yarns. Major suppliers--Great Britain and Northern Ireland 30%, U.S. 18%, France 5%, Germany 7%, China 6%, Japan 2%; rest of the world (including other EU member states) 32%.
People and History
The Irish people are mainly of Celtic origin, with the country's only significant sized minority having descended from the Anglo-Normans. English is the common language, but Irish (Gaelic) is also an official language and is taught in schools.
The earliest inhabitants--people of a mid-Stone Age culture--arrived about 6000 BC. About 4,000 years later, tribes from southern Europe arrived and established a high Neolithic culture, leaving behind gold ornaments and huge stone monuments. The Bronze Age people, who arrived during the next 1,000 years, produced elaborate gold and bronze ornaments and weapons.
The Iron Age arrived abruptly in the fourth century BC with the invasion of the Celts, a tall, energetic people who had spread across Europe and Great Britain in the preceding centuries. The Celts, or Gaels, and their more numerous predecessors divided into five kingdoms in which, despite constant strife, a rich culture flourished.
The coming of Christianity from across the Irish Sea brought major changes and civilizing influences. Tradition maintains that St. Patrick arrived on the island in AD 432 and, in the years that followed, worked to convert the Irish to Christianity.
The pagan druid tradition collapsed before the spread of the new faith, and Irish scholars excelled in the study of Latin learning and Christian theology in the monasteries that flourished. Missionaries went forth from Ireland to England and the continent, spreading news of the flowering of learning, and scholars from other nations came to Irish monasteries. The excellence and isolation of these monasteries helped preserve Latin and Greek learning during the Dark Ages. The arts of manuscript illumination, metalworking, and sculpture flourished and produced such treasures as the Book of Kells, ornate jewelry, and the many carved stone crosses that dot the island.
Two hundred years of Viking invasion and settlement was later followed by a Norman conquest in the 12th century. The Norman conquest resulted in the assimilation of the Norman settlers into Irish society. The early 17th century saw the arrival of Scottish and English Protestants, sent as colonists to the north of Ireland and the Pale around Dublin.
In 1800 the Irish parliament passed the Act of Union with Great Britain, and Ireland was an official part of the United Kingdom until 1921. Religious freedom, outlawed in the 18th century, was restored in 1829, but this victory for the Irish Catholic majority was overshadowed by a severe economic depression and the great famine of 1846-48 when the potato crop failed. Millions died, and millions more emigrated, spawning the first mass wave of Irish emigration to the United States. A decade later, in 1858, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB--also known as the Fenians) was founded as a secret society dedicated to armed rebellion against the British. An above-ground political counterpart, the Home Rule Movement, was created in 1874, advocating constitutional change for independence.
Galvanized by the leadership of Charles Stewart Parnell, the party was able to force British governments after 1885 to introduce several home rule bills. The turn of the century witnessed a surge of interest in Irish nationalism, including the founding of Sinn Fein ("Ourselves Alone") as an open political movement.
Nationalism was and is a potent populist force in Irish politics. A home rule bill passed in 1914, but its implementation was suspended until war in Europe ended. Believing the mantra: "England's problem is Ireland's opportunity," and tapping into a mood of Gaelic revivalism, Padraic Pearse and James Connolly led the unsuccessful Easter Rising of 1916. Pearse and the other 1916 leaders declared an independent Irish republic, but a lack of popular support doomed the rebellion, which lasted a week and destroyed large portions of Dublin. The decision by the British military government to execute the leaders of the rebellion, coupled with the British Government's threat of conscripting the Irish to fight in the Great War, alienated public opinion and produced massive support for Sinn Fein in the 1918 general election. Under the leadership of Eamon de Valera, the elected Sinn Fein deputies constituted themselves as the first Dail. Tensions only increased: British attempts to smash Sinn Fein ignited the Anglo-Irish War of 1919-1921.
The end of the war brought the Anglo-Irish treaty of 1921, which established the Irish Free State of 26 counties within the British Commonwealth and recognized the partition of the island into Ireland and Northern Ireland, although this was supposedly a temporary measure. The six predominantly Protestant counties of northeast Ulster--Northern Ireland--remained a part of the United Kingdom with limited self-government. A significant Irish minority repudiated the treaty settlement because of the continuance of subordinate ties to the British monarch and the partition of the island. This opposition led to further hostilities--a civil war (1922-23), which was won by the pro-treaty forces.
In 1932, Eamon de Valera, the political leader of the forces initially opposed to the treaty, became Prime Minister, and a new Irish constitution was enacted in 1937. The last British military bases were soon withdrawn, and the ports were returned to Irish control. Ireland was neutral in World War II. The government formally declared Ireland a republic in 1948; however, it does not normally use the term "Republic of Ireland," which tacitly acknowledges the partition, but refers to the country simply as "Ireland."
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
Ireland is a sovereign, independent, democratic state with a parliamentary system of government. The president, who serves as head of state in a largely ceremonial role, is elected for a 7-year term and can be re-elected only once. The current president is Mary McAleese, who is serving her second term after having succeeded President Mary Robinson--the first instance worldwide where one woman followed another as an elected head of state. In carrying out certain constitutional powers and functions, the president is aided by the Council of State, an advisory body. On the taoiseach's (prime minister's) advice, the president also dissolves the Oireachtas (parliament).
The prime minister (taoiseach) is elected by the Dail (lower house of parliament) as the leader of the political party, or coalition of parties, that wins the most seats in the national elections, which are held approximately every 5 years (unless called earlier). Executive power is vested in a cabinet whose ministers are nominated by the taoiseach and approved by the Dail.
The bicameral Oireachtas (parliament) consists of the Seanad Eireann (Senate) and the Dail Eireann (House of Representatives). The Seanad is composed of 60 members--11 nominated by the prime minister, six elected by the national universities, and 43 elected from panels of candidates established on a vocational basis. The Seanad has the power to delay legislative proposals and is allowed 90 days to consider and amend bills sent to it by the Dail, which wields greater power in parliament. The Dail has 166 members popularly elected to terms of 5 years under a complex system of proportional representation. A member of the Dail is known as a Teachta Dala, or TD.
Judges are appointed by the president on nomination by the government and can be removed from office only for misbehavior or incapacity and then only by resolution of both houses of parliament. The ultimate court of appeal is the Supreme Court, consisting of the chief justice and five other justices. The Supreme Court also can decide upon the constitutionality of legislative acts if the president asks for an opinion.
Local government is by elected county councils and, in the cities of Dublin, Cork, Limerick, and Waterford, by county borough corporations. County councils/corporations in turn select city mayors. In practice, however, most authority remains with the central government.
Irish politics remain dominated by the two political parties that grew out of Ireland's bitter 1922-23 civil war. Fianna Fail was formed by those who opposed the 1921 treaty that partitioned the island. Although treaty opponents lost the civil war, Fianna Fail soon became Ireland's largest and pre-eminent political party, generally dominating government since the 1930s. Fine Gael, representative of the pro-treaty forces, has been Ireland’s perennial second party, holding government only intermittently. The 2011 general election saw a sharp reversal of fortune for both major parties. Labour, Sinn Fein, and the Greens are the other significant parties.
The May 2007 national elections brought the Fianna Fail party and its leader Bertie Ahern back to power in a coalition government for an unprecedented third 5-year term. Coalition members joining Fianna Fail were the Green Party and the Progressive Democrats. Ahern appointed Finance Minister Brian Cowen Deputy Prime Minister (Tanaiste, pronounced "TAW-nish-tuh").
The June 2004 local and European elections featured a referendum on citizenship. Until that time, Ireland had granted citizenship on the basis of birth on Irish soil. Concerns about security and social welfare abuse prompted the government to seek to bring citizenship laws in line with the more restrictive policies prevalent in the rest of Europe, and the 2004 referendum measure passed by a wide majority. Now, persons with non-Irish parents can acquire Irish citizenship at birth on Irish soil only if at least one parent has been resident in Ireland for 3 years preceding the birth.
The February 2011 national elections brought a considerable change to Ireland’s political landscape. Fianna Fail suffered its worst defeat in the party’s history. By contrast, Fine Gael and Labour both secured their best-ever results in a general election. Fine Gael and Labour entered into a coalition government; Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny became Taoiseach, and Labour leader Eamon Gilmore became Tanaiste and Foreign Minister.
U.S. priorities remain supporting the peace process and devolved political institutions in Northern Ireland and encouraging the implementation of the 1998 Belfast Agreement, also known as the Good Friday Agreement (GFA), and the 2006 St. Andrews Agreement.
The conflict in Northern Ireland stems from a history of British rule, historical animosity between Catholics and Protestants, and the various armed and political attempts to unite Northern Ireland with the rest of the island. "Nationalist" and "Republican" groups seek a united Ireland, while "Unionists" and "Loyalists" want Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom. After decades of violence by both Republican and Loyalist paramilitaries, most notably the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA), the British and Irish Governments negotiated a PIRA ceasefire in 1994, which was followed by the landmark U.S.-brokered Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
The GFA established a power-sharing executive and assembly to serve as the devolved local government of Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Assembly has 108 elected members. The power-sharing executive is led by a first minister and deputy first minister, one each from the largest unionist and nationalist parties, and an 11-minister executive. The GFA also provided for both Ireland and the U.K. to accept that Northern Ireland could become part of Ireland if a majority (north and south) so voted in the future. The GFA provided a blueprint for "normalization," to include reduction in the numbers and role of armed forces, devolution of police and justice authorities, and guarantees of human rights and equal opportunity for all individuals. The agreement was approved in a 1998 referendum by 71% of Northern Ireland voters and 95% of Irish voters.
The major political parties in Northern Ireland are the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Sinn Fein, the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), the Social Democratic and Labor Party (SDLP), and the Alliance Party. The UUP and SDLP are centrist Unionist and Nationalist parties, respectively, while Sinn Fein is strongly Republican and the DUP is strongly Unionist. The Alliance Party is the only non-sectarian party.
Since June 2008, Northern Ireland's First Minister has been DUP party leader Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister has been Martin McGuinness, who is a Sinn Fein member of the British Parliament and a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly. The DUP, UUP, Sinn Fein, and SDLP currently make up the power-sharing executive. The next Northern Ireland Assembly election will be held in May 2011.
In September 2009, Declan Kelly was appointed as the Economic Envoy to Northern Ireland, a new position created by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton aimed at expanding Northern Ireland's relatively small private sector and furthering economic ties between Northern Ireland and the United States. The Economic Envoy coordinates economic collaboration for the mutual benefit of Northern Ireland and the United States, underpinning the Northern Ireland peace process by focusing on the economic dividends of peace.
The United States also continues to provide funding ($17 million in FY 2010) for projects administered under the International Fund for Ireland (IFI), which was created in 1986 to generate cross-community engagement and economic opportunity in Northern Ireland and the southern border counties (Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, Louth, Monaghan, and Sligo). Since the IFI's establishment, the U.S. Government has contributed over $486 million, roughly half of total IFI funding. The other major donor to IFI is the European Union (EU).
Principal Government Officials
Taoiseach (Prime Minister)--Enda Kenny
Tanaiste (Deputy Prime Minister)--Eamon Gilmore
Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade--Eamon Gilmore
Ambassador to the United States--Michael Collins
Irish traditional music includes many kinds of songs, including rousing songs, ballads and laments, sung unaccompanied or with accompaniment by a variety of instruments. Traditional dance music includes reels (4/4), hornpipes and jigs (the common double jig is in 6/8 time). The polka arrived at the start of the nineteenth century, spread by itinerant dancing masters and mercenary soldiers, returning from Europe. Set dancing may have arrived in the eighteenth century. Later imported dance-signatures include the mazurka and the highlands. In the nineteenth century folk instruments would have included the flute the fiddle and the uilleann pipes.
A revival of Irish traditional music took place around the turn of the 20th century. The button accordion and the concertina were becoming common. Irish stepdance was performed at céilís, organised competitions and at some country houses where local and itinerant musicians were welcome.Irish dancing was supported by the educational system and patriotic organisations. An older style of singing called sean-nós ("in the old style"), which is a form of traditional Irish singing was still found, mainly for very poetic songs in the Irish language.
After a lull in the 1940s and 1950s, when (except for Céilidh bands) traditional music was at a low ebb, Seán Ó Riada's The Chieftains, The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, The Irish Rovers, The Dubliners, Ryan's Fancy and Sweeney's Men were in large part responsible for a second wave of revitalization of Irish folk music in the 1960s. Several of these were featured in the 2010 TV movie "My Music: When Irish Eyes are Smiling".They were followed by the likes of Planxty, The Bothy Band and Clannad in the 70s. Later came such bands as Stockton's Wing, De Dannan, Altan, Arcady, Dervish and Patrick Street, along with a wealth of individual performers
Traditional music played a part in Irish popular music later in the century, with Clannad, Van Morrison, Hothouse Flowers and Sinéad O'Connor using traditional elements in popular songs. Enya achieved international success with New Age/Celtic fusions. The Pogues, led by Shane MacGowan, helped fuse Irish folk with punk rock to some success beginning in the 1980s, while the Afro-Celt Sound System achieved fame adding West African influences and drum n bass in the 1990s while bands such as Kíla fuse traditional Irish with rock and world music representing the Irish tradition at world music festivals across Europe and America. The most notable fusion band in Ireland was Horslips, who combined Irish themes and music with heavy rock.
Celtic music is a term utilised by artists, record companies, music stores and music magazines to describe a broad grouping of musical genres that evolved out of the folk musical traditions of the Celtic people of Western Europe. As such there is no real body of music which can be accurately described as Celtic, but the term has stuck and may refer to both orally-transmitted traditional music and recorded popular music.
Celtic music means two things mainly. First, it is the music of the peoples calling themselves Celts (a non-musical, primarily political definition), as opposed to, say, "French music" or "English music." Secondly, it refers to whatever qualities may be unique to the musics of the Celtic Nations (a musical definition). Some insist that different ostensibly Celtic musics actually have nothing in common-–such as Geoff Wallis and Sue Wilson in their book The Rough Guide to Irish Music-–whereas others (such as Alan Stivell), say they do.
Often, the term Celtic music is applied to the music of Ireland and Scotland because both lands have produced well-known distinctive styles which actually have genuine commonality and clear mutual influences; however, it is notable that Irish and Scottish traditional musicians themselves avoid the term "Celtic music," except when forced by the necessities of the market. The definition is further complicated by the fact that Irish independence has allowed Ireland to promote 'Celtic' music as a specifically Irish product. In reality, the terms 'Scots/Scottish' and 'Irish' are purely modern geographical references to a people who share a common Celtic ancestry and consequently, a common musical heritage.
These styles are known because of the importance of Irish and Scottish people in the English speaking world, especially in the United States, where they had a profound impact on American music, particularly bluegrass and country music. The music of Wales, Cornwall, the Isle of Man, Brittany, Galicia, Cantabria and Asturias (Spain) and Portugal are also considered Celtic music, the tradition being particularly strong in Brittany, where Celtic festivals large and small take place throughout the year, and in Wales, where the ancient eisteddfod tradition has been revived and flourishes. Additionally, the musics of ethnically Celtic peoples abroad are vibrant, especially in Canada and the United States.
The oldest musical tradition which fits under the label of Celtic fusion originated in the rural American south in the early colonial period and incorporated Scottish, Scots-Irish, Irish, English, and African influences. Variously referred to as roots music, American folk music, or old-time music, this tradition has exerted a strong influence on all forms of American music, including country, blues, and rock and roll.In addition to its lasting effects on other genres, it marked the first modern large-scale mixing of musical traditions from multiple ethnic and religious communities within the Celtic diaspora.
In the 1960s several bands put forward modern adaptations of Celtic music pulling influences from several of the Celtic nations at once to create a modern pan-celtic sound. A few of those include bagadoù (Breton pipe bands), Fairport Convention, Pentangle, Steeleye Span and Horslips.
In the 1970s Clannad made their mark initially in the folk and traditional scene, and then subsequently went on to bridge the gap between traditional Celtic and pop music in the 1980s and 1990s, incorporating elements from New Age, smooth jazz, and folk rock. Traces of Clannad's legacy can be heard in the music of many artists, including Enya, Altan, Capercaillie, The Corrs, Loreena McKennitt, Anúna, Riverdance and U2.
Later, beginning in 1982 with The Pogues' invention of Celtic folk-punk and Stockton's Wing blend of Irish traditional and Pop, Rock and Reggie, there has been a movement to incorporate Celtic influences into other genres of music. Bands like Flogging Molly, Black 47, Dropkick Murphys, The Young Dubliners, The Tossers introduced a hybrid of Celtic rock, punk, reggae, hardcore and other elements in the 1990s that has become popular with Irish-American youth.
Today there are Celtic-influenced sub genres of virtually every type of popular music including electronica, rock, metal, punk, hip hop, reggae, new age, Latin, Andean and pop. Collectively these modern interpretations of Celtic music are sometimes referred to as Celtic fusion.
The uilleann pipes are the characteristic national bagpipe of Ireland. Their current name (they were earlier known in English as "union pipes") is a part translation of the Irish-language term píoba uilleann (literally, "pipes of the elbow"), from their method of inflation. The bag of the uilleann pipes is inflated by means of a small set of bellows strapped around the waist and the right arm. The bellows not only relieve the player from the effort needed to blow into a bag to maintain pressure, they also allow relatively dry air to power the reeds, reducing the adverse effects of moisture on tuning and longevity. Some pipers can converse or sing at the same time as playing.
The uilleann pipes are distinguished from many other forms of bagpipes by their sweet tone and wide range of notes — the chanter has a range of two full octaves, including sharps and flats — together with the unique blend of chanter, drones, and "regulators." The regulators are equipped with closed keys which can be opened by the piper's wrist action enabling the piper to play simple chords, giving a rhythmic and harmonic accompaniment as needed. There are also many ornaments based on multiple or single grace notes. The chanter can also be played staccato by resting the bottom of the chanter on the piper's thigh to close off the bottom hole and then open and close only the tone holes required. If one tone hole is closed before the next one is opened, a staccato effect can be created because the sound stops completely when no air can escape at all.
The uilleann pipes have a different harmonic structure, sounding sweeter and quieter than many other bagpipes, such as the Great Irish Warpipes, Great Highland Bagpipes or the Italian Zampognas. The uilleann pipes are often played indoors, and are almost always played sitting down.
The bodhrán (pronounced bowrawn) is an Irish frame drum ranging from 25 to 65 cm (10" to 26") in diameter, with most drums measuring 35 to 45 cm (14" to 18"). The sides of the drum are 9 to 20 cm (3½" to 8") deep. A goatskin head is tacked to one side (synthetic heads, or other animal skins are sometimes used). The other side is open ended for one hand to be placed against the inside of the drum head to control the pitch and timbre.
One or two crossbars, sometimes removable, may be inside the frame, but this is increasingly rare on modern instruments. Some professional modern bodhráns integrate mechanical tuning systems similar to those used on drums found in drum kits. It is usually with a hex key that the bodhrán skins are tightened or loosened depending on the atmospheric conditions.
Irish dancing or Irish dance is a group of traditional dance forms originating in Ireland which can broadly be divided into social dance and performance dances. Irish social dances can be divided further into céilí and set dancing. Irish set dances are quadrilles, danced by 4 couples arranged in a square, while céilí dances are danced by varied formations (ceili) of couples of 2 to 16 people. In addition to their formation, there are significant stylistic differences between these two forms of social dance. Irish social dance is a living tradition, and variations in particular dances are found across the Irish dancing community; in some places, dances are deliberately modified and new dances are choreographed.
Irish dancing, popularised in 1994 by the world-famous show "Riverdance", is notable for its rapid leg movements, body and arms being kept largely stationary.
Most competitive dances are solo dances, though many stepdancers also perform and compete using céilí dances. The solo stepdance is generally characterised by a controlled but not rigid upper body, straight arms, and quick, precise movements of the feet. The solo dances can either be in "soft shoe" or hard shoe".
The dancing traditions of Ireland probably grew in close association with traditional Irish music. Although its origins are unclear, Irish dancing was later influenced by dance forms from the Continent, especially the Quadrille. Travelling dancing masters taught all over Ireland, as late as the early 1900s.
As Irish people emigrate all over the world, they take their cultural traditions with them. Many people theorise[who?] that Sean-nós dancing has influenced various other forms of traditional solo dance, especially those found in areas with strong Irish communities. Historically, it is likely that sean-nós dance influenced the development of many American and Canadian traditional percussive dance forms, such as buck dancing, flatfooting, clogging, and tap dancing. Sean-nós dancing in the United States and Canada is most commonly seen at folk festivals, although dance workshops are beginning to introduce the style more widely.
There are two types of shoes; soft shoes (also known as ghillies) and hard shoes. The hard shoe is similar to tap shoes, except that the tips and heels are made of fiberglass, instead of metal, and are significantly bulkier. The hard shoes were originally made of wood in the 19th century and early 20th century. The first hard shoes had wooden or leather taps with metal nails. Later the taps and heels were changed into resin or fiberglass to reduce the weight and to increase the footwork sounds. The soft shoes, which are called ghillies, are black lace-up shoes. Ghillies are only worn by girls, while boys wear black leather shoes called "reel shoes", which resemble black jazz shoes with a hard heel. Boy's soft-shoe dancing features audible heel clicks.
Several generations ago, the appropriate dress for a competition was simply "Sunday Best" (clothes one would wear to church). Irish Dance schools generally have school dresses, worn by lower-level competitors and in public performances. As dancers advance in competition or are given starring roles in public performances, they may get a solo dress of their own design and colors. In the 1970s and 1980s, ornately embroidered dresses became popular. Today even more ornamentation is used on girls' dresses. Solo dresses can range from 100 to 5000 dollars, and are unique to each dancer. Today most women and girls curl their hair or wear a wig or hairpiece for a competition. Most men wear a shirt, vest, and tie paired with black trousers.
Riverdance is a theatrical show consisting of traditional Irish stepdancing, notable for its rapid leg movements while body and arms are kept largely stationary. It originated as an interval performance during the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest, a moment that is still considered a significant watershed in Irish culture. Riverdance is, in essence, the story of the Irish culture and of the Irish immigration to America.
Riverdance was first performed during the 7-minute interval of the Eurovision Song Contest at the Point Theatre, Dublin on 30 April 1994. It received a standing ovation. Later that year, the BBC commissioned a repeat performance of the act for the 1994 Royal Variety Show. At Congratulations: 50 Years of the Eurovision Song Contest it was named as one of the most popular interval act in the history of the contest.[citation needed
This first performance featured Irish Dancing Champions Jean Butler and Michael Flatley, the RTÉ Concert Orchestra and the Celtic choral group Anuna with a score written by Bill Whelan. Whelan had also composed "Timedance" – an early version of "Riverdance" – for the 1981 Eurovision Song Contest, performed by Planxty. Most of the show's choreography was done by Flatley.
An audio recording of "Riverdance" entered the Irish singles charts at #1 on 5 May 1994, and remained there throughout the summer (keeping Wet Wet Wet's phenomenally successful "Love Is All Around" off the top), eventually totalling a record 18 weeks at #1. A video of the Eurovision interval performance was then released by the Irish broadcaster Radio Telefís Éireann under the title "Riverdance for Rwanda" with all proceeds going to the Rwanda Appeal Disasters Joint Appeal Committee. Many of the dance troupe featured in this performance subsequently went on to dance principal roles in later productions of Riverdance the Show.
Riverdance is produced and directed by husband and wife team John McColgan and Moya Doherty, controlled through their production company Abhann Productions, based in Dublin. In November 1994 tickets were sold in Dublin for the first full-length performance of Riverdance, which opened at the Point Theatre on 9 February 1995. The show ran for five weeks and was a sell-out with ticket sales of over 120,000.
On 8 May 1995 Riverdance performed at the Royal Gala 50th Anniversary of VE Day celebrations at the special invitation of His Royal Highness Prince Charles. This attracted a television audience of 20 million.
A video release of Riverdance occured in the UK on 5 June 1995 which immediately debuted at #2 before rising to #1 the following week. For a total of seven months the Riverdance UK video remained in the charts and became the all time highest selling music video in the UK.
During the second half of 1995 Riverdance performed a four-week season at The Apollo at Hammersmith before returning to the Point Theatre Dublin for another six-week sellout season before again returning to The Apollo at Hammersmith for another six-week season which again was a sell out. Riverdance also performed at Royal College of Music, London in the presence of Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother; Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth II; and Her Royal Highness Princess Margaret on 17 July 1995.
14 March 1996 saw the start of an eight-week sell out season at Radio City Music Hall, New York. The sales of merchanise resulted in Radio City Music Hall merchandise sale’s record is smashed during the first performance of Riverdance. Riverdance went on to more sell-out tours at King’s Hall, Belfast, Northern Ireland, and The Green Glens Arena, Millstreet, Co. Cork, Ireland, plus a huge three and a half month return to The Apollo in Hammersmith with astounding advance ticket sales of over five million pounds. The season was extended to run from May 1996 to January 1997. The end of 1996 saw the 400th show performed with a total audience of 1.3 million people in that time. The Lee and Liffey companies were also born with the Lee commencing a US tour at Radio City Music Hall on 2 October 1996 while the Liffey company remained touring the UK.
After successful runs in other cities in Europe, Riverdance travelled to New York City to perform at the legendary Radio City Music Hall in March 1996. This was the first time the show had been performed in America. To the relief of the producers, the show was a success. Anuna left the show in September of that year.
In 2000 the show moved to Broadway for a year at the Gershwin Theatre with an all-new show which featured Michael as lead vocalist.