Historians suspect that Druids were the first practitioners of Irish dancing, inhabiting Ireland as early as 300 BCE, as this cultural group would participate in religious rituals, where they would dance to honour oak trees and the sun. Traces of circular dances are still evident in Irish set dances performed today (Miller, 2019).
Approx. 400 AD - Approx. 500 AD
When the Celtics came to Ireland from Central Europe in around 400 AD, they brought their own distinct folk dance and music. After the conversion to Christianity, many new priests switched to the pagan style to highlight their teachings, however, peasants retained spreading their beliefs by using elements of music and dance. Their movements would often involve repeatedly tapping their feet in one spot (Sean-nos), dancing in circular motions, and setting steps used in today’s Irish group dances (Miller, 2019).
Approx. 1200 AD - Approx. 1500 AD
In the 12th century, Anglo-Normans immigrated to Ireland, bringing their own customs and culture, including new styles of music and dance. The Carol was a popular Norman dance where the leader sang while being surrounded by a circle of dancers who then repeated the same song (Miller, 2019). Whenever the Normans conquered an Irish town, they would perform this dance, which would often be accompanied by music using bagpipes and the harp (Mulraney, 2019).
16th Century Irish Dancing
1598 AD - 1689 AD
During the 16th century, Irish dancing became more sophisticated and admired because Sir Henry Sydney wrote Queen Elizabeth I about the dancers that he saw during his visit to County Galway, as he described them as beautiful, magnificently dressed first-class dancers (Blarney Woollen Mills, 2017). With dance reels introduced in 1598 and the Irish Jig in 1686, the three most popular Irish dances recorded at the time included the hay, the rinnce fada, and the rinnce mór. The hay was a circle chain dance, where people would chain in and out of each other in a circle, while the rinnce fada, meaning long dance, was recorded in 1689 to celebrate the arrival of James II to Ireland. During this period, it was documented throughout time that the Irish loved to dance, as the youth in villages could not think of a reason why not to dance (Murphy, 1995).
Irish Dancing Masters
Approx. 1700 AD - Approx. 1800 AD
During this era, the Irish Dancing Masters was introduced to Ireland, as they would travel all over the country to teach communities how to dance. With strong influences from France, the Dancing Masters passed on modern forms of dancing to their students, who were from families of all classes throughout the country. These Dance Masters taught various dance principles with additional characteristics and preferences unique to their liking, including simple steps required for crossroad dancing, set dances, and complicated French cotillions and quadrilles (Murphy, 1995). There would often be dance-offs in the local marketplaces, which would only end if a dancing master was too exhausted to continue dancing (Blarney Woollen Mills, 2017).
1893 AD - 1897 AD
After being ruled by the British for several centuries, the Gaelic League was founded in 1983 AD to recreate a separate Irish nation without the use of all English language, culture, clothing, games, literature, music, and dance. Although this organization was supposed to promote Irish independence, the order banned many dances including quadrilles, and round and country dances. Towards the end of the 18th century, Irish step dancing and group dancing were introduced, as the first public Ceílí was held in 1897. Instruments involved include the Irish Bodhran (drum), concertina, accordion, fiddle, tin whistles, the Celtic harp, and banjos (Murphy, 1995).
Gaelic Dancing League
In 1929 AD, the Gaelic Dancing League was formed to resurrect some of the dances that the Gaelic League had caused to disappear including quadrilles and waltzes to Irish music. Unfortunately, most were unable to be recovered, so the organization composed others in their place including the Walls of Limerick, and the Siege of Ennis (Murphy, 1995).
Public Dance Halls Act
1935 AD - 1951 AD
The Public Dance Halls Act was enforced in 1935 AD, which required that all public dances must be licensed and have applied all conditions listed under the licenses issued by district justices. As a result, rural Irish dancing was put to an end, as dances could no longer be held in neighbouring houses, however, the culture of Irish dancing continued to grow as it became a very popular tradition in County Cork, Clare, and Kerry. The Society of the Musicians of Ireland was also formed and was dedicated to reviving traditional Irish culture through the promotion of Irish music, song, dance, and language (Murphy, 1995).
Gaelic Athletic Association
In 1970 AD, the Gaelic Athletic Association was formed as a subdivision of the Society of the Musicians of Ireland. They organized competitions where teams of dancers from all over the country could gather, compete, and share their own unique style of set dancing with everyone, thus inspiring Irish communities to feel inspired and invent or revive their own styles of dance (Murphy, 1995).
Approx. 1980 AD - Approx. 1990 AD
Throughout this decade, there was a major increase in set dancing workshops and set dancing Ceílís all around the country. In fact, the Gaelic Athletic Association and ruby halls became practice grounds for Irish dancing, and due to the spirit and enthusiasm for the Irish dance culture, it still remains a strong aspect in schools and countries nationwide (Murphy, 1995).