I walked into the small room of Kilronan’s town hall and was surprised to see that half of the town’s residents had already materialized around the dance floor while three weathered old men jammed out on their instruments. The men were stationed on the raised stage while the rest of the town chatted animatedly around the room; the smattering of tourists, like myself, filed in to the chairs lining the room and awkwardly waited for “it” to happen.
So, what is this mysterious “it” you might ask? The dancing of course. Saturday nights in Kilronan mean an authentic Irish céilidh, it’s akin to a barn dance in the states. Kilronan is a itty-bitty town on Inishmore, the largest of the three Aran Islands. The Aran Islands are a small chain of three islands on the west coast of Ireland; they’re set into the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean and lace the top of Galway Bay.
All three islands are likely the purest Irish speaking places in the world; Irish is their first language in school and while they definitely speak English, random conversations around town are bandied about in full Irish.
Although most tourists do the Aran Islands in a day as a day trip to see Dún Aonghasa, a prehistoric fort dating to the second century BC (holy-schmolly, that’s old), Laura and I spent three days on the small island – what a wise choice!
The first night at Joe Watty’s pub was hopping – and there wasn’t a single note of Irish music to be found. By this time it was well into off-season and the local musicians played rock inspired modern songs (even if the song maybe, possibly, might be true, didn’t lend itself well to that genre and style of playing).
Regardless, we managed to hunt down some of the locals our age and on the second night, as the night wore on, we were told to save our energy because the town’s weekly céilidh dance begins at midnight!
Walking around the céilidh was like stepping into a movie – it was just so typically Irish and pretty much everything you’d want to experience on a visit to the Emerald Isle. Within minutes of entering the small town hall, the locals young and old grabbed partners and began whirling people at a rapid pace.
I actually had to pay a lot of attention when I wasn’t dancing (because then it was my partners job ;-) to dodge out of the way of sometimes frenzied traditional dancing.
The céilidh was, in its entirety, my favorite night in Ireland. The experience completely encapsulated the experience of traveling to Ireland and seeking out authentic Irish culture, rather than the sometimes posturing that happens at high-season when the country is flooded by tourists.
My sad admission of the night….even though I have previous Irish dance experience (classes a decade ago) it just didn’t help for the rapid pace of the ceili dancing. As I switched partners and kept time with the music, it was pretty obvious that I was terrible.
To give myself a break though, I don’t think the Guinness helped the situation all that much!
In addition to the ceili, Laura and I biked around the island to see the ring forts, towers and cemeteries. We failed horribly at the biking aspect – hills, rocks, recovering from previous night’s indulgence…not good. But the islands are incredibly charming, and it was a amazing three days.