A Little Dancing…A Céilidh on the Aran Islands

Aran Islands (9) 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.

Aran Islands

Sadly, not the boat we took across...but funny nonetheless!

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).

Pub in Doolin 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.dun angus fort

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.


Aran Islands (12) Aran Islands (6) dun angus fort1 Aran Islands (4)

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26 Responses to A Little Dancing…A Céilidh on the Aran Islands

  1. David December 9, 2009 at 7:57 pm #

    Great read and some great photos.

    • ShannonOD December 9, 2009 at 8:06 pm #

      Thanks Dave – it was one of my favorite spots :-)

  2. ShannonOD December 9, 2009 at 1:06 pm #

    Thanks Dave – it was one of my favorite spots :-)

  3. David December 9, 2009 at 12:57 pm #

    Great read and some great photos.

  4. ShannonOD November 30, 2009 at 7:01 am #

    I wish that I had a video of the dancing – the video I took was in reverse…I thought I pushed the button, taped the dancing, then really pushed the button and grabbed shots of my friend's cleavage! She forbid me to post it, gotta love the Guinness! ;-)

  5. Mary R November 25, 2009 at 10:05 pm #

    Looks so fun, Shannon! I want to see video of the dancing! I'm sure the guinness helped, not hurt!

    • ShannonOD November 30, 2009 at 2:01 pm #

      I wish that I had a video of the dancing – the video I took was in reverse…I thought I pushed the button, taped the dancing, then really pushed the button and grabbed shots of my friend's cleavage! She forbid me to post it, gotta love the Guinness! ;-)

  6. Mary R November 25, 2009 at 3:05 pm #

    Looks so fun, Shannon! I want to see video of the dancing! I'm sure the guinness helped, not hurt!

  7. Angela November 25, 2009 at 1:13 pm #

    I've lived in Ireland (Dublin) for two years and went to the Aran Islands only once: it was pouring, I got completely soaked, sick on the boat with the roughest sea I've ever seen (I was born in an island, an hour away from the sea) and totally freezed. Nice view though, very bucolic and by all means the real Ireland you won't find in Dublin…

    • Shannon O'Donnell November 25, 2009 at 1:16 pm #

      Oh no! That is such a stark contrast to the sunny bright blue skies I had!! I bet that really altered your perspective – I can’t imagine the rough seas – I got seasick just from the relatively calm waters. And though I liked Dublin well enough, the rest of Ireland definitely held the most charm for me :-)

    • ShannonOD November 25, 2009 at 5:16 pm #

      Oh no! That is such a stark contrast to the sunny bright blue skies I had!! I bet that really altered your perspective – I can't imagine the rough seas – I got seasick just from the relatively calm waters. And though I liked Dublin well enough, the rest of Ireland definitely held the most charm for me :-)

  8. ShannonOD November 25, 2009 at 10:16 am #

    Oh no! That is such a stark contrast to the sunny bright blue skies I had!! I bet that really altered your perspective – I can't imagine the rough seas – I got seasick just from the relatively calm waters. And though I liked Dublin well enough, the rest of Ireland definitely held the most charm for me :-)

  9. ShannonOD November 25, 2009 at 10:16 am #

    Oh no! That is such a stark contrast to the sunny bright blue skies I had!! I bet that really altered your perspective – I can't imagine the rough seas – I got seasick just from the relatively calm waters. And though I liked Dublin well enough, the rest of Ireland definitely held the most charm for me :-)

  10. ShannonOD November 25, 2009 at 10:08 am #

    I felt it was so immature to giggle over the “Happy Hooker, ” but I mean, really, how could I not! ;-)

  11. ShannonOD November 25, 2009 at 10:06 am #

    Oh man, how could I have forgotten the brawl! I can't wait to hear your new stories and fun :-)

  12. Angela November 25, 2009 at 6:13 am #

    I've lived in Ireland (Dublin) for two years and went to the Aran Islands only once: it was pouring, I got completely soaked, sick on the boat with the roughest sea I've ever seen (I was born in an island, an hour away from the sea) and totally freezed. Nice view though, very bucolic and by all means the real Ireland you won't find in Dublin…

  13. Robert Fitzsimmons November 25, 2009 at 2:10 am #

    If you meet an Irish person with their passport on them, ask for them to read out the first page of it. The gaelic language makes little sense to the ear, it's very random sounding.

    The happy hooker made me laugh :-)

    • ShannonOD November 25, 2009 at 5:08 pm #

      I felt it was so immature to giggle over the “Happy Hooker, ” but I mean, really, how could I not! ;-)

  14. Laura Carter November 24, 2009 at 7:36 pm #

    this was BY FAR my favorite night also!!! i had such a good time that night despite having (probably) a sprained ankle. that's where the smithwick's DID help me. :) everything about that weekend was quintessential irish…right down to the fight that broke out after the ceilidh (due to alcohol and leftover adrenaline from the inter-island football game that took place earlier that day.) can't wait for more dancing when i go back in february!

    • ShannonOD November 25, 2009 at 5:06 pm #

      Oh man, how could I have forgotten the brawl! I can't wait to hear your new stories and fun :-)

  15. Robert Fitzsimmons November 24, 2009 at 7:10 pm #

    If you meet an Irish person with their passport on them, ask for them to read out the first page of it. The gaelic language makes little sense to the ear, it's very random sounding.

    The happy hooker made me laugh :-)

  16. Stacey Cornelius November 24, 2009 at 5:35 pm #

    My guy has decided he wants to go to Ireland next year. And that's without me showing him your blog. Just wait til he sees it…

    • ShannonOD November 25, 2009 at 5:05 pm #

      Excellent!! I'm sure he'll be sold! :-) Once you start planning let me know if there is ever a way I can help!

  17. lilvtchic November 24, 2009 at 12:36 pm #

    this was BY FAR my favorite night also!!! i had such a good time that night despite having (probably) a sprained ankle. that's where the smithwick's DID help me. :) everything about that weekend was quintessential irish…right down to the fight that broke out after the ceilidh (due to alcohol and leftover adrenaline from the inter-island football game that took place earlier that day.) can't wait for more dancing when i go back in february!

  18. Stacey Cornelius November 24, 2009 at 10:35 am #

    My guy has decided he wants to go to Ireland next year. And that's without me showing him your blog. Just wait til he sees it…

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