Ceili (pronounced ‘Kay-lee’ with the emphasis on the first syllable) means to gather in friendship and fun. It derives from the Gaelic word meaning ‘visit.’ In Ireland today a couple going out to share a cup of tea and conversation with friends is going ‘ceili-ing’. Ceilis as we know them today involve live music and spirited dance. They are held regularly all over the U.K. and are especially popular in Ireland’s west and southwest. Ceilis also take place around the world wherever people of Celtic extraction now live. It’s currently estimated.that 46% of New Zealanders have Celtic blood. You may have noticed that there is more than one way to spell Ceili. The one used here is the Irish way. In Scotland, England and Wales you’re more likely to see it spelled ‘Ceilidh.’
In centuries past, the British suppressed traditional Gaelic culture and language. Villagers would still gather surreptitiously for ceilis in private homes and were even known to throw a wooden entry door down onto the dirt floor of a family’s cottage and dance on the door. Some say this is when Irish dancing developed into its well-known form with the arms held rigid and close to the body. They had to!
One of the unique features of a ceili is that anyone can get up in the course of the evening and share an item: a story, a poem, a skit, a song or a dance. Visitors to a ceili are under no obligation to dance. Some come simply to enjoy the spirit of the night. In simple terms, ceili dances tend to be either partner or group dances, each called by a caller who shouts out the moves and figures of the dance, making a ceili ideally suited for novices as well as experienced dancers. No one gets upset if someone makes a wrong step. In fact this can often be the source of much good hearted laughter. Everyone is welcome at a ceili. The events are socially inclusive and break down barriers and build bridges between participants.
The Mangonui Ceili takes place in the Mangonui Hall on the third Saturday of each month. Doors open at 7.00 pm, as does the wonderful live music of local band Spootiskerry Spraoi. Dancing starts at 7.30 pm. Mark the following dates on your calendar for upcoming ceilis in Mangonui: November 20, December 18 and January 15 (hosted by talented U.K. entertainer Pete Grassby) Admission is $2 per adult plus a plate to share for supper. Accompanied children are free.
One of the originators of our Mangonui Ceili, Fiona McGrory recently joined me on the radio in conjunction with Lilia Carpinelli. They main topic of the interview was Orrf musical education but Fiona spoke lovingly about her early connection with music and ceilis in Ireland. Listen to the complete interview here:
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