It must have been around the time I was in first or second grade when my mother signed me up to learn Scottish Highland dancing. One Saturday morning she dropped me off at a Scottish dance studio and that teacher expected me to swing my short little legs up onto this bar thingy and stretch, and I was like, “Ummmm…. nopity nope nope. Not gonna happen!” I never went back.
Then my mother decided I should take fiddle lessons from a lady named Colleen who lived around the block from us, back when “around the block” was an accurate description of where someone lived. I hated it. I waited until the last minute to practice, and then showed up expecting to impress my instructor, Colleen, who would be very, very unimpressed with my lack of progress. I knew I wasn’t fooling her, and really didn’t enjoy going, so I began… Well, let’s just say I “fibbed” and told her some story about why I could no longer come. (Don’t ask). The story got back to my parents and I was busted for “fibbing,” but still, my mother would not give up on finding me a hobby.
One day I came home from school and she hurried me into play clothes and rushed me into the car to drop me off at some woman’s house for a dance lesson in her basement. Apparently it was her and her friend Mrs. Fitzgerald’s idea. Her daughter Joan would accompany me. All the way there I prayed that I wouldn’t have to try and swing my leg up onto another one of those bar thingy’s! I was pleasantly surprised when she began teaching us how to do the Irish jig. I loved it! Mum picked us up a couple of hours later, and I told her that the dance teacher, Mrs. McGowan, promised that whoever had the jig memorized, and danced it the best, would win a chance to wear the pretty green, hand-embroidered Irish dance costume that belonged to her oldest daughter, Colleen.
I wanted that dress.
So I practiced, and I practiced, and I practiced, and the next week – that dress was mine!
Irish dance became my love, and over the years I made lots of memories with the Griffins, Fitzgeralds, Downs, McGowans, Heinzmans, and the list goes on… St. Patrick’s Day parades, parties, and pub songs were so much fun! Every year Mrs. McGowan brought us back dance shoes from Ireland, and we’d spend hours scraping the soles of our “hard shoes” on the cement outside to grind down the hand-made nails in the shoes to get just the right sound with every shuffle for the list of summer competitions we would travel to with our friends. And I’ll never forget the applause when our “Kevin Barry” choreography performed in Toronto, and New York, and everywhere in between. We won first place – every time! And did you know that every Irish dancer gets an excused day off on St. Patrick’s Day? Oh yes! We’ve got places to go! The Gaelic League, the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, The Tipperary Pub, and the list goes on!
Ah, those were the days.
Decades later after being gone for several years, I returned home and raised my sons in the Detroit area. One day when they were young, my mother said to get down to the Gaelic League. Surely, I’d find some old friends. And find some old friends I did! Friday night Ceili dancing with Kitty, Rory & Ian running around the place giggling, Friday night fish fries, Brian Bonner playing the U of M Fight song at the end of every 16 Hand Reel, and Kitty hollering, “any old jig! I wonder how many hornpipes that floor has absorbed, or how many generations of wee ones learning a jig those walls have enjoyed. Good old Irish shenanigans are baked into that building, and I’m lucky enough not only to be a wee bit Irish, but to have decades’ worth of memories in that building as well! Get there some time if you can, but in the meantime…
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.
And may you enjoy one of my family’s favorite recipes from my Mum – the Nova Scotia “Little Allan” version of Irish Soda Bread! Be sure and have a slice while listening to a jig this March 17th!
- 5 cups flour
- 5 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp soda
- 1/8 tsp salt
- One pint buttermilk
- 1 egg
- 1 cup sugar
- A fist full of crisco (about 1/4 cup)
- 1 stick margarine (or butter)
Put all ingredients in your mixer – then mix it, and “dump” it into 2 loaf pans (or 1 larger baking pan), and cook for about 50 minutes at 350 degrees, till a toothpick comes out clean!
Tastes good with just butter on it, warm or cold! This recipe came from Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada!
Memory: I can’t help but remember good times growing up when I smell Irish bread baking in the oven. Fiddle music, Dad step dancing, and “tuning” with my sons on his knee when they were little. Here’s a little fiddle music for ya too –