at the Crossroads
roads led to Ughtyneill on Wednesday July 6, 2005 for the
22nd annual crossroads ceili organised under the auspices
of Cairde Rince Ceili na hEireann.
Dancing at the crossroads to the strains of ceili music
conjures up images of a bygone era from the dim and distant
past. But the tradition lives on in the North Meath hamlet
of Ughtyneill, thanks to the Cairde Rince Ceili na hEireann
and its national chairman, local man Tom Marry.
The tradition dates back to the turn of the century
(20th) when the crossroads ceili was an important part of
social life. That tradition lives on in Ughtyneill, where
we stick to traditional ceili dancing. That fact attracts
lovers of ceili dancing from all over the country,
For the past 22 years traffic on the Kells - Kingscourt
road has been diverted, north of Moynalty at Ughtyneill
for a few hours on a night in July to facilitate what is
probably the only crossroads ceili that remains in the country.
It is certainly the only crossroads ceili in Meath,
if not in the whole country. The Cairde centre in St. Margarets
organises something similar, but it isnt held at a
crossroads. It is held outside a Church of all places,
At a cursory glance Ughtyneill would appear to be a curious
venue for a celebration of Irish music and dance. But delving
deeper, it soon becomes apparent that Ughtyneill has a proud
In my younger days there were classes in the Irish
language, Irish dancing and drama so there was a cultural
background there. We built on that by setting up a branch
of Comhaltas Ceolteoiri Eireann and introduced music classes
and well as adult ceili dancing classes, Tom confirmed.
Around the same time the idea of a crossroads ceili was
first mooted. The first crossroads ceili was held in 1983
and has grown in popularity down through the years.
The establishment of the Comhaltas branch and the
first crossroads ceili coincided. In latter years the ceili
has been run under the auspices of Cairde Rince Ceili na
hEireann, he noted.
Hundreds of dancers, musicians, interested locals and inquisitive
tourists descend on Ughtyneill one night each year for a
celebration of Irish music and dance. We have bus
loads that come from Dublin and other parts to take part
in the ceili. We would also have a strong local contingent
taking part, Tom elaborated.
It is hard to estimate just how many people attend the annual
ceili, because there is no cover charge, and people to tend
to come and go throughout the night, but conservative estimates
put the average crowd at between 300 and 400 people.
On the occasions when poor weather conditions dictate that
the ceili cant be held outdoors, the musicians, dancers
and onlookers move indoors to St. Patricks Hall, which
is located beside the crossroad.
The dancing is quite a spectacle. Large numbers come
just to watching the dancing and listen to the music. The
traffic is diverted for the evening to facilitate the music
and dancing. There is no charge and light refreshments are
served on the night, so all in all it is a great social
occasion, he enthused.
It is a big night in the area. To the best of my knowledge
it is only native Irish dancing ceili in Meath. There is
no where else in the county that caters exclusively for
native ceili dancing, outdoors, Tom affirmed.
Vincent Tighe from Munterconnaught and guests supplies live
music on the night. Indeed, Vincent is a veteran of the
Ughtyneill event. He has been playing music here for
the last 20 years. He would also have a few friends with
him to ensure and great night of music and dance,
Throughout the course of the night Vincent and his fellow
musicians accompany the dancers through at least 18 different
dances. Tom explained that dancers of all grades are catered
We would always start with the simpler dances and
progress to the more difficult dances. By and large the
people that are dancing are attending dancing classes, but
many of the spectators also get involved.
Some just come to watching the dancing and before
long they are out there dancing. In fact we encourage everybody
to get involved on the night. It is no shame not to be able
to dance. All of us had to start somewhere. We all had to
be taught, he enthused.
He added: If you come along and are receptive to being
taught, youll pick it up. It is like learning the
accordion or the fiddle. You have to start at the beginning.
We would always encourage people to give it a go and see
how they get along.
Cairde Rince Ceili na hEireann, which was established in
1996, now runs dancing classes at 30 adult clubs across
the country. The centres are strong supporters of the Ughtyneill
He elaborated: We would have centres in Ashbourne,
Dunboyne, St, Margarets, and Rathmines who would support
the ceili. We would also have people driving from Co. Leitrim,
Roscommon and many of the northern counties.
Cairde was established at a time when ceili dancing was
in decline throughout the country. The committee was
established in 1996 to coincide with the centenary of the
first formal ceili, although ceili dancing has been around
for the past five centuries. Tom recalled.
Ceili dancing was at an all-time low at the time and
we decided we should try reactivate interest in ceili dancing
countrywide, he added.
Nowadays the organisation has in the region of 30 teachers
actively involved in teaching dancing to adults and children.
Tom, a qualified teacher revealed: We teach in many
of the primary schools and some of the secondary schools
on voluntary basis. Each year in excess of 10,000 Irish
children are taught Irish dancing under the auspices of
A dearth of ceili dancers in 1996 meant that Cairde decided
to focus its attention on the youth of the country. We
had to start with a new generation of dancers and that meant
beginning with the children. My generation didnt have
the opportunity to learn ceili dancing, but the youth of
today have every opportunity to get involved.
At local Cairdre Rince Ceili na hEireann has a thriving
centre in Ughtyneill. We run weekly adult classes
in ceili dancing from September right through to the following
Easter. The classes are held in St. Patricks Hall.
He continued: We would also run music classes (accordion,
tin whistle, fiddle etc) as well as an Irish language classes
for all age groups. Again these classes would run every
week from September through to the following May.
Down through the years, the local Comhaltas and Cairde branches
have been working away quietly in the background to promote
the Irish language, music and dance. Over the past 20 years
or so, they have built up a fine reputation as protectors
and promoters of Irish culture.
We stuck with it over the years. People now realise
that we are offering Irish language, music and dance in
its purest form and they are responding accordingly by attending
our classes, he asserted.