Mount Holyoke celebrates St. Patrick’s Day with Irish songs and dance

Photo by Ayla Safran ’18  Members of the Smith College Wailing Banshees performed in Chapin Auditorim on Thursday night during the St. Patrick’s Day Irish Showcase. 

Photo by Ayla Safran ’18

Members of the Smith College Wailing Banshees performed in Chapin Auditorim on Thursday night during the St. Patrick’s Day Irish Showcase. 

BY MIRANDA WHEELER ’19

Mount Holyoke Folk Music and Dance Society (FMADS) hosted its St. Patrick’s Day Irish Showcase in Chapin Auditorium Thursday night. The holiday event encouraged attendees to wear green in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, but otherwise focused on the celebration of Irish performance styles, music, texts, prominent figures, heritage and culture.

The event featured performances by the folk band Calluna and the Smith College Wailing Banshees. Other acts included singing, dancing, oral storytelling and poetry readings from Mount Holyoke’s students. When the showcase came to a close, guests were invited to stay for an Irish dance demonstration led by Morgan Brachfeld ’18. Brachfeld’s group lessons incorporated folk styles of swing, do si do, face the sides and circle dancing to live accompaniment. Folk musicians specializing in guitar and fiddle, along with an entire ensemble of Smith instrumentalists, performing traditional ballads and jigs. The Gather-Rounds, a singing group within the Mount Holyoke Folk Music and Dance Society followed.

Tables for attendees were covered with faux gold coins, specialty Irish soda bread and butter that was catered by a local eatery and postcards full of noteworthy Irish suffragettes, poets and feminist figures. For the poetry reading, female poet Eavan Boland was deliberately selected instead of  well-known male Irish writers, such as William Butler Yeats and Oscar Wilde. The poetry was spoken in Gaelic and later translated into English by Sarah McCool ’18. 

A brief telling of women’s history in Ireland was also shared, highlighting Mary Robinson, the country’s first female president, the famed Irish crime reporter Veronica Guerin, the infamous Irish pirate Grace O’Malley and the Irish revolutionary Constance Georgine Markievicz.

Phoebe Cullen ’18 introduced the ancient tradition of oral storytelling with blue symbols painted on her face, which she told the audience were from a Gaelic tradition of distinguishing one’s place in society. She told the story of Finn MacCool, a myth that explains the Giant’s Causeway, a rock formation in Northern Ireland. 

Anna MacDonnell ’21 and Caitlin Lynch ’20 treated guests to their Irish step dancing.  The ensemble of The Wailing Banshees featured a harpist, fiddlers, flautists, cellists, violinists and guitarists, among other strings. Jigs and ballads performed included “Genevieve’s Waltz” by Manus Mcguire and works from Séamus Connolly. The final performance included scores from “Titanic” and a group singing of Tommy Makem’s “I’ll Tell My Ma.” Of the musicians, FMADS member and music major Lydia Solodiuk ’20 said, “My favorite part was the opening act [with] Calluna because they had amazing musical synergy together. They would all glance at each other and somebody would start improvising. It was really mind blowing to watch.”

The evening was defined by its festival atmosphere and cultural fellowship, which seemed to be the allure for many participants. Solodiuk noted, “Folk music was something that I grew up with and it was fun to recapture that childhood joy at the event and also at the twice-monthly sings that the org hosts.”

Mackenzie Strum ’20, a board member of FMADS, felt the showcase was an important event. “Irish Fest has been such a fun event to put together, and seeing it all come to fruition has been incredible,” she said. “I feel cultural events like this are important to the Mount Holyoke community because we have so many students from such diverse backgrounds, and it’s wonderful to have an opportunity for us to showcase music, dance and other forms of art from our cultures.”

Opportunities to participate in future FMADS events are frequently posted on the organization’s Facebook page. The Gather-Rounds meet on Thursdays in the Porter common room. 

“All of our events are open to everyone, whether you come every week, or once a semester,” said FMADS President Elise Newcomer ’18. “We hope that we provide an inclusive space where you can make new friends, dance with old ones, or sing without needing to perform. Community without requirements or expectations, that’s what we are about.”