Second annual Irish Fest celebrates Irish music and dance

Photo by Margaret Skelly ’21 The board members of Folk Music and Dance Society led the audience in a traditional Irish song at the second annual Irish Fest night.

Photo by Margaret Skelly ’21
The board members of Folk Music and Dance Society led the audience in a traditional Irish song at the second annual Irish Fest night.


Mount Holyoke’s Folk Music and Dance Society (FMDS) hosted their second annual Irish Fest, celebrating Irish music, dance and heritage, on the night of Saturday, March 23. An Irish flag hung vertically against the window of the Abbey-Buckland multipurpose space as traditional Irish instrumental music played and students and community members ate soda bread, sipped ginger beer and took their seats.

The event has undergone many changes since its first iteration last year. “The old board, who had a more advanced knowledge of Irish music, did a ver- sion of this event that was a little bit more just straight performances,” instead of an interactive experience, said Lydia Solodiuk ’20, the treasurer of FMDS. Some of this year’s performances were repeats from last year, like the Irish dancers, but others were found through a mass email sent to members of FMDS.

“I was not originally thinking of playing [music],” said Mackenzie Strum ’20, FMDS secretary. “But we needed a little more than what we had.” Board members stepped in to perform Irish music and added 12 sing-along folk songs to the program.

“This year, we brought in the more interactive part of getting the audience to sing. We do that at our meetings,” said Solodiuk.

The evening began as FMDS board members introduced themselves and explained the order of events. Between performances from students, the FMDS would lead the audience in singing Irish songs. The first two songs were “Wild Rover” and “The Irish Rover.” The board members, gathered around two music stands, started by singing the chorus and then the audience tried to follow along. Audience members giggled and struggled through the lyrics toward the beginning of the first song, but quickly gained their confidence as the songs, and the night, went on.

After these songs, four dancers from UMass Irish Dance presented the first performance. Caitlin Lynch ’20, Anna MacDonnell ’21, UMass sophomore Delia Mahoney and UMass first-year Alisha Mackin performed a dynamic four hand reel wearing soft shoes, or “ghillies.” Wearing black tights, dresses with embroidered maroon sashes around the waist and bright smiles on their faces, the dancers’ display elevated the energy in the room.

MacDonnell has been Irish dancing for about 15 years, including several years of dancing competitively. “The dances we performed were traditional dances, meaning that they are taught the same way in every dance school,” she said. MacDonnell explained that arranging a performance for the event was fairly simple due to the group’s shared prior knowledge of the traditional choreography.

After another singalong interlude, Riley Fitzger- ald ’20 played three songs on the guitar. “These songs are more Irish-inspired than truly Irish,” she said, ex- plaining that she had learned two of them — both Ap- palachian folk songs — at a fiddle camp in Kentucky when she was in middle school. The Appalachian mountain range was where many Irish immigrants settled after they moved to the United States, and the songs share elements of Irish music.

Following Fitzgerald, two board members played songs on the fife and the banjo. Strum described the fife as a “loud and piercing military instrument used to tell troops across the battle eld what was happening.” Board member Erin Hancock ’20 added jokingly that, to her knowledge, the banjo was not used on battlefields.

Another Irish dance performance from Lynch, MacDonnell, Mahoney and Mackin followed. This time done in hard shoes, a traditional set dance named “St. Patrick’s Day” was met with a big round of applause from the audience.

Before singing the next song, “There Were Roses,” Solodiuk introduced the historical context of the lyrics. “Since the Middle Ages, Ireland has been either colonized or controlled by England in some capacity, which has caused a lot of tension,” she said. “This song is about the latter half of the twentieth century, where there was a lot of tension that broke out in violence and bombings.”

The somber mood created by the tragic lyrics did not last long, as the Hampshire Folk Music Ensemble played several Irish slip jigs including “The Butterfly,” which Fitzgerald had played earlier on guitar. Their lively music captivated the audience, causing many students to tap their toes and sway in their seats.

The night ended with “Parting Glass,” a song about saying goodbye and ending. As the board sang the nal words, “good night and joy be with you all,” the event came to a sentimental close.