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The Cottage Ceilidh
The craic - that form of Irish entertainment where hospitality, good conversation, storytelling and music intermingle - can be mighty, especially as Lunasa approaches. Lunasa is the ancient harvest feast and was always marked by local festivals, celebrations and fair days. Ballycastle, Country Antrim, still has a fair day where you can get dulse and 'yellow man', a particularly jaw breaking sweet candy, from stalls. But up the country, with visitors from overseas come home, you can often find a cottage ceilidh (say that kay-lee) where the hospitality flows along with the talk and the music has people getting to their feet and finding a few vacant flags in the crowded kitchen to dance a jig.
The old custom was to visit these 'rambling houses' at full moon. In rural districts without street lighting, the light of the full moon would illuminate their way to the neighbor's home. With the nights still being quite long at Lunasa, and dawn quite early, these cottage ceilidhs often would rollick the countryside from before dusk until dawn. With the last 'blue moon' until 2018 coinciding with Lunasa in 2015, there is a certain to be some good cottage ceilidhs going over the next week here in Ireland.
These are informal affairs but every Irish child learns early to have a 'party piece' to offer to the entertainment. It might be a tune on a pennywhistle that they have learned in the afterschool club. Perhaps it is a poem they learned by heart and can recite to the wholy encouraging group gathered. IIf they have learned Irish dance they might do some hard shoe dancing in the centre of the crowd while someone plays on the fiddle or accordian. Everyone participates and offers something to the whole of the entertainment.
As the evening goes on there will be the inevitable hush as someone sings sťan nos - those haunting, lilting songs, often in the Irish language, that are sung without any instruments accompanying them. Even in the midst of all the merriment, those melancholy tones remind the gathering of the whole range of emotions that life and Irish heritage offer.
I was up an at early evening gathering on a rainy Sunday close to Lunasa. The kitchen table groaned with homemade food. The kettle was constantly on the go. Unusually, there was harp music, since this was in a harper's home. There was storytelling and poetry and plenty of music and singing, too. As the rain teamed down upon the Paps of the Morrigan we were warm by the hearth's roaring fire where we communed at an excellent cottage ceilidh in merriment and moments of quiet reflection on a poem, the joy of a youngster playing with his toys on the kitchen floor, the satisfaction of great homemade bread, cake and company.
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