Harp of Tara’s annual St. Patrick’s Céilí returns after three year hiatus

Participants of all ages and skill levels enjoy Irish céilí dancing during a Harp of Tara ceili dance event. Photo via Harp of Tara.

The Harp of Tara’s annual all-ages Irish social Céilí dance will take place this weekend, marking its first St. Patrick’s Day week event since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

After cancelling the annual St. Pat’s Céilí in March 2020, Harp of Tara — the Kingston branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann (CCE), an international Irish cultural organization — hasn’t hosted its popular annual events.

According to a release from the organization, the non-profit has been making a gradual return to its regularly scheduled programs that help to promote Irish cultural learning and heritage, and this Saturday’s St. Patrick’s Day Céilí marks an official return to a sense of normalcy for the organization, its members, and the general public, who enjoyed access to Harp of Tara’s monthly Céilí dances pre-pandemic.

“It feels great to be hosting our St. Patrick’s Day dance again,” said Stephen Rayner, past chair and current treasurer of CCE Kingston. “The last one we had was in 2019. Now we’re in 2023 and it’s great to be able to host an event like this again.”

On Saturday, Mar. 11, the Céilí, which means ‘dance’ in the Irish language, will be held from 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. and will feature music, special entertainment, and a full menu and bar service at St. Larry’s Pub, located on St. Lawrence College’s Kingston campus at 100 Portsmouth Avenue.

The organization shared that Irish Céilí dances are similar to other types of social folk dancing, such as square and contra dancing. Featuring live traditional Irish music on fiddle, uilleann pipes and keys with the Seventh Town Ceili Band, the dance on Saturday is accessible to all ages and ability levels. A caller teaches the movements prior to the set beginning, making the activity a fun and beginner-friendly way to enjoy a traditional Irish activity.

“A Céilí is a group of people of all ages getting together to dance, to listen to the music, to socialize,” said Rayner, who runs dance programs for Harp of Tara, and acts as caller for the Céilís. “People used to have them in their kitchens, and we still do sometimes, but this time we will be in St. Larry’s Pub at St. Lawrence College.” 

Rayner said that the Céilí will give Kingston residents a taste of real Irish culture, outside of some of the stereotypes that emerge, especially during St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.

“These events are real Irish culture, not just the green beer and leprechauns,” he said. “They will be able to listen to some good traditional music and be able to get up and participate in some fairly simple Céilí and set dances.”

Kingston boasts deep Irish roots, with many of its current population tracing their ancestry back to immigrants who left Ireland during the Great Famine in the 19th Century and who then settled in the Kingston region, the organization noted. According to Statistics Canada’s 2021 Census, more than 25 per cent of Kingston residents claim Irish ancestry.

“There is a lot of Irish heritage in Kingston,” Rayner stated. “Harp of Tara’s role is simply to promote all aspects of Irish culture, and what we feel is a proper sense of that, as opposed to allowing stereotypes of Irish culture to continue. We are trying to keep the Irish tradition alive.”

Visitors of all ages and experience levels are welcome to Harp of Tara’s St. Patrick’s Day Céilí Dance on Saturday. For tickets and information, visit www.harpoftara.com.

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