Harp of Tara’s Irish Language Weekend returns to Kingston

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

This weekend, Kingston’s leading Irish organization, Harp of Tara, will host Irish language speakers from Canada and the United States during its annual Irish Language Weekend.

From April 28 to 30, workshops in Irish dance, music and art will be held at The Seniors Centre on Francis Street, with a special Irish Ceili dance on Saturday night, which will be open to the public.

Harp of Tara Kingston, the Kingston branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann (CCE), an international Irish cultural organization, has fostered Irish Gaelic speaking through its weekend event for more than 20 years. COVID-19 paused the event, but now it is returning and organizers are ready to welcome speakers of all ages and abilities to their weekend event.

“We haven’t held this event in three years,” said Ruth Wehlau, Harp of Tara’s Chairperson. “These are great weekends where anyone at any level of Irish language, from beginner to advanced, can come to speak, or to learn basic Irish, if they’re curious.”

Irish Gaelic was spoken by many communities in Canada for parts of the 19th and 20th Centuries, but native speakers are waning, according to a release from the organization.

“It’s an old, traditional language that’s very rich,” Wehlau stated. “This language is indigenous to Ireland and it was squashed by the English, like so many languages. It has suffered.”

Wehlau hopes that the public will drop by the ceili dance on Saturday night and experience both the fun social dancing, as well as the live Irish music on traditional Irish instruments like fiddle and uilleann pipes. Tickets are available at the door.

“A ceili is a kind of Irish party that involves great Irish music and dancing,” Wehlau said. “The dancing is a lot of fun. It’s social and we all dance together. You don’t have to have any experience at all, or a partner, to show up and dance at our ceilis.”

According to the organization, Harp of Tara works to make all its regular Irish events accessible to as many people as possible, while also preserving Irish culture. 

Wehlau, who is also an English professor at Queen’s University, said that keeping old languages alive takes work.

“For some people, the Irish language is part of their identity,” she said. “For me, languages that are so important and have such an historical background are slowly being pushed aside, mainly by English, and they deserve attention. And people who want to work on their language skills deserve to have the opportunity to do that. It’s too easy to let things disappear.”

Harp of Tara’s Irish Language Weekend takes place April 28 to 30 at the Seniors’ Centre at 56 Francis Street. Workshops take place on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning, and Saturday afternoon will also feature a presentation on the dry stone walls of Amherst Island. The Ceili dance is on Saturday, Apr. 29 at 7:45 p.m. For information, visit www.harpoftara.com.

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