The function of song and dance in the early work of Máirtín Ó Cadhain

Aingeal Ní Chualáin


This article explores how courtship as a social practice is presented in the early work of Máirtín Ó Cadhain. The art of song and dance are of central importance in the expression of desire in the author’s work. This aspect of Ó Cadhain’s early short stories is examined in the the light of the anthropological insights discussed in Lillis Ó Laoire’s study An Chreag i Lár na Farraige: Amhráin agus Amhránaithe i dToraigh (2002) in relation to Tory Island. As a result of the huge social changes which occurred in Ireland in the first half of the twentieth century the practice of matchmaking began to decline and the growing importance of the ritual of courtship became evident. Song and dance became acceptable forms of expressing sexual desire in public and, as such, became an important part of the courtship ritual in a social setting. Song and dance were also an acceptable way of expressing desire in literature and this is something which Ó Cadhain’s early work illustrates in a remarkable way.

This article considers four of the author’s early short stories published between 1939 and 1953 in relation to the use of song and dance as a way of expressing desire in a public setting. The stories which are discussed include ‘Má chaill mé Báire, ghnóthaigh mé Báire’ from the short story collection Idir Shúgradh agus Dáiríre (1939), ‘Críonadh na Slaite’ and ‘An Bhliain 1912’ from An Braon Broghach (1948) and ‘Ciumhais an Chriathraigh’ from Cois Caoláire (1953). Reference is also made to the short story ‘Beirt Eile’ from one of Ó Cadhain’s later collections An tSraith ar Lár (1967) which is of relevance with regard to the use of song as a means of expressing desire in the author’s work.

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© Comhar Teoranta, 2020.
ISSN: 2009-8626