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Posts Tagged ‘custom’

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I like this about traditions: they are always a little the same and a little different. You carry forward the old activities, but you and the people around you are a little different every year and customs get tweaked.

I’m posting a few pictures of holiday doings that are both the same and different in our family.

The youngest grandchild decorating a reindeer cookie. My collage gift tags made from scraps. Another grandchild’s Christmas tree watercolors. Luminaria bags with candles. A traditional light display.

My husband and I and Suzanne’s family gathered for a magnificent meal at John’s house, and everyone ended up dancing to Gummy Bears disco videos in the dark.

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When John was in fifth grade, the parent-teacher association held a “cakewalk” as a fundraiser. It was kind of like Musical Chairs except players didn’t sit down. People would get eliminated in each session, and the last one standing would win one of the cakes. At the time, the idea was new to me.

Now, as I’ve been looking into James Hackett’s Days Gone By again, I am realizing the cakewalk was based on a much older custom.

Writes James, “The cake dance, to which references were made frequently in the 18th and 19th century, was not a particular dance but rather a baire or session of dancing of which a cake was offered to the couple who proved themselves the best dancers. These events were usually sponsored by the local alehouse or tavern, and such gatherings were associated with hurling and other athletic contests. …

“The cake to be danced for is provided at the expense of the publican, or alehouse keeper, is placed on a board, which in turn is put on top of a pike that stands ten feet high, and from it hangs a garland of meadow flowers and also some apples fastened with pegs on the outside of the garland. … Those who are able to dance the longest around the cake are declared winners.”

Photo found here.
If you know where to find a photo of an actual Irish cake dance, let me know. In the meantime, here is an Irish piper accompanying a couple dancers.

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I have decided that if Ireland ever names people as national treasures, it should include James J. Hackett of Moate.

Last night at the Kellys’ party, James clinked the glasses at the table and called everyone to attention. Then he recited Yeats’s poem “The Ballad of Father Gilligan,” preceding it with a little history and acting out all the parts.

The grandson of a man who taught Latin and Greek in a hedgerow school back in the dark days when the English forbade sending Irish children to school, James has taken it upon himself to preserve the culture. His ordinary conversation is a living history, and he is frequently dropping into poetry.

James’s book Days Gone By is written in the way he speaks when talking to friends or taking people on a tour of some ruin. Consider this sample.

“It was long past the witching hour when the poteen revellers came upon Kate resting on the puchann and in a most distressful state.* They took her along to the wake, where she related all her adventures. Great was the wonder and fear that was expressed at hearing this story, and needless to say, many a post mortem was held upon Kate Brambles’s account of the witches’ dance at the half way house in Ballylurkin Bog on the Hallow’een night that Tubbs Lanigan was waked.”

Recent chronicler of Ireland lore and customs Turtle Bunbury discovered James in Moate and has included him in one of his Vanishing Ireland books. Bunbury also features James on a Facebook page, which I hope to access as soon as Turtle accepts my friend request.

[Update: Turtle has just put my post on his page, here.]

You may recall that I blogged about James once before, here, at another time that he was visiting his Rhode Island cousin.

(*James says a “puchann” is a little hill in a bog.)

Photo: Suzanne’s Mom
James J. Hackett in New Shoreham. He made his own shillelagh of blackthorn. He also made one for John and mailed it to him with instructions on how to cure the wood.

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