Exhibition celebrates 90 years of Irish dancing in Larne

Mayor of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, Councillor Paul Reid is pictured with members of the Lisa Dempsey School of Irish Dancing, Angeline King and Lisa Dinsmore at the launch of a new exhibition celebrating 90 years of Irish dancing in Larne. INLT 14-001-PSB
Mayor of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, Councillor Paul Reid is pictured with members of the Lisa Dempsey School of Irish Dancing, Angeline King and Lisa Dinsmore at the launch of a new exhibition celebrating 90 years of Irish dancing in Larne. INLT 14-001-PSB

Larne’s strong tradition of Irish festival dance over the past 90 years is being highlighted thanks to a new exhibition in the town.

‘An Irish Dancing Story - Celebrating 90 Years of Festival in Larne, 1928-2018’ launched at Larne Museum and Arts Centre last Friday evening.

Patrica McVeigh (2nd right) is pictured with Joanne, Claire and Ann Marie McFaul at the launch of the exhibition celebrating 90 years of Irish dancing in Larne. INLT 14-002-PSB

Patrica McVeigh (2nd right) is pictured with Joanne, Claire and Ann Marie McFaul at the launch of the exhibition celebrating 90 years of Irish dancing in Larne. INLT 14-002-PSB

The exhibition includes Irish dancing dresses, photographs and other artefacts, and marks the 90 years that have passed since the first festival took place in Larne.

Contributing to the exhibition is local writer Angeline King, who has studied the history of Irish dancing in the area for a new book.

Larne was the first town to host a music festival which included Irish dancing as a category back in 1928.

This marked the beginning of what has become known as the ‘festival tradition’ of Irish dancing, separate from the ‘feis’ tradition. The two styles became distinct from one another following the introduction of rules which prohibited festival dancers from performing at the feis.

Margaret McClean, Moira Hutchinson and Deborah Armour pictured at the exhibition celebrating 90 years of Irish dancing in Larne. INLT 14-003-PSB

Margaret McClean, Moira Hutchinson and Deborah Armour pictured at the exhibition celebrating 90 years of Irish dancing in Larne. INLT 14-003-PSB

“Irish dancing really took off in Larne and the town became one of the important centres for it,” Angeline said.

In the early days, dance classes were held at the British Legion in Larne, led by the likes of Peadar O’Rafferty, along with Stella and Patricia Mulholland.

By the early 1930s Irish dancing at festivals had spread to other predominantly unionist towns, highlighting that Irish dancing knew no political or religious boundaries.

“It was an aspect of Gaelic culture which really found a home in Protestant towns,” Angeline added. “All through The Troubles the festivals flourished; it has always been a cross-community thing.”

Also on display are a colourful array of Irish dancing dresses, some dating back to the 1930s.

The outfits are part of a collection belonging to champion dancer, Leslie Baird.

An Irish Dancing Story will be open to the public until Wednesday, May 23.

Meanwhile, there are plans to bring the exhibition to Ballymena next year.