Morris Dancers Visit Roscrea
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On Tuesday 25th June, the streets of Roscrea were brought to life by the arrival of the colourful and charismatic Morris Dancers, who stopped off in Roscrea to entertain its inhabitants as part of their summer tour of Ireland.
Even the sun shone on this unique occasion, which was a fabulous spectacle and was most enjoyed by all those lucky enough to be present at the time.
Morris Dancers in action on Castle St., Roscrea
The origins of the Morris are now lost to us, but the dances, many of which the people of Roscrea were treated to on a rare summer's evening last Tuesday, were probably part of a larger ceremonial to celebrate the return of spring. Those gathered to watch the dances performed would have hoped the occasion would mark the coming of summer but alas that all came to an abrupt end with the rain and gales that swept Ireland four days later on Munster Final Weekend.
The dances were performed by males only. Until about a hundred and fifty years ago, almost every Cotswold village had its own 'side' dancing their own local variants of Morris dancers at Whitsuntide. In other places, similar dances have survived such as the Derbyshire or Lancashire Morris.
Unfortunately, the social changes of the last century had a very discouraging effect on the Morris generally, and most villages that practice the rituals, gave it up. However, in Brampton in Oxfordshire, the annual Whit (now spring bank holiday) dancing in the village has continued without a break. Also in Headington, near Oxford, it was not forgotten, for it was here that Cecil Sharp first saw the Morris. During the following years he rediscovered the Morris, visiting village after village in the Cotswolds and other parts of England, finding the old dancers, learning the tunes from them, as well as the many different steps and figures that have become part of the Morris custom. He helped ensure the survival of the Morris by then teaching others what he knew and promoting the custom at every possible opportunity.
As knowledge of the dances spread and enthusiasm increased, a number of Morris Clubs, came into existence in towns away from the traditional villages. Displays were mainly given at private gatherings, but in June 1924, a group of young men spent a week of their holiday dancing in publin in the Cotswold villages around the green or outside a public house. They received an enthusiastic welcome wherever they danced and met many old dancers who taught them more dances and tunes. Since that time the Travelling Morris has been on tour once or twice a year in various parts of England, and in addition the many other Morris Clubs organise their own series of displays throughout the summer. Even so, most villages are only visited occasionally. Therefore we should be very privileged that the Morris dancers have taken the time and effort to visit our shores and descend upon our various towns with their colourful flair, talents and exubeance. Many people in England may still have never seen the Morris dancers. This in itself shows how special an occasion Tuesday 25th June 2002 was for all those who were lucky enough to have enjoyed The 126 Travelling Morris - Tour of Ireland perform in Roscrea.
Pictured are: Jimmy Bergin, Billy Maher, David Lawlor, Brendan Carmody, Joan Madden, Aisling Ryan and P.J. Wright with the twelve members of the 126 Travelling Morris.
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