Culture can be defined as everything that constitutes the way of life of a people. It is the systems of shared knowledge and beliefs – a mix of literature, theater, art, music, dance — and other indicators of intellectual achievement. Essentially it is what makes up the soul, mind, and spirit of a man or woman.

The Irish Culture Society of Virginia strives to bring Irish culture to the forefront by sponsoring Irish dance and music performances, genealogical seminars, Irish language classes, study of Irish history, literature and discussions with authors of Irish-related books and plays.

Saving Civilization: When the Roman Empire collapsed barbarian tribes roamed Europe, destroying cities, towns and settlements causing what we refer to as the Dark Ages (500–1100 AD). The heritage of Western Civilization virtually disappeared from the European continent. In unconquered Ireland, the land of Saints and Scholars, Irish monks and scribes faithfully transcribed and preserved Western Civilization’s written history. When stability returned to Europe, Irish scholars brought learning back to the continent and shaped Western culture.

Language: The oral tradition of legends and poetry is the oldest in Europe. This is amazing given that for more than six centuries the goal of English policy was extermination of the Irish Gaelic language. The Administration of Justice Act of 1737 banned the use of Irish and remains in force in Northern Ireland. The Irish language Act (Acht na Gaeilge) was introduced in 2018 to give the Irish language equal status; however, in February 2020 this act has not been passed into law.

Literature: The Irish language has the third oldest literature in Europe (after Greek and Latin) and the most significant body of written literature (ancient and recent) of any Celtic language. Dublin is the birthplace of more Nobel literary laureates than any other city in the world. Particularly famous examples of such works are those of James Joyce, Bram Stoker, Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde and Ireland’s four winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature; William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett and Seamus Heaney.

Law: Early Irish law, called Brehon law represents possibly the oldest surviving codified legal system in Europe.

Music and Dance: Irish music and dance have been inextricably linked over centuries. An assortment of instruments provided the music for dancing throughout the centuries. In early days dancing was accompanied by bagpipes or the jaw harp. Today dancers are accompanied by an accordion, a fiddle or a piano.

Irish dance was taught by “travelling dance masters” across Ireland in the 17th-18th century. Separate dance forms developed according to regional practice and differing purposes. From the early 20th century, a number of organizations promoted and codified the various forms of dance, creating competitive structures and standardized styles. Stepdance includes the most well-known form of Irish dance popularized shows such as Riverdance. Ceili dance is performed by groups of two to sixteen people, and often uses traditional or codified dances and formations. Set dance is a social tradition for groups of four dancers and can include intricate footwork found in step dance.

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