Date of Award


Document Type

Doctoral Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Health and Social Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Brian Coates


This thesis examines historical and cultural paradigms in dance in Ireland. Initially, the Introduction establishes the post-colonial matrix within which the thesis is written. This section interprets stages in the development of dance using cultural and educational theorists. It also highlights where the dance repertoire and teaching system at Siamsa Tire operate as signifiers.

Chapter One focuses on dance during the colonial era. Post-Colonial theorists have queried the validity of the coloniser/ colonised concept highlighting that it simplifies the long ago. The heterodox origins of the Irish dance master system and canon support this notion as they recognise a cross-fertilisation process between British, Irish and French dancers. The repertoire and teaching system at Siamsa Tire, the National Folk Theatre of Ireland, are used to signify specific stages in the evolution of dance in Ireland during the chapter.

The thesis moves on to dance during the Gaelic Revival. At this stage dance had became a site of political and ideological struggle. The first section of the chapter focuses on nationalist efforts by leaguers and the Anglo Irish to use specific modes of artistic expression (including dance) to assert their ‘Irishness’. Then, the chapter focuses on the rural dance tradition. It signified a nomadic state of consciousness where people continued to live outside fixed social conventions. Founding Artistic Director of Siamsa Tire Pat Ahern assimilated this folk culture in his youth and he drew upon it to project a particular type of Irishness on stage.Fie used the North Kerry dance canon and style as tools of expression.

The next section focuses places the inauguration of Siamsa Tire into artistic and cultural contexts. Initially, a Gaelic League Concert in Dingle Co.

Kerry in the 1930s receives attention: the diverse repertoire and mixed audience reaction signified an unstable national consciousness where ethnic groups continued to use dance (and other forms of expression) to establish their identity. Then, a decline in native forms from the thirties to the fifties is highlighted. It spurred a second revival and Siamsa was a core element. Concepts of westernisation and the subaltern are used to rationalise Ahern’s ‘Plan for Fostering the Growth of Traditional Irish Culture’ which was published in 1972 and his foundation of Siamsa Tire in 1974.

The fourth chapter uses Stein’s categorisations of storytelling to classify stages in pantomimic dance in Ireland. Signifiers are highlighted in pantomimic dances in the Siamsa repertoire. Other instances, where artists adopted and adapted the same stories also receive reference. At the conclusion of the chapter, correlations are drawn between Pat Ahern and Brendan Kennelly’s works. Born during the same era, both men experienced the North Kerry storytelling tradition. While Ahern used the stage, and Kennelly used the page, to relay stories, similarities were present - in the themes, modes of discourse and storytelling style.

The thesis concludes by focusing on the future of dance in Ireland. A teaching model, the ‘Inclusive Model’, is proposed. This model draws upon current systems of teaching dance in mainstream education and at Siamsa Tire. It is holistic as it focuses on dance from cultural, artistic, academic and physical perspectives.


Appendices have been removed due to copyright.

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