Mon. Sep 23rd, 2019

Irish Slice of Madrid

the history of the Irish in Madrid

Eamon de Valera & Comely Maidens Bellydancing At The Crossroads

4 min read
I filmed a performance of Bollywood and Belly dancing, with a mixture of Irish dancing, recently, and it got me thinking about the deep connection between Ireland and India.

Eamon de Valera and comely maidens.

The title of this blog post will jump out at anyone who is Irish and of a certain generation.

We all sniggered in class when our teacher explained about Dev’s vision of a pure, pastoral nation with girls dancing at the crossroads. Not that they would be allowed do much else in 1940s Ireland.

The oft-quoted speech turned out to be a misquote, and Dev – despite his failings – was a master orator. He was appealing to a sense of identity at a time when World War II was raging and British re-occupation was a real threat. And after the collapse of the Celtic Tiger, modern historians have softened their view on what is essentially a call for philosophical happiness to trump material obsession.

The Colours Of Our Flag, Eamon de Valera & comely maidens

This post started with a mild tangent, but there is a central thread running through it all, making sense of the sensorial, of the steps from dances and disparate cultures.

Seeing the colour of Bollywood and then the familiar beats of Irish dancing, I was struck by how, despite the coincidence of these performances aligning, both Ireland and India share much in common.

Ireland & India: Bound Through Words & History

I heard about an Indian/Irish band that toured across the States – they are called Beef and Curry. Questionable band names aside, it’s our shared colonial past which binds us.

Writers

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I recall idly channel hopping back in the family home, back when the great but short-lived experiment of having the channels – or satellite TV – was underway. A documentary about Indian writers in English bowled me over with a single phrase:

The English invented the language, but we mastered it.

Now, of course, English writers in their own language are amazing. However, it was the political sentiment that struck me – Irish people have said the same thing; it’s the language of reclaiming identity after colonial domination.

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie is a hybrid of English and Indian inflexions in the same way a Joyce or Roddy Doyle novel would reflect the same in Ireland.

Meanwhile, A Flight of Pigeons by Ruskin Bond is the kind of sweeping epic where personal drama plays out against the backdrop of history. Again, many works in the Irish tradition follow this trope.

W.B. Yeats, the Irish poet, was often carried away by mysticism and oriental philosophy. As he was so susceptible to esoteric fascination and dabbling with the occult, his relationship with Indian thought is hard to pin down: it was fantastical in the extreme.

One strand of philosophy that influenced Yeats and other Dublin mystics was that Truth was found in the Self and that all external life was nothing but a dream. He also saw clear examples of reincarnation in Indian poetry and the myths of the Irish cycle.

While our love grows an Indian star

A meteor of the burning heart

One with the tide that gleams, the wings a that gleam and dart

– The Indian to his Love, W. B. Yeats

Freedom

To anyone familiar with history, the fact that Eamon de Valera was consulted when India was drawing up its constitution post-independence should come as no surprise. What India was experiencing at the tail-end of the ’40s and the start of the 1950s had already played out in Ireland.

In 1920, Dev wrote a pamphlet titled: India and Ireland, and it was penned so that the link between the martyrs of the past and the living freedom fighters could be joined in thought and reality; they were one and the same, both Indians and the Irish, in the struggle against a common foe.

This was a view shared by India, and Dev was invited to a formal dinner in Birmingham to celebrate India’s declaration of a Republic because of this common history, one marked by the scourge of famine and partition.

1920 was a busy year. As the Irish War of Independence got underway, a group of Irish soldiers in the British army rebelled while stationed in India. Though it was quickly quelled, it was seen as further evidence of Ireland and India’s twin destinies.

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Our Feature Presentation, minus Eamon de Valera and comely maidens…

Below you can see the video from last Friday’s performance.

By way of giving background to the events of that night, it was a menagerie of musical stylings and dancing troupes in the Centro Cultural Antonio Machado. He was a celebrated poet; cultural man, cultural place.

I annoyed a lot of the people around me by getting in their way, looking for opportune shots. My range of movement was severely limited and under normal circumstances, I would have powered through. But the social weight brought to bear on a lone cameraman by a sea of tetchy old people forced me to retreat with my tripod firmly between my legs.

And remember…

You can listen to our podcast on RadioPublic, the aural place of culture and insight! Also, why not take a look at this article? It’s about a Spanish dance troupe that specializes in Irish dancing.

Thanks for reading!

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