Galway Girl by Ed Sheeran

Hi, all!

This is kind of an informal blog post, but ever since it’s started trending, I can’t stop thinking about Ed Sheeran’s “Galway Girl” and was hoping people might have thoughts. The first time I heard it, I was immediately struck by the opening lyrics, “She played the fiddle in an Irish band, / but she fell in love with an English man.” In some regards, I was interested in the power dynamics at play: what does it mean that an “English man” (i.e., Ed Sheeran) is portraying a woman from Ireland through an “Irish sounding,” fiddle-esque song? How does that reflect on [In listening more, I was intrigued by the notion of “Galway Girl,” particularly in regards to the traditional relationship with Ireland and femininity. To some extent, the relationship seems to be reflective of a heteronormative relationship between Sheeran and a woman, but it also seems that the evocation of the trope of the “Irish woman” is intriguing. I was also really interested in how it limited Galway to a scene of drunken debauchery in a pub and what that might mean about Ireland on the whole: is it positively conveying jubilee in a happy moment that happens to surround drinking? Or, because it’s written by an Englishman, might it be negatively limiting external understandings of Galway to scenes of drinking? I guess the last thing I was wondering was, could this song qualify as a form of cultural appropriation? Is it cultural appreciation? Generally, I feel like as an American, the cultural appropriation I’m more immediately confronted with and shocked by is perpetrated against POC and others who are continually disenfranchised; however, in recognizing the cultural context of this song particularly, I was interested in the potential colonial history and historical disrespect of Ireland by the English which may be worth investigating further. Again, I realize the song is positioned as a fairly specific, singular experience, and extrapolating information based off of it might be unjustified, but it could also be a source of productive conversation.

If you haven’t heard the song or seen the music video, you can check it out here:

Again, sorry if this is somewhat disjointed. I’ve been thinking a lot about this song recently, and I don’t have any answers really, but I was curious about what other people thought!

Irish Step Dance v. Tap Dance

Between kindergarten and ninth grade, one of the central focuses of my life was dance. My mom, who had been a ballerina through high school, enrolled me in classes at the age of five, and my passion grew from there. Of the many types of dance that were offered at my dancing school, I—along with a group of friends who still dance to this day—was enrolled in two: jazz and tap. While my limited flexibility made me a slightly subpar jazz dancer, I fell in love with tap, practicing it as often as I could; even outside of the studio, I could be found clicking my feet on any hard surface I could find (needless to say, my mom was not thrilled with the number of times I scuffed up her hardwood floors).

During my first year at Haverford, nearly four years after I had stopped dancing to pursue other extracurriculars at my high school, I went to a dance concert on campus in support of my friends and classmates. There, I was thrilled to watch ballerinas, hip hoppers, jazz dancers, and, of course, tappers. Even as I enjoyed the tap dancers, another group—the Irish step dancers—also caught my attention. As I watched them prance across the stage, arms-locked, circling up, their feet tapping against the ground, I wondered: what was the difference between tap and Irish step dance?

In doing more research, I learned that Irish Step Dance is part of a long tradition of dance in the region, dating as far back as 400 BCE: even as the former pagans of the region were proselytized and converted to Christianity, syncretic tactics allowed them to retain the music and dance that were pivotal within the Celtic culture. By the eighteenth century, even as Norman tradition and song had begun to permeate into that of the Celts, the notion of a “dance master” allowed for the tradition of dance to be passed down to younger generations, as standards were high and soloists became highly esteemed. It was in this moment—at the end of the eighteenth century—that step dancing appeared. To this day, the worldwide success of performance troupes and shows such as Riverdance has allowed for the continuity and appreciation of Irish step dance throughout the globe (IrelandsEye).

Tap dance, on the other hand, emerged in America, as a fusion of “several ethnic percussive dances, primarily African tribal dances and Scottish, Irish, and English clog dances, hornpipes, and jigs” (Britannica 1). Effectively, the tap dance, then, embodies a form of unifying rhythm that draws from Irish step dance, highlighting the reasons why they appear to be so similar. Though there is some debate as to the origins of tap dance, it is believed to have emerged from urban environments such as the Five Points District of New York, where a variety of groups mingled and brought their dances together to create a wholly new form of dance (Britannica 1).

Interestingly, the primary difference between tap and Irish step dance seems to stem from both the ways in which the body is utilized and the ways in which the feet actually work. Unlike tap dance, which allows for the syncopation of the entirety of the body and calls upon a person’s whole being to fall into the rhythm, Irish step dance emphasizes a sense of rigidity—that is, in the jig itself, straight lines are emphasized such that the arms and legs seem to remain almost perfectly still. Likewise, tap dance tends to move across space more freely, whereas certain patterns exist within Irish step dance to propel individuals from one space to another.

The costuming of Irish step dance is also unique: unlike tap, which does not mandate a certain form of dress beyond the shoes, Irish step dance (at least in performances) requires a specific type of costuming and attire. Because it is more deeply rooted in Irish tradition and culture, the costumes in Irish step dance typically recall the clothing of the past, the dresses, kilts, and jackets characteristic from two hundred years ago (Ireland’s Eye). Effectively, there seems to be a way in which Irish step dance—because it carries the markers of tradition—tends to be more regulated than tap dance such that it can continue to imbue Celtic culture on the whole.

Recently, both tap and Irish step dance have been popularized throughout the world. For example, in 2014, an Irish step dance group caught global attention with their performance on Britain’s Got Talent:

Likewise, the Syncopated Ladies captured national attention with their tap performance of Beyonce’s “Formation” and, more recently, their response to the election of President Donald Trump:

Overall, even as both tap and Irish step dancing seem to correlate, each maintains the tradition, rhythm, and appearance that underscores their individuated beauty and allows for viewers and dancers alike to foster a profound sense of appreciation for both forms of dance.

Works Cited

Frank, Rusty. “Tap Dance.” Dance Forms. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2009. Web. 23 Feb. 2017.

“The History of Irish Dance.” Ireland’s Eye. Ireland’s Eye, 1994-2004. Web. 23 Feb. 2017.

All videos courtesy of YouTube. P.S. Sorry they didn’t get properly embedded… something went wrong with the links!

“Love and Stuff”: The Claddagh Ring

I have always struggled to conceptualize the ways in which identity transcends religion. As a Jewish-American woman, I have constantly rooted my sense of both self and community in religious practices and institutions, a relationship which has allowed me to not only maintain my own spirituality but also immerse myself in social, cultural, and historical spaces. Tradition for me has, then, inevitably become a matter of religious practice: though the majority of my friends from my hometown in Wayne, New Jersey identify as Irish Catholic, the tangible ways in which I’ve imagined their experiences have been linked to Catholicism. In attending their communions, visiting their homes on Easter and Christmas, and engaging in conversations about the Catholic Bible, I have seen the ways in which Catholicism has been a manifest presence, continually permeating their lives on a daily basis. Because of this, I envisioned identity—and, more specifically, cultural affiliation—as being devoid of ethnic and national ties.

That is, until one afternoon, when I was sitting and talking to my friend Nicole McCloskey and noticed a small, silver ring on her right hand. The ring featured a pink heart with a crown above it, and I was captured by the way in which the pink gem glittered in the bright light of the midafternoon sun. Yet, the more I stared, the more I noticed something unusual about how she was wearing it, leading to a pressing question which sifted within me until I finally reached the point of asking:

“Why are you wearing your ring upside down?”

“I’m not!” she laughed, fumbling with the silver band of the ring. “It’s a Claddagh ring, you know?”

“No. No, I don’t know.”

“Oh, well, I mean—I guess, like, it’s an Irish thing about love and stuff. So, like, I have a boyfriend, so it points towards me. But if you’re looking for a new beau, you have it the other way.”

“But couldn’t someone just… ask if you’re single?”

“I mean, yeah,” she replied. “But it’s tradition. Kind of like your hamsa.

My hand awkwardly reached toward the light blue hamsa strewn across my neck, the mystic symbol that had been passed down from generation-to-generation and openly screamed, “This girl is Jewish!” Suddenly aware that I had subconsciously conflated Irishness with Catholicism, I was shocked to learn that community could reach beyond religion, could trickle into a national or cultural identity; for me, my connection to Judaism so clearly marked me as Other that I struggled to envision the critical differences that distinguished people from various ethnic and national groups. Inspired by my newfound knowledge of the Claddagh ring, I discovered a desire to uncover its history, its cultural implications, its significance beyond just “love and stuff.”

Claddagh Ring (1)

This is what my friend Nicole’s Claddagh ring looked like. SOURCE:

Upon looking into its history, I learned that the Claddagh ring is a really unique part of Celtic tradition, imbued with symbolism and marked by an ongoing sense of connection to Irish culture. The ring gets its name from the village of Claddagh in Ireland, and legends vary as to its origins. One story, however, claims that:

“…a man named Richard Joyce, who was supposed to be married to his true love [created the ring]. According to the story, he was kidnapped by pirates and sold into slavery, where he worked for a goldsmith and learned to design jewelry. He created a ring with the Claddagh design, and when he eventually managed to escape slavery, he brought the ring back with him. His beloved had never married during his long absence, so he gave her the ring he’d made while in slavery, and they were married immediately” (Crandall).

Although this is not the only legend related to the Claddagh ring, it serves as a particularly useful and unique reminder regarding Celtic tradition. Though in class, we have been reading groups of poem that seem to emphasize the futile attempts of noble Irishmen in the face of struggle—that is, various figures continue to fight for their causes only to experience defeat—this story serves to mark success. In the face of slavery and hardship, Joyce recovers his demeanor, creates something effectual for the Irish people, and ultimately finds himself victorious in his return home. Thus, the different narrative that the story presents serves as a reminder that the underdog still has the potential to emerge the victor, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

The very structure of the Claddagh ring speaks directly to the symbolic meaning—that which my friend Nicole referred to as “love and stuff”—which the item itself actually displays. The ring is designed such that it contains two hands holding a heart topped by a crown. While sometimes, the ring is bejeweled like that of my friend Nicole, it can also simply be made of various precious metals, such as silver, gold, etc.

Essentially, the ring comes to symbolize that the wearer’s heart belongs to his/her/their “one true love” (Fantasy-Ireland). It is, perhaps, for that reason that each way the individual wears the ring signifies something different. According to the Celtic tradition:

Wearing one on your right hand with the heart facing away from you shows that you are looking for love, while wearing it with the heart facing toward you indicates that you are in a relationship. Wearing a Claddagh ring on your left hand with the heart facing away from you shows that you are engaged, while wearing it with the heart facing toward you indicates that you are married (Crandall).

It therefore makes sense that my friend Nicole had opted to wear the ring “upside down”—that is, toward her—on her right hand: she had a boyfriend and certainly would not have wanted people to think she was searching for love.


[caption id="attachment_970" align="aligncenter" width="300"]SOURCE: Google Images SOURCE: Google Images

Not only does the Claddagh ring emerge as a simple token of love—it also marks a sense of communal belonging, a heritage in which individuals of Irish descent take great pride. As I learned more about the Claddagh ring, I was able to reflect on the various ways in which cultures culminate, the complexity of identities which go beyond religious distinctions, and the essential nature of communal history and belonging. Though fairly cliché, I really did have an eye-opening experience wherein I saw myself in the other person and recognized that each of us maintains the traditions of our communities in order to preserve ourselves, whether Jewish, Catholic, or Irish. Effectively, then, I found in the Claddagh ring a site of material culture that allowed me to get closer to the poetry which we are reading, the Irish tradition on the whole, and my friend Nicole, as well.

Works Cited

Crandall, Maegan. “History of Claddagh Rings.” History of Claddagh Rings. Overstock. Web. 02 Feb. 2017.

“Claddagh History, Folklore, and Symbolism.” Fantasy Ireland. Fantasy Ireland, 2012. Web. 02 Feb. 2017.