Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, Massachusetts

Niall  Williams

Michelle  Freeman 
A History of Irish and Scottish Ceilidhs

Nial Williams: The Search for Identity Based on Romantic Relationships

During the eighteenth century, ceilidhs, social gatherings involving singing, dancing, story-telling, poetry and traditional food as well as drinks, played an important and distinct part of Ireland’s culture. This tradition developed throughout the years. People gathered together from the countryside and celebrated all sorts of occasions such as weddings, fairs, and even funerals. Ceilidhs were a powerful way of bringing communities together and offered opportunities for socializing, meeting new friends, or transacting business agreements. Ceilidhs were a response to class distinctions in Irish and Scottish society. People in the lower class were not invited to exclusive parties, so they developed their own entertainment. Ceilidhs flourished throughout Ireland in much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and emigrants took the traditions with them when they left. Ceilidhs were a way to preserve the traditional culture as they emigrated from Ireland in search of new homes in Canada, Scotland and the United States.

Growing up in Dublin, Ireland, author Niall Williams was heavily influenced by Irish cultural traditions such as ceilidhs. Throughout his novels, the protagonists share a common search: the search for love, which is also connected to a search for their identity. Each of the characters strongly believes that by attaining the perfect romantic relationship, he or she will establish a sense of belonging in society. However, they must first examine themselves as individuals before they can find fulfillment in relationships with the people they love. The author accentuates epiphanies that the characters experience in their journey through the motifs of sounds and silence. These epiphanies do not signal an end of the character’s search, but rather a continuation of their journey towards establishing their identity. As the characters attempt to decide whether and how to move forward in their relationships, they become paralyzed and alienated, which prevents them from carrying on with their journey towards self-discovery and fulfillment. In the end though, Williams’ characters are able to conquer their struggle to find a sense of belonging by moving forward and establishing a healthy romantic relationship with another person.

Major Works Consulted:

Flynn, Arthur. Irish Dance. Gretna, Louisiana: Pelican, 1998.
Levy, Patricia. Cultures of the World: Ireland. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 1994.
Williams, Niall. Boy and Man. London: Harper, 2008.
---. Four Letters of Love. London: Macmillan, 1997.
Photo Credit: Williams, Niall. Four Letters of Love. London: Macmillan, 1997.