Tonight was our introduction to the celtic group dance called a ceili, sometimes also spelled céilidh and pronounced “KAY-lee”. We enjoyed seeing some familiar faces and meeting new people in this friendly setting as we joined with others in performing group dances or just sat around the periphery chatting.

A ceili is the traditional social dancing evening of Ireland and Scotland, and the musicians who come together at Mangonui Hall every third Saturday of the month play the traditional instruments and perform the ancient songs. It’s a little bit of Celtic culture in the Far North.

We were first invited to the ceili by Bob Jones whom we first met at the Fairy Festival. Bob was playing there, and his daughter performed a celtic solo dance. Talking after the event, he encouraged us to try to get to the monthly dance, saying that it was a family-friendly affair with good musicians and lots of fun.

Although we didn’t know where we were going, we hoped that with Mangonui being such a small town, it would be easy to find the hall. It was — the hall’s directly opposite the wharf, and we could find parking very close by.

The musicians started arriving to set up before 7pm, and we entered the hall to watch them tuning up and introduce our girls to the atmosphere. As more people entered the hall, we were interested to see familiar faces — Clare from Rainbow Kids brought her mother and two daughters, we’d met another mum at Peria Playcentre, and — after long and hard deliberation, we realised that we’d previously met another couple at Kahoe Farms where we trekked to the rock pools with a walking club.

The band that comes together each month for the ceili calls itself Spootiskerry Spraoi. The musicians are themselves world-class and come together to play for their own enjoyment and the enjoyment of the dancers — everyone volunteers their time.
(You can hear one of their performances on this Youtube clip.)

Spootiskerry Spraoi at Mangonui Hall, May 2011
The musicians of Spotiskerry Spraoi have been coming together for at least six years to play at the monthly ceili.

The music definitely has an Irish/Celtic feel to it. Some of the tunes were accompanied by vocalists, and the dances were called by a variety of people who led us through the actions. The dances were well-introduced and it didn’t take very long for newcomers to understand the order of the steps.

Mangonui ceili, May 2011
Some dances were all in a circle, and others were line dances.

We started the evening with three girls in the hall with us, and one-by-one, they each asked to be put to bed. It is easy to take them to the truck and tuck them in before returning to the hall to continue with the evening. The girls are comfortable and happy in their own beds, and we’re confident in their safety.

One of the unique aspects of the ceili is that the microphone is open for anyone who wishes to share. We heard several solo musicians perform special pieces, and I believe that at past ceilis, people have shared testimonies of triumph through hard times, poems and inspirational quotes.

Wendy on the bodhrán, May 2011
During a break in the dancing, the drummer — Wendy — came down off the stage to demonstrate how the bodhrán is played. It's an Irish frame-set drum played with a "beater".

Participants each brought a platter of food to share, and supper was shared towards the end of the evening. It was a great time to mingle and meet the people we had been dancing with, although it was hard to break off some conversations when the dances started up again.

Mangonui ceili, May 2011
The ages of the participants range from pre-school to grey-haired.

The next ceili will be held at the hall on June 18, and if we’re in the area, we’ll probably swing on by for another fun night of exercise and making friends! For more information on the Mangonui Ceili, swing on by this site.