Heritage Week 2023: Living Heritage in the NDAI

The theme for this year's Heritage Week (12–20 August 2023) is 'Living Heritage', celebrating the Irish traditions and practices, knowledge and skills passed down through generations. With this in mind, we are delighted to share some clips of Irish set-dancing workshops, from the Joe and Siobhán O'Donovan Collection in the National Dance Archive of Ireland (NDAI).


Joe and Siobhán O'Donovan set-dancing, accompanied by Bobby Gardiner, c1980s


N59 Joe and Siobhán O'Donovan Collection

One of the most comprehensive Irish traditional dance collections in the NDAI is that relating to Joe and Siobhán O’Donovan (N59). Joe O’Donovan (1918–2008), born in Cork City, played an important part in the revival and preservation of many Irish regional and national dances. He gave dance classes, workshops, lectures, and interviews; wrote articles on dance, and with his wife travelled around Ireland, Britain, Europe, and America to demonstrate and teach Irish dancing at festivals and other events. He created a video recording to demonstrate old style traditional Irish step dancing from 1700–1930, and in 1984 started a dance class for music students at University College Cork under the direction of Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin. In his lifetime, Joe received many honours for his lifelong commitment to Irish culture, including the Comhaltas Bardic Award and TG4 Gradam Saoil Award. The collection, donated by his family, reflects every aspect of Joe O’Donovan’s long and varied career and contains a broad range of material, from administrative records of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, of which Joe O’Sullivan acted as branch secretary, to posters, flyers, and programmes of the many events he and his wife attended. It also incorporates a large set of photographs, video recordings, and over one hundred books on Irish traditional music and dance and Irish history and folklore. The collection is currently being listed and will be made available for research shortly.


Living Heritage in the NDAI: videos of Irish set-dancing

These never-seen-before video clips are taken from Joe and Siobhán's various set-dancing workshops in the 1980s and 1990s, and are a real example of 'living heritage', giving audiences today a unique chance to view a living record of traditional Irish set-dancing steps, demonstrated for posterity by Irish dancing masters Joe and Siobhán O'Donovan.

The O'Donovan Collection is currently being catalogued at the University of Limerick. The video clips below are reproduced with the kind permission of the O'Donovan family.

Clip 1
Joe O'Donovan's introduction to Sean Nós Dancing

Clip 2
Joe and Siobhán O'Donovan dance a reel, with introductions to various steps in by French narrator (date unknown)

Clip 3
Joe and Siobhán O'Donovan teach 'The Gallop' set at the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS), Cecil House, London, 19–20 May 1990

Clip 4
Joe O'Donovan demonstrates the 'The Three Sea Captains' reel in jig time (date unknown)

Clip 5
Joe and Siobhán O'Donovan teach a set-dancing workshop, Mullaghbuoy Community Centre, Co Louth, 30 April and 1 May 1994