The Crossroads Dance
The Crossroads Dance always took place on a Sunday, after Church – the reasoning being that everyone will meet at the crossroads anyway, on their way home.
The dusty road was no good for dancing, so a couple of burly farm workers would haul a barn door (or in some places, a floor would be made and kept for the purpose) to the crossroads and lay it down for a dance floor.
Word would go out, and the gypsies would be there, hawking their wares, as well as fiddle players, dancers and bodhran and pipe players from all around the area.
Young gosheens would roost in the trees around the crossroads, where they could watch the fun. Families would bring picnics and lay out their tablecloths in the nearby fields or on the grass verge. If there were travelling showmen in the area you might even see a set of swinging boats or a merry-go-round.
The dance would start as soon as the first musician got there, because the fiddler, piper or bodhran player couldn’t wait to get the rhythm going.
In Ireland, talent is not the main requirement if you want to sing, dance or play. As Dominic Behan (the folk singing brother of writer Brendan Behan) said, ``In Ireland, everyone sings, whether they can or not.” Enthusiasm and knowing the words to a song count for a lot more.
If we are lucky, a famed fiddler or pipe player might be there, sawing or piping up a storm of jigs, reels and mournful ballads.
The gosheens up in the trees and the old ladies gathered round the dance floor learn everything worth knowing as they watch the goings on among the crowd. A shy exchange between a red faced young farmer and the demure daughter of the local farrier sets tongues wagging. Their hands link briefly as they stand watching the dancers step out to the fiddler, feet flashing so quickly that you can hardly follow them. Dougal and Diarmid, the rascally twins from McMinn’s farm, are planning another joke on their long suffering older sister, who has worn her best finery to attract the attention of young Fergus Finnegan. It involves creeping up behind her with handfuls of mud, but luckily their father spots them first and a roar rents the air, sending the twins scuttling back to their Ma for protection.
Romance, bargains and gossip abound, for this was truly a social event and a chance for everyone to get together and exchange news.
(Alas, crossroads dances were banned by the Irish church in 1935, and these days it would simply be too dangerous, with all the traffic about, but here at the Gypsy camp we like to keep old traditions alive.)