Mike McInerney’s feis in Swindon once again kicked off the post-summer open season for Coimisiún competitive Irish dancing in the Southern Region. It was held in Kingsdown School in the village of Stratton St Margaret, within the greater conurbation of the Borough of Swindon.
Stratton is best known for its 19th century Arkells Brewery, a living time machine that brews old fashioned real ales. Most of the 700 dancers who made their way to this feis, with family and friends, came from within the Southern Region, but as expected there were also the usual long distance feis-goers who travelled from all over the UK.
Many had also travelled from Ireland by sea and air and some of these were fortunate enough to be able to take a share of the silverware home across the Irish Sea.
It never ceases to amaze me how dedicated Irish dancers and their families are to the feis competition process, with the multiple journeys they are prepared to make each year to faraway venues all over the country and to places abroad.
Perhaps my amazement stems from an age when I witnessed the opening of the first motorway in the UK. My God, is it really almost 60 years since Mr Beeching officially opened the M1?
Now the whole country is criss-crossed with motorways with hotels built on most major intersections, making the journey to the feis and the overnight accommodation arrangements that much easier for the dancing family, although the expense of doing so has not diminished over the years.
The feis began with a buzz of excitement as dancers, families and teachers greeted one another for the first time since the beginning of the summer recess, in an atmosphere akin to the first day back at school. But there was no rustiness in the dance skills we witnessed on the stage. I guess that some had the advantage of summer dance camps in their home country or even abroad, which is another modern trend in the Irish dance world. But there was also the very large contingent of beginners, novices and intermediate grade dancers in ages ranging from under five to the late teens.
There was even a teenage dancer whose mother also took to the stage later on the same day.
A family interest in Irish dancing can span several generations but it is most unusual for actual participation to continue unbroken across two generations. And it was certainly a delightful first for me to photograph a mother and daughter together in costume (see photo).
An even greater delight was to see the happy faces of the very young as they lined up for their presentation of trophies and medals. The smiles were equally beaming on those who were on the extremity of the line as those who gained a place on the podium. And long may that continue.
Nor was there any rustiness in the feis management machine. The dancing timetable moved swiftly along according to plan. The printed timetable can very often be a work of fiction with interminable and inexplicable delays.
People always like to get away at the time forecasted on their downloaded timetable and the excellent synergy of Mike McInerney and his team delivered what had been written on the tin.
Once again our journey home was not without ‘incident’. In spite of the modern motorways and the help of sat nav we found ourselves having a contretemps with the Honda factory gatekeeper who quite rightly insisted we should do a U-turn if we really needed to travel east on the M4. We live and learn.