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Talking Traditions

Irish music and dance in two British cities

15 March to 16 June 2002

Please note that this exhibition has now closed

girl playing a traditional drum

Talking Traditions celebrated the endurance and evolution of Irish music and dance in Liverpool and Coventry through their thriving Irish communities.

Photographs, music, video and exhibits demonstrated how traditional Irish pastimes have been handed down through generations, since the settlement of Irish people in Liverpool from the 1840s. A wave of Irish migration to Coventry occurred later in the 1940s and 1960s.

The importance of keeping Irish traditions alive to create a sense of identity, heritage and community was explored through the memories and reflections of the Irish in England.

"My cousins back in Ireland don't do any of the Irish music and dancing . so they're like, 'Oh, it's the English ones who can do all the Irish stuff!' " - Siobhan Morrison

"It seems like over here, when we are away from Ireland, that we want to grasp at the heritage more " - Kathleen Cunningham

Learning dance or music from relatives has become a way of keeping in touch with Irish roots and keeping the traditions alive. However, Irish music is also promoted throughout the world via the musicians' movement Comhaltas Ceoltir Eireann| - literally translating as 'a gathering of musicians'. Branches opened in Liverpool in 1957 and Coventry in 1971.

The Liverpool Ceili Band won acclaim in the 1960s when they began to compete and win prizes in Ireland. Coventry's dance schools have a strong reputation and members have gone on to perform in high profile productions, such as 'Riverdance' and 'Lord of the Dance'.

The exhibition stressed the importance of passing on these skills as living, breathing traditions, which evolve over time and are influenced by different generations of Irish descent living in Britain.

"With Irish music you can listen to a thousand different people playing the same tune and it'll never sound the same. It gives you room to express yourself as an individual" - Kate Burke

"That is what makes Irish dancing so different, that each teacher can create and learn and take ideas and put them into practice" - Danny Doherty

Exhibits included traditional Irish instruments such as a fiddle and bow, tin whistles, accordion and concertina, plus Irish dancing costumes, competition medals, trophies and souvenir programmes.

Institute of Popular Music |