Dancing is not only a form of expression but, for many, it is also a way to appreciate and recognize their heritage and culture.

The Irish Ceili dance is not unlike other cultural dances, with many ties to the heritage of the Irish people. In this article, you will learn what the Ceili is, its history, and how it is used and performed today.


To put it simply, Ceili dances are a type of folk dancing that employs the use of a varying number of dancers to celebrate Irish culture. There are about 30 dances in an official dance book created by the Irish dancing commission in Dublin. It is said that dance teachers in Ireland are required to learn and teach all 30 of the dances before they can be certified to teach dance!

The dance requires the performer to remain pretty rigid from their waistline and above, with the majority of movement taking place in the legs. The steps are precise and sharp, often performed with a hard or soft shoe that brings the steps to life audibly.

Many have come to recognize the uniqueness of Ceili dance thanks to the popularity of Riverdance. Riverdance was a musical by Bill Whelan that debuted in 1995. It featured mainly traditional Irish music and dance. The intricate lines and skilled dancers paired with toe-tapping Irish melodies attracted people from around the world. Thus, the popularity of Irish dance increased, leading to a bigger spotlight on this cultural art form.


The history of Ceili dance dates back to the Celts and the druids who inhabited Ireland in the 1500s. While this dance form was pretty popular European Mainlands, the dance that we now recognize as Ceili was somehow pretty different from the dances of the time.

These step dances were usually accompanied by singing or some sort of instrumental music and, like many line dances, was usually the main event of local celebrations in Celtic communities. One of these celebrations, the Feiseanna, was held yearly and is still celebrated by some cultural communities who now use the festival as a dance and music festival.

Irish dancing became more disciplined in the 18th century, when a dance master would travel to different towns to show villagers how to perform the various Ceili dances. The Irish dancing commission was founded in 1930 to help preserve the dancing culture within Ireland and abroad.

Ceili is something that is passed down from generation to generation. Many families teach their newest generations the dance to keep it alive for the years to come.


Obviously, the world has generally moved away from mass gatherings or balls where Ceilis were traditionally performed as a social art form. However, that’s not stopped the continuation of Ceili dancing around the world!

Ceili has become quite the competitive sport. Children and people of all ages enter into competitions where the unison of the steps and timing with the music are closely judged. Performances and competitions are also held at Irish folk festivals to see which group will reign supreme on the dance floor.

The style of dancing is still very formal, but costuming has become more intricate over time. For competitions or showcases, men usually don dark pants and a shirt, but women and girls tend to wear pretty and ornate dresses. During practices, however, movement is key, so these groups will be in more relaxed outfits that accommodate the movements. If not performed at competitions or showcases, it can still be seen occasionally at gatherings and parties.

While there are still 30 by-the-book Ceili styles, there are competitions where the creation of unique Ceili dances is welcome. The music has pretty much stayed the dame, with traditional tunes playing a big hand in setting the stage for a great Ceili performance. Sometimes music is actually performed live, which adds to the deeply rooted culture and history of the dance form.

Because of its popularity and cultural significance, the teaching of Ceili has spread to people outside of the Irish heritage. It’s become a popular dance style that many enjoy learning.


Now you know pretty much everything you need to know about Ceili, the Irish dance form that’s still alive and well today. There are a ton of videos online, and resources across the internet, to help anyone interested in Ceili and other aspects of Irish culture learn more.

Ceili Dancing in Ireland – Biggest Events of the Year

As part of the Irish Dancing Commission itself, there’s no doubt that Irish Ceili dancing is an incredibly important cultural treasure – and if you’re a dedicated follower of the dance, there’s nothing more rewarding than visiting a local festival or event to enjoy some spectacular rehearsed performances. However, knowing where to begin isn’t always easy, which is why we’ve outlined some of the biggest events in the Ceili dancing calendar to help you find the latest opportunities to partake in.

The Biggest Ceili Dancing Events of the Year

If you’ve been looking to get involved with Céilí dancing, be it as a spectator or a participant, the following Céilí dancing events are among the biggest of the year.

Ughtyneill Crossroads Ceili – 3rd July

Planned for the 3rd of July, and celebrating its 40th anniversary, the Ughtyneill Crossroads Ceili is an excellent annual event, boasting a proud passion for Irish heritage and culture. In particular, the festival’s excellent Ceili dancing tradition was inspired by the late Tom Marry, who always held a strong love for traditional Irish music and dancing, and the Crossroads Ceili was undoubtedly one of his biggest sources of pride. Today, the event’s tradition for Ceili dancing continues, making it the perfect place to start this summer if you’ve been looking to learn more about this excellent dance.

Outdoor Mini Fíor-Chéilí – 5th July

With free admission and running between 7:30 and 9pm on the 5th of July, the Outdoor Mini Fíor-Chéilí in Co. Monaghan might not be as big as some of the other events on this list, but it’s no doubt still one of the best places to discover Ceili dancing for yourself. As such, if you’re in the region, be sure to pay this short festival a visit to enjoy the charm and magic of traditional dances.

Clontibret Ceili – 4th October

When it comes to traditional Irish dancing, the Clontibret festival is undoubtedly one of the best places to look for a performance that will blow you away. Boasting a wide range of different dance types, including the iconic Ceili dance itself, Clontibret is the perfect place to visit to really immerse yourself in the excitement. The event runs at 9pm on the 4th of October, so be sure to pop in for a visit if you’re in Co. Monaghan.

Corduff Raferagh Community Centre – 8th November

Missed out on the Clontibret Ceili festival? Don’t panic; the Corduff Raferagh Community Centre also hosts ceili dance festivals in Co. Monaghan, with its next event being on the 8th of November. Keep in mind that this event isn’t free, though, although entry is only €10. As such, it’s definitely a great celebratory night to keep in mind.

St Mary’s Hall

Running on the 17th of November at St Mary’s Hall in Convoy in Co. Donegal, this excellent Ceili celebration is a great event for dance lovers in the area. As such, if you’re looking for a celebration later in the year, be sure to pop along and take part in the celebrations themselves.