A Brutal Dance: The Walls of Limerick

by Liam Heneghan

From my autobiography in progress “My Life in Dance – a Motional History of my Body”


The Walls of Limerick: an Irish reel where two couples face one another with the women to the right of the men. The dance involves handholding and swinging in a céilí hold.

Does national dance reflect the national personality? Observe an Irishman at dance. Above the waist he is a vision of equanimity. If he were jigging behind a short hedge you might even pause to chat with him. From the waist down, however, that man is in a frenzy of leaping and knee-swiveling and foot stomping. In political terms this man could be doffing his cap to you, and all the while seditiously plotting your demise. The British in Ireland never learned to read the bodies of Irishmen, perhaps to their cost for those bodies in motion can be a lovely spectacle.

I wish to set out here my own experiences with dance as honestly as good taste will permit. I have a body, one that is a little succulent and that moistly disinclines to perform strenuous acts. It is not a body apt to move all that prettily. For all of that, I have tried to bend it to my will, commanding it often enough to skitter across the floor in a rhythmic and frolicsome fashion and I have witnessed its failure with displeasure. Though I can leap and skip and jump and hop, the sum of these gyrations doesn’t seem to add up to dancing. However, in perverse inverse to my skill, dancing has been a component of several of my more arresting developmental moments. I relate one here.

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