Biblio >> From Tralee to Times Square: Siamsa Tíre on Broadway

From Tralee to Times Square: Siamsa Tíre on Broadway

TitleFrom Tralee to Times Square: Siamsa Tíre on Broadway
Publication TypeBook Chapter
AuthorsKearney D
Book TitleHow Popular Culture Travels: Cultural Exchanges between Ireland and the United States
KeywordsBroadway, folk theatre, Irish Theatre

America has been a significant (market)place for Irish traditional music throughout the twentieth century to the present. From the early recordings of Michael Coleman and his contemporaries in the 1920s through the emergence of the Clancy Brothers in the 1960s to the leading roles of Michael Flatley and Jean Butler in the 1994 production Riverdance, musical developments on both sides of the Atlantic have been interlinked and two-directional.[1] The Irish American audience continues to be an important market for touring Irish performers with significant Irish music festivals in America presenting many leading Irish music groups each year.

In this paper, I focus on a tour by an Irish folk theatre group in the 1970s that entered spaces beyond the normal diasporic spaces but appealed primarily to an Irish American audience in spaces of popular culture.  In 1976 a group of amateur musicians, singers and dancers travelled from Co. Kerry in the south west of Ireland to America where, amongst other venues, they performed at the Palace Theatre, Times Square, Broadway. The production by Siamsa Tíre, The National Folk Theatre of Ireland, entitled Siamsa (pronounced Shee-am-sa), presented aspects of Irish rural life in the early twentieth century through music, song, dance and mime. Through archival research focusing on newspapers in tandem with oral histories developed from the memories of some of those involved in the tour, I provide insights on the cultural distance between Ireland and the USA in the 1970s despite the existence of a large Irish diaspora. In particular I critique the representations of Irishness presented and the degree of acceptability of these to both Irish and American audiences. Furthermore, the reflections of cast members, particularly the children, highlight the differences in popular culture in terms of everyday life experiences and celebrity culture.

[1] Paul F. Wells and Sally K. Sommers-Smith, “Irish Music and Musicians in the United States: An Introduction”, Journal of the Society for American Music, 4, 4, 2010, p. 395-400.