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November 4, 2008

Tradition meets technology

CORK, Ireland – Last week the 2008 Oireachtas took place in Cork, southern Ireland. Being my birthplace, I was hanging out there for a few days break (Cork, not the Oireachtas). The festival has been running for over 110 years and what started as a half day gathering in Dublin in 1897 has since turned into a week long festival of all things relating to the Irish language, with awards on offer for a wide range of activities including readings, recitations, songs, dance and art.

The Festival has always had a social aspect, with considerable
importance given over to the social and community aspect of the event,
which ultimately enables native speakers and language learners to
interact. And so it was that I met a young lad, who was there to
compete in the “sean-nÓs” dancing competition.

With his mother and brother, he’d travelled from the north west all the
way down to Cork (a good five to six hours by car) to compete. He’d
only started dancing a year previously and when I was offered a demo in
the hallway of my aunt’s house where he was staying, I couldn’t refuse.

And then it struck. I’m watching a young guy practicing for a 110 year
old competition, who speaks my native language at a level that I can’t
even understand (through my own inadequacy rather than his) and can
dance on pretty much any hard surface. He didn’t need much space (the
hall is barely four feet wide) and although there was no band, he did
have traditional Irish music to dance to. On his phone.

Rather than relying on the usual traditional accompaniment, John simply
selected the tune on his phone, put it on loudspeaker, set it down next
to where he wanted to dance and got on with it.

This means he can practice wherever he wants, whenever he wants. He can
stick some headphones in and dance, or use his phone’s loudspeaker and
practice wherever he likes. Tradition doesn’t impede technology and
vice versa and here was a perfect example of each making the other

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