Cake Dance Anyone?

Disclaimer: Since I’ve never celebrated Easter in Ireland, I’ve done a bit of (ahem) research. If you’re Irish, let me know how far off I am!

The Prequel

By Easter Saturday, the people of Ireland have had their fill of fish, and butchers are delighted that meat can be consumed again. To celebrate, local butchers host a ceremony known as Whipping the Herring Out of Town — a ‘funeral’ for the fish most widely consumed during Lent in Ireland. A procession through the streets involves hanging a dead fish from a stick that everyone whips with a birch broom. Once the butchers reach the nearest lake or river, they toss the herring into the water. Um, okay.

Traditional Foods

Traditional foods served on Easter Sunday in Ireland include leek soup, roast spring lamb, corned beef, baked ham and boiled bacon. These would be served with cabbage and potatoes. Vegetarians beware.


Today, children join in an Irish custom called cluideog. (NOTE: Please don’t ask me how to pronounce it.) This involves singing and dancing for the family and neighbors in the hope of receiving gifts of raw eggs. Children then gather in a field and cook the eggs over a fire. The remaining eggshells are used to decorate and hang on the May Bush the first of May. (Note: I have no clue what a May Bush is, but I can roll with it.) In Ireland, May Day – also curiously known as Bealtaine – is a traditional Celtic festival celebrating the arrival of summer.

Easter Egg Hunt

The Irish Easter bunny brings Easter eggs for the children, as you may have predicted, and the bunny hides both decorated and chocolate eggs for children to find. Easter egg hunts can be traced 17th century Germany (and I daresay will never end). Named for the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring, Eostre, her association with hares and eggs represent fertility and plenty. In German folklore, Eostre transformed a bird into a hare and, in gratitude, the hare used its original bird function to lay eggs for the goddess on her feast day, Easter Sunday.

The Cake Dance
This will, of course, be my favorite.

The cake dance is a competitive Irish custom that dates back to mediaeval times but is probably much, much older. It involves a dance-off and the winner takes the cake, quite literally. YUM! The cake is usually a barmbrack (a sweet, eggy cake with sultanas and raisins) placed prominently on a piece of Irish linen. Queue the music, and the dancing is on! The winning dancer is likely to be the one who exerts the most effort or dances the longest. I find it rather charming that skill doesn’t seem to be an issue.

Charmingly, the Irish Easter tradition of the cake dance was practiced well into the 20th-century. Gotta say, I could go for a cake dance any day.

Inspired by a month-long artist residency graciously provided by Olive Stack Gallery, Listowel, Ireland

5 thoughts on “Cake Dance Anyone?

  1. The Cake Walk, on the other hand, dates back to slavery in the U.S., and is a mocking and disgusting story!

    I hope your holiday takes the cake!


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