The Man Who Danced

A tale that would likely sound somewhat peculiar to our modern ears, but which demonstrates the church’s moral hold on Catholic society is to be found in the Sunday Notices from 1863.[1] An Irishman of the name of Mr James Duinn had been discovered dancing in his home – and unlike today where we would consider dancing a perfectly acceptable activity, excluding the most salacious forms, this was much more scandalous for James Duinn and the congregation. He was advised by his clergy to stop such actions, and in the Sunday Notices it was recorded

“I am happy to say Mr James Duinn like a true Irishman and a good Catholic has followed the advice of his clergy and stopped dancing in his house.”[2]

Whether James Duinn truly stopped dancing, or if he did so much more cautiously, and privately, we cannot know. Nor do we know if the dancing James was doing was alone, or with another, and perhaps this played a part in the shock of the congregation and clergy.


Item reference LAC/99/C1 Source: Richard Burton Archives, Swansea University

Item reference LAC/99/C1
Source: Richard Burton Archives, Swansea University

We do however, know that many people in this period were exploring dance, and that it is reported in the Sunday Notices, as a reminder, that ‘Dance Houses’ were considered “hot beds of vice and inequity”, to be shunned as pest houses (a house full of the sick).

The account concludes with the question: “Can a man be accounted a true loyal hearted Irishman if he refuses obedience to his spiritual superiors?”

From this we can see a number of things; that Irishness and Catholicism were intrinsically linked for Irish Catholics, and the moral control the Catholic Church had over its parishioners. Breaking their moral rules could not only condemn you spiritually but cause you to be almost as bad as a traitor to your nation, something that was no doubt hard for an immigrant.


[1] LAC/99/C1. RBA, Swansea University.

[2] LAC/99/C1. RBA, Swansea University.


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