Half-Door, The

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  • Teideal (Title): Half-Door, The.
  • Uimhir Chatalóige Ollscoil Washington (University of Washington Catalogue Number): 855415.
  • Uimhir Chnuasach Bhéaloideas Éireann (National Folklore of Ireland Number): none.
  • Uimhir Roud (Roud Number): 5275.
  • Uimhir Laws (Laws Number): none.
  • Uimhir Child (Child Number): none.
  • Cnuasach (Collection): Joe Heaney Collection, University of Washington, Seattle.
  • Teanga na Croímhíre (Core-Item Language): English.
  • Catagóir (Category): song.
  • Ainm an té a thug (Name of Informant): Joe Heaney.
  • Ainm an té a thóg (Name of Collector): Robin Hiteshew.
  • Dáta an taifeadta (Recording Date): 12/12/1981.
  • Suíomh an taifeadta (Recording Location): Philadelphia, United States of America.
  • Ocáid an taifeadta (Recording Occasion): concert (Ancient Order of Hibernians).
  • Daoine eile a bhí i láthair (Others present): unavailable.
  • Stádas chóipcheart an taifeadta (Recording copyright status): unavailable.

As I was walking down the road,
I spied a cozy neat abode
The half-door swinging open wide:
You’re welcome and drop in here.
‘God save all here,’ I kindly said.
A sweet colleen popped out her head.
‘God save you kindly, sir,’ she said,
‘Come in and close the half-door.’

She’d a basket placed upon her knees,
‘Twas full of potatoes I could see;
And every one of them carefully
She peeled before my eyes there.
She looked at me with a roguish smile,
She said, ‘Come in and rest awhile;
Since you came back to Erin’s isle,
We never close the half-door.’

She said, ‘Play up the Shaskeen Reel,
And I will make you happy feel.’
She turned right upon her heel,
And lifted off the half door.
I played that tune with grace and style.
With every note she winked and smiled,
Until she had my heart beguiled,
While dancing on the half-door.

She said, ‘Now, Séan! You’ll have to stay,
Until I wet a cup o’ tea;
And then you can be on your way,
And I’ll hang up the half-door.’
She didn’t have to ask me twice,
Her currant cake and tea was nice;
Before I left I kissed her twice,
She leaned across the half door.


Joe Heaney’s description of what he calls ‘break-down dancing’ might not be needed these days, given the worldwide revival of interest in traditional sean-nós solo dancing. Unlike the highly-stylized, choreographed solo dancing that required high kicks, ringlets, outlandishly-embroidered ‘celtic’ costumes and an expressionless demeanour, sean-nós dancing – which originated in Conamara – requires stout shoes, an improvisatory approach, and willingness to communicate enjoyment with the audience.

One of the most influential sean-nós dancers was Cóil Neaine Pháidín Mac Donncha from Rath Cairn, Conty Meath, whose family had moved east from Conamara in the 1930’s as part of a government resettlement scheme. Cóil’s style represented a tradition whose origins are untraceably old and his family – especially his son, Máirtín – have followed in his footsteps, so to speak. They have been to the fore in transmitting the tradition to an enthusiastic generation of Irish youth. Today, the sean-nós dancing events probably draw more people to the Oireachtas than the annual competition among singers for Corn Sheáin Uí Riada.

The use of the half-door – or perhaps the kitchen table – as a dance surface enabled the dancer to get maximum resonance from the battering of his feet upon the hard surface. At the same time, the dancer wasn’t expected to cover much ground. Breandán Breathnach writes that ‘the good dancer danced, as it were, underneath himself, trapping each note of music on the floor, and the use of the half-door and table for solo performances indicates the limited area in which he was expected to perform.’ [Folkmusic and Dances of Ireland]

Joe told Lucy Simpson (UW85-39.15) that he learned the song at a young age from a gramophone recording that was sent to them from the United States, probably by one of the aunts that lived over there. They had to take the large 78 rpm recording to the neighbour’s house – presumably the home of Seán Choilm Mac Donncha – as Joe’s family didn’t possess the means of playing it. The recording was one of those made by the McNulty Family, a musical family originally from Co. Roscommon whose recording career in in the States lasted from the 1920’s to the 1960’s. American recordings of Irish music and songs constituted an important means by which both singing and instrumental traditions in Ireland were broadened and reinvigorated following the great waves of Irish emigration at the turn of the 19th century. Such recordings were at least partly responsible for the large number of songs composed for the Irish music-hall stage that made their way into the repertoires of Irish traditional singers.