The Origins of the Ceilidh

Lydia Kendall

Hello, my lovely lads and lassies,

It’s the Holidays and all everyone wants is to have some fun, forget their problems and have a laugh!

Well, I have just the way for you to do so and it’s called “Ceilidh”!

First things first. What is a Ceilidh? 

I am sure that the people that had the luck to have traveled to Scotland have heard of a Ceilidh, as it is something still practiced today.

A Ceilidh is a social gathering—nothing formal—where there is Irish and Scottish music playing and people dancing. Sometimes there is even storytelling! 

It is pronounced “Kay-lay”! I know, who could have guessed? 

The word derives from Gaelic, of course, and it can mean many things. Originally it meant a “visit” and it can even mean a “house party” or a “concert”.

The form of  Ceilidhs is different in the Lowlands and the Highlands. In the Lowlands, they are meant as dances whereas in the Highlands as concerts. I don’t know about you but I can already imagine a few broad and strong Highlanders dancing to these amazing songs

Have you ever heard of Scottish country dancing? Well, a Ceilidh is a more informal version of that. Scottish country dancing’s main goal is the demonstration of one’s skills.

But Ceilidhs are completely different considering that their first aim is not to win any contest but simply the enjoyment of one’s self. 

I can’t even begin to tell you how much fun a Ceilidh is…

Scottish cèilidh dancing at the 2003 Smithsonian Folklife Festival (Washington, DC). Image source.


Who Can Dance a Ceilidh?

The answer is simple: everyone! That is the great thing about Ceilidhs, you don’t have to have a partner to dance. Some songs, of course, can be danced as a couple but most of them are danced in a group. 

Also, there is another upside to a Ceilidh dance. You don’t have to know the steps. Why? Because there is a caller, of course. A person from the band usually explains the steps beforehand. So all you have to do, my bonnie lass, is to show up there and have fun!

Ceilidh’s History

As I told you above, the original word signified a simple social gathering. So Ceilidhs could even happen without music or dancing. 

Back in the day, people would recite poems and ballads during a Ceilidh. So as you can understand, it was more of literary entertainment

According to tales, in small villages, old and young people would gather at a house on cold and rainy nights. Entertainers would recite ballads and stories of legendary men and women! 

I don’t know about you but it sounds lovely to me. There is nothing better to do during a cold night than hear tales of legendary people. 

Also, Ceilidhs were originally hosted by the fear-an-tigh, which means man-of-the-house. In some places in Ireland, it’s still called this way but most people today are called simply a “host”.

The Northern Constabulary Pipe Band

It wasn’t until the middle of the 19th century that Ceilidh took its place on the Scottish dance floor. And thank God that it did.

Ceilidhs Today 

Today Ceilidhs are very popular, not only in Scotland but in many places. People choose to do a Ceilidh dance at their weddings or at big gatherings. Fun tip, Ceilidhs at weddings are the best way to bring the two families closer. It’s the perfect way to get the party started, lads!

What should you expect from a Ceilidh band? It usually includes two or three people, a fiddler, an accordionist, and of course the caller! 

Some of the most popular dance routines include The Eightsome Reel, The Dashing White Sergeant, and The Gay Gordons. 

Most people in Scotland know how to do a Ceilidh dance since they were taught during gym lessons at school. 

So next time you hear that there is a Ceilidh dance going on, be sure to go, whether it’s in Scotland or not! 

Trust me, it’s the best and the most guaranteed way to have fun.

Until next time…

Written by Lydia Kendall

You may also like

Early 19th century​ urban legends and supernatural stories from Britain

Alright, I’m gonna be honest here: I’m a sucker for supernatural stories. Even more so, if these stories are creepy and scary and bone-chilling an ...

Sporran: The Mysteries of the Scottish Man's “Purse”

Have you seen a little pouch on a man’s kilt? What do you mean this is a thing of the past? Well, guess again! Yeap that would be the one and ...

Crime and Punishment in early 19th century England

**Note: In the United Kingdom, the Regency is a sub-period of the Georgian era (1714-1830) and runs from 1811 to 1820. It is named after the Princ ...


Enthralling bestsellers to excite the mind

It's as easy as choosing your favourite book collection, download for free and start your amazing reading journey with Cobalt Fairy

Select the collection you want to download

The website may use cookies to identify the visitor / user / subscriber of certain services and pages of the website. As you browse our online store, you consent to their storage. Read more about the Cookies Policy by selecting "Privacy Policy".


Replying to


Validate your email to claim your free packs

An error occured

Validate your email to claim your free packs

Thanks for submitting your email!

Validate your email to claim your free packs

Share this book

Book TItle












Selected Reviews