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A century ago, the Easter Rising began. The Great War was in full-swing, and the Crown was toying with the idea of conscripting the Irish for the front lines. On the morning of April 24th 1916, a joint force of Irish Volunteers, members of the Irish Citizen Army, and 200 women of the Cumann na mBan took over a handful of strategic positions in the city of Dublin, declaring their independence from British rule. Over the span of a week, after 500 men, women, children, combatants and civilians alike all lost their lives, British forces stamped out the rebellion. “The Foggy Dew” sums it up best:

“Oh the bravest fell, and the Requiem bell rang mournfully and clear
For those who died that Eastertide in the springing of the year
While the world did gaze, in deep amaze, at those fearless men, but few,
Who bore the fight that freedom’s light might shine through the foggy dew”

Although it’s an important week, this is only one week in the long, and hard history of Ireland’s fight for independence and stability. Treaties were made, agreements were broken, people died. But, a century later, the Republic of Ireland stands proud. A free state, with a national assembly, elected officials, a president and a Taoiseach (like a prime minister), and a GDP of $58,000 per capita (coming in eleventh place, just behind the US).

The Republic of Ireland is still very much a young nation, but stands on the shoulders of centuries of music, art, song, dance, stories, plays, literature, and some of the most brilliant minds in history. In commemoration of the young nation’s centennial, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts presents Ireland 100: Celebrating a Century of Irish Arts and Culture, a three-week event of performances from or about Ireland.

The festival’s opening night performance went to great lengths to demonstrate the wide variety of acts to be showcased this season. The show began in pitch black, with a lone spotlight on Colin Dunne, dancing down the aisle of the Concert Hall. Normally, for performances of Irish traditional dance, the floor has a couple of microphones on it. Instead, Dunne’s legs and feet had mics, not the floor. This meant that every time his leg would swing out into the air, it sounded like a rushing wind. Every time he sent his heel down, the resulting sound was like a thunderclap.

The show continued with an aria from Falstaff sung by Tara Erraught, a monologue by Louis Lovett, and a set of tunes from Uilleiann pipers. If the opening night show is any indication of how amazing the next couple weeks of programming will be, it would behoove you to maybe go and see one or six. Here’s a few suggestions:

Irish traditional tunes with a 21st-century sensibility. They are well-accoplished musicians in their respective fields, but have come together to create something totally new to the world of Irish music. It half sounds like they’re reaching back to speak with their ancestors. It half sounds like they’re talking to the great beyond of the universe itself.
Actor, writer, stage director, and the ringleader behind the Opening Night, Fiona Shaw teaches a masterclass on acting and the creative process. This is a five-time Olivier Award recipient, and she’s offering to critique your work.
Originally written only ten years after the Easter Rising, the play focuses on the human side of the Revolution. The story is carefully written, but told with the utmost honesty. This newest rendition of the classic takes place in modern-day Dublin.
A massive, behemoth of an instrument. Strings, stretched from the tiny platform in the center of the Hall of Nations, pulled taught across the hall to be bowed by men wearing rosined gloves. This is performance art, an honoring of tradition, and classic Irish innovation, all rolled into one.