The under 12 girls prize winners at the 2009 Putnam County Feis

Photo gallery of the Putnam County Feis: Click here

Irish dancing can be a costly hobby, with the costumes, the wigs and the transport to and from competitions.

But it’s something that won’t suffer when money gets tight, says Anna O’Sullivan, head of the O’Sullivan School of Irish Dancing in Putnam County. “If parents are out of work, you can’t expect them to pay -- they have to put food on the table,” she says. “I bet a lot of Irish dancing teachers would say the same.” 

There’s certainly no sign of the recession or hardship at the 30th annual Putnam County Feis, at the Veteran Memorial Park near Brewster, organized by the Emerald Association, an organization founded in 1974 to promote Irish culture. The feis is held every year on the third Sunday in May.

There are hundreds of trophies to be won, and people from of all ages compete, the oldest in the contest being 21 and the youngest just four years old.  

The Putnam County Feis is a local competition, but the dancers come from as far south as Virginia, as far north as Maine, and as far West as Ohio. If they succeed here, the next step is a regional competition, and if they get beyond that, the chance to be world champion. 

This year, the sky’s gray and there’s a chill in the air, but 700 dancers are milling around the outdoor tents, wearing coats, tracksuits and blankets when they’re not performing. The weather is like an Irish spring; and the park, with its open greenery and blooming trees, is just like the Irish countryside.  

O’Sullivan says that this is one thing that attracted her to Putnam County.

Yesterday, when she was driving with her daughter they saw a field of young calves. “Mom, it looks just like Ireland,” her daughter exclaimed. The open space means that children can feel free here, just like in rural Ireland, O’Sullivan says. 

Dancing is a way to keep kids out of trouble, she adds. And it keeps the Irish community together too. “If anyone’s in trouble, the Irish flock together like bees to honey,” she says. “That’s why heritage is so important.”

Irish dancing is part of that support network, helping to build it up from an early age. “The most important thing for the kids are the friendships they make,” says O’Sullivan. 

It looks like neither the recession, nor the weather, can stop Irish dancers.