Irish dance has evolved remarkably in the past century, but the extent to which dance competitions have become bigger and bigger with the passing of time is no more evident than in these incredible old videos from British Pathé.

In this video from 1926 - nearly a century ago! - we see an Irish dancing display by a number of All-Ireland first prize winners, who, according to British Pathé, between them hold 8,450 medals.

Crowds gather around as ceili dances are performed to live music on an elevated stage with what appears to be a GAA pitch in the background.

In another clip filmed in Dublin's Phoenix Park in 1929, we see a similar scene of Irish dancers young and old competing in solo and group dances:

In this 1930s video filmed in Dublin, we see a young girl performing Irish dancing in front of a man judging her skill as a woman sits to one side and plays the fiddle. This scene looks far more intimate setting than many of today’s competitions.

Although these videos are mostly black and white, it’s easy to see the dresses sported by these girls aren’t quite as vibrant, glitzy, or as glamorous as today's dresses. The dresses worn by the dancers in this clip reflect the normal style of dress at the time.

In another clip, this one from Dún Laoghaire in 1932, we’re again on a stage with judges keeping a watchful eye on the footwork of the Irish dance competitors who are watched and cheered by large crowds.

Jumping ahead to 1953, we see how Irish dance is used in a more informal and celebratory form on St. Patrick's Day in Drumshanbo, Co Leitrim:

These historic Irish dance videos from British Pathé prove without a doubt that Irish dancing has staying power!

*Originally published in 2016, last updated in 2024.