IRISH 19'th Century Dance

"Terpsichore - Her Votaries and Fashions"
T. Leggett-Byrne

27 Adelaide Road, Dublin, Ireland


[p.132] THE privilege of presentation at our pleasant, lively little Irish Court does not entail such a trying ordeal upon those who seek it as many persons suppose; it is but a simple ceremony, demanding no more than the usual courtesy which prevails in all well-bred society.

Perhaps the apparent exactions of the Chamberlain, as read from the morning paper during breakfast, may strike mild terror to the fluttering hearts of débutantes, and even cause some temporary anxiety to their experienced mamas, as they think of "all that has to be gone through" before they can attain their wish of presenting the dear girls!

But our Chamberlain is a genial Irish gentleman, so well known that often the very formal-soundoing necessity of sending in cards to request the honour of presentation to His Excellency the Lord Lieutenant, or of attending the Drawing Room in continuance of the custom, takes the form of a short note of personal character, saying: "Dear Sir Gerald, - I wish to present my daughter this season, will you please send me a Presentation Card for the first Drawing Room? I see it is announced for Wednesday, the 9th inst.," etc., etc.

But if a lady has not previously attended the Court, she seeks presentation through the influence of a friend who has already been presented, proposing to present her daughters on the same occasion, and her friend will apply for the presentation cards necessary for all, [133] thus :-" Mrs. Brown, 200, Merrion-square, presents compliments to the Chamberlain, and desires to present her friend, Mrs. Green, of Green Sward, County Down, at the forthcoming Drawing Room, to be held at Dublin Castle, on Wednesday, February 9th, and will feel obliged by receiving the necessary cards, two for the Misses Green who will be presented by Mrs. Green," etc., etc.

With this note must be forwarded a visiting card of the ladies to be presented, bearing their address in the country and that of the hotel or apartments they are to occupy while in town : the former address to let the Chamberlain know who they are, and the temporary one to intimate where invitation cards may be sent to them.

On one of the presentation cards Mrs. Green's name will be written along with Mrs. Brown's, and she herself will fill in the others:-"Miss Lily Green, Green Sward, County Down, presented by Mrs. Green, Green Sward, County Down, and Miss Rose Green, ditto."

This is all the form of presentation. It is the Chamberlain's business to satisfy himself that Mrs. Green is a lady known to society in her own county, and worthy of presentation to Her Majesty the Queen through her Irish Viceroy; Mr. Green's card may be also be enclosed with his wife's, intimating that he is J.P. and D.L, Colonel, M.D., or Reverend - unless he, too, is seeking presentation at the Levée by the introduction of his landlord, Bishop, or other local magnate, in which case the steps necessary to be taken by him are the same as we have described.

cork_hill_gate.jpg (26832 bytes)[p.134] The ladies need not drive to the Castle together, as the Presentation Card, once granted, is the form of introduction; but they will meet there, of course, and if the social godmother be kind, she will introduce some of the men present whom she knows to the young ladies, and speak to her lady acquaintances of "My friend, Mrs. Green, who is here, and has presented her girls to-night; nice people. I wish you would call, or send them a card for your 'At Home' next Tuesday afternoon? They are at the Shelbourne," etc., etc.

As to the actual ordeal of presentation (for few people view it in anticipation with complete sang-froid), the main feature of it is the courtesy, but upon it I need not dwell, as the coadjutor in this little book of Mr. Leggett Byrne. I will only trench on his ground so far as to say that at Buckingham Palace the real presence of Royalty demands a tribute of seven courtesies ! So, sit up, young ladies! in preparation for the highest step of the social ladder. We certainly are very degenerate in such matters of reverence, in this advanced, go-as-you-please day of ours; for, as we read in many delightful memoirs of the last century, our great grandmothers had to make a series of courtesies on entering a room which chanced to contain the august bodies of their respected parents, teachers, guardians, or any persons older in years than themselves, as well as members of the great body of lords of the creation: for in those days mere slips of womankind were kept in their place, and no such being as an "Old Chappie" was known to them - at least, until they were wooed and wedded by one. In those days, too, people never lounged on sofas, or wanted to go [p.135] near the fire; they sat on high-backed chairs against the wall, and a young lady of good breeding made a courtesy "to the room" as soon as the door was thrown open for her entrance, and another to each of her revered friends as she advanced. But, courage, mes demoiselles! Victoria the Good may have passed away before your nervous susceptibilities are taxed to bend more than once to a pleasant little Earl Cadogan, and Albert Edward the Genial may lighten the rod of etiquette ere you make your way towards "B.P." [Buckingham Palace]

And very pleasant indeed is our well-appreciated Earl Cadogan towards the débutantes; he is quite autres chose from stiff Lord Spencer sweeping his "tile beard" over you; or the awe-inspiring old Duke of Abercorn, who looked at all times so regal, and so closely resembled King Charles I., that one instinctively felt it her duty to kiss the two fingers which he habitually extended, á la [Beau] Brummel, instead of presenting a modest cheek to him. However, to return to our muttons: I shall leave the courtesy as being all right in the hands of the professor, and merely suggest a few little matters of a purely feminine nature, such as may help those who carry their grande tenue for the first time.

The train serves as a cloak in the first instance, being caught at each hem about the middle of its length by your maid, and raised to the shoulders in a double fall, if lightly fastened at the throat with a lace pin it will keep you warm during the drive, as well as being itself conveniently disposed of.

A hot water pan for satin shod feet is indispensable, for carriages must fall into queue at some point of the route, [p.136 ] according to police regulations, and as even justice is done to the long line approaching Castle Hill, from the north and south sides of the river, the occupants of all must be kept waiting at times in turn. 

UPPER2CASTLE.GIF (25036 bytes)The gates of the Upper Castle yard are opened by the guard at 10 o'clock, and it is left to one's choice, either to go early and wait while carriages accumulate in the rear, or set out late, and drive straight on after most other people have gone in. The latter plan is most comfortable, but young ladies who like "to see who is there" prefer setting out in good time, and lingering about the corridor and inner drawing-room, chatting to friends. 

The lappets require some care, owing to their perishable texture, and a liability to catch in gold lace, sword knots, or other people's flowers; it is a wise precaution to bring them round the neck at each side, and to keep them under management in front until the barrier is reached in the ante-room, and then only may one rest assured of not entering the presence of vice-royalty with a tattered rag hanging from the hair, instead of a becoming filmy veil floating over the head and shoulders; yet the utmost care does not always avail, for even with the streamers guarded in front, some stout general officer next before may gather them up and cram them, along with his pocket-handkerchief, into the skirt pocket of his tunic, as once befell me.

Attendants in the cloakroom remove each lady's train from her shoulders, opening it to its full length, then draping it gracefully over the wearer's left arm, bringing the corner trimming or flowers into evidence just over the wrist. It is so carried front the time of joining [p.137] the company on the grand staircase, until the barrier is passed at the entrance to the Throne Room.

CASTLECORR.GIF (28856 bytes)Here there are double doors with a deep embrasure between, formed by the great thickness of the walls of the once fortified old castle; the doors are all open, but the recess afforded by the massive masonry forms, as it were, a little vestibule, from beyond which one sees those official personages entitled to the private entree, already assembled in a brilliant company, and bears the hum of voices, and the resounding voice of the Chamberlain announcing the names of those who have already entered. It is a nervous spot, and, attaining it after the crush of the outer rooms and anxiety to pass the barrier, every lady must brace-up, as the Americans say, for the final step, and, especially, a party must keep together.

From this point the gentlemen, who have all paid their respects previously at the Levée, pass through, merely making a bow, as they walk straight across the Throne Room to the door of exit directly opposite that of entrance.

THRONEROOM.GIF (30428 bytes)But for ladies it is a trying place, as for them the line to be followed is in a semi-circle, formed by a dozen aides-de-camp who range themselves from the door to the canopy under which their Excellencies stand, with the Royal Arms and the Sword of State prominent behind them, and continued by a group of members of the Household on towards the door of exit.

Arrived at this important station of the double doors, every lady must have her legibly-written card ready in her hand, and, if she is to be presented, her right-hand [p.138] glove off; the husband or brother must pass on, but ladies should keep close together.

The first aide-de-camp will take the card, and pass it on, and as the lady is hurriedly sent forward by each of the brisk young soldiers, she must advance at a suitable pace with it, and come up as the Chamberlain receives it and reads her name aloud (very much aloud, it always seems to the owner).

state1.gif (35781 bytes)When the first aide-de-camp sees the card is for presentation, he issues the mandate, "Right-hand glove off!" and lays his sword across the lady's train, which two ushers at the door have withdrawn from her arm and spread at length on the floor; then, when he sees that the glove is off, he raises the sword, and desires the lady to advance. Her card has gone on before her, and as she approaches the centre of the semi-circular group, the Chamberlain steps forward, takes her by the hand, and says, "Mrs. Green; to be presented!" upon which his Excellency courteously takes her hand, and gives her the merest soupçon of a kiss on the left cheek. The lady makes her best courtesy to him in return, then takes one step to the right and makes another courtesy (quite as good, by the gentle law of true courtesy) to her Excellency the Countess Cadogan, and finally backs out. The latter achievement is not so difficult of attainment as may be expected, as all will find when they consult Mr. and Mrs. Leggett-Byrne; for, as the train has swept gracefully behind its wearer, and as she is required to turn directly round so as to face their Excellencies at the centre of the semicircle, if she moves softly, the train will be found quite in position at her feet, a little towards [p.139] the left side, so that it will again follow her as she retires backwards and upwards by the second half of the semi-circle towards the door of exit. Arrived there, two ushers raise it from the ground, and replace it over her left arm, when she must take care that she receives it from them properly-the end with flowers or feathers turned from the waist outwards - else its effect will be lost, and it will hang a mere wisp instead of a graceful drapery. It is only necessary to back out until the next lady's name is called: from then she may turn and run for all etiquette requires.

stpat.jpg (26100 bytes)The daughters must follow their mother closely for presentation, and she had better pause at her second courtesy to see that they are up to time; it is pretty to see a mother and daughters presented in a group, but to straggle is disastrous in effect.

Beyond the Throne Room, the Portrait Gallery is crowded with company already passed through, waiting to see others arrive, and in St. Patrick's Hall refreshments are served while Mr. Liddell's delightful band plays.

Here friends meet and promenade for an hour or two, until, all the guests having been received, their Excellencies, accompanied by their suite, walk through the rooms in procession, graciously bowing good-night to all, and occasionally shaking hands with ladies and gentlemen who are personally known to them; the band plays, "God save the Queen" the while, and the guests bow and courtesy low in acknowledgement of their Excellencies' salutes.

baal.jpg (25814 bytes)[p.140] With regard to the subsequent balls and other functions to which all are bidden, invitations are sent out with very short notice; but even when a card is sent at the last hour almost, by hand, a reply should be written at once, and returned by the orderly who brought the card; and no invitation from the Lord Lieutenant is ever declined unless in the case of indisposition.

After each evening party, those who have been invited should call on the following day and write their names in the visitors' book, which lies in the State Porter's Office to the right of the glass doors within the entrance hall.

Young ladies ought to remember this little ceremony of polite acknowledgement, and matrons must be warned that it is not wise to depute it to a proxy who is not one of her own family.

state_ball_1850.jpg (41336 bytes)During large entertainments, if their Excellencies pass through the rooms quietly (unattended) it is de rigueur to rise as they approach and courtesy as they pass; and in the event of a guest being addressed by them the reply should be, "Yes, sir!" or "No, madam!" to the first observation, and, "It is very good of your Excellency to say so," etc., etc., in further conversation.

Ladies who are to have the honour of dancing with his Excellency are notified to that effect by the A.D.C. in waiting, who conducts her to the dais, and her husband or chaperone must be near when the dance concludes, to take her back to her former place.

Any member of the household may introduce partners to ladies, and although they may not be personally acquainted with that member or A.D.C., the facings of St. Patrick's blue on his coat, or shamrocks embroidered [p.141] on his uniform, are the badge of his privilege as a deputy host.

Members of the household may also conduct a lady to a seat upon the dais or to supper in the octagon room, but it would be an intrusion for guests to take such places uninvited.

I am sure the kind Chamberlain will pardon my so unceremoniously epitomising the sacred laws of etiquette, and familiarising them by my personal comments. I have done so at the request of Mr. Leggett-Byrne on behalf of many who, perhaps, were not born when I was presented, a bride, a quarter of a century ago, to the most magnificent representative of her Majesty we have bad during the days of the present generation the thrice noble John Hamilton, Marquis, and Duke of Abercorn.

Etta Catterson Smith,
42, St. Stephen's Green.
November 5th, 1898.

'Terpsichore - Her Votaries and Fashions' by T. Leggett-Byrne, Dublin, 1898:

"Contents" # "Preface" # "Juvenile Instruction" # "On Fancy Dress Balls"

Home # Top

Email: Chris Brady
No. of visitors since 20-10-99: [ 137 ]
Site last modified: April 09, 2010
© Chris Brady

Top # Home