Stepping in Tradition: The History of Irish Heavy Shoes in English


For centuries, Irish heavy shoes have been an integral part of Irish culture and traditional dance. The unique design and rhythmic sound of these shoes have captivated audiences around the world. In this article, we will delve into the history of Irish heavy shoes and their evolution in English dance. Through our exploration, we will uncover the significance of this footwear and its role in preserving Irish traditions.

The Origins of Irish Heavy Shoes

Irish heavy shoes, also known as hard shoes, can be traced back to the early 18th century. They were primarily used by Irish peasants and workers who needed sturdy footwear to withstand the tough terrain. These early versions of heavy shoes were made from leather and had wooden or metal heels to provide extra support and durability.

The use of heavy shoes in dance began to emerge in the late 18th century, as traditional Irish dance evolved and incorporated more intricate footwork. The hard soles and loud taps of these shoes allowed dancers to create rhythmic beats with their feet, enhancing the overall performance.

The Evolution of Irish Heavy Shoes in English Dance

The introduction of Irish heavy shoes to English dance can be attributed to the Irish diaspora in the early 19th century. As Irish immigrants settled in England, they brought their traditional dances and footwear with them. This cultural exchange led to the integration of Irish heavy shoes into English dance forms, such as clog dancing and step dancing.

One notable example of the incorporation of heavy shoes in English dance is the Lancashire clog dancing. This form of dance originated in the industrial areas of England and was heavily influenced by Irish immigrants. Lancashire clog dancers embraced the use of heavy shoes to create intricate footwork patterns accompanied by rhythmic tapping sounds.

Irish Heavy Shoes in Competitive Dancing

In the early 20th century, Irish heavy shoes gained even more prominence through competitive dancing. The establishment of dance competitions, most notably the Feis (pronounced fesh), provided a platform for dancers to showcase their skills and celebrate their Irish heritage.

Competitive dancers started to modify heavy shoes to enhance performance and create more distinct sounds. Metal taps were added to the toes and heels of the shoes, producing crisper and louder sounds. These improvements not only enhanced the auditory experience but also became an important visual element of Irish dance performances.

Case Study: Michael Flatley

A significant figure in the evolution of Irish heavy shoes in English dance is Michael Flatley. Flatley, an Irish-American dancer, revolutionized Irish dance with his unique style and remarkable speed. He combined elements of traditional Irish dance with contemporary influences, pushing the boundaries of the art form.

One of Flatley’s notable contributions was the development of a new type of heavy shoe called the “Flexi.” These shoes featured flexible soles that allowed for greater mobility and precision. With the Flexi shoes, Flatley could execute intricate footwork at an unprecedented speed, captivating audiences worldwide. His innovations with heavy shoes have influenced subsequent generations of Irish step dancers and continue to shape the art form to this day.

The Cultural Significance of Irish Heavy Shoes

Irish heavy shoes hold immense cultural significance within the Irish community. They serve as a symbol of Irish identity and are deeply intertwined with the preservation of Irish traditions. The rhythmic sound of heavy shoes connects dancers to their heritage, echoing the sounds of generations past.

Additionally, the popularity of Irish heavy shoes has brought recognition to Irish dance as an art form. It has helped create a sense of pride among the Irish diaspora and has contributed to the global appreciation of Irish culture.


Irish heavy shoes have come a long way since their humble beginnings as sturdy work boots. Through their integration into English dance and subsequent modifications, these shoes have become an essential tool for Irish dancers around the world. From traditional jigs to contemporary performances, the rhythmic sound and unique design of Irish heavy shoes continue to captivate audiences and preserve Irish traditions.