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a social event at which people sing and dance to traditional Scottish or Irish music

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

Origin and usage

Ceilidh comes from Irish and Scottish Gaelic roots and developed from an Old Irish word ‘céile’ meaning ‘companion’. It was first used in English in the late 19th century.


Ceilidh, pronounced /ˈkeɪli/, is a traditional Scottish or Irish social event that takes different forms. The word originally referred to any social visit but is now associated with social gatherings involving music and dancing. As an informal event with singing, dancing, playing and storytelling it usually takes place in private homes in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland as well as in Ireland. A more organized type of ceilidh consists mostly of dancing accompanied by a band and is more likely to take place in a hall or hotel. The second type often has a ‘caller’ who calls out the steps of the dances. Ceilidhs have become popular far beyond their home countries and often form part of social events such as parties and weddings, as well as at traditional celebrations such as Burns Night.


“It’s no go the gossip column, it’s no go the Ceilidh, All we want is a mother’s help and a sugar-stick for the baby.”
(Louis MacNeice, Bagpipe Music)

“Silky grey morning suits and top hats are being hired and worn with an absolutely straight face, and the times are heady and golden for florists and caterers, string quartets and Ceilidh callers, ice sculptors and the makers of disposable cameras.”
(David Nicholls, One Day)

Related words

barn dance, knees-up, corroboree

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

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