last updated 11 June 2014
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Set Dancing News

Set dancing news and reviews

Copyright © 2011 Bill Lynch
Contents: There's more to read in the collections of old news and reviews, volumes 11997-1998, 2, 31998-1999, 41999, 51999-2000, 6, 72000, 8, 9, 102001, 112001-2002, 12, 13, 14, 152002, 162002-2003, 17, 18, 192003, 202003-2004, 21, 22, 23, 24, 252004, 262004-2005, 27, 28, 29, 30, 312005, 322005-2006, 33, 34, 35, 36, 372006, 38, 392006-2007, 40, 41, 42, 432007, 442007-2008, 442007-2008, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 502008, 512008-2009, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 572009, 582009-2010, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 652010, 662010–2011, 67, 68, 69, 70, 712011, 722011–2012, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 782012, 792012-2013, 80, 81, 82, 832013, 842013-2014 (Index).

As good as it gets

January 24th saw eager dancers descend once again on An Grianán for another Termonfeckin Set Dancing Weekend. We were greeted as usual with warm smiles, familiar faces and the smell of freshly baked bread. The cold frosty weather that in the past would have locked us inside the walls of An Grianán for the weekend was not present this year. High temperatures outside were matched by even higher temperatures inside as the weekend got underway with ‘the tea.’

Launching the weekend this year was Gerard Weldon, a man with a long association with the committee and the weekend itself. Gerard is a well-known local activist, championing the need for social inclusion and for reaching out to those suffering from social isolation. He reminded us that the benefits of set dancing were not just physical, that mental and spiritual health also improved from the fun and laughter.

This fun and laughter was evident as local set dancers, along with the organising committee, dramatised the song Finnegan’s Wake. We were surrounded by weeping widows and mourning mistresses as bottles flew over a very crooked corpse. The arrival of The Priest in His Boots from Tullamore, with a toilet brush to bless the congregation, brought laughter to the hall. A well-endowed Marilyn Monroe from Gander Park cavorted shamelessly with some unfortunate and unsuspecting men. After the sketch we were treated to some beautiful singing from Páid O’Hare, a singing tutor for the weekend.

Nine o’clock came and we were off! The first ceili of the weekend started with the local Rinkinstown Set being danced. Like any endurance athlete or long distance runner, we had to be careful not to start too strong in case we wouldn’t make it to the Sunday evening finishing line! With such lovely music from local band Triskell this was very difficult. A great selection of lively polkas and sweet lifting reels and jigs kept us dancing for the night.

Saturday morning was decision making time. With such a wide variety of workshops, there was something for every dancer. Michael Tubridy revised some old-style dances and set dances in An Grianán’s Drawing Room. Reels, jigs, hornpipes and even the Gabhairín Buí (without the sticks!) were revised. We were treated to a demonstration of the Maggie Pickens by two Belfast dancers. We could only marvel at the beauty and unity of their dancing style. Another treat was in store when a gentleman from Tullamore took to the floor with a lady from Labasheeda. Hand in hand they danced the Easy Jig, beautiful old-style dancing, in spite of a constant commentary from the Tullamore dancer!

The Kellogg Hall was filled with enthusiastic set dancers. Fourteen sets took to the floor under the watchful eye of tutors Pádraig and Róisín McEneany. They taught the Tory Island and Glencree sets. Their newly composed Merchant Set was also taught. This popular set is being widely danced at workshops and ceilis throughout the world.

Yet another workshop, sean nós dancing, was underway. Mrs McCloud herself, Kathleen McGlynn, led a troupe of dancers through sean nós steps. Husband Michael gave clear instructions, encouragement and the odd yelp as Kathleen demonstrated steps. Those of us that ever doubted that Tír na nÓg existed only have to look at this couple from Cooley. Whether it’s the honey, Cooley air or currant bread, Kathleen and Michael’s energy and enthusiasm for dancing grows each year!

After dinner came decision time once again. Morning dancing workshops continued, with music and singing workshops being added. A polka, jig and slide were taught to a large tin whistle group by Niamh McEvoy. Mo Ghile Mear and Teddy O’Neill were just two of the songs taught by Páid O’Hare around the fireside at singing workshop. A flute workshop was held by Mairéad McEvoy, which was attended by a button accordion, a concertina, a low whistle and a flute! The arrival of a fiddle would have made the ceili band ensemble complete! We laughed and played through a Siobhán O’Donnell jig and some beautiful tune that I’ve since forgotten.

A bright breezy Saturday afternoon encouraged a large group of walkers to take to the countryside. Dancing shoes were swapped for runners and tracksuits as Anne Devery led a coastline walk.

Refreshed, danced, sung and played out, we all retired for tea.

A rare sight in Termonfeckin is that of Donie Nolan and Taylor’s Cross Ceili Band. This band rarely plays north of Dublin, and what a shame. On Donie’s first visit his beautiful box playing was joined by some wonderful fiddle and keyboard musicians from Kerry and a banjo player who, understandably, went slightly astray while travelling from Meath to Louth! This ceili was definitely as good as it gets! The night just wasn’t long enough. We danced for four hours and could have easily danced another four! Their lively polkas and slides and wonderful selection of reels lifted our feet and lightened our spirits. At tea time the floor was still full as Donie sang My Old Sligo Home and The Boys from Barr na Sráide. This ceili itself was worth the weekend fee!

The Drawing Room saw a large group of musicians gathered. They played, danced and sang till the early hours of the morning. Recitations and stories were shared. Newly learned songs from workshop were performed. A familiar Tullamore man entertained us with some sean nós steps. These steps contained some foreign looking movements. With his head cocked to one side, he approached his bemused audience, knee lifted in the air, resembling a rooster. The Parting Glass finished the night off and it was time for a nap.

Sunday morning, with breakfast over, it was back to the Kellogg Hall for another instalment of sean nós steps. Kathleen and Michael revised steps taught the day before while Connie McKelvey taught some two-hand dances. We had mazurkas, waltzes, a Back-to-Back Hornpipe and some dance where you had to dance a box shape on the floor without stepping on your partner’s feet!

After the workshop the weekend participants gathered in the Kellogg Hall. Fear an tí John McEvoy encouraged singers and storytellers to entertain us. We had a woman from Dublin who, in Barney McKenna’s words, just ‘wanted some to love’ her, and a Skerries woman who was trying to make her mind up on matters of the heart. Syl Bell’s snails were still having difficulty getting home and Michael McGlynn told us of an ICA trip that went badly wrong. We also heard of a customs worker who derived a little too much pleasure from being fitted for his work trousers! We heard a flute ensemble, box tunes from Clare and saw a beautiful version of St Patrick’s Day being danced. A ‘full-Irish’ cake was presented to the organising committee. This represented a Tullamore man’s long-standing grievance over the absence of sausage in An Grianán!

Unfortunately time was against us and the dinner bell rang. A large crowd gathered in An Grianán for the last ceili of the weekend. The Abbey Ceili Band from Cork is a familiar sight in An Grianán. Tired legs and aching bodies took to the floor and danced the afternoon away to wonderful music.

The fact that so many of the weekend participants are returning dancers is testament to the sheer commitment and determination of the organising committee to provide a wonderful weekend for them. To Jim and Margaret Finegan, Sheila and John McEvoy many thanks on behalf of all the dancers for yet another fantastic weekend. To Jim and Margaret we extend the sympathy of all dancers on the sudden passing of Jim’s brother, Oliver, over the weekend. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal.

If set dancing weekends are to be judged on the variety and quality of workshops and bands, on the surface and spring of dance floors, on the standard of food and warmth of welcome, the Termonfeckin Set Dancing Weekend, without doubt, must take the top spot. If there’s any complaint, it is that the weekend is just too short!

Mo cheol sibh uilig!

Mairéad Devane, Skerries, Co Dublin

Oh marvellous Omagh!

Sometimes a movie sequel turns out to be better than the original, which is rather like what happened to me on my second visit to the Omagh Set Dancing Weekend, 30 January–1 February. Although it has been running for many years, I only managed to attend for the first time last year, and had such a good time that there was no hesitation about where to go on the same weekend this year.

It was the last weekend of winter in Ireland as I set off on Friday from Clare, and the storms that had been battering the county for weeks were threatening again. A flooded road sent the satnav into spasms as I sought an alternative route through the Burren, but the farther I got from home, the better the weather, until I was in full, albeit fading, sunshine beneath unbroken blue skies through Fermanagh and Tyrone.

On arrival in Omagh I was efficiently checked in to the Silverbirch Hotel, home for the weekend to visitors from as far as Cork, Wexford and England, and venue for the opening ceili. I readied myself with a meal, rest and a fresh outfit, and just before 10pm popped over to the ballroom, which was buzzing with chat. The buzz followed us to the floor when they called the opening Kilfenora Set, and Copperplate Ceili Band played music that was both sweet and thrilling at the same time, and a delight all night long. Marie Garrity was on stage as well to help everyone through the dances. As a surprise bonus, the ballroom had one of those exceptionally bouncy floors which is easy on the legs. Even when I was standing still the motion of the other dancers was transmitted up my legs so I felt like I was still dancing. It was a relaxed evening with six sets, a waltz and quickstep, and a Circassian Circle just before the final Connemara Set. Friendly, lively partners were in plentiful supply, so it all added up to a perfect start to the weekend.

I’d been hearing about some of the new sets Pat Murphy had been teaching at his workshops in Nenagh and Malahide earlier in January and was rewarded with three lovely ones at his workshop on Saturday in Omagh. For the rest of the weekend we shifted venue to Dun Uladh, a cultural centre on the edge of Omagh, a few miles from the town centre, so there were lifts from hotel to hall arranged between the carless visitors and those who drove. We began the morning with Pádraig McEneany’s Merchant Set, which is still new enough to be a novelty, but in the few months it has been around it has already become familiar enough to show up at many ceilis.

Pat then showed us his own newly devised set, the Templebeg, which he first taught at a workshop three weeks earlier, so it was new to nearly everyone in Omagh. A feast of squares, stars, pass-throughs and changing partners and places, the Templebeg Set full of inventive moves which were easily managed by all with Pat’s clear explanation. It’s danced in the Tipperary polka style reminiscent of the Cashel Set—if you like the Cashel Hop, you’ll love the hornpipe in Pat’s set! The figure which needed the most practice was the third, a slide where couples pass through and change places with each other in every possible direction. After practicing it a few times, smiles of relief and satisfaction showed up on everyone’s faces.

The Templebeg Set was interrupted by the lunch break, which is one of the unique features of the Omagh workshop. During the workshop anyone interested in joining the meal bought a ticket for £4, which gave us a seat at the tables in the dining room. The tables were supplied with plates of sandwiches and buttered bread, and club members soon brought out bowls of fresh, hot and hearty homemade soup, with seconds available by request. Tea, coffee and biscuits were served to finish. It was a friendly, pleasant and efficient way to take lunch, especially as the alternative would involve a drive into the town centre and back.

After lunch and after finishing the Templebeg Set, we carried on with the Lakyle Set, our third great set of the day. This is a precursor to the Paris Set, and was danced in competition by Dan Furey at least five years before his introduction of the Paris Set. Pat discovered the set on an old Scór video from 1983 and worked out the moves from that. While the figures are similar in both sets, they are shorter in the Lakyle because two couples dance the figures at the same time, whereas each couple dances individually in the Paris. The trademark tset left and set right movement is there, though danced in a simpler way, as are the exciting clap in the second figure and the hornpipe-march combo in the last—three unique features shared by the two sets. Pat timed the set and the workshop to perfection—we ended the last figure exactly at the scheduled finishing time.

Hotel residents had another communal meal that evening, and while another chance to chat was very welcome, we certainly missed the fast lunch service! Then it was off Dun Uladh again to the Saturday night ceili with Swallow’s Tail Ceili Band. Marie had been hoping to call the sets again for us, but her voice had vanished, so Pat was quickly deputised as relief caller, a role he accepted with pleasure. The sets featured varying degrees of familiarity, from the Corofin, Caledonian and Connemara to the Derradda, Boyne and Merchant, with calling to match. I was blessed by some formidable partners, and together with the excellent music of the Swallow’s, we were inspired to do some blissful high-energy dancing.

Some overnight rest was all I needed for a full recovery to continue dancing on Sunday, though I envy those who don’t require sleep and so were able to stay in Dun Uladh till 7.30am for a session in the bar! Marie was scheduled for a morning two-hand dance workshop, but her voice hadn’t returned, so Pat partnered her and took over the microphone duties. We danced a lovely selection of waltzes and other two-hands, and Pat dug into his collection of Scottish recordings for some gorgeous music to accompany us. We then had another sit-down lunch of delicious soup, sandwiches and tea in the hour between the workshop and ceili.

The top-class music all weekend was capped by Sunday’s performance by Rise the Dust Ceili Band, who played with a marvellous trad sound and brilliant selection of tunes for reels, polkas and all the rest! The sets were another good selection with repeats in the minority. Pat stayed on as caller, except when we danced the Rinkinstown Set and one of its creators, John McEvoy, took over and gave Pat a chance to dance. The Labasheeda was a set of perfection—my own partner amazed me with her dancing, but then so did all the other ladies. The Claddagh Set went like clockwork, even the complicated chain in figure three, and the Rinkinstown was danced as though it had been around for years. With the final Connemara Set, we concluded our great weekend of dancing, and just before the final figure, Marie found enough of her voice to say a quiet thanks to all.

It was a satisfying weekend with the best of everything, bands, sets, teachers, venue, dancers, meals—even weather! Despite a few flakes of snow during the Friday ceili, weather was pleasant all weekend. When I left it was still mild, calm and dry, but the closer I got to Clare, the wilder and wetter it became. I went to Omagh for the dancing and found much more to enjoy there!

Bill Lynch

Step to the West is one of the best

I was so looking forward to the Step to the West set dancing weekend in January in the Falls Hotel, Ennistymon, Co Clare. The forecast was very bad for the Clare coast but thank God, and with the help of the child of Prague, which I heard Tom Longe left out on his window sill on Thursday night, set dancers from near and from overseas arrived at the Falls safe and sound with no adverse conditions.

A queue of dancers had formed at reception checking into their rooms. In the lounge and bar people were greeting and hugging one another. There was a great buzz of excitement already as we looked forward to dancing to top of the range bands.

At 10pm there was the first ceili of the weekend with Johnny Reidy. There was an expertly laid floor each side of the main floor to accommodate the large crowds expected. Sets were forming very quickly even before Johnny and band got on stage, as Johnny had to greet his many fans. Sean Longe was on stage to help with the filling of sets if needed; no calling of sets is required in the Falls. Johnny was now playing to shouts and cheers, cries and hi’s—everyone trying to get his attention and his famous Johnny wink. His music was electric, craic and laughter contagious until tea break. Country music tapes were played for people who wanted to keep dancing, while upstairs there was an invasion of tea drinkers and scone devourers. It was great to meet Eamon again, the Falls scone baker, as he made his way to tables with trays of freshly baked scones, where there was jam and cream to go with them, all free of charge. After refreshments it was back to dancing—brilliant music again in the second half. When the last set was being called I was beginning to wilt after the journey and dancing, but for a lot of people it was into the bar where there was a seisiún with young musicianers playing their hearts out. Tiredness was forgotten as the floor in the bar filled with sets and dancing continued into the small hours of Saturday morning.

The dining room was very busy for breakfast—self-service was a good idea. Looking out the huge windows over the River Inagh, the wind and rain was beating down. There was a storm warning for tonight, but it’s a great weekend to be inside dancing. After breakfast Gerard Butler held his workshop in the ballroom, and more dancers availed of the leisure centre and spa.

This afternoon it was all feet on deck for the super duper Abbey Ceili Band—again a packed floor. The air conditioners weren’t able to keep us cool. At half-time more tea and scones, and there was time for the ladies and gents to change tops, shirts, t-shirts, just to mention a few items of clothing. Hand dryers in toilets were being used as hair dryers to get back to dancing in a hurry. The afternoon flew when you were enjoying yourself. I had dinner this evening in the dining room—delicious food and good craic at the tables. There was never-ending music day and night in the Falls, with a huge crowd and music and dancing again in bar.

At 10pm down in the ballroom a band of Swallow’s flew onto the stage and had our feet flying for the rest of the night. They also treated us to two goes of their famous rake of reels. Ceili over and ready to collapse, I found a seat in the bar where Micheál Sexton was playing away, this time not for sets but beautiful music for social dancing—a very versatile musicianer. The floor was crammed with dancers trying to manoeuvre around the pillars.

It was early Sunday morning when the storm broke. The wind and rain were frightening but I don’t think many people heard. Day 3 had arrived. After breakfast we went to Mass and on the way we saw a lot of water cascading down the River Inagh. Gerard Butler held another workshop in the ballroom—lots of people going in. At 2pm was the farewell ceili with the brilliant energetic young musicianers of the Five Counties Ceili Band. A lot of new faces were coming in. The ballroom was at bursting point when the band started to play. Nobody wanted the weekend to be over but all good things come to an end.

I have heard a saying that “a good ceili band plays music to put dancers through the roof, not stick them to the floor.” This can definitely be said of the ceili bands and groups at this weekend. Before leaving the ballroom, Sean Longe, on behalf of his father Tom, thanked everyone for supporting their weekend once again. All proceeds from Step to the West go to the autistic unit at Inagh National School.

All dancers headed for home to their different destinations with reels, jigs and polkas ringing in their ears. Midland set dancers met with sleet and snow on their way home. Some drivers even got a few skids—nothing serious, thank God—and everyone arrived home safely.

Patsy Finn, Newbristy, Rathconrath, Co Westmeath

Record-breaking Trentham weekend

Melbourne Claddagh Dancers’ annual Trentham set dancing weekend in January was our biggest and best so far, with almost ninety dancers registering for the workshops and ceilis in the Mechanics’ Institute Hall in the town of Trentham, 100km northwest of Melbourne, Australia. The long, blistering heat wave leading up to the weekend broke meteorological records too, and respect is due to our intrepid dancers from Sydney, Canberra and Adelaide who drove the eight or nine hour trip in 40°c heat. Ron Sweeney and Graham Read, escaping from Adelaide’s 44° heat, were also accompanied by the smell and haze of bush fire smoke in the distance.

We needed a bigger venue for Friday night than we had last year, and the East Trentham Pig and Whistle Hotel fulfilled all requirements. After dinner there was music and song put together by Kate Armstrong. There was a garden to spill out into between sets to check on the advent of the predicted cool change. That hot night we danced the Australian Half-Set, the Connemara, Mazurka and Ballyvourney Jig sets, and afterwards the night-owl songbirds moved on into the bar, where one local was heard to say, ‘This is the best thing that’s ever happened to the Pig and Whistle!’ And fortunately the misty, cool change rolled in overnight, bringing sunshine and beautiful temperatures for Saturday and Sunday.

We welcomed this year guest teachers Margaret and Bill Winnett from Sydney, whose teaching was so enjoyable. They provided workshops on Saturday and Sunday mornings, when they taught the Glengariff Reel and South Sligo Lancers sets, and the Southern Cross Set, which was composed by Des Jackson of Sydney in 2008. Its six figures comprise two jigs, two reels and two polkas. In a short two-hand dance workshop on Saturday afternoon they taught the Two-Hand Jig, the Fermanagh Hornpipe and the Marino Waltz. The latter two dances were given to Margaret and Bill by dancing master Tom Quinn, Dundalk, Co Louth, in 2012.

Kirsty and Richard Greenwood taught Fay McAlinden’s Port Fairy Set, as a tribute to Fay, who lost her long battle with illness in December. Fay was a well-known composer and teacher of set dances and founder and coordinator of the famous Port Fairy Céilí Mór weekend with husband Morgan for many years. Fay will be remembered by dancers near and far.

In addition, other options were on offer for Saturday afternoon. Ina Bertrand conducted a walk around historic Trentham, while Graeme Bertrand conducted a bush walk in the nearby forest, and a number of folk succumbed to the temptations of the Daylesford Chocolate Mill and other local gourmet venues.

We enjoyed a delicious dinner at the Harvester Restaurant in Tylden on Saturday evening, before the ceili with the magnificent Melbourne Ceili Band, whose music, if it could be thought possible, sounded even better than ever. We had a brilliant night with a full house and wonderful atmosphere. We danced the South Galway, Glengariff Reel and Corofin Plain sets, the Marino Waltz, the Moycullen and Tournafulla sets, the Two-Hand Jig, and Plain, Antrim Square and Newport sets. During band breaks we were treated to a song of classic Irish humour by Mark Wilson, a band member from Kildare town, and to beautiful instrumentals by Lily and Grace Walsh (on fiddle and whistle respectively), younger generation members of the local Walsh family of Irish musicians. Margaret Winnett performed an awe-inspiring soft shoe reel step dance.

Members of the Melbourne Ceili Band were back next afternoon to play for our Sunday ceili, and with that extra motivation we danced with gusto the Clare Lancers, Melleray Lancers, Kilfenora, Fermanagh Hornpipe, the Southern Cross and finished with the Ballyvourney Jig. In addition to Margaret and Bill Winnett, callers for the weekend were Marie Brouder, Kate Armstrong, Paul Wayper, Ina Bertrand and Richard Greenwood.

To the list of thanks, including teachers, band, callers, performers, MC Graeme Bertrand, photographer Colin McMillan, helpers and committee, we add the dancers themselves for their enthusiastic attendance and support of the Trentham 2014 weekend.

Mary Reilly, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cheers for Ballybofey

The climate in Ireland has clearly gone a bit haywire when one has to travel to the far north for better weather, but that’s what happened to me on the weekend of February 7–9. The occasion was the sixth in an annual series of weekends operated by Liam Gallen’s Aranderg Set Dancing Club, which was my first chance to attend the event and also to set foot in Ballybofey, Co Donegal. After a stormy departure from Co Clare, I headed due north, passing glorious mountains galore before an afternoon landing in Ballybofey, where it was calm and mild, if also cool and moist. Looking for the Villa Rose Hotel, headquarters for the weekend, I spotted its rose-coloured façade in the middle of the main street, and drove through a narrow arch to the car park at the back. I was amazed to find that this was where they had hidden the actual hotel! It was an enormous modern multistory building attached to the modest main street annex by a flying glassed-in walkway. I was welcomed by Liam at reception and was soon checked into my warm bedroom.

In such a grand hotel, it was only to be expected that there was a ballroom to match. It was large and spacious, with a full-size main floor and a separate little satellite floor at the back. And if that wasn’t enough, the main floor was surrounded on three sides by temporary plywood panels laid on the carpet, enough room in total for a battalion of dancers. However, chairs were in short supply at the opening ceili on Friday night, and the hotel staff kept bringing out stacks of them till there were enough to go around. The Annaly Ceili Band had the job of warming us up for the weekend with plenty of their lively music and Michael McGlynn sat with them on stage, calling the sets with even more obvious enthusiasm than those of us dancing them on the floor. Speaking of which, the main floor was filled, with only a few sets overflowing to the temporary boards and second floor at the back, so there was plenty of space for all. The real test would be tomorrow night’s ceili. Meanwhile, I had great fun and fantastic partners all night, though after the final Connemara Set (shortened to two figures because the ceili was past its scheduled finish) I headed away to bed, while the floor remained full for two-hours of social dancing with Family Affair, father-daughter duo Thomas and Martina Maguire.

Workshops are a highlight of any weekend for me and on Saturday there were some great sets on offer thanks to teachers Frank and Bobbie Keenan from Co Meath. Frank spent the morning showing us two sets from Co Offaly, the Killyon and the Gillen, and he revealed some interesting historical details about them. Frank said these sets were created in the 1920s by workers in the Offaly bogs. There were no women working in the bogs so the men danced together. It seemed plausible, as all the swings and any housing in the sets are at arm’s length in ceili hold. Frank’s easygoing, chatty manner made for relaxed dancing, though we danced through each figure at least twice and danced the sets all the way through once we had learned the last figure.

After lunch, Frank introduced us to the Allow Lancers Set from Cork, which was totally new to me! It was a Sliabh Luachra-style Lancers, danced to three jigs, a reel, a slide and a hornpipe. The moves were clever, unique and easy, and it’s definitely one I’d love to try again. In two of the figures, each couple dances in by the gent turning the lady four times under his arm around the set, and I found Frank’s advice to the ladies memorable. “Ladies, turn yourselves,” he said, “and let the man take the credit.” Frank promised to call it for us at tonight’s ceili.

While most of the weekend’s dancers were from the northern half of Ireland, a large group had travelled here from England. The main reason we all made the long journey to Ballybofey was for two ceilis with the Johnny Reidy Ceili Band, one of the popular Kerry band’s rare appearances in Ulster, so there was great excitement at their first ceili tonight. The first figure of the first set, the Corofin Plain, lived up to all expectations and generated robust, rousing cheers, and Johnny maintained our peak enthusiasm levels all night long. Frank’s calling was low-key, but effective, and the music inspired vocal drumbeats from him between instructions. He kept his promise to do the Allow Lancers Set, which was danced reasonably well, even by those who hadn’t had the benefit of the workshop, and also gave us another special set in the second half—the West Kerry, which he claimed he hadn’t called in seventeen years. In that case he has a remarkable memory because the instructions were perfect. Raffles were held during the second half of each ceili and tonight’s was remarkable for the shyness of the ticket purchasers—seventeen tickets had to be drawn to award five prizes! The ceili ran over time like last night’s, but no one seemed to mind that the late night social dancing with Family Affair was a few minutes behind schedule.

On Sunday morning the sun was shining, which inspired me to leave the hotel and see the sights of Ballybofey. There are actually two towns here, with Stranorlar just over the bridge and River Finn, and while the river looked lovely, there was little else to distract me from the dancing. However, I was passed by a hundred or more runners racing over the bridge, which further convinced me how lucky I am to have set dancing as a pastime, with its great music, beautiful partners and variety of movement. When I returned to the hotel Marie Garrity’s two-hand dance workshop was already in progress so I grabbed another late-arriving partner and danced a fun selection of waltzes, two-steps and other couple dances with her. For lunch and all other meals, the hotel restaurant was tasty and convenient, just a short walk over the flying glass corridor to the Main Street annex.

Enthusiasm levels had only increased by the time we began the second ceili with Johnny on Sunday afternoon and with some of the liveliest partners in the north at my disposal I disposed of huge amounts of energy on the ballroom floor. Michael McGlynn was back calling the sets, and he always chooses the ones everyone loves most, so there was no holding back! I had expected to see bigger crowds at Johnny’s ceilis, particularly on Saturday night, but I was pleased to see that numbers were steady all weekend, which suggested that the majority of people supported every ceili. With so much flooring available there was always plenty of room to dance. Today there was time enough for the band to play a few reels for some sean nós dancing led by Michael’s wife Kathleen, who taught her steps in a workshop on Saturday. By the end of the ceili I had that beautiful feeling of satisfaction mixed with loads of exhaustion, but I would have happily danced that ceili over again without hesitation.

In fact, I will dance the whole weekend over again in 2015, as the last thing I did before heading home was to book a place for myself in the hotel. As I travelled home to the stormy south I comforted myself anticipating more beautiful dancing in Ballybofey.

Bill Lynch

The Gathering storm

Wouldn’t it be great if the Gathering Traditional Festival took place in good weather? Its dates in the second half of February sometimes make for dodgy weather, and this year storms had already been battering the southwest of Ireland for two months as I left Clare for Kerry on Wednesday, February 19th. It was a mild afternoon though, and I’d never seen the Shannon River as flat and smooth as it was on the ferry crossing. But driving south through Kerry, I could see literally hundreds of fallen trees (one still partly blocking the road with just a few traffic cones around it) and crews out clearing them and repairing roads. Fortunately Killarney was in good form when I arrived, though locals spoke of power outages in the past week, something we know all about in Kilfenora.

This year’s festival was the fifteenth Gathering, and I think I’ve attended all but two of them. It’s bigger than the usual festivals, lasting for five days, and the ceili on the opening Wednesday is not to be missed! It takes place in the village of Scartaglen, half an hour’s drive away, with a bus service available for visitors. As I set off the rain was back and more bad weather was expected overnight. But the little village hall was full right from the first set, and became fuller with each set, so people were doing their best to ignore any storms! John and Martina Breen played music which was pure joy to dance to, and even though it was the smallest ceili of the festival, it was the most crowded and surely had the best atmosphere! The selection of sets were great too, as the organisers insist on equality between polka and reel sets, and are fearless about including unusual sets in the programme. One of the callers, Ann Mangan, said they were limiting the calling to just a couple of sets at each ceili, which tonight included the Ballingeary Jig and Ballyvourney Reel sets. We generated prodigious amounts of heat, but pity we couldn’t use it to warm the air outside and evaporate all the rain and floods I drove through on my way back to Killarney.

But the great advantage of a hotel-based weekend is that stormy weather doesn’t matter one bit as you never have to step outside, and from that point on I remained indoors, except for short walks to nearby restaurants. That made for a lazy Thursday, as there were no festival events till the concert and ceili in the hotel ballroom that night. Once the concert was over, the floor was quickly cleared of chairs, Taylor’s Cross Ceili Band got ready on stage and copies of the programme of sets were posted on walls and pillars. It was as though someone had made a list of my most favourite sets—Corofin Plain, Borlin Polka, Clare Orange and Green, Ballyvourney Jig, Clare Mazurka, West Kerry and Caledonian. We opened with Newmarket Meserts, which I’m sure would become another big favourite if only I had a chance to dance it more often. It’s the one with the weird high-gates figure which seems to work best if I raise my (and the two ladies’) hands near my ears and close my eyes. After that I sailed through the rest of the ceili, each set better than the last, all with the most rousing music by the band, though one couple in my set for the West Kerry was moving a bit like a tractor on the motorway while the rest of us overtook them in the fast lane. Afterwards, the big picture window in my bedroom revealed that another windy storm was underway, but I felt warm, cosy and safe in the hotel.

The closer we got to the weekend, the more visitors showed up, and part of the excitement of the Gathering is meeting friends from America, Europe, Britain and all parts of Ireland. On Friday there were new faces every time I passed the reception desk. The festival programme began in earnest that evening, but to help us pass the time in the afternoon, a few of us got together in the quiet bar near reception for some informal dancing to recorded music—the iPads were out! I arrived when Ashley Ray from Co Down was teaching some French dances, and then Anne Keane taught her local Auban Set, which we’d be dancing at the Saturday night ceili. Live music was expected there at 5.30pm, but we spent over an hour waiting for it, and then when Maebh Begley and her band arrived they played some great lively tunes for a few figures of polka sets.

The big ceili that night was the first full-size one of the weekend in the enormous INEC, which is normally home to major concerts, basketball games and other events requiring huge amounts of space. Set dancers are lucky to have the use of it for three ceilis and we do our best to fill it. Dancers spread themselves over the entire floor for tonight’s ceili with the Abbey Ceili Band and still had loads of room to spare. Another good programme of sets was posted, with calling for the Labasheeda Set by first-time caller John Dineen, a keen Killarney dancer whose efforts raised cheers throughout the hall, and for the Camp Set by the expert Killarney teacher Ann Mangan. Delightful music filled the room and made every set a pleasure. Dancing continued even during the band’s break, thanks to plenty of recorded waltzes and quicksteps. It’s sometimes a bit hard to rendezvous with a partner in such a huge space, as I found when we resumed with the Plain Set. My lady wasn’t in our pre-arranged spot, so I stood in to a set nearby to make sure we had a place. But when she did show up, it was to the original set where unbeknownst to me another gent had been holding our place. Luckily the set I abandoned was quickly filled. It was hard to stop after an exciting Lancers Set, but two full days of dancing still awaited me.

It was Mick Mulkerrin who first divided the INEC floor in half with a row of chairs when he began teaching set dancing workshops here years ago, and that tradition has continued with the teachers who have succeeded him. Tony Ryan has been the regular teacher here recently, and he began by inviting us to dance the Connemara Set. He said it was to warm us up, though I suspect it was really to give the late arrivals an extra few minutes so they wouldn’t miss the first figure of the Merchant Set. After that great little set, which has taken off quite nicely, we were treated to the Camp Set, which is following along in the Merchant’s footsteps. In between the two, Tony led us in his patented ‘stream of consciousness’ step practice, where he just puts on some music and dances whatever steps come to mind, from easy to complicated, and we all try to follow him as best we can. A mesmerising trance took over while I was dancing which added to the enjoyment and made me forget I was at a workshop. Tony dusted off two old favourites in the afternoon, the Derradda and Williamstown sets, with a final few minutes of steps to finish, to round off an enjoyable, well attended-workshop.

Saturday night’s ceili was big in every way—back in the INEC, a sizeable crowd and a band which was like two bands in one! Striolán Ceili Band, consisting of eight members for that big band sound, have a loyal following and their playing tonight surely earned them a few new fans. The polka-reel ratio of sets remained at parity—four polka sets, four reel sets. The two called sets were the Auban, led by Anne Keane, and the Merchant by Tony Ryan, and both were easily managed even by most of those who hadn’t had any workshop practice. The West Kerry opened the second half, which was lively enough that one lady dancing the gent raised her hand and called for a substitute after just the first figure. If you love going around the house, the West Kerry is your set, with each couple housing as many as a dozen times in one of the figures. And if doubling around the house happens to be your thing, it can’t be beat. Striolán definitely raised the roof in the second half, saving all their best tunes for the final Connemara Set, which was so thrilling there was no way the crowd could stop dancing—only a rake of reels could satisfy them so there were a few further amazing moments of bliss as we danced whatever we wanted. The national anthem was a welcome chance to remain stationary for a minute to lower our respiration and heart rates.

On the way to my room, I spotted a new feature of The Gathering—a trad disco. It looked a lot like a disco, with loads of lasers, strobes and fog, and even sounded at first rather like a disco, except the music was all trad with a strong beat. There was a lot of freestyle dancing going on, and while I wondered if it might be suitable for dancing a set, the lure of my bed was too strong to resist. From the window of my room I watched trees dancing in the wind.

Workshops continued on Sunday morning. In addition to Tony Ryan’s class for ‘advanced’ set dancing, elsewhere in the hotel Timmy McCarthy introduced beginners to his beloved Cork and Kerry sets, and Mairéad Casey instructed lovers of sean nós dancing. In Tony’s class, after another warm-up Connemara Set, we danced the South Kerry Set, and finished with some step practice.

If the Gathering organisers were hoping to provide a fitting climax to their 2014 festival, they surely did well to choose the Johnny Reidy Ceili Band to play for the final ceili on Sunday afternoon. Johnny’s fans can’t be beat for the enthusiasm and excitement they bring to every ceili, inspired by the band’s fantastic music. Beginning with the Sliabh Luachra, the polkas and reels alternated, and I felt especially lucky for the inclusion of the Claddagh and Borlin Polka sets. The easy Ballyvourney Reel Set (danced to polkas) was the only one called. By the time of the concluding Plain Set, happiness levels had risen to max, and any thoughts of exhaustion were totally absent, and if you weren’t already excited enough, Johnny began the last figure with The Tamlin Reel and ended it with a brief pause before continuing with more reels. By the time we’d danced a couple of figures of another set, the band ceased playing abruptly and dramatically, and after the briefest moment of sudden silence, everyone gave an almighty roar of pleasure. (I hope the hotel checked the integrity of their roof the next day.) The national anthem was like a lullaby, calming us back to normality.

The long-lingering set dancer’s high stayed with me, not just the rest of the day, but for days to come, and revisits me when I remember the bands and partners who gave me such fun. While nice weather would be a bonus at the Gathering, it really makes no difference, and I love having five joyful days in February to look forward to every year.

Bill Lynch

A very well-organised Gathering

Dear Bill,

Please permit me to use your excellent magazine to pass on sincere thanks to Anne Keane, Ann Mangan and John O’Shea, the organisers of the 2014 Gathering in Killarney. They have been creating a very special long weekend of music and dance for some fifteen years now and they were hugely successful yet again.

For people like me, for whom set dancing is the icing on the cake of life, they once again provided another spectacular topping for that icing. They deserve the thanks and gratitude of the many, who were lucky enough to enjoy yet another very special, fun-filled weekend. There will be many people with different positive tales to tell about their weekend in the INEC at the Gleneagle Hotel, these are just my thanks, but I am sure the organisers will be in receipt of many more.

For your readers who weren’t there, they can get a flavour of what this weekend offers from the detailed report which, no doubt, you are either writing, or commissioning, as I compose this letter. However, below, I offer my own reflections on why I believe that the organisers deserve our thanks.

This weekend is a must for those set dancers wishing to experience sets they may otherwise seldom encounter, great music at the ceilis, and thanks to John, an opportunity to enjoy a wide variety of high quality concerts.

For me the organisers have created an opportunity to dance a wide range of sets, for which Anne and Ann sensitively arrange calling where needed. This means that dancers get an opportunity to dance some regularly danced sets without the intrusion of calling, and for the new or lesser known sets there were clear explanations beforehand and well-timed prompting during the figures. In my view, they got the balance just about right. Perhaps the best proof of this was the fact that the floor was always well populated, whether well-known or little-known sets were being danced, and from my observation, the dancers seemed to negotiate the called sets without problems. Smiling faces at the end of each set signalled both enjoyment and success. In addition, they did go to the trouble both of asking the tutor for workshops (Tony Ryan) to include tuition for some sets that will be danced at the ceilis, and of offering a taster session of some other sets on the Friday afternoon for those able to get away for the long weekend. Thoughtful consideration for all seems to permeate all their efforts, thus making the weekend a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

As a result of their efforts, the set dancing community at the weekend is multinational, and one in which everyone certainly feels part of an extended family. This is reflected in the friendliness and the help which can be seen on the floor, with the more experienced dancers offering friendly help and encouragement to others. There is a real comfort factor in the warmth of this weekend’s community. Although I may not see them from one year to the next, I know that over the years I have made real friends there, much of which is down to the efforts of the organisers to make sure that everyone feels at home and relaxed.

Those of us, and there were many (twelve sets plus), who attended Tony Ryan’s workshops, got the benefit of his attention to detail (to me a huge element in maximising enjoyment when dancing a set) which was paralleled with his concern and consideration. He, ably assisted by Maike Isaac, was always offering personal words of encouragement and helpful suggestions. He constantly sought to ensure that everyone was included and given a chance to understand all the elements of each figure. I commend anyone who gets the chance to go to one of Tony’s workshops. Not only will you get excellent tuition, including very valuable sessions on steps and footwork, but the opportunity to learn from a dedicated teacher whose personality radiates around the workshop, making one feel that the world is a better place after all!

Sadly the time available over the weekend is limited and you can’t get the opportunity to do everything that you would wish, but from my experience elsewhere, I am sure that those who attended Timmy McCarthy’s workshops for set dancing beginners and Mairead Casey’s sean nós workshops would be saying similar things about their experiences.

So as a very fortunate beneficiary of your efforts, Anne, Ann and John, please don’t stop. I know this is selfish, but I want more.

Ashley Ray, Ardglass, Co Down

Second, sad, still spectacular—Erlangen

I can’t believe it’s been a year already! It feels like a week ago. Recalling all the sets, going through the pictures over and over again, and looking up information about other set dance weekends—anything which could shorten a whole year of waiting until Erlangen comes again in 2014. And now I’m sitting here and thinking about how best to put all my new memories into another article.

I shouldn’t have any problems with it. Many things happened during these twelve months and I tried to write about every single one of them, so technically speaking I should be experienced enough to create an opening paragraph. But Erlangen 2014 was different—it was like a déjà vu, coming back to the beginning of a circle. Maybe I will start with explaining the title—why on earth was this weekend sad?

We set off from Prague on Friday morning, February 28th, this time. And ‘we’ expanded a bit compared to last year—ten dancers, three cars! And this is where ‘sad’ interrupts the story for the first time. There should have been eleven of us, but Jana, one of the two girls who are in the charge of the set dancing group called Sona Sól, could not go due to illness. Fortunately, it was nothing serious and we were all ready to do our best on Saturday night to show everyone her choreography was really worth watching. But I’ll talk about that later on.

The drive was very pleasant and quick—if you travel in good company driving is always a pleasure. Two o’clock: Erlangen. We arrived at the youth hostel in the city centre, left our cars there and went to see the city for a while before we could check in and then finally go to the Unicum, the weekend venue. At six we were enthusiastically getting out of our cars in the Carl-Thiersch-Strasse (yes, a twenty-minute walk would be nice in the evening, but not at 1am after a ceili)—for the last couple of steps, it looked exactly the same as a year ago and felt like time travelling—and there was organiser Christian Forstner, with his broad, kind smile. But something about that smile made us wonder that something might have happened. And this is when we came to know about his wife Andrea’s accident, elbow, hospital and everything. That she was knocked off her bike, transported to hospital, underwent surgery and was obviously forbidden to dance for—nobody knew how long. So, sad for the second time.

But at the same time we were assured the weekend was going to happen despite all this terrible news, so we—a bit shocked—started our rehearsal for our little surprise show planned for the Saturday ceili. When we finished, the rest of the dancers were already arriving, so we were busy with all the hugs and cheek kisses.

Unlike 2013, this time there was no workshop on Friday night and we started straight away with the ‘Special Sets Ceili,’ to the music of one half of the Abbey Ceili Band. One thing was new to me, or rather one person—Pat Murphy. I’ve heard a lot about him, of course read his books, saw many videos or pictures, but seeing him in person was overwhelming. I really enjoyed his smooth, gallant and sort of peaceful way of leading the whole weekend, which was at the same time very confident and professional.

We danced the Rinkinstown as the opening set, which was kind of funny considering the set we had chosen, or Jana had, for our little performance. The night went on with the South Galway, Plain Polka and Boyne Set. And I can’t forget the opening speech by Christian with his “you take care of your arm and we take care of the weekend” sentence. Everyone listened to it in a deep quiet and then applauded loudly.

On Saturday morning I realized what’s the biggest difference between weekends in Germany and Ireland—the workshops. In Ireland there were hundreds of people for a ceili and just e-i-g-h-t for a workshop. In Germany, you can’t notice a difference between these two activities at first glance. What I will never forget was when Pat started singing a simple melody while practising basic steps in the beginning. I was a bit surprised because I’ve never heard anything like that before, but I immediately started enjoying it.

Another thing that was the same as in 2013 was the lunch system. Four colours, four meals to choose from. Absolutely brilliant and tasty. After lunch I unfortunately had to leave the venue and go back to the hostel to take a nap, as I had been a bit ill on Friday already and I did not feel well. But the rest reported they did another two great sets during the afternoon workshop.

Saturday night—the ‘Carnival Ceili.’

I’m getting a bit nervous, as I always do before a performance. But it’s a different kind of nervousness than when you have to visit a dentist or pass an exam.

Andrea is coming for an hour and is going to see the little show.

A couple of sets are danced, we are getting ready in our room upstairs (thanks for that) and suddenly we’re standing ‘backstage,’ meaning in the changing room connected to the ballroom, waiting for the music to start playing. And here we go.

The eight-minute long performance was a great experience. In summer we’d been asked by Andrea to prepare a short performance which would be presented in the break in the middle of the Carnival Ceili. “Nothing serious,” she said, “I would like it to be funny and fresh and young.” So it was nothing serious. A look at what the Rinkinstown Set could have been like if it had been danced in different eras, from the present to the past. We were a bit worried how the audience would react, because it was rather untraditional, with Michael Jackson and Charlestown music, so when the dancers who were watching us burst into applause, we almost burst into tears. Well, I almost did. Over the next few hours many people came to us just to say, “You were amazing!” It was really nice and I’d like to thank everyone for such a reaction.

On Sunday there was one last workshop and the final ceili. Most of the time I was just sitting in the bar and drinking fruit tea (which they had run out of because of me), watching the bustling crowd with my feet unconsciously battering on the floor, but despite that I was still enjoying it. The music played by the Abbey was, as always, extremely lively and cheerful. I’d bought all their CDs in Ireland in January and it was even better when I knew some of the tunes by heart.

Last set (Plain), last speech, last applause—and as a surprise—a last Bavarian polka! After that we had to say goodbye to the beautiful Unicum venue, but fortunately not the fellow dancers. In the evening there was a session in the brewery, where we had one whole floor reserved. And again Andrea was allowed to participate for a while too. We all wrote her short get-well-soon wishes on her plaster, danced the Ballyvourney Jig, ate a couple of plates of great Bavarian food and then eventually had to say goodbye. But it wasn’t as sad as a year ago, knowing I would meet most of the people in either Prague, Germany or Ireland during the next twelve months.

Erlangen 2014 was an amazing weekend even though serious complications appeared, but the more difficult it was for the Forstner family, the more we all appreciate what you all did for us, the dancers. One big thank-you. See you all in February 2015!

Barbora Tuzarová, Prague, Czech Republic

15th Aarburg weekend

The cold, clammy, gray weather was more than compensated for by the warmth of Chris Eichbaum’s teaching and the uplifting nature of the music provided by Ger Murphy and Ken Cotter of Cork at the fifteenth set dance weekend in Aarburg, Switzerland, organized by Eva Biedermann and André Lichtsteiner. It took place from 17 to 19 January in the Gasthof zum Bären, a country inn on the list of protected historical buildings in Switzerland, stemming from the time when the town was still of military and economic importance due to the transportation of goods and people on the River Aare. Its ballroom was probably built during the hotel’s renovation between 1920 and ’23 and still radiates its original charm, with painted panels by Charles Welti depicting scenes from Aarburg’s history on the sides of the alcoves of the balcony surveying the ballroom floor. The ballroom’s springy parquet floor was great for dancing, although there was a gradual slope down from the centre, causing the sets to slowly drift to the edges of the room.

The weekend began on Friday evening with a beginners’ workshop and enough people were there to make up a set. Basic steps were taught. Saturday morning started off with a warm-up with the Connemara. Chris taught us the Merchant Set, composed last summer by Pádraig McEneany while out walking his cocker spaniel. Pádraig named it after the O’Shea’s Merchant Pub in Dublin where he teaches regularly. Characteristic for this set is that the role of first tops is rotated through all of the couples in the set. Relatively simple, but very attractive in form, it was danced with pleasure by the participants of the workshop. More people arrived in time for the afternoon workshop which was devoted to the Clare Orange and Green Set. Here Chris reported that when she first arrived in Ireland twenty years ago that it was still danced regularly in ceilis. It was, however, slowly displaced by newer sets and now is only ever really danced in workshops, although people remember having enjoyed dancing it because of its variety. This is something that can be confirmed by the participants of the workshop. A smaller crowd was left for the Sunday morning workshop where another new composition, the Camp Set, was introduced.

Of course, spirits were high as the feet flew over the floor driven by the music of Ger Murphy and Ken Cotter at the ceilis on Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon. Not only did the music make some of us feel twenty years younger, simply because it made dancing so fun and easy, but it also spread good cheer by its incorporation of snippets of tunes such as Turkey in the Straw, or—highly appropriately for the location—a motif from the Wilhelm Tell Overture. So it is with great pleasure that we look forward to the sixteenth Aarburg Set Dance Weekend from 23 to 25 January 2015.

Anne Smith, Zurich, Switzerland

Newport dancers keep Achill RNLI afloat

Newport Hall in the town of Newport, Co Mayo, was the scene of a masterful display of two-hand and set dancing on February 23rd, led by the inimitable Mickey Kelly and his right-hand women, Maureen Halpin and Maureen Cunningham, in a very lively workshop. The minor inconvenience of a freshly broken arm was not enough to stop this tornado of a man from putting a sizeable crowd of dancers through their paces. The dances included The St Bernard Waltz, Breakaway Blues, Britannia Two-Step, some lively sets from Connemara and Derradda, and the Ballyvourney Jig Set.

A mouth-watering selection of home-baked delights was on offer at half-time, though Mickey wisely kept his dancers on full throttle by continually dangling the cup of tea “after one more dance!” As well as a great display of all the major dance styles, the crowd was also richly entertained by two young Newport girls, Shauna Moran and Eithne Kilroy, who played the fiddle and flute and also treated us to an elegantly executed sean nós dance.

The occasion was a fundraiser for the Achill RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution), and Tom Honeyman, Achill Lifeboat Operations Manager, was staggered by the magnificent amount of €1200 raised on the day, thanks to the generosity of the dancers and sponsors. Further donations have increased the total to €1315 to date—a fantastic effort. Organisers decked out the hall with a fabulous backdrop of banners, flags and bunting, not to mention completing the delicate job of dressing the lifeboat dummy, Archibald. The sheer energy and enthusiasm of all who attended made this a memorable occasion.

As a voluntary organisation the RNLI, the charity that saves lives at sea, relies solely on the generosity and support of the people it serves and this community ethic was very much in evidence from the good people of Newport and beyond on Sunday last.

Mary Gavin Hughes, Mulranny, Co Mayo

A week of high seas

For the first week of February (between the snows) we escaped to Miami, Florida, to join the fun on Joanie Madden’s Folk ’n’ Irish Cruise. Dockside check-in for around 4,200 passengers proceeded smoothly and we encountered familiar faces as the line snaked along toward the ship. After boarding we went to the registration desk to be greeted by the great lady herself. Joanie’s welcome truly set the tone for the week which was ‘fun and new friends.’ Reviewing our package, we were awed by the number and variety of things listed on our schedule. The Irish content makes this cruise significantly more expensive than a plain cruise, but you’re paying for a week’s worth of entertainment—close to twelve hours a day.

As we sailed away on Super Bowl Sunday, the game was presented on twenty-foot high video screens, but for us there was an assortment of Irish music options to introduce the performers for our group, including a concert with Joanie’s band Cherish the Ladies and an array of step dance stars. Later there was another concert outside by the pool with Guaranteed Irish. When the evening’s scheduled activities concluded the enjoyment continued into and through the small hours.

Our first full day at sea started with a set dancing workshop at noon with Pádraig and Róisín McEneany teaching the Merchant Set to live music in one of the main dining rooms. At least four different venues were used for various activities throughout the afternoon and evening. Those included lectures, instrument workshops, tunes, songs, a group dinner, and ceili which started at 11.15pm with the Epic Ceili Band, named after our ship, the Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) Epic. This band was composed of a revolving lineup drawn by Joanie from the bounty of talented musicians available.

Tuesday was a port day in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, but there was still music from 1 to 3pm, followed by a documentary movie. After leaving Jamaica, the evening entertainment included Ennis (a group from Newfoundland), an open air poolside ceili, a fabulous show from Sharon Shannon and Alan Connor, followed by a CD launch event by Tommy McCarthy and Louise Costello. The wealth of musicians meant additional performances overlapped some of these, so hard choices had to be made.

Wednesday was another sea day and it started with a ceili workshop (the Peeler and the Goat and a barn dance were taught) followed by a set dance workshop for the Kilfenora Plain Set. The last scheduled activity of the day was a ceili with Joanie and various musicians. In between there was a second Cherish the Ladies concert, two step dance workshops (Irish and Ottawa Valley), a tin whistle workshop, a session, and several performances in different locations around the ship.

Costa Maya, Mexico, was where we found ourselves on Thursday. On board, there were more movies and performances during the day. After dinner we went to hear Tommy Sands and discovered more of a multimedia presentation on the struggles and his reactions to it through song; I found it very effective at creating a context for his haunting songs. The highlight today was another Sharon Shannon and Alan Connor performance. Afterwards we moved downstairs to a round-robin sea shanty singalong and then on to the late ceili which featured many familiar faces—Joanie Madden, Sharon Shannon, Dylan Foley, and Josh Dukes to name a few. Great fun!

Our last stop, on Friday, was Cozumel and our ship docked right downtown. Window shopping ashore took us away from the ceili and step dance workshops, but once back on board we got cleaned up for Joanie’s cocktail party where the hors d’oeuvres and drinks were plentiful. Sharing impressions of the cruise was the order of the day. It was here that I told Joanie I thought the whole week had the feeling of a party she decided to throw for herself with a bunch of great Irish musicians and friends invited, and the rest of us were allowed to tag along and soak it all in. She seemed pleased with my characterization.

With Saturday as our last sea day, the meet and greet event was our one chance to purchase CDs and have photos taken with our favorite performers. By now, of course, many of us felt like old friends. Joanie had arranged another group dinner (this is important because NCL’s free-style cruising involves reservations or lines for restaurants other than the buffet) and she had blocked out a performance of the ship’s Blue Man Group show for her cruisers. The Irish cruise wrapped up with a farewell hooley which featured a final grouping of almost all the performers on board for one last tearful singalong.

Unloading Sunday morning seemed a little disorganized at times, but we were still away quickly and onto the airport shuttle. This week convinced us that the Joanie Madden Folk ’n’ Irish cruise is one for us. I think it will be even more appealing in 2015 since it will take place in May instead of February, utilize NCL’s Gem (2400 passengers) instead of the Epic (4200), and depart from New York City, which eliminates the need to fly to Florida.

Paul O’Donnell, Silver Spring, Maryland

Return to Tournai

The entente cordiale that has grown between the dancers of northern France, Belgium and England has been further strengthened over the past few months with groups of dancers taking Le Shuttle regularly to attend workshops and ceilis run by the Jims Filgate (senior and junior) in London and Slough, and by Carine Pliez in Tournai, Belgium, and Zaya ‘Maya’ Maalem in Lille, France.

We first encountered the large group of European dancers at the Return to Camden festival in London Irish Centre about three years ago, and we thought, “If they can come to us, the least we can do is return the trip,” and so Kevin Monaghan and I, along with our great friends Sue and Jim Crick, took a trip to snowy and cold Belgium to attend a workshop in the beautiful hall which was once the town’s fire station. You may remember the tale of the mislaid passports. This time, there were no mishaps on our part. We taught the Merchant, Rinkinstown and Glencree sets to an appreciative crowd of dancers from across mainland Europe and England, and we were delighted with the response.

We, along with other dancers from England, had previously been to Lille to dance with Maya and her group of dancers at local classes and workshops, and at a ceili with the Five Counties Ceili Band. Two years ago Kevin and I were asked to run a workshop in Tournai, which we thoroughly enjoyed, so running another workshop and ceili event there this year was something we were only too willing to do. The drive from home in Hampshire to Tournai is not too arduous, and there are usually local dancers who extend their hospitality and have visitors from England stay with them in their homes. The language barrier is easily overcome when there is the love of dance and the craic to bind relationships. My French language skills are still a little rusty, but this gives me more of an excuse to go again in the future; we call the sets in English, but I’m beginning to do some translation.

We extended the invitation to include more dancers from the UK, as we had found the previous trips so wonderfully uplifting, and so a group of about a dozen dancers from the south of England and London wended their way under the Channel on a weekend close to St Valentine’s Day, and had an exhilarating, funny, rewarding and thoroughly sociable weekend, binding us even closer to our continental neighbours, and maybe even sparking a little romance in some quarters. Watch this space . . .

We had passengers this time in the form of Mary and Brian Saunders, who were celebrating their ruby wedding anniversary and who seemed to thoroughly enjoy their weekend of being in the spotlight, being feted and presented with gifts from the dancers of Tournai, and staying with a local dancer in her beautiful riverside home. There was talk of relocation, but that may have been the local brew talking! The local beers really are delicious, and were well-sampled over the weekend, with the local youth hostel selling out of one variety during the Sunday afternoon after the very relaxed workshop, where the Glencree was taught and various other dances enjoyed by a small and enthusiastic group of locals. The Londoners had had rather a late night, sampling the local brews, but arrived to lend their bonhomie to the session and give their expert opinion on the beers!

The Filgates (Jim Senior and Jim Junior) work tirelessly in London, bringing bands from Ireland to play and promoting Irish music and culture. They sometimes fund the events from their own pockets for the benefit of dancers, such is their love of music, and they both appeared to love the weekend, despite Junior suffering from a serious case of man-flu. They were never short of partners, and were at the forefront of the applause for the local band on the Saturday night. The dancers from France and Belgium had been to dance with the Abbey Ceili Band in Haringey and Slough in January which was one of Jim Junior’s promotions and they will be enjoying the fruits of his hard work again in the near future when Neily O’Connor will be playing in Slough. It’s not an easy task being an organiser, and so all credit to the Filgates for providing us dancers with the opportunity to dance with top-notch bands at regular intervals. We appreciate your efforts!

The band which played at the ceili in Tournai deserves special mention here. They are all local musicians, some classically trained, and they call themselves Heritage Celtique d’Hainaut, and finer playing of traditional Irish music would be hard to find. The pace was excellent, and the tone and timbre pitched just right. The blast of reels played as a finale had the entire room hopping, jumping and whooping and stamping their feet such was the quality and variety of tunes played. Don’t be surprised if you ever hear of them playing on the northern side of the English Channel and if you get the chance, check them out. The four guys are all mad keen to play with other musicians and would love the opportunity to take part in a session or play for a ceili. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, as we have found out on our forays into the ‘unknown’ of Europe!

Everyone who attended the weekend commented on the buzz of it all and contributed in their own way to that special atmosphere. It was something somewhat intangible yet energising, all-pervading and exhilarating—a true feeling of an exchanging of ideas and above all, true friendship. The event will of course never again have the Je ne sais quoi of this time around, but it’s an event that deserves to grow and to be recognised as a destination of choice for set dancers. We’ll see you all there next year, hopefully.

Carol Gannon

20 years celebrated in Mulranny

Mulranny Park Hotel overlooking Clew Bay was the venue where set dancers from home and abroad gathered from March 7th to 9th to celebrate the twentieth anniversary set dancing weekend with Mickey Kelly and his club from Newport, Co Mayo.

Prior to the Friday night ceili, the Burrishoole Band entertained us with a session in the hotel lounge. The Annaly Ceili Band with their usual superb music got us off to a great start for what was to be a most enjoyable weekend. We danced the Cashel, Deradda, Moycullen, Sliabh Luachra, Antrim Square, Plain Set, Ballyvourney Jig, Connermara and a waltz.

During the ceili, tributes were paid to past workshop teachers who had been invited back for the celebration. They were introduced by co-MCs Mickey Kelly and Mary Gavin Hughes. Kieran Condron, Jim Barry and the present teacher Pat Murphy were marched into the hall, proceeded by the Mulranny and Tiernaur Pipe Band. There was an apology from Betty McCoy, also a former teacher, who couldn’t attend owing to the flu.

Saturday morning’s workshop was on the Turlough Set, a nice Co Mayo set. This was followed by the Templebeg Set. In the afternoon we had the Merchant Set and the Connemara Jig Set. At five o’clock we had Mass in the hotel ballroom. Father Declan Carroll celebrated this Mass and we had some beautiful choral singing and music.

At 7.30pm it was back to the hotel lounge for a session with the Amethyst Trio. At ten o’clock dancers gathered in the hotel ballroom for another night of magic set dancing with Matt Cunningham and his band. We danced the Kilfenora, Claddagh, Labasheeda, Newport, Rinkinstown, Boyne, Templebeg, Derradda, Connemara and a waltz. During the ceili teachers from previous workshop weekends were made presentations of some exquisite paintings. Then—surprise, surprise—Mary Gavin Hughes called all Mickey Kelly’s set dancers to the stage and there and then Mickey was presented with a charcoal portrait of himself in appreciation of his commitment to set dancing down through the years. Mickey suitably replied. Unfortunately he had his right hand in plaster due to a slight farm accident. However, this did not hinder him from taking the floor and being in his usual witty humour. We had a birthday girl and Maureen Halpin was presented with a delicious birthday cake. We all had a slice to taste when it was cut.

Sunday morning Pat Murphy was back for another workshop. This time we had the Lakyle Set from west Clare. To bring the morning workshop to a finish Cathy Scanlon taught some sean nos dancing.

Brian Ború Ceili Band were on stage for the Sunday afternoon ceili. They played some energizing music and the dancers danced the Corofin Plain, Rinkinstown, Templebeg, Clare Lancers, Ballyvourney Jig, Deradda, Antrim Square, Plain, Newport, Connemara and a waltz. Another presentation was made to Mickey. This time it was from Mulranny Park Hotel in recognition for bringing such a wonderful traditional set dancing weekend to Mulranny.

All through the weekend we were served teas and coffees and delicious homemade scones topped with jam and cream.

The twentieth anniversary celebrations came to a close with a gala concert with music, song, dance, recitations and a pageant. John J Chambers, Pat Moran, T P Lynn, Rose Nixon, Peter Masterson and Mary Teresa Geraghty opened the show. Marty Murray from Ballycroy had his group of musicians and dancers, the youngest dancer just three years old.

Neil O’Donnell recited his party piece. Caroline O’Malley from Newport had her Scór na bPáistí (a competition for primary school students) winners and they danced the Kildownet Half-Set. Caroline also had a pageant entitled Burrishoole Football Pageant, in which the children played a football match through music.

Other entertainers were Grace Kelly (song), John Joe Geraghty (recitation and sean nós) and Pat Moran on flute. Then it was the turn of Burrishoole GAA Club to thank Mickey for his commitment and again he was presented with a crystal bowl. Mary Gavin Hughes was an outstanding MC for the night. She thanked everybody and announced that all would be back in Mulranny Park Hotel for Newport workshop weekend on 6–8 March 2015.

Everybody retired to the hotel lounge and was entertained by the Amethyst Band. Songs were sung, dances danced and stories told with refreshments served until the wee hours of the morning.

Pat and Maura Lyons

Dancing with Parkinson’s in Bristol

It all began over a year ago when a friend sent me an article about the benefits of set dancing for people with Parkinson’s disease. The article outlined the findings of research undertaken by neurologist Daniele Volpe and colleagues in Italy. Dr Volpe is a musician who loves Irish music. He was in Feakle playing in a session one evening when he noticed a man come in to the pub who clearly had Parkinson’s disease. The man started to dance in a set and Dr Volpe was very struck with the fact that his movement seemed much more fluid while he was dancing. On his return to Venice he looked for a set dancing group and was lucky enough to find the Black Sheep group in Venice. He then went on to conduct research with two groups of people with Parkinson’s—one group had standard physiotherapy, and the other started set dancing. The first stage findings seem to suggest that set dancing is good for mobility, gait and balance. The research is now in its second stage and involves both Melbourne and Limerick universities.

The reason why this article struck a chord with me is that I was diagnosed in 2011 with Parkinson’s disease. I’ve been a set dancer for about eighteen years in Bristol, England, and a step dancer as a child.

Parkinson’s is an incurable and progressive brain disease and the cause of it is still unknown. It’s main symptoms are tremor, muscular rigidity and slowness of movement. It may include problems with balance and difficulties with communication, including speech, facial expression and handwriting. There are also non-motor symptoms such as sleep difficulties, depression, anxiety, memory problems and difficulty controlling saliva. No one can tell you which of these symptoms you will get or how quickly the disease will progress. The only guarantee is that it will progress.

It has been devastating for me to be diagnosed with Parkinson’s and for my family too. But that is another story. Almost three years after diagnosis I wouldn’t claim to have got my head around this at all, but on receiving the article about the benefits of set dancing for people with Parkinson’s, it seemed to me that I was uniquely placed to join these two things up and do something useful.

Our local set dancing group meets at St Bonaventure’s Parish Club in Bristol and all of the dancers there were aware of my diagnosis. I decided to organise a get-together with the dancers to talk about the research and see where we could go from there. I was very touched that some 25 dancers turned up at my house for this get-together, and were interested both in understanding a bit more about Parkinson’s and in taking part in an event with the local Parkinson’s group.

And it took off from there. In June of 2013 I organised an evening with the Parkinson’s Young Onset Group, which went really well. At the end of the evening it was clear that there was an appetite to take this further. A group of us then went on to attend the conference in Feakle, Co Clare, in August last year where Daniele Volpe talked about his research findings and presented his dancers. We came away even more inspired to set up a class in Bristol, and that is what we have done.

In October 2013 we started a series of ten workshops which ran up until Christmas and we are now into our second term. The local Parkinson’s UK committee agreed to fund the hiring of the hall, which is great, and all the dancers and teachers participate on a voluntary basis.

At first I was anxious about people’s safety and mindful that Dr Volpe’s group were carefully selected, but we took a different approach. We left people to self-select in the belief that people know themselves what their limitations are. I never planned for our classes to be the subject of research. All I wanted to do was to share the joy of set dancing with people with Parkinson’s, and hope that they would benefit physically as well.

Each week we make sure each person with Parkinson’s has an experienced set dancer as a partner. At the beginning of each workshop we emphasize the importance of people taking breaks whenever they need to, letting us know if they are having difficulties, and going at their own pace. We play music at a much slower speed than usual. Each time we start with warm-up steps (both reel and polka) and move on to the sets. So far, we have done the Connemara, and parts of the Black Valley Jig Set, Cashel Set and Plain Set.

Each week we have a plan for the class, but we know that we have to play it by ear in terms of people’s ability and energy levels, and adjust accordingly. We stay true to the sets as far as we can, and the only real alteration we make is to replace house around by lead around as the change of direction in the house is a problem for some people. Each week we send an email to everybody asking for feedback so that we can improve the class on a weekly basis.

We finished our first term with a Christmas party with live music provided free of charge by local musicians, the Polka Pests. We also had some poetry, music and songs which helped to make it a great night.

In terms of numbers, we have had a total of sixteen people with Parkinson’s and most of these come along with their partners. Numbers vary over the weeks as some people have been poorly and a few decided it was more than they were able to do but we have always had at least two sets.

Over the Christmas period I did a mini-review by email, partly because I needed to provide feedback to the Parkinson’s committee and partly because we needed to know whether people wanted to carry on for another term. Responses were all really positive. Here are some of the comments:

“We not only learned the beginnings of Irish set dancing but it’s been very enjoyable social evenings. We’re very grateful to the dancers for their support.”

“Very well structured, in that instruction was good and your support dancers helping us was excellent. I find the dancing was good exercise.”

“We have enjoyed the experience and the friendship extended to us by your dancers. It helps mobility problems and balance issues, together with the fact that it is a form of exercise.”

“Just the right level and progressing nicely. Really good atmosphere.”

“Thank you for making us so welcome.”

“We had a really good time. Please thank all the dancers for their time and good humour.”

“Thank you so much for putting on these classes. We appreciate the effort all the dancers put in for us.”

“Another splendid evening. I can’t wait for next Wednesday.”

“The Irish set dancers were very friendly. What a terrific bunch.”

The only concern that people with Parkinson’s raised in the feedback was concern about the dancers getting bored dancing at the slower pace! However what I have heard from the dancers again and again is that they too are enjoying these classes. Many set dancers feel that set dancing has added so much to their lives that they are glad to give something back to other people.

At the Feakle conference there were lots of set dancing teachers interested in setting up classes for people with Parkinson’s and we would be interested to hear how other groups have progressed and to share ideas. We don’t claim that this is the only or best way to run a class, but we do know that people have enjoyed it and want to come back for more. Look at the photos, they speak for themselves. All this has been possible because the set dancers at St Bonaventure’s have been fantastic from start to finish in supporting these classes.

A huge thank you to all of the set dancers, and specifically Sharon Carr, Val Knight and Roger for their great teaching, Mick Carr for his photography and technical support, and everyone who helped with the teas and coffees. A special thanks goes to Sharon without whose help this wouldn’t have got written as she’s typing it out while I speak! Without all of you I could never have got this off the ground.

Geraldine Teggart, Bristol, England

Still reeling from the Blast

Imagine flying into a modern city with old roots. As you wander about town you might find a car that’s been turned into a planter, is covered with grasses and has a tree growing out the back. You’ll see a variety of interesting architectural styles, parks and monuments and, depending on the day of the week, may see hundreds of people riding their bicycles through downtown. Depending on who you travel with, you may also find yourself in one or two, or perhaps three or four, knitting shops.

When you aren’t doing those things, imagine that you’re leaping and spinning and battering away the afternoons and evenings and nights to first-class music, with a friendly group of people .

Even better, don’t imagine that. Head out to Toronto for the next Reel Blast weekend and experience it first-hand.

We (Susan, my much better half and I) have attended two weekends so far, in 2009 and 2013 and have greatly enjoyed both.

Having only been to Toronto once before for the 2009 weekend, in June 2013 we were looking forward to seeing dance friends that we only get to be with on weekends such as this and going to local sites we missed the first time around. We were also looking forward to the Blast because Pat Murphy was the guest teacher this year and as always, it was a pleasure to spend the weekend in his presence.

As with many workshop weekends, things began with the Friday welcome ceili at the church hall which consisted of four hours of music with a live band and dances including the Plain, Lancers, Moycullen and Antrim Square sets, just to name a few. The hall was full and the music and company were good. After four hours of dancing we felt as though we’d been in a sauna. It was cool and humid outside but very warm and humid inside. All that dancing, don’t you know! We were asked several times during the weekend, “Aren’t you used to this kind of heat?” Yes, but we have air conditioning in Texas!

Saturday began with Pat Murphy teaching the Coomhola Set (7 figures!) before moving on to the Foilmore and Rinkinstown sets. In typical Pat Murphy fashion he kept things moving smoothly, only stopping to provide feedback when we clearly needed it.

In between the workshop sessions and ceili we raced around town, through various knitting stores (Susan is a yarn fiend) and stopped for dinner at Southern Accent, which I recommend for their boudin. If you don’t know what that is, the best I can say is that if you like haggis or black pudding, you’re likely to like boudin. If you don’t like either of those, give it a shot anyway if you like slightly spicy food. Oh, and chicken livers. I know some of you have recoiled in horror and probably exclaimed, “I’m not reading any more,” but truly, they were excellent. Like mother used to make. Well, mine anyway. And besides, I needed fortification for the dancing to come.

By 8pm it was time to dance again! Unfortunately the dancing, running around and dinner had taken its toll and we were still napping back at our B&B, the Rose Garden. Fun exercise and good food will do that to you.

We made it to the church hall by 10pm to join the ceili in progress and were able to jump into the Clare Mazurka before moving on to the Ballyvourney Jig, Rinkinstown (with Pat calling), Antrim Square and Connemara.

I also received some tips during the ceili on ways to improve my photography technique—thanks Reg! Did I mention these were friendly people?

Things ended about midnight and since it was late and was raining lightly many people quickly headed home to rest up for the next day of dancing.

Susan and I weren’t quite ready for bed yet so we headed off to Mayday Malone’s pub for a nightcap. Where we discovered that they were going to be hosting karaoke a little later. Which we normally avoid like the plague. This time we decided to stay anyway and as we expected, it was fairly normal karaoke. A few people that could carry a tune, though some needed a small bucket. The few that needed a larger bucket made up for it with volume and lyrical creativity. Fairly standard. The beer and food were good though and by the end of things we were ready for the walk back to our B&B and a little more rest to prepare for more dancing!

Sunday breakfast of fruit, eggs and sausage fortified us for the walk over to Casa Loma castle and gardens and some picture taking in the rain before heading back to the hall and the first workshop of the day.

Pat started out with two-hands including St Bernard’s Waltz, Back to Back Hornpipe, Peeler and the Goat and Pride of Erin Waltz. We’ve taught several of these locally based on Pat’s two-hand DVD but it’s always fun to dance them again with a big group. The second half of the workshop we worked on the Labasheeda Reel Set.

The farewell ceili began immediately after the workshop where we once again danced some old favorites and Pat called us through the dances he’d taught in the workshop sessions.

It was a fun, hot weekend and we’re looking forward to the next Reel Blast we can attend. Hopefully we’ll be able bring some local dancing friends with us next time to share the fun with.

While there won’t be a Blast weekend in 2014 keep your eye on Set Dancing News or for news on the next one.

Michael Harrison, Plano, Texas

Hospitality made the trip worthwhile

Letters and emails

Dear Bill,

On behalf of all of us in Omagh Traditional Dancing Club, I would like to thank all those (including yourself) who attended our annual weekend in Dún Uladh, Omagh, Co Tyrone, 31 January–2 February, whether from nearby or further away. We would not wish to leave anyone out, but a special thanks to the Scottish ‘trolley dollies’ visiting from Glasgow, and to the folk from Manchester and Northumberland who have to make an extra effort to get to us. We hope the dancing and the hospitality made the trip worthwhile.

A special word of thanks to Marian Doody, who was helped by Patricia Kerr and Margaret to teach a lovely traditional hornpipe, and to Pat Murphy who willingly took on an extra workshop and calling due to my voice ‘problem’.

Looking ahead to 2015 we will be celebrating the 25th anniversary of the formation of the club and at this early stage we would like to invite everyone who has ever attended over these years to return to us (as well as newcomers) to make it a special one—the dates are January 30th to February 1st 2015.

In the meantime we look forward to our annual Easter Monday ceili.


Marie Garrity, Chairperson

Thoroughly enjoyed

The West Limerick Set Dancing Club 22nd annual workshop weekend on February 7th to 10th at the Devon Inn, Templeglantine, Co Limerick, was again a great success.

Thanks to Maureen Culleton’s lovely, easygoing and delightful way with all participants at her workshop. She introduced a few new sets, Templebeg and Pheasants Corner, plus a variety of two-hand dances that we had not danced before but thoroughly enjoyed—thanks, Maureen.

The weekend kicked off at the Friday night ceili with the Johnny Reidy Ceili Band at their usual brilliant best. Saturday night, dancers enjoyed Striolán Ceili Band at their best, and the sets included the new Merchant and Templebeg sets and a special Connemara dedicated to the memory of the late Kathleen Roche, one of our regulars over the years whose first anniversary was at this time.

Donie Nolan’s Taylors Cross Ceili Band played outstanding music for our final ceili on Sunday afternoon, and as usual included a song in his own delightful tones—this was warmly received by all.


Con Egan, Co Limerick

A day to remember

Hi Bill,

We celebrated our fortieth wedding anniversary in February. We were lucky enough to attend a set dancing event on the day in question in Tournai, Belgium. The local dancers were very kind to us and presented us with baskets of Belgian specialities and beer. It was a lovely weekend of dancing and our Belgian friends really made our anniversary a day to remember.

What made it more special was the presence of a number of dancing friends from England. Thanks must go to Kevin and Carol Monaghan, who ran the workshops and kindly drove us to Tournai. We would also like to thank our Belgian friends, particularly Lidwine Bridou, Noella, and Carine Pliez, for making us so welcome, looking after us and presenting the gifts.

In addition we were overwhelmed with the kind messages and cards from our dancing friends around the world. Thank you everyone.


Brian and Mary Saunders, Pewsey, Wiltshire, England

Con Egan, Co Limerick

Our first time in Erlangen

Dear Bill,

Just a few words we’re writing you because our English could be a little bit dangerouse!

But we wish to describe our first time in Erlangen using only one word—super!

We wish to thank the Forstner family for the great organisation and the welcome in every situation. Once again the Abbey Ceili Band have shown what they can do with instruments in their hands and wigs on their heads!

Then a huge thank you to Pat Murphy, who is able to make even a stone dance! With him we danced 31 different sets. He led the whole weekend perfectly. Fantastic!

Again, thanks to all to have shared a beautiful weekend together.

Claudio and Christina Cavallini, Ida and Narciso Mazzotti, Bologna, Italy

Two great photos

Hi Bill,

I hope this mail finds you well and all is good with you. I couldn’t resist sending on these two great photos above.

The first is Davy Fitzgerald, Clare hurling manager. He was honoured as Clare person of the year by the Clare Association of Dublin, and the Brian Ború Ceili Band had the great honour of playing for the function at the Clyde Hotel in Ballsbridge in January.

The second is my oldest son Seán Lannon, Set Dancing News’s youngest fan. He loves reading all your fab articles. He’s twenty months old!

All the best, ádh mór,

Theresa Lannon, Brian Ború Ceili Band, Dublin

Calling—a matter of respect

Dear Bill,

Four years ago, a friend took me set dancing and I got infected instantly. To me, Irish set dancing is a unique way of dance communication, which offers joy and community far beyond any couple dancing. Young and old, experienced or not, everybody can join it—at least I thought so. Then I danced at a set dancing festival where they were trying to avoid calling the sets.

I felt it was a bad experience, as it barred inexperienced dancers from those who are able to dance a whole set without calling, or at least pretend to do so. For me, this approach not only disregards the fact that everybody was once a beginner, but also violates the idea of set dancing, which is integration and non-discrimination. Pat Murphy wrote his books to bring people together all over the world. Before, a few people danced a few sets in their own regions, but now a lot of people all over the world can dance a lot of sets—if they are called.

I heard that some feel that calling “interrupts the music,” but the music has the same speed with or without it. Anyway, calling does not discriminate against anyone, but not calling does and puts a lot of stress on everybody. The tops have to do the job of the caller, though they would like to just enjoy dancing, while the inexperienced who want to dance do not get the support they need.

Without calling, experienced dancers form their own sets, always the same dancers together, and the inexperienced try to find their way helplessly—and stay away out of frustration.

So at least ceilis without calling should be announced as such, so everyone can decide whether or not to go there in advance. All the members of my group and I would not.

So let’s call and enjoy, let’s communicate and integrate. This is the only way to bring new people to Irish set dancing. The experienced should be happy about getting new dancing partners, and so am I. If not, a lot of groups have already vanished as the members got too old.

Rainer Sauer, Appenheim, Germany

A huge thank-you

Dear Bill,

The Johnny Reidy Weekend in Birmingham, February 28th–March 2nd, went off with a bang again. The music and atmosphere were electric, thanks JRCB! Thanks to Ger Butler for a fabulous workshop and his new Corbella Set. We had approximately 32 visitors from Ireland this year, and they thoroughly enjoyed the weekend and I’m sure will be returning next year, as well as dancers from all parts of the UK. A massive thank-you to Pat and Betty Quinn who worked relentlessly over the weekend. Thanks to George Hook for the sound system, professional as always. Thanks also to Linda Reavey and all the helpers in Birmingham—you really are amazing. Without you all I’d never be able to run such a successful weekend.

Kate Howes, Solihull, England

The generosity of the people

Dear Bill,

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all who supported the charity ceili in St Oliver’s Parish Centre, Clonmel, Co Tipperary, on February 2nd for the Niall Mellon Township Trust. I would like to give a big thank-you to Maura, Joan and Helen, who organized this event, and to Mary and Eileen, who called out sets.

Thanks to Mick Mackey, who gave his sound system and CD Music, and to all who supplied the delicious home-baked goodies. A total of €960 was raised for the charity which was founded by Niall Mellon and to date has housed 10,000 people, who prior to that had lived in poverty beyond belief.

This is my third time going to Capetown, South Africa, with the charity and I can guarantee that all monies raised go toward the building and extending houses, medical centres and schools, and that’s thanks to the many volunteers who work for the charity and the generosity of the people who support them.

Continued success with your wonderful magazine.

Yours sincerely,

Marian Landers, Clonmel, Co Tipperary

The very big surprise

Dear Bill,

I would like to say a big thank-you to my Drumaness, Co Down, set dancing family for the very big surprise eightieth birthday party they gave me, particularly our teacher Kathleen Smyth who arranged it all along with my good friend Mary Rice who supplied the special hat, also Poppy and John Kerr who wrote a very flattering song and rehearsed the dancers to sing it.

I have been a subscriber to Set Dancing News since 1998 and arranged a minibus of dancers from Newcastle, Co Down, to Dublin to join coaches going to Fleadh España in Lloret de Mar, Costa Brava, in 1999, which we all thoroughly enjoyed despite the long overnight coach journey.

Roll on the next eighty years dancing.

Kathleen McGonigle, Drumaness, Co Down

Kathleen’s Birthday Song

At eight o’clock in Drumaness the dancers all arrive
But it’s not until our Kathleen’s there that the whole place comes alive!
Her smile warms us on a winter’s night, her eyes light up the hall,
From the music starts, till she goes home we know she’ll give her all.

For she’ll house and swing and chain all night, she can square and she can slide
To the jig or reel or hornpipe, or whatever music’s played.
She can dance at home or do the ducks, Kerry body with the best.
She’s our Katie, little lady and we love her.

She doesn’t sit, she’d rather dance while the music plays.
If a hand goes up, she’s in the set with a big smile on her face.
She is happy dancing tops or sides, as the woman or the man,
And her nifty feet move round the floor as quickly as they can.


We always miss her when she’s gone on a trip or holiday,
For she travels here and travels there, quite often is away.
Our Monday nights are not the same, I’m sure you all agree,
For Kathleen is the shining light in our dancing family.


Liam Hill

The death took place on October 30th, 2013, of Liam Hill, Castleknock, Dublin 15.

Liam had been ill for a very short time and he bore his illness with characteristic dignity. He was a tvery caring and friendly person and highly respected in his local area and workplace. Liam was also a great lover of traditional music, heritage and culture.

Liam’s untimely death is a massive loss to his family. He was predeceased fourteen years ago by his lovely wife, Trish, a gentle, kind and fantastic wife, mother and friend. Liam leaves behind his three proud sons, Peter, Michael and Derek. He will be sorely missed by his boys, his extended family and his large circle of friends.

Liam had a huge passion for the set dancing scene and would regularly be spotted in the Merchant on a Monday night.

Many thanks,

Noreen Morris, Clonsilla, Dublin

Mary McDonald

There was widespread sadness among dancers in Cavan, Monaghan and further afield, when we learned of the death of Mary McDonald (née Myles) from Barraghy, Cootehill, Co Cavan, on 30th August, 2013.

Mary’s love of dancing extended to social, fíor céilí, barn dances and set dancing. She and her late husband Thommie won many dance competitions in Blackpool’s Tower Ballroom before returning to their native Cavan.

Mary never missed a dancing event whether in Donagh, Ballyhugh, Teach Jack in Donegal, Omagh, Drumshambo and locally in Latton and Maudabawn. She always had a smile and chat for everyone.

Mary was a woman of great faith and looked forward to her yearly trips to Lourdes and Medjugorje. She was also a lifelong member of the Pioneer Association and wore her gold pin with pride.

She will be sorely missed by all her dancing friends but even more so by her sons, Gerard, Tom, Eugene and Paul, their families and her beloved grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Ar dheis De go raibh a hanam uasal,

Geraldine Carragher, Maudabawn, Co Cavan

Articles continue in Old News Volume 84.

There's more to read in the collections of old news and reviews, volumes 11997-1998, 2, 31998-1999, 41999, 51999-2000, 6, 72000, 8, 9, 102001, 112001-2002, 12, 13, 14, 152002, 162002-2003, 17, 18, 192003, 202003-2004, 21, 22, 23, 24, 252004, 262004-2005, 27, 28, 29, 30, 312005, 322005-2006, 33, 34, 35, 36, 372006, 38, 392006-2007, 40, 41, 42, 432007, 442007-2008, 442007-2008, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 502008, 512008-2009, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 572009, 582009-2010, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 652010, 662010–2011, 67, 68, 69, 70, 712011, 722011–2012, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 782012, 792012-2013, 80, 81, 82, 832013, 842013-2014 (Index).

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Bill Lynch   Set Dancing News, Kilfenora, Co Clare, Ireland
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