There's more to read in the collections of old news and reviews, volumes 1—1997-1998, 2, 3—1998-1999, 4—1999, 5—1999-2000, 6, 7—2000, 8, 9, 10—2001, 11—2001-2002, 12, 13, 14, 15—2002, 16—2002-2003, 17, 18, 19—2003, 20—2003-2004, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25—2004, 26—2004-2005, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31—2005, 32—2005-2006, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37—2006, 38, 39—2006-2007, 40, 41, 42, 43—2007, 44—2007-2008, 44—2007-2008, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50—2008, 51—2008-2009, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57—2009, 58—2009-2010, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65—2010, 66—2010–2011, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71—2011, 72—2011–2012, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78—2012, 79—2012-2013, 80, 81, 82, 83—2013, 84—2013-2014 (Index).
More people attended the Willie Clancy Summer School this year than ever before, with over 1,000 musicians and dancers registering for classes taught by around 200 teachers. Around 400 dancers attended classes in nine different workshops during the week. Hundreds more danced to the superb music of 11 ceili bands in 26 ceilis.
After the official opening on Saturday night the Kilfenora Ceili Band started off the dancing at the Mill Theatre with a lively and enjoyable ceili with a mixture of sets, waltzes and two-hand dances.
The Mill is a huge empty factory which is converted to a dance hall for the week. It was much improved this year over last by placing the musicians' stage at the side rather than at the far distant end of the room. This brought all dancers nearer the music and there was still plenty of room even on the busiest nights.
The black curtains used to section off the Mill together with the bright fluorescent lighting revealed an interesting phenomenon. After a vigorous set, steam could be seen rising from the heads of sweaty men with no more than a thin covering of hair on their heads, but only if viewed against the black curtains.
The Four Courts Ceili Band was very busy during the week and played at a memorable ceili on Monday in the Mill. They're five excellent musicians with a full, smooth sound which is very traditional and perfect for set dancing. Joe Rynne on fiddle sounds like a whole string section himself and announces the sets with good humour. Martin Garrihy on drums has the remarkable ability to beat out a rhythm which perfectly matches the steps of the dancers, for all the movements of any set.
Mick Mulkerrin took the floor briefly that night for an informal launch of his new video, Steps for Sets. Some of the participants in the video were present, including the Four Courts, and he thanked them for their support and encouragement. There were a few sean nós steps from Mick when he was joined by Jimmy Noctor on the box in the centre of the Mill's huge floor. Mick danced to a tune called Trip to Kilfenora, which Jimmy composed after his wedding reception there a couple years ago. Then Mick danced with Mairead Casey, his partner on the video, to illustrate how we could all be dancing if we follow the expert instruction on the video and practice religiously.
Many excellent bands performed at dozens of ceilis during the summer school, but the clear favourite of the week was the Tulla Ceili Band. They performed at two unforgettable ceilis, one at the Quilty Tavern on Tuesday night and again at the Mill on Thursday.
The hall in Quilty had recently been converted into a nightclub, complete with a lurid paint job and a narrow bar which almost completely penned in the floor. Dancers had to queue in single file to enter and leave. When the Tulla Band was playing the floor was filled for every dance and many stayed in place all night, unwilling to miss a single dance to this brilliant music, but also finding it too much trouble to return to their seats. Many non-dancing fans of the band and its guest fiddler, Martin Hayes, also filled the hall.
Dancers go into raptures describing the music of the Tulla Ceili Band, which has such a distinctively powerful lift that the music swings and almost sounds like jazz. Every set was bliss and every couple felt like Nureyev and Fontaine. With music like that you couldn't help having a great dance, even if you were partner to a sack of potatoes.
The Tulla Band filled the Mill Theatre on Thursday night, but the huge space made for more comfortable dancing. There was a special moment in the middle of the evening when James Keane, the dance teacher from Labasheeda, Co Clare, who is in his eighties, danced a few sean nós steps. James has passed on his knowledge of the sets and solo step dances to many dancers at the summer school over the years. On this night he supported himself with the aid of two trestles, leaving his feet free to dance the lively steps as beautifully as ever.
Away from the hustle and bustle of the big ceilis elsewhere in town, Larry Lynch hosted a couple of small 'specialist' ceilis in the Bellbridge Hotel, Spanish Point. Thursday night's was dedicated to Clare sets with local musicians, and on Friday, Johnny O'Leary on box and Denis MacMahon on fiddle played for an evening of Cork and Kerry sets. Polka sets are a rare commodity at most ceilis and Larry's dance on Friday night made for a refreshing change from the rest of the week. To the naked eye the musicians and their music seemed quite relaxed, but it was a clever deception - this was probably the fastest dancing of the week. That's how they like it down in Sliabh Luachra, and the six or seven sets dancing in the Bellbridge strongly approved.
The Kilfenora Ceili Band returned on the final Saturday night to the biggest crowd of the week in the Mill. They'd arrived straight from Shannon with little time to spare after a delayed flight from London, but if they were tired, it couldn't be heard in the music.
In a noticeable change from previous years, the calling at all the ceilis was commendably restrained. The callers kept a watchful eye over the dancing and spoke up only if necessary. Dancers were left with just the music to help them for most dances, with an occasional reminder between figures, encouraging them to talk to their neighbors in the set. Eight eight dancing workshops were scheduled this year, the most popular of which was probably Aidan Vaughan's and Mick Mulkerrin's, specialising in battering steps. So many students showed up for Celine Tubridy's and James Keane's traditional step dancing class that the group was split into two classes for the week.
The rival set dancing festival held at the same time in the Armada Hotel, Spanish Point, a couple miles from Miltown, continued very strongly with good attendance in the afternoons and filled to capacity every night. Many of the same bands seen in the Mill and Quilty played the Armada as well, but one band which played there exclusively received many favourable comments. The Abbey Ceili Band from Cork were a hit this year and have already been booked again for next year.
Despite the good attendance, the cost of running the Willie Clancy Summer School is of great concern for its organisers, according to local press reports. Before plans are advanced for next year, the summer school's financial position must be consolidated and additional 'cushion funding' obtained. All of us who attend, support and strongly believe in the Willie Clancy Summer School wish them every success.
Pictures from Miltown are in Photo album 15 and Photo album 16.
They come here from every corner,
Fill the halls, the pubs, the square.
Music makers, singers, dancers,
Mingling freely here and there.
By bus, bike or Merc (!) they all arrive
Soon music pours from each bar and tent
And the locals have a welcome
That's both wide and warmly meant.
All age groups are made welcome
One common language is what you get,
Watch the boundaries of Europe
Merge and move in a Sligo set.
Flute or fiddle, feet or feadóg
Bodhrán or banjo, poem or song;
Melodeon meets mandolin,
Pipes and harp join in the throng.
Share the tune, enhance the story,
Feel the pulse and lilt along
Tap your toes or clap the players,
For one week, yes, life's a song!
Tradition thrives when it is nurtured
By living people, not in the past,
Hear it, see it, feel it play it
Then it prospers and will last.
Summer slips away so quickly,
Soon each of us will drift away,
Bottle some of Tubber's magic
It will gladden many a day.
Let the melody linger in you,
May the steps lift up your heart;
Share what you learned in Tubber
With others, near or far apart.
Much I have gained from Tubbercurry,
Those happy hours are with me now
One small place alive with culture
Can now proudly take a bow.
Kay O'Rourke, Co Kildare
See Photo album 17 for pictures from Tubbercurry.
Sponge grey sky squeezes drizzle
Bright blue patches reflect glare
from diamond dark waves
Eyes squint at unaccustomed brightness
Images of tightly sprung steel curls,
feel of silk and nape curling hair
fade between the memory photo of sky and sea scape
Fields of pistachio coloured grass
topped with fluffy clotted cream of meadowsweet
fill human lungs with scented air
Green eyes float Dali-like
among the grass stems and flower heads
Music showers through the pores
between the spaces of the brain
and down the spine
Leather soles skim satin golden wood
while bodies press and undulate
Fingers touch and spark response
driven by massed fiddles keeping pace
Eyes smile a promise
but words are swallowed whole
in the smooth rhythm depth of reels
Pleasure unalloyed is repeated
and repeated by the partners
on the yielding sensuous bed of the dance
Hugs and kisses tiredly exchanged
before expiation in the dark and starry night
Seaweed scents drift in the water saturated air
Limp limbs retire to cosy mattresses
to rise again and dance another reel another day.
Diana Jewitt, London
After spending two weeks of nonstop dancing in Miltown Malbay and Tubbercurry, we ended up exhausted. Now we are back home wishing we were back there. One of our friends has already booked a B&B for Malahide and Miltown Malbay, 1999.
Both Miltown Malbay and Tubbercurry were great. The choice of workshops and ceilis in Miltown is getting more difficult each year. We went to Aidan Vaughan and Mick Mulkerrin for part of it, and Betty McCoy and Johnny Morrissey for another part. Had we known about Timmy McCarthy's workshop with the Brooks Academy we might have stopped in there, too.
It's always a great pleasure to take a workshop with Aidan Vaughan. He has unlimited patience and doesn't mind going over the steps again and again. He is also very willing to take you on the side and help you work out a step. Both he and Mick showed us some new steps, and it was very helpful to have Mairéad Casey demonstrate the footwork for the women.
The best kept secret of the week was Betty McCoy and Johnny Morrisey's class. It's a shame they were moved around so many times that people could not find them. We had a real fun time. Johnny's teaching style is such a lot of fun, and he and Betty had us laughing as much as dancing. You couldn't help but remember how Connie Ryan used to say that dancing is about enjoyment. As an added bonus, we had a surprise visit from Paddy Neylon who not only danced with us but gave us an impromptu class on the reel step. We really enjoyed this class, and we made new friends that we hope to see again.
Selecting a ceili to go to in Miltown was not easy; the choices were all too good. We spent most of our time at the Mill which was large and spacious and made you think there was lots of fresh air. The sound was much improved from last year, which made Michael Sexton, the Tulla, the Kilfenora, and the Templehouse sound wonderful. At first, we were worried because the floor was not evenly varnished and not smooth. But after a few ceilis, the varnish disappeared and the floor was fine. We did go out to Quilty for the Tulla. The music was so good it lifted you off the floor. One of the great things about the ceilis at Miltown is that you are surrounded by great dancers. You don't know who to watch first.
Tubbercurry is a nice contrast to Miltown. It is less frantic and crowded, and there is more time to socialize and listen to the great sessions in the pubs. This is the chance to talk to all those people you saw in Miltown but couldn't find time to talk to. The ceilis are excellent with great bands. There is only one ceili a night which has the advantage of keeping everyone together, and the excitement and enthusiasm is much more intense. There is no better band to dance the Connemara Set to than P J Hernon. He really puts his heart into it, and it shows in the dancing.
One of the nice things about Tubbercurry is that the sets you learn in class are danced at the ceilis. Padraig McEneaney is an excellent teacher, very clear and precise. He does a great job of teaching from the stage where he can easily demonstrate what he is teaching. We enjoyed his classes very much, especially the South Sligo Set, which we danced in class and at the ceili with no casualties. And Betty McCoy as usual was everywhere: organizing the sets, chatting with all of us, always available to answer questions or make a joke or both. For a special treat, the school invited Aidan Vaughan to do a workshop on Saturday morning on the Clare battering step. It is not often that one gets to see Aidan in action, and we enjoyed it very much.
We are looking forward to Patrick O'Dea's visit to NY in August, and Padraig McEneaney will be coming over for the Cape May weekend as well as a weekend in the Catskills in October. Then we just have to hang on until Malahide.
Steve Casey and Donna Bauer, 21 August 1998
A Belfast group called the O'Aces have recently released a new disk containing music for the Ballyvourney Jig, Connemara, Derradda, Fermanagh, Newport sets. The musicians are Kevin Dorris, bouzouki, Martin Dowling, fiddle, Paul McSherry, guitar, Davy Maguire, flute, and Jason O'Rourke, concertina, all of whom have played regularly at set dance ceilis for years.
You can buy the CD from Jason O'Rourke for £13 (Europe), .80 (US) and .50 (Canada) including postage .
A new book, The Tulla Ceili Band, 1946-1997 by Chris Keane, gives a very full history of the one of the best, most popular and longest lasting ceili bands in Ireland. It looks back at the band decade by decade and includes a complete list of the band's members over the years. Some of the players are featured in separate articles, such as PJ Hayes, Sean Reid and Paddy Canny. The author has researched all tours and recording sessions with the band and has produced a discography of all their recordings. The book is illustrated with photographs and old advertisements for the band.
The band were present at the launch of the book in Feakle, Co Clare, on 24 July and provided music for dancing until the wee hours. The book has been published by the author and is available in hardback for £15 including postage. Contact Chris to obtain a copy.
For the first time in the history of Irish dancing, a new book has published traditional step dances in a printed form. These dances have been passed on orally for hundreds of years with no record of them ever having been written down. Michael Tubridy has devised a system for notating step dances and has transcribed nine of them in his book, A Selection of Irish Traditional Step Dances, published by Brooks Academy.
Michael's symbolic transcription of the dances is based on music notation. It specifies where the feet are for every beat of the music, whether on the floor or above it, in front or behind. Together with this notation he uses words to describe every step, just as is done by dancing teachers. He includes a glossary of these words with clear explanations of the actions they represent.
The nine dances in the book come from the repertoire of Dan Furey and James Keane, the dancing masters from Labasheeda, Co Clare. Included are the Priest and His Boots, St Patrick's Day, the Blackbird and the Job of Journeywork.
Michael's book is not intended to replace instruction from a teacher, but serves as a useful aid to memory. A further aid included with the book is a tape of music for each dance played by Michael on the flute. The first side of the tape is for learning the dances, with slow music and spoken instructions. The music on the second side is played at normal speed without calling.
The book and tape are available from Brooks Academy for £15 plus £2 postage for Ireland and Britain, or £5 postage elsewhere.
Mick Mulkerrin's new video, Steps for Sets, is now available from Mick himself, and from his dancing partner, Mairéad Casey. It was officially launched at the Willie Clancy Summer School in July.
In the video, Mick and Mairéad teach and demonstrate battering steps for polka, reels, jigs and hornpipes, including steps for the Connemara, Cavan Reel and Caledonian sets. They very clearly break down the steps and slowly demonstrate every movement. Anyone studying and practicing with this video will soon be battering away like Mick.
Music for the demonstrations is played by Chris Droney on concertina and Joe Rynne on fiddle. Mick also does some sean nos dancing to music by Jimmy Noctor playing box. At the end of the tape, the Caledonian set is danced in its entirety to the excellent music of the Four Courts Ceili Band.
Steps for Sets is available for £15 plus shipping for the European version. A US version is available for £18 or plus shipping. Contact Mick or Mairéad to obtain the video or more information, or visit the Steps for Sets web site.
Mick and Mairead are pictured twice in Photo album 7.
An expanding list of the most pleasurable moments set dancing has to offer, compiled from real-life experience.
Please send in your favourite moment for inclusion here.
- After a year without set dancing you walk into the Mill, you hear the band, you see the dancers and you think, “Yes, this is were I want to be.” - from Felix Hamelbeck, Vienna.
- After you have been dancing for a relatively short time, the moment when you realise that you have just danced the whole figure confidently without calling and without being prompted by anyone else in your set - mentioned by students of John Earle, Exeter, Devon.
- The moment you find you can do the break step in the Connemara Reel Set in time to the music - students of John Earle, Exeter, Devon.
- The moment when you make a perfectly smooth transition from a swing-in-four to a swing-in-two - Clare Lancers, fourth figure, submitted by Bill Harrison, IBM.
- The discovery that you and your partner generate a centrifugal force while dancing which helps pull both of you around the set - North Kerry Set, submitted by Stu Kelly, Virginia.
- The mass contentment which occurs after the last dance of a good ceili when no one even remembers about going home for at least half an hour.
- When eight people swinging together in a big Christmas change direction simultaneously, exactly on the beat - Clare Lancers, third figure.
- Advancing and retiring is pretty exciting when you have a good partner doing fancy steps and you find yourself matching steps with him or her. When this happens in a line of three with everyone doing the same fancy steps, the thrill of it lasts for days - Cashel Set, third figure.
- When you, your partner and your corner are all dancing the set left and right in the Paris Set with the precision of clockwork.
The annual bank holiday set dancing and session weekend in Portmagee, Co Kerry, 1-3 May 1998, was a 'mighty' affair. Portmagee Dancers' Club (organisers Gerard Kennedy and Beryl Stracey) welcomed dancers from all over the country - from Galway, Cork, Kildare, Dublin, Tipperary and even from far-flung Bedfordshire in England, the English contingent comprising of Helen Farmer, Gabriel Butler and Christine and Alan James.
On our arrival the sun shone as if to cheer us all, and the tone of the weekend was set with a lively session in the Bridge Bar on the Friday evening. With musicians Paddy Casey and Daniel Lynch playing button accordions, Seamus Rahilly on keyboard, Michael Tubridy on flute and Liam Owens on tin whistle, the set dancers took to the floor. My husband and I, being totally uninitiated in the art of Irish set dance, were completely overawed by the lively and seemingly spontaneous dance patterns and we couldn't stop our feet tapping and hands clapping at the end of each figure.
So it was with some trepidation that we approached our first set dance workshop. Gabriel and Helen, who by our standards are set dance 'veterans', having attended for the previous four years, assured us that we would soon 'get the hang of it.' We arrived at the Community Centre and were warmly welcomed by Betty McCoy who spoke movingly about Connie Ryan and his contribution to Irish set dancing. We then all sat back to enjoy watching the demonstration set, so much so that when the time came for the general dancing to start we protested, 'No, no, we'd much rather watch!'
This however was not at all acceptable and we were firmly led onto the floor. Much to our surprise, within a few minutes under the watchful eye of Jim Barry, the workshop leader, we found ourselves being helped through our first set, the Aran set. We provided much laughter as we stumbled through the steps and I think Jim saw us as quite a challenge! However, we soon gained confidence and reckoned that if we ended up in the right place by the end of the music we'd done pretty well! Much appreciation goes to the 'saintly' Jim who managed with Betty's help to keep the whole room dancing and still find time to help us out on the more taxing steps.
After a much needed lunchtime break at the Bridge Bar we tackled the afternoon session with renewed vigour and completed the Sliabh gCua, Ballyvourney Jig and Ballycommon - but we had so much fun and felt a shared sense of achievement with our new friends.
After a delicious meal back at The Moorings there was a whole evening of entertainment to come in the Bridge Bar. In one part of it, we, as the singing group Harmonix, provided a selection of hits from the 60s to the 90s which seemed to go down well as a prelude to the traditional music which was to follow. Paddy, Seamus and company were in top form and the dancers swung into action. Many people contributed to the occasion by performing songs and playing traditional instruments. Celine Tubridy and Chris Gleeson delighted us all with their solo dances accompanied by Michael Tubridy. Another treat was to listen to Maire Begley, fresh from her show on Kerry Radio, singing and playing the piano accordion so beautifully then providing backing to other performers. There was a great atmosphere and the revels lasted into the wee small hours - what a day!
The Sunday morning anniversary Mass in memory of Connie Ryan was a very moving occasion. There were special readings from Beryl Stracey and a brave Betty McCoy who read a poem written by one of Connie's many admirers. Maire Begley's singing was hauntingly beautiful and the final 'Lord of the Dance' was delightfully appropriate.
The lunchtime session was very relaxed and spontaneous. Maire again transfixed us all with her traditional songs, and I lost count of the number of people who joined in to play instruments - and again the dancers danced. This was a wonderful session which we could have stayed to enjoy all afternoon, but we had an appointment - the ceili!
This was our opportunity to put into practice all we had learned at the workshop, or so we thought. Somehow all the sets seemed to merge into one, but thanks to our brilliant set partners, Chris and Eddie 'the Hip' Gleeson, and with Jim Barry calling we had a great time and managed every figure. Betty McCoy was again on hand to help. The Riordans band played for us and kept things moving at a cracking pace. We ended the ceili feeling exhausted and on saying farewell to those who were leaving then we all promised to come back next year.
The final session in the Bridge Bar was a wonderful evening, a potpourri of dancing, singing and entertainment - great craic! The bar was packed with folk of all aged, from 9 to 90 all sharing the enjoyment of music and dancing. That memory will stay with us all, I'm sure.
Many thanks to Beryl, Julian, Gerard, Pat and their team for all their hard work. The whole weekend was a great success and it is a privilege for us to have met them all, and make no mistake, we will return. Plans are already being made for next year, and we understand that some enthusiasts have already booked their rooms in readiness! Now I wonder if I can remember the Aran set . . . ?
Christine James, Bedfordshire
The first set dancing festival ever held in Spain, the Fleadh España, took place from the 17th to the 25th of April 1998 at Lloret de Mar on the Costa Brava. Brian Saunders from London was there and has kindly provided this report on the week.
After an arduous 24 hour coach journey from London-or in the case of those travelling from Ireland, 36 hours plus-600 weary travellers arrived in Hotel de Mar for the first Fleadh España. Another 100 less exhausted enthusiasts arrived the same day by plane.
Members of the party were staying at one of two hotels, the Royal Beach and the Imperial Park, although a few others arranged their own travel and accommodation. Both hotels were comfortable, if somewhat noisy and food was good and plentiful.
Coaches transferred dancers and spectators to La Siesta, a huge night club 30 minutes away for 4 ceilis where music was provided by the Michael Sexton band and the Davey family.
The standard of dancing varied from All-Ireland set dancing champions to raw beginners and so the organisers found it difficult to please all of the people all of the time. Beginners and inexperienced dancers were unable to cope with the Fermanagh or Newport, while experienced dancers wanted a change from the usual 5 or 6 sets which are danced at virtually every ceili.
The other major drawback was the concrete floor which discouraged a lot of battering (no bad thing some might say). Two ceilis were held at the Royal Beach, but this proved to be an unsatisfactory venue for dancing due to the lack of ventilation and space, the marble floor and the presence of other visitors who complained about the noise and inconvenience.
Other informal dancing and sessions took place at nearby pubs, which was most enjoyable!
Workshops were provided each morning, but were poorly attended in proportion to the total number of people from Ireland and the UK, just 3 or 4 sets.
We were lucky with the weather and there were afternoon sessions featuring Seamus Shannon and Michael Sexton playing for sunbathers around the pool and the occasional set.
Although most people had some criticisms, everyone that I had spoken to enjoyed themselves. With it being the first venture of this nature we realised that there could be some problems. Some of those problems were recognised and will be rectified hopefully for next year. A wooden floor has been promised.
All in all the first Fleadh España was a great success and congratulations are due to Sean Dempsey, Gerry Flynn and all the organisers who put so much effort into making the event enjoyable.
Brian Saunders, Borehamwood
Next year's Fleadh España takes place on the 11th to the 19th of April. Michael Sexton, Seamus Shannon and the Davey family will be participating again. Sean Dempsey is the organiser - contact him for information.
Photographs from the Fleadh España are in Photo album 11.
The following diary of the Fleadh España was written by a Dublin correspondent who asked to be identified only as 'an ex-member of the Lilac Bus from Swords'.
Friday, April 17, 1998
The alarm clock rang loudly at 4 am much to my displeasure until the realisation that this was the start of my long awaited set dancing holiday in Spain.
5.30 am - I was all set with last minute packing completed. My friend Bernie and her husband kindly gave me a lift to Dun Laoghaire where we met up with Imelda and Irene where we boarded the boat and off on the first leg of the trip to Holyhead.
9.30 am - Arrived in Holyhead and we were assigned to coach No 2 on our way to Dover. Some of us used the 10 hour journey to catch up on some sleep while others were too excited to sleep. They spent time admiring the scenery and getting to know the other passengers.
8.30 pm - We depart Dover and off to Calais. All believing the worst part of the journey over and again catch up on some long needed sleep through France. But unfortunately a problem with the heating system on the bus didn't allow this. Drifting in and out of sleep we discovered we were at a complete stop. Why? Apparently a bus following us had broken down so we waited for at least an hour. We had no idea why. Anyway we were away again.
Daylight emerged and after a much needed pit stop we were all in good spirits again. We had a bit of entertainment on board mainly supplied by ourselves. Party piece after party piece which included songs, poetry, jokes, etc. A good time was had by all.
We expected to be in Lloret de Mar by 3 pm on Saturday, then 5 pm, then 8 pm until we finally arrived at 10 pm having lost our way and taken a road so windy that Corkscrew Hill in Clare was put to shame - big time and not to be endured again!
10.10 pm - We had arrived! Tired and hungry, the hotel kindly provided dinner and we ate heartily. After a quick shower and fresh clothes we were ready for action, but despite our enthusiasm the journey had taken its toll so off to bed after a few bevs for some rest.
Off to the Welcoming Party at La Siesta and to try out the famous sangria. La Siesta was a beautiful venue and plenty big to facilitate all 700 plus people. Unfortunately the floor was concrete which made it a little hard on the bones for dancing, but when Michael Sexton's ceili band struck up the first note there was hardly an empty space on the floor. That was the start of a great great week of music, dance, song and craic.
Set dancing ceilis almost every night and afterward off to the infamous Robin Hood's to dance the rest of the night away. Disco dancing, that is - we're very versatile!
We had workshops for the energetic or excursions to Barcelona, Montserat or the beautiful Costa Brava coast. None of these activies included the wild bunch from coach No 2. Workshops were held from 10.30 am to 1.30 pm and you had the rest of the afternoon to spend as you wished and by and large this was spent relaxing on the beach.
5-8 pm daily - Tony Garrigan and Seamus Shannon provided some traditional music in the Queen Vic or Moby's Bar. Then it was back to the Royal Beach Hotel or La Siesta for a ceili. Music was provided by Michael Sexton's ceili band or the Davey family. Fantastic music and wonderful dancing.
Unfortunately we encountered some very hostile behaviour by an English group and they actually staged a sit-in at a ceili which was held at the Royal Beach Hotel. They were dancing there at a disco which they refused to leave. The ceili got underway about an hour and a half later than advertised and still we were pushed and shoved by these people until they finally gave up and we danced until 2 am. Their behaviour was disgraceful but at the end of the day they only let themselves down.
Oh! we had lovely sunny day relaxing by the pool and even better days when we had seisuns. What a life! Lazing in the sun, sometimes dancing, listening to live traditional Irish music and sipping a long cool drink. This is the life. On other occasions we bumped into Brid Longe from Inagh in Clare and she played the concert flute in the sun along the promenade of Fanals Beach. Great music from a great musician.
But all too soon these idealistic days ended and before we knew it was time to depart on our long journey back home to Ireland. We travelling by bus envied those travelling by plane. The journey home seemed shorter - maybe it's because we slept more and the craic was ninety.
We missed the early boat from Holyhead to Dublin and ended up taking the slower boat, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise as the Westport bus also made the slower boat.
The fleadh may have ended the day before in Lloret de Mar but we had a mini-fleadh of our own on the boat. Dancing, singing and the craic was ninety. We took over the bar and many if not all the other passengers joined in, plus some crew members.
We arrived in Dublin all too soon, busily arranging reunions and last goodbyes to the numerous friends we had made during the first Fleadh España, and hopefully not the last.
Pat Murphy was in Atlantic Canada again this spring and gave an Easter weekend workshop in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The following week he had time for a side-trip to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island (PEI). Pat was accompanied by his friend Martina O'Leary of Kinsale, Co Cork, and Eoin Duffy of the Halifax dancers to the Island. The last leg of their trek took them 300 meters above the Northumberland Strait, across the 13 km one-year-old Confederation Bridge that links the red shore of PEI to the mainland.
He was welcomed eagerly by two sets of Island dancers to the regular Wednesday night dance class at the Benevolent Irish Society Hall. Eight of us had danced the weekend away in Halifax, and were ready for more! Before the night was over, we had danced through three new sets. With patience and humor, Pat treated us to an enjoyable learning experience. He and Martina gave us many useful tips. Prince Edward Island is not exactly on the way to anywhere, so we felt extremely grateful to Elizabeth MacDonald, instructor of the Halifax dance group, for making Pat's visit to the Island possible. Many thanks Pat, Martina, Eoin and Elizabeth!
Helen Gough-Conboy, PEI
Two photos from Pat's trip to Nova Scotia are in Photo album 12.
A superb festival of music and dance was held over the May bank holiday weekend in Castletown, Co Laois. Dancers from all over Ireland and Britain were attracted by the workshops, ceilis and sessions. However, the real stars of the weekend never danced a step or played a note - they were the De La Salle Brothers.
The De La Salle 'mother home' is in Castletown and they opened their premises to us and made everyone feel very welcome the whole weekend long. The accommodation and full board package was excellent value, with plentiful food and comfortable lodgings. The lounge was open at all hours, stocked with coffee, tea and snacks, so you could help yourself at no charge. This was the place to be before and especially after the dancing, to meet friends for a chat and to join in the sessions.
The sessions in the lounge following the nightly ceilis were friendly, relaxed and highly entertaining, lasting until six in the morning. One memorable session was opened by Jim Monaghan from Belfast, who needed very little persuasion to launch into a wild Elvis impersonation to everyone's delight and encouragement. Another remarkable performer was local man Andrew O'Connor. He played flute in all the sessions, danced a lively sean nós jig, sang his own songs about Laois, and danced sets.
There were dance sessions down the road in Sheeran's, Coolrain, a country pub with four open fires blazing at once. The tiny, springy wooden floor inside handled only one set, but there was a large floor outside for dancing under the sun and the moon to the beautiful music by local players.
Pat Murphy gave the workshops on Saturday and Sunday, and generously offered to do one on Monday as well. His new set is the Mayo Lancers, which he got a few weeks before from Martin Bolger in Galway. It's fun, easy and different and Pat believes it could become a very popular set. He made sure we danced it at all the ceilis.
The workshops and ceilis were held in the spacious Community Hall beside the river. The generous spirit of Co Laois was evident in the afternoon teas served there to dancers on Saturday and Sunday - no charge was made for tea, coffee and the delicious homemade cakes, which many enjoyed on the lawn by the river in the warm sun.
Everything in Castletown was organised for the great convenience of the dancers, who had no worries but their own pleasure. Thanks to the De La Salle Brothers and local organisers Micheal Lalor, Pat McSpadden and the others for a memorable weekend!
Photographs from Castletown appear in Photo album 12.
The Tulla and Kilfenora Ceili Bands once had a great rivalry in All-Ireland ceili band competitions that were as exciting as hurling or football finals. Today they're all good friends and showed it at an evening with past and present members of both bands at Cois na hAbhna in Ennis, Co Clare, on 7 April 1998.
The occasion was the unveiling of two enlarged photographs of the bands from the 1950s, now on permanent display in the hall. Jerry Lynch pointed out himself and the other musicians in the Kilfenora photograph, and P J Hayes did the same for the Tulla.
Of course, we were all waiting for the music, and once the speeches and photographs were done the musicians slowly assembled on stage, together for the first time. The sound of forty or more of Clare's best musicians playing in unison filled the hall with an almost orchestral sound which was lively enough for another All-Ireland victory.
The musicians soon called the set and dancers assembled around the spectators seated in the centre of the hall. To be able to dance to this music was a rare privilege and delight not likely to be forgotten. There were just three sets and a waltz but with the two bands, both old and new, we were as satisfied as if we'd been dancing a dozen.
The two bands appear together in two photographs in Photo album 10.
Kilfenora in County Clare is legendary across Ireland for its music and the set dance weekend there on 3-5 April 1998 had Kilfenora music in buckets.
The Kilfenora Ceili Band has had a strong influence on the village since 1907 and has brought the honour of an All-Ireland title home seven times. The tradition in village continues strongly today with many of the current band members related to and taught by the older musicians. The band's appearance on Saturday night was cause for celebration and brought dancers out in great numbers with up to fifty sets jammed onto the floor of the Community Hall.
Kilfenora's other great band is the Four Courts Ceili Band who maintain a residency at Vaughan's Barn two nights a week. Their music makes for absolutely delightful dancing and gives them a strong, loyal and ever increasing following. They played at four dances over the weekend climaxing in the Community Hall on Sunday afternoon. The other dances were held in the Barn which had a new section of floor installed for the weekend allowing reasonable comfort for eight sets.
Workshops on Saturday and Sunday were given by Mick Mulkerrin who seems to fit Kilfenora like a glove. His engaging, easygoing manner made it seem as though we'd known these sets already, even if we'd never seen them before. By the end of the weekend we were all fitting Kilfenora like a glove.
John Vaughan holds two set dance weekends a year in Kilfenora, the next on 26-28 November. There's dancing with the Four Courts at the Barn throughout the year on Sunday and Thursday, 10pm-12am.
The Four Courts and dancers in the Barn are pictured in Photo album 10.
Three of Ireland's best set dance teachers, Martin Bolger, Timmy McCarthy and Mick Mulkerrin, plus step dance teacher Roisín Ní Mhainnin, were on hand at the Galway International Set Dancing Festival, 27-29 March 1998, and dancers were spoilt for choice.
Any one of them alone would be a good reason for travelling a few hours to a workshop, but with all four in attendance we might have had a powerful dilemma. Fortunately the published programme made clear who was teaching which set where, so we could spend the whole weekend with one teacher or a couple hours each with three of them.
Timmy McCarthy gave us his lively collection of sets including the Set of Erin and the Borlin Reel, with plenty of time for others as well. Mick Mulkerrin brought the new Mullahoran set from Cavan and spent time on footwork. Martin Bolger had two new sets, the Longford and the Mayo Lancers, which created a stir in the hall in one figure when we had to kiss the person opposite. Martin has a nice way of demonstrating the dances - each of the sets in the room performed one figure, even if they hadn't seen it or danced at all before. With Martin's teaching smoothing over the gaps, it was as effective as seeing a perfect demonstration team.
There was plenty of good music too, with the Tulla, Templehouse and Siamsa bands playing for ceilis, and Jackie Daly, Maura O'Keeffe and Johnny Connolly playing in smaller sessions before the ceilis on two nights. The final dance played by local musicians including members of the festival's organising committee was as enjoyable as those with the big name bands.
Pictures taken at the ceilis in Galway are in Photo album 10.
- The Ierne Ballroom in Parnell Square, Dublin, is an old-fashioned dance hall with a wonderful wooden floor where Connie Ryan taught for many years. Connie was able to pull in crowds of dancers and generate an atmosphere his own unique atmosphere. When Connie's partner Betty McCoy decided to continue the classes here following his death last year, there was widespread delight and relief.
Betty knew that Connie would be impossible act to follow and came up with an original formula for the class-she invites a different teacher every week. Eight teachers have given classes, each with an individual style and method so that every class is different. The formula has worked well - there are as many as seventeen sets, the atmosphere is friendly and it's all well organised.
The teachers are from most of the set dancing counties. Ciaran Condron, from Malahide in Co Dublin and a student at UCD, is the youngest of them at 21, but his maturity and air of authority are well beyond his years. Aidan Vaughn is the respected sean nos dancer from Miltown Malbay who teaches the Clare sets in a traditional style emphasising steps and battering. Muiris O Briain and Jim Barry are both from Kerry-Muiris has been responsible for the revival of several sets from his area and Jim's distinctive style of dancing has been featured in videos. Seamus O Mealoid from Connemara is a traditional step dancer, and concertina player Johnny Morrissey from Tipperary emphasises timing and rhythm for dancers.
Dancing in the Ierne is from 7.30 to 9.30 pm. Visitors should seek out Betty, who will find you a partner, guide you through the night and tell you where the craic will be after the class.
- With six teachers and five classes a week, the Brooks Academy is almost like a university of set dancing. The faculty includes some of the best known names in the revival of set dancing-Terry Moylan and Eileen O'Doherty who have published five books of dances between them, and Irene Martin who was producer of a set of six set dance tapes which are in regular use in classes everywhere and are considered classics of Irish traditional music. Terry has also created a new set called the Limerick Tumblers in a commission for Micheal O Suilleabhan of the University of Limerick.
The four nightly classes held during the week are graded from beginners to advanced. Irene Martin handles beginners on Fridays, Terry Moylan and Jerry O'Reilly teach the second year dancers on Monday nights, while Eileen O'Doherty teaches the third year on Thursdays. Four or five sets of dancers attend advanced class on Wednesdays, which is taught by Mary Friel with help from Terry Cullen. These classes run from 7.30 to 9.30 with a break for tea. The fifth class is held on Sunday mornings for children from age seven. The Brooks Academy is at 15 Henrietta Street, Dublin 1.
The classes have finished for the summer, but the six teachers return again in September when all dancers are welcome to join them.
- A class in Exeter, Devon, in the south west of England has been highly successful in initiating its students in the many pleasures of set dancing. John Earle, who teaches every Wednesday in St Matthew's Church Hall, Lower Summerlands, 7.30-10.30pm, started the class only last September and regularly gets about four sets of enthusiastic dancers, most of whom are new recruits to set dancing. Already his students are planning summer dancing holidays in Ireland!
John is a regular visitor at the Joe Mooney Summer School in Drumshanbo, Co Leitrim, and this year he'll be joined there by twelve members of his class. They're travelling together by car and would be pleased to hear from anyone interested in sharing the ride. After Drumshanbo many of them are dispersing across Ireland in search of more dancing.
John also reports a successful St Patrick's Day Ceili where over a hundred attended, half of them seeing sets for the first time. He expects even more in his class after that.
- On the Atlantic Ocean below the bare rocky hills of the Burren lies the village of Fanore, Co Clare. It seems like it's on the edge of the world, but even here you can learn to dance sets.
Wilhelmina Diemer, whom everyone knows as Willy, is an unusual set dance teacher in this corner of Clare because she comes from Holland. She's been dancing on Thursday nights at Vaughans in Kilfenora for years. Last year she started up a class on Tuesday nights in O'Donohue's Bar in Fanore to teach the locals to dance. Having started from scratch, there are now about 35 folks who are dancing their favourite Clare sets as if they were at it all their lives.
This year Willy has started organising bus trips from Fanore to Kilfenora and Spanish Point to follow the Four Courts, who are the favourite ceili band in the Burren. Her classes take a break over the summer, but if you're in the area look out for occasional dancing on the weekends.
Supplies of orange and green paint were running low in Geoff Holland's household as he and Jade O'Faolain, age 10, painted shamrocks, flags and welcome signs to decorate the hall at Cecil Sharp House, Regents Park, London, in style for the St Patrick's day set dance.
The first dancers were on the floor by 7pm and the temperature and tempo rose steadily as the hall filled up. There was a brief respite to catch our breath when an oboe trio - also regular set dancers - gave a short performance of lively tunes.
Soon after, More Wheelbarrows, a flute, fiddle and bazouki trio with Clare Trevitt, Helen Busbridge and Andy Gregory, took the stage and the night really began to fly. They had us swinging, battering, smiling and sweating with music to delight. The evening ended with the Connemara set and much applause for the band, Geoff Holland and all who contributed.
The decorations are down now, but hopefully they'll be needed again next year for another brilliant St Patrick's Day set dance.
Jo Corrigan, St Albans, Hertfordshire, 18 March 1998
A picture of Geoff Holland and his decorations appear in the Photo section.
Today, there are some small bits of London that feel more like a suburb of Dingle than the scruffy metropolis it really is, thanks to residual effects of some fantastic music heard at two ceilis over the weekend. Pádraig O Sé and John Sanders, from West Kerry, made a great impression on their first trip over last June, and surpassed themselves this time. The Mazenod Hall in Quex Road, Kilburn, has seen a lot of dancing over the last twenty years at its regular Wednesday night ceilis, but not often like this.
At first, things didn't look extremely promising. We couldn't get in the hall on time because the Saturday night bingo was running late, the hired sound system failed and the musicians only arrived while we were dancing the first set to tapes. But right from the first eight bars out of Padraig's box and John's guitar, the place was transformed, the atmosphere became electric and the glorious music lifted everyone. The dancers were having the time of their lives, and Pádraig and John appeared to be enjoying themselves even more! Dancing as it's meant to be.
Less than twelve hours later, with West Kerry music still ringing in our ears, we convened for our usual monthly Sunday devotion to set dancing with Geoff Holland in the Camden Irish Centre. We danced away to his tapes for a couple hours chatting with each new partner about how good it was last night, when the two lads from Dingle reappeared. And they did it again! We thought they'd play for just a few sets, but they continued the rest of the afternoon, for an hour longer than usual. A good chunk of that hour consisted of a waltz that went on so long that couples started dropping like flies. I was ready to continue to the bitter end for first prize in the marathon, but wisely Pádraig and John didn't play quite that long.
A memorable weekend, organised by Margaret O'Reilly with help from the Camden regulars, who are bringing the lads back with Timmy McCarthy in June.
Bill Lynch, 2 February 1998
Pádraig and John are pictured at Quex Road in the Photo section.
Portmagee is a small working fishing village in south Kerry overlooking Valentia harbour. The population is around 600 but every year on the May bank holiday weekend we experience a population explosion and it is hard to find a bed in the area-not that anybody spends much time in the bed!
The reason is the Portmagee Dancer's Club set dance workshop. They come from the length and breadth of Ireland and beyond. Manchester, Birmingham and Coventry are well represented-not forgetting Dublin and Belfast, London and Paris. One couple has flown in from London for the last four years, just for the weekend.
There are seasoned old campaigners who have travelled the round of workshops throughout the year, but there will be many who are absolute beginners. Everybody is welcomed and made to feel at home. This year there is a group of our own local children who have learned two of the local sets and are anxious to try their hand (or feet!) at a set from Clare or Galway. At the other end of the age range grandmothers and grandfathers will be there in plenty.
Portmagee is a good venue for a workshop because sets have always been danced here and have never died out. The South Kerry Polka Set has been danced at house dances, weddings, crossroads and dinner dances without a break over the years. My friend Mary Kennedy of Ahanboy remembers two locations where there were concrete platforms at crossroads where the local people danced.
At the present time sets are danced two or three times a week throughout the year and there has been a revival in house dances and kitchen dances. The set is very strong in the south Kerry area and keen set dancers can dance five nights in the week without travelling very far.
The weekend is more than just a formal teaching workshop. There are sessions in the Bridge Bar, where singers and musicians as well as dancers can get together and enjoy the music. Here you will have a chance to see some of our older dancers who dance the local set in the lovely old graceful style of south Kerry. I have a friend Tom Kennedy who will dance a full set in collar, tie, gansey, jacket and cap without raising a sweat or breathing heavy! They have kept the tradition going and it's a rare gift they have handed down to us and our children. Where would the sets be without them? It is through some of these dancers that the Portmagee workshop had been able to revive three sets that would otherwise have been lost forever.
In 1992 Muiris O'Brien, after doing thorough and painstaking research and probing the memories of several old people, revived the Valentia Right and Left Set, an elegant six figure set with lots of variety. Joe Lynch from Valentia Island was able to give Muiris all the details of the set he danced in his youth. I have often danced the Right and Left with Joe and a fine dancer he is.
Muiris also revived the Portmagee Myserk, a lovely jig set, and he was telling me one night in the bar how persevered with the research to save this set, calling back several times to Joseph Falvey and working out the figures-at one stage using a walking cane as a partner! According to an old poem about a house dance the set must have been danced in the 1920s but had been lost.
Patrick Joy in Killorglin was the only man who remembered the Caragh Lake Jig Set. A group of us went to Killorglin where Pat gave us all his experience and knowledge so Muiris was able to revive the set in 1993 at the Portmagee workshop. It is a great set danced to jigs, slide, reel and hornpipe.
The workshop weekend always includes some great sessions-sometimes a set in the street beside the harbour overlooking Valentia Island.
Goodbyes are said at last, addresses exchanged and the little village returns to normal. We sit down with a pot of tea and the talk begins-stories to tell of the weekend and plans for next year.
Beryl Stracey, Portmagee, Co Kerry
The Portmagee workshop is held on the bank holiday weekend at the beginning of May.
Bernie died in Kilfenora, 5th April, at the end of a wonderful holiday in Spiddal. We had been walking on the Connemara Mountains and the Mamturks. We found a number of classes and ceilis in the area and we were made very welcome at all of them. The Galway Festival inspired us to plan even more trips to Ireland. We were already planning to come over for the Willie Clancy, South Sligo and Joe Mooney Summer Schools. We decided to go to Kilfenora for the last weekend of our holiday before we headed home to Wales.
Bernie and I have always enjoyed dancing but it was not until 1991 when he retired that we were free to enjoy holidays as and when we wanted. We became 'old age' new age travellers! We went to a festival in Cornwall and the nearest workshop to the campsite was for set dancing. We went along and met Val Knight and by the end of her workshop we were 'hooked' on set dancing. A big thank you to Val.
The next summer we came over to Ireland to experience the Willie Clancy. We enjoyed Pat and Liz Moroney's workshops and did our best to master the Clare style. I will leave it to Pat to say if we have ever succeeded. While we were in Miltown we realised just how much dancing was going on all over Ireland. Bernie was determined to visit as many places as possible.
Our first visit to Kilfenora was with a group of friends while on holiday in Ballyvaughan and we were made so welcome by everyone. Bernie was the first to get involved in a set while we were still getting our shoes on. People often ask where do we get our energy from to keep going all evening. Bernie's energies seemed boundless. I was always the first to flag. I think it was his love of the music, the dance and the friendliness of all the people who we met in the sets.
May I take this opportunity to thank all the teachers we have met over the years for their patience and encouragement they have given us. May I also thank all the people of Kilfenora for all their friendliness and help, especially during my sudden loss of Bernie. Thank you to everyone who has sent me cards and messages of sympathy.
Bernie will be dancing with you in spirit. He has given me the strength to continue dancing. Think of him sometime when you are dancing a set and remember him in joy not sadness.
We would like to tell you of a friend of ours, a very nice and kind man. His name is Pat Sharkey, a man who when you first met him you could not help yourself liking him at once, a jolly happy man. He was a man who did a lot of good in his life, not that he told you so. You found out from other people who knew him.
He was a deeply religious man who attended his church regularly and also every week helped to clean the church and hall to keep it spic and span. He also found for himself a housebound lady to help, so he called each and every day to shop and do any small job that he could for her. Pat also spent his holiday each year at Lourdes looking after and caring for the sick which he paid for out of his own pocket.
Perhaps we're making Pat sound like an angel. He would not have seen himself that way. He had a different side-he loved music and set dancing. He came to St Thomas Moore Hall, East Dulwich, London, each Monday evening to join us in a night of sets. He always joined with us in our group which became known as the Clock Set because we danced at the end of the hall where the clock was.
Pat died on February 15th and was put to rest on February 27 with all his friends (and he had many) and his loved ones there to say farewell.
Goodbye Pat, we will miss you but we will not forget you.
The Clock Set
(Pat also danced in St Cyprian's Club, Brockley, and was a banjo player.)
Information on other programs of interest to set dancers is very welcome.
- Midlands Radio 3, 103.5 FM, presents news of set dancing every Monday night in a traditional music programme called Coppers and Brass. Padraig O'Dufaigh is the presenter and has a large listenership stretching from Dublin to Galway and Fermanagh to Waterford. He's on the air from 9 to 11 pm, and broadcasts his set dancing feature around 10.15. Padraig welcomes anyone to send details of set dancing events for mention on his programme, which is presented on behalf of Comhaltas in Laois, Offaly and Westmeath.
- Tom Quinn hosts a weekly radio program of traditional and folk music which includes news on ceili and set dancing events. Listen for it on Saturday night from 8 to 10pm on Sunshine Radio, 954 AM and 98.7 FM, an unlicensed station heard on the east coast of Ireland.
The workshop weekend held at the Grand Hotel in Malahide, Co Dublin, on the 16th, 17th and 18th of January was highly successful, with 1,500 people attending at least one of the events and £6,000 raised for St Vincent's Private Hospital, Dublin.
The weekend was a commemoration of the life of Connie Ryan, who is probably the most important figure in set dancing's revival. Connie organised and conducted workshops himself in Malahide for years and after his death last May, a bigger and better weekend was arranged in his memory, and to raise money for the hospital which cared for him.
The first event was an informal session on Friday night with music played by friends of Connie. Ceilis often get off to a slow start, but once the music began the dancers flooded in from elsewhere in the hotel and the slight bit of worry showing on the face of Betty McCoy, one of the organisers and Connie's dance partner, evaporated. The music was beautiful and the dancing was the least crowded of the weekend.
Two workshops were conducted simultaneously in each of three sessions on Saturday and Sunday. Sets were taught in one hall by Pádraig McEneany, Séamus Ó Méalóid, and Pat Murphy, while in the second hall, Aidan Vaughan and Mick Mulkerrin taught steps and Donncha Ó Muinneacháin taught two-hand and ceili dances. Dancers supported the workshops in great numbers from everywhere in Ireland, Britain, America and Europe. So many from Britain were there that there would hardly be enough dancers left behind to form a set.
After the Saturday workshops a Mass was said in one of the halls for Connie Ryan. The congregation brought chairs out from the tables at the side of the hall onto the dance floor and placed them in neat rows before the altar. Those arriving after all the chairs were taken had to stand for the service. The priest appeared surprised by the numbers and warned everyone that he might not have brought enough communion. There turned out to be enough but only after the priest and two ministers broke the hosts in half to make them go farther.
With full dance floors at the workshops on Saturday, it was clear the two simultaneous ceilis that night with the Templehouse and Michael Sexton bands would be very tightly packed, and this was quickly shown to be true. The two halls at the Grand are located over each other with just a staircase between them and the organisers tried out a couple of innovations to control the dancers. First, the programme of dances for the evening was posted on the doors to the halls, and second, both halls played the same programme at the same time. This was to prevent dancers running between the two halls to do their favourite sets. The strategy seemed to work because both floors were equally crowded, but because one hall was running a few minutes earlier than the other, dancers who missed a set there could go to the later hall to catch the dance. By the end of the dance the bands were almost exactly on time with each other.
There were some dancers who weren't able to dance in either hall. Crowding at last year's Saturday night ceili resulted in a fine to the hotel, so this year hotel staff stopped people entering once the limit of 900 had been reached. A queue of 300 built up outside as a result and a number of them went away in frustration. The hardy souls who waited, some of whom travelled across the country, were allowed in once the hotel staff had left.
The crowds returned right on time for Sunday's workshop with Pat Murphy, and filled the hall with 600 people for the afternoon ceili. Despite the crowds, but more than likely because of them, a superb time was had by all and most went home on the kind of high that lasts for at least a week. At any workshop and ceili, it's not the dancing that makes for a good time, but the dancers, and at Malahide you're able to meet more friends at once than at any other event.
Steve, my husband, and I had a fantastic time there. The classes were excellent, and it was great to have the opportunity to attend workshops with different teachers, especially for us coming from the States. Of course, we did have to pick three workshops out of six, which was not easy. What was special about Malahide was the atmosphere. It was great fun to keep bumping into people from all over. Everyone was very friendly, and there was a nice feeling of camaraderie. Betty McCoy did a superb job as hostess. How she managed to run this event and still make time to chat with everyone (and not pull her hair out) is beyond us. We thought the ceilis were terrific. Having to choose between the Temple House and Michael Sexton was rough, but you couldn't go wrong no matter which one you went to. You couldn't sit still, the music was so good. The place was jumping. We couldn't help but think that Connie Ryan would have been delighted to see 900 people on Saturday night having a great time dancing away. It was just what he would have wanted.
Donna Bauer, New York
If you were going to make a list of the best places in England to hold a set dance workshop, you'd probably put Slough, Berkshire, at the bottom of the list, if you considered it at all. Previously well known for factories, roundabouts and multistory car parks, Slough's reputation has improved tremendously in the minds of set dancers due to a marvelous weekend (21-23 November 1997) of set dancing in the Slough Irish Club (adjacent to the Sikh temple). It was conducted with great energy, enthusiasm and humour by Paddy Hanafin from Tralee, Co Kerry, and organised by Danny Lynch.
Dancing began on Friday night once Paddy and the Esker Riada musicians finished the fish and chip dinners served by the Club. The food must have suited the band well because the music was perfect from start to finish. Paddy was relatively restrained on the first night, but there were a few glimpses of his madness. In the Cashel set, I was just about to have the final go with my partner to finish the fourth figure (Cashel hop) when suddenly Paddy appeared out of nowhere in her place. I had little choice but to dance across and double back with him. Afterward he said, "You were great. How was I?"
Saturday's workshop had the earliest advertised start (10am) ever seen in the history of set dancing workshops in England. Most participants are wise enough to realise that workshops never begin before 11, but that didn't stop the dedicated London and Ipswich dancers congregating in the car park exactly on time. It was 11.15 when Danny and Paddy showed up, with Danny blaming Paddy's breakfast for the delay, and Paddy blaming Danny's search for cabbages in the wee hours of the morning, essential for the bacon and cabbage dinners advertised for the break.
Paddy spent Saturday morning teaching two Kerry sets, the Black Valley Square Jig and the South Kerry while the aroma of cooking cabbage drifted through the hall. He had an instant rapport with the crowd, a great way of making everyone feel as though we were all his friends. He's probably the funniest set dance teacher in the world, with great stories and novel ways of explaining the dances. For example, in some figures of the South Kerry set, couples lead around with the ladies' hands on the gent's nearest shoulders, which Paddy called the I like you' shoulder. When a lady places her hand on the farther shoulder, as Paddy and his partner demonstrated, it's on the I love you' shoulder.
Bacon and cabbage was just what everyone wanted for the dinner break, but unfortunately the kitchen ran out before the queue was half gone. One dancer lucky enough to be in the front half of the queue claimed it was the best he'd eaten. Paddy resumed in the afternoon with a very clear breakdown of West Clare battering and a crowd eager to try every step and variation he showed. He said he's putting his teaching methods into a video which will be available in the summer.
Esker Riada played more of their perfect music at Saturday night's ceili, and even five hours of it wasn't enough for the crowd. Paddy called nearly all the sets, which was greatly appreciated by the many dancers from across Britain. There was a woman down from Edinburgh and another over from Galway, but the travelling distance competition was clearly won by a couple from Washington DC who learned of the weekend on these pages. The whole weekend was very well supported, making this the best-attended workshop in the London area for months.
Sunday's workshop began with the Rosscahill and Kilgarvan sets, and finished with more work on the West Clare battering. Paddy found the Kilgarvan set himself in Kerry, which is a fast, lively polka set similar to the North Kerry. The afternoon continued with more music by Esker Riada and by the end of the weekend, no one wanted to stop, and no one was ready to say goodbye to Paddy. He had a very long and well-deserved round of applause from the crowd. We'll be very pleased to see him at the same time next year, as Danny has invited him for a return engagement to Slough. Before this weekend I never wanted to go to Slough, and now I can't wait to go back!
It's hard to wind down after such an exhilarating weekend, but Paddy and a small group of refugees from Slough found the perfect way to do it at a nearby Irish club. We invaded the lounge bar where the regulars were contentedly listening to foxtrots and slow waltzes from a two-piece band (giant accordion and bass guitar) and waiting to play bingo for a £50 prize. Danny persuaded the band to play a polka set but we instantly regretted it once it started because it felt more like a slow waltz than a polka. Mercifully, it was cut short when the bingo could be delayed no further. We did a few figures of the Plain set after that, but with the superb dancing of the rest of the weekend still very fresh in our minds, we were very content to sit and talk until the lights were turned off around us.
I would like to tell you about the workshop in Westport last weekend (16th November 1997). This was for me the Set Dancing Workshop of the Year'. The roads from all over Ireland seemed to have led to Westport for the weekend, as I met people from almost every county in Ireland. Indeed people also arrived from England and the USA for the weekend. I had quite a difficult job to find B&B such was the crowd.
The friendliness of the Mayo people was very evident as we were welcomed with open arms by committee members who couldn't do enough to help anybody who had queries, or problems. This welcome atmosphere was present throughout the entire weekend. Indeed tea/coffee and lots of sweet cake were freely available at every session, well done to all concerned. The workshop was being conducted by Pádraig McEneany and Betty McCoy and as this was the 10th anniversary of the workshop, previous teachers Mick Mulkerrin and Seamus O Mealoid were invited back as guests for the weekend.
The weekend started with a cabaret and ceili on the Friday night, steps being danced by Seamus and Mick. During the evening you could feel a slight sense of intrepidation as to how the workshop would go. As I mentioned earlier the workshop was being conducted by Pádraig McEneany who is a relative newcomer as a set dance instructor but he could depend on the years of experience provided by Betty McCoy. However by 11.00am on Saturday morning it was quite clear that any worries people had about the workshop could be forgotten as Pádraig managed the crowd with the ability and experience of someone far beyond his years. You could see his years of dancing and experience gained with the late Connie Ryan, RIP, coming through his teaching, while still maintaining a unique style of his own. The atmosphere and sense of enjoyment was tangible on entering the ballroom and remained for the whole weekend.
Over the one and a half days we learned five sets at the workshop, The South Sligo Lancers, West Kerry, Roscahill, Fermanagh Quadrilles and the Labasheeda Set, which was demonstrated by people from all over Ireland, including Mick and Seamus. Pádraig had the ability to make even the most complex movements seem simple and this was evident as the 22 sets moved in unison to his instructions. He went to great pains to explain the steps and intricacies of each figure, in order to maintain the individual style of each set, something which I feel is often forgotten.
We were all in great form at the end of the workshop on Saturday evening and really looking forward to the ceili with Heather Breeze. We also had a mass for the late Connie Ryan at 5.30 which was really nice. The ceili started at 9.30 sharp and the floor was packed to capacity from the word go. Pádraig called some sets he had taught which enhanced the already great atmosphere. There was also some Sean Nos dancing at the ceili including Mick Mulkerrin, Seamus O Mealoid, John Joe Geraghty and many more. Pádraig and Roisin McEneany also danced a beautiful traditional hornpipe. You could hear a pin drop as they danced these old style steps across the floor. This was indeed a wonderful sight.
I didn't think I would be able to get up at all on Sunday, however I was at the hotel in time for the start of the workshop at 11.00am. I thought I would be the only one there, but how wrong I was! The floor was full again and Pádraig had us all dancing and enjoying ourselves. I didn't think this was possible after such a late night. I had decided I would take it easy at the afternoon ceili, however with Matt Cunningham and his band playing, as soon as I heard the music, I was up dancing. The music was absolutely brilliant which in turn created the great atmosphere, yet again. Even Matt Cunningham commented to me after the ceili, how he had really enjoyed the afternoon and how everybody was in great form.
As I said at the start this was definitely for me the Set Dancing Workshop of the Year. I haven't even mentioned the great sessions which were on in Bould Biddys, Hobans and Matt Molloys. Needless to say the weekend was a great success. Thanks again to the committee and all concerned and also to Pádraig and Betty for the great workshops and ceili.
Mary Conboy, email@example.com
The following excerpt by Eileen Battersby is from a report on different types of dancing in the Irish Times, Dublin, 24 September 1997.
Eileen Battersby's brush with set-dancing left her looking longingly back at calmer days in a tutu
RECALLING distant days of balletic glory, when my acrobatic skills and ability to catch flying bodies always guaranteed me the role of the dashing Prince, off I went to the Piper's Club, assured that I would find the two-hour class "lively enough". Aware that I had never experienced any form of dance other than ballet, I was nervous. After all, though I'm good at cartwheels, distinguishing left and right under pressure still presents problems.
The people gathered inside, waiting for the class to begin, looked welcoming. Almost disappointingly unintimidating. All normal, relaxed, wearing ordinary clothes and open expressions. The only overt signs of serious intent were a couple of pairs of flamboyant red shoes. Male/female ratio seemed about equal.
Logistics, not ambition had brought me to an advanced rather than a beginners class. Initially my ability to understand English seemed more at issue than the fact that every time I turned I seemed to shoulder-charge men and women of frail physiques. Eileen O'Doherty is a teacher of immense patience and humour, able to smile and encourage her students while commenting "you're pounding". Beneath the recorded jigs and reels, the room was shaking to a militaristic beat.
Practicality is central to the art of step dancing, with its echoes of a robust minuet. "If you're going to race across the floor," says O'Doherty, "you may as well take your partner with you". Sooner than I expected I found myself, on completing various turns, facing my partner rather than the wall. Still wary of right versus left, I tried to anticipate the required direction; the others helped. "Round the House" and "Contrary" acquired new meaning and there is much to be gained from heeding advice such as "just go the way you're being pulled".
Of the several good things about Irish step dancing is the fact that the mathematical complexity of the steps ensures that all but the most brilliant exponents concentrate on their own feet. Ever the innovator, I crashed about like a happy cossack. My boots crushed the toes of others and most definitely connected with vulnerable ankles, but no one frowned.
Tea and biscuits are served after the first hour and the emphasis is balanced between sociability and technique. No, I ain't no dancer. Yet so encouraging are the teachers and dancers at the Pipers' Club that even the most self-conscious will soon feel at ease.
- Ten week courses in set-dancing are held at 15 Henrietta Street, Dublin 1. Tel: 873 0093.
Thanks to Eileen O'Doherty for sending this article. She says that that the reporter joined her advanced set (not step) dancing class as a beginner and performed remarkably well given that the Clare Orange and Green and the Newport Sets are not exactly in the beginner's repertoire!'
The fourth of a series of annual set-dance weekends organised by Peter Maw was held in the village of Castleton, in the Peak District west of Sheffield, from the 26th to the 28th of September 1997. We learned on Friday evening that Martin Bolger, who was to conduct the workshops, was unable to attend because of the death of a relative. At less than twenty-four hours notice Eamonn and Theresa McKeaney travelled from Co Fermanagh to take his place. Any disappointment at Martin Bolger's absence was quickly dispelled on Saturday morning in Castleton Village Hall as Eamonn guided about nine sets through the steps and figures of the Fermanagh Quadrilles. Everything was clearly explained and demonstrated, we had plenty of opportunity to practice what was taught, and Eamonn and Theresa were quick to rescue anyone who showed any sign of confusion or doubt. In the afternoon the Durrow Thrashing Set was taught with the same skill. We had a lively ceili on Saturday evening, for which Peter did all the calling except when Eamonn reminded us of the two sets from the workshops.
Sunday's workshop introduced us to the Tory Island Lancers, we again danced the two sets we learned on Saturday, and Eamonn's final contribution was a short session on reel steps in which he very nicely built up a step sequence in easy stages.
It was a very enjoyable weekend, thanks to Peter's organisation and Eamonn's expert instruction. The applause before Eamonn and Theresa departed for Manchester Airport on Sunday left no doubt about the general view of the workshops; they were not just good "in the circumstances" or "considering the short notice" - they were excellent by any standard.
And now to get back to that battering step: heel-toe-down, heel-toe-down . . .
John Coleman, Durham
- Dick O'Connell, who teaches and runs the dances at Cois na hAbhna in Ennis, Co Clare, reports that he taught a very good workshop in White Plains, New York, last November with 16 sets in attendance. Music was by Denis Galvin, John Whelan and the New York Ceili Band. He's been invited back there this year for the weekend of the 12th of October.
- We had Aidan Vaughan last night in the Ierne Ballroom, Dublin, with emphasis - as you can imagine - on his coveted steps for the Caledonian. This was his second guest appearance at the hall and he managed the class quite well, keeping the beginners focused on the basic advance and retire, and the more accomplished on a bit of a batter. And above all, he emphasised the need to stay low to the ground!' Aidan is one in the line-up of accomplished teachers whom Betty has enlisted to carry on the great tradition started by Connie Ryan. As anyone who has ever attended a class conducted by Connie has realised, it wasn't just his knowledge of sets and attention to detail that made his classes special, but his way of introducing a bit of craic into the entire proceedings. I'm happy to say the same atmosphere pervades the hall these Thursday nights. It's a credit to the teachers (Jim Barry, Johnny Morrissey, Ciaran Condron) and to Betty herself for helping us keep the faith!'
Peggy Doherty, 5 December 1997
- The Ceili Centenary Weekend held in the Haringey Irish Centre in London, 8-9 November 1997, commemorated the first Irish ceili, which was held in London almost precisely 100 years ago. Like the very first ceili, this one included sets, ceili dances, two hands and waltzes. Appropriately, organisers Marion Cooper and Michael Keane invited Tom Quinn to host the workshops. Tom is expert on all types of Irish dances and he taught several which have probably never been seen in London before. The Mullabaun reel, from a pub high up in the mountains of Antrim (if memory serves correctly), was an intricate ceili dance with figures which were a delight to perform. The Blacktown set and Armagh Quadrilles were equally delightful. Even the simple clapping dance and the Peeler and the Goat were great fun. The three ceilis were notable for the music of the Davey family, the real stars of the weekend, particularly young Nigel on the box. His playing was breathtaking, both figuratively and literally, never flagged or wavered the whole weekend long and brought out the best in everyone's dancing. An added feature of the weekend was an open, informal competition in each of the ceilis, for old-time waltz, Morris Reel and the Sliabh Luachra set. Your correspondent is in proud possession of a medal for dancing in the set which placed second in the Sliabh Luachra competition. Life always feels a lot better after a weekend like this.
- Ciaran Condron had a lot of competition this weekend for his workshop in Castlerea in terms of other events around the country. Bantry, Caherlistrane and Tulla were venues for other workshops and ceilis but the Glenside Ceili Band drew a nice crowd for both ceilis on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. The workshop on Saturday was excellent. Ciaran has tremendous patience when he's teaching and he tackled two sets from Newport that are now in the process of being revived (compliments of Mickey Kelly and John Joe Geraghty and the Newport Dancers). The Shramore and the Cuilmore sets are familiar in ways for anyone who has danced the Newport and the Derrada. The Shramore is the easier of the two - just three figures - but the Cuilmore, with its five figures and specific steps, took about two hours to get through! The final figure is great fun but looks like sheer pandemonium. It was originally danced to slip jigs like the "Rocky Road to Dublin" but nowadays a fling is played and it's one long continuous skip-hop with tops leading off, alternatively dancing with each other and all other dancers in the set. It has to be witnessed.
Peggy Doherty, 6 October 1997
- We had a "mighty" weekend with Mick Mulkerrins in Ballaghadereen, Co Roscommon. Friday evening saw the arrival of Mickey Kelly and the Newport-Westport gang, John Vaughan (Kilfenora) and the makings of three sets for an informal night in the Fiddler's Elbow. Mick taught all day on Saturday (West Kerry, Aran Set) and around half time, the majority of the participants relaxed while a few of us demonstrated the Shramore Set - a set that Mickey Kelly and Co are making every effort to revive. Had a lively session in a pub about three miles outside of Ballaghadereen and as is often the case (for some us) made it to the ceili by the tea time break. P J Hernon was brilliant.
Peggy Doherty, 29 September 1997
- Mick Mulkerrin was in London on the 13th and 14th of September for a weekend workshop in the furthest reaches of SE4. The highlight of the workshop was Mick's attempt to teach us the Cavan Reel Set. This set is legendary in London because of its numerous all-Ireland victories, because of its fabulously difficult steps, and because it's never taught or danced here. Mick demystified it for us and made it seem as though we too could win the all-Ireland, with practice. As good as Mick was, the real highlight of the weekend was the music of Jackie Daly and Maire O'Keeffe at the two ceilis. Jackie is one of the biggest stars of the Irish box, and Maire on fiddle is very highly regarded. Dancing became effortless with their music and it's hoped they'll be playing for many more ceilis in future. Congratulations to Terry O'Donnell for organising a superb weekend.
There's more to read in the collections of old news and reviews, volumes 1—1997-1998, 2, 3—1998-1999, 4—1999, 5—1999-2000, 6, 7—2000, 8, 9, 10—2001, 11—2001-2002, 12, 13, 14, 15—2002, 16—2002-2003, 17, 18, 19—2003, 20—2003-2004, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25—2004, 26—2004-2005, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31—2005, 32—2005-2006, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37—2006, 38, 39—2006-2007, 40, 41, 42, 43—2007, 44—2007-2008, 44—2007-2008, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50—2008, 51—2008-2009, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57—2009, 58—2009-2010, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65—2010, 66—2010–2011, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71—2011, 72—2011–2012, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78—2012, 79—2012-2013, 80, 81, 82, 83—2013, 84—2013-2014 (Index).
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