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).
In spite of adverse weather conditions over the weekend of 8-10 January 1999, the set dancing fraternity came out in droves to enjoy the great occasion of music, dance and fun at the Nenagh Abbey Court Hotel. The frost, fog and icy roads that blanketed the country for the weekend was merely a slight inconvenience to the many dancers who travelled from all over to the second Annual Connie Ryan Commemorative Weekend. Locals and visitors expected a feast of great music and mighty dancing and they were not disappointed.
The weekend got off to a brilliant start on Friday night with the wonderful lively music of the Greenes Ceili Band. This local group of fine musicians gets better with every outing, and many visitors who have not heard them before agreed that the Greenes are one of the top performing bands in the country.
Visitors started arriving an hour before the workshop on Saturday morning and after the customary cupan tae, Pat Murphy, Betty McCoy and Jim Barry put the dancers through their paces. Pat introduced the Mayo Lancers Set and having completed the Cloonagh Lancers before lunch the dancers took a well deserved break.
Saturday afternoon was unique for two reasons. Jim Barry introduced the gathering to the Portmagee Set of Meserts, a first for him in Nenagh. Jim has attended every weekend workshop since 1991 but this was his first opportunity to teach sets here. People were so impressed with his style of teaching and his clear direction that he received a few offers to conduct workshops later in the year. We wish Jim well.
The highlight of the weekend was the introduction of the Killyon Set to the nation's dancers. Jack Grogan made the trip to Nenagh to oversee the demonstration of the set and expressed complete satisfaction with Nora Carroll and Pat Murphy's interpretation of it. Pat Murphy pointed out during the demonstration that one part of this set was quite unique. He had not seen the particular movement in any other set and Pat has seen hundreds of them.
All the sets taught during the day were danced at the ceili on Saturday night. The Killyon Set proved to be the most popular set danced all weekend. Club Rince, the group in Nenagh which organised the weekend, is very grateful to Jack Grogan, Nora and Larry Carroll and Pat Murphy for bringing this lovely set to Nenagh.
Swallows Tail Ceili Band took the stage at 9.30pm on Saturday night and the hotel ballroom was filled with superb music until 1.30am. Michael Loughnane accompanied the band on stage to call the sets. Pat Murphy and Jim Barry also called the sets that they taught during the day.
Tutors and dancers were back in the ballroom on Sunday morning and Pat Murphy introduced the enthusiastic gathering to the Borlin Jenny Reel Set. This set has featured regularly at set dance workshops all over the country in recent months. After the lunch break the Glenside Ceili Band were on stage to entertain the capacity crowd to a feast of Irish music. The afternoon ceili was a fitting end to a very successful weekend and plans are underway to stage the next workshop in January 2000. Visitors were particularly pleased with the hotel facilities and accommodation. Many expressed the wish to return to Nenagh during the year for the monthly céilithe.
Video recordings of the first five annual weekend workshops between 1991 and 1995 were on display throughout the weekend. There was also an exhibition of memorabilia which included photographs, posters and programmes relating to the late Connie Ryan and Club Rince. This proved very popular with all those in attendance at the weekend.
Club Rince is very grateful to the management and staff of the hotel for the great cooperation and for making the facilities of the hotel available over the weekend.
Donal Morrissey, Club Rince
Nenagh, Co Tipperary
Once again the set dancing workshop which took place 8-10 January at the Abbey Court Hotel was 'tops.' There is simply no end to the list of compliments I can pay to the hospitality of the organising committee, an abundance of tastily prepared food, a venue second to none both in terms of the hotel facilities and the room in which the workshops and the céilithe took place. The instructors, Pat Murphy, Betty McCoy with guest teacher Jim Barry kept us 'on our toes' (and heels) sharing their expertise with ease and excellence.
Where would we be without the one and only Michael Loughnane as Fear an Tí for the weekend? He was delighted to help Mary Morrissey celebrate her birthday (half a century) at each céilí, culminating on Sunday evening with an unquenchable cake. The committee chose the Greenes, Swallows Tail and Glenside Céilí Bands to provide music played with spirit, liveliness, commitment and pleasure.
The highlight of the weekend was the introduction of the Killyon Set (pronounced Kil-lion) from Offaly. At four o'clock on Saturday evening 83 year old Jack Grogan, father of Mary Morrissey came to the workshop to see the set being taught by Pat Murphy. Jack danced the set in the houses in his area in his youth. The set dancers warmed to the set straight away. The movements in the five figures are natural and easy. Jack gave it his seal of approval and his only comment was, 'I don't care if ye have two left feet, dance the set anyway.'
How everyone enjoyed watching the videos of the workshops since 1991 and viewing the display of photographs. To those who have gone to their eternal reward we say thanks for the memories and to our friends whom we meet each new year at the Nenagh workshop we say long may we continue to enjoy each other's company and 'dance, dance wherever we may be.'
Maureen Culleton, Co Laois
Some special visitors to Nenagh are seen in Photo album 26.
You are now more likely to meet a chancer at a ceili, due to the increased numbers attending lately. You might dance till you're seventy or longer, but there are people who dance like mad for a year or two and breeze in and out of set dancing like they do relationships. Bearing this fact in mind I travelled to Westport for the weekend workshop in November. The locals told me that the town is no longer a town of strange people, but a town full of strangers. With the influx of set dancers it was unusual to say the least. I knew it was going to be a complex ceili.
On a cold Saturday night with the sweet swift sound of the Heather Breeze Ceili Band, I thought it would be the ideal time to get to know a few beginners. It was after the third figure of the Caledonian the conversation started.
'How long have you been doing it?' I asked.
'Just over a year,' she replied.
'Is that a conservative estimate?'
'I have to say it is - how did you know?' she said.
'I knew you had to be doing it longer with those little steps.'
'Are you feeling lucky or something?' she asked.
'Maybe. Should I?' I said.
'Hey man, I think you are at the wrong ceili!' she said.
Later it happened again with another newcomer.
'Do you like the set dancing?' I asked.
'Yes, but I'm new at it. Is this set straightforward?' she said.
'It is, but it won't be with me.'
'The old dog for the long road, and the boreen for the pup,' she continued.
Enough said, I headed for Matt Molloy's for a cool pint. There was singing and dancing with John Francis and the Burrishoole Bridge Ceili Band, and John Joe Geraghty performed his humorous sean nós dancing.
'The greatest pint in the world,' I said as the barmaid handed me my drink.
'The pint of Guinness,' said Matt.
'It looks like Guinness but it's Kilkenny,' I said. 'Did you ever try it? Would you like a sip?'
'No thanks,' said Matt, 'there's plenty of it behind the bar!'
Highstepper's photographs from the weekend are in Photo album 23.
Congratulations for daring to bring out into the open the problem of, shall we say, 'glowing' like a pig.
But surely the solution is obvious? The plastic mac was designed with the purpose of keeping moisture out but would surely work just as well keeping moisture in - indeed, the ensemble could be completed with a jaunty little sou'wester to match!
Anne O'Donnell, Kent, England
I found your article about sweat very interesting and informative but I feel we really need to talk very directly to the people who can cause serious problems for dancers with their sweat.
I refer to the (mercifully) few people who literally stink with stale sweat because they will not wash themselves or their clothes often enough. It only takes one of these people at a session to make life very unpleasant for everyone else. We have all had the totally unpleasant experience of dancing a set where one dancer (usually male) was covered in sweat and stinking with it. At the end of the set seven other dancers can be seen running to the toilets and washing their hands to try to clean themselves. We can also expect to see dancers taking extraordinary steps to avoid getting into another set with this guy. Indeed he should be left standing there on his own until he gets the message.
The late great Connie Ryan never pulled his punches with anyone and he certainly did not do so with these individuals. Many a time I heard him advise publicly at the end of his workshops, 'Go and have a good shower and use plenty of soap and put on a clean shirt before coming back here tonight. And don't be just putting the old shirt on the radiator to dry it and then put it on again tonight.'
He was not behind the door either in personally nailing an individual who ignored his advice. These tactics worked as it was a very hard necked person indeed who would ignore advice from Connie. Who would know what he would do next!
I appeal to all set dancers to examine their conscience in this regard and if necessary to take action to spare the noses and stomachs of their fellow dancers. I also appeal to all those 'best friends' who are out there. If you have a pal who offends in this area please please tell him or her as gently, quietly or downright bluntly as you have to.
If all else fails you could at least leave copies of this note lying about on the table where they sit with the relevant lines underlined.
Thanks Bill. Keep up the good work with Set Dancing News.
Louis O'Rourke, Rinceoiri Chualann
Bray, Co Wicklow
Thank you so much for presenting an article and photographs on the Priddy Set Dance Weekend in the last issue of your magazine. This has certainly been a difficult time for me but I am making a steady recovery. This progress has been greatly helped by what has been an overwhelming response from all my friends in the set dancing circle and especially the gang at Priddy, who it seem organised the weekend beautifully apart from the weather! With over 500 cards, signatures, prayers and sincere messages, I am at a loss to reply individually to each one as I would like. Through the magazine I wish to express my thanks to everyone who gave support which has kept me positive and laughing through this totally hair raising experience! I intend to return to the dancing as soon as I am able, with many thanks to you all until then.
Set Dancing News gets better all the time! My only complaint is you're so busy taking photos it's difficult to get a dance with you!
Celia Graham, Wales
Celia, I only take out the camera when I haven't been able to get into a set, usually because I left it too late to find a partner. I try never to let magazine work get in the way of my dancing. If you see me taking photos please rescue me by asking me for the dance!
Willie Keane was a legendary dancer of unsurpassed reputation from Doonbeg in West Clare. He was known far beyond the locality for his passion for dancing, the delight he brought to musicians, fellow dancers and an audience but especially for his remarkable footwork. Willie died on December 6th outside his own door in a traffic accident, after attending an old folks party where he danced a couple waltzes. He was 71. The two tributes printed here were both read out at his burial.
The Graveside Tribute
Séamus na Scuab ó Bhun Chruach Mhárlhain,
Is cá bhfuil an buachaill a bhuailfeadh clár leis?
James the Brush from the foot of Mount Eagle,
where is the person who could dance a step with him?
These two lines were written by a local poet from the Dunquin area in Kerry where he referred to a local dancer - where is the person who would be able to dance with him? I thought these lines were very appropriate when we're here today to say sláinte to Willie Keane, a person who gave great joy and pleasure to so many people who saw his wonderful dancing.
There were many tributes paid to Willie since his untimely death on Sunday night. I remember people talking about where they saw the best set ever being danced and invariably Willie was always one of the set dancers. One little girl here, Kathleen Smith, came all the way from Dublin. Each time Willie danced with her - Willie had a great love of children - he gave her half a crown and she kept these little coins as a memento of Willie. All agree that Willie Keane was a dancer among dancers, a really true artiste. He was recognised by all I think as the most wonderful dancer and gave so much happiness to people seeing his dancing. Willie will certainly be fondly remembered.
Irish dancing is very much on the world stage today. It is presented with great professionalism, great flamboyance and great colour. We hear a lot today of schools of dancing and set dancing workshops, all of these are most enjoyable occasions and long may they continue. But I think one can never lose sight of one's roots and the true genius of a great artist like Willie Keane.
Willie was a dancer's dancer, a superb artist that it would be almost impossible to emulate. The new trend in set dancing today is for dancers to know a great many sets and this is wonderful. But quality is all important and can never be overlooked for quantity. Willie Keane was a person who had quality in his superb dance.
I think one of the great proofs of Willie's regard as a dancer is that the finest musicians in Ireland were always privileged to play for him. They felt that the music and the dance were at one when Willie was dancing. I refer to great Clare musicians such as Tony MacMahon, Noel Hill and Martin Hayes - every one of these are on record stating how much the great dancing of Willie Keane influenced them and how they were so honoured to play for him.
We extend our sympathy today to Willie's family, particularly to his two sons Packie and John. His likes as a dancer will hardly ever be seen again in West Clare but his memory and the joy and great happiness he gave to so many people will be treasured by so many people.
Muiris O Rócháin, Miltown Malbay
In a sad and final parting
A Final Tribute to the Late Willie Keane
Our separate ways, we have to go
But we will think of you Willie a Hero
You kept us on our toes
With stockings white, you were our delight
As you danced the Mullagh Set
On television as we watched you
You have no equals yet
As we filed along in tribute
Last evening in Kilkee
Neatly arrayed by your feet
Were your dancing shoes to see
We thought of that Caledonian
And the magic that you held
When we applauded you and your partner
As you gripped us, in a spell
The final touches, were being put to the hall
As you looked, in from the door
You said the Bull McCabe
Would have to increase his roar
You drifted on to a party
A senior citizen title you held
Just a few of your steps to complement old tunes
And a verdict to me did tell
With an eye as sharp as the bitter wind
On that December day
The little children dancing
Will be heard of yer, you did say
The manner of man that was this man
He also had gifted hands
Work on the farm to be done
Expertly he would plan
A rick of hay made by him
Would never draw the rain
Thatching was not necessary
It would be all in vain
He will always live a legend
That man with the musical tap
The Michael Flatley of Doonbeg
Willie Keane with the peak cap
We will lead you on in silence
To the waves and sea gulls' cry
But your dancing shoes will never be filled
Though many a man may try
What is it all when all is told
This ceaseless rush for fame and gold
When a resting place in Clohanes you sleep
Whilst often, silently we weep
Pádraig Haugh, Doonbeg
My father always warned me: 'Never volunteer - you'll always regret it.' But during the summer of 1997, at a set dance workshop in Ipswich, I forgot my father's warning when I found myself talking to a group of strangers from Chelmsford. They were eager to dance but did not know the sets. 'Oh that's no problem,' I said airily, 'I can show you a couple of sets.' They took my phone number and I forgot all about them.
However, a month later I found that I'd been 'booked' to travel to Chelmsford to introduce the Plain set to a group of complete beginners drawn not only from Chelmsford but from farther afield in Essex.
Now being part of a set is one thing but explaining and calling a set for a group of inexperienced dancers is quite another. Add to that the fact that I was hardly more than a beginner myself and the outcome can only be chaotic! And chaotic it was! On one occasion I lost my place on the tape and tried to teach the fourth figure of the Plain set, which is danced to reels, to the music of the fifth figure - the Gallop - which certainly isn't danced to reels! Halfway through the first wheelbarrow someone queried politely, 'Isn't this a jig?'
Or there was the time when the tape got stuck and the music went on and on and on as I pressed button after button and the enthusiastic dancers carried on until confusion brought them - but not the music - to a stop. And there were the dozens of occasions when I or they simply got it wrong. Fortunately the gaps created by our lack of experience were filled by our laughter. They didn't take me or set dancing seriously and that was what saved us. When I told them, 'Don't worry if you make a mistake - no one's perfect,' they could not help but be assured because I was making mistakes all the time.
Yet progress was made by all of us and sets were danced with increasing confidence and always with enjoyment. Yet sadly the numbers never grew. As is often the case, there was a group of regulars who made everything possible but for some reason we failed to attract larger numbers. Finally the regulars persuaded me to seek a fresh venue in Colchester and they promised - and have faithfully remained loyal to their promise - to drive over and support me every week.
The new venue was the upstairs function room in a pub outside Colchester. In many ways it was a good place to start: the room was large enough for three sets and having the pub below meant that the timidly interested could peer at us before taking the risk and joining in.
But there were two problems. The floor had a distinct 'bounce' to it and it also sagged in the centre. With two enthusiastic sets dancing in unison my time was taken up less with calling the figures than with saving beer and wine glasses which were sliding off the tables towards the centre of the room. As the weeks went by and the dancers improved, their increasing co-ordination began to emphasise the bounce - and the number of broken glasses! In an effort to avert catastrophe the final Big Christmas at the end of the fourth figure of the Connemara Set was banned, but that only postponed the inevitable. We were asked to leave after several of the locals drinking in the lounge bar below lost their nerve and fled, declaring the ceiling unsafe.
Within a week we had found new premises: a modern hall with a good, ground floor and with enough room for ten sets if needed. The numbers - three sets most weeks - are growing. From the start the emphasis has been upon a friendly, casual approach. There is a good deal of 'changing in' during the sets - it is a principle that no one who wishes to dance has to sit out an entire set, although towards the end of the evening, when the livelier sets are danced, newcomers tend to prefer to watch rather than participate.
From the beginning there has been an emphasis upon 'set dancing elsewhere', with copies of Set Dancing News available and a display board giving notice of dances in London and elsewhere. Members travelling further afield to dance - usually to Ireland - are persuaded to send back postcards detailing where and what they've danced. These are added to a growing collection which is also on regular display and one enterprising member with screen printing connections recently designed our own T-shirt with a neat motif encircling 'Colchester Set Dancers.'
So, eighteen months on, was I wrong to disregard my father's advice and volunteer? I think so. I've learnt a great deal about the sets, I've learnt how to mass produce loaves of soda bread and I've met dozens of genuine, warm-hearted people and we've shared some great laughs and some wonderful dancing. So, when it comes to set dancing I'd recommend volunteering every time.
Colchester Set and Ceili Dancers meet every Friday at the RAD Hall, Walsingham Road, off Southway, Colchester.
Val Knight is one of England's most active and enthusiastic set dancing teachers. She's based in Somerset in the west of England and her monthly workshops in the little village of Priddy are well known and attended. She's also a familiar figure at summer folk festivals where she has introduced many to the pleasures of set dancing.
At the end of September Val suffered from seizures and was found to have a brain tumour. This was successfully removed in October and was diagnosed as benign. She has started a long recovery which will keep her from dancing at least for several months to come.
Val's condition since the operation has been generally very good, with ups and downs. Mentally she's unchanged, and is getting fit again with daily walks in Cornwall, where she is recovering.
Meanwhile, her well-organised dancing events continue as normal with the help of her loyal family and friends.
Val sends her warmest thanks to all who have written since her illness. She can be reached in Cornwall at the address and phone listed in the list of teacher and organisers.
At the end of November, 1998, a weekend of dance brought Irish Set Dancing to Beaford, a small village in north Devon. The organiser Martin Hodge arranged a fascinating event split between French, Breton, Irish Set Dancing and other European traditions. We were spoilt for choice of workshops, all had excellent tuition and wonderful music.
Beaford is a comfortable arts centre situated in an old Manor House and very close to the modern village hall. Between them we danced on two good but different wooden floors. John Earl's first Saturday morning workshop saw the South Galway Reel Set taught on the music room's polished parquet. After the coffee break we continued on the more secure boards of the Hall where we learnt the Baile Bhuirne Reel Set despite the distracting and spectacular views of sunshine and showers over Dartmoor.
The next morning Carrie Atkinson taught ceili dances with a little introduction into the mastery of sevens as well. The Siege of Ennis was followed by most of the High Caul'd Cap. The evening programmes integrated other sets into the general dancing. The gathering concluded with a late Sunday afternoon ceili starting with Sliabh Luachra and finishing with the Plain Set. The music was by Nick Scott, the piper, and his friends, who have developed into the Four Reel Ceili Band.
There were many local participants from the Bristol and Exeter Set Dance Groups as well as individuals from Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Dorset. Dancers to whom sets were a new experience were overheard to remark what a good time that they had had and that they would certainly be trying them again. Let's hope that this has been the first weekend of a continuing tradition.
Not many roads lead to Priddy in Somerset, surely one of the most remote villages in the south of England, and on Halloween weekend those few that did were nearly flooded by some of the worst rain in Britain in years. Dancers converging there for a set dancing weekend with Pat Murphy shrugged off the downpour as though they were ducks and plowed straight through the floods in their amphibious vehicles with one aim - dancing! Travellers came from all corners of England and Wales, and there were two from Co Cork and even a couple visitors from the States. Bad weather? What bad weather?
Priddy is the capital of set dancing in the West Country of England where Val Knight holds monthly workshops and numerous special events throughout the year. Twice a year she invites over a teacher from Ireland for a big workshop weekend, and this was the sixteenth of those. Val has never before failed to attend her own events, but a few weeks earlier she'd had a major operation and was still recovering in Cornwall. Nevertheless her presence was strongly felt in Priddy and she was very much missed by everyone.
The determination of dancers to dance regardless of any impediments placed in the way was obvious when the weekend began with a session on Friday night. We gathered in a long narrow room in a nearby pub that was certainly never intended as a dance venue, with a concrete floor covered in linoleum. Nearly everyone was up for every dance, while weaker souls such as myself relaxed on the sidelines hoping that our knees would still be operative in the morning. While the rain fell outside, inside sweat condensed on walls and in spots on the floor, and some found the slick wet floor preferable to the sticky dry one. Still, with good music, atmosphere and dancers, the evening was a great start to the weekend.
Fortunately, the rest of the weekend took place in the village hall with its comfortable and now dust-free wooden floor. The hall used to be famous as a dust trap which turned shoes white, but the floor has recently been sanded and sealed with teak oil rather than varnish. It's said that dancers strip varnish from a floor and this produces dust, but that doesn't happen with an oil finish. Certainly there was no dust during the weekend, our shoes remained their original colour and the shine on the floor lasted through it all. Dusty hall proprietors take note!
Most of the Priddy crowd have been dancing together for years and, here on his third visit, Pat Murphy slotted in as though he was one of the regulars. He had six well-chosen sets for us, with the Mayo and Cloonagh Lancers, the Slip and Slide Polka from Monaghan, the Borlin Jenny, the Mullahoran Set which Pat said was an ancestor of the Cavan Reel Set and the Black Valley Jig.
Music for the ceilis was provided by Body and House on Friday night, Show the Lady on Saturday night and the Shindig Ceili Band on Sunday afternoon. The odd thing was that these three bands seemed to be composed of same musicians, arranged in slightly different combinations each time. All the musicians were English, but the music was uniformly excellent. The highlight for myself was the beautiful fling in the Mayo Lancers played on Saturday night by Simon Knight on box, Victoria Mogridge on fiddle and Pete Nicholson on guitar.
It was mostly a crowd of English dancers at the weekend, but there was little to distinguish them from a crowd of Irish dancers - at least until the raffle was called when one difference between the nationalities became remarkably clear. Irish people with a winning raffle ticket behave as though they're a bit stunned - they can't believe they really have the winning ticket and only go up to collect the prize after strong persuasion by friends. This can take minutes during which the winning number is repeated several times. Some are so shy about winning that they never go up at all, requiring a new number to be called and forcing someone else to endure the embarrassment of winning. At Priddy, the English winners responded in the blink of an eye. The tickets were close to hand, the winning number was called just once and in a flash lasting only a fraction of a second there was someone standing up at the front waving a ticket, who happily walked back with a bottle or box of chocolates totally free of embarrassment. The fastest raffle I've ever seen!
After two days of heavy rain, the skies cleared on Sunday for a beautiful finish to the 16th Priddy weekend. Despite Val Knight's absence, everything proceeded exactly as it would have done had she been there, thanks to the efficient help from her friends and family. Everyone pitched in to make a great weekend, Pat Murphy, the musicians, the volunteers who called the sets, and the dancers. With good luck, Val will be present at the next Priddy weekend with Eileen O'Doherty in May.
For photographs see Photo album 22.
There were fewer British faces than ever before at the sixth Cork-Kerry Weekend in Dingle, Co Kerry, over the weekend of 13-15 November 1998, which was organised and run by Timmy and Rhona McCarthy. Visitors from the UK, who in previous years made up a large part of the workshop participants, were considerably down.
The total numbers were similar to those last year, with six sets attending Timmy's workshop and as many as fifteen at the Saturday night ceili. However, in the first two years of the weekend there were so many dancers that two halls were needed to accommodate them on Saturday night.
Whilst Timmy remains full of infectious enthusiasm for Cork and Kerry sets and continues to give what he terms as 'a PhD in Polkas,' paying tribute to the people who have revived and maintained the sets such as Tim Crowley (Ardgroom Set), Diarmuid and Mary McSweeney (Ballyvourney Reel and Jig Sets) and Georgie Drummond (Borlin Polka Set), unfortunately not all set dancers seem to share his enthusiasm.
Having been to all six Cork-Kerry Weekends I am a great fan but have seen the numbers gradually decline. Perhaps this reflects declining interest in polka sets in general as most dancers today prefer reel sets. Even in the home of the polka set the Clare sets are taking over.
At two ceilis in Co Cork in the week preceding the Cork-Kerry festival, including one at Ballyvourney (Timmy's home town), only one Cork set and two Kerry sets were danced out of a total of twelve, compared to four Clare sets. Even at the Saturday ceili Timmy was required by popular demand to allow three reel sets including the Caledonian which was called and demonstrated by John Torpey.
Timmy himself played for the first half of the ceili on Friday and with the help of Jon Sanders on guitar they produced great dancing music. Fresh from a tour with De Dannan, Derek Hickey accompanied by Tommy O'Sullivan completed the night.
On Saturday, the legendary Johnny O'Leary played really well with the help of Tim Keily. The highlight for me was the music of Pádraig Ó Sé and Jon Sanders who played for the second half. In my humble opinion these two are amongst the best exponents of music for dancing.
On Sunday afternoon we were treated to more great music this time from Donal and Kevin Murphy. Throughout the weekend the musicians playing for the ceilis provided sessions for dancers and traditional music lovers at a local pub.
Timmy's weekend was a great success and deserves support from all set dancers to help reverse any declining interest in polka sets. Next year the seventh Cork-Kerry Weekend will be on the 12th to 14th of November, 1999. I am already making plans!
Brian Saunders, Borehamwood
Good value for money, very informative and an excellent 'diary' when over in Ireland on holiday. This September, when a friend and I drove over 1400 miles (in a week) just for to dance the sets! It was brilliant. The 'Set Dancing News' proved invaluable in locating the venues and teachers. Keep up the good work.
Patricia Haisman, Lancashire
I have a friend in the village - we both keep a few sheep and help each other when needed - who left Ireland in 1948. He had told me about dancing at the crossroads on Sundays and in fact mentioned that they had concrete plinths but I didn't really believe this bit - just his 'Irish' as my wife puts it. Your picture this month will see us eating humble pie now.
I showed him the picture and dragged him over to a map Skibbereen district and he picked out about six places where a plinth was built. In fact he helped build one at Drimoleague. I can see us holidaying in Ireland soon doing some concrete plinth archaeology. An interesting point is that on Sunday afternoons they would meet at the local crossroads and listen first to try to hear other music and cycle over to join them. I asked him why dance outside and he said, 'We were just dance crazy. We had parochial halls for the Friday evening dance but that would be closed on Sunday so we had to make our own.'
It is easy to see where your picture was taken and it is obviously well into a summer evening at the time. I asked Bill if he had one of the cloth caps I could borrow but no joy there!
Incidentally, on page 8 you mention the flagged floor in Dan Furey's cottage. Our farmhouse kitchen has such a floor - it has given me ideas.
The picture was from Val Knight I see and you will no doubt have heard that she is seriously ill. We were all shaken at Priddy on Sunday and we pray for her.
John Key, Golly Knapp Farm, Puncknowle, Dorset
John refers to a photograph of crossroads dancing in Kerry in 1948 which appeared on the front of the October-November 1998 edition of the Set Dancing News magazine. You can see it in Photo album 13.
How's it going? Yes I had a mighty time in Milwaukee with Pat and a group from Nenagh, Co. Tipp. and what a well organized event it really is. Great line up of acts and what a fabulous festival site on Lake Michigan. I also got to the Washington and Philadelphia festivals. I was a volunteer at the Philadelphia festival last weekend. I did everything from selling Murphy's stout to dancing at the evening concert to the music of Craobh Rua. They opened their set with a tune called 'The Lads of Laois', a very appropriate tune I thought. I'm sure I was that lovely county's only representative. Yes I do hope to go home soon - well I do have to get back to run our great four day festival next May with Micheál, Pat, and all the gang. I know you enjoyed yourself right? This workshop next month will be my first in the U.S. I have been teaching sets at home in Mountrath, Co. Laois for three years now. I studied under the late great Connie Ryan after I first met him in I believe 1991. I was to be an ardent admirer from then on. He was only mighty. I e-mailed Pat Murphy the other day, he is very busy. Okay and thanks again Bill, as Connie would say 'keep spreading the news'. Take care.
John Sinnott, 22 September 1998
John is a member of the Half Door Club in Co Laois, along with Micheal Lalor and Pat McSpadden. They organise an excellent festival on the first weekend in May at Castletown. While John is in the States he's doing a workshop in New Jersey in October. Both events are included in the listings.
I have a set dancing friend who likes her space, and I don't just mean on the dance floor at ceilis. The postcard I received recently with the comment, "Now that I'm here and you're over there, I'm happy!" had all her trademarks.
She had been in Milwaukee.
"How was it?" I asked her later.
"Hot and friendly," she said.
"Did you have an encounter?" I asked.
"Plenty of encounters, it's the best way to live!" she replied.
"How did P J Hernon play?" I asked.
"Very well. P J Hernon and Swallowtails music is superb," she said.
"Maybe, but the same P J nearly fell asleep in Roscommon. In fact, people were saying that P J was sleepwalking in Sheepwalk," I said.
"Why?" she asked.
"Well P J is getting too much ceili lately," I replied.
"Can one get too much ceili?" she asked.
"Oh yea," I replied.
"You don't say!" she shouted.
The organiser, Seamus Regan, announced that P J was going to smile, and when he did there was loud applause. The proceeds of the September weekend went to the Mayo Roscommon Hospice which brings care to the terminally ill in both counties.
I counted sixteen sets on the floor at Caherlistrane, County Galway, on the Saturday night of their lively October weekend, which was well organised by Maura and Mary Bohan. During the Esker Riada ceili on Sunday afternoon Mickey Kelly arrived with a busload of set dancers from Mayo via Lisdoonvarna. They told us they had danced a set on the Cliffs of Moher, very close to the edge.
Later in the month the Cooley Collins Festival coincided with a bikers rally the same weekend in Gort, County Galway. Some of the bikers were musicians, but not many of them came to the ceili that night fortunately. Having said that though, set dancers and bikers get on very. There is only one difference - set dancers don't overtake, especially not in the bar. One of the annual visitors said that this year the pubs were not as good, but the ceili was better. He probably drank less this year I reckon, but it was true about the ceili. It was livelier in O'Sullivan's discotheque with the Four Courts Ceili Band, with plenty of sets and loads of space to swing. Did I say space? On no! there's that word again.
Set Dancing News received the following report on the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil in Ballina, Co Mayo, 27-31 August 1998, from a well-worn fax machine situated far from civilisation. Our correspondent has made it very clear that he wishes to preserve his anonymity.
Having survived Miltown Malbay and Tubbercurry, I headed for Ballina where over 170,000 converged for the Fleadh. The Fleadh was sponsored by Guinness and hosted over 10,000 musicians.
Rambling through the streets I bought myself a souvenir, a pair of flashing devil horns which a lot of people were wearing and heard from the seller that an American tourist had paid £5,000 for a set of uilleann pipes formerly owned by Finbar Furey. After visiting some of the pubs, or should I say several pints later, I arrived in the Dome for the ceili where I believe there were 93 sets on the floor at one stage.
'This is the kind of ceili we have every Saturday night in Mayo,' I told my dance partner trying to impress her. It didn't work, of course, and she followed with a torrent of criticism about the weekend, the final and biggest insult was that even the beer was better in Kilburn. Here for the beer, I thought, that makes a change for a set dancer. I thought the only thing that could frustrate a set dancer was not being able to get on the dance floor.
Speaking of which, there were a lot of frustrated dancers at the Matt Cunningham outdoor ceili on Sunday afternoon due to the fact that the dance floor was too small. It took a bit of change to get on it at all, and I did a lot of jumping on other people's toes. Some I genuinely felt sorry for, others I felt I hadn't jumped half hard enough on. Then there was another unusual problem - dancers couldn't hear the music with the wind. We couldn't blame Matt this time though. Later the ceili ended and immediately the dance floor was taken up, and I was reliably informed by a friend that it had to go back fast as it was the roof on somebody's house.
Later that night at the ceili in the Town Hall I had to contend with Mickey Kelly making faces at me from another set. When you're invited down to Newport to a ceili and don't go, this is the kind of thing you have to contend with. Needless to say, it is very easy to get into the bad books in Mayo whether it's Ballina or indeed Newport. However, as Tony Blair said earlier in the week at Ashford Castle in Cong, County Mayo, 'Ta draicht ag baint le Maigh Eo' - Mayo casts a spell.
Five pictures from Ballina are in Photo album 20.
Irish social dancing can trace its origins back to the dances of polite society in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Some of the favoured dances of the day were the Quadrille, Waltz, Polka, Mazurka and Schottische, and all of these have had an influence on Irish dancing which is still evident today.
A new course on Victorian dance is going to provide a thorough grounding in the dances of the period. Two outstanding authorities on historical dance, Ellis and Chris Rogers, will teach the course in Cecil Sharp House in London on three Sundays once a month. The instruction covers the Quadrilles of the period, including Caledonians and Lancers sets which were the basis of some of our favourite sets today. Ellis and Chris will also teach a selection of couple dances. A Victorian dance party will be held on a fourth Sunday after the course is completed.
The class is suitable for beginners in historical dance. Dancers of the Victorian period used simpler footwork than earlier in the nineteenth century and so these dances are easier to learn today. Set dancers will notice similarities between the figures of the Quadrilles and Irish sets, but the music, footwork, pace and atmosphere are all a world apart. It can be fascinating if you're interested in the history of set dancing.Ellis and Chris have conducted the Quadrille Club in London for many years, which covers are broader period of dancing than this course. Unfortunately the club is without a home at the moment, but they hope to find a suitable hall soon. If the Victorian Dance course goes well, there may be courses covering other periods of historical dances next year.
Victorian Dance Short Course, Cecil Sharp House, 2 Regents Park Road, London, NW1 4 October 1998 2-5pm £5 1 November 1998 11am-5pm £8 6 December 1998 11am-5pm £8 Victorian Dance Party, Pimlico, London, SW1 13 December 1998 2-6pm £15 including supper
Contact Ellis or Chris for more information.
It has been long awaited, but finally Seattle can be put on the set dancing map after Pat Murphy took a week out of his busy schedule to teach us some of what he knows.
The workshop was set for 6-8 pm Monday through Friday, July 13-17, as part of the Seattle Celtic Camp which was organized by the Northwest Irish Dancers, a mainly step dancing school. The hall, part of St Edward's School in Seattle, where all the action took place, had a good old wooden floor even though the lighting had little to be desired without much in the way of window light, or electric light for that matter. The class was a small but dedicated group, usually consisting of about enough people for two sets. This turned out to be a big advantage with more personal and in depth attention given when it was required. We also had the ability to practice dances more, with the entire hall to ourselves.
When it came to what sets were being taught we soon realized it was going to be an intense week with the intention of learning one a day - quite a task. Monday started us off with the Fermanagh Quadrilles, a nice easy one to get us warmed up. Then Tuesday turned out to be a request day with a couple of us, having read the June-July edition of Set Dancing News, asking if we could go through the Mayo Lancers, bundles of fun indeed. For some reason the tape machine didn't like the fling music so we carried on with hornpipes. We worked our way through the Corofin on Wednesday and finally started understanding the third figure with a quirky line of four lead around. Next came the Glencree set, a fun polka set with a jig fifth figure and, yes, actually a waltz figure to end it - wow. Somehow we still had the time to go through the Labasheeda Reel set and a pleasant little Scottish waltz to cap the lessons off.
Even though each day was scheduled for two hours, Pat very kindly stayed for up to an hour afterward to go over different footwork and batter patterns. This was enlightening for us and we much appreciate all that we learned.
After talking to Pat, it seems like he had an enjoyable stay here in Washington State. Even though the hot weather, 25-30 degrees and sunny, did cause a bit of discomfort to his travelling companion Liam O'Shea, this did not last long enough to stop him from bringing his own little brand of good natured mischief onto the dance floor, especially in the Mayo Lancers' poigín.
There was plenty of music and dancing that week with the highlight being the Friday night ceili at the Old Town Ale House in Ballard, North Seattle, organized by the Seattle Ceili Society. We danced until the small hours to great music played by Randall Bayes and the Rashers. They love to play for good enthusiastic dancing and we were not arguing - it gave us a chance to recap some of the workshop lessons to live musicians. Pat went away smiling that night - he could even be back next year. Who know? Maybe Seattle is destined for bigger things in the future so watch this space!
Michael Graham, Seattle, Washington
Do set dancers in any part of the world begin vigorous dancing at 9.00 am - or is this only in Milwaukee? Each August, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA, hosts one of the world's largest Irish festivals, the Irish Fest. During the week preceding the festival, the Irish Fest School conducts classes on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Pat Murphy taught workshops for set dancers from more than fifteen of the United States. The early start-time was a struggle for many dancers, but Pat's charming manner and presentation made the sessions very worthwhile. Over four days of classes - two sessions per day, Pat drilled the students in about a dozen sets and footwork. Sets which were new to most students included the Mayo Lancers, Down Lancers, Armagh, Kenmare Polka and Keadue Lancers.
The popularity of the sets was evident in the composition of the classes - there were 'converted' ceili dancers, teenage step dancers and adults aged from the twenties to the sixties.
Besides classes each day, dancers enjoyed a variety of other activities. For the venturesome and really energetic participants, there were sean nós dance classes taught by Roisín Ní Mhainnín. Two ceilis at the Irish Cultural and Heritage Center were delightful. Local musicians played for the Tuesday night dance. On Friday, after the Irish Festival ended, set dancers adjourned to the Center again, where the music was provided by favorites John Whelan, Liz Carroll, Natalie MacMaster, Kevin Madden, and Peter O'Brien. The highlight of the event came about 2 am when several participants demonstrated their alternate skills: Jim Monaghan, who accompanied Pat Murphy to Milwaukee, performed his infamous 'brush' dance; Pat was 'captured' and forced to play the accordion; John Whelan and Natalie MacMaster displayed their dancing ability. Natalie's lively Cape Breton-style step dancing was a great hit with folks at the ceili and at the Irish Festival.
The Irish Festival provided lots of opportunities for dancing, both sets and ceili. P J Hernon and the Swallows Tail Ceili Band played for set dancing Thursday through Sunday. Besides this outstanding group, musicians from Milwaukee and Chicago provided plenty of spirited dance tunes each day. Of course, many set dancers were torn between being on the dance floor and going to see the many fine performers at the festival. With more than a dozen stages simultaneously presenting music, singing, theater, and lecture sessions, it was difficult to see and hear all the performers, even if one did not try to get to the dance area.
Lenette and Larry Taylor, Stow, Ohio, USA
Two pictures from the Irish Fest are in Photo album 19.
Although our set dancing club in Exeter was established only in September 1997, our enthusiastic and necessarily patient teacher, John Earle, had sufficient confidence in us to encourage us to go to an Irish set dancing summer school this year. And so it was that I (who hadn't even heard of Irish set dancing a month before the classes started) and a number of my dancing companions went as a group to the Joe Mooney Summer School. We were very fortunate to find accommodation where we could all stay together, which contributed to a party atmosphere and made it feel a little like a school camping holiday, but without so much discomfort. It was reassuring and less daunting to go to the set dance workshops for the first time as part of a group, although everyone was very friendly and John had assured us that we weren't beginners any more.
I didn't find a single person who considered Pat Murphy to be other than a wonderful and charming teacher. I asked members of our group what they thought of the set dancing: 'superb teacher' was often repeated, as well as 'easy style', 'Pat made it all seem simple', and 'I loved every minute of it'. I also asked them which sets were their favourites. Anne loved the Televara, and many of us really enjoyed the Mayo Lancers and the Plain Polka Set. Maggie said that she especially liked 'the one with the kiss' or poigín - was this the Mayo Lancers, in which hands should be held behind backs, or the Melleray Lancers, which has no restrictions on hand movements? Mike's comment was 'I liked the one where you push the woman around!' I'm still not sure to which set he was referring - was he actually at the same workshops as me?
The weather was not Mediterranean but dancing in a confined space with a large number of similarly active people generates its own heat. I found it refreshing during the intervals to cool down outside the building in an invigorating breeze or a light rain shower. Irish weather complements Irish set dancing.
In the evenings, usually after a restful afternoon, there was more dancing. On Tuesday evening we danced to Apples in Winter in the small hall; it was hot and crowded but the atmosphere was great. On Wednesday evening we danced to the Congress Ceili Band and on Friday to Swallows Tail, but both of these ceilithe were held in the cavernous larger hall which not only lacked atmosphere but also was equipped with echoing and poor quality sound equipment. On the other evenings we went into the town, where from every pub emanated the most inviting music from impromptu seisiúns, and we walked from pub to pub, luxuriously sampling the music until we finally chose one in which to settle down and enjoy the company. On one evening we found set dancing in one of the pubs too.
I had severe misgivings about whether my legs, ankles and feet would be able to withstand a whole week of dancing, and there were evenings when various parts of me ached and I had to take it easy. As the week wore on, even the seemingly indefatigable John was experiencing twinges in parts of his anatomy not normally subject to twinges, and was actually seen to sit out one dance at a ceili - usually an unthinkable act on his part. But we always found that a few hours' rest was enough to restore us to amnesia of previous aches and undaunted determination to dance again.
The only dancing that I really could not manage was the sean nos dancing, taught with infinite patience and attention to detail by Roisin Ni Mhainnin. When she danced it was poetry on legs, but sadly at that stage of the week, my ankles were not up to the task of trying to imitate it. Many stronger-ankled souls than me did complete the workshop and enjoyed it, including my daughter, Daisy.
Two particular highlights of the week were Michael Tubridy's talk, 'the Background to the Plain Set', which was fascinating from start to finish and illustrated with archive video footage of set dancing, and the Grand Traditional Concert on Thursday evening. Beautiful music was played on all types of traditional instruments, the singing was haunting and powerful, and Pat and some of the more experienced dancers gave a polished demonstration of three figures from sets taught during the week. There were times during the concert when I was aware that I was in the presence of true genius, never more so than during the sublime accordion playing of Joe and Anne Burke. It was a truly magnificent concert.
On Saturday there was a re-enactment of the march of French and Irish troops through Drumshanbo, to commemorate the bi-centenary of the events of 1798. Costumes were colourful and impressive and did not quite mask familiar faces, speeches were made and applauded and a tree was ceremoniously planted beside the Main Street.
We ended the week dancing on the High Street to the strains of the Glenside Ceili Band. Ostensibly due to the leaden sky (or was it by clever design?), the Glenside Ceili Band played inside the pub, with only the loudspeakers outside with the dancers, wrapped in black plastic. But the rain held off and the uplifting music and the realisation that this was the last Drumshanbo dance kept all the tired feet dancing on concrete for a couple of hours. Then we all hugged and said goodbye to the many new friends we had made and went to join final seisiúns in our favourite pubs. Early the next morning our group dispersed, some to travel back to Exeter, some to take in more of the pleasures of Ireland before returning home.
My group followed Pat Murphy to Clarecastle to arrive in time for his afternoon workshop, and discovered that others had the same idea. We greeted several of the new friends we had said goodbye to the previous day. In the evening we danced in glorious sunshine at the Crossroads to music by the West Clare Ramblers. The outdoor dance floor was wonderfully smooth, a pleasure to dance on and expertly maintained. As soon as the corner of one of the floor boards began to sink slightly, a gentleman with cordless screwdriver in hand immediately set about fixing it, seemingly heedless of the people happily continuing to dance around him.
We stayed in Corofin in County Clare for another week. We were privileged to be invited to experience a visit from the Strawboys to celebrate the recent family wedding of some friends in Corofin and danced the Corofin Plain Set in the kitchen. We danced at Cois na hAbhna in Ennis with Dick O'Connell and his regulars on two nights, once with a wonderful troupe of Finnish dancers in full costume, who demonstrated some traditional Finnish dances, taught us some of their simpler dances and joined in the set dancing with us with enthusiasm and considerable talent. We became Four Courts groupies as on successive nights we danced at P J's in Ballyline, McCarthy's in Kilbeacanty and Vaughan's Barn in Kilfenora, all to the lively music of the Four Courts Ceili Band. During fifteen days in Ireland, we danced on every day save one.
And what of the Exeter Set Dancing Club? When I think of the motley crowd John Earle was presented with a year ago, I feel that with expert tuition we have come a long way in a short time, most of us sharing the same enthusiasm that fires John. By the time this article is published we will have been dancing together for a year and will have celebrated our first anniversary with a party. We are now looking forward to the last weekend in October when we shall meet up again with Pat Murphy for some more exciting dancing.
Helen Easton, Exeter, Devon
Participants at the Joe Mooney Summer School appear in three photos in Photo album 19.
Labasheeda must be the quietest village in Clare, if not the whole of Ireland. The long street has houses on one side and the Shannon the other. There's only one pub and shop and no B&Bs. It's not on the way to anywhere so the only people passing through live there. The setting is beautiful, but not spectacular enough to draw busloads of tourists.
Initially it might seem an unlikely spot for a set dancing weekend, but it's a perfect place thanks to the locals. All the villagers, from the youngest to the oldest, give a smile and friendly salute as you pass by on the street. Many opened up their homes and welcomed visitors to stay and eat with them. A very effective committee organised the weekend so that all the dancers had to think about was their dancing.
The Dan Furey Weekend was named in honour of a local dancer and fiddler who taught dancing in the area over many years. Dan was responsible for reviving the Paris and Labasheeda sets together with James Keane, who is also from Labasheeda. This was the fourth weekend held annually since Dan's death in 1993.
The music was uniformly excellent throughout the weekend, beginning and ending with Michael Sexton, and the Abbey and Kilfenora Ceili Bands in between. The stars of the weekend were the Abbey Ceili Band on Saturday night who had just as much fun playing as the dancers had dancing. Their enjoyment was heard very clearly in the music which was full of enthusiasm and joy and of course great for dancing. They played the most perfectly pleasurable Cashel set in living memory that night.
Labasheeda has a spacious modern hall with a comfortable floor built in the elegant shell of the old Catholic church. Attendance for the weekend was good, with the greatest crowds at the Sunday afternoon ceili with the Kilfenora Ceili Band. On Saturday about eight sets came to the set workshop with John Fennel, who teaches set dancing full time to local children. He taught the Labasheeda and Lancer sets and spent a couple hours teaching his battering steps. In a separate workshop James Keane and Celine Tubridy taught traditional step dances, with lovely music by Celine's husband Michael on flute and two Japanese musicians, 'Paddy' and 'Bridget', on flute and concertina.
There's good music, dancing and teaching at nearly every set dancing workshop, but Labasheeda offered a few things that couldn't have been found elsewhere. On Sunday morning a small group of respectful dancers and locals travelled to Dan Furey's grave for prayers by the local priest, who is a keen dancer himself. After paying our respects in a howling gale, we travelled to Dan's own house in the peace of a remote peninsula in the Shannon estuary. A ludicrous line of cars followed each other turning off the tiny road onto a tiny track and crowded around the tiny cottage, which has been kept exactly as it was when Dan still lived there.
Inside there were all the elements of a folk park cottage, the flagged floor, turf fire, bare bulb and sacred heart, but this was entirely genuine. Dan's handiwork was still there, with a beautifully built miniature staircase to the attic standing proudly in the room, now serving as balcony seating for spectators. A team of young local musicians started to play and a set was quickly arranged to dance the Caledonian. Those of us fortunate enough to dance there that day felt as one with Dan, his family and friends, who danced on those very same flagstones for many decades before us.
The final stop of the outing was the Battery Castle, a nineteenth century British fort guarding the Shannon from Napoleon, which was a surprisingly good venue for set dancing thanks to the fine wooden floor installed in a renovation. The castle is roofed, but the windows are open and the dancing was accompanied by fierce winds of an American hurricane which completely eliminated any possibility of sweating. As soon as the Plain set had stopped, a bat was blown into the room and circled frantically for a minute or two to the screams of those of us who feared it would land on our heads before being blown out the other side. The organising committee is to be congratulated for providing such unique entertainment.
Apart from Hurricane Danielle, there was another American visitor present that weekend - President Clinton. He wasn't spotted dancing in Labasheeda, but you probably could have seen him across the Shannon if you had strong binoculars. There were lines of helicopters travelling back and forth on Friday and Saturday, and on Saturday night a string of blue flashing lights, two or three miles long, could be seen moving along the Limerick roads. However, despite the presence of the two American visitors, we were very much more concerned with the set dancing legacy of Dan Furey and the pleasure it still brings to all of us even today.
Photo album 20 has four photos of the Dan Furey Weekend.
The centre of Tralee was like an obstacle course on Monday, 24 August 1998, in the midst of the Rose of Tralee Festival. It was Irish Night and the Tulla Ceili Band, Begley and Cooney and Johnny Reidy were playing outdoors.
The streets were closed to vehicles but the trudge across town was impeded by another kind of traffic - huge mobile burger and chip joints, carnival games of dubious skill, stalls selling things you'd be hard pressed to find a use for, dozens of young girls having strands of hair wrapped in coloured threads by hippies, crowds of hungry and thirsty pleasure seekers.
When the music was at last in sight there was a final obstacle - the street was blocked by a driving competition for Mini cars, which screeched and skidded in tight circles around evenly spaced traffic cones. The only passage was along a pavement filled with spectators and pedestrians pushing through both ways in single file.
A crowd was gathered in front of the Gig Rig, an articulated lorry converted into a stage for rock bands and plastered with Guinness advertising. The Tulla Band looked rather misplaced in it. A line of crowd control barriers and security guards dressed in black were guarding them in case any crazed set dancers tried to rush the stage.
Paddy Hanafin was there to urge dancers to form sets and about four danced in a clearing within the crowd. We didn't have the convenience of a floor so we danced on the tarmac, wearing the soles of our shoes dangerously close to the soles of our feet. If the Tulla were ever to play before a live volcano a set would be dancing in front of them there on the hot coals.
Begley and Cooney were on next and played their trademark West Kerry set followed by a waltz that turned into a polka and then into a jive without losing a beat, but with a further loss of shoe leather.
With my shoes still intact, I left the street for the comforts of the Ballygarry Hotel where the Tulla Band was playing for even more dancing. There was a spacious smooth floor with plenty of spring and slide, so most of us were aghast when a member of staff sprinkled a powder over the floor between sets. I caught a sweet smelling scent and realised it was talcum powder. Where was this fellow when we needed him on the street?
The Cashel set was called after that and the floor was now perilous for dancing. After a complaint or two, Paddy Hanafin saved the dance with a damp mop as he cleaned up the talc and made the floor better than it was before the powder was administered.
The Tulla took a break when Johnny Reidy showed up. He played his incredibly fast polkas for a Sliabh Luachra set which either exhausted or exhilarated. The Tulla reconvened with an extra player, Steve Cooney on guitar, and they only got better as the night continued.
When Paddy Hanafin invited the band to Tralee he thought it would be for their first performance in Tralee, but P J Hayes knew better - they had been here 22 years before in the Manhattan Hotel. Paddy informed us that this was the same hotel we were dancing in as it had changed name since then.
Paddy also said that the competitors for the Rose of Tralee often attended this ceili, but that night there was a dinner with President Mary McAleese in another hotel which took priority for the Roses. The Tulla have played for past Presidents and have even played in Aras na Uchtaran, the President's official residence. P J would have very much liked to play for the Roses and the President but I'm pleased he was in the company of set dancers that night.
Thanks to the musicians and to Paddy Hanafin for a well organised and thoroughly enjoyable night.
Two pictures from the night are in Photo album 19.
The dancing is refreshingly different at the Sunday night ceili in Dan O'Connell's pub, Knocknagree, Co Cork. It's the heart of Sliabh Luachra, where the music and dance tradition has always been strong and enduring. Dan started the ceilis 34 years ago and is still welcoming dancers today in his eighties. Johnny O'Leary has played his box here for all of that time.
When dancing began at close to 10pm there was a fairly even mix of locals and visitors. About five sets got up for the first dance, the Polka set, leaving a similar number of spectators around the hall. The local sets don't have names - they're just called the Polka set and the Jig set - but elsewhere they're known as the Sliabh Luachra and Jenny Lind.
Right from the start of the set I could see that things were different here. My partner and I were facing the music so I naturally assumed we were dancing tops, but the two gents in shirt and tie with their well dressed ladies on either side of me were clearly in control of the set. I realised that here they have a more subtle definition of 'tops' not based on mere position - perhaps the tops couples are the ones with more experience and maturity, or who are better dressed than the side couples, or who just dash in first to do the figure.
Even before the first figure of the first set had finished I was relieved of still more of my notions about set dancing. While dancing I found I was unable to get back to my original position as the set shifted around to seemingly random positions. Before this evening I'd expect this when dancing with beginners, but the dancers in Dan O'Connell's had a lifetime of experience. They were so relaxed in their dancing that getting back to position didn't matter at all. As I followed them and stopped worrying about where I was dancing it became even more enjoyable.
Johnny together with Tim Kiely backing him on guitar played lovely slow waltzes between the sets that were delightful to dance with the ladies of Sliabh Luachra. The Polka set was danced a second time, which was followed by the Jig set. It has long figures but I still hadn't had enough of Johnny's jigs when it finished. The final set of the evening, the Plain set, stood out almost like a foreign import, but even in the heart of Sliabh Luachra they like a Clare set as much as the rest of us.
A wide range of ages danced together all evening with as many as seven sets in the hall. Even children were welcome, dancing as couples and with adults. I danced with a ten-year-old girl who took obvious pleasure in the sets. She told me she was taught the polka step by her father, the reels by her mother and has a collection of medals for her step dancing.
When the dancing was over many lingered in the hall for a while and others moved to the bar where Dan presided over a session until closing time. After 34 years Dan, Johnny and their ceili are still going strong and I hope they continue for many years to come.
Bill Lynch, 26 August 1998
There's dancing every Sunday night in Dan O'Connell's pub, Knocknagree, Co Cork, from around 9.45pm to 12am. Contact Dan's daughter, Mairead Kiely, for further information.
There's a photograph of the dance in Photo album 19.
Connie Ryan is going to be honoured by a weekend of set dancing workshops and ceilis on the 11th to 13th June 1999 in his native village of Clonoulty, Co Tipperary. Connie was a highly popular and influential dance teacher who died last year and since then a number of weekends have been dedicated to his memory. The new weekend will be special because it takes place in the village where Connie was born, raised and buried. It is called the Connie Ryan Gathering and will be held annually.
The local organisers have invited three Tipperary dancers to teach the workshops, Michael Loughnane, Johnny Morrissey and Pat Murphy. The weekend starts in Clonoulty hall on Friday with a welcome session. The Saturday workshops and ceili with Michael Sexton and his band take place in nearby Thurles. The events on Sunday return to Clonoulty with a memorial Mass in the church, refreshments in the hall, the unveiling of a plaque to Connie, a visit to the grave and finally a ceili with the Glenside Ceili Band in the hall. A booklet about Connie Ryan will also be published for the weekend.
For more information about the Connie Ryan Gathering contact Paddy Heffernan.
The North American Comhaltas convention is probably the most popular set dancing event outside Ireland. Paul Keating from New Jersey writes about the convention and its special guests next year.
Every April the annual convention of the North American province of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Éireann brings together officers and delegates from the 32 branches over here for a weekend of business meetings that chart the course for the organization.
But the convention is more popularly known for its massive celebration of traditional music and dance by almost 1,500 people. The big attractions are the set dance and music workshops and daily ceilithe which create a Fleadh-like atmosphere with the convenience of being under one roof in a comfortable and affordable hotel that can cater to such a crowd.
The dancers are fueled by many of the best traditional musicians in the US and Canada who are invited to participate in separate music workshops as well. A dancing master is always imported from Ireland for the weekend and in the past Mick Mulkerrin, Pat Murphy, Padraig and Roisin McEneaney and Donncha Ó Múinneacháin served that role admirably.
For 1999, the convention has extended an invitation to Betty McCoy, Pat Murphy, Aidan Vaughan, Paddy Neylon, Jim Barry, Liz Mulhaire, Deirdre Morrissey and Geraldine Connolly to come out as a team to lead the set dancing workshops. All worked with the late Connie Ryan who had an immense impact on set dancing in America and most of them toured the US with the Slievenamon Set Dancing Club in 1988 and 1991, helping to spark the revival over here.
The main focus in their classes will be to emphasize regional styles and proper teamwork when dancing sets which some feel have become lost amid the enthusiastic and widespread response to set dancing everywhere. There is little to be gained by learning more and more sets if they aren't danced properly by the majority of dancers, no matter how much fun people are having.
The weekend convention has a set dance workshop at the start of Friday evening followed by a ceili, then music and dance workshops all day Saturday followed by a gala dinner dance and ceili Saturday evening. Sunday brings another set dance workshop and a farewell ceili.
The convention will be held in Parsippany, New Jersey, at the Parsippany Hilton Hotel from April 9 to 11, 1999. The hotel is approximately 45 miles west of New York City and is about a half-hour's drive from Newark Airport. It has 508 rooms offered at a convention rate of per room per night and serves as the only site for the music and dance events. Other hotels may be used for accommodation only. A full weekend package including all workshops, ceilithe and meals (two breakfasts, one lunch and Saturday evening banquet) will be available, which cost at last April's convention. Events and meals can also be paid separately.
Paul Keating, New Jersey
Hotel registration is open to Comhaltas members until 1 November 1998 and then opens to the general public. Contact Convention Secretary Margie O'Driscoll or Mid-Atlantic Regional Chairman Paul Keating for information and registration.
This report was written by Colie Mullin on behalf of the Set Dancing for Galway Committee.
We wish to announce that our tenth and final set dancing festival will take place in Salthill on the weekend of the 26th to 28th March, 1999.
As recalled by Aine Freeley in issue 4 of The Set Dancer, the festival began quite by accident. In an inspired moment, Colie Mullin envisaged a megafestival which would bring together all the well known teachers and ceili bands and so offer the dancer the widest choice of styles and teaching methods. He was convinced that his vision was worth bringing to fruition and after much persuasion (and even coercion) he succeeded in convincing others to run with his idea. The festival was to be a once off event but so successful was the first weekend that it evolved into an annual festival and mushroomed into Ireland's biggest set dancing event.
Over the years, dancing enthusiasts from all corners of the globe have flocked to Galway in their thousands for a thoroughly enjoyable and informative weekend. Many a lasting friendship has been formed and even a knot or two tied through a chance but 'impressive' encounter at Seapoint.
Along with being the first festival of its kind, it has been responsible for many successful firsts, the most notable of which must be the launch of Ireland's first and only set dancing magazine - The Set Dancer - which was the brainchild of Didier Matherat. Issue Zero was launched at the 1993 festival and so favourable and encouraging was the response from both contributors and readers, that it too was to evolve into an annual production. Its success over the years has more than justified the time and effort invested in its continued publication. From America to Japan, from Europe to Australia, the Set Dancer has served as a forum for news, views, comments and discussions on the national and international fronts.
The primary aim of the Set Dancing for Galway Committee has always been to promote set dancing in Ireland and internationally, whilst donating the proceeds of the event to an agreed charity. The committee believes that it has, by now, succeeded admirably in achieving its aims and much more besides. Nowadays, set dancing classes are available in most every town in Ireland and in all pockets of the world where the diaspora gather. Indeed, it is not uncommon to find attenders of earlier workshops now teaching set dancing themselves. Alongside this, and without any sponsorship in recent years, the festival has succeeded in donating over £30,000 to charity. Bearing these successes in mind, the committee wishes to announce the tenth festival as our final farewell. However, we intend to go out with a bang.
Events include a series of morning workshops to be given by Betty McCoy, Pat Murphy, Timmy 'The Brit' McCarthy and Roisin Ni Mhainin. (Of course we would like to be in a position to have all those teachers who have served us so well over the past ten years along, but this is not possible. Perhaps they may attend for pleasure rather than business.) The line up of ceili bands for the weekend include Esker Riada, Shaskeen, House at Home, Michael Sexton, Johnny Connolly and friends. And for one last almighty house around we offer a Grand Farewell Ceili in that venue to beat all venues - Seapoint Ballroom. Dancing will be to the music of the mighty Fodhla Ceili Band - an occasion not to be missed.
The committee, on behalf of all those charities who have benefited from your generous contributions over the years, wish to extend a sincere thanks to all our loyal supporters, and we have many. Of course, the success of every festival is the culmination of dedication and hard work. To our dedicated team of volunteers and to past committee members may we say thank you for your invaluable contributions on which the success of each weekend depends. To all those who may miss our last house around - a fond farewell, we will be thinking of you.
Looking forward to meeting old friends and new at the Grand Farewell Ceili in our old favourite Seapoint -
Set Dancing for Galway Committee
Contact Colie Mullin or Margaret Garvey for more information.
The Ceili at the Crossroads, our weekend of cultural fun, began on Friday evening, 24 July 1998, in Power's carpark, Clarecastle, Co Clare, introduced by Arts Minister Síle de Valera, who said, 'Clare is the cradle of Irish music and dance.'
Local musicians John Joe Casey, Sonny Murray, Buddy O'Connell, Paddy Kearse, Michael and Thomas Ryan joined with the Kilkishen wren boys to present a very entertaining programme of music, song, dance and the seanchaí who had everyone laughing with his tall tales. Next followed a ceili with the Four Courts, which despite a delayed start was a real treat. Their music as usual was lively and got everyone dancing sets with much energy and enthusiasm. The hall while being a little warm was spacious and comfortable.
Saturday got off to a busy start with music workshops being held at the local school with well known musicians. Set dancing was taught in the Abbey Hall by Michael Mahony who had everyone doing the South Galway set and the Newport Set with confidence at the end of the day.
Saturday night was concert time from eight to ten o'clock where the best of Ireland's musicians played while dancers danced. Next in the programme was a ceili with Shaskeen, and by now everyone was meeting old friends and making new ones from America, UK, Europe and all over Ireland. It was wonderful - we went home very satisfied with our night's dancing.
Sunday began with Aifreann de Domhnaigh with Easpag Liam Breathnach, where we prayed for fine weather. Pat Murphy did a set dancing workshop which was very well attended. He taught the West Clare Polka set, the Mayo Lancers and the Rosscahill Set. We did our new sets and had lots of fun in the process.
At five o'clock, the good Lord having blessed us with sunshine, we sojourned to the crossroads for our last ceili to the music of the West Clare Ramblers. Thanks to the expertise of Haulie and Co the dance floor was well laid and kind to dancing feet.
Midway we were joined by a group of forty folk dancers from Finland. Dressed in their native costume which was a riot of colour, they danced to beautiful music played by their talented musicians. They then each took an Irish partner and performed a dance which was lots of fun for participants and audience alike.
We finished the ceili with two more sets from the West Clare Ramblers. The evening ended in an atmosphere of thanksgiving and celebration for a wonderful weekend of fine weather and fine talent enjoyed to the full by everyone.
Bernadette Roche, Clarecastle
Two of Bernadette's pictures of the weekend are in Photo album 18.
What happy memories this title evokes! In making my annual pilgrimage to the Fleadh I took the scenic route through Knock to enjoy a pleasant weekend of workshops and ceilis under the tutelage of Betty McCoy and Pádraig McEneany, before wending my way down to Ennis. This year Ennis celebrated the Silver Jubilee of the Fleadh by holding it over five days (21-25 May 1998) instead of the usual four, starting on Thursday with a ceili by the Tulla Ceili Band.
During the weekend a wonderful atmosphere pervades the town affecting not only visitors but townspeople as well. There is such a variety of events that it is essential to buy a programme and plan your weekend to avoid missing events that particularly appeal to you. Sessions proliferate in all the pubs and hotels and continue into the early hours as musicians join and leave as the spirit moves them. For more active participants there are set dances every night with workshops taught by Pat Liddy every day. Dick O'Connell is master of ceremonies at the set dances and there is no better man than Dick to coax shy dancers out from dark corners and to make sure everybody is up. Dancing is to such bands as P J Hernon, Tulla, Michael Sexton, Shannonside and Kilfenora so that you can happily dance your little legs off over the course of the weekend. A word of warning however - Saturday night at Cois na hAbhna is not for the faint hearted. That heaving, stomping, whirling mass of cavorting bodies is an awesome spectacle and I must admit that this year my courage failed me. I elected instead to join the more sedate but equally enjoyable ceili at the Old Ground Hotel.
People from all over the world attend the Fleadh, from the erstwhile American colonies, the Antipodes (including Japan) and most of Europe. While dancing with a delightful young lady from Copenhagen who had a much better grasp of the figures than I had, she told me that she learned set dancing in Copenhagen from three Danish people and that they can muster as many as forty dancers for special occasions. They further hope to run their own mini fleadh in Copenhagen next year. This was her first trip to Ireland and she and her friends were most anxious to experience the reality of set dancing in Ireland. I hope that I was not too much of a disillusionment for her.
One of the weekend highlights was the set dancing competitions, a delightful but chastening experience. However, the Fleadh is not only about set dancing-it covers the wide spectrum of Irish culture. Highly recommended is the Aos Og stage show, performed by teenagers and pre-teens in single and group dances, sean nós singing, poetry and music all to the highest standards. This show was a great reassurance that the future of Irish cultural traditions was in safe hands.
There were also a number of workshops teaching a variety of musical instruments and singing, provided by leading exponents of these traditions. There were singing and storytelling sessions together with the Sunday parade and various street entertainments. There was plenty of entertainment to satisfy all tastes while the sun shone gloriously on Ennis in late May. All venues except Cois na hAbhna are within comfortable walking distance of each other.
One of the truly high points of the weekend for me was the Aifreann Traidisiunta (mass in Irish) in the cathedral. Even if you cannot remember your prayers in Gaelic, the cadence will carry you along. The sermon in Gaelic was a complete mystery to me but then they often are in English also, so not much lost there. The music, however, was special. The choir, the singing of the readers and the young musicians playing on the altar during the consecration made a spiritual experience not to be missed.
Finally, Monday dawned and farewells to new and old friends had to be made. There is no better way to do this than at the farewell session in the Queens Hotel to the music of Michael Sexton. Again, Dick O'Connell is master of ceremonies encouraging anybody with a talent to give a song, play an instrument or give a few steps of a dance during breaks between sets. Two very popular party pieces on this occasion are the Priest's Boots and the Brush Dance. It's a very informal and relaxed session during the course of which you are bound to see all the people you will wish to say farewell to. With extreme reluctance I finally tore myself away with the firm promise to myself that I shall return for next year's Fleadh.
Fred Rooney, London
See Photo album 14 for pictures of the 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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