last updated 19 May 2006
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Set Dancing News

Old news and reviews - Volume 5 - 1999-2000

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

Set dancer awarded gold by President

Gold President's Award winner John Finbarr Crowley, President Mary McAleese and President Award Leader Olive Lynch at Aras an Uachtarain in January 2000. Thanks to John Finbarr for the photograph.

President Mary McAleese presented John Finbarr Crowley the Gold President's Award at Aras an Uachtarain, the President's official residence, in January 2000. John Finbarr is a set dancer from Dunmanway, Co Cork, who achieved the award after ten years of personal development and community service. He was advised in his pursuit of the award by Olive Lynch, a set dancing teacher in Bantry, Co Cork, and a recipient of the Gold Award herself.

John Finbarr has previously won Bronze and Silver President's awards. His work for the awards included first aid, ambulance driving, ballroom, ceili and set dancing, swimming, army survival training and sailing with the Navy. He's currently the Dunmanway Red Cross Branch Secretary and Cork Comhaltas County Secretary.

Congratulations John Finbarr!

Small and widely spread in Australia

There is set dancing in Australia, but the dancing community is small and widely spread - very widely spread. For the weekend of the 12th to 14th November 1999, Bill and Margaret Winnett travelled nine hours from Sydney to Portarlington, southwest of Melbourne, to take a turn teaching and calling sets and ceili dances as part of a weekend dance workshop organised by the Traditional Social Dance Association of Victoria.

Portarlington is situated on Port Phillip Bay, looking northward towards Melbourne from the tip of the Bellarine Peninsula. It has lovely sandy beaches, a small pier and breakwater with its own fishing and pleasure fleets, plenty of fresh sea air, a post office, a bank, two small supermarkets and a grand old pub. That weekend it had the glorious sunshine and brilliant blue water that feature in every seaside postcard, as summer finally came to southeast Australia.

The hall is above the foreshore, with views across the bay. As dancing got underway, all the doors were opened to let the breeze float through.

The weekend consisted of two dances and four workshops - ceili with Margaret and Bill, English Playford tutored by expatriate Englishman Colin Moore-Towns, couples dances of the twenties and thirties with Peter Ellis and sets with, again, Margaret and Bill.

The dances on Friday and Saturday evenings encompassed all those disciplines as well as a few Australian colonial and ballroom favourites. The Saturday dance was officially a 'Roaring 20s' evening and many people turned up convincingly decked out as flappers and elegant gents of the era. Ropes of pearls, egret feathers and very, very wide lapels abounded and curiously, there were more fiddle cases than fiddles in the hall.

The music for all the Irish dance classes and much of the social dancing was provided by a small group of musicians from the Melbourne branch of Comhaltas led by Joan Mundy. On the stage both Irish and Australian accents were apparent. Margaret Winnett praised the music several times, particularly as musicians rose to the challenge of particular, sometimes even contradictory requests, especially during the lessons. Bill and Margaret have threatened to try to lure these musicians to Sydney on a permanent basis. To the best of the writer's knowledge, initial negotiations may have been diverted by a few refreshing ales, and have yet to be resumed. On the Saturday evening, the band swelled by the addition of local old-time dance musicians and the whole effect was both tuneful and in good time.

Sunday morning Bill took us through the Cashel and Armagh sets and the South Sligo Lancers, with tips and advice for all levels of skill, on all aspects of set dancing. There were eight sets up for the class, plus spectators. Margaret's selection for the ceili dance class was the Mountain Top, the Fairy Reel and the Crossover Jig.

Sunday was again gloriously sunny, though breezy, and most chose to eat a picnic lunch on tables outside the hall. For those who didn't have to leave immediately there was more music and dancing with all the tutors until about 5pm.

The Portarlington event will be repeated next year, on a weekend in November.

Jem Jemmeson, Melbourne, Australia

We've waited for years to hear news from Australia and then two reports come along at the same time! See the letter and pictures of dancers down under below.

The Sean Dempsey Music and Dance Festival

Sean Dempsey with friends last February in Manchester. Photo courtesy of Norah Walsh. In Manchester on Friday and Saturday 25th and 26th February 2000 we celebrated what can only be described as the Sean Dempsey Music and Dance Festival. It didn't start out that way but due to technical hitches with the booked band and Sean not being too well, that is how it turned out, and for those of us privileged to be present it proved to be a special occasion.

On Friday night musicians and dancers gathered from many parts of England and Ireland to show their love and respect for Sean, each in their own special way. We were treated to a wealth of music and dance from no fewer than ten past and present All-Ireland champions.

On Saturday we changed venues and with the Davey Family on stage enjoyed an evening of set dancing. Surely it was the only ceili staged in Manchester where dancing began around 8.30pm because the band was ready and the hall was full - a tribute to the Davey Family for still playing until it turned 1am.

In accordance with Sean's wishes all the proceeds from the weekend will be used to send children from the Manchester area to Lourdes. Thanks to Barbara and Breffni for all their hard work. Sean used the occasion to thank all his friends for their prayers and good wishes and asked them to remember him in the next few weeks as he faces further treatment.

Norah Walsh

The #1 Irish Weekend

A couple of hours north of New York City are the Catskill Mountains, a scenic resort area of hills and trees. For years now a lady named Gertie Byrne has been running Irish weekends here and in February 2000 she held her 34th Number One Irish Weekend, as it's called. I came along to dance a few sets. It's always been mainly a country music weekend, but in the past two years she's added set dancing workshops and ceilis to the package and US set dancers have been attending in droves. The package price includes entertainment, meals, drinks, accommodation and even tips, so once you're there you've no need for any extra cash. It's expensive by Irish standards but around 1200 Hiberno-Yanks booked in for the sold out weekend in February.

Dancing at the Nevele Grand Hotel, Ellenville, New York, to the music of the Boston Comhaltas Band. It took place in the Nevele Grand Hotel in Ellenville, New York, a cluster of hotels on the grounds of a country club. For many of the rooms, once you check in you never have to set foot outside until you're ready to leave. Though my room and the dance hall were separated by six floors, both were no more than ten paces from the lift, a very convenient arrangement for myself. When I came down to the light and roomy hall on Friday afternoon, dancing was already well underway on a spacious plywood floor laid over carpet.

Dancing was nearly continuous the entire weekend, stopping only for food and sleep and to change musicians. Four bands shared the stage, each one playing for two hours before the next came along. Michael Sexton was there with three of his comrades, all looking tanned and relaxed after Gertie Byrne's Irish cruise to the Caribbean. The Fodhla Ceili Band from Wicklow was also there, along with the Boston Comhaltas Band and the Pete Kelly Ceili Band from New York. We danced for around three or four hours in the afternoon, six hours at night, plus a Saturday morning workshop and a couple more hours on Sunday morning. The bands were all excellent and were warmly appreciated by the crowd. Tony Ryan from Galway was on hand to give a set dancing workshop, just three hours on Saturday, time enough for a couple of new sets. He also called sets occasionally during the ceilis, but only when necessary as the crowd were good dancers who could manage without calling.

As soon as I began dancing the first thing I noticed were all the spectators in the hall. There may be over a thousand attending the weekend, but only a fraction of them were set dancers, maybe 200 of those. Everyone was free to attend any of the events, so the non-dancers came by to have a look. Most were there for the Irish country bands and other entertainers specially brought over for the weekend. There was plenty of other dancing too, waltzing and jiving plus competitions.

Tony Ryan teaches the Williamstown Set at the Nevele Grand in New York. Food and drink were plentiful, as much as you could manage. There was a bar in the back of the hall, and there were large plastic barrels dispensing water where queues formed after each set. Hot and cold hors d'oeuvres were available during cocktail hour, and afterwards all 1200 of us moved into the dining hall to the assigned seats we used for every meal. We had a choice of meal and pudding, and if we wanted to taste more than one or were hungry for seconds, the staff were only pleased to oblige. Breakfast and lunch ran the same way.

A Canadian I danced with on Saturday implied that there would be a special event at Saturday's dinner, but she slyly avoided elaboration. A broadcaster called Tony served as host during meals, making announcements about the day's events and participants' birthdays. My friends and I were running late that evening and as we came into the lobby he urged us into the dining hall, 'Come on, come on, we're about to begin!' There hadn't been any urgency about other meals so I wondered what was up.

Dancing at the Nevele Grand Hotel, Ellenville, New York - the last figure of the Mazurka Set right. No sooner had I sat down but Tony was on the microphone inviting us to take up the little US and Irish flags left on all the tables. 1200 people started waving them with delight while a country songstress belted out patriotic Irish and American songs. I sat there bemused and flagless as somehow I ended up without one! Some folks couldn't contain their excitement - they jumped up and formed a chain which snaked past nearly every table in the vast hall. The more people they passed the more joined them and it looked like there were hundreds twisting around the tables by the end of it, everyone singing and waving flags. It was very clear to me I was no longer in Ireland! My Canadian partner told me later that was called the Grand March and they do it at every weekend. One year, she and her friends even brought Canadian flags along so they could join in too.

By the last dance on Sunday afternoon, the verdict on the weekend was unanimous from the set dancers I spoke to - brilliant music, dancing and craic. In Ireland we can find that every weekend, but in the States it's rare enough to be worth a trip to the Nevele Grand.

Bill Lynch

Gertie Byrne's next #1 Irish Weekend takes place from 3 to 5 November 2000. The Abbey Ceili Band will be there.

The wide open spaces of America

The Knights of Columbus Hall in Ridgefield Park, New Jersey, is the spacious venue for a ceili on the third Sunday of the month.

This was my first trip to the States in five years, and my first time dancing there. I landed at JFK Airport on a Wednesday in time to dance at Flannery's on 14th Street in Manhattan, the only weekly live music set dancing on the East Coast, according to my records. Even if the floor wasn't suitable and the musicians seemed to lose or gain a beat now and then, it was all very enjoyable with a happy, welcoming crowd and good music and it didn't cost me a cent.

I went to three ceilis in one weekend, all remarkably similar even though they were widely scattered around the New York area. The halls seemed to have acres of good floors, and with no more than ten sets dancing everyone could keep themselves widely spaced. Sets were always rearranging themselves and moving to another part of the floor if they felt the least bit cramped.

Every ceili had a published programme, consisting of twelve or so sets and other dances. It was posted around the hall at two ceilis, though at the third it only a few dancers were privy to it. Two of the programmes began with the two-hand reel, and all finished with the Mazurka Set. However, in every case the ceili ended several dances short of the Mazurka, so it was never danced.

There was highly danceable music with a very traditional sound and steady beat in every case. The musicians were in loose groups, not bands, and some of them would come and go during the ceili. There was no calling and no need for it as the standard of dancing was good.

There were slight differences in the sets from the way we dance them in Ireland. In the Caledonian there was a tendency for everyone to link up around the waist while advancing and retiring together. I was a bit surprised by this at first when I noticed the gent beside my partner putting his arm around her. Shouldn't he be keeping his hands on his own lady? I thought. At the end of the Connemara Set everyone swings in couples, not in a big Christmas, which caught me by surprise every time. There was never any confusion about the fifth figure of the Cashel Set as they always did the version with all the circles in it. After a waltz I stood waiting for a second one while my partner and everyone else left the floor. They did only one at a time, whereas we normally get two or three in Ireland.

Admission was between $10 and $15, which is around double the usual Irish prices, though still reasonable. It's hard to beat the brilliant music, atmosphere, choice and value of dancing in Ireland, but it was lovely to find lots of good dancing while in the States.


Outstanding Omagh

At 6pm on Friday, January 28th 2000, a group of eighteen plus our very competent and courteous driver, John Moore, left Birr, Co Offaly, and headed for the weekend of set dancing in Omagh. The group consisted of people from Laois, Offaly and Tipperary - hereafter known at 'the lot.'

We arrived in Molly Sweeney's just in time for the get together. What a welcome was afforded us by Mickey McAleer, his wife Mary, Jimmy Carrigan, Pat Murphy and Betty McCoy. Hugs and kisses were the order of the night. The bar staff too were delighted to extend handshakes and friendly smiles. Tea, sandwiches and lots of goodies were very welcome after the long journey. Local musicians were joined by Pat Murphy on this occasion for a session. The highlight of the night for me was the Ballyvourney Jig which we danced at high speed and with great spirit. We literally wilted at the end of it and decided to head for Hawthorne House.

Saturday morning we were at the workshop bright and early. Lovely food again awaited us on our arrival and on occasions during the day just when it was needed. The atmosphere was warm, friendly and lively during the workshop. We danced the Tournafulla, Inis Oírr, Williamstown and Ballycroy sets.

On arrival at Hawthorne House after the workshop our wardrobe co-ordinators, Kathleen, Betty and Mike, convened a group of eight for a dress rehearsal. Outfits for a performance which 'the lot' were giving during the céilí had to be checked for colour co-ordination, etc. The four ladies wore boiler suits and wellies, which had been sprayed to add sheen and lustre, and tweed caps tastefully kept in place by ribbons. The men wore exotic dresses, hair pieces, balloons, etc. The outfits received a stamp of approval from the management at Hawthorn House after the participants' parade.

Having been refreshed and renewed by a tasty dinner we headed for the céilí. Michael Sexton and his band provided the music, giving a stirring performance as usual. The light entertainment provided by 'the lot' set went down a treat. Even members of the audience were swept off their feet and were part of it before they realised it. The time came to say goodbye and with tea served at the end of the céilí everyone had a perfect opportunity to mingle and chat. Kathleen had given such a stunning performance during the entertainment that a local man taught her the Peeler and the Goat at the end of the night.

The next morning Mickey and Jimmy very kindly called to Hawthorn House to thank us for coming and to wish us well on our journey home. After some photographs we headed for Birr. Thanks to all the friends on the bus, to John at the helm and to all the dancers and musicians for an outstanding weekend.

Míle Buíochas.

Maureen Culleton

Hugs and kisses in Abbeyfeale

Near the end of the weekend in Abbeyfeale the crowd stood to attention for some announcements.

There's an excitement about dancing in Abbeyfeale that's hard to match anywhere else. Is it the excellent choice of bands, the keen crowd of superb dancers or the large, light hall with its sprung floor? Could it be the kissing sisters, organisers Josephine O'Connor and Ann Curtin, who greet their visitors with hugs and kisses? Whatever the reason, there's always a good time in Abbeyfeale and the workshop weekend, 3-5 March 2000, was no exception.

I had my first kisses in the Railway Bar on the outskirts of town where we were meeting to dance with the Four Courts. We packed nine sets in there on a floor like a skating rink but had a whole lot of fun. On Saturday the kissing continued at the workshop in the Convent Hall with Jim Barry and Betty McCoy. We witnessed the debut of a new set in the afternoon as Timmy Woulfe and other local dancers showed us the North Kerry Plain Set. It was re-discovered in a copybook which had been written years ago by a girl who died young. The set was danced again thanks to the help of the girl's parents and older dancers in the area.

The set was very like the old North Kerry Set for the first three figures, danced to polkas with a body and simple figures. The fourth figure was played to fast reels, but we were instructed to dance it to a polka step, which seems unique in all of set dancing. When I think back to my days as a beginning dancer I recall my teachers telling me to stop dancing a polka step to reels and I hadn't a clue what I was doing wrong! Now that I'm comfortable with reels it seems highly unnatural to dance a polka step to them. I gamely followed instructions over the weekend, but was envious of all those doing it incorrectly and having a marvellous time dancing their reel steps.

There was then an easy little fling, followed by a hornpipe which baffled me during the demonstration. Again I thought back to my beginner days when sets were new and the movements looked so complicated I had no idea what they were doing. This hornpipe looked normal enough, yet they didn't finish the body in the right place and then after the house they were back in the right place! Later I learned there were two minor variations - at the end of the body we danced in and out an extra time instead of dancing back to place. Then we danced a normal house, except that we had to cover more distance to get back to the starting place. Simple when you know how but a mystery to the uninitiated.

Ann Curtin was delighted with the weekend. The crowds arrived in good time for the Saturday night ceili with the Abbey Ceili Band, generating a buzz in the hall long before dancing began - everyone knew it would be a great night, and indeed it was and at the end we showed the band how much we enjoyed it. There was talk by many that it was the best ceili in memory. Taylors Cross played on Sunday afternoon and everyone was even more enthusiastic by this time. The band responded playing more music after the last set, and to finish Donie Nolan, the band's box player, was persuaded to sing, which he did beautifully, without accompaniment.

It could have been the best weekend ever, as people were heard to say, and who am I to disagree? The kissing sisters gave me a warm farewell and I'll be back again.

Bill Lynch

Down from the mountain

'Nifty' sorted

I know a man at ceili who thinks they only dance in Kerry and I got that same feeling when I was down at the Shindig. The Sunday night was the best after everybody had gone home but fortunately I hadn't recovered enough to make the journey (too many full Irish breakfasts) and found myself flying around to the box music of Patrick O'Sullivan in a hotel where I met one of the Americans.

'Why are there so many single men in their thirties and forties at ceili?' she asked.

'Don't you go upsetting the apple cart, things are going very nicely,' I replied.

'How do you mean?'

'I mean one man, one dance. Let's keep it simple.'

I wouldn't have minded a fling myself, but she had eloped while I was getting a pint of my favourite beverage and a packet of crisps (I was eating out again). There is no quick pull at ceili as you have in club life and it's probably just as well as a lot of people are fed up of all that chasing. Somehow the American is right and a lot disappear out the door at ceili saying things like 'I am doomed to walk the face of this earth alone, a walking shadow from ceili to ceili beneath the unutterable, soul destroying loneliness between the stars.'

Speaking of relationships I was lucky to bump into 'Nifty' on my travels at ceili recently. She was at the Baldonnel aerodrome for more high energy music from the Abbey Ceili Band. She told me that she is taking the trip up the aisle. I'm not surprised as she never does things in half measures and it's a bit like the way she lets go in the Ballyvourney Jig Set. While I was happy for her I don't think the guy who I gave a lift home to will. Lately he has been driving very close to Wexford registered cars because you'd never 'Guess who?' comes from that part of the world.

'It makes me feel close to her,' he said.

'Put the brakes on, Nifty is sorted.'

'If only I could get one of those little 'x's from her, it would be the cure!'

'You've got it real bad, your antennae are all over the place!' I said.

'Did you ask her if she is going to have one last fling?'

'Maybe-she might be going to Clare,' I replied.

I tell him to keep well back from those Wexford cars as he might get a hard wallop of a hurley especially before they play Kilkenny. He doesn't pay any heed to me and as he gets out he exclaims, 'Oh Clare could be good this year!'

Earlier in January I was at a great ceili in the Abbey Court Hotel in Nenagh. There was no big washing the morning afterwards either because it was the only ceili that I didn't have to change my shirt-it had a really good air conditioning. On the way home at three-thirty in the morning I saw 'Cidona' (not his real name, but I won't go on) pushing his car along the road outside a sleepy village. He really has a problem with keeping petrol in the car and it's a kind of a new hobby with him pushing his car in the middle of the night after ceilis. He is always hoping that one of the fine women at the ceili will rescue him. This same night he had someone in particular in mind. When I told him that he was on the wrong road and that she would go home another road, he jumped back in his car and signalled to me as if it was all right, and that his car was going. I have no doubt I will meet him pushing late in the night again going home from another ceili far away.


Copyright © 2000 O F Hughes

Glandore Set Dancers

Gretta McNulty at her ceili in February. Photo by Janet Robertson. A few years ago I paid a visit to the Glandore Inn, Glandore, Co Cork, where Gretta and Oliver McNulty hold set dancing nights twice a week throughout the year. I am now totally hooked! They are a lively energetic bunch of people who make everyone welcome. They dance a wide range of sets from the Skibbereen to South Sligo, Portmagee to Paris and Newport to Newmarket thus keeping the tradition of set dancing well and truly alive.

As a result of these successful nights they decided to support a charity and the Friends of the Marymount Hospice in Cork was chosen. Since 1994 over £7000 has been sent. This is raised in different ways. Once a month they hold a raffle. Everyone buys a ticket and the winner gets five lottery cards for the Winning Streak TV programme with the understanding that should one of them win, he or she must take everyone up to Dublin to meet Mike, the star of the show.

Another event is the coffee morning and auction. Again there is a raffle, sale of cakes, bric-a-brac, lucky dip and so on. Later a monster auction is held and valuable items are sold off. The auctioneer is specially brought in to do the business but I have to say that he looks remarkably like Santa and St Patrick!

In February a ceili was held with music by North Cregg who played just brilliantly and we danced the night away. The profits from these functions total £3000 and this is in the process of being sent to the Marymount Hospice. I think this is a great achievement from such a small, fairly isolated village in West Cork, supported by friends, neighbors and lovers of set dancing who are motivated by Gretta and Oliver. I for one am proud to be associated with them.

Janet Robertson

Set Dancers' Prayer

Lord bless this food
cooked for dancers to eat.
Let its energy flow
to our tip tapping feet.

Bless the kind hands
that prepared this fine feast
and bless the ladies
who served it with grace.

Later in the evening
old and new friends will meet
Lord help us be courteous
when each other we greet.

When the party is over
we must be on our way.
Guide us safely home Lord
at the end of the day.

Joan Pollard Carew

Letters and emails

Very different to set dancing

Dear Bill

You may remember I met you briefly in Tralee. I mentioned I had visited Sydney on holiday and attended Turkley Fleadh in Wyong, NSW, on Sunday 28th November 1999. It really was a Celtic festival with Welsh, Scottish and Irish participating.

The set dancing participants were from Sydney. Their teacher/leader is Margaret Winnett and husband Bill. He attempted to teach me some colonial dancing - dancing to the 'Wongawilli' group. This group were accompanied by a group of dancers dressed in colonial type dress right. The ladies had long dresses and hats similar to Little House on the Prairie and danced in a very graceful, refined fashion - very different to set dancing!

I enclose a few photographs taken at the festival. In the dancing group you can see Margaret in front at left with Bill in the background. The gentleman on the box was from Ennis but in Australia over forty years. This group play regularly in Sydney on a Sunday night.

I attended Margaret's class in the Gaelic Club, Sydney, on a Monday night. So my set dancing encounters were certainly one of the highlights of my holiday.

Keep up the good work with the Set Dancing News. See you somewhere again obviously on the dancing circuit.

Kind regards,

Marie O'Sullivan, Youghal, Co Cork

Anxious to go to Miltown

Dear Mr Lynch,

Just writing to let you know you have a great website, keeping us all informed with set dancing information. My son Emmett loves set dancing and his favourite band is the Glenside. He is anxious to go to Miltown with us, but I think he is a bit young as he is only gone eleven. Here is a photo of himself (in the gray shirt) dancing with Maria Duffy, Amy Howard and Mark Duffy at a ceili in Longford. Music of course is the Glenside Ceili Band. Keep up the good work!


Bernadette Collum

We all just seem to gel

Dear Bill

Just thought you might be interested in the enclosed. It was written by a young lady Helena Brazil who was tragically killed in a car accident almost twelve months ago. It didn't surface until after her death.

Kind regards

Yours sincerely

Pádraig Duffy, Woodland Drive, Birr, Co Offaly

The Trip

They say once you get your first taste
No matter how much you've been told
You cannot escape being hooked
The body just wants to take hold.

I had my first trip one November
My friends said I would be all right
That the first time I'd feel a bit strange
But I'd improve as I went through the night.

Well the crack was only just mighty
We didn't sit down much at all
Even when things got confusing
We still made our mark on the hall.

It's maybe too late to do something
But they're somebody's sons and daughters
Look out if they bring with them a change of clothes
And especially a bottle of water.

You go home late at night
Perspiring and ready to drop
But the music's still ringing in your ears.
You can't sleep-you don't want it to stop.

Withdrawal symptoms came very fast
Without your weekly fix.
The buzz, the laughs, the atmosphere
Is how we get our kicks.

The friends I have made they are real ones
We understand one another so well
Though with different backgrounds and interests
We all just seem to gel.

So tell everyone about this drug
It's not in disguise like E
It's well advertised, can be found anywhere
It's called the set dance ceili!

Helena Brazil, Banagher, Co Offaly

Kilconly Crossroads Ceili

It seems like only a short time ago since our last crossroads ceili and speaking as someone who goes to an average of two ceilis a week the old saying is true that time passes quickly when you are enjoying yourself. However for some people whom I meet from time to time who don't go to many ceilis it seems like a lifetime away, as this is the highlight of their years dancing. Although depending on whether you are a regular or a casual ceili dancer this event brings everybody together from far and near every year.

About this year's event - it is happening on the Sunday 30th of April from 3-7pm. The dancing will, as is the tradition, be held outside (weather permitting) on a plywood floor of approximately 3000 square feet. This plywood is screwed onto planks and has received many compliments in the past on its quality for dancing. The size of the floor means that it will hold more than thirty sets. It is located in the front of the community centre and in the event of a wet day it will be moved inside. Last year we had Pat Friel and Heather Breeze providing the music and this year we have the ever popular Michael Sexton and his ceili band. For people with children there are plenty of other attractions like a funfair, hot air balloon display, etc.

Last year we also broadcast this event live on the Internet for people who could not make it on the day and this will also be done this year - information on this can be found at We will also be supporting a local charity as always. Last year we raised £20,000 for Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin and this year our focus will be on the Hospice Foundation. I would like to take this opportunity to extend a welcome to all you ceili enthusiasts to join us on the day as come what may we always have an enjoyable day.

Anyone who wants more information on this can contact me or look at our website for more information.

Tony Burke

'Only for the dancers my music wouldn't exist'

This was the seventh annual Bantry set dancing weekend, 19-21 November 1999, that Olive Lynch organized, and it was voted as her best to date by the many participants. Her previous workshops were held in the Bantry Boys Club - this year however, the workshops and the Friday and Sunday ceilis were held at the new venue of the Reendesert Hotel in Ballylickey, located just three miles north of Bantry.

At the Friday night session we knew that it was going to be a great weekend - the atmosphere was full of expectation, and we had a good warming up session to the music and craic of Finbarr Dennehy. It was lovely to see so many familiar faces as well as the many new ones. There was a great buzz both in the reception area as well as on the dance floor, people arriving from near and far greeting fellow dancers and exchanging news and views. Many dancers made long journeys even as far away as Co Meath - in fact anywhere is a long way to West Cork.

Johnny Connolly at the Bantry weekend. Photo by Olive Lynch. We were back next morning for the workshop with Pat Murphy, his popularity and fame have spread far and wide, and anyone that attends his workshops really appreciates his commitment to teaching the sets, his warm smile, good humour and his organizational and teaching skills, making him indeed a very popular man. One of the big hits of the weekend was his teaching of the Inis Oírr Set, a set which was nearly lost but now through Pat's teaching it has been revived all around the country and in far off shores, so I sincerely hope it will become a regular set. We had great craic stepping it out, and there were some very interesting steps developed as a result. We discovered that just about anything goes in the stepping it out - Riverdance eat your heart out. Another set Pat has been teaching is a local set called the Borlin Jenny Reel Set. It is a lovely set with it's own particular skip reel steps and hopefully with his help we will see it being danced the length and breath of the country before long. These were just two of the many sets he taught over the weekend.

On Saturday night we had a full house in the Boys Club, dancing to the ever popular Abbey Ceili Band who as usual were in fine form. We were also entertained by the dancing of Jean-François Berthiaume all the way from Quebec, Canada, with his own particular style of Canadian reel steps. Wearing mountain boots he tapped out fantastic rhythms which goes to show, 'it's not the shoes that make a dancer!' Up next came the wonderful dancing of Maureen Culleton and John Creed dancing a traditional hornpipe in unison. Later on in the evening Johnny Connolly arrived and we danced the Connemara to his beautiful style of melodeon playing. It was only a small indication of what was in store for us.

Michael Twomey of Co Cork accompanied Johnny Connolly in Bantry. Photo by Olive Lynch. The Sunday afternoon ceili in the Reendessert Hotel was indeed a real treat for us south western seaboard dancers who were to experience for the first time the fantastic music of Johnny Connolly, this time accompanied by Michael Twomey on keyboard. There are so many things about Johnny's music that impress me. I particularly love the element of surprise he introduces. He really keeps the dancers on their toes - there's no room for complacency when he's playing. The music that he manages to get out of his melodeon is just amazing, and his capacity for playing seems to be endless. At one stage it was thought that the dance floor might reach resonant frequency to the tap of the many dancers who only left the floor to mop the sweat off their brows and maybe borrow a new partner for the next set. We thought with the end of the ceili a successful weekend workshop had come to a close. Little did we know what was still in store for us.

While dancers might have left the function room, few went home for news had broken that Johnny would continue a session with our local musicians (of whom we can be proud). So it was just a change of location to the bar for the next six or seven hours till the wee small hours of Monday morning. When I was leaving I went up to thank Johnny for the wonderful music and he said, 'Only for the dancers my music wouldn't exist.' He has a truly generous soul.

What a brilliant weekend we all had, Olive. We hope you have recovered from all your hard work, putting together a memorable weekend for all of us and that you will continue to do so for many more years to come. I have to mention, were it not for the fantastic bunch of enthusiastic dancers that travelled to be with us, it would not have been such a success. We look forward to seeing all of you again next year.

Kate Lyons
Glengarriff, Co Cork

The Quebec-Ireland connection

Jean-François Berthiaume of Québec would have won the sean nós competitions at the All-Irelands this year if he had entered, according to Mick Mulkerrin. 'I don't think I do sean nós dancing. For me this is French Canadian step dancing - we call it gigue,' Jean-François told me.

When he was asked at the ceilis to dance his sean nós gigue steps for us, he stepped forward with no demurring, no waiting to be coaxed. He danced in his walking boots - he had left his dancing shoes at home in Québec .

Jean-François Berthiaume and Catherine Merrigan dancing during the Bantry weekend. He teaches traditional Québec set dancing and steps in Québec City and Montréal. He is a caller - in Québec they call the figures during the set. He also plays in a traditional folk band and is an artist.

He said that sets as danced in Québec have some of the same figures as those danced here, such as ladies chain and swing. However there are no tops and sides, no hornpipes or polkas. Comparing sean nós and the Québec gigue he says the steps are basically the same and the music is a bit different. 'In Québec the reels are more dry and definite. The Irish reels are more melodic'. He believes the Irish sean nós dancers taught their steps to Quebecers and they developed them to their own style.

For his first trip to Europe he learned English so he could travel more easily in Ireland and eastern Europe. Ireland was just another country on that first trip, but he had planned to stay one month and stayed four.

On his recent second visit to Ireland he came to see friends, and to paint in their studio. He had just completed a degree in Fine Arts at the Université du Québec à Montréal. After two months painting in peace and quiet, he attended workshops with Timmy McCarthy, Mick Mulkerrin and Pat Murphy in Wexford, Dingle, Kilfenora and Bantry.

Jean-François himself comes from a musical family from St Hyacinthe, Québec. His father plays the accordion, his grandfather and brother play the fiddle, and most of his 23 aunts and uncles are singers. His ancestors left Bayeux, Normandie, France in the 17th and 18th centuries for the new world.

Jean-François, 24, advises Quebecers who come to Ireland to take some lessons, dance sides and find some good lady dancers. Those who saw him dancing with Anne King of Millstreet and Catherine Merrigan from Wexford and Dingle will agree that he followed his own advice.

Nattanya Hewitt
Canada and Co Clare

Pulls the whole scene back into focus

The Story of Irish Dance by Helen Brennan, published by Brandon at £15.99 hardback

Although this book concentrates on traditional Irish step dancing it is nonetheless a very important book for anybody interested in céilí and set dancing. Helen Brennan looks at the world of solo dancing from the earliest recorded sources through to sean nós, the feis and the Riverdance phenomenon and regales us with stories and anecdotes about the old dancing masters and their method of teaching.

In the process she traces the developments in Irish society which influenced and shaped the world of Irish dance. The role of the Gaelic League in the emerging céilí dance scene at the turn of the century, its opposition to foreign dance forms including the sets, and the intervention of Church and State with the introduction of the Dance Hall Act in 1935 are all dealt with in detail.

Ireland was a great place for dancing in the twenties and thirties and this social anarchy, as some people perceived it, was not to be tolerated for long. The Dance Hall Act was designed to bring this activity under the control of the Church and State and led to the demise of the country house dance and the inevitable decline in the dancing of the sets.

Helen Brennan puts all these developments very squarely back into their social context. This is particularly relevant for today because the problem associated with the present revival is the abstraction of the dances from their social environment. Too often sets are being danced with no idea of where they originated from and with no reference to the style in which they were traditionally danced.

Set dancing has been described as Irish aerobics and when you see the designer sports bags, the spare shirts, the towels, the isotonic drinks and the special shoes that have all become de rigeur at some set dancing nights you appreciate the valuable service Helen Brennan has done by writing this book. In dealing with the regional styles and the importance of preserving them and showing how people still derive pleasure from dancing a set she pulls the whole scene back into focus.

Maybe we should all think a bit more about the 'quality' of dancing rather than the 'quantity' with its emphasis on the accumulation of sets above anything else. The pressure seems to be on to produce more and more new sets to keep dancers in a constant state of titillation, and always above their boredom threshold. As Helen Brennan points out there are still places in Ireland where all that is danced in a night and maybe ten times over is 'The Set'. Yet in no way is the enjoyment and pleasure diminished by doing 'the same old thing, again and again.'

This book not only weaves a social tapestry around the dance but is also a reminder not to lose sight of the basics. It is a 'must' for anyone involved or interested in Irish dancing.

Johnny Morrissey
Bray, Co Wicklow

The energy and joy felt in the room

Tony Ryan at his tenth anniversary celebration in the Sacre Coeur, Salthill, Co Galway. The Sacre Coeur Hotel in Salthill, Galway, was the setting for the celebration of a milestone. The date was Friday, December 10, 1999, and the occasion was the 10th anniversary of Tony Ryan's set dancing classes in Galway. Over 165 of the friends Tony made in these 10 years gathered to help him celebrate.

A delicious dinner was served and eaten, spot prizes galore were won, and thanks and comments of appreciation were exchanged. A particular highlight of the evening for Tony were the gifts given to him by his many grateful students. The lovely watch will help ensure that Tony continues his punctual practices. But the truly special gift was a metal sculpture of a set dancing scene - a full set and accompanying musicians - created by friend and colleague, Mick Mulkerrin. Nothing would have made Tony happier.

Such a celebration would, of course, not be complete without a ceili! Dancing got underway about 10:30 to the fabulous music of P J Hernon and Swallow's Tail and continued on for hours. The energy and joy which could be felt in the room was perhaps the greatest tribute to a man who has done so much to bring the joy of set dancing to so many. I know I speak for the many hundreds (or, more likely, thousands) of people who find themselves tapping their toes and seeking out the next ceili when I say a heartfelt 'Thank you, Tony, for sharing your love of the dance.' We are all happier for having known you.

Cathy Gavin
Yarmouth, Maine

Our best ever

Pat Murphy doing what he does best in Tullamore, Co Offaly. Photos by Louise Condron. Our annual workshop and ceili took place on Saturday 9th October 1999 in the Tullamore GAA Centre. It was short, but oh! so sweet as we cramped into one day and night what usually takes a whole weekend to do.

We were excited and apprehensive as we set out for the best ever set dancing workshop to be held by our club. We should have guessed we were on a winner from the start with Pat Murphy and the Abbey Ceili Band - what a combination!

But where would we be without the loyal supporters and friends who turned up to make a good night a brilliant one. There were nine sets on the floor for the workshop which was just a lovely atmosphere and nicely full.

We came back for more at 9.30pm where we had over thirty sets on the floor. Some too tired to dance every set after going hell for leather all day were sitting in a trance listening to the electrifying music which the Abbey Ceili Band are so well known for.

Just to finish I received some very nice phone calls from friends who could not make it to Tullamore on the occasion. I know they would have enjoyed it very much but I would like to thank them for their thoughts and wishes. I hope we will all meet in the very near future.

Louise Condron
Tullamore Ceili Club

Thurles Person of the Year

Have you heard?

Award-winning Michael Loughnane called the sets on 28 December 1999 in Nenagh, Co Tipperary. Our great friend and colleague Michael Loughnane has been awarded the title Person of the Year in his native Thurles, Co Tipperary. Michael was chose from a very competitive field of nominees and received the specially commissioned piece of Tipperary crystal at the award ceremony in the Anner Hotel on November 12th.

At the annual Christmas dinner and ceili organised by Thurles Ceili and Set Dancing Club further tributes and congratulations were extended to Michael by leaders of local organisations. Presentations were made to Michael by all these organisations to mark his achievements. His wife Peggy also received a bouquet of flowers.

The celebrations continued into the next millennium. During the first ceili of the new year held in Thurles with superb music by Seán Norman and his band on Sunday January 2nd, Joan Pollard Carew, chairperson of the Ceili and Set Club presented Michael with a specially restored pair of his own dancing shoes. Michael told me that these shoes were all of twenty years old and had been patched and re-patched on several occasions. Many attempts, made by his wife Peggy, to get rid of them with the rubbish failed completely. Now in their 'as good as gold' state, they get pride of place, very appropriately stuck to the timber plaque bearing the inscription, 'May we always follow in your dance steps.'

We send our heartiest congratulations to Michael.

Maureen Culleton

Down from the mountain

Long shots at ceili

I would never survive Christmas without a ceili and before the festive season I ended up in Wimbledon. My set dancing friend didn't come along and maybe it was just as well with the sort of strokes she pulls, she probably would be better off going there in the summertime. I got a free cab to the South West London Irish Centre. Fortunately I didn't have to make a run for it this time, as there were not many bushes and trees to hide behind, and for the first time in London I didn't arrive breathless at the ceili.

My friend the cab driver dances well but plays a very cagey game of cat and mouse. (I hear set dancers call it 'mouse and mouse'.) He is only interested in good dancers who have a lot of chemistry going on with him. However they shouldn't show any interest in him for a long time, and if they do, sorry! game over! He probably hasn't much chance with these women as I'm sure they are much sought after, and they are for him long shots at ceili. Bruno ('not his real name but you know how small ceili is . . .') is a bit of a long shot himself and even when he backs the horses he never goes for favourites. We had a pint as Bruno sized up the odds.

'There's a hundred to one shot over there,' I said.

'She used to teach sets in Stockwell,' he replied.

'Long story?' I asked.

'Yes, do you remember the Swan, too much Scrumpy Jacks and all that?'

'I prefer Bulmers myself. So you didn't get the steps right did you?'

'This place is getting very small, do you find it claustrophobic?' he asked.

'Who else do you know here Bruno?'

Dealga Trad without their banjo player were a different sound for me and while I was far from home, Bruno was not half far enough, and with all his near misses of late he didn't enjoy the ceili as much as I did. He talked of taking a trip to New York telling me flights would be a low price till March. He has a friend over there, another cab driver/set dancer and they have great shouting matches. These take place in the cab mostly, but it could be anywhere, which is why I'm looking forward to a really exciting ceili sometime. It will probably happen when they ask the same girl to dance -

'I was here first!'

'No! No! I was here first!'

He takes out his little squashed diary but can't make out his friend's telephone number.

'An rud a scriobhann an pucai, leann an pucai,' I said, what the pookie writes the pookie reads.

'Not so in my case, I'm not a pookie, and there are not many pookies at ceili!'

Margaret Morrin was the very helpful 'Bean a tí' (woman of the house) calling out the sets and she asked me did I do the Hollymount set? I hadn't heard of it I told her but it's a bit more like Hollywood over there now. We needed to get a cab home - Bruno believes in drinking and dancing but he doesn't believe in drinking and driving. This was just as well because he was 'elephants' and needed some assistance to get into the cab which came half an hour later when we were both drinched. I knew there would be no mad dash out of the cab this time.

Later back at home when Christmas was as far away as it ever was I noticed that I hadn't opened my last present with the tag 'Not for the ones at ceili.' It was a wild bird feeder and I thought that, yes, my back garden is probably more full of wild birds than ceili, but not by a long way. I met a few of them in Tubbercurry where we were at our last ceili of the century. It was nice in Killoran's pub with Matt Cunningham and his band. It was good to watch the Tubbercurry Lancers set which was danced by the locals as they humorously caught up on one another. We all tried to discover where everyone was spending New Year's Eve. Nobody came out any the wiser though like most ceili's. Some far away ceili I thought, that's where they all will be!


Copyright © 2000 O F Hughes

Travel notes

Alternative plans for Boston

Even though the set dancing holiday to Boston in April has been postponed, as many as fifty dancers will still be going there. Most of them booked non-refundable flights independently before the original holiday was cancelled. They've arranged a good deal with a Boston city centre hotel and are even being joined by new participants. Local organisers have been contacted and they expect to have nightly music and dancing. Anyone interested in joining the group for Easter week in Boston is welcome to contact Tom Collis in London for information.

Camden reunion in Bristol

I'll never forget my first glimpse of set dancing at an Irish concert in London around 1988. I rushed down to find out more about it and discovered there was a class in Camden run by Sorcha Ní Mhuineacháin. It was a very friendly group of relative novices (including Geoff Holland). We all learnt a great deal in a short space of time and within the year I was persuaded to go to Miltown. The rest, as they say, is history!

I have always had very fond memories of those early days and of Geoff's own classes and candlelit dance parties. I was sad to leave it all behind when I left London but it's wonderful to catch up with old friends still dancing in Camden. Breege McArdle and I decided it would be a great idea to have a reunion of that original class but make it out of London. Now we have an ideal opportunity to do it at my set dance weekend in Bristol, 7-9 April 2000.

So for anyone who was around in those days we'd love it if you could come and be part of the weekend. I've been teaching in Bristol for nine years and it has long been a dream of mine to get the London dancers down to meet my classes here.

Everyone is welcome to the Pat Murphy weekend in Bristol with Taylors Cross Ceili Band.

Vicky Salway

Letters and emails

The highest set

Dear Bill

Total fools of themselves I thought you might like the enclosed photo for Set Dancing News to set off a chain of attempts on the world record for dancing the highest set! Sixteen of us were on holiday in Kerry and decided to celebrate reaching the summit of our first climb in the McGillicuddy Reeks with a set around the cairn we found there. Fancy footwork was out as we were concentrating purely on not falling over the edge of the ridge. Hampered only by rucksacks, fleeces, cagoules and walking boots we acquitted ourselves with the aplomb known only to English tourists making total fools of themselves in the secure knowledge that the only Irish onlookers were a couple of seagulls.

Best wishes,

Clare Wilson

Treasures of dancing excellence

Dear Mr Lynch

Thank you for publishing my letter about the Luxembourg workshop given by Padraig and Roisin McEneaney. The group here liked it so much they translated it into Dutch.

Your article about the fine art (science?) of doubling reminded me of my own experience of learning to double. I had been given lots of advice: 'Dance closer to your partner,' and so on. However for a long time I never got it quite right until recently when dancing the Caragh Lake Jig set.

In the last figure, a hornpipe, all couples dance in and out and then turn to the next position. This is repeated three times until everyone is back in their original positions. Next all couples house around. Finally after a circle each lady moves on to the next gent and all the movements are repeated until each lady is back with her original partner.

Thus it was that while dancing this figure I obtained a new partner. As we balanced in and out for the first time I suggested doubling instead of housing to the next position. To my delight there was instant agreement from my partner. The subsequent three movements were completed in the same way. My partner doubled with such confident skill that after the last balance in and out I was considering suggesting doubling all the way 'round when my partner asked, 'Continue?' I immediately replied, 'Of course,' and so it was that we successfully doubled the next eight bars.

This was the moment when all the practice and advice fell into place and I realised that at last I had mastered this movement. However, I should say that is easier to do this with a good partner, particularly one who does each step in time to the music with digital precision. It was now time for the ladies to move on to the next gent, but before this happened I did remember to say 'thank you' to my accomplished partner. Of all the times that I have spent set dancing it is moments like this which remain - little treasures of dancing excellence which inspire and encourage - moments which make me believe that with perseverance many skills can be mastered.

I look forward a lot every issue of SDN, but not as much as going to some of the ceilis listed in it.

Yours sincerely,

A M R Magee

Ambrose, an Irish émigré living in Holland, is also making great strides in his mastery of Dutch grammar.

Very charming indeed

Hi Bill,

In your October-November 1999 issue of Set Dancing News, I was dismayed to read that Peter Jackson had suffered a heart attack. I do not know Peter personally but met him at a ceili in Croydon a few months ago. My four friends and I welcomed Peter to our table (we're all girls) and he danced with all of us. We all thought him very charming indeed.

Peter did comment about our footwork being rather fast and he said 'It's alright to have fancy footwork but could we keep it up all night?' Of course we had to prove ourselves and did. Peter also made lots of comments about the younger generation introducing new styles, (we are all thirty something!) our set dance teacher happened to be passing our table and heard the comments that Peter made and responded saying 'Don't be giving the girls big heads now.'

We enjoyed meeting Peter very much and were looking out for news of his recovery in the current issue of SD News.


Crawley Set Dancers - Cynthia, Grainne, Rose, Sheila and Vivienne

Peter has indeed recovered and is back dancing in London with the help of a pacemaker. Best wishes to him from S D News.

The David's picture

Dear Bill,

The David's picture How are you? This is Sarah who was participated in Ennis's Ceili on last Sunday [26 December 1999]. I was so impressed with your dance and cheerfulness. Thank so much. I hope I can visit again after many dances here in Japan.

Take care!


PS if it's possible please show the David's picture to him.

Sarah's own cheerfulness brought out a great smile in Dave Culligan, the versatile drummer and singer with the Michael Sexton Ceili Band. Sarah is from Japan and was on holiday in Ireland in December. She took the picture on her digital camera and sent it by email when she returned home.

Danced for the mayor

Dear Bill Lynch,

Me and my brother Michael have been doing set dancing for 18 months and we rely enjoy it. We also go to another dancing school in Halifax England. I am 7 and Michael is 9. My dance teachers for set dancing come from Tipperary in Ireland. We danced for the lord mayor of Bradford in the Bradford festival and he invited my dance group for tea. We have recently started doing step dancing at Halifax we had to compete in a competition my brother got a cup I got a medal. My dance teacher said I could have my hard shoes after Christmas.


Louise Brow

Louise wrote by email to Set Dancing News herself. She and her brother were thrilled to receive a reply from Ireland.

Eamonn Bolger

The sudden and unexpected death of Eamonn Bolger of Coolgreany, has left an unfillable void in the set dancing scene in Wicklow, Wexford, Kildare and Dublin. Eamonn passed away on Saturday morning, October 9th 1999, after returning from playing for a house dance at the home of the Carr family in Roundwood.

Eamonn was a very active 71 year old who made playing for set dancing his life. He played for weekly classes in Aughrim and Roundwood and for regular set nights in Kilcullen, Bray, Greystones and Rathdrum. He was a highly respected accordion player well known through Ireland and England.

He left Coolgreany for London in 1948 and made his living playing music since. He later moved from London to Leeds where he managed the Shamrock Club for 17 years from 1960 to 1977. He then returned to Coolgreany and quickly established himself as a leading player joining the Avoca Ceili Band with whom he travelled to America for St Patrick's Day on several occasions. He also played with the Green Isle Ceili Band. He formed his own band in later years and along with Matt Sharp, Derek Wearen, Frankie Harper, Noel Byre and Brian McCarthy played for ceilis from Waterford to Dublin.

His funeral was one of those never to be forgotten occasions. A celebration with mixed emotions of his sad passing and wonderful legacy. The church in Johnstown was packed on Monday evening for the arrival of his remains and again on Tuesday morning for his funeral Mass. Singer at the Mass was John Furlong and the music was provided by Matt Sharp, Brian McCarthy and Pat O'Kane. His friends travelled from all over Ireland and from England to be present.

In accordance with Eamonn's wishes a set was danced outside the church and another at Ballyfad cemetery. Over 300 of his acquaintances gathered with his family in the Coolgreany Inn to celebrate his extraordinary life. A marvellous set dance took place to the music of the Fodhla Ceili Band joined by many other musician friends. Tributes to Eamonn were paid by his neighbour and lifelong friend, Anthony Byrne, principal of Coolgreany National School and by John Ferguson, Leeds, one of those who had travelled over for the funeral. A further evening of set dancing took place on his month's mind in Coolgreany on November 6th.

Eamonn's contribution to music and to the development of set dancing is immeasurable. He was a decent gentleman who impressed anyone who was lucky enough to have known him.

May he rest in peace.

Sean Walshe

Set dancers from all over Leinster were saddened at the sudden and unexpected death of Eamonn Bolger in October. Eamonn had played his box at a wonderful dancing session held in Pat Carr's farm in Roundwood on the night of October 8th. He was in great form and his music was magical as usual. We were all shocked when we learned the next morning that Eamonn had died.

Eamonn became involved with our club, Rinceoirí Chualann, some years ago. Many a pleasant night's dancing we have had with him since at our sessions in the Mayfair in Bray on Monday nights and when we travelled to Roundwood on Thursday night for the sessions run in that lovely village by Ben Brady. Eamonn played at sessions all over Wicklow and Wexford and indeed wherever he was asked.

Eamonn will be sorely missed wherever good traditional music is played and wherever a set is danced in this part of the country. As Tom Whittle of Donard said to me at the funeral, 'It's the small groups that will miss him the most - he was always ready to play for any group no matter how small.' Ar deis Dé go raibh a ainm dilis.

Louis O'Rourke
Bray, Co Wicklow

Pat Murphy's new book of sets

Pat Murphy's first book, Toss the Feathers, published in 1995, is the book of set dances you see most often at ceilis. It has clear, concise and easy to follow instructions for 64 of the most popular sets. The book is also invaluable for its section on the history of Irish dance and of set dancing.

Pat's second book of set dances, The Flowing Tide, published by Mercier Press, will be available in January 2000. It contains instructions for another 57 dances, most of which have never been published before. There is also a summary of the history of set dancing and reports on the set dancing revivals in New York, Nova Scotia and London.

Pat and other teachers have taught some of the sets in workshops - the Mayo Lancers, Inis Oírr, Inis Meáin, Williamstown, Killyon, Borlin Jenny and Kildownet Half sets are included, along with many others. There are sets from outside Ireland, including two from Cape Breton Island and Prince Edward Island in Canada, two from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and even one from Australia. Pat has also added two waltz sets, the Royal Cotillion and the Waltz Quadrille, to his collection.

The three reports on the set dancing revival come from places with strong, active dance communities and are written by local dancers - Bill Harrison wrote about New York, Elizabeth MacDonald on Nova Scotia and your website's editor wrote about London.

The book is available directly from Pat Murphy at his workshops or contact Mercier Press for further information.

Boston Fleadh postponed

The set dancing holiday planned for April 2000 in Boston, Massachusetts, has been withdrawn by its organisers, the Enjoy Travel Group based in Manchester, England. Dancers planning to participate were required to pay deposits by 17 November 1999, but by that date the organisers had not received enough to proceed with the arrangements. If they had gone ahead regardless, the deposits would have become non-refundable, whereas by cancelling, all deposits can be returned in full.

The week long holiday would have taken place in a large hotel in downtown Boston with the participation of three ceili bands from Ireland and a full programme of ceilis, workshops and sightseeing. Remarkably, interest in the holiday was strong enough to tempt groups and individuals in Ireland and Britain to book and pay for independent travel arrangements to Boston. The holiday will possibly be rescheduled in the future, perhaps in 2001.

In 1998 and 1999 Enjoy Travel organised successful set dancing holidays to Spain with hundreds of participating dancers. They're organising a third Spanish holiday, 8-15 April 2000, this time on the Costa del Sol. More information appears in the event listings for Europe. For further details contact Gerry Flynn at Enjoy Travel.

Note for Boston travellers

Groups from Belfast and London who bought flights to Boston to attend the cancelled Boston Fleadh, 23-30 April 2000, are cooperating to book alternative accommodation. They have found a city centre hotel offering reasonable rates, a choice of sleeping arrangements and continental breakfast. No dancing is planned yet but some of the group will be contacting organisers in Boston.

Anyone interested in joining or assisting the group is welcome to contact Margaret Morrin.

A sensational weekend in Devon

Now, don't mention it to anybody what I am about to tell you because there was enough of a rush as it was on the M5 motorway down to Exeter. John Earle, who runs weekly Irish set dancing classes in Exeter, organised his second set dancing weekend in September and this time brought a teacher and musicians over from Ireland - Timmy 'The Brit' McCarthy from Ballyvourney, Co Cork, and musicians Pádraig Ó Sé and Jon Sanders from Dingle, Co Kerry. Timmy taught two workshops on Saturday and one on Sunday morning and the musicians played for the Saturday and Sunday ceilis.

When we arrived at the Clifton Inn for the Friday night session, many of us rather late (because of the stampede to get there as I have mentioned), the atmosphere was already growing. Local musician Joel Segal (fiddle) was joined by Timmy (accordion) while the locals at the Clifton Inn looked on with blinking amazement at the bubbling crowds, whirling and whooping, responding so quickly to the excitement of the music. In addition, Pádraig and Jon were persuaded to play for a set or two as soon as they arrived even though they had just stepped off the plane. I do not think that words could convey that magic but most people reading this magazine will know what I mean. As soon as we entered the pub, we knew that it was going to be a stunning weekend.

On Saturday morning Timmy, accompanying himself with lilting and accordion, taught sets at a roaring pace - the West Kerry, the Waltz Cotillion and the Victoria. Timmy observed that the Victoria should more probably be called the Vittoria as there was a greater likelihood of a dance being named after a battle than after a controversial British queen.

Between sessions, we had a few tantalising glimpses of Exeter's splendours. The cathedral is impressive, rivalling Wells in its beautiful setting. It adjoins a fascinating old shopping area with very interesting buildings, imaginatively restored, and there is the developing quayside area where we snatched a snack but we needed another weekend to explore all that.

We staggered back in the afternoon for the Ardgroom and the Televara. At first we failed miserably to discipline ourselves to the dignity and 'swishing' quality of the Ardgroom but after several admonitions pulled ourselves together and calmed our clattering feet. Timmy is commendably committed to teaching the spirit and style of the dances, as well as the steps and moves, and he never fails to honour the memory of those who devised them or have passed on the tradition. (We think of them with respect and gratitude, Timmy!) Timmy himself seemed well pleased with the workshop, stimulated by our eagerness to learn.

Flushed with the excitement of praise and approval, we rose to the Sunday morning challenge of Hurry The Jug. Inevitably, we hurried it and shot off in the wrong direction during that complex weaving of the body but eventually Timmy was very pleased with us for trying so hard. We loved it, except perhaps for that gallop which we could not get quite right!

The ceilis on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon were wild. We were slavishly driven at sixty miles an hour by the passion of the calling and the musicians produced a sound unmatched for me by all the bands I have so far heard. I am incredulous that two instruments could create such euphoria and beyond. The final set of the Sunday - the West Kerry, of course - was an experience by which all others will be measured. Crazy! As Timmy said, sometimes you cross a line into another place which people have known about for millennia.

Well, this weekend we certainly crossed it! The craic was mighty in every respect! To John, Timmy, Pádraig and Jon - thanks, guys!

Sue Costello, Bristol

Way up in the air

Dear Bill,

I have just run my first major weekend of set dancing here in Exeter - I say major because I did have one in March this year but that was a more local affair although it was very successful. This weekend went tremendously well. There were about 100 people at the workshops and 130 at each of the two ceilis. Timmy McCarthy was on brilliant form and the two musicians, Pádraig Ó Sé and Jon Sanders, were just out of this world. They lifted the ceilis way up in the air and the enthusiasm in the hall was stunning. It was without doubt the best Irish music that Exeter has ever experienced and the dancers could not get enough of it.

We started the weekend with a Friday night session of dancing in a local pub, had workshops all day on Saturday and on Sunday morning, a set dance ceili on Saturday evening and a Teac Ceili on Sunday afternoon. This was more in the style of a house ceili - in addition to set dancing, there was entertainment between the dances in the form of a display of Cornish dancing and, to send everyone away well fed, a Devon cream tea (a local speciality) was served.

Sorry to go on about it for so long but I am just over the moon with delight at the way it all went. The most important aspect was that everyone had a great time and want to come back to Exeter for more. Just as pleasing to me as an organiser was the fact that, despite very high costs and expenses, the event did just cover its costs so I can embark on the next one with more confidence.

Incidentally, I asked people to fill out a feedback questionnaire and it became clear that a lot of them had heard about the weekend through the adverts in Set Dancing News. I thought you would like to know.

I hope you are well and finding time for dancing.

Best wishes,

John Earle

Dancing in Luxembourg

There is a fable about the ants who worked hard during the summer gathering food while the grasshopper played the fiddle. When the cold winter came the hungry grasshopper asked the ants for food and shelter. The ants refused saying that the grasshopper had the chance to prepare for the winter during the summer but had wasted it playing the fiddle. The grasshopper perished; the ants survived and prospered.

Two years ago I attended a set dancing workshop in Luxembourg given by Timmy McCarthy. On the Friday evening there were some Luxembourg people outside the hall. When they heard the music and saw the dancing, they remarked that they were the ants while those inside the hall were the grasshoppers. Thus it was with some trepidation that I went to Luxembourg recently for a set dancing workshop given by Pádraig and Roisín McEneany. I need not have worried. There was an excellent atmosphere with participants from all over western Europe including Luxembourg. As far as I could see the largest single group came from the Netherlands - thirteen dancers and an impeccably well behaved dog.

Pádraig and Roisín, ably assisted by their volunteer demonstration teams, taught us the Glencree Set, the Labasheeda Set, the Durrow Threshing Set with its battering step and the Clare Orange and Green Set. Pádraig They have a very effective method of instruction. With the demonstration team they first walked through each figure. Next they danced it and finally top couples walked through it again - a quick reminder before we tried it ourselves.

When we danced each figure Roisín was on hand with on the spot helpful advice while Pádraig called the movements from the podium. He must have excellent eyesight - he noticed some mistakes made by dancers at the back of the hall more than once.

Pádraig and Roisín gave us useful advice on how and when to batter, as well as showing us the basic steps - the 'down-two-three' and the 'hop-one-two-three'. We practiced the steps by going in a big circle around the room. Some of the dancers from the Netherlands 'rafted up' to do the steps shoulder to shoulder in formation. This is useful for beginners because if you do the step incorrectly you notice it quickly.

On Saturday night we had a ceili with music by Heartlands. Pádraig and Roisín did a two-handed hornpipe and later Roisín demonstrated her talent for playing the flute. We also had an excellent display of step dancing by a mother and daughter from Dublin.

The numbers at the ceili were swelled by a group from Bray and Dalkey, but unfortunately they had to leave during the third figure of the Plain Set. After the ceili there was an informal session of singing in various languages and accordion playing. When I left some couples were waltzing into the small hours of the morning.

This was an excellent weekend and well worth the traffic jam on the Brussels ring road on the way home. My thanks to Pádraig and Roisín and the organisers (including Mary Butler and Julie Whelan) for all their hard work. I look forward to the next 'Lark in Luxembourg'.

A M R Magee, Amsterdam

Fast music and faster dancers

The Eddie Duffy Festival in Derrygonnelly, Co Fermanagh, 8-10 October 1999, is very much a musicians' weekend. Every year, many talented players visit the small village near Enniskillen from all over the North and fill all the pubs with music. There were sessions at all hours, the crowds were modest and well behaved and the pubs seemed to stay open nearly till dawn without interference from the police.

There was no rush to the ceili with the Glenside Ceili Band on Friday night. When I arrived at half past ten thinking I was late, the ceili had begun with only two sets dancing in the huge hall. But people continued to arrive all during the dance and by the end of the evening there were around twelve sets dancing. It was a similar story the next night when the Emerald Ceili Band was playing.

They like their music fast in Derrygonnelly, and both the Glenside and Emerald bands delivered exciting music that was great fun for dancing. If the music was fast, my dance partners were even faster as we zoomed around the sets. The bands packed in a lot of dancing by wasting no time between figures and sets. The Emerald finished the Saturday night ceili by playing the full Plain set non-stop, complete with jig.

The ceilis didn't finish after the last dance and national anthem. There was a raffle at the end of the night which was followed by an abundant supper with tea, sandwiches, cakes and tarts. You could have your fill and go back for more and there was still plenty left after that. On Saturday night I liberated some sandwiches, brack and tart for a friend's breakfast and he ate them thankfully in the morning.

There was more dancing in the workshop on Saturday morning and afternoon with Kieran Shanahan from Ennis, Co Clare. He taught the Borlin Jenny, Connemara Jig and Derradda sets, and like Connie Ryan took the trouble to explain the small details of dancing. For instance, in the last figure of the Derradda the gents swing and lead around with each lady. The ladies then star with the right hand and back with the left to change partners. Kieran told the gents to keep the ladies' left hand at the end of the lead around and release the right to guide them correctly into the star - a small but valuable point.

It was my first workshop weekend in the north and I was a bit worried about having enough Sterling to pay my way. There was no need for concern - Irish money was accepted everywhere I went. Visitors were also fully accepted in Derrygonnelly and given the universal Irish welcome by all the locals and dancers.

Bill Lynch

Come and dance with us in Dauphin

Here is some news from the South of France during the weekend of October the 23 and 24th.

We had a lot of rain this season, but we do not think that this weather, a bit Irish, had some influence on the success of this set dancing workshop. The organizers even turned away about fifteen participants. This happened in the city of Istres, 50 km from Marseille. Patrick McCionnaith, from Toulouse, conducted the rather intensive workshop, where the legs of the beginners were put to a hard test. To prepare for the evening ball, we had to learn a few dances easy to remember for people not knowing reels, jigs and hornpipes. Patrick taught us some ceili dances - the Walls of Limerick, the Trip to the Cottage, Highland Flings and others. The evening started with the concert of a local group, Vent d'Ouest, mostly inspired by the music of Bothy Band. Later, it was the ball, led by Patrick with the fiddle. The trainees could practice what they learned during the afternoon. The ball lasted to 2 am. We only had time for a short night. Sunday morning, 10 am, Patrick taught us some concepts of step dancing, which he learned with Joe O'Donovan. Two hours of step dancing were very difficult for beginners. After lunch time, we did set dancing. We danced Clare Lancers from 2 to 5 pm. Our dancers were very good and enjoyed dancing this beautiful set, difficult to remember at the beginning. We left around 5.30 pm, tired but happy to have spent so good moments. We wish many people appreciated these dances because, although we like Irish set dancing, we cannot go to Ireland every weekend. Maybe these dances will become more popular in our area.

A few words about dance in our area. We live in Forcalquier in Alpes-de-Haute-Provence. Six kilometres from home, in Dauphin, there has been a traditional dance workshop every Tuesday evening for 21 years. All dances of the world are taught there. In this area you can meet many musicians, mainly two-row button accordion and fiddle players. So, every dancer is welcome to 'come and dance with us in Dauphin.'

Thanks to Patrick McCionnaith for this excellent week end.

Sylviane Pinter and Stéphane Sergent

Trick or treat!

There were certainly no tricks but lots of treats for me during the Halloween weekend. The weather was inclement to say the least when I headed for a workshop facilitated by Edith Bradley in the Four Provinces, Co Roscommon, on Saturday October 30th. Having driven through Athlone there were brighter things in store when the clouds lifted and the rain cleared. The welcome afforded me by Seamus Butler was full of warmth and friendliness. Our workshop on two-hand dances was energetic, lively and thorough. How many dances did we learn? I think it was fourteen. The incredible energy and enthusiasm displayed by both Edith and Ann, our tutors from Donegal, ensured that we were attentive, interested and having great fun right through the workshop, even when Gerard Butler was demonstrating the 'Irish Highland.' There were some beautiful heel and toe steps which suited him perfectly-a treat to watch Ger.

Our lunch consisted of a tastily prepared salad with lots of tea, brown bread and treacle cake made by Mrs Butler. All participants had lunch in the 4Ps which afforded us the opportunity to chat and make plans for the long winter months ahead. Unfortunately I was unable to stay for the ceili but might I say a big thank you to the Butler family, to my partner Geraldine, to our tutors and all the friends whom I met on the day for a great treat.

Later on that night there was another surprise in store. John Vaughan's mystery tour was based at the Montague Hotel, Emo, Portlaoise, so what a treat it was to meet all the friends from Vaughan's Barn, Kilfenora, and to dance to the music of the Four Courts Ceili Band. It was their first visit to Co Laois as far as I know. It was thoroughly enjoyed by all. I had the pleasure of dancing the Connemara Set with John and he told me they had been afforded a Céad Míle Fáilte both in the hotel and in the other venues which they visited.

Halloween was finally upon us and having had an extra hour in bed I was well prepared for the afternoon ceili in the Anner Hotel, Thurles, where the Glenside Ceili Band treated us to a stormer of a ceili. How elegant they looked in their witch's and wizard's hats which were placed on their heads by Michael Loughnane I think, while they played their hearts out. All they could do was smile graciously and keep playing. Mick and Gene from Clonmel, or was it Kathleen and Betty, won the prize for the best outfit. I think they shared the sweets. I don't know whether the right hand having to stretch over both head and tall hat, or my protruding witch's nose was the biggest problem when Seamie and I danced the Corofin Plain. Anyway it was an evening full of fun and enjoyment. Mick Mackey treated us to two lovely country songs and accompanied himself on guitar with the support of the Glenside, of course.

After the ceili we returned to the home of Peter and Joan Culleton and family and the party continued around the bonfire. What an extra treat it was to have a day off from school on Monday, 1st November.

It was a wonderful weekend. Thanks to all who contributed to or provided the entertainment. 'Go mbeirimíd beo ag an am seo arís.'

Maureen Culleton, Camcloon, Ballyfin, Portlaoise, Co Laois

Down from the Mountain


Far away ceilis are better or so they say - well at least the critics (the locals) won't be there asking, 'When are you going to make a move?' or saying, 'The auld steps should be getting better now that you're set dancing a while.' Everybody is under surveillance at ceili. There is no need for the police so I took off again to a different neck of the woods and ceilis where I could let loose and not worry about who was looking over my shoulder.

St Josephs School ceili in Dublin on Friday nights is not a bad place to escape to, but Nifty (the Queen of Ceili as some set dancers call her) wasn't there but I've no doubt she was busy elsewhere. 'Nifty' is not her real name of course, 'but you know how small ceili is,' and they tell me she got this from her graceful little steps not to mention her acceleration, brakes, handbrake turns and she never wears a seatbelt or gets a flat tyre in a little Christmas. Needless to say she doesn't have to do a Michael Flatley across the floor to get noticed. The Glenside are her favourite band but it's getting a bit ridiculous lately with set dancers going to the Glenside not for the band but hoping to get a dance with Nifty.

But there were others to dance with in St Josephs and 'the man himself,' as they say down my way, Michael Sexton, was playing. Mary Brogan made sure we got a cup of tea before the journey home and my friend enjoyed the Halloween crumpet but would have preferred if it was buttered on both sides like down in Kiltabubbleleen. He thought he might stay up another night in the big smoke but when he asked where they were going the following night, Herr Flick (not her real name but you know how small ceili is) wasn't having any of it and gave the usual ceili answer, 'Oh that would be telling ye!' What this girl was getting up to later, nobody knows. Probably going home getting down on her knees and praying for good ceilis I'd say. She is always at good ceilis anyway and there's no messing about with her on the dance floor either. I'm sure if she had joined us for tea she wouldn't take any sugar, just a little milk and it probably would have to be stirred to the left.

We headed for Tullamore where the Abbey Ceili Band were playing Saturday night. There wasn't a square inch left and one guy wanted me to take off my shirt to make more space. I never get asked by the girls to do this because most of them don't like hairy chests and 'Birds don't make nests in a bear tree,' but as regards the space I've been told that you should be able to dance on a farthing. There was a great air of excitement before the music started as per usual when the Abbey is playing. 'Definitely not a band for beginners!' I've heard some people say. We had a great night but it's very hard to get asleep after a night like that with all those polkas bouncing around in the head.

The Cooley Collins Festival was on late October in Gort, County Galway, and while people talk about the 'strong lonely sound' of Joe Cooley's music, there was nothing lonely about the weekend. While people come from all over, the farming community around come into town with muck, music and magic so it makes for an interesting weekend. I enjoyed the Tulla Ceili Band in the cosy Glynns Hotel on Sunday night and having gone to this festival before I must say it's hard to miss it.

The Claddagh Hall ceilis in Galway kicked off the last Friday night in October. 'Why wasn't I making history?' I was asked. I should have been out on their new dance floor for the first dance. 'I'll probably be there for the last,' I replied. But then again I mightn't. I don't know how long dance floors last but it could be a long time, so we might as well enjoy it and dance while we can wherever the ceili is, and whether the crumpet is buttered on both sides or not!


Copyright © 1999 O F Hughes

Keen competition in Manchester

A weekend of competitions and ceilis in England, the Manchester International Set Dancing Festival, is surprisingly popular with huge numbers of dancers from Ireland. It's cleverly held over the Irish October bank holiday with plenty of superb ceilis, first class music and dancing prizes to tempt travellers. Michael Sexton brought his band over to play for four ceilis and John Davey and family from Co Meath played for the competitions. Several Irish teachers came along to adjudicate, hold workshops and call the sets. This year it all took place in the Forum, Wythenshawe, Manchester, from the 22nd to the 24th of October, which was the twelfth annual festival. It's going stronger than ever.

There were two full days of competitions and by far most of the teams, and all the winners, were Irish visitors. There were separate competitions for different age groups with younger dancers on Saturday and adults on Sunday. Every team danced two figures from a set of their choice on stage, the most popular being the Cavan Reel set. There were a commendably wide variety of sets, some of which I'd never even heard of.

The results for each competition were announced quickly with helpful comments from the adjudicators. Donncha Ó Múinneacháin repeatedly advised couples in the competing sets to hold their arms no higher than their shoulders and to dance face to face rather than hip to hip. The prizes handed out to each member of the winning sets were special 'Manchester International Set Dancing Festival' porcelain plates - by the end of the weekend some of the teams had won so many prizes that they probably had enough plates to open a restaurant. The top team in each category also received a perpetual trophy, which is passed on to the new winners each year. Unfortunately, one of the children's teams had to do without their trophy as it hadn't been returned by last year's winners.

The open competition late Sunday afternoon was the final one and the highlight of the weekend. None of the Cavan Reel sets won, but another set seems to have taken its place - the Roscommon. Of the top three winning teams, two danced the Roscommon, and it was also danced by the All-Ireland winning team in Enniscorthy in August.

With the great music and dancing in the competitions, I was getting itchy to do some dancing myself during the day. However, the workshops on offer with Michael Loughnane and Mickey Kelly weren't able to attract enough dancers of Saturday to form a set, despite the hundreds of dancers in attendance. I heard there were two sets dancing in the workshop on Sunday.

The nightly ceilis with Michael Sexton were consistently superb, with an atmosphere that inspired both the dancers and the band. The crowds were large but there was ample space for everyone on the dust-free floor. There were breaks in the ceilis when the winning teams in each category took to the floor to show us their sets. Many sat on the floor to watch as the chairs were all taken - there was even an announcement requesting people not to bring extra chairs into the hall! Other announcements at the ceilis asked people not to use or block the fire doors and not to buy drinks for children.

One of the most entertaining performances at a ceili was by a group from Kilkenny. They danced their own Lancers set in rural costume with great energy. There were cheers when they danced the hornpipe - each gent danced with each lady in the set by dancing sevens and then a double. But these gents threw each lady back to her partner with such force that the couple staggered well out of the set!

The man responsible for every Manchester festival during their long history was seen only occasionally over the weekend. Sean Dempsey was receiving daily hospital treatment but still managed to come to the festival and even called a couple of sets. His energy and love for the crowd was apparent and the affection of the crowd for him was made clear at tributes on Sunday night - one fellow even sang a song.

If you're interested in keen competition and fabulous ceilis the Manchester International Set Dancing Festival is a great weekend. Next year Matt Cunningham will be playing for the ceilis.

Bill Lynch

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

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