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).
The new CD and tape from the Abbey Ceili Band, Bruach an tSuláin, has been successfully launched in Cork and Miltown Malbay in June and July 2000. A formal launch for press, friends and family took place in June at Murphy's Brewery in Cork City where traditional singer Seán Ó Sé had the honour of officially launching the recording. You couldn't dispute the praise he related from one dancer - "That band are the best thing since rural electrification!"
The recording was launched for set dancers when the band played in the Armada and Mill Theatre in Miltown for the summer school. Sales were brisk. It has music for four sets, the Ballyvourney Jig, Borlin, Caledonian and Corofin, all recorded live in Macroom, Co Cork, in April. Get it from the band at their ceilis or contact Ger Murphy.
A cold May breeze whipped through my thin T-shirt as we crossed on the ferry from Doolin. I was glad that I had worn jeans instead of my shorts. Some of my companions had never been on a ferry before, others had bad memories of similar crossings. Although we were going to Inis Oírr for a set dancing weekend I had promised myself a few hours alone discovering the island and finding much needed solitude.
After arriving we were deftly shown to our rooms by our hostess Anna. Her home was beautiful with white oak floors and a magnificent sitting room overlooking the pier and the beautiful golden beach. After we settled in and freshened up we descended on the lounge to sample the island's home cooking.
We decided that a walk in the sea air was a must - it would be a shame not to avail of the wonderful balmy evening. Our trek on the beach over, we returned to our guesthouse. The resident band, the Island Ramblers, had tuned up and soon we were dancing Castle, Tipperary Lancers, Connemara Set and Clare Lancers sets, with an odd Pride of Erin to allow us time to cool off. Most of us retired to bed at 1.30.
Saturday morning we tucked in to breakfast and then headed to the community hall for the first of our weekend workshops. Pat Murphy and Betty McCoy tutored us on the Ballycroy and Souris sets. Then we adjourned for lunch. Some of us decided to try the tearoom as the home baking on display was so inviting. We were not disappointed - the scones were divine and the rhubarb pie was mouth watering. Back to the hall and more set dancing - this time the Inis Oírr, Paris and Tournafulla sets.
We took a much-needed break before the ceili mór. More strolling around the island and we visited Teach Ned for a traditional session. Stomachs full once more on the delicious home baking we were all set to dance the night away to Matt Cunningham.
Walking back alone to the guesthouse was like stepping back in time. For the first few minutes I could see nothing in the darkness but then I got accustomed to the lack of light and was surprised by how much I could see.
A wonderful peace engulfed me, the sounds of the dark sea in the distance, an odd glimmer of light somewhere. I had found my soul place. It was as if the misty dark night had folded me in its arms - I stood and tried to internalise all the positive energies around me.
I decided to give the workshop a miss on Sunday if the weather was reasonable. Brilliant sunshine greeted me and after breakfast I started my walk to discover the hidden island.
I walked by the little chapel with the bell ringing to summon the islanders to Mass. I followed the little road up the hill and meandered through little paddocks surrounded by stone walls until I reached the summit and breathtaking views of the island from the ruins of the 15th century O'Brien's castle. As I sauntered back to meet my companions I could hear ceili music streaming from the community hall mixing easily with the sounds of nature in this rugged landscape.
Alas it was time to pack and organize the gang for our return back to Doolin pier. We had a choppy crossing and everyone was glad to be back on dry land. Inis Oírr is the most beautiful of the Aran Islands - in this outcrop of the Burren landscape I found a haven of peace and love.
Joan Pollard Carew, Thurles, Co Tipperary
Inis Oírr TripWe headed off for Doolin Pier
On a misty Friday morn'
Some nervous of the ferry
In case we'd have a storm
We crossed in forty minutes
The craic was mighty strong
Anticipating the weekend
Of music, dance and song
We ate hairy bacon and cabbage
And spuds with rosy skins
Apple tart and chocolate cake
Drank some familiar things
Filled the island with laughter
Danced Lancers and sets
No one was anxious
To return to their beds
'Boston Burglar' was Delia's song
Bridget 'The homes of Donegal'
Pat Murphy taught us new sets
In the little community hall
Some went to the Seipeal
For Aifreann on Sunday morn'
Others walked the island
Their pilgrimage at dawn
We ferried back to Doolin
On Sunday afternoon
Bussed it back to Thurles
Inis Oírr we'll be back soon
Joan Pollard Carew
Set dancing is my life,
The joy, the pain, the beat, the strife
Advance retire circle swing
Double treble and start again
Tops sides and house around
Ladies chain and listen to the sound
One two and one two three
Back two and watch that knee
The Caledonian and the Plain may seem the same
But turn the lady and you're off again
The beat the feet
The shrill the thrill
Gliding and sliding
The sweat the banter
Round the house and watch the dresser
No stopping just hopping
Knocking sparks off the floor
Begging for more
Mary Caldwell, Ennis, Co Clare
There's a great tradition in Ireland of dancing sets in any sort of building, no matter how inappropriate - I've danced in cow sheds in Kilfenora and Watergrasshill, factories in Miltown Malbay, a national school in Aubane and a church in Labasheeda. Not every place has a community hall, a pub with lounge bar or a hotel with ballroom, and dancers have shown themselves to be very creative with disused buildings. They can be transformed into venues which are every bit as enjoyable as purpose-built structures, with character that can't be matched.
Recently I've discovered another example of this tradition - the rambling house. These are country cottages which have been converted into dance halls. In June I visited one near Carrigkerry, Co Limerick, in the hills above Newcastle West, and the well-established one outside Boherbue, Co Cork.
Both rambling houses were remarkably similar. They were approached on country roads that got progressively narrower and rougher the nearer I was, with a green stripe down the middle that got progressively wider and higher. Just before the road and car gave up, small farmhouses appeared and I wondered if I'd made a turn into a private residence. Inside, they looked like small halls, but still kept the character of a home - there was turf burning in the fire, the picture of the Sacred Heart was displayed above a glowing electric candle and the walls were hung with pictures and farm and kitchen implements. A few early arrivals like myself were sat around the fire, while others were in the kitchen preparing the tea.
The rambling house near Carrigkerry is still called the Flag Floor even though it has a wooden floor now, as the original flagstones weren't suitable for dancing. The local wren group headed by Donie Nolan of Taylors Cross Ceili Band bought the house about eight years ago from the farmer for their practice meetings. Donie usually plays and hosts these evenings fortnightly, but he was unable to attend the night I was there. The musicians were locals, young and old, who played without amplification. When the music began, dancers formed sets and danced their own local polka set. The room is small with space for three sets, and those dancing by the fire were roasted! We also danced the more usual sets, and there were songs, stories and a generous tea. A friendly, relaxed and enjoyable evening for everyone.
The Rambling House near Boherbue in Cork has been run by Michael and Lottie Fleming for around ten years. The family inherited the farm, and turned the cottage into the rambling house and the farm buildings into a folk park. There are painted statues of farmers around the yard which seem oddly realistic in the fading evening light. Inside, there's good space as the cottage was extended to accommodate more sets, but the farmhouse character is still there in buckets. Every week a professional two-piece band provides the music - Michael and Paddy Twomey played this night. Cork and Kerry seem to be full of superb small groups with box and piano playing for ceilis. The floor was full of keen, loyal dancers who never miss a night at the Rambling House. Another informal evening of good dancing recommended to anyone visiting Sliabh Luachra.
Bill Lynch, July 2000
Michael and Lottie Fleming have live music dancing every Wednesday night, 9.30pm-12.30am, £4, in the Rambling House. Watch carefully for signs along the road between Boherbue and Knocknagree.
Musicians and dancers usually meet in the Flag Floor every second Tuesday. It's hard to find so it's best to go in the company of a local dancer.
Devotees of the Willie Clancy Summer School will be interested in a book being prepared by photographer Tony Kearns and writer Barry Taylor. Both are regulars at the school for many years and have collected a large amount of material. Their book will cover the music and dance traditions of West Clare, the history of the school, the people involved in it, the classes and the pub sessions. It will be informative and entertaining, combining academic interest with a strong visual aesthetic. Above all it is intended to portray the unique atmosphere of the school.
Tony and Barry distributed leaflets at this year's school to seek support for the book and collected the names of hundreds expressing interest. Anyone wishing to join their mailing list can write to Tony Kearnsindicating your areas of interest. They are also interested in hearing comments and personal recollections of the school.
Matt Cunningham's ceili band is very much a family business, with three of his children, Eric, Joe and Ita, regularly joining him on stage. Recently though, Eric and the superb music of his flute have been missing from the band while he's been on special assignment in Europe.
Last year, Eric was commissioned by a European theatrical company to compose and arrange music for a new dance musical, To Dance on the Moon, which premiered in Germany in March. The show toured Europe for three months and Eric, as musical director, and the cast of 25 dancers, two singers and six musicians performed to more than 80,000 people. The show has moved to Ireland for the summer, premiering in June and playing for eight weeks in July and August at the National Event Centre in Killarney. The show continues in Europe after that and a second show will simultaneously play in Australia in January.
In 1992 Eric was awarded a scholarship to study music at University College Cork (UCC), and graduated with bachelor and master of music degrees with honours. He's performed around the world, not only with Matt, but also with symphony orchestras, in concert halls and with well-known Irish musicians Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin and Charlie Lennon. He was also a contributor to Fintan Vallely's The Companion to Irish Traditional Music and is working on a book of his own. He still enjoys playing with his father's band and played for a ceili at the Connie Ryan Gathering in Clonoulty.
Meanwhile Matt enjoys continued success with the ceili band. The band has travelled to America and England this year and always has a busy schedule in Ireland, as you can see from the listings in Set Dancing News. Ita and Joe (fiddle and banjo) are both at UCC and continue to play with the band - Ita is a scholarship music student and Joe is a lecturer with the Department of Finance, Accounting and Information Technology. Best wishes to all the Cunninghams and also to Larry and Jimmy Cooley who play drums and piano.
Contact the Gleneagle Hotel to see To Dance on the Moon while playing in Ireland.
During the Willie Clancy Summer School, dancers were attracted out to the Crosses of Annagh pub not only for the great music and occasional dancing there, but also to see a marvellous exhibition of paintings and drawings. Cathy Kingcome has shown her paintings of traditional musicians in two previous exhibitions in Miltown, and her work has become well known through reproduction on postcards and CD covers. Cathy is from England and lives in Kilmaley, Co Clare.
Cathy's exhibition at the Crosses included two paintings and several drawings of set dancers. The most prominent painting in the exhibition showed a set of locals dancing in the Crosses. The dancers were all realistically represented, though touches of surrealism added great interest-they were stirring up gold dust and the pub they were dancing in also appeared beyond an open door. Another painting showed two sisters dancing by the fire in a warm scene of rural Ireland.
The other paintings in the exhibit were equally delightful portraits of traditional musicians, and many of the sketches showed dancers. The works were popular with buyers as all the paintings were sold and most of the sketches. Cathy will continue to make more paintings of Irish musicians, but her own interests have expanded and in future she plans to paint Irish salsa dancers.
There was another artist in Miltown for the summer school. Laura Higgins is a painter from Toronto who's also a keen set dancer. As well as attending ceilis for her own enjoyment, she also spent time taking photographs, collecting subject matter for paintings which she's preparing for an exhibition in a Toronto gallery in October. Two years ago she had another exhibition there which focused on set dancing.
Laura wasn't showing her paintings in Miltown but sold prints in the summer school shop. In her paintings, Laura tries to capture the joy she feels when dancing, the rhythm, energy, lift of the music and 'the sense of being connected with the people you dance with.' Her paintings capture the experience of dancing more effectively than in another medium.
Both Cathy and Laura show their work on the Internet. Click on the highlighted names above to see their web sites and contact information.
If you ever want to get out of a ceili in a hurry, just tell them that you're panned out and there's a taxi waiting. They will probably think it's something much more serious and won't ask any questions. But remember they are all set dance junkies themselves who binge on it whenever they have a chance, and forget that they can get very weary. In Spanish Point I met Nifty's sister who was very lovely, however our star signs weren't compatible and we would probably have to behave ourselves with Nifty looking on, so I decided to do a Houdini on it and vamoosh out the door of the Armada. It was there I met with another tired, confused set dancer. We got talking and it turned out that she was just after having a bad run in with somebody, was on the rebound and had just declared war on set dancing. I thought we might have a ding-a-ling.
"Would you like a bit of an adventure?" I asked.
"Depending? I want to wash that set dancer right out of my hair!"
"How about a splash? The water is still quite warm."
I was lucky her bullshit detector hadn't gone off, but later I found out it had self-destructed due to overload at ceili. On the way to the beach she told me that she had completed a First Aid course the previous week. I thought it would come in very handy but I wasn't going to tell her that then, was I? Neither of us had brought our swimming costumes along. As we slid into the water, I could see it was a full moon. Swimming after midnight with a beautiful stranger and the fifth figure of the Caledonian just about audible was sheer bliss. We did a lot of splashing and then something happened. I hit my head off a rock and konked it. (It wasn't that bad really, but you know, any old excuse!) She dragged me in and gave me a lot of mouth-to-mouth. I needed a really good going over, so I made sure I didn't recover too quickly.
"Are you sure you're okay now?" she asked.
"Just another little bit more, to be sure to be sure."
"To be sure to be sure," she replied.
We couldn't find our clothes (another smart set dancer up to his old tricks) so we found a small cave where we kept each other warm. I had always wanted to be a caveman and this Tarzan and Jane role suited me more than her. When most of the traffic had died down that night we decided to make a run for it across the fields. In one field behind a big round bale there was a lot of heavy breathing. We weren't sure what it was, but it was pretty scary. My midnight swimming partner needed a lot of reassuring and it gave me a great opportunity to return all the First Aid I had so generously received. I slept very well that night.
The following morning I had just opened the boot of my car in the car park beside the Armada when a banana skin hit me on the head. It was Clarry on the third floor of the Armada with a long haired blonde each side of him.
They break into song, Nessum Dorma, but make a very bad job of it.
"Not a bit like Pavorotti," I shouted.
"It's Andrea Bocelli, the guy they say that if angels could sing they would sound like him."
"Sounded more like Joe Dolan to me."
Later I met him in the bar drinking a pint of his favourite beverage. (Carlsberg! If he has had more than two avoid him like the plague.) "Even the women were on the prowl last night," he said.
"That's not a bad thing. I don't know who they were after but it wasn't me anyway." "The music was good - did you get their CD?"
"Yes, but went home early," I said.
"A quiet night?" he asked.
"Yes, a very quiet night, but then again you wouldn't need to believe everything you hear during Willie Clancy week!"
Copyright © 2000 O F Hughes
It was a great Fleadh Nua, [Ennis, Co Clare, 25-29 May 2000] wasn't it? Fantastic music both at pub sessions and ceilis! I know that I'm probably a bit biased, as the Fleadh was my very first Irish dancing event, in 1997, but I can honestly say that I've never been disappointed in it in the years I've been there since then!
With Tulla on the Thursday, PJ Hernon and Swallows Tail on the Friday, Michael Sexton on the Saturday, the Kilfenora on the Sunday and the Four Courts on the Monday plus an extra ceili session with Michael Sexton on the Monday afternoon. I missed the first and last ceilis, but thoroughly enjoyed the others. PJ Hernon and Swallows Tail played better than I've ever heard them - and the Monday afternoon session with Michael Sexton at Queen's Hotel always seems to be one of the best ones for some reason . . . and it was fun comparing 'war injuries' with you during the Cashel Set!
This year, it was a bit of a setback to find that both O'Connell's and Cieran's in town were closed for restoration, as in the past, we've listened to some fabulous sessions there. But, on the other hand, this made us go and search for music at other places instead, and we found it going strong at Cruise's, O'Halloran's and Paddy Quinn's, among others. How about you - did you find any good sessions?
Christina Ewaldz, Cambridge, England
Best described as 'electric'Dear Bill
I would like to take this opportunity through the circulation of Set Dancing News to thank sincerely all those who helped raise the sum of £3,247.44 for the Aisling Appeal - the fundraising for the Irish homeless in London.
A set ceili was held in St McCartan's Hall, Monaghan, on Saturday 4th June last at which the Emerald Ceili Band supplied the music and the night could best be described as 'electric'. This took in over £1,100 and the balance received was from generous donations and sponsorship given from others wishing to contribute to the cause.
This type of response makes all the organisation involved in running events for charity very worthwhile.
To all those who so willingly helped on the night, especially the ladies who helped with the supper, I am forever grateful.
Renewed thanks and looking forward to your continued support.
Yours in set dancing
Therese McConnon, Smithboro, Co Monaghan
The Connie Ryan Gathering 2000Dear Bill
The Committee of the Connie Ryan Gathering 2000 would like to thank everybody involved in making the Gathering such a great success.
We thank our set workshop tutors, Pat Murphy, Betty Mc Coy, and Aidan Vaughan, whose workshops were excellent, and our MCs Michael Loughnane, Jim Doyle (Manchester) and Pat Murphy. We want to say thanks to all the ceili bands whose music we danced to over the weekend, the Árd Éireann, Matt Cunningham and Michael Sexton, and Danny Webster for ceili and old time on Sunday night. We especially thank our sponsors from near and far whose generosity ensures the Gathering will continue. We really appreciate all the organizations and individuals who helped in any way at the event and look forward to their support in the future.
Now last but by no means least we say a big thank you to you the set dancers from everywhere whose support make the Gathering the great set dancing celebration it is fast becoming. The effort made by all of you to come to Clonoulty be it for a night or the whole weekend and by some to demonstrate dances and figures of sets from your own locality is greatly appreciated. We look forward to meeting all of you again in 2001 and be sure to bring your friends.
On behalf of the committee
This was part of the magicHello Bill,
I am writing to you after reading the Set Dancing News. My husband and I spent eight days in Eire in mid-June. Our entire trip was a wonderful magical time. We are rather new to the Internet, so I was surprised when preparing for the trip, to find a listing of time and place of many ceilis, after typing in 'Irish music and dance'. I didn't know much at all about a ceili, but love most kinds of dance, and many kinds of music.
On the plane over we had sat next to a woman from Donegal who was a wealth of information. From her, I learned the term set dancing. We planned to spend most of the week in Clonmel. Later in the week, we went to hear some traditional music, and I asked if anyone knew where I might watch some set dancing. I was told there was a class the following evening in Clonmel. What luck! I did attend the class, found it just delightful, and felt so fortunate to have asked the right people, and been at the right place at the right time. That was great, but the best was yet to come. We travelled north, through Galway City, into Connemara and back down. On our last night in the country, we needed to find a B&B, as it was getting late. We were heading for Doolin, having heard it was quite a place to hear good music. We'd also heard it was touristy, and we had done our best to avoid the usual tourist places. So we decided to choose a town on the map and look for a B&B there. Well, the town was Kilfenora, and it was Thursday, June 16. Driving into town was a sign reading, 'Set dancing every Thursday night.'
This was part of the magic. You wish for something and it appears. We loved watching the dancing and visiting with people at the old stone building with a wooden floor. The evening was one of the highlights of our trip. The energy and talent of the dancers and musicians was outstanding, and they had so much fun! It was good to see a variety of ages participating together. We were brave enough to get up for the old time waltz. But we are now watching for some beginning set dancing lessons near us here in Minnesota, in the middle of the US. There is an Irish Fair in August in St Paul, and I believe that will be a good place to find more information.
We have a photo of you, me, the Canadian woman who kindly sold me her copy of Set Dancing News, and a couple from the Netherlands who were also interested in learning to dance. One, two, one two three, one two, one two three. Thanks to you, the Canadian woman and to all the dancers for a memorable time.
Janet McGrath, Minnesota, USA
Firm Purposes of AmendmentDear Bill
Well, we're home now and the thoughts and impressions from WC week have settled into place, been weighed and considered, and now we feel they should be aired and shared. As far as we can make out, the general opinion is that the workshops were excellent, the concerts were all very enjoyable, the atmosphere in the town was very friendly, the weather was marvellous - in short, a good time was had by all. Personally speaking, we had our best Willie Clancy week yet and coming home has been an awful wrench. Because we love Willie Clancy week and hope that it goes from strength to strength, we make the following comments in the hope that they will be accepted in the spirit in which they are intended.
The organisation at times let us down and we hope that Firm Purposes of Amendment will be made by 2001. We wish to bring to the attention of the organisers the following points:
- It would have helped a lot of people if notices had been put up in the Community Hall and on the doors of the 'old' Mill that 'The Mill' now refers to a building as far again up the hill and on the left; that would have saved them walking away from the building they knew as the Mill, thinking the ceili had been cancelled.
- Information notices put 10 feet up a wall are a waste - remember, although set dancers are known to carry towels, spare clothing and fans around with them, there have been no reported sightings of any of them carrying step-ladders.
- The steward on the door of Aidan Vaughan's class was appallingly rude to a young lady at her first WC week. She had the temerity to ask for a day-ticket and had the face eaten off her by the steward as he believed that day-tickets should not be an option.
- We are well aware that tempus does not fugit in Ireland - it sort of takes a leisurely stroll. However, it is regrettable that several ceilis started some 3/4 hour late this year at the Mill. One evening, not even the stewards were there at 9pm, let alone the band. We accept that the bands played on, but this was small consolation to those who had to be up for workshops the next morning.
- How many agree with us that it is time something was done about the continuing lack of sound system quality in the Mill? The organisers should remember that people travel over to Ireland at some expense to hear the wonderful bands they rarely, if ever, get a chance to dance to at home, and the bands deserve to be heard at their best.
- The barrier that separated the main dance floor from the added dance floor at the Mill needs to be re-thought-out; there were 'supports' sticking out from it on the main-floor side which caused many barked shins and several falls.
- Some Dance Masters were surprisingly discourteous - we witnessed the following two incidents:
Still in the realms of courtesy, we now risk being controversial. We have decided that ladies are free to refuse to dance with men -
- Two DMs and their partners joined two couples on the floor and the couples' friends and others were turned away as the set was full. As was the custom at the Mill, when the floor was nearly full the name of the set was called out - the Mazurka Set. Without a word of apology or explanation, the two DMs just walked off!
- At the Mill one afternoon one of these DMs wanted to dance so he and his seven walked into a small space and made room for their set by just pushing back against the set that was already there - again, not a please, thank-you or you-know-what!
We have concentrated on the negatives as the positives are fine. People who go to Willie Clancy week are up for having a good time, and we all did. Hopefully, visitors will return home full of praise and it will attract new visitors each year.
- Whose personal hygiene leaves an awful lot to be desired.
- Who treat them like dancing dummies, who whirl and twirl them and throw them all over the place, and pump their right arms up and down so hard you expect them to put a bucket under their left elbow.
- Who just can't dance. We don't think this is unfair at all - how many men do you see insisting on dancing with a woman who doesn't know her way around the floor?
Hop, Skip and Jump, London
The high point of the dancing at the Willie Clancy Summer School this year were the two ceilis with the Tulla Ceili Band. Tracey Paquette from Seattle and Galway was there on Thursday, 6 July 2000, and recorded some moments from the dancing with her digital camera. She has kindly made them available to readers of this web site.
More about Miltown will appear here in August.
Several members of a set dancing class in New Jersey attended May bank holiday set dancing festival, 30 April-1 May 2000, in Castletown and Coolrain, Co Laois. Lorraine Cunningham, Peggy McManus and Bill Milles were three of the visitors and kindly wrote the following reports and poem to share their experience.
Mid-winter, an announcement was made at our set dance class about an upcoming set dancing weekend in Ireland. I was intrigued by the idea of dancing in Ireland. It had been a dream of mine for some time but was I ready? An invitation to the Half-Door Club May bank holiday weekend was all I needed to get myself in gear.
It was raining Thursday morning when my plane from New Jersey landed in Dublin. By the time I reached Castletown the sun was shining to greet me. Area residents Tom and Phil Brown kindly opened their home to me for the long weekend. It was a lovely home on a hill that overlooked the village.
Our set dance teachers, Colleen Kisielewski and John Sinnott, organized a welcoming party for us at the home of Dr and Mrs O'Dwyer to introduce us to some members of the Half-Door Club in Ireland. A group of young musicians, Mary Bridget, Joan and Olive Culleton along with their friend Robert Gleeson provided lively music. A group of visitors from France eagerly joined us for their first set-dance experience.
On Friday I explored the Irish countryside hill walking through the Slieve Bloom Mountains. A warm evening found me at Sheeran's Thatched Pub in Coolrain. Eight sets quickly filled the outside wooden dance floor with music by Mike and Tim from Kerry. I danced under the stars.
Saturday I was ready for Pat Murphy, our instructor and author of my bibles for set dancing, Toss the Feathers and The Flowing Tide. First he guided us through the Set of Erin. He has a gift for expressing the dance. As he moves effortlessly across the floor he inspires us to listen to the music and flow through the dance.
Thirty sets filled the Community Centre for the Saturday night ceili which found couples dancing with unbridled enthusiasm to the music of the Abbey Ceili Band. The Cashel, Plain, Lancers, Newport-we did them all. One of the highlights of the evening for me was seeing Phil and Tom Brown arrive to do a waltz. At 1 am we made the short walk to the Pastoral Centre for the traditional late night session. As I sat there discussing the night's experiences spontaneous music, singing and dancing erupted.
Sunday morning greeted us with glorious sunshine. Invigorated by the beauty of my surroundings a morning stroll was a necessity. A peacefulness filled my spirit as I walked along the River Nore. Rolling hills all different shades of green surrounded me.
Pat Murphy had more sets to teach which warmed me up for the afternoon ceili with Swallow's Tail. They played the best music I've ever heard anyone play for the Connemara Set. A quick dinner, a shower and we were ready for Esker Riada Sunday night.
Monday morning workshop consisted of a waltz set and the Kildownet Half Set. Walking home from my last workshop I reflected on how much I had learned, not only in dance class, but from living in the village, meeting the people and experiencing the heart of the area.
I was not prepared for the final event Monday afternoon at Sheeran's. It was a sight I shall never forget. It seemed as if the whole countryside had taken a break from their normal routine and come out to celebrate May Day with music and dance. Ten sets all jockeyed for position on the outdoor dance floor while six danced in the street. The energetic music of the Glenside Ceili Band filled the hills. It was enchanting watching the old and the young being lifted by the music. Adults, children, even the family dogs were part of the movement.
As I flew home across the ocean my head was filled with many thoughts of my journey. I felt an inner peace knowing my ancestors were rejoicing. The spirit of the Irish tradition of dance, music and friendship continues not only in Ireland but also in America.
Thank you Half-Door Club for a brilliant weekend!
With only the stars to watch me
I danced on a wooden floor
And felt a sense of belonging
There at the Céilí Mór.
With the beat of the music around me
So lively and joyful to hear
I made my way onto the dance floor
And felt my ancestors near.
The jigs and the reels were electric
I danced till my heart skipped a beat
For I heard the echo of centuries
In the sound of the battering feet.
They say when you come to Erin
It's the land where time stands still
If you dance at the foot of the Slieve Bloom
I know that it truly will.
Peggy McManus, New Jersey
I've been dancing for a year now wearing my penny loafers hand sewn in the USA. Strolling down Henry Street with a recalcitrant John Sinnott we came upon Dublin's famous Clark's Shoe Store. All the pretty little perforations in the wingtip brogans beckoned, "Bill, come dance with me." But sitting on the curbside sale rack I thought how good could they be? "45 punt," John remarked, "buy them, Bill, they're a bargain." But later at Talbot's what did I see, better shoes for 43.
As we approached Mountrath the box started to bounce. I put them on and off I danced, under the stars in Coolrain, in Castletown at the community centre and into the wee hours at the pastoral centre. My magic shoes didn't miss a step.
When I took them off and put them under my bed at night they were still dancing, 1-2-3, 1-2-3. The people downstairs were very annoyed when they heard great noise from my magic shoes.
When I looked inside my shoes, to my surprise, it said on the tongue they were made in India. I said, "Holy Cow, those Indians sure can dance."
Many thanks to the Half-Door Club for a great weekend, especially Colleen and John.
Whiskey Bill Milles, New Jersey
We had such fun last year that Steve and I made a return trip to the St Patrick's Day 2000 set dance workshop in Italy run by Stefania Sossella and Romano Baratella. This time it was in Montegrotto Terme near Venice, and Pat Murphy was teaching the dancing. He was accompanied by Renée Scully and Jim Monaghan.
At first we thought we were at the wrong place. There were rabbits in the yard. Maybe this was a school? We entered and found a roomful of men playing cards. We looked at them, they looked at us, then one man opened the door to the dance hall. Somehow he knew we weren't card players.
The workshop was great. Pat Murphy had a microphone, and Romano had one. Pat would speak in English; Romano would translate into Italian. Pat says, "Lead around and swing." Romano says, "Lead around e swing." Maybe Italian isn't so hard after all. Throughout the workshop, Pat's Italian was very creative - "ladies cetena" (chain), "tops avanti" (advance), "first tops arco" (arches).
At the Saturday workshop, we did the Derry Colmcille Set, which had a nice variety of figures and we danced to tapes of some very good music by Matt Cunningham. We were very impressed by the high quality of dancing. At the ceili, we did a Clare Lancers with six people who didn't know it. They didn't speak English, and all we spoke was Pat Murphy Italian. Somehow they understood us - they hardly made a mistake and danced with a great deal of style.
The musicians at the ceili were excellent. They played a fast and furious Ballyvourney Jig, which the Italian dancers call the 'Super Mega Set.' Everyone really got into it - their footwork was excellent and on par with what you'd see amongst the better dancers in Ireland. Stefania and Romano said they learned the set at Tubbercurry from Padraig McEneaney and simply taught what they learned.
At the ceili, we also did other European folk dances, and Steve and I tried our hand at a number of them. Maybe the reason why the Italians are such good dancers is that they are used to dancing to a variety of rhythms. Try an Italian (or was it French?) mazurka, and you will know what I mean. We felt a lot better when even Pat Murphy said he had a problem getting some of these.
It was great fun and we highly recommend it, although we never found out why the rabbits were there.
Donna Bauer and Steve Casey
Listen my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere . . .
. . . And of a group of Belfast set dancers who travelled to Boston on Easter Sunday for a week of set dancing and craic. Don't laugh - we knew the Boston festival was cancelled. This group proved that an organised festival is not necessary. We were joined by Aleta from Los Angeles, and John, Margaret and Tom (our guide) from London. Despite the weather, including snow, it was a wonderful week.
Dancing commenced on Monday night with a visit to Ger Cooney in the Burren Pub, where a sets workshop, taken by Tony Ryan, was followed by a ceili. The local Comhaltas group gave us a fantastic welcome at their ceili in Watertown on Tuesday night. In addition to free admission to the ceili, they provided us with tickets for the Ducks tour and the Kennedy Museum.
The Ducks tour, by colourful amphibious vehicles crossing land and water, plus the Boston freedom trail helped to immerse us in the history and culture of Boston. Tours plus visits to the Science Museum, Museum of Fine Arts, etc, have returned better educated people! At any rate, some of us are better qualified, having passed the Duck driving test - with licences to prove it.
Forget history - for us, the Boston tea party has taken on a completely new meaning. On Wednesday afternoon, we were making tea and toast in the hotel breakfast area. Engrossed in conversation, we failed to notice the toast smoking until too late! The smoke alarm did what smoke alarms are supposed to do. No one was allowed to turn it off due to it being a public building. What could we do? Undaunted, we sat there enjoying our tea and toast. Two fire engines arrived, and firemen came in wielding pick-axes. Having provided the toast as evidence of the cause, it is rumoured that a certain member of the group had the audacity to run outside to take photographs of the departing fire engines. Several staff in the hotel, seeing the funny side of it, had trouble suppressing their laughter, but perhaps the manager was not amused.
Impromptu set dancing before and after dishes of delicious food in Kitty O'Shea's was on the menu on Wednesday night. A traditional group, led by flautist Jimmy Noonan, provided the music. A return visit on Thursday night was by unanimous agreement. A party from Dublin, having heard of the entertainment and good music, also turned up. An equally enjoyable night was spent at the West Roxbury ceili on Saturday, but unfortunately, the Sunday afternoon ceili was off the agenda due to us travelling back home that evening.
Many thanks to the Comhaltas group, especially Barbara and Bob Davies and John Curran, for their generosity and hospitality, which contributed greatly to our enjoyment during the week.
We look forward to our next adventure.
Summer arrived in Bristol in the west of England in early April, just in time for a workshop weekend with Pat Murphy and Taylors Cross Ceili Band from Limerick. The dancing took place in St Bonaventure's Club north of the city centre where there's a keen group dancing every Sunday night in a class with Vicky Salway. As well as arranging some excellent teaching and music for the weekend, Vicky hoped to have a reunion with her friends from London, where she first learned her set dancing more than ten years ago.
When I arrived at the hall for the dance on Friday night I thought I'd come to the wrong place - there were tables lined up around the floor, the light was very soft and candles flickered on each table. It looked like a private dinner party, as the scene bore no resemblance to any ceili I'd ever seen before. Then I remembered the dancing in London! Geoff Holland has long held candlelit dance sessions there and perhaps this was Vicky's homage to him.
Once the music began it didn't take long to move the tables out of the way for some informal dancing. The music came from Show the Lady, a group of English musicians led by Simon Knight on box. They play something a bit different from our standard Irish music which was beautiful and inspired an enjoyable evening of dancing. In keeping with the relaxed atmosphere, the musicians played on the dance floor rather than up on the stage - I like it when they're there beside us.
The next day the sun shone in all its glory as we returned to the hall for Pat Murphy's workshop. Among the sets Pat showed us was the Tournafulla Set from West Limerick. It was my first time seeing it and I was favourably impressed. It had the feel of a genuine country set that has given pleasure for many years. It's rather like the Sliabh Luachra with a few variations. I liked the little Christmas in one figure where the two couples separate two or four bars early to get an extra swing or two on their own. Best of all was the Show the Lady figure where every couple in the set had to do something different when it was their turn to dance in. Couples swung, turned the lady, housed in reverse and danced many other variations. I doubled around the house - a perfect opportunity to dance my favourite move.
The hall quickly became vacant during the lunch break, with the fine weather attracting everyone outside. There were picnics on the grass, sessions in the car park and sunbathers everywhere. We marvelled at our good fortune to be having the pleasure of dancing and good company on such a perfect day.
There was a strong West Limerick presence that evening with the music of Taylors Cross, the new Tournafulla set and a crowd of visitors from there. Crowds came from all over the place - London, Manchester, Birmingham, Dublin, Wexford and even a visitor from New York. The band, with Donie Nolan on box, backed by his wife Moira on guitar, delighted the dancers with the beautiful music. By Sunday afternoon the Londoners were out in force for their reunion. We were especially pleased to see Kevin MacMahon, who taught very popular classes in the early nineties and introduced many in London to the pleasure of set dancing. Vicky kindly put some old photos on display for a marvellous glimpse of the past.
Also on Sunday afternoon the band played a memorable waltz called Pat Murphy's Meadow, sung by Donie himself, which was the prelude to a celebration of Pat Murphy's fiftieth birthday. After the last dance a beautifully iced homemade birthday cake with candles and sparklers was presented to Pat and served to everyone with a cup of tea. Opinion was unanimous - Bristol's first set dancing weekend was superb and well worthy of repeating in the future.
Murphy's Irish Weekend, 14-16 April 2000, Renaissance Westchester Hotel, White Plains, New York
The experience . . .
It all began for us Bostonians at the Burren pub. The assembly of colorful and talented characters started as soon as the pub opened late Friday morning. Around 1.30 in the afternoon we boarded the purple bus (now a legend as a repeat performance from last year) an headed south to White Plains. There we were - musicians, dancers, folks who do neither yet love both, luggage, instruments, and plenty of high spirits and spirited potables. We were off to a grand start!
The purple bus, AKA the Barney bus, was off to its second White Plains weekend, thanks to flute player Jimmy Noonan. The bus had the perfect set-up for a seisiún with its curved seating section in the back, complete with a long, narrow table and beverage holders. We had more musicians on the bus than could fit back there all at once, but no matter. Energy and excitement ran high. Music and laughter filled the bus from the moment we settled in for the ride until we arrived at the hotel that evening.
My roommates and I checked in quickly after totally confusing the desk clerk for a few minutes. I scarcely saw my roommates again until Sunday afternoon. Pausing only long enough to freshen up, off we sailed in different directions - my roommates to the session and I to the ceili which had just begun.
The dance floor was already packed. I was too busy dancing to count the number of sets, but the floor was so full that sets on the edges all but spilled over onto the carpet. The dance floor was a portable, sectioned parquet floor laid on top on the carpet in a large function room. It survived the weekend.
John Whelan and the band were in fine form. He plays with such skill and passion that the energy is quite contagious. Neither the music nor John would let anyone sit down. He is known to say at ceilis, "What do you think this is, a social event? Get up and dance!" This ceili proved to be no exception, but there was hardly anyone left to cajole, as the chairs were all but empty. The pace was lively and we rose to the occasion enthusiastically.
Visiting from Ireland were our dance instructors Tony Ryan and Dick O'Connell, who took turns previewing some of the figures during the pauses between figures. As the dancers had come from near and far, we didn't necessarily all know the same sets well, and our skill levels ranged from beginners to the very experienced. I found the prompts helpful, especially when we danced the Derradda, a set I was unfamiliar with, but which had been taught along with the Newport at the dance workshop that afternoon. Tony and Dick were a great team.
The ceili ended at 12.30 am and then I was off to the session. Dancing or listening, I just can't get enough of good music! The session continued until long after sunrise, but I was done for around 3 am, opting to ice my feet and get some sleep.
Saturday morning began with stiffness and pain. The only cure was more dancing. I sat down to breakfast and looked at the printed schedule for the weekend. Impressive - four ceilis and three dance workshops, a total of 20 1/2 hours of dancing in 48 hours. And then there were all the music workshops, sessions, competitions, and the concert along with workshops in Irish language and a lecture on Irish history. Because the hotel is rather remote, a priest came in and said Mass on Palm Sunday.
But there was no time to be mind-boggled by the whole thing. My weekend course was charted - dance 'til I drop, then sit back and listen to as much excellent music as I could possibly take in. The registration fee for the weekend's entertainment was a most reasonable , or one could pay a la carte by the day or evening, which many local residents did.
Then I was off to the Saturday morning dance workshop. We danced two sets I know and enjoy, the Jenny Lind and the Ballyvourney Jig. We seldom dance the lovely Jenny Lind set in the Boston area so it was a treat to do so in White Plains. The workshop over, I dashed back to my room for a shower, a change of clothes and ice.
Then back to the dance floor for the afternoon ceili and more great music, this time with Jimmy Noonan and his band. Since at least half of his musicians live in the Boston area and we traveled together on the purple bus, I must say that I was right proud to be dancing to such fine music played by folks I know!
The mad dash again - shower, clean clothes, ice, food optional, followed by a bit of the concert. Then off to the evening ceili, again with John Whelan's band. If John has the stamina to play three of the four ceilis, then surely I can keep dancing. He had a full stage of musicians. A small corps stayed with him all weekend, and a large number of musicians sat in at various times. The music stayed fresh and exciting all weekend.
Post-ceili I was back at the session. Some of the other dancers came along, too. I suppose some folks simply hadn't had their fill of dancing yet, so a set was formed and they began to dance the Connemara on the carpet of a small, empty room next to the musicians. Since the musicians were playing in session rather than for ceili, the dancers playfully went with the flow of things. The set morphed into various figures from various sets, changing with the music and the whims of the dancers. A delightful, spontaneous moment that I enjoyed from my quasi-prone position on the floor. Ah yes, time for more ice and some sleep.
Sunday morning - the first order of business was to crawl to the jacuzzi. It turns out that this only makes my legs feel like rubber bands in a bowl full of jelly, oops. Shower, dress, ice, breakfast - let's dance.
In our final dance workshop we learned the Killyon, an enjoyable set with some interesting and unexpected figures. It seemed rather complicated after so little sleep, yet when we danced the same set the next night in our class at the Burren it was both easy and almost totally unfamiliar to me.
Here's the drill one more time - shower, clean clothes, ice. I packed my bags quickly and checked out of my room, then off to the final ceili with luggage in tow. Dancing was less fun for me than it was a sheer endurance test by Sunday afternoon. When Dick O'Connell announced at the beginning of the ceili that we had danced 52 sets thus far, I suddenly felt infinitely more fatigued for knowing that little tidbit of information. I lasted for the first few sets and a waltz, but not even John Whelan's music could move me more than a few steps to the nearest chair. I'd given it my best and then some, but the musicians outlasted me.
The purple bus gleamed in the afternoon sunshine. We found our way into the seats and headed for Boston. We had the additional treat of Tony Ryan and Bernie Conneely with us on the return trip. The same wonderful music carried us north, only more mellow this time around. We arrived at the Burren and sleepily tumbled off the bus. The music continued as I drifted homeward, staying with me long after I fell asleep. What a terrific weekend.
The facilities . . .
The Renaissance Westchester Hotel is a lovely, sprawling hotel built on part of an old estate, and includes a house that was once part of the estate. It has a recreational area with swimming pool, exercise room, sauna, and jacuzzi. Rooms are equipped with coffee makers, ice buckets, irons and ironing boards. There is an ice machine on each floor, much to the relief of dancers' aching feet. Festival participants had a reasonable room rate of $95 per night for a double room, regardless of how many people slept there. This was quite affordable when split between my three of us. However, I found the food priced out of my budget. Even breakfast was about $15. Unfortunately, the hotel is miles from anywhere, making it difficult to seek out cheaper fare in town if one is without a car. At least the bar menu was more affordable than the dining room. All the same, the hotel food prices are not for the budget-conscious. Many folks who are veterans of this festival knew what to expect and planned accordingly, bringing with them coolers and bags of groceries requiring no preparation or cooking. A good thing to remember for future festival excursions.
The conversations . . .
I spoke with Denis Galvin, organizer of Murphy's Irish Weekend, about the festival. Denis, who lives in the White Plains area, is a native of Kerry. This was the third year of the festival, although the dates have shifted from year to year. Next year's festival dates will be decided soon.
Denis said he got the idea for the festival because, "I thought it would be nice to hear musicians from the New York area and from Ireland. I've met so many good people and made friends in and through music. It's nice to give something back."
This year's festival was a charity fundraiser. Denis said, "So many people volunteered to help put the festival together that it didn't seem right to make a profit. It's good to help others less fortunate. This was the first year I knew I would make money on the festival. was raised for Catholic charities."
Murphy's Stout, with its corporate offices in White Plains, has sponsored the festival every year. "They've done so much for Irish music and cultural events," Denis said. Each year of the festival Murphy's has increased its financial support, which has helped the festival to grow steadily, increasing the number of musicians who can be flown in from Ireland.
In addition to Murphy's sponsorship a number of prizes for the music competitions were donated: a button accordion from the Box Office; a 'climate-controlled' fiddle case from Germaine Carbury-Breau; tunable tin whistles made and given by John Sindt; and Tower Records gift certificates from Dunne's Pub.
Denis, whose principal instrument is accordion, also plays fiddle. He enjoys both teaching and playing. During the weekend he played in the mini-concert after the music classes, the student session, and sat in with at least one of the ceilis. He emphasizes the learning process for both music and dance.
Denis is very pleased with how the weekend turned out. When I asked him about future festivals and a rumor that the festival may eventually be moved to Boston, he said it was a rumor, but "don't rule it out" as a possibility.
I also chatted with Tony Ryan and Dick O'Connell about dancing. I wanted to know how they got started, what they felt was most essential and what their favorite sets are.
This was Tony's second time in White Plains. He flew over for the festival and to teach a few classes in New England. Tony learned to dance at home as a child. Taught by his father, a widower, the family used to dance reels together in the kitchen. His favorite sets are the West Kerry, the Derradda and the Aran. Regarding what is essential Tony said, "We need better openings for new people. We need to be more welcoming, to encourage each other always. There shouldn't be any 'groupies', where some people are included and others are left out. We need to help each other learn. The same people shouldn't dance together all the time. People need to mix with a variety of partners. It's essential to bring in young people, to pass on the traditions."
Dick O'Connell is originally from Kerry, near Denis Galvin's home town. The two met some years ago through mutual friends in Westboro, Massachusetts. Dick has taught set dancing at White Plains since the start of the festival.
He began set dancing in 1984. In 1986 Dick and other teachers formed the Cine Rinnce movement to get more people dancing by opening up membership and helping each other learn. Cine Rinnce met with great success. Every Thursday night 15-18 sets would be on the dance floor for class. Of course anyone who has danced at Cois na hAbhna in Ennis has been welcomed by Dick who now teaches class on Wednesday nights and hosts a ceili there every two weeks. His favorite sets are the Cashel, Labasheeda and Clare Lancers (which he finds especially appealing from an audience perspective).
Dick and Tony both live the philosophy that dance is for everyone and we help each other learn.
I was also interested in talking with musicians. So I asked several of them how it is to play music for ceilis contrasted with playing in sessions.
George Keith, fiddle player:
"It's really much more 'work' playing for dancing. You have to play loud, you have to play faster than usual, and you have to overemphasize the rhythm. Most subtleties (as well as wrong notes) get washed away by the sound of pounding feet. For this reason many Irish musicians would say that playing for a ceili is like trying to play a piano with boxing gloves.
"Still, it's nice to have a well-defined goal to focus on in your music. In a ceili, the goal is to keep it lively and danceable. These are good goals to strive towards in general, though Irish music as a whole is really about much more than just that. Overall, I do enjoy playing for dancing, though I never want to do it exclusively."
Jimmy Noonan, flute player:
"For dances a musician has to stick to the rhythm, but musicians can be more fluid in sessions. I don't like to play polkas and slides all the time, but dancers love them. How many polkas and slides do most musicians know? I love reels.
"Musicians feel the energy with the dancers. You can tough out a bad session, but a bad ceili is rough when the musicians and dancers don't click. Most younger players only want sessions. They can't be bothered with ceilis. They're not interested in ceilis, but I love them."
John Whelan, button accordion player:
"Playing for ceilis is a challenge. It's physically very demanding because I play hard. It's good discipline. It helps me keep my chops up. I love it with a passion. It's a small community, so I'm playing for people I know, friends. There are a lot of positives.
"I'm happy that people involved with dance are becoming more in tune with the music and more supportive of Irish music and people like me from the point of view that [fulltime] musicians need to make a living. Dancers used to buy only dance music, but now they buy more [of all kinds of Irish music], so people like me can play more ceilis. Overall, dancers are becoming more supportive of all Irish culture, not just the dancing."
Thanks to Denis, Tony, Dick, George, Jimmy and John for their gracious and thoughtful responses. And thanks to all who helped make Murphy's Irish Weekend a wonderful experience.
Claudia Nichols, Somerville, Massachusetts
My doc has given me a new prescription for ceili. Put simply it reads, 'Drive two hundred miles, drink four fast pints and wait for the music to hit you.' When it does, Bingo! you've got the cure for most of your problems, conditions, illnesses and bugs that jump around inside you. When I arrived in Kilnamartyra a few weeks ago I had a Guinness or two (just a guess) but then again it should have been a Murphy's because it was West Cork, not real West Cork but it wasn't far away. The main part of the medication again was the Abbey Ceili Band - taken once a month they're great for the blues. There is something about going to a place you've never been to before and people were saying things like, 'Tis frightening the amount of women that ask you to dance down here.' I thought I was in the right place. Unfortunately for me it wasn't and when I said it was important to have four pints earlier some of the women thought I had twenty four pints. (The steps were a little too good that night!) I think I'll have to cut down on them at ceili's but then again it wouldn't be the first time I made that attempt. There was a lot of 'Stay out of the pub!' shouts at me as I left the hall, but it was worth it and I had a night I wouldn't forget.
I went to a ceili in Chicago earlier in March. My set dancing friend yonder feels the Caledonian set is a bit pedestrian for her, but she wouldn't get away with saying things like that in Clare. She likes very fast car chases 'movie style' and comes out with 'Follow that car!' every now and then. Sometimes that car wouldn't be always going to ceili but then again I have to keep my mouth shut. The ceili itself was different to Kiltabubbleleen, not as fast as Kerry, a bit like St Josephs Drumcondra gone wrong, and not as good as Castletown May bank holiday. They did the Newport Set because there was a guy from Newport visiting. There is always a guy from Newport creeping up behind me at ceilis and saying, 'How?' They danced like they move on the freeway hoovering along (I hope I haven't been in too many fast cars over there). We saw a sign for Memphis as we drove home.
"Do you think 'The guy from Newport' would have much to say to Elvis if they met?" she asked.
"When are you giving us the big day, Elvis?" I reckon. "Hey 'Guy from Newport', you ain't nothing but a houn' dog!"
When we got to our destination she had trouble finding a parking place under a suitable lamp post. We needed one that wasn't working for the deep conversations we'd be having. 'The guy from Newport' is gone home now and wouldn't be around this late at night lurking with his camera in some corner, I hoped. Yet we have to keep in with all these at ceili as you know, because they give us the odd compliment about our steps in far away places.
As we travelled to South Kerry on Friday April 28th for the annual May Bank Holiday Set Dancing Workshop, the breathtaking view from the road over St Finan's Bay on the way to Portmagee was an indication of the pure enjoyment that would be ours for the weekend. On arrival we received the usual warm welcome from Ger and Pat Kennedy, proprietors of the Bridge Bar and the Moorings Restaurant. Straight to the bar for some refreshments - a little glass of wine and the 'freshest Mussels you have ever tasted' and the weekend in Portmagee was off to a great start.
That evening, as people continued to arrive, the session started in the Bridge Bar to live music from local musicians Seamus and Paddy with sets being danced by locals and visitors mingling together. It's great to see the locals dancing their own sets, in this case it's the South Kerry and sometimes the Valentia Right and Left. With the quality of the session, no one was in a hurry to go to bed.
Saturday morning Betty McCoy and Jim Barry got the workshop going with the Williamstown Set, a great choice to start with - the last figure is always great fun. Then they taught the Inis Oírr, and in the afternoon we did the Tournafulla and the Borlin Jenny.
I was first introduced to Portmagee and all its magic by Connie Ryan. It is just great to have the irrepressible Betty continuing Connie's workshop tradition of the right blend of fun, dancing and learning (in that order).
The banter between Jim and Betty was great fun and they got a well earned warm ovation from the very appreciative attendees. It was justly deserved as there was a terrific atmosphere right throughout the day.
Saturday night after a really wonderful gourmet meal prepared by Pat and her staff in the Moorings, all adjourned to the Bridge Bar for a feast of music song and dance, first with a music session and then more music and sets from Seamus and Paddy. At 11 o'clock all hands made the short walk to the local hall for a free two hour ceílí with music by Jerry McCarthy and the Muskerry Ceílí Band.
Sunday, the craic started around 12 am with music, song and dance from Michael Tubridy, Ned O'Shea and friends which continued till the ceílí started in the hall around 3 pm, with music again by The Muskerry Ceílí Band.
The evening meal in the Moorings once again was a masterpiece, following which music in a more modern idiom was provided in the Bridge Bar by Harmonix, (Gabriel, Helen, Chris and Alan from England) who like ourselves have been coming to Portmagee for several years now. And after that - yes, you guessed it - the session continued with more music and sets till, ah, late!
The weekend is a great success for so many reasons - meeting friends old and new, almost continuous music and dancing, superb food and accommodation at very reasonable prices, the location is a delightful fishing village in the midst of some of the loveliest scenery in the world, and not least the trojan organisational work done by Ger and Pat Kennedy and Beryl and Julian Stracey. Well done!
Next year is the tenth anniversary, and in all honesty I just can't wait.
The world of ceili and set dancing lost a great friend during the month of February. Mary 'May' Duff, Tonlegee Road, Dublin, who passed away peacefully, was known throughout Irish dancing circles not just as a joyous, kind-hearted and loving person but also as quite a competent exponent of our native dances which she loved so much. Her infectious humour was uplifting, her quiet demeanour edifying and her genuine down-to-earth personality admirable. How she loved her dancing! Along with her husband Denis, May travelled to many, many céilithe from Dublin to Kerry, Waterford to Wexford, Galway to Donegal, in order to embrace the sheer joy, excitement and delight that she derived from ceili and set dancing. Na Fianna GAA Club, Mobhi Road, St Michael's House, Ballymun, and the School for the Blind, Drumcondra, are but a few of the dancing venues that May and Denis attended and danced the night away! Surely, for those of us who had the honour and privilege of not just knowing May, but being in her set - the Cashel, the Plain, the Corofin and An Cor Seisear Deag - will never be the same again. We thank you, May, for your wonderful company and your mighty dancing!
Ar dheis De agus i measc na Laochra Gael go raibh a h-anam uasal.
I went to a ceili in Ireland
At tea time we sat down to eat
I took a large bite from my sandwich
And found they'd forgotten the meat.
The bread was so fresh and delicious
Made from the finest of wheat
It was buttered on both sides profusely
But held just one sliver of meat.
So I got up and went to the kitchen
And I said, "Please excuse me, ma'am,
But it seems when you made up my sandwich
You forgot to put in the ham."
She turned from the tea she was brewing
And down on a chair she sank
She was laughing ever so softly
When she said, "You must be a Yank."
Now, I know that they have meat in Ireland
Cause it's roaming the hills fat and free
So why when they make up a sandwich
Why won't they give some to me?
Colleen Kisielewski, New Jersey
It's what we've all been waiting for! A recording by the Abbey Ceili Band will be available early in July when the band make their annual appearances at the summer school ceilis in Miltown Malbay, Co Clare. The album is called Bruach an cSuláin (banks of the Sullane), after the river which flows through area around Ballyvourney, Co Cork, where the four members of the band are from and started playing together. It was recorded live at a ceili in Macroom in April and has music for four sets - the Corofin Plain, Ballyvourney Jig, Borlin Polka and Caledonian sets. It will be out on tape and CD.
I would like to thank most sincerely all my set dancing friends from all around the country who supported me in our fundraising ceili in the Armada on 16th April. Sadly I could not attend due to the death of my father-in-law.
A special thanks to the mystery tour group from Kerry (see below) under the care of Jerry O'Rourke and Mary Philpot who made the day a specially enjoyable one.
Anna McInerney, Miltown Malbay, Co Clare
See the band that played that day in Photo album 46.
The weekend of set dancing in Malahide, Co Dublin, 15-17 January 2000, honouring Connie Ryan was truly a mighty weekend for me. As I arrived on Friday night I had a déjà vu experience - was this really Miltown in July? There before me were dozens of people I see only at the summer schools, including many of my favourite dance partners. More than the musicians and teachers, it's the dancers that make a great dancing weekend and that's the real attraction of Malahide - that so many people from Britain, Europe and America on cheap off season flights and from all over Ireland are attracted to it.
In one of their rare appearances, the Slievenamon Ceili Band opened the weekend with some fine music as visitors flooded into the hall. Connie Ryan formed the band some years ago for his trips to the States, but now they reassemble only for the first ceili of the Malahide weekend. The dancing was brilliant, but some of my partners shared a common ailment - fresh off the plane they were complaining of jet lag. One fine dancer excused an undetectable deviation from the correct movements of the set by claiming that her synapses weren't firing properly. I'd recommend a set as the best cure for jet lag!
After a night's rest everyone's synapses were restored to good working order for Saturday's workshops. I attended the set dancing workshops with Pat Murphy and Séamus Ó Méalóid, and Aidan Vaughan and Donncha Ó Múinneacháin taught alternative step and ceili dancing workshops. Pat taught the new Ballycroy set from Co Mayo and Séamus taught one of my all-time favourite sets, the Melleray Lancers, which has been around a while but deserves to be danced more widely. When it was announced I promptly heeded the call for dancers to participate in the demonstration set and was delighted to be able to dance it twice.
The Grand Hotel is a remarkable venue - there's room for two ceilis at once, one above the other separated by a flight of stairs. For all the convenience of having the two so close together, they might as well be in separate counties - you'd never know there was another band and floor full of dancers just above or below you. On Saturday night we had the Four Courts playing above and Michael Sexton below so wherever you went there was great Clare music. I was going to sample both bands and arrived downstairs while the band was setting up. Then I heard someone say they were already dancing above, so rushed upstairs and ended up staying the night.
In previous years, one programme of the night's sets was posted in both halls and followed in parallel. This time both ceilis ran mostly in parallel even though no list was posted, but local variations were allowed. There was an excellent variety of sets during the night, with my beloved Melleray Lancers, the High Cauled Cap, and a few other relative rarities. I heard complaints about the sets but they made the night for me.
While dancing with a visiting American lady I asked her to identify an American gent in the next set who saluted me. In an accent subjected to the best upbringing New Jersey has to offer, she said, 'You mean the guy with the towel hanging out of his butt?' This alerted me to the fact that nearly all the American men wore towels in their belts to dry their sweaty faces between figures. The Irish tended to use handkerchiefs kept in their pockets, and those with towels tossed them onto the carpet or tables when not in use.
The numbers attending the ceilis are limited as the hotel is only licensed to hold 900 in the two halls. The benefit of this is that even though the floor is full, dancing is comfortable. The downstairs hall was usually more crowded, but we had the choice to go upstairs. It would be helpful if other crowded events controlled numbers and gave dancers a choice where possible.
Sunday's dancing was just as good. The workshops offered a choice of sets and steps with Mick Mulkerrin or traditional step dances with Celine Tubridy. The ceilis gave a choice of the Glenside Ceili Band upstairs and Matt Cunningham downstairs. Again I planned to visit both, but started with Matt below and never moved. By the end I was flying on a set dancers high which never left me for the following week.
There was talk of this being the last Malahide weekend and everyone agreed it would be disappointing if this was the case. There's a superb choice of teachers, bands, halls, partners, even accommodation and meals-you can stay and eat in the hotel, or take advantage of B&Bs and restaurants nearby. It was obvious to everyone who travelled from near and far that this mighty weekend is as good as a set dancing weekend can get.
The Slievenamon Set Dancers are pleased to announce that the Mighty Weekend of Set Dancing in Memory of Connie Ryan will be held in Malahide again next year. We were overwhelmed by the extraordinary support for the weekend, and the general feeling that Connie Ryan should continue to be remembered in Dublin. It is very pleasing for us to be made aware of the weekend's popularity in such a positive way, and it had certainly given our confidence a great boost. The weekend realised a profit of £4000, for the benefit of cancer care and research. A big thank you to all those who helped out in any way or who donated raffle prizes, to all those who came and took part, and especially to those who were unable to come but sent their donations all the same. Next January's event will once again take place in the Grand Hotel, Malahide, on the 12th, 13th and 14th.
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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