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).
Your editor had the good fortune to attend the #1 Irish Weekend at the Nevele Grande Hotel, 3-5 November, in New York. A diary of the weekend is included here for your perusal.
Arrived at the Grand Nevele Hotel just before 4pm after a two hour journey from Manhattan. It was a beautiful autumn day and I was as entranced by the urban chaos of New York City at the start of the journey as I was by the Catskill countryside at the end. Managed to check in, dump my luggage in the room, change my shoes and make my way to the dance floor as soon as I could, but the first figure of the Caledonian had already begun. Warm, friendly greetings were offered by many of the dancers seated and on the floor, not only to myself but to all arriving dancers. Fortunately one couple found a spot on the floor and I engaged a partner and we danced to Pete Kelly's band - it was electric all afternoon! I'd come here to dance my socks off and wasn't going to miss a dance if I could help it.
Immediately after the ceili the hall was filled with the aroma of food - it was cocktail hour and hors-d'oeuvres were being served. Separate, orderly queues formed for food and drink, but I needed to spruce myself up for dinner so went back to my room. Suitably shaved, power-showered and dressed I joined the throngs entering the dining room. Each person books in to sit at a particular table for all meals during the weekend, but I hadn't been able to find where my friends were sitting. When they showed up I learned they hadn't booked anything either and we toured the entire dining room (probably the length of a football pitch) looking for a suitable table. One was found and we sat after the rest of the table had already finished their starters. Elbow room was scarce and tables were quite close to each other - we were told that over 1500 people were participating in the weekend, 300 more than last time.
Dancing recommenced shortly after dinner with Sean Norman and band, who were obviously as delighted to be here as the rest of us. They began with the Plain Set and I thought the music was lovely and lively, especially when Sean lilted the Concertina Reel. There was talk of the music being too fast for the American dancers, but he was playing at his usual Irish tempo. Donncha Ó Muínneacháin was on hand to call the sets. After a set the floor was empty only for a moment - it filled again quickly long before the next one was called. However, it took an age to find those last few couples to fill the incomplete sets. Donncha usually took personal charge and brought reluctant dancers onto the floor.
The evening ceili lasted six hours with three bands playing for two hours each, beginning with Sean Norman. During the changeover between bands I had enough time to run up to my room to change into a dry shirt, and probably could have even managed a quick shower but didn't want to chance being late. Next on were the Abbey Ceili Band who were eagerly anticipated and were the talk of dancers everywhere during my last few days over here. Tonight they gave one of their usual bravado performances, but I noticed that the crowd didn't seem quite as electrified as I was by them.
The cliché about time flying when you're having fun is certainly true for set dancing - when a set is suddenly over before I realise it or I find myself anticipating the third figure when we've already finished the fourth, then the dancing is going very well. On the other hand, when I'm longing for the sixth figure and we're only on the second, it's probably time to go to bed. The Boston Comhaltas Ceili Band, led by Larry Reynolds, came on at 1am and despite the good music I sat out the last dance or two but was still there for the 3 o'clock finish.
Up at 8.30 for breakfast at 9 - I wanted to be in good time for the 10am workshop. I was the first at my table and ate alone for a quarter of an hour. I was asked a week ago by a dancer in Queens to be her partner in the workshop, so I was delighted to see her when I entered the hall. However, she'd subsequently promised herself to another partner and quickly found me a good substitute.
The workshop was scheduled for two hours, but Donncha wanted to teach a polka and a reel set so was continuing till 1pm. This was the only workshop scheduled for the whole weekend so I was pleased he was packing in as much as he could. We started with the Glencree, one of the last sets introduced by Connie Ryan and a good choice because it's fun and easy. There were shouts for the South Sligo Lancers so that was promised for later. Donncha asked me to demonstrate so I was delighted to dance it twice. Progress on the Glencree was slow because there were many beginners participating, and so we had to race through the South Sligo. Volunteer demonstrators were scarce for that one so I was again lucky to dance it twice! We finished it but overshot lunch by fifteen minutes.
Got down to the hall for the afternoon ceili with the Boston group while dancing was already in progress. Met Pete Kelly and he agreed to a chat about his band which lasted most of an hour, and then I met with his box player, Martin Mulhaire. Very pleasant conversations with both but the music in the background was a great distraction. Finally did the Plain Set which was the last of the afternoon - there was to be no more missing of sets for the rest of the weekend!
Cocktail hour again and I was spruced up in time to partake tonight. Ate watermelon for the first time in many years and it was lovely. Great excitement in the dining hall - when the patriotic songs started everyone was up on their feet waving their little Irish and American flags. Those who couldn't contain their excitement got up and joined the 'Grand March', a lengthy queue of people who squeezed between the tables around the entire hall, singing and waving all the way. I seem to suffer a chronic lack of excitement for anything other than dancing, so watched the proceedings with the detached eye of an anthropologist. Very sorry not to bring my camera - you'd have trouble believing it if you couldn't see it for yourself. Ten minutes later it was all forgotten when the food appeared.
My excitement returned when I was back in the hall. Pete Kelly started the night with his lovely music. The Cashel Set started with a bang - they may sound like a Clare band but their polkas are played at a Kerry speed, which is how I like them. Some of the tunes were particularly rousing and inspired me to lilt along. Equally inspiring were the many beautiful dancers I was lucky enough to have as partners - quick, lively and well able to keep up with myself, operating in top gear tonight.
There was talk that the Abbey Ceili Band would be slowing down tonight, so I gave them my support and said I hoped they'd be playing the same speed as they do back home. There was no doubt about the dancers' feelings toward them tonight. They were cheered from the start and everyone became more enthusiastic with each set. It was just like their ceilis back home, same pace, same buzz. The full floor and active dancing resulted in a most unusual atmosphere - I noticed that the hall smelled like a carpentry workshop! All those battering feet were sanding down the plywood floor and throwing up sawdust in the air.
I'd been dancing solidly and toward the end of the night while Sean Norman was playing, I rather felt like taking a break. For the first time ever I seemed to have a sore blister on a toe. Clever Donncha knew how to get me back onto the floor when he called the High-Cauled Cap, which I'm always delighted to dance. However when my partner and I began the lead around, everyone else in my set was doing an advance and retire! Donncha had suggested that those who preferred could dance a Caledonian, and in fact no one at all did the High-Cauled Cap, but we failed to discuss the matter in our set. My inspiration left me momentarily but once I got into the Caledonian I had a good dance. I continued dancing till the 3am finish. It's the custom to play the Irish and American national anthems at the end. Sean and band played the Irish anthem beautifully but they didn't seem quite as familiar with the Star Spangled Banner.
Breakfasted only slightly later this morning, packed my bags ready to go and quickly made it down to the hall. There was only an hour each with Sean Norman and the Abbey before lunch, just a brief taste of each band leaving us eager for more. After lunch, Pete Kelly closed the weekend with one last ceili. Some of the dancers had left by then so the space was plentiful and there were still lots of good partners available. Unfortunately, Pete wasn't feeling well and ended the ceili half an hour early, which came as a surprise to me as the music was as good as during the previous two days. As I got ready to leave I could only marvel at what a perfect weekend I had at the Nevele! I'd danced nearly every dance and a blistered toe is a small price to pay for such a great time.
Bill Lynch, November 2000
The next #1 Irish weekend, 30 March-1 April 2001, features a workshop with Pat Murphy and ceilis with the Four Courts, Kilfenora, Pete Kelly and Boston Comhaltas ceili bands.
On a frosty October evening following an hour's journey from Boston I arrived at an old New Hampshire farmhouse, the home of Tim and Cynthia Neale. When they moved here from New York three years ago, Cynthia was so concerned about missing her set dancing that she installed a dance floor in a large room at the back of the house and started holding weekly classes and monthly ceilis. She generously opens her house to any dancers interested enough to travel out to rural New Hampshire and for me it was worth the journey. While the days of house dances in the cottages of Ireland may have passed forty or fifty years ago, the tradition is alive and well at Cynthia's monthly ceili.
In true Irish fashion, visitors entered the house by the back kitchen door rather than the front hall door. Immediately inside I was overwhelmed by the quantity and quality of food on the table. With dishes like spinach ravioli, baked camembert with almonds en croûte and asparagus quiche, there was no mistaking this kitchen for a traditional Irish one. Everyone brought a dish, seemingly trying to outdo each other and especially Cynthia, who used to run a tea shop and catering business and revels in creating marvellous cakes and other dishes for the ceili. Guests began grazing as soon as they arrived and continued through the night.
Cynthia welcomed everyone warmly, whether regulars or first time visitors like myself - at least until the music began. From then she was on the floor with the rest of us and any new arrivals caught greetings from her across the floor or between figures. There were twelve sets in the dance programme posted on the wall, and room for three sets on the beautiful oak floor. In Ireland we'd fit at least five onto a floor that size. The first two sets were danced to recordings, and then the musicians began, with flute and piano at first, and a couple of fiddles later. Rich, the flute player showed remarkable stamina, playing in a session before the dancing, then playing non-stop for five hours of dancing and he even continued playing for his own amusement between sets! Most of them were experienced players at contra dances and did very well playing their first time for the sets. We danced a nice mixture of the standard and the unusual, with the Clare Orange and Green, the Williamstown and the West Kerry, and there was a good spirit of help and cooperation which made every set enjoyable for everyone.
During the evening one of my partners raised an unusual question of etiquette I'd failed to encounter previously in my few years of dancing. While dancing away from me in the middle of a ladies chain, she asked, "Do you mind me doing the 'contra stare'?" If you've ever experienced one of these stares you're not likely to forget it soon. It's when a partner stares intensely into your eyes without wavering so much as a fraction of a millimetre - it's common with lots of Americans who are regular contra dancers and I've seen it with English and Germans, too. It's especially noticeable during a swing - a full eight bars of it can be quite unnerving! Most set dancers' eyes flit away quickly in another direction to avoid it, if their eyes meet at all, of course. No one has ever mentioned it to me before so I thought it was the height of courtesy for my partner to ask my permission. Of course I gave her my full approval to stare as she wished but still kept my eyes out of the way of the terrifying 'contra stare'.
At ten o'clock the dancing paused for the tea break, the moment we'd all been anxiously waiting for. Ever since I arrived I'd been staring longingly at Cynthia's six-layer chocolate cake decorated with chocolate acorns. Already stuffed by the other food I couldn't resist a slice of cake and a cup of tea served in her best china. I also could have had carrot cake decorated in green, white and gold, apple pie, chocolate cookies, Irish fruit cake and chocolate peanut butter truffles. I haven't previously combined my set dancing with fine dining, and having tried it at the Neale's I can commend it heartily!
Dancing continued after everyone had a fill of cake, tea and chat, and it went on for an extra hour thanks to the change from summer time to winter time. We finished in the best of spirits and I felt delighted with the night. I spotted dancers leaving five dollar contributions in a tin box and did likewise myself - it would be hard to find better value than that, even in Ireland. Cynthia and Tim Neale's love for set dancing, hospitality and generosity is warmly appreciated by all who attend their ceilis, and I give them my thanks for the experience. It would be marvellous if more people opened their houses in the same way and initiated a revival of the house dances of the past. For now, the Neale's house is as close to the experience of a traditional Irish house dance as you'll ever find in a modern American setting.
Bill Lynch, October 2000
The Neale's usually hold their ceilis on the last Saturday of the month. Contact Cynthia for more information.
"It's the best kept secret in the world" was what one ex-pat drinking mate related to me on the last night of the festival. And from what I saw during my short stay in Copenhagen he was certainly correct. It appeared that I was the only visitor from Ireland, if you discount the small number of Irish working over there. I could not for the life of me understand this, as I enjoyed the best few days I have had for a long time and at minimum cost, may I add.
I have read that the city is "a clean green city of gaiety, culture and charm, with a tradition of tolerance and humour" all of these I can confirm from my short visit to this "wonderful" city. Copenhagen is not really on the tourist map as one of the potential cities to spend that hard earned cash and as such, it must be one of the most underrated cities in the world. For basically it has everything that any other European city has and more, from the Tivoli fun fair in the city centre to the more sedate and ornate architecture of the old city.
The Copenhagen Irish Festival got under way on the 2nd November and went on until the Sunday the 5th and although small by Irish standards, the quality and variety was astounding. The set dancing workshop and ceili formed a small but significant part in what was to all intents and purposes a folk festival. Bands and performers were of such eminencies as Patrick Street, Finbar Furey, Sliabh Notes, Sonny Condell and many more, performing at full fettle. There was story telling by Dr Coilín Ó hAiseadha, an arts exhibition based on "Spirit of Sliabh Luachra", a whiskey tasting session and a film programme of new and old Irish cinema including The Quiet Man. All of this was coupled with various workshops on the bodhran, fiddle, flute, harp and song. As well as the set dancing workshop, Cecilie Karnil took a step dancing workshop and from talking to those who attended a totally enjoyable time was had by all, but with the addition the sore feet at the end of a six hour session.
Most of the main activities of the festival took place in the Café KFUM, a large three story building used temporarily for the purpose of the festival. On the ground floor was the main entrance that shared an area with an adjacent restaurant. On the first floor there were three large rooms one of which was used for the bar. The remaining two areas were used for the festival jamming sessions by the visiting musicians and where people congregated in large numbers as they have a wont to do on such occasions. The atmosphere was relaxed and busy at the same time. The music couldn't have been better. On the second floor there was a large ballroom wherein some of the concerts took place. It was also used for the well attended Sunday night ceili.
Mairéad Casey for the second year running gave a perfect display of just how the sets should be taught. A well balanced emphasis on the steps and movements, she taught the Ballycroy, the Inis Oírr and the Williamstown, all of which went down a treat with the locals. There were five sets in attendance which was pretty good considering that their personnel make up was primarily from Denmark. These sets were again danced at the ceili on Sunday night and I was amazed at how proficient at these dances the dancers had become in that short period of time. On a previous evening at the Café KFUM, a group of us got together to dance an impromptu set. The discussion arose about which one we should do and I suggested the Connemara. This was met with some disapproval by a majority of those willing dancers, as it was "not their favourite dance." This rather perplexed me at the time but the ceili later revealed all. I have never seen the Conemara danced so well. There were at least three sets that danced the whole set in unison, using the proper footwork as taught by the great masters. The three shuffle one two threes and the last hop back, hop back and a one two three - they had it just perfect, but I could see the problem, the tempo of music was just too fast. The exhausting pace for a relatively complicated step would no doubt account for the lack of enthusiasm to dance this set on a regular basis. This made me think about the way we, back home, danced the set and I concluded that it may be the reason why the step in the Connemara is very seldom danced anymore at ceilis, since the tempo of the music was the same as that played in Ireland. However, both the workshop and the ceili were a massive success and everyone that I talked to expressed their total satisfaction and gratification with all that took place.
The last night of the festival was in essence the culmination of what had taken place over the previous few days. A lot of the performers were in attendance and were revealing of their best stuff. With the ceili ended and the usual disposing of remaining beer at half price, the festival officially ended. Then began the unofficial ending which lasted into the wee hours in the festival pubs. This was a celebration of Irish culture in a grand way. Maybe it was because I was the only visitor, but the company was exceptional, the music was phenomenal and the craic was mighty. It lasted for me until 6.30am in the morning and we worked between two pubs, Foley's and Bloomsday. Foley's mainly concentrated on folk but with some trad and ultra-trad thrown in. In Bloomsday, five minutes walk away, it was the hard core traditional music most of which was provided by Danish musicians, but better you couldn't get. There was a few sets danced where room was available and some local girls gave a demonstration of a little step dancing that would have put Riverdance to shame.
From the experience of my long weekend break in this most beguiling of cities, to combine the best of what we have back home with such charming surroundings you could not want for better for a mid-term break. If Hans Christian Andersen were alive today, I think that he should fall in love with a set dancer and write about heavily tipped battering shoes rather than those of the ballet variety.
Brendan Taggart, Omagh, Co Tyrone
The weekend of 6-8 October 2000 saw great set dancing in Luxembourg. Dancers hailed from Belgium, France, Holland, Germany and of course Luxembourg. As people were just getting into their stride after the summer holidays this was just the fix they needed to get those itchy set dancing feet back into action. Under the expert guidance of Ian Hughes, who is a professor of Celtic Studies at Aberystwyth University in Wales, we soon were practicing our reels, jigs, hornpipes and polkas. In the course of the weekend Ian led us through the Caragh Lake Jig Set, the Melleray Lancers, the Paris Set and the Clare Orange and Green. In all we put in approximately fifteen hours of set dancing. Serotonin levels were never higher! At the ceili on the Saturday evening we danced to the lively music of Heartlands, a traditional group based in Luxembourg. The elements were kind that weekend, so we lunched al fresco on Saturday in the lovely setting of the Arquebusiers Club. Mention must be made of Philip and Ambrose from Holland, who with their technical knowledge of sound equipment, and in the case of Ambrose, medical advice on how to treat a fast disappearing voice, helped smooth the 'wee' problems that sometimes arise - thank you lads!
Mary Butler, Luxembourg
Martin Garrihy, drummer with the Four Courts Ceili Band, died early on Saturday, 18 November. The night before, he and the band recorded a programme for local radio and played for a lively ceili - Martin was said to have never played better! Martin also played with the Kilfenora and Tulla Ceili Bands during his long musical career. He's shown above with the Four Courts in Vaughan's Barn, Kilfenora, where he played twice weekly for many years with Peter Griffin, Joe Rynne and Seamus Hynes.
Have you ever tried to dance the Plain Set, or indeed any other set, in the open air under the cover of darkness? I made my first attempt at the farewell ceili at Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann, Enniscorthy, on Monday night August 28th. The only glimmer of light came from street lamps which were quite a distance from the danceboard from a spotlamp underneath the sound wagon. At shoe level it cast beams of light on part of the floor. The spot lamps on the gig rig allowed us to see the Kilfenora Ceili Band but didn't allow them to see the dancers. The gallop was the most memorable figure when the late Connie Ryan's phrase "seeing is believing" (and the rest is history) sprung to mind. The confusion was hilarious and it was dangerously funny. Jim Casey from Clonaslee was my partner. What a pity you didn't stay for this ceili, Bill! [Sorry I missed it! - Bill]
It was then I asked myself, how many other sets are stored in the memory which sent me away with a broader smile, a literally uplifted heart and soul, a sense of achievement and perhaps a hug. At the Micheál Ó Duinn Festival 2000 I 'floated' through the Ballyvourney Jig with Bill Lynch on August 16 in Castletown Co Laois. We danced "two for the price of one" doubling all away to the magic music of Glenside Ceili Band. I can't forget the first set I danced in April '98 after my back injury. In the Community Centre in Shinrone, Peter Redmond took great care of me in the Connemara to the music of the Greenes Ceili Band. Thanks Peter!
At the first Micheál Ó Duinn celebration, August '98, I danced the Plain Set with Fint Dowling in Sheeran's Pub. I can still hear Paul Finn's spirited music and I can only describe it as "a set in flight", meaning we didn't touch the ground very much - another double act.
On two occasions Hurry the Jug was a memorable experience. This is a masterpiece, especially when the tempo is increased a notch and chaos prevails. These two occasions are not only memorable for me but for the other seven also. When we meet, which is quite often, because they all come from Nenagh, Thurles and Ballyfin areas, we can still break our hearts laughing at the idea. Our first attempt was during the Willie Clancy week '97. We danced outside 'The Rectory' in Spanish Point while Jim Dockery hooked on the barbecue. What better hors d'oeuvre could you have, the 'tilley' proving to be the fence where there were several refusals. Sweat and tears of laughter flowed freely, not just from us but from the sun bathing and encouraging audience stretched on the grass in the front lawn. We had to look for subs on a few occasions - when someone made a dash for H2O, while others needed some light relief for more pressing matters (what a long winded phrase for a natural requirement). We continued to rehearse this lively gem in the kitchen of our accommodation during Fleadh '97 in Ballina. It again lived up to expectations of hilarity, especially when we took a couple of new recruits on board and encouraged them to "have a go". I can remember it and enjoy it like it was only yesterday. Our team, with subs, included Lena Williams, Terri Corbett, Noreen Foot, Eileen Gaynor, Michael Loughnane, Tony Power, Pat McSpadden, Edward Hassett, Caítríona Ryan, Christie and myself.
What a Cashel Set we danced to Begley and Cooney in Roscrea in the fall of' '93. This one I danced with my son Seán. We were driven to the point of collapse almost. When your turn came to move in this set, a second too early or too late meant putting your very being at risk, joyfully. Speaking of Begley and Cooney, how many of you remember the good old days in Blarney? The year I remember best is '92. Connie Ryan and Betty McCoy conducted the workshop and the music for the ceili was supplied by the hearty duet. For the very first time at the end of a ceili we danced the Plain Set right through - jigs included - without a break. Our faces were plum coloured. One elderly gentleman advised my daughter Olivia to sit down before she suffered a heart attack. On a few occasions during the ceili I threatened to give the fountain, which was part of the décor in the ballroom, a real purpose.
The night before Richard Casey, originally from Mountrath, now living in Galway, left to go to Australia for a year, about '92 I danced with him in his favourite Sliabh Luachra set on the dance board outside our back door here in Ballyfin. We broke all speed records and sent him on his long merry way with the memory embedded in his heart.
At the time the Galway International Set Dancing Festival was held in Seapoint Ballroom, Salthill, I watched from the balcony (must have been completely exhausted) the Paris Set being danced by upwards of sixty sets. When everyone moved in 'set left, set right' it was spectacular to watch this sea of people moving gracefully and precisely to the music of the Fodhla Ceili Band. This memory comes from at least ten years ago. I hold the Limerick Orange and Green set in my heart and mind too. Each time I hear the music which I associate with the first figure being played, Connie's "down and down and one two three" instruction comes hoarsely to me from the heavens. It is track six, Seamus Creagh's Slides from the Templehouse Ceili Band's Music for Sets Volume I.
Mar focal scoir, there is one song which I associate with set dancing, and always will. During the first Russell Weekend in Lisdoonvarna in '89, our treasured friend Paddy Neylon gave a rendering of A Song for Ireland in the ballroom (now demolished) at the rear of the Kincora Hostel. It has found its place among the greats in my memory. The Gold Ring Ceili Band provided the music on this occasion.
Now that you have your thinking caps in place I hope some wonderful sets come dancing through your mind. Perhaps a memory of me will even 'pass through'.
Maureen Culleton, Ballyfin, Co Laois
I don't know why there are so many doggie people at ceili but every dance partner I have seems to have a dog. The girl who skips along Temple street in the big smoke has a Cocker Spaniel, as has the girl from Dundalk. In Clare I know a set dancer who has a Bichon Frise (Sounds expensive!) and where I come from there are dancers with very clever sheepdogs. As I was paying my way into a ceili the last night in Ballywuffgogooley I noticed a dog sitting next to the entrance.
"Bringing your dog to ceili?" I said.
"Yes, he likes the music and the ham sangers."
"Is that a condom?"
"A condom on the dog!" he exclaimed.
"No! on the ground beside him," I replied.
I won't be disgusting and go into the details of whether it was used or not. As you can well imagine since it was ceili it probably wasn't. It was most likely the organisers were trying to stir it up in a very subtle way for the dancers. It would give the impression that there was a lot going on at ceilis in this neck of the woods. I am very sad to say I have to agree with my friend Bart who says, "Nothing much happens down here at ceili either." Indeed the chief bottlewashers would really need to pull their socks up and this racket of throwing a few condoms around outside won't fool anybody. Do they think we came down in the last shower? I am a very well travelled long distance ceili goer who doesn't think I'll get lucky when I see a display of Durex even if they are luminous. I remember the days when a publican could put in a condom machine in his premises and leave it empty. At the end of the week he would have collected £250 and not one single complaint! Ceilis were very good then too. The only difference with today's ceilis is that set dancers are going round now with a packet of condoms in their arse pocket six years past their use by date.
Getting back to the subject of dogs my friend from NY tells me that she has just bought the latest 'Pooper Scooper'. This comes in very handy and it cleans up the dog's business very neatly. There's a big fine now for this kind of thing even in Ballywuffgogooley unless you know one of the chief bottlewashers. (There are so many chiefs down here chasing around and no Indians.) It could come in quite handy at ceili in years to come when everybody is bringing their dog along. (We will have kennels then and we won't be able to hear the music with all the barking!) I can just imagine some of the ceili bands imploring people to kindly clean up after their dogs.
"When I woke up this morning and realized you weren't there, things really looked dark and the whole world seemed stinking and rotten," I overheard the American say to her dance partner.
"Oh yea?" he replied.
"Then the dog rolled off my face!"
"Agh! Letting the dog get used to the bed!" exclaimed the guy who was dancing tops. "I don't approve of this sleeping around either!" said her partner.
"Very bad manners sleeping with a dog," said the guy.
"Nearly as bad as the guys who pinch bottoms at ceili."
During the dancing I had the usual doggie conversations about dogs taking on the personality of their owners. I dance the Caledonian with a dancer who has a Pug. She has a big smile and I tell her she looks very different to her dog. The Pug really enjoys a walk she tells me. I mention about the dog at the entrance to the ceili.
"Will we go for a walk just you and me and the dog into the woods under the full moon?"
She looks at me inquisitively and asks, "Is that the dog who was wearing the condom?" Highstepper
Copyright © 2000 O F Hughes
Owen Hughes, otherwise known as Highstepper, started his Down from the mountain column in Set Dancing News in December 1998. In the two years since then he hasn't missed an issue or even a deadline. Recently he's started another column in Irish Dancing Magazine to inform their many readers about the delights of set dancing. Good luck and many thanks, Owen!
It was with great interest and a huge sense of loss that I read the article about Sean Dempsey in your July-August issue. I am sure you know that sadly Sean is no longer with us and this his passing will leave a void that can never be filled.
I knew Sean well in Manchester and attended many of his classes and ceilis.
My wife nursed him in hospital just prior to his death and he was so keen on Irish music that he left the hospital to attend the Fleadh in August and on returning to Manchester he went straight back to hospital and died a few days later. He will be sadly missed and is definitely one of these very few who is irreplaceable.
He was set dancing in Manchester.
He was St Malachy's Ceili Band.
I just hope that all his efforts are not wasted and that someone or a group continue the legacy he gave to us all.
I am back home now living in Galway but people all over seem to have heard of Sean. May he rest in peace.
Tomás Cusack, Loughrea
The best possible conditionsDear Bill
The letter entitled "Firm Purposes of Amendment" in your August-September issue, from "Hop, Skip and Jump" in London, was brought to our attention by the Committee of the Willie Clancy Summer School. As Brooks Academy has been associated with the Mill Theatre in the past through running ceilis there, we thought we ought to respond to it.
The writer reports that two dancing masters and their partners joined two other couples on the floor, preventing the other couples' friends from joining them. That's fair enough! We think that the practise of dancing only with the same eight dancers all the time is completely contrary to what set dancing should be about - socialising through dance. However, the writer then goes on to report that when the set was called as a Mazurka Set, the two dancing masters and their partners, finding this not to their liking, walked off the floor, leaving the other two couples stranded. I consider this very poor manners and I assure your readers that none of my colleagues in Brooks Academy was involved. A set containing one of these dancing masters offended your writer later by barging into a small space and forcibly claiming room from the dancers around them. Again, this is not the way we teach set dancing.
We have discussed the points about the general running of the School with the committee of the WCSS; indeed we had brought up some of the same points before this letter appeared. Suffice it to say that the committee, we know, are conscious of the various ways in which the ceilis can be improved and do try their best to provide the best possible conditions, but the best efforts are sometimes set at naught by unforeseen circumstances.
We agree completely with the writer's final three points. Female dancers have a right to be treated like partners, and not like indispensable appendages without whom the man cannot go on the floor. Mind you, I have met women dancers who treat men the same way! Courtesy is a two-way thing.
My final thoughts on the letter is that it should have been signed and sent to the committee of the WCSS. Direct, honest feedback from the people who attend the School is always welcome. Indirect, anonymous criticism, however well-founded, is never welcome.
While I am writing to you, could I direct the attention of your readers to our recently established online journal of Irish dance, The Dance Journal, at www.setdance.com. We are seeking contributions to this now, and suitable pieces will be published and paid for. Essentially we are looking for original research into the history of dance, or accurate descriptions of dance practice. Reminiscences or anecdotal accounts, unless they throw some light on the development of Irish dance, should not be submitted.
Yours in dancing
On behalf of Brooks Academy
The authors of the letter referred to by Terry were Mary Saunders, Ann Gorman and Anne O'Donnell.
Set dancers everywhere were saddened to hear of Sean Dempsey's death on Saturday September 2nd, 2000. On the previous weekend Sean travelled by coach and ferry to Wexford where he visited his home town of Gorey and attended two ceilis at the All-Ireland Fleadh in Enniscorthy. He was accompanied by his wife, son and friends from Manchester. Sean's delight at attending the ceili was apparent to all the dancers he greeted. After the return journey Sean went back into hospital. Even on his last day, he had dancing on his mind and made arrangements for a ceili. As news of his death broke across Ireland, set dancers at their ceilis stopped dancing for a moment's silence. Sean's burial took place in Manchester on Thursday September 7th. His funeral was celebrated by six priests with standing room only in the church, and Matt Cunningham played a beautiful musical tribute.
Sean Dempsey loved set dancing and set dancers and set dancers loved him in return. He was a teacher, caller and organiser in Manchester and introduced many people there to the joy of set dancing. He set up a ceili band for youngsters, St Malachy's Ceili Band, brought them on tours to Ireland. He organised an annual weekend of ceilis and competitions, the Manchester International Set Dancing Festival, which attracts hundreds of dancers from Ireland every year. Last year Sean was diagnosed with cancer and despite a difficult illness was still regularly involved in organising set dancing.
Sean's International Set Dancing Festival continues as planned this year, beginning on Friday, 27 October. Matt Cunningham will play for four ceilis and competitions with music by the Davey Ceili Band take place from 10am on Saturday and Sunday.
The All-Ireland Fleadh is Ireland's most popular traditional music festival, probably attended by over a hundred thousand people. Only a fraction of those are set dancers, but the ceilis are some of the largest in the country. For the second year in a row the Fleadh completely took over the town of Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, 25-28 August 2000. Your editor was there and had a very good time, as you might be able to gather from his diary of the weekend.
Drove straight into Enniscorthy and managed to find easy parking in a reasonably convenient location. Rushed away to the outdoor ceili in the green - the weather was fine so left the raincoat behind. Expected to be late but no matter how hard I try I can never be late for a ceili. The dance platform looked bigger than last year's and was set on a perfectly level car park. There were grassy banks rising on two sides which made for great seating and viewing for spectators.
Asked some dancers about the ceili last night with Sean Norman - good music but a small crowd in the huge dome. But I was told I should have been there to take pictures of the real highlight of the night - a fabulous display of natural fireworks during the ceili, thanks to a fierce thunderstorm.
When the Emerald Ceili Band was ready dancing began with the Connemara - very lively. During the set the sky darkened and drops of rain started darkening my shirt before I even had a chance to do it myself. My partner and I carried on regardless, but I was treated to the unusual spectacle of people putting clothes on during a set. The rain meant nothing to me - I'm always wet when dancing and the precipitation was cooler and cleaner than my own perspiration.
Still raining when the Cashel was called and I opted to take some pictures of dancing in the rain. After that it was quite heavy. I sheltered under a tree, and a lot of people left. My compliments to the band who carried on with the Lancers and I was delighted to see a few sets of true die-hard set dancers having a brilliant time to great music while the heavens rained. I was sorry I wasn't out there myself, especially when the rain stopped.
There was no chance I'd miss the next set so was out there for the Newport. But the rain came back during the Corofin and when that was finished the band gamely called it a day and we left.
Parked what seemed like miles away and hiked twenty minutes across town up and down steep hills to the Dome, the marquee where the set dance ceilis were held. There was a competition still underway so a ten o'clock start for the ceili seemed highly unlikely. Went over to the school where the mixed ceili was to take place, but dancing appeared even less likely there. The place was in total darkness and not a soul in sight. Came back about ten to ten when I saw someone open the hall and turn on the lights.
Martin Forristal and his Waterford musicians were playing, and they began with the Sliabh Luachra as soon as they were set up, even though there was just one set on the floor. Martin is a lovely caller who lilts with the music between calls. A friend arrived just as the fifth figure, the long slide, was beginning. I asked if she'd like to dance a quarter set so we started dancing by ourselves. Two more couples soon arrived, and after dancing the tops my partner and I gladly filled in for the missing side couple. The set was full for the hornpipe.
Did a lot of reverse turns in the waltz only to be told by my partner she couldn't do them - I hadn't noticed. This only inspired me to turn even more and she was grand for it. A vigorous and hugely enjoyable Plain Set followed - I might have reached new heights in it. During it I noticed a crowd of people watching from outside through the glass doors and windows. Nicely pre-moistened now, I left for the Dome.
The huge marquee glowed in the dark from dozens of light bulbs and the sound of the Fodhla Ceili Band and hundreds of battering feet seemed deafening from the quiet field of the greyhound track. Inside it was filled with something close to 100 sets but there was still good space for more. The Corofin was underway and I did the rounds of the hall passing out advertising. I was saluted by Sean Dempsey from Manchester who was beaming with enjoyment from the sidelines. Despite his illness he travelled by coach from Manchester with all his friends just as he's done for many years. There was warm applause when Dick O'Connell acknowledged him. Danced the waltz then took some photos during the Lancers, and with my work done could dance unhindered for the rest of the night.
The Dome's floor made for interesting conversation. It was full of bounce and quite rough, just the opposite of the floor in the mixed ceili, very smooth and zero bounce - it's great to have a choice. It seemed to have a landscape of its own, with imperceptible hills and valleys across the surface. Some sets seemed to drift toward second tops while others drifted toward second sides. There was a privileged place near the band where the floor was reasonably smooth and drift-free, but there was a tendency for neighbouring sets to merge into ours. Between figures, half the sets returned themselves back to their original places, while the rest were content to flow wherever the tide of dancing carried them.
Lost my partner in the Newport set. The second figure was underway and we were dancing the lead around where the gents turn the ladies one way then the other. She was trying to turn one way and I was trying to turn her the other and suddenly she dropped to the floor, catching her shoe in a crack. I tried to keep her aloft but she landed with a thud. Still she got up quickly and we continued dancing. I was very concerned about her but she claimed not to have suffered any damage.
There was a missed kiss in the Cashel. I was taken by surprise when the lady opposite attempted to kiss me in the third figure, missing only by an inch. I was flustered and forgetful after that, but once I was able to return the compliment later with a little peck, the rest of the set was grand.
For me the Dome is a memorable place to waltz, despite the floor, because it's hundreds of feet long and very spacious. My partner and I danced a marathon, travelling miles around the floor. Long distance waltzing should be an Olympic event. This was when I noticed the rain. It was a dry night outside but inside the Dome, moisture had condensed on every surface in the ventilation-free marquee and was falling upon us, drop by drop. In fact the last set, the Labasheeda, was shortened when the rain fell on the band's sound equipment and affected the music.
It's funny how trudging a mile across Enniscorthy to the car after the ceili felt like torture, yet if I took along a partner to waltz the same distance, by the time we got to the car I'd be asking her if she'd like one more dance across town and back!
Followed the diversions around town to park behind the greyhound stadium where the Dome is pitched. Not only a bit closer, but approximately at the same height above sea level as the dance venues - no hill climbing necessary. When I arrived at the outdoor ceili in the Green, the floor was heaving with the Corofin set and it was a vision in the bright sun. I climbed a recycling bin for an aerial view and by the time I was ready to take a few pictures the sun had gone. Waited till the last figure for it to re-emerge.
Took to the floor for the Newport, Caledonian, Lancers and Ballyvourney. A friend asked me for the next dance, and when the High Cauled Cap was called I was delighted but she seemed very uneasy. She apologised and begged me to dance it with someone else even though I tried as strongly to persuade her otherwise. She slipped away and a young girl took her place. The girl was dressed in chunky rubber shoes and flared pants that were so long they swept the floor - clothes that made me think she wasn't a dancer. She was good though - mustn't judge someone's dancing ability by the clothes! Later my original partner said how relieved she was to sit out after she saw the dance.
I danced the Plain Set with a lady in a black sleeveless summer dress tied in a knot at the back. Some prankster in a neighbouring set undid the knot just before the last figure and I volunteered to tie it again and save her from further embarrassment. Suddenly the music began and we did the lead around with herself in front and myself frantically following behind trying to re-do the knot. Another prankster in the neighbouring set commented that this would make a great headline in these pages - "Bill Lynch ties the knot!"
The music of the Four Provinces Ceili Band was faultless - their first appearance at the Fleadh, but not their last. For most of the afternoon we were shielded from the sun by light clouds and fanned by a pleasant breeze. Rain fell from the heavens at the end of the Plain Set and during the rake of reels that closed the afternoon. I wasn't going to dance the rake of reels, but there I was, watching a set with only three couples, just when a lady looking to dance walked past. We shamelessly danced the Plain Set one more time, leaving out the house and lead around so we could dance more of the figures.
Crossing town, was stopped every few paces for conversation with dancers. Visitors from everywhere. One friend said how he was surprised that good dancers sometimes ask him to dance, ladies he thought were out of his league. He's beginning to realise he must be a better dancer than he thought. Went over to the mixed ceili where the Four Provinces were playing again. They brought along a good crowd and there must have been five sets at the start, growing to eight or ten.
My partner for the first dance was trying out some new shoes, always a risky business, and was concerned about the slippery heels on the slippery floor. They made for good swings in the Connemara, and later I noticed she was still wearing them so they must have worked out well for her.
The band strictly alternated sets and ceili dances with occasional waltzes which made for a nice variety. We did the Sweets of May, Caledonian, Haymakers Jig and South Galway. That's when the result of the ceili band competition was announced - the Táin had done it for the third year in a row. This was a clear signal that the ceili in the Dome was about to begin so most of the dancers left. However, I was tempted to stay for one more when the band called the High Cauled Cap, and this time I had a partner who enjoyed it as much as I did.
For the third time this weekend the Corofin was underway when I arrived at a dance. The crowd in the Dome was nearly as full as last night - dozens of sets, all dancing with great vigour to Matt Cunningham. Everyone seems to have realised that the dancing was better in the centre, close to the band, because it was always crowded there, while the distant ends of the marquee were free of dancers.
I began with the Ballyvourney and danced through all the usual sets, Caledonian, Newport, Lancers. I had another memorable waltz with a partner who is extremely tolerant of reverse turns, and with all the space in the Dome there was nothing to stop me indulging myself. In fact, as all the dancers stayed in the centre, my partner and I danced in one end and it was like having an entire hall to ourselves.
Matt Cunningham proudly announced that his daughter Ita, who plays regularly with the band, had won both the senior fiddle and piano championships. She gave us a demonstration of her talent by playing a stunning solo fiddle piece. Beside her for the night was the silver trophy she had been awarded.
Sean Dempsey was back tonight, greeting friends and enjoying the dance. Matt Cunningham played a tribute to him, the haunting tune Boolavogue, which is a place between Enniscorthy and Gorey, where Sean was born. He left just before the end - we shook hands and I gave him my fondest best wishes.
The night finished up with the Plain and the Connemara, stretching dangerously close to 3am because of the delayed start after the ceili band competition. After dancing finished I heard a kind of despairing comment from a lady - "Another year gone," she said. My optimism showing, I replied, "There'll be plenty more!"
Bill Lynch, August 2000
Sadly, it was Sean Dempsey's last Fleadh. He died in hospital in Manchester on the following Saturday.
Nenagh-based cultural group Ceoltóirí An Aonaigh and Shetland Folk Dance group first met at the International Folk Dance Festival in Inverness in 1994. The groups have become great friends in the intervening years. Shetland Folk Dance visited Nenagh in 1996 for the first leg of the cultural exchange and due to heavy commitments elsewhere by both groups, the second leg was only possible this year . It was an exchange well worth waiting for.
The group of 25 musicians, singers and dancers departed Nenagh on the 14th July for a ten day visit to the Shetland Isles. The group travelled by coach to Belfast and flew to Aberdeen and then on to Sumburgh in Shetland. Several members of the Folk Dance Group were at the airport to greet the visitors from Ireland. The reception at Delting Boating Club, where the guests met their host families, was as warm and welcoming as one might wish for. The musicians and dancers from Ireland and Shetland were in full flight within a short time. This was a perfect start to a very full programme.
The focus for the first five days of the exchange was on the northern half of the island. Daytime activities included street performances in Lerwick for 'Norsk Convoy Day', a north mainland coach tour and a performance at North Haven Care Centre. The early part of the evenings were action packed with performances by Shetland Folk Dance and Ceoltoiri An Aonaigh at North Roe Community Centre, Voe Hall Community Centre and Delting Boating Club. The performances were followed by nights of great music and dancing. The facilities at these community centres are as good as one could wish for anywhere. The centres are located all over the island and have game rooms, meeting rooms, large function rooms, lounge bars and large kitchens, all to the highest standard.
The group moved to the southern end of the island for the second half of the visit. Ceoltoiri an Aonaigh were honoured with a civic reception at Lerwick Town Hall on Wednesday afternoon. The Convener of Shetland Islands Council, Tom Stowe, welcomed the group to Shetland and presented cathaoirleach Danny Morrissey with a plaque to commemorate the occasion. Tony McCormack, Town Clerk, presented Mr Stowe with a gift on behalf of Ceoltoiri An Aonaigh and the people of Nenagh. Later on Wednesday afternoon the group performed on BBC Radio Shetland. The official part of the evening was rounded of with a performance at the Islesburgh Centre in Lerwick. This was followed by a night of music in the lounge.
The days and nights that followed were both memorable and most enjoyable. The days were spent touring with impromptu sessions whenever the opportunity arose. The beauty of the islands had to be seen to be believed. Hundreds of photographs and hours of video footage recorded the many scenes both outdoor and indoor. Each evening the group from Nenagh performed to capacity audiences and afterward danced both Irish and Shetland dances. The evenings did not always finish after the dancing. There was always time for a few more tunes and since there was no shortage of singers the enjoyment lasted well into the night.
On the final evening of the exchange locals gathered for an Irish dancing workshop and afterwards there was an exchange of gifts by the leaders of each group. James Balfour, Anna Mary Leask and Maria Leask are leaders of Shetland Folk Dance and Danny Morrissey, Margaret Kirwan and Mary Morrissey are the leaders of Ceoltoiri An Aonaigh. The leaders will be in touch in the weeks ahead to set in train plans for the future. The evening that followed was an experience to remember long after the dancing and music fades. Ceoltoiri An Aonaigh departed the magical Isles of Shetland on Monday morning after the trip of a lifetime. This was due to a great group of people who mixed well and contributed to the enjoyment in every way, and to our genial hosts in both parts of the island. Danny Morrissey, Nenagh
A little tipple now and then is good for your ceili whatever about your steps. Down at the Fleadh in Enniscorthy however I met a set dancer and we had a drink or two. (I was on the Britvic orange - all the sparkling water was sold out!) She didn't talk about the terrible things that are happening in the world or the youth of today. Instead it was the state of the loos. The loos in some pubs were a disaster. I know some women went to the men's loo instead and so long as you didn't go to the ones I ended up in you might have survived to dance again. I always seem to be doing my business in a loo with a faulty or no lock on the door. One foot against the door is never enough. When the visitor is another set dancer who I'll meet later at the ceili it can be very embarrassing. I usually say, "Sorry next dance please!" There never will be a next dance though because usually they are male who have had a well done steak and chips with plenty of onions, mushy peas and after dessert have had a very hot cup of black coffee. It was just the thought of a very fast Ballyvourney Jig set that sent them flying and now they were firing on all cylinders.
Then of course there is the problem of toilet paper. Some dancers use a lot more of it than others. Have you ever heard anyone shouting at somebody, "Now less of the bullshit please - do you think I came down in the last shower?" I think these people should bring their own supply. I know a woman at ceili who has been barred from dancing in certain venues because of toilet rolls disappearing. They called them ceilis without loo rolls. They have now employed a bouncer who checks handbags among other things for toilet rolls on the way out of ceili. Just for the heck of the last night I stuck a roll in a very nosey neighbour's handbag. I really enjoyed when she was found out. The guy who was doing the check was as good as any of the guys or women doing checks at New York, Dublin, or Heathrow airports. It's not the job I'd like at ceili as it would be very easy to stand on somebody's corns even though it would be a job that would have its advantages! As you know some people at ceili are very good at taking measurements.
Having ended our discussion we proceeded to the ceili. The Fodhla Ceili Band were springy and upbeat and I thought they played very well. I had wanted to have an experience in a small tent but instead had to do with a lot of dancing in a big tent (the Dome). I spotted the guy from Newport. I nodded and he gave me a half look. This of course sobered me up immediately (what a waste of good drink). I've been told by my spy down Newport way to keep on the right side of him (or else I'll be charged on the double down there at ceili, partner or no partner). Wouldn't you know he is a first cousin to the 'Get Married Man'. After all this I couldn't remember who I came in with to the Dome. My friends told me that she wasn't half bad and after an intensive investigation I know now that she plays the accordion. I was sorry that I hadn't pulled her in behind one of those greasy chipper vans, maybe the one with the rissoles at half price and we both could have had a night that we wouldn't forget for a long time.
I had a dance or two with one of the gang from Manchester. She could fairly move and made me stretch while doubling on corners. I missed the Manchester weekend down to these gymnastics and now have a very sore back. This is a great excuse and a lot of set dancers use it. It goes something like this, "Oooh me aching back!" I'm sure they had a great weekend but I couldn't handle much more of that doubling up. But that shouldn't be much of a problem after a few weeks of weight lifting (My New Autumn Get Fit Programme), I mean exercising my arm lifting pints in the cosy pubs near ceili!
Copyright © 2000 O F Hughes
I arrived in Labasheeda at 9.40 am on Saturday September 2nd to be greeted by colourful bunting draped across the street and the strains of the Abbey Ceili Band coming from the PA system cleverly attached to a pole close to the entrance to the Community Centre, St Kieran's, to be precise. Already the committee members were attending to rubbish collection in the grounds and ensuring that there was a plentiful supply of refreshments available for the dancers and musicians. I am certain they worked until the small hours getting the hall to its impeccable condition for the workshops. This enthusiasm and attention to detail prevailed right through the weekend. To ensure everyone was well fed they had arranged that a caterer would arrive with tastily prepared food which was served in a local school. Musicians were invited to play in the local pub on Saturday evening and we, the dancers, were made very welcome too. The car parking facilities for the céilithe were excellent, particularly on Saturday night when the courteous young men carrying torches directed drivers to the most convenient space.
Sunday's activities got off to an early start in ideal weather conditions with set dancing on the level boarded platform beside St Kieran's Centre. As the spectators grew in number a member of the committee observed the need for seats and immediately chairs were procured and distributed. Our trip to Dan Furey's grave consisted of prayer, music and a few words to remind us of the rich heritage of music and dance which this famous gentleman left to the area. When we arrived at Dan's home, direction and advice were again cheerfully available. The brightly burning turf fire on the hearth conjured up the idea that someone had only left this house temporarily and these visitors arrived in his absence. One got the idea from the smell of the burning turf that this dwelling was a much lived-in place.
The group of young local musicians deserve a mention and a thank you for their energetic and pleasant contribution to our wonderful time spent in the area. Our visit to the Battery Castle was an invigorating and informative one. While it was easy to climb the stone stairs to appreciate the view from the top, the committee had remembered to place lighted candles in alcoves in the cellar to allow everyone to admire the space and the workmanship in this masterpiece. A local historian was at hand to explain its purpose and its place in the chronicles of the time. Just in case, a gentleman stood at the bottom of the stairs to lend a helping hand if necessary and to ensure that all had a safe landing.
Were not all tastes catered for when the food van arrived outside the hall in the afternoon? The staff served a selection of pancakes with a variety of flavours and fillings. That was the icing on the cake, or was it the pancake?
With a wonderful weekend like I have described, how many times could you say, it was the thought that counted? Thank you all for taking care of us. May the Lord continue to bless your work and continue to grant you the weather you deserve for this celebration of music and dance. Go mbierimid beo ag an am seo arís.
Maureen Culleton, Ballyfin, Co Laois
At the July set dancing Sunday in Priddy, Somerset, the dancers present were invited by John and Barbara Key for a weekend on their farm in deepest Dorset!
"Careful how you go," said our host, as we climbed up the delightfully rustic wooden steps to the tallet. "I made them in rather a hurry a few years ago and haven't quite got round to redoing them," he added in his characteristic, unassuming, 'make yourself at home' style.
The tallet is a barn-type loft over one end of the farm house which John and Barbara have lovingly turned into a small dance-hall-cum-session-room. It's big enough for three sets comfortably and is strewn with old instruments and rural artefacts which create a wonderful atmosphere. As in the rest of the farm, much is homespun and ingeniously contrived from anything that can be reused and recycled; even the floor is created out of ex-stock pen lining made of highly compressed scrap rubber. Around the walls a collection of old oil lamps provides the atmospheric lighting.
Since childhood I've had a vague notion of how life ought to be. It resides in the part of my brain labelled 'the old ways are the best ways' and is doubtless a romanticised notion of our rural past. (There are, of course, other brain sectors, quite unrelated, where there is a gratitude for modern medicine, science rather than superstition, washing machines, etc, but these lie mysteriously inactive at times.) In the background of my vision, out of focus, is a small, close knit community, amid fields and hills, with old sounding buildings like shippen and dairy. I am in the barn with musicians and dancers, or looking down on the scene from a distance, hearing the strains of the fiddle float into the night. This is probably influenced by Thomas Hardy novels, without the miserable bits, but by now you'll be getting my drift, and I need not explain my reaction to this weekend of music and dancing in this rural idyll.
Having removed the fearsome ram and secured him in the orchard, John had put a churn of spring water in the field for campers, and milk was available from Molly the cow. On Friday night we whirled a few sets in the tallet to John's accordion, finishing in the local pub with the four-hand reel.
After breakfast on Saturday we flopped in the arm chairs around the pond, ducks quacking, sheep braying, while deciding whether to potter around the street market in Bridport or on the nearby beach, and how to fit in meeting at the Hope and Anchor at lunchtime. We actually managed all three.
Our hosts have regular set dances in their tallet, and on Saturday evening their local group, together with a group who dance in Colyton, Devon, arrived to join us.
Through the open door of the tallet the sun was setting over the surrounding Dorset hills in a blaze of peach and apricot, as John struck up on his accordion for the North Kerry set. After a couple more sets we gathered around the duck pond just below, where Barbara already had the barbecue well under way and issuing mouth watering aromas. The large makeshift trestle table was laden with further delights and welcome beverages of all kinds. A small toy yacht aimlessly navigated a complicated voyage around the lily pads, oblivious of the little gathering of friends. We ate, drank and chatted heartily and happily until our feet itched to be dancing again.
The geese and ducks, who were obviously used to sharing their grassy playground with musicians and dancers on a regular basis, had decided it was time to shuffle off to their quarters. They were filing past us in the opposite direction, and by the time tunes were flowing and couples were whirling they were tucked up asleep in their beds. And so we danced the night away.
The weather was warm and kindly all weekend, and when we waved goodbye on Sunday, having pooled our breakfast with our hosts in the farmhouse kitchen, we felt we'd found paradise.
Then comes the bad news/good news story. The aforementioned state of bliss resulted in sloppy packing, so we felt compelled to return the following weekend to collect the essential items I had scattered around the farm. This enabled us to attend a remarkable musical occasion. A beautifully preserved deconsecrated chapel in a neighbouring village was chosen by John and Barbara, set dancing friends and other locals for a combined concert of their talents, as individuals, duos, groups, unaccompanied, accompanied, instrumentals, poems, and a picnic in the chapel gardens afterwards. It was a treat! "When can we move here?" I asked the girl sitting next to us at the picnic. "You mustn't think we live like this all the time," she laughed.
Well we like to think that they do, and are at this moment, and we can't wait to get down there to join them again.
Sue Costello, Bristol
There has been an infusion of new energy into the local New York and New Jersey ceili music and dance scene with the emergence of two new bands and the revitalization of two existing bands. For the past several years set dancers in the Metro area had the good fortune to dance to the music of the Pete Kelly Ceili Band. Pete Kelly (fiddle), the legendary Martin Mulhaire (button box) and Hugh O'Neill (piano accordion) have recently been joined by drummer Tommy Brady. The group continues to play at local ceili venues and will be at Gertie Byrne's next Irish weekend in Ellenville, New York, in November.
Ceol na gCroí Band is an exciting, energetic new band which made its debut in June. Dancers love the lift provided by Brendan Fahey (drums), John Fitzpatrick (flute and button box), Pat Murray (button box) and Dennis O'Driscoll (keyboard). Fiddler Mike Brady suffered a heart attack just two days before the group's first ceili and has been recuperating since undergoing heart bypass surgery in early July. We hear that he's anxious to return and dancers are looking forward to it. Meanwhile, guest musicians have been kind enough to sit in for Mike. Ceol na gCroí has played at local venues over the summer and is booked at some of the regularly scheduled ceilis over the next year. The second annual Millennium Ceili, held on New Year's Eve in New Jersey, will feature the band this year.
Another newly formed band also promises to provide terrific music. The Clare-Sligo Express was created to play at St Brendan's ceili in Bogota, New Jersey, and dancers hope that the group will soon be asked to play by other ceili organizers. The band consists of Eileen Cloon Goodman (piano accordion), John Kennedy (button box), Pat Casey (flute), Rose Conway Flanagan (fiddle) and Brendan Fahey (drums). This combination also joins other musicians for a terrific monthly session at the Doonbeg Social Club in the Bronx.
The Patty Furlong Ceili Band has undergone a revitalization of sorts. Playing recently with Patty (button box) have been Patrick Orceau (fiddle), Brendan Dolan (keyboard and flute) and Michael Fee (drums). Consistently playing with the same group of musicians has infused new life, energy and excellence into the music provided by this talented box player. This band too is scheduled to play at many local ceilis over the next year.
With so much terrific music available dancers are looking forward to a great year ahead!
Maureen Donachie, Floral Park, New York
It was great fun reading all the items on the Willie Clancy week in last Set Dancing News and studying all the photos to see whom I'd know in them. It's been a wonderful week again this year and besides learning new sets, all the exercise should help improve my dancing.
I suppose by now you've recovered from all the summer schools and you may be done with the item as such, but I'm sending you this picture anyway. I made it on the last Saturday night at the Mill. Even if this was only my second time in Miltown Malbay, I find Marie and Willie Healy (and their daughter Majella in the photo) very much a part of the week, to me anyway. They're always so friendly and welcoming, every morning in the Community Hall and every evening in the Mill, and besides, their coffee is great!
So feel free to publish this photo as a tribute to their work if you can fit it in - I've checked and they don't mind a bit.
Hope to see you again next year in Miltown!
Ineke Hoff, Amsterdam
(Maybe you remember me - I took the same back roads to Miltown Malbay as you did, but on my bicycle.)
You'll always look youngDear Bill
Here are some photos you might consider using in your magazine. Have you heard of Pete Kelly? He's well liked over here and plays at many of the céilithe (see previous article). The photo of the céilí in Mineola (above) is their regular monthly céilí and I was pleased that they were doing a céilí dance for once.
The one of me and my old dancing master Séamus Forde (Mayo) is special because it was he who introduced me to Irish dancing as a child. He came over here for a visit recently and my dance class and I gave him a party. He's well into his seventies now though he doesn't look it. Keep dancing, you'll always look young.
Slán go fóill!
Maura Mulligan, West New York, New Jersey
Patrick and RitaHello Bill
We enjoy your magazine. Keep up the good work.
Enclosed photo was taken of Patrick O'Dea at his Catskill, N Y, dance class week in July this year. With him is Mrs Rita Tierney, Co Cavan native.
All the best,
Daniel Tierney, New York
For the seventh consecutive year I attended both the Willie Clancy and the South Sligo summer schools - I never danced and enjoyed myself as much! Between dances I kept track of my experiences in the following diary which is offered as my summer school report.
Friday 30 June
Spent the morning packing and arrived in Miltown in the afternoon. The place was buzzing with friends. Made my own meagre contribution to the visual clutter by putting up posters wherever I could. Had a preview of the new Mill Theatre - the old mill of previous years is back in commercial use, so another disused factory nearby is the new venue in town. There's lovely light from overhead windows, a big garage door to let in lots of air and even a large hardwood floor. The size of it is on a human, not industrial, scale - a smaller, more comfortable room and I'm assured the floor space is the same as in last year's mill. A couple of the staff were still cleaning out the place with a fire hose.
Checked into my usual home away from home in Mullagh and called on the neighbours. Went to the Armada that night for the Four Courts' ceili. Tried to get into the large hall, but somehow the minders could tell I wasn't a customer for the disco and I was redirected to the small hall. Very full floor - good practice for the rest of the week.
Saturday 1 July
Tried to do some work but kept stretching my legs and wishing I could be dancing. Glanced at my own web site only to discover I was missing Michael Sexton at the Armada! Rushed away and spent the afternoon in bliss. Smiles on faces everywhere - someone in a set asked if I was having a good time. I was trying my best, I assured her.
After the summer school opening I went up to the first ceili at the Mill and noticed something I missed on my visit yesterday - a kind of nautical smell from an adjacent fish factory. The Kilfenora Ceili Band played - there was frequent tinkering with the sound which was good by the end of the night. One Yank partner proudly told me that her daughter saved a man's life earlier in the week by rescuing him from a suicide attempt in a lake. The Labasheeda Set paled into insignificance after that, but, as always, I tried my best. The slightly fishy smell pervaded the whole evening but fortunately I could only notice it between sets.
Sunday 2 July
Arrived at the Armada for the highly anticipated launch of the Abbey Ceili Band's first CD. The doors were late opening and there were enough dancers for eight sets when they finally let us in. As usual, the band was brilliant, and I was told that over 500 were present. There were no formalities for the launch, just an announcement in the break that CDs were for sale. I left then to catch three sets with the Glenside in the Mill. Afterward I luckily learned that some dancers were heading down to Ennis in the evening for a session with the Tulla Ceili Band. Decided to forsake the pleasures of Miltown to join them.
The gig with the Tulla was for a group of Japanese travellers with a strong interest in Irish music and dance. They hired a small hall in a hotel for a private evening with the band who played without amplification. Dancing started with the Plain Set and the first on the floor were the Japanese. It took some coaxing to get the experienced Irish dancers out, many travelling here from Miltown, but we all had a great time with the fabulous music, which included Martin Hayes on fiddle and Mary MacNamara on concertina. The Japanese and Irish mixed well as we danced away the evening. I noted with interest that the Japanese liked to change partners around the set between figures.
The evening's highlight began with a few steps from Aidan Vaughan, Paddy Neylon and John Murphy, followed by Jim Monaghan's Elvis-style brush dance, and then the Japanese visitors took the floor. They showed themselves as adept as the Irish at solo dancing. Several performed the Priest and his Boots and the Blackbird and the performances climaxed with a remarkable protégé of Aidan Vaughan's - this Japanese fellow had mastered many of Aidan's sean nós steps and danced them in a relaxed and natural way. It was hard to spot the difference as he and Aidan took turns on the floor. Everyone enjoyed it so much that we were pleased when the film crew recording the evening asked them to repeat it.
J J Conway on flute spoke for us all in paying tribute to the visitors' dedication to Irish culture. He pointed out how difficult it would be for any of us to learn traditional Japanese culture. By the end of the night everyone was in total agreement that this was a most special and pleasurable ceili. The only note of sadness was that the band's long-serving fiddler Francie Donnellan passed away a week and a half earlier. The ceili was dedicated to him - he surely would have been pleased that such an enjoyable evening was passed in his honour.
Monday 3 July
Started off the summer school with the beginners in Paddy Neylon's class, which was full of Austrians and French and a few more Japanese. The afternoon's seminar in the Community Hall was dedicated to talks and a discussion on dancing. Despite the ceilis and other attractions of Miltown around twenty or more sets of people filled the hall and listened intently. It could have kept us interested for the rest of the day. More discussions would be welcome at future summer schools.
Saw my local band, the Four Courts, at the ceili that night in the Mill and they sounded great. Discovered it was indeed possible to smell fish during the figures. Continued the debate on tradition from the afternoon seminar with some of my partners - during one particularly vigorous and enthusiastic set we pondered the havoc we were wreaking on the tradition. Halfway through the final Plain Set I noticed that the lady dancing opposite appeared to be pregnant. I mentioned this to my partner and she concurred but we both wondered about the best way to confirm it. I said I'd find out from her in the gallop figure but lost courage when it was my turn to dance with her - what if she wasn't pregnant! When she came into my arms again in the last figure I asked if she was expecting - not until September, she said. I got my courage back when I saw her partner patting her belly after the gallop. I wished her good luck as she danced on to the next gent.
Tuesday 4 July
Had a great morning dancing the Sliabh Luachra in Paddy and Carolyn Hanafin's class. They played some gorgeous Kerry music which transformed this often sedate little set into something full of fire and passion - I see the set in a new light now. And I had the rare privilege of dancing with one of the musicians on the tape! A fine dancer she was and Paddy pointed out that she was probably the only person in the whole of Miltown dancing to her own music.
Once again I found myself needing a dance in the afternoon so went off to the Armada for the ceili with Michael Sexton and found plenty more fire and passion. Read a planning notice in a window there seeking permission to demolish the hall, rebuild it and add 32 bedrooms. As dancing finished, a thunderstorm began which soon extinguished the lights back at home in Mullagh. Fortunately this cleared the air and when I arrived at the Mill there was no trace of the nautical aroma [for the rest of the week, in fact].
Tonight was the eagerly anticipated appearance of the Tulla Ceili Band at the Mill. The crowd poured in continuously until the hall was comfortably filled, more than 600. The band played beautifully as always and roused everyone to cheers and brilliant dancing. Again the night was in remembrance of Francie Donnellan.
Wednesday 5 July
Eileen O'Doherty taught the Armagh Set in the Community Hall to ten sets of keen dancers. Her practice of changing partners around the set and hall (as the Japanese were doing themselves last Sunday) was commendable and very enjoyable. Our tea break was delayed to coincide with the passage of a funeral past the hall door so the music wouldn't disturb the mourners. Had lunch with a triathlon set dancer - on the day he arrived he cycled from Shannon airport, swam at Spanish Point then danced the Plain Set. Gave my legs, particularly the knees, a rest in the afternoon. The Templehouse gave a good performance at the Mill. We danced the Melleray Lancers with gusto and lots of fun kisses in the third figure.
Thursday 6 July
Visited the three traditional step dancing classes taught by Margaret Wray, Celine Tubridy and Patrick O'Dea - excellent teaching and very keen students. Made me think I could probably manage to do it myself next year. Also called in on Mary Clancy at the Armada who was capably teaching the Cashel to four sets. Spent the afternoon with Michael Sexton in the Mill.
Caught a glimpse of the dancing recital in the evening and was very impressed by a solo jig called Single Time performed in a circle by several dancers. Also spotted Betty McCoy cleverly hidden in a Caledonian set on stage. Wished I could have stayed longer but the Tulla Ceili Band were waiting for me. History doesn't often repeat itself but their second night at the summer school was even better than their previous one. The crowd was as large, if not larger and the superb music moved all dancers, traditionalists and revivalists, with that unmistakable Tulla lift.
Friday 7 July
Finally got round to visiting Mick Mulkerrin and Mairéad Casey's class in the Mill where seventy students spent the week very successfully learning his sean nós steps. Mick's class is great for guest performers - today Andrew McNamara from east Clare and another gentleman performed on box. Aidan Vaughan with Betty McCoy taught battering for the Caledonian to dedicated batterers from Japan, France and even locals. Caught the Abbey Ceili Band in the Mill in the afternoon - the new CD is going like hotcakes.
Arranged to dance the first set at the Armada with a friend - I waited by the door watching the throngs pour in. She came along by the third figure and made up for the lateness by giving me the pleasure of the next two sets as well. By then the Templehouse were playing at full steam and the hall was very full. Headed off to Quilty for more dancing with Michael Sexton - a full house there as well. I was very pleased to see that there's no trace of the garish disco of the past two years and that the obstructions around the floor had vanished.
Saturday 8 July
Arrived at the Community Hall late but in good time to struggle with the complicated jig step for the Wexford Half Set, taught by Eileen O'Doherty. She slowed down the music but still too fast for me. At the break the teachers put on a tape for those of us wishing to dance the Plain Set and then left. The music was still slow so in the absence of anyone of higher authority I took it upon myself to find the magic button to set the dancing back to normal speed. The responsive floor made this bit of dancing to tapes most enjoyable.
The Glenside drew a good crowd at the Mill in the afternoon. Crowds were slow coming in to the evening ceili with the Kilfenora with the grand concert in town but as that finished the hall filled. Experienced a 'senior moment' during one set - just before the last figure someone asked whether we'd have a long or short hornpipe and I said it could go either way. When the band started playing polkas I shouted, "Hornpipes!" and quickly recalled I was actually dancing the Corofin (polka, not hornpipe) but by then the music had stopped and my embarrassment had reached a critical state. The band resumed and graciously accepted my profuse apology afterward. Otherwise a good night.
Sunday 9 July
Vacated Mullagh, unpacked and repacked in Kilfenora, then arrived in Tubbercurry in time for complimentary tea and sandwiches at the official opening of the South Sligo Summer School, or SSSS. The Glenside started off the dancing with a lively ceili and the fullest hall I've seen on the first night. Lots of friends from Miltown in attendance.
Monday 10 July
Ciaran Condron started with a couple of sets which are nearly old favourites by now, the Williamstown and Inis Oírr. Was asked to demonstrate the Inis Oírr with a lady who claimed she didn't know it and was so embarrassed she turned bright red. Exhausted. Rested in the afternoon and arrived in good form in the evening for the set and song session in Cawley's Hotel. A very lively floor there with a brilliant bounce on one section - like a trampoline! We were directed away from the bouncy bit for fear of causing damage, but it's been like that for years, I recall, and I was dying to dance on it. Please let there be more bouncy floors!
Tuesday 11 July
Ciaran taught the North Kerry Plain in the morning. There were two dancing classes in the afternoon - Brenda O'Callaghan taught step dancing and Ciaran taught steps for sets. Matt Cunningham attracted a full hall to the evening ceili. Had a brilliant Lancer set with a lady who was driven into a frenzy by the music. Said she'd be back Friday so will look out for her again.
Wednesday 12 July
Danced the Mayo Lancers and first figure of the Cuilmore, another Mayo set, in the morning. Steps in the afternoon. Finally getting to grips with the basic Connemara step, which now seems easy to do. If I fake something for long enough it eventually comes right. Only problem now is I'm never sure which step to use in the set so I watch my partner and attempt to match her. Also did two more figures of the Cuilmore, one of which induces dizziness from all the turning in it.
It was nice to see some faces from home - the Four Courts played for the ceili. They played a beautiful waltz and I had a partner who was great at the reverse turns - I must have done five or six in a row. By then I was dizzy but she was unaffected. Exhausted in the second half but was unable to sit out a single dance for all the dances I was booked for - ladies seem to be asking the gents more and more now. I was relieved when the final Plain Set was over but Ciaran had us continue non-stop with the Connemara, deepening the exhaustion.
Thursday 13 July
Aidan Vaughan taught his steps today - last night he was drumming with the band. Had a three and a half hour discussion on set dancing over lunch with several set dancers which was at least as interesting as the one last week in Miltown. There was no step class in the afternoon so was well rested for the ceili with P J Hernon - fast lively music. P J was looking a bit sombre at the start but by the last dance, his trademark Connemara Set, he was all smiles - like the rest of us.
Friday 14 July
Ciaran taught the Borlin Jenny and the Gortroe sets. He's in London now and got the Gortroe there from Tomás O'Dea who in turn got it from a lady from Dungarvan. An easy polka set. Danced the Valentia Right and Left this afternoon. Ciaran seems to have the fastest collection of music of any set dancing teacher but perhaps it was just me slowing down after two solid weeks of dancing.
Michael Sexton was in town tonight and again I didn't miss a set. When I spotted the lady who danced in a frenzy I rushed over and booked a set. It wasn't quite as frantic as on Tuesday because the floor was crowded with dancers so had to behave. Doubled at the end of every figure with her and didn't crash into anybody! She actually screamed with pleasure occasionally - if I heard her outside the ceili I'd be phoning 999. No waltz last night so made up for it tonight by dancing reverse turns for the length of the hall a few times with that partner who's immune from dizziness. Discover that it's not so bad being dizzy.
Saturday 8 July
We did the South Sligo Lancers this morning - I love housing with the corner lady in the first figure, the scissors in the second, and the whole of that impossibly complicated fourth figure.
P J was smiling from the start of the ceili tonight - a fine evening of dancing with everyone in great spirits for the last ceili. We'd learnt the South Sligo Lancers so well that when the calling went astray in the fourth figure some of us at least knew what happened. After a set an Italian woman I danced with at the beginning of the week told me that I didn't like dancing with Italians. "My next dance is with an Italian," I told her and booked her for two in a row. When the next set was called, I found my partner dancing as a gent - she misunderstood my booking. Fortunately she found a replacement gent and danced with me. There ought to be an international sign language for booking dance partners to avoid these communication difficulties. The second Italian was a delightful partner, more relaxed and open since our dance earlier in the week. Perhaps I'd improved as well. Less English than the other lady but it didn't matter in the slightest. Had no booking at all for the last dance so I just watched everyone from the sidelines. Went up to the balcony for the aerial view, and joined the floor for the national anthem.
Sunday 16 July
Planned to leave Tubber at 11 but met some dancers in the hotel for coffee and tea - town still full of them. Managed to make it down to Abbeyfeale, Co Limerick, for the afternoon ceili and arrived while the first set was under way. Beautiful relaxed music and plenty of space, for a change, and I felt as though I hadn't danced for a month! Came home via the Barn in Kilfenora - arrived just as the Plain was called but all the sets were full so faced the inevitable and finally went home.
Bill Lynch, July 2000
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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