last updated 19 May 2006
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Set Dancing News

Old news and reviews - Volume 8 - 2001

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

Gerald Durnin

Gerald Durnin at a ceili in Castletown, Co Laois, in May 2001
Gerald Durnin, 18, from Ederney, Co Fermanagh, the box player with the Emerald Ceili Band, has died in a traffic accident on Wednesday, 20 June 2001, on the way to his exams. All ceilis with the band have been cancelled. A tribute to Gerald will appear here in the coming weeks.

P Joe Hayes

The Tulla Ceili Band photographed after a ceili in St Joseph's, Drumcondra, Dublin, in April 2000. P Joe is seated in the centre. Smiling beside him is fellow fiddler Francie Donnellan who died in 2000.
P Joe Hayes, fiddler with the Tulla Ceili Band for over fifty years, died at home on Sunday 6 May 2001. His funeral Mass on Tuesday 8 May in Killanena Church was a moving service with contributions in music, song and words from his family, and the Tulla Ceili Band also played their unmistakeable music from the back of the church. Hundreds attended the service, many of whom stood outside the filled church. Later, as P Joe was buried in a graveyard a few miles away the sound of the Tulla band was heard once again in the open air on a beautiful summer's day. The mourners then convened in the village hall in Feakle for refreshments.

P Joe was born in 1921 in Maghera, Co Clare, where he lived all his life and worked as a farmer. He was a founding member of the Tulla Ceili Band in 1946 and has been the band's leader for most of that time. He's responsible for keeping them together while other bands came and went, and for maintaining a consistent sound with superb rhythm and lift for all those years. He's described by all who knew him as a perfect gentleman, and was a religious man who said the rosary with the other band members en route to a performance. He had an charming friendliness which made anyone he met feel like a best friend. He was the deserved recipient of the Clare Person of the Year Award in 1996 in the year of the Tulla Ceili Band's fiftieth anniversary.

The Tulla Ceili Band play at P Joe's burial.

Foot and mouth cancellations

Many set dancing events have been cancelled since the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Britain in February. Classes, ceilis and weekend workshops have all been affected, though others take place as normal, with a disinfectant mat at the hall door.

Set Dancing News has been informed of the following cancellations:

Set Dancing News has not been informed of any other cancellations. However, any event can be cancelled without notice so dancers are strongly advised to confirm that an event is taking place before travelling.

The Shindig and Gathering in the Kingdom County

A few of the many dancers at the Gathering at the Gleneagle Hotel, Killarney, Co Kerry, in February 2001.

Mary Doorty and Bill Lynch

The end of January brought frost, fog and very bad travelling weather and there were times on my drive to Tralee when I thought I must be mad to be braving these treacherous conditions. This was my first time attending the Shindig by the Windmill in the Earl of Desmond Hotel in Tralee.

I found the hotel as I met the main road after travelling cross-country from Castleisland. The welcoming reception staff saw to my comforts and the porter showed me to my room. A nice pot of coffee and salad sandwiches down and I was refreshed.

I renewed old friendships with Shay and the gang from Staleen, Co Meath, as Shay promised he would "dance the knickers off me" later that night. Time indeed to tighten the elastic, polish the shoes and take the ballroom by storm.

Esker Riada raised the roof. I never sat down all night. The highlight of that evening was dancing the Connemara with an American group - they had never danced this set before but with my shouting, pushing and shoving, we got through all the figures without one mistake. I'm sure they have heard of the mad Irish but I'm not sure they were prepared for me.

Saturday and Sunday workshops with Pat Murphy and Johnny Morrissey were magic. Their relaxed teaching methods gave one the emphatics to learn new sets, which included the Tipperary Lancers, Glencree, Doire Cholmcille and Aherlow sets.

Michael Sexton on Saturday night played to a packed hall. I was relieved when Paddy Hanafin announced that he would call the Sliabh Luachra, as this is one of the local sets and not one I am at all sure of. I need not have worried, as my dancing partner Michael was very familiar with the figures.

Sunday afternoon Donie Nolan and Taylors Cross played their hearts out. The standard of dancing was excellent but all too soon the weekend was over. I had to start the long drive home and work on Monday morning.

Thank you to all the friends I made and the many wonderful men and women I had the pleasure of dancing with. Thank you Paddy and Carolyn, our hosts for the weekend, and thanks also to the hotel staff at the Earl of Desmond for the part they played in my few days of hectic enjoyment. I look forward in anticipation to next year.

The ballroom was full at the Gleneagle Hotel for the Saturday night ceili with the Abbey Ceili Band.
February sunshine travelled with my sister Kay and myself as we drove to Killarney for the Gathering in the Gleneagle Hotel. I still had some Kerry air in my lungs from Tralee.

This weekend was jam packed with concerts, ceilis, trad sessions, workshops and craic.

The ceilis were a bit late starting at ten pm. Yet when Dan Herlihy and the Sliabh Glas Ceili Band started playing our feet started tapping and all thoughts of lateness and tiredness vanished as we danced into the small hours of the morning.

Saturday morning we had a real treat with Mick Mulkerrin giving the workshop. I had never been at a workshop with Mick before. I found him a wonderful tutor eking with charisma. His very obvious enjoyment at his craft spilled over to everyone present. Included in the sets were the Kildownet Half Set, Aran Set and Borlin Jenny Reel Set.

Mick and his dancing partner Mairéad Casey gave us some fine exhibitions of dancing steps. Phil from London reckons we could all dance like that some day when computerised shoes are invented. Then Mick and Mairéad will make a fortune selling the programmes.

The Abbey Ceili Band had us dancing all night long. Again I never sat down as I danced with some old friends and some not so old. I was lucky to meet some new friends and wonderful dancers. The craic was mighty. Good clean healthy fun. Not one alcoholic beverage or cigarette in sight. The dancers were all ages from mid-teens to retirement age. I fit somewhere in between.

Sunday afternoon with Johnny Connolly was electric. I danced to Johnny in Furbo in Galway in October and I knew we had a treat in store, one of the finest box players in the west.

The scattering on Sunday night was anything but scattered. Johnny Connolly joined some local musicians and we raised the roof in the Green Room. Some of us even went waltzing through the bar area out to reception and back again, space was so tight. I am sure you will recognise yourself, Bob.

Time for goodbyes, kisses, hugs, and promises to meet again or keep in touch. Thank you Ann Keane and the gang for your hospitality.

Monday morning I had promised my sister to take her walking up the Gap of Dunloe, alas the weather was totally unsuitable. We travelled home through heavy snow showers.

I am a constant visitor to Kerry for the past thirty years and take long hill walking trips there, but I never left the Kingdom County with such regret.

Joan Pollard Carew, Thurles, Co Tipperary

Mick Mulkerrin dances a step on stage at the Gleneagle Hotel to the music of Johnny Connolly.

Just a little ditty about a workshop in Wexford

Mick Mulkerrin's workshops inspire poetry, as can be seen in this piece by Nick Dempsey.

From John Byrne in Wexford I got a bell
To do a workshop down in Whites Hotel,
On Friday the tenth I arrived in by car
Got a good feed and sat up at the bar.

With my missus on holidays, way over the foam
I felt a bit lonesome, I was thinking of home.
When a lady came in, I seldom saw finer
Her name it was Morris but she wasn't a Minor.

She sat in beside me and we started to chat,
We talked about this and we talked about that.
Her laugh was infectious, we got on like a dream,
She was sparky and funny, in her eye was a gleam.

We talked for an hour about one thing or another.
She told me that she had come down with her mother.
We set off to find Mammy down in the hall
But Mammy was dancing and having a ball.

At the Friday night céilí I didn't care,
The crack it was great with the lads down from Clare.
The dancers were varied some good and some messy
And I got a chance to dance with my Essie.

As we danced out a set on her face was a frown,
She told me her hubby Paddy was down.
That cooled my ardour, this man could be sore.
Was he a small fella? Or like Meehaul Mór?

Now Paddy was glad that he was there
And had a good time with the crowd down from Clare.
Some slagging he got, but still kept his cool,
"He trusts you I know and he is no fool."

It's Saturday now and eleventh's the date,
Essie and Doreen came in rather late.
We were out on the floor red haired Mary and Nick
But we heard the big welcome the girls got from Mick.

Parts of the Televara were a little bit messy
So Mick came down and sorted out Essie.
He told Pat to sit down, laid his hand on her shoulder,
If the lights were put out would he get any bolder?

When I left Whites this evening to head for the car
Mick and the girls dropped in for a jar.
In case something should happen if Essie got merry
She brought along Doreen to act as gooseberry.

For some new information to finish this thing
I'm sitting here waiting for Doreen to ring.
My eyes they are heavy, I'm starting to slumber,
I'm wondering did Essie find out Mick's room number?

A shave and a shower should help me unwind
And I must search the hot press a dry shirt to find.
We're back in at ten to give it a lick
And episode three of Essie and Mick.

I strolled into Whites, it was half ten or so.
The crowd down from Clare they put on a good show.
The gang were all there for some music to listen
And one face wasn't there, our Essie was missing.

Now Essie we know is surely no quitter,
Perhaps says I she had no babysitter.
I hoped in my heart the poor girl wasn't sick.
No! she was up in the bar chatting up Mick.

Herself and Micheál got on like a dream.
I thought to myself in her eye is a gleam.
Mick is a Scot and looks a fine laddie
But Essie I know would prefer her own Paddy.

Nick Dempsey, November 1995

Thanks, Mick, for sharing your archives!

Set Dance Weekend in Derbyshire

Pádraig McEneany addresses the crowd at the Castleton workshop. Having danced my socks off the previous evening at a Fest Noz (Breton ceili) in Mytholmroyd, I was rather lacking in energy and joie de vivre as I left Ilkley for two days of set dancing in Castleton and wondering if I would stay the course. It must have been a good weekend because I came back firing on all cylinders and looking forward to more set dancing back in Yorkshire.

Pádraig McEneaney, aided by Roisín McEneaney, taught the sets to a full house of people of all ages. Dancers from a range of experience and ability learnt and improved their skills in stepping and some interesting new dances besides. I had come across none of them before and enjoyed them all. They included two from County Mayo, the Kildownet Half Set from Achill Island and the Glencorrib Set; the South Sligo Lancers and an unusual set from Derry, the Seit Doire Cholm Cille.

Bill Fry, Peter Parson and Julie Preston supplied great music at the Saturday night ceili. Before teaching the dances to the participants, Pádraig, with Roisín's help, gave some careful preliminary tuition in the stepping, then showed the figures of the sets with the help of a demonstration set for each of the figures for all of the dances. I appreciated Pádraig's clear, patient and humorous teaching and the way in which both Pádraig and Roisín where quick to spot where and when we needed help, which they gave in a way which encouraged rather than discouraged. They helped to create a relaxed and happy atmosphere which enabled all the dancers to improve their own level of dancing, though having said that, there were some wonderful dancers there. However even the most experienced and able dancers were learning new dances and steps. It was great to have the benefit of some talented dancers at the weekend as they were willing to share their skills by dancing with others who were newer to set dancing. It's no wonder that Irish set dancing is becoming so popular everywhere.

Music for the Saturday evening ceili was played by musicians who had never played together before. I only learnt that when Peter Maw told me of the panic he had on the previous Monday when his booked band informed him that they had double booked, leaving him with the frightening task of finding a replacement with only days to go. After many phone calls he succeeded in finding three musicians who were available and willing to play. On the night their playing really gelled and we were fortunate in having very lively danceable tunes from Peter Parson on melodeon, Bill Fry on flute and Julie Preston on keyboards, a good mix of instruments, amplified through a good PA system. On Sunday afternoon Peter Parson was joined by Andy Gregory on bouzouki to play for the final ceili.

Pete Maw (right), the organiser of the weekend, enjoys a dance with Vicky Salway. Altogether it had been a lovely weekend in a beautiful part of Derbyshire. This had been my first experience of Peter Maw's set dance weekends in Castleton and I look forward to the next one in September when Pat Murphy is booked to lead more workshops. Incidentally Pat Murphy's second book, The Flowing Tide, contains the dance notation for the Mayo and Derry Sets taught over the weekend, published by Mercier. This was a very enjoyable two-day event, well organised, superb tuition, good music, plus tasty sandwiches and decadent cake provided by local caterers.

Liz Bowen, Ilkley, Yorkshire

Down from the mountain

Executions at ceili

Teeth marks on the dance floor are a sign of a really good ceili and you can't beat a good swing. The trouble is that I'm in the bad books again over my swinging. It was a very nice little earner while it lasted. When I'd put somebody's back out I would give them the chiropractor's card. He would then slip me a fiver for every set dancer who came along. This little game is well over now and I wouldn't be surprised if I was barred from some places. However, down in Ballygogooley they are desperate for set dancers so I shouldn't have a problem. I even got a compliment about my swinging the last night in Spinquickloy about the extra swing being the 'sweet in the desert.' A few nights later I headed for Ennisonia and as I entered the door of Cois na hAbhna the 'Fear a tí' (man of the house) was shouting, "Send them up to me as they come in." It sounded like there were executions going on but he was only filling the sets. I barely got time to revive my drooping spirit. Then I was roped into dancing with Nanceroni who trains the local hurling and camogie team around Newcastlewestish. I certainly wouldn't like to come up against them as I'd say there would be a lot of action 'off the ball,' and when the referee wasn't looking. I thought I'd compliment her to keep on the right side.

"I think you're a great mover and swinger," I said to her.

"Lovely swinger, dancer, grandchild, whatever!"

"You're very, very . . . ?"

"Choose carefully!" she replies.

"I'd better take it easy on the swing," I said.

"Yes! If you know what's good for you!"

Just for a change I decided to go to London for the Connie Ryan Memorial Set Dance Weekend. You can never get away from set dancers. There was one at the airport asking me "Where are you staying for the weekend?" I wondered if I said I was going to Buenos Aires would she ask me the same (not that I'd be going there that often). She then pointed to the security checker and said, "That's my Dad!" I felt like putting her on the baggage conveyer belt. Later in Camden when things were in full swing in Cecil Sharp House I met an old friend who told me that he was getting married. "I finally came out of the closet and admitted I had them," he exclaimed. (I thought for a minute he meant his set dancing shoes!) The sing-song in the bar wasn't bad and I had a few beers before I took the last train home. I fell asleep and woke up to "Wake up, sir, please, last stop." It's a very handy way of meeting somebody and if you ever fall asleep on the last train home you'll get lots of offers when you come out of the station.

When I got back home to Ballygogooley I ended up at a ceili not on the ceili calendar. These are usually the best and not many people are in the know. It finished very late after a few punch-ups. I noticed the teeth marks in the floor again. Next day I awoke at four o'clock as the phone rang. It was Bart who was on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? He'd got to £500,000 and if he could answer the question he'd have a million. He had asked to phone a friend. Bart had once told me that when you have a friend like me you don't need enemies.

"Hi Highstep!"

"Hi Bart!"

"Which one of the following counties doesn't touch Sliabh Luachra? A - Kerry, B - Tipperary, C - Cork or D - Limerick. Fifteen seconds . . ."

I knew it had to be Tipperary because Sliabh Luachra is in part of Cork and Kerry and the West Limerick polka is also influenced by it. If I gave him the right answer he'd have a million and would probably lose the complete run of himself. Things were getting out of hand as they were, never mind a million quid being added.

"Limerick," I replied.

"Are you sure?" he asked.

"Positive, almost positive!"

"Thanks a million," said Bart.

That should give him a little bit of a cooling off, I thought. I'm just as well pleased ceilis are being cancelled because of the foot and mouth crisis and I won't bump into Bart for a while. I dreamt last night that I saw him coming baldheaded for me across the dance floor. I had better be careful or I might get executed!


Copyright © 2001 O F Hughes

Letters and emails

Taking their dancing very seriously

Tamiko Oyama's class in Tokyo. Photo thanks to Sara Hanafin.
Dear Bill

Tamiko writes out the Cashel Set. Photo by Sara Hanafin. I've been meaning to send these pics above to you since last summer. The lady in blue is Tamiko who you may know already from her trips to Miltown. I went to her set dancing class in Tokyo on two Sundays last May while on a trip with my school. It was bizarre to be dancing the Plain Set to Michael Sexton so far from home. The class, made up of three sets (all Japanese) were taking their dancing very seriously and during the class we mainly concentrated on the Cashel Set. You can see in one of the pictures Tamiko writing up the figures (straight from Pat Murphy's book). Having written them up in English, she then called and taught in Japanese although she still used 'home', 'house', and 'swing' where appropriate.

Best wishes,

Sara Hanafin, London

Shindig thanks

Dear Readers,

We would like to thank all those who travelled near and far to attend our annual Shindig by the Windmill set dancing festival in Tralee in January.

We would also like to say a very special thanks to the musicians who again kept all the dancers on their toes throughout the weekend. These included Esker Riada, Michael Sexton's ceili band and Taylors Cross for the three ceilis and also Johnny Leary, Tim Kiely and friends for a great bar session Saturday night, Pat Fleming and friends for the bar session on Friday night and Dan Herlihy and John Drew who launched a CD of Sliabh Luachra music, The Ballydesmond Polka, after the Saturday workshop. Pat Murphy was in top form as usual this year and along with Johnny Morrissey taught a most enjoyable workshop on Saturday and Sunday.

This year we had a raffle for a free weekend for two at next year's Shindig, which includes accommodation in the penthouse suite. This was won by John Cash from New York who was ecstatic when his number was called out. We were delighted ourselves as John and Marie are regular visitors to the Shindig.

The weekend was also full of romance again this year with three engagement announcements. These included Michéal Lalor of the Half-Door Club, Pat Walsh, the keyboard player with Michael Sexton and our good friend Joan O'Connell from New Jersey, who sported a sparkler and a half. We wish the very best to all the happy couples and should let them know that all past marriages from the Shindig are still intact.

Next year's Shindig by the Windmill takes place on January 18th, 19th and 20th at the Earl of Desmond Hotel, Tralee.

Kind regards,

Paddy and Carolyn Hanafin

Ceili in Sean's memory

Dear Bill

On behalf of the friends and family of the late Sean Dempsey, I would like to thank all concerned with the conception and organisation of a ceili held in Sean's memory on Sunday 11th February 2001. Approximately thirty people travelled over from Manchester and we are deeply grateful for the hospitality and help with accommodation given by Anne Rigney and family and Donncha Ó Muínneacháin. The ceili was held at the Chraobh Chiaráin, Donnycarney, Dublin, with music (superb as usual) provided by the Davey family. It was lovely to see Sean's friends from all the provinces of Ireland, plus of course the Manchester contingent and including the musicians enjoying themselves doing what Sean loved to do. Special thanks to Anne and whoever else was responsible for the buffet, especially those delicious individual apple tarts - worth a trip on their own. So many people must have done so much to make this ceili the success it undoubtedly was. Thanks again.

Norah Walsh

European contacts sought

Dear Bill

We are planning to travel to central and eastern European countries on an extended tour from September 2001 to February 2002. We expect to visit Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, the Slovak Republic and Slovenia. We are hoping to hear from organisers and promoters of festivals or concerts with a view to building links in rural areas in these countries. We would like to hear from indigenous and minority communities that still perform their local dances with a view to sharing and highlighting our common cultural expressions. We invite anyone who can help us achieve these goals to contact us.


John and Kathryn Lynch

A magic weekend in Longford

Smiles as far as the eye can see - these are a few of the 25 sets filling the floor for Pat Murphy's workshop in the Longford Arms Hotel in November 2000. Photo by Gabrielle Cassidy.
It was wonderful to arrive early for the Sean-Óg set dancer's weekend in the Longford Arms on November 24th, 2000. I had the opportunity and the pleasure to be the first person to sign the visitors' book, and to savour the genuine handshakes and smiles of the committee members.

Pat Murphy at the Saturday night ceili where at least 1000 people were in attendance. Photo by Gabrielle Cassidy. Then the shock! "What in the name of God happened?" was my question to our dear friend and colleague Tom Brady, whose left arm was in a sling. To ensure that enough time was available on Friday to help organise the last bits and pieces for the weekend, in the heat of the moment he fell from his lorry and fractured his elbow the previous night. Thankfully it wasn't anything more serious. His friendship and broad smile were not diminished in any way. Best wishes for a speedy recovery come from all dancers and musicians. To help me recover from the shock, Gabrielle arrived with a lovely pot of tea - just the business.

There had been a great air of expectancy and excitement about this workshop. For about two months beforehand, in fact from the time the ad appeared in Set Dancing News people were talking about the great line-up of céilí bands, and with Pat Murphy conducting the workshop it added to the certainty that it would be "magic".

What a céilí we had on Friday night with the Emerald Céilí Band. This energetic and friendly bunch of young people play their hearts out in a professional and tuneful way. To add extra punch to their special marathon Plain Set, the young keyboard player stood while he played and his hands just danced along the keys. Such enthusiasm is difficult to match. What a pity we don't hear more young people of this calibre who are making such a positive and pleasant contribution to life in Ireland.

Saturday morning got off to a lively start with the Inis Oírr Set followed by the Ballycroy, Williamstown, South Sligo Lancers and Loughgraney Half Set. If my memory serves me correctly there were at least twenty four sets taking part in the workshop. Wouldn't it be wonderful to dance a couple of these beautiful sets at our regular céilithe. I think if set dancing is to maintain its freshness and enthusiasm this is very necessary.

Mass in the hotel just after the workshop is a great idea, and even more homely when "one of our own", so to speak, a priest who had taken part in the workshop was the celebrant.

By 9.30pm the ballroom was thronged in anticipation of a spectacular performance from the Abbey Ceili Band. We got exactly that. What is it about their style of music? Their polkas and slides instil a drive to dance in me, and I'm sure it's true of the general body of dancers too. The crowd attending on the night was equivalent to the Armada. This speaks for itself. The Longford set dancing workshop has already established itself as a Miltown reunion.

The committee responsible for the successful weekend in Longford - Gerard Butler, Bernadette Wall, Olivia Dolan, Marian Dalton, Claire Burke, Gabrielle Cassidy, Tom Brady, Suzanne McTiernan and Michael Wall. They are donating £1250 from the weekend's proceeds to a cancer charity. If I had one suggestion to make to the committee, it would be to relocate the Sunday morning session of music in the hotel to create space for the appreciative audience to sit in comfort and enjoy the performance. When I spoke to Gerard Butler, whom I must highly compliment on carrying out his duty as MC for the weekend in a professional manner, he assured me that this matter had been taken on board. They are considering including a dance workshop with a difference on Sunday morning. Trust them!

The number attending the Abbey performance on Sunday afternoon almost matched the previous night's crowd. It's fascinating to see a ballroom filling up at least half an hour before a céilí scheduled to commence. On Sunday afternoon this was exactly what happened. Some came to secure a comfortable seat and plenty of water, others to chat, but all had one plan of action - to have one last fling with the Abbey to bring a super weekend to a close. It was very special for me personally to dance the West Kerry and the Borlin to this music. Thanks to the band and the MC for the opportunity.

What a weekend was had by all! The list of plusses is endless - an abundance of water, unusual and valuable raffle prizes, a generosity to cancer research which will receive funding from the proceeds, a spacious comfortable venue with a super floor, excellent music, a thorough teacher, a friendship and welcome second to none and above all, a committee which had put 110% commitment and thought into the weekend. Thanks to the good Lord for the health we enjoy which enables us to go along and partake. What more could you want from life? Regards and mile buíochas to my host family, Michael and Bernadette Wall.

Maureen Culleton, Ballyfin, Co Laois

A few of the visitors at the Longford weekend photographed by Gabrielle Cassidy.

Millennium Masterpiece

The castle in Blankenheim, Germany, where the millennium weekend took place. Photo by Maureen Culleton.
There were rooms entitled Rittersaal, Grafensaal, Rustkamer and Refugium and if their walls could speak then stories of energetic dancing, tuneful music, friendship, joy, hearty laughter and of course satisfied appetites would be related from the Castle Blankenheim workshop weekend in Germany. Twenty-five fun loving musicians and dancers travelled from Ireland to this holiday resort in the Eifel Hills, which is situated between the ancient Roman towns of Cologne, Aachen and Trier. There we met and socialised with dancers from many parts of Germany, France, Switzerland, Sweden, Netherlands and America.

From the moment our bus arrived at the castle door Kasia and her team treated us like royalty. The venue was chosen wisely where we had accommodation, food and workshops under the one roof. Each day there were set dancing, step dancing, bodhrán, fiddle and tin whistle workshops with a concertina lesson added one day for good measure. A céilí followed by a seisúin took place each night culminating in a spectacular new Millennium extravaganza consisting of buffet, céilí, champagne at midnight, with kilted pipers playing to welcome the next century. The village came alive with fireworks. Our external vantage point was excellent. This atmosphere has to be experienced to be believed. Like one big family, muffled in woolly caps and scarves we exchanged handshakes, hugs, kisses and good wishes for the new year. Can you imagine all of this with snow on the ground to complete the fairytale?

Then at about 12.30 am it was back to dance, song, music, recitation with Elvis (guess who) until 8 am. New Year's brunch was available from 9 am to 1pm and then it was time to clear the floor once more for sets and step dancing. The one for the road was danced at about 3.30 pm with one big Maggie to finish.

A scene from one of Pat Murphy's workshops in Blankenheim. Thanks to Pat for the photo. I must, at this stage, pay tribute to Pat Murphy for keeping the show on the road, and the musicians Kathleen Nesbitt, Maebh Ní Lochlainn, Michael Tubridy, Liam Purcell and John Nesbitt. They played with patience and commitment right through the weekend, with many visiting musicians dropping in to join them for a few tunes. Some departed for home on New Years night but a group of eleven remained for two further days.

With the hospitality of Kasia and Tim, the Kessels and Ansey families and Barbara we enjoyed guided tours of Maastricht and Aachen in ideal weather conditions. We are deeply grateful to you all.

Have you ever wondered what does the future hold for set dancing? I think I know after this trip. Sets will be danced on stilts, the first one being the Borlin Polka Set. It was demonstrated near Alsdorf on January second by Pat Murphy, Liam O'Shea, Christy Culleton, Ger McEvoy, John Finbarr Crowley and I'm sure they will be glad to supply any further information you require. No doubt they will be looking for volunteers.

Jokes aside, this trip was a masterpiece. Thanks to the friends who made it so memorable and to Kasia for making it all possible.

Maureen Culleton, Ballyfin, Co Laois

Maureen Culleton and Olive Lynch dance a few steps in Blankenheim. The new year was greeted by pipers and glasses of champagne in the open air. Photo by Maureen Culleton.

It was like a fairy tale

It is with great pleasure that we look back to the long weekend we spent in the village of Blankenheim over the New Year. For those that were not there, this report may enable them to share the fun.

We arrived in the afternoon of December 29th on the train from Amsterdam, travelling on the new high speed train to Cologne and then continuing through the beautiful Eifel mountains on the slow Interregional Express to a forlorn station called Blankenheim Wald. By bus and foot we overcame the last four miles to the Castle of Blankenheim, converted to a youth hostel, where all our activities were to take place. We found our room in order, unpacked, and set out for the main hall where all participants assembled and met.

It was great to see that so many people had turned up, including several old friends from Co Laois and from Drumshanbo, dance-master Pat Murphy, musicians Maebh Ní Lochlainn, Liam Purcell, John and Kathleen Nesbitt, Celine and Michael Tubridy. Altogether a huge crowd, a sell-out, a friendly atmosphere and loads of stories to be swapped.

That night was filled with a workshop of two-hand dancing, run by our dear friend Maureen Culleton, followed by a ceili and a session of traditional music that kept the crowd up until late. Dancers had turned up from Scandinavia, England, a good crowd from Ireland, the Netherlands (Ineke and Chieko), Belgium, Poland, Japan, Switzerland and, of course, quite a few from different parts of Germany itself. All were in very good spirits and kept up the craic till the very end.

The next two days were tightly scheduled for most. There were set dancing workshops with Pat Murphy, step dancing with Celine Tubridy, and various instrumental classes including bodhran and flute taught by Thomas Schneider. Wherever you walked in the castle, music was to be heard: fifes and lilting, piping and fiddling, banging of feet and drums, the sweet sounds of the concertina and button accordion and, best of all, the talk of old and new friends meeting up on every occasion.

For those that did not follow the whole program there were other diversions: reading or walking down into the cosy village of Blankenheim with its typical old-style houses built of wooden beams and stones quarried from the nearby mountains. Construction here is quite different from Ireland, according to builder Christy Culleton, but nevertheless beautiful and sturdy. The beauty is enhanced by steep mountain slopes, well preserved gates from the 14th century, the spring of the river Ahr, cosy bars and restaurants, the local museum, the impressive castle and, to top it off, a cover of snow. Walks in the surrounding countryside, with plenty of forests and the locals enjoying fresh air, sleighing and even shooting, were another treat we could not miss.

In a festive mood on New Year's Eve were Olive Lynch and Annie O'Donnell. Photo by Maureen Culleton. As the year 2000 drew to a close we had our last night in Blankenheim: a fine supper including fresh salmon, cold meats, bread, cheeses, salads, accompanied by dressings in German style, almost everything disappeared in a jiffy, a sure compliment to the cooks. Our hostess Kasia told us, as on every occasion, to take as much as we liked as there was always more in the kitchen.

As the ceili finished many of us went outside into the freezing cold and kissed and shook hands and drank champagne to celebrate the new year. It was like a fairy tale, humming Irish tunes, listening to two lads in kilts playing the warpipes Scots-style, and watching the fireworks rise up from the snowy village at our feet up to the sky and the mountains. That night we had a great session with many songs to be shared in many languages. Jim Monaghan danced and sang in Elvis-style and some never went to bed at all. We heard afterwards that Pat and his crowd had been at the dancing between 5 and 7 am before settling down to their breakfasts.

It was sad to say goodbye to our friends on January first, but we hope to see many of them again in Ireland, in Germany, or in Amsterdam, where dancing workshops will be organised between 22nd and 24th June 2001, Pat Murphy calling!

Friendly staff and committee from the youth hostel arranged transport back to the railway station, a necessity since there were no buses in the Eifel region on Sylvester [New Years] Day. On the platform we stood with seven people and had a lilt and a dance before hopping on to the train to Cologne, where all went their separate ways.

A special word of thanks for energetic Kasia, who organised this beautiful festival and put her whole heart into making us feel comfortable at all times; to quiet-in-the-background Michael Banden of the organising committee; also to Pat Murphy for his untiring contribution to set-dancing - his motto seems to be "No Surrender"; to Celine Tubridy who made great progress with her classes at the step-dancing; to the musicians who played every night and gave us their traditional best; and to the staff of the Youth Hostel (the Pascheks and Ralf Rademacher) for being patient and relaxed and helpful. Events such as these will put Ireland into the hearts of many and will contribute to the makings of a community of Europe.

May we meet again.

Nel (dances) and Martijn (sings) Kaal, The Netherlands

I think I have become addicted

A scene from the ceili in Budapest. Photo by Gergely Glázer. I met set dancing at a festival in Budapest, and knew nothing about it then. I saw lots of people spinning and sort of waltzing to beautiful live music, and liked it, so I joined the dance. That was the first day of the festival, and I went back every day (and night) to have some more of it, and danced 6 hours a day, four days long. I was very sorry when it was over, and thought that was it, but then I got the news - there is actually a place in Budapest where you can learn set dancing.

When I first went to the beginners' class in September 1999, I hardly knew the difference between polka and reel steps, and found it difficult to cope with the fast music; still I returned each and every Saturday to learn something new. And I have only missed less than a dozen beginners' sessions since then, although I am also a regular at the advanced sessions.

A good part of the magic, I guess, lies with the two dedicated teachers, Linda and Gabi. They never gave up on any of us at the classes, though at times it wasn't easy to keep an eye on up to eight sets of mostly complete beginners. Only rarely shouting at the top of their voices, never losing patience they always manage to create a friendly atmosphere, and bring over the taste of set dancing just as they learned it in Ireland.

A scene from the ceili in Budapest. Photo by Gergely Glázer. So I stayed, and kept badgering them for new steps and tips on my style. And they are always helpful. Besides the usual two classes a week I got into the habit of practising the steps at home, trying to memorise sets, and can not seem to stop wanting more and more of it. I think I have become addicted. Not a day passes for me without at least some little practising, often on the way from the kitchen to my room, half not knowing that I am dancing, and during the week I can still hardly wait to dance at the next class.

Every set dancing session is a highlight for me, but the brightest of all is without a doubt the ceili we had on 5th December 2000. Three wonderful musicians came and played for us in Budapest; from Armagh there were Peter Houlahan playing the bodhran, and Brian Finnegan from Flook playing the flute and the tin-whistle, and from Yorkshire there was Ian Stephenson of the band 422 on the guitar. And we danced. And it was the best dance I ever had. We usually only have recorded music. For the first time I had that feeling of dancing to live rhythms that fill up the space and then fill you up, and long for it ever since. It was truly great. It was one of those times when you do not realise that you spend three hours dancing, it is over so soon.

Thank you Linda and Gabi, thank you Peter, Brian and Ian. See you in Ireland.

Gergely Glázer, Budapest, Hungary

Invitation to our workshop

We hope that you'll come to our workshop
You'll be in for a pleasant surprise
You'll meet some very nice people
Who at time can be very "refined"!

They're all like a big happy family
They make you feel so much at home
Don't worry if you've not got a partner
They'll find one - you're never alone!

They teach you the sets step-by-step
They all have the patience of Job
You'll find at the end of the weekend
You'll be ever so lonesome going home!

The ceilis, you'll never get better
They're a climax to a wonderful day
They're brilliant, electric, they're magic!
More fun that "a roll in the hay"!

You can leave all your worries behind
Doesn't matter what way you are dressed.
We're here for one common purpose -
To let down our hair and "de-stress"!

So book that weekend off from work
Resurrect those comfy old shoes
Throw a couple of towels in the bag
After all, you've got nothing to lose!

Mary Buckley, Templeglantine, Co Limerick

The West Limerick workshop with Pat Murphy and Betty McCoy is in Convent Hall, Abbeyfeale, Co Limerick, 2-4 March 2001.

The Ceili

Teachers, truckers, nannies or nuns,
No one is safe where this bug runs,
Water, sweat, cheers and roars
Leaps and jumps,
Rise dust from the floor
Music and moves, listen and see,
She's a fine thing, she might dance with me,
Jigs and reels and sets galore,
We all shout, more! More! More!
Tea and brac, a sambo too,
Chat with the old, have the craic with the new,
The banjo, the box, the fiddle as well,
The drummer, the flute, the key too,
Next set now, house and swing,
The lively music would make anyone spin,
Hornpipes, reels, jigs and slides,
Get your partner for a waltz or a jive,
Last set please the night is late,
We'll do that set with the high gate,
Stand to attention, for the soldier's song,
We'll meet again, before too long.

Tony Power, Nenagh, Co Tipperary

Cancelled, postponed and rescheduled

Murphy's Irish Weekend at the Renaissance Westchester Hotel in White Plains, New York, 23-25 March 2001, has been cancelled. The main sponsor retracted their sponsorship commitment at the last minute and as a result, the weekend's organiser, Denis Galvin, cancelled the weekend with great regret. Denis offers apologies for any inconveniences caused and will try to find a new sponsor for future events.

A recently advertised workshop weekend in Warwick, England, with Pat Murphy and Timmy McCarthy scheduled for 28-30 September 2001 has been postponed. Further information is available from organisers Vicky Salway and Peter Maw. Pat Murphy will be teaching instead in Castleton, Derbyshire, that weekend.

Note that there is a change of date for Kieran Shanahan's One Mile Weekend held at the West County Hotel, Ennis, Co Clare. Due to a double booking by the hotel it will now take place on 27-29 April 2001. The programme is unchanged with Séamus Ó Méalóid teaching the workshop and ceilis with the Four Courts, Michael Sexton and Abbey Ceili Bands.

Party time in Ireland!

Your editor begs indulgence for presenting yet another diary of his set dancing experiences. This time he rambles across Ireland during the Christmas and New Years holidays, dancing wherever he goes and recording it in minute detail.

Friday 15 December, Kilmactigue, Co Sligo

After taking B&B with my summer school landlady in Tubbercurry, I drove out to the depths of the countryside through the little village of Aclare and on to the hall in an even tinier village, Kilmactigue. At 10.30 there were only organisers and musicians in the hall, though I saw people sitting in their cars outside. The lady taking money revealed that they only come in when the music begins.

There was a slow trickle of bodies in, which grew until the hall was filled. From the start there was great excitement in the air as this was the inaugural ceili in the newly refurbished community centre, open again after a gap of a year. I'd been here once before, perhaps six years earlier and was charmed by the venue even if the floor was rickety and dusty. The first thing I noticed this time was the new floor, which shined under the freshly painted walls and new lights. There was also a new tea room to the side and a brilliant innovation in the gents' loo - showers!

I counted fourteen sets in the Clare Lancers, but the crowd didn't hamper the dancing. I witnessed an unusual moment in the last figure when we were halfway through a chain - a brooch worn by a side lady became entangled in her partner's shirt and they couldn't separate to complete the chain back to place. The rest of the set became gridlocked until they could free themselves, which took only a few bars fortunately. Santa Claus arrived during the Plain Set and distributed sweets to all. He made a couple of rounds so we took plenty for immediate consumption - the floor was littered by wrappers at the end of the night. During the raffle I stared at my ticket in disbelief when my number was drawn - I only went up when the people around me insisted. I was pleased to collect a box of tea cakes.

Matt Cunningham made the most of the Christmas season, playing Jingle Bells twice. Everyone sang along, and I sang with them at the top of my voice. The first time I became concerned that I might not have enough breath to both sing vigorously and dance vigorously at the same time but fortunately the music stopped in time. When Jingle Bells came again at the end of the last set, the Connemara, Matt didn't stop at all. We kept repeating the final Christmas in the 'Maggie' and then when tired of that we made a long chain of bodies and snaked around the room singing all the while. When Jingle Bells finished, Matt calmed the room with Silent Night - everyone joined hands and sang together.

When I got home to Tubbercurry I realised I left my raffle prize tea cakes in the hall!

A full house for the reopening of Kilmactigue Hall. Matt Cunningham and band are on stage. Kay Treacy calling the sets in St Mark's, Tallaght.
Saturday 16 December, Tallaght, Co Dublin

Went on to Dublin for a ceili in St Mark's GAA Club, Tallaght. Hadn't a clue where the venue was - circled around the delightful Tallaght road system for half an hour until by some Christmas miracle the car turned into the right place in good time for the start of the ceili. Even so I was caught by surprise when the first dance was called before I found myself a partner. I spotted a hand in the air and stood beside a lady on her own. She didn't know me and I didn't know her but we had such a great Connemara that I came back to her two or three times during the night and gave her a Christmas kiss at the end. Isn't it great how set dancing can turn two strangers into friends during the course of an evening!

The dance programme was very adventurous, with the Portmagee Miserks, Inis Oírr and South Sligo Lancers sets. I was impressed to see that the last figure of the Inis Oírr works very well danced to reels instead of the usual polkas. There was plenty of room in the big hall and the Glenside Ceili Band was well able to fill it with their lively music. Kay Treacy, probably the best-dressed caller in set dancing, expertly helped everyone through the sets, but left us on our own for the High-Cauled Cap. We finished with the Plain Set and two figures of the Connemara. Leaving nothing to chance, Kay announced that when the band started playing Christmas carols we were to form a large circle and sing along. This we did, and a very lively circle it was!

When I returned to my B&B that night I realised that I left my toothbrush behind in Tubbercurry. I wondered what else I'd be forgetting before I finally returned home.

Sunday 17 December, Moate, Co Westmeath

Leaving the B&B after breakfast I realised I left my briefcase full of magazines and leaflets in the hall last night. Drove back there right away only to find it locked shut. Bought a toothbrush in Kildare town.

Met up with a friend and went to an afternoon ceili at Dun na Sí, a friendly little hall in Moate, Co Westmeath, built in the style of a cottage. The Glenside were doing sound checks as I arrived and they gave me a great salute. When I went over to them they presented me with my 'budget'. They thankfully picked up my briefcase last night and remembered that I said, "I'll see you tomorrow," so brought it along today. This was enough to make my day even before dancing a single set.

And the dancing would have made my day even if I had lost the briefcase so I felt doubly fortunate. The hall was filled with eight sets - it was crowded down by the doors in the cool end of the hall, and more spacious near the turf fire. I danced near the fire and felt like a fully basted Christmas turkey by the end. Tom Flood of the band served as fear an tí, and impressed me with his friendly, engaging manner. Everyone was in good spirits and close contact - the hall helped because the musicians are on a low platform beside the dancers.

After the last set the band again played Jingle Bells which sent us all into another Christmas frenzy of long circles and trains of dancers on the floor.

A wheelbarrow in Dun na Sí, Moate, Co Westmeath. The Haymakers Jig in the Parkway Hotel, Dunmanway, Co Cork.
Monday 18 December, Dunmanway, Co Cork

Remembered everything this time except my road atlas, so had to find Dunmanway entirely by instinct. After successfully finding St Mark's in Tallaght, anything else is trivial by comparison. Found Dunmanway easily but spent two hours searching for B&B.

There's a fine ballroom in the Parkway Hotel where Derry McCarthy teaches on Mondays. The class regularly has five sets with many young dancers, and they were here for the Christmas party along with many others. The class has only learned polka sets so far so we danced just two reel sets the whole night. Otherwise it was a festival of polkas and I was delighted. They keep the Dunmanway Set alive here and I was grateful for the chance to dance it and for Derry's helpful calling.

Two-hand dances are also very much alive in Dunmanway. We danced them twice, with three different dances each time. When Derry called the Schottische I wasn't sure what to expect, but it turned out to be a favourite I learnt in London from a Cork man - we called it the Back-to-Back Hornpipe. The night was a welcome break from the usual. Ger Murphy of the Abbey Ceili Band played box with an accompanist playing two keyboards mounted so high in front of him that he wasn't easily visible!

Tuesday 19 December, Lisdoonvarna, Co Clare

Returned home in time for party night at the Royal Spa Hotel in Lisdoonvarna. In the class with Maggie Hutton we danced the Mazurka and High-Cauled Cap, then the Four Courts continued with the ceili. Special honour was paid to Tom Downes, a gentle bachelor in his eighties who was a regular here. He was leaving for Killaloe on the opposite side of Clare because of the closure of a nursing home and was delighted to accept gifts and a framed photo. There were presents for the rest of the crowd too in a free raffle.

Dancers and musicians attending the Christmas party at the Royal Spa Hotel, Lisdoonvarna. The man of honour attending for the last time is Tom Downes, seated at the centre wearing a dark jacket.
Thursday 21 December, Kilfenora, Co Clare

The Barn was lit with candles and fairy lights which gave a magical atmosphere to the ceili. A bigger crowd than usual, with visitors and regulars who were welcomed back after an absence. The admission charge was waived for Christmas and the first drink from the bar was free. The Four Courts - or rather two of them plus Aidan Vaughan on drums - again gave a lively performance. At the end there was tea, sandwiches and cake for all.

Friday 22 December, Claddagh, Galway

A blowy night - the winds from the harbour brought a chill to the Claddagh Hall through the entrance door which was open all night. We kept trying to persuade ourselves that we'd welcome the cold after the first dance, and shivered till the music started. It was the Four Courts again, this time sounding better than ever with five pieces. The first dance was the Caledonian and I threw off the sweater after the third figure, and people were soon complaining of the heat, even while that door was still open to the sea. The dancing was smooth and joyous on the new floor and before I knew it the night was over. That's when they held the raffle and I stared in disbelief again as my number was called. The prizes were all in gift paper so I haven't a clue what it is and will be patient until Christmas Day. When leaving I noticed swans in the water beside my car, and one was on the quay coming my way. I quickly hopped in the car.

Saturday 23 December, Kilbeacanty, Co Galway

The last ceili before Christmas was a perfect evening of music and dance. I hadn't seen Michael Sexton for the longest time and was overwhelmed by his music that night! Michael himself had a fashionably short haircut following a stay in hospital - he was in very good form and his music never sounded better. Everyone was in a friendly, festive mood, enjoying themselves to the full. The floor was comfortable and just the right size for the crowd. The bar gave away everyone's first drink for free and passed out sandwiches toward the end of the night. This was everything I wanted for my Christmas!

Everyone was in a party mood in Claddagh Hall. St Stephen's Day at the Ballygarry Hotel, Tralee.
Monday 25 December, Kilfenora

Suffered dance deprivation on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Had a phone call on Christmas Eve from someone even more desperate to dance than myself looking for some dancing and I made a couple of suggestions. On Christmas morning I opened my Friday night raffle prize and was delighted to find a dozen candles.

I was in a dilemma about where I would go dancing tomorrow - would I go to nearby, familiar Ennis or to distant, exotic Tralee? Then I glanced at the highly informative listings in Set Dancing News only to discover that I could go to both Ennis and Tralee! I had a very happy Christmas.

Tuesday 26 December, Tralee and Ennis

Made sure to have a big breakfast this morning - there wouldn't be time to get a meal with all the dancing and driving in store today. I don't mind at all as I'd rather dance than eat.

Arrived at the Ballygarry Hotel, Tralee, in good time for the 4pm ceili. There's a beautifully appointed hall here with a fine, bouncy floor. I spotted a lady sprinkling dancing dust everywhere just before the first set. We slipped for a while until the dust settled and then the floor was perfect. The second set was the Plain Set and when I got up for it I discovered there wasn't a spare lady in the house! The disappointment of being stuck on the sidelines as the music started was enormous and I vowed to give up set dancing forever to spare myself such misery in future.

When the next set was called I decided to give set dancing one last chance before chucking it in entirely. I found a willing partner, someone I didn't know and who didn't know me, and we got on so well in the Cashel set that I entirely forgot about my plans for a quiet new life raising donkeys and artichokes. By this time there were enough ladies in the hall to keep me well occupied for the remaining sets. I made bookings for particular dances, not my usual practice, but the organisers had helpfully given out a list of eight sets being danced. Unfortunately the Labasheeda was sacrificed for time and I was sorry to have missed dancing with that partner. Luckily Tim Joe and Anne Riordan played one final blast of reels and I was able to engage her for a brief but fulfilling dance. Tim Joe gave a helpful one-minute warning before they ended the reels. The music made for a great afternoon - their fast polkas are fabulous. The ceili ended too soon for me, but then this was only my first one of the day!

Dived into the car and headed straight to Ennis - Michael Sexton was playing in Cois na hAbhna. The huge hall was chilly. There was just one little electric radiator plugged in by the entrance and a privileged few stood around it to warm their hands. I noticed a fireplace in the kitchen filled with bits of wood and thought I'd perform a public service and light it, but fortunately the music began before I could locate any matches.

My first partner wanted me to take it easy with her as this was her first dance in a while, and I said that suited me as I'd used up all my energy in Tralee. However, once the music began our energies were in full flow and any notion of taking it easy was forgotten. We made good use of the great space in Cois na hAbhna. Just as everyone tries to dance small in a crowd to conserve space, perhaps we should try to dance large in a spacious hall to help fill it up. I also noted that Ennis is well supplied with ladies who are highly adept at doubling - I must have doubled around the house at least a dozen times, absolutely perfect every time!

Even sandwiches couldn't tempt dancers from the first set of the year in Vaughan's, Kilfenora. New Years Day at Cois na hAbhna, Ennis.
31 December 2000, Kilfenora

Some heavy snow interrupted my plans for non-stop dancing over the Christmas break. There was only an inch or two on the ground, lightly dusting the hills. The roads, however, were like a snow magnet and became armour plated by an indestructible sheet of ice. I was perfectly willing to travel any distance at a snails pace over the snow to get some dancing, but most dances were postponed or cancelled so I sheltered at home.

Today it all started to thaw so I ventured out to the New Year's Eve party at Vaughan's. There was a glow coming from the Barn, and it wasn't only the candles and Christmas lights. The large crowd was so full of excitement and anticipation at the New Year that the handshakes and kisses started two hours early. We passed the time with some great dancing to the Four Courts, who sounded new and exciting on the night, even though I've heard them many times before. The big surprise of the night was the return of the Corofin Plain Set to Kilfenora (where some say it came from in the first place) - it was the last set of 2000. By this time people were more interested in their watches than the dancing, and the set ended within two minutes of midnight. The band counted down the final seconds, everyone gave a great cheer and the handshakes and kisses started all over again. The band played Auld Lang Syne and everyone crossed their arms and joined hands, swaying and singing. Out came some sandwiches and before long the band asked if we'd finished eating so they could play the first set of 2001, the Caledonian. Sandwiches were still being passed out during the first two figures. By the end of the set we knew it was going to be a good year.

1 January 2001, Ennis

There was no dithering about where to go dancing today - Cois na hAbhna had the only dance in the country, at least according to Set Dancing News. There was already a nice crowd there when I arrived - unfortunately nearly all of them were men! When the first set, the Plain, was called, there were three sets on the floor and about two sets of men sitting down. Every unaccompanied lady was eagerly seized as she entered the hall, but I waited patiently. I felt most fortunate when a lady took pity on me and asked me up for the second figure. While dancing I noticed new arrivals as they came in, most of them men and by the end of that set there must have been four sets of men sitting down. If ever there was a time for buck sets, this was it.

Soon there was a good balance of gents and ladies which filled the hall. An extra five sets made a big difference in atmosphere over St Stephen's night and there was still plenty of space. Michael Sexton was playing brilliantly again and I had a most lively night - there was a Corofin Plain with a lady from Tipperary who was more than my match. I was studying her legs while we were dancing - I couldn't figure out how she moved them so fast! They were flushed with pink from the dancing.

During the night a friend speculated with me about whether we might be able do the High Cauled Cap. I thought it extremely unlikely, but then when a rake of reels was announced for the last set I ran to her and we tried to form a set. We managed to get another couple, but no dancers were forthcoming even after Dick O'Connell helpfully broadcast an announcement for us. We dragged up two more people and then another couple joined. Once it started, that last couple abandoned us so we danced it with three couples - even so it turned out to be the best dance of the night! Most of it worked well with three couples, with one couple doubling up on the figures. I spotted the other sets eyeing us - I hope we might have inspired at least one extra couple to learn it!

Bill Lynch

Down from the mountain

Taking directions from a snowman

When Bart said that there was great bite in the Abbey's music I agreed. It was then I noticed all the polo necks around. I knew he had been on the rampage again - he really puts Dracula in the shade. Over the snowbound Christmas he had ended up in many lay-bys. If the ceili was cancelled he'd make up for it in other ways. As you know you have to be very careful who you share your car with. Some set dancers expect a bit more than a lift home. I have to say I was a little disappointed myself the last night over in Takeitslowloy.

"Is that it?" I asked.

"Yes, out! I've got to get up in the morning."

"Any chance of meeting you another night for a chat, I don't expect a ding dong or anything."

"That would be somewhere between hard and impossible," she replied.

As she whizzed off she braked suddenly to give the horn a honk - lovely car, shame about the driver. I noticed her brake lights weren't working and I couldn't help thinking it was a bit like her dancing when she unpredictably stalls in the middle of a figure.

Earlier in Longfordia I was invited to have a meal before their big ceili. It was one of Crankcoineen's one-pot wonders. She told me it would get me going and it certainly did - I was running to the loo between every figure of the Caledonian. Bart was there surrounded by women. He told one of them to dance with me. She was attractive and I knew he'd expect a free pint of his favourite beverage for this favour - and it won't be the Red Bull he usually drinks as a cover up. Ruteachisimus is a set dancer from Longfordia who is taking driving lessons. Unfortunately she wasn't around for the weekend. I doubt if she was taking a lesson at that time of the night - maybe something else though, she gets a lot of bookings. However having listened to Bart about his adventures I would be well able to give her instruction in letting off the handbrake, using the hazard lights and showing her how far you can go on the reclining seats.

Meanwhile back at the ranch (a little pub in Galmolway) we are dancing away one night when my dance partner turns to me.

"I'm sorry, but the guy opposite got engaged."

"Sorry? I'm not sorry for him at all, she's very nice," I reply.

"Yea, and they love the set dancing," she said.

"Yes, I'd say so too but I don't think he'll be wearing his 'Set dancing is better than sex' tee-shirt anymore."

Lately I missed the Connie Ryan weekend and the Shindig because I had a bad cold - too much drinking from damp glasses. One of the visiting Americans told me that she was going to dance her arse off in Malahide and Tralee. I was worried because it wasn't a bad arse at all and I wouldn't like to see her leaving it behind. She has long legs and long hair. When she's in full flight during the Cashel set, dancers get distracted. She is so good at it (the dancing that is) that she can be intimidating. People look goggledy eyed at her losing their concentration as they half dance around saying things like "What the...?" Bart was still talking about his Christmas holiday. He had a joke about her taking directions from and giving an erection to a snowman. Can't Fight the Moonlight is playing in the background. That's all I can remember. Maybe it is just as well!


Copyright © 2001 O F Hughes

Letters and emails

Thanks to each and every one of you

Dear Readers

On behalf of the Sean-Óg Set Dancing Club we would like to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you who supported our weekend of set dancing in Longford. As this was our first venture to undertake, we were amazed with the tremendous support we received, hence such a phenomenal success.

A big thank you to Pat Murphy for his excellent work throughout the weekend, to the Emerald Ceili Band, the Abbey Ceili Band, all radio stations, to all our sponsors, to the management and staff of the Longford Arms Hotel, to everybody who travelled long distances from home and abroad and finally a big thank you to Bill Lynch for all his help throughout the year.

Looking forward to seeing you all again in November 2001.

Go raibh a mile maith agaibh go léir.

Suzanne McTiernan, secretary, and Gabrielle Cassidy, chairperson

Not on the stage for their own enjoyment

Dear Bill

I enjoyed your article on the Nevele Grand Weekend, especially the piece on the Pete Kelly Ceili Band - they are the greatest. I am glad you had a good time as did we all. However, you did mention that there were some complaints with regards to the very fast pace of the Irish bands. I complained to the band leaders as did many others about this, to no avail. The attitude seemed to be, "This is the way we play in Ireland." Now these are all first class musicians and I am sure they love to play traditional music, but they are not on the stage for their own enjoyment, they are there to play for the dancers and they should play at the pace requested. A point which seems to be totally lost on these bands is that they are out here at considerable expense to play for dancers, and if the dancers can't enjoy the dancing maybe they will stay home, and then there will be no need for the Irish bands. I could dance to Boston Comhaltas or Pete Kelly all weekend without a complaint. Apart from this little "beef" the weekend was mighty and we are looking forward to the next one in the spring. I enjoy your magazine, keep up the good work.

Dan Dennehy, Tappan, New York

Snowbirds are always welcome

Visitors are welcome Carol Hieronymus' weekly house dance in Pompano Beach, Florida.
Dear Bill

I noticed in your last issue that you wrote about the Neale's in New Hampshire who have house dances every month. And I quote you "while the days of the house dances in the cottages of Ireland may have passed forty or fifty years ago, the tradition is alive and well" (and I continue) at Carol's cottage in Pompano Beach, Florida, where dancers gather every Sunday evening for set dancing, tea and soda bread. This goes on year round and "snowbirds" from up north are always welcome.

Enclosed are some of the most recent photos. We're also having a Christmas and New Year ceili.

Happy Holidays,

Carol Hieronymus, Pompano Beach, Florida

Greetings from Dunderry

Dear Bill

Many thanks for all your help and support in advertising our events during the year. Your magazine is a great read. It keeps us all up to date with all that is going on all over the country. Keep up the good work.

With best wishes for 2001 from all in Dunderry CCE.

Yours in set dancing

Henry and Carmel O'Callaghan, Tullaghanstown, Navan, Co Meath

A little boost

Dear Bill

Thank you, Bill, for the great work you are doing with Set Dancing News. When I need a little boost I look through the pages and am able to find the forthcoming attractions to encourage me!

The service in incomparable!

With kind regards

Jenepher S Parry Davies, Southampton, Hampshire, England

Another satisfied hopper

Hi Bill

Met you at the Nevele and I'm sure you'll not remember me as one of hundreds there.

It was my first time there and for those who "sold" me on going (Tommy Laffey and Jimmy Ronan among others) I am indebted.

It is no exaggeration that it was the most wonderful weekend of set dancing ever for me as I met people from all over the set dancing world.

Your SDN makes that possible and so far I've used it to find dances in Ireland, England and USA (so far). No doubt it consumes your time but look at all who appreciate it.

Another satisfied hopper


Thanks EM. I was never going to publish an anonymous letter again, but yours was so nice I broke my own rule.


James Keane, the step dancer from Labasheeda

James Keane at home in March 2000.
In set dancing and step dancing circles, the word most frequently used to describe James Keane was 'gentleman'. It was his nature to be gentle, courteous, helpful and generous with his time and talents. As well as being a fine set dancer in the older West Clare tradition, he was also an excellent exponent of the old traditional style of solo step dancing.

James was born on 14th July 1917 in a townland called Ballina a few miles to the north west of Labasheeda, not too far from the Moneypoint ESB power station and the Killimer car ferry. When James was growing up, dances were held regularly in his own and in his neighbours' farmhouses. The sets which were popular in James' early days were the Plain Set (always danced to polkas), the (Labasheeda) Reel Set and the Paris Set to a lesser extent. There would always be a lot of step dancing, and occasionally the Four-Hand Reel which was known to the older dancers. The Caledonian Set only came to the area in the early 1930s, but it wasn't liked very much. The locals felt it had too much repetition in it and didn't have the variety which was in the sets they were already dancing.

It was when he was still only four or five years old that James' grandmother, who was then 85 years old herself, started teaching him the plain Single Jig step dance. Shortly after he started going to the local school in Labasheeda he learned some more steps from a young dancing teacher called Miss O'Keefe. However, he learned most of his early step dances from his neighbour Dan Furey who would visit the house to learn steps from James' father, who was also a very fine step dancer and had learned his steps from Pat Barron, a dancing master from West Limerick who used to visit Labasheeda. Dan and James, and their families, became close friends and frequently danced together at all sorts of occasions - house dances, wren dances, tournaments, sports days, feiseanna, concerts, etc. Unlike Dan, James also took a keen interest in ballroom dancing which he kept up for most of his life. James developed a lovely graceful effortless style of set and step dancing, which appears so easy to do but this appearance is very deceptive.

At a later stage of his life he procured a set of drums and joined musicians Marty Purtill, Mattie Hanrahan and Dan (who also played the fiddle and concertina) and they played for many functions, and would occasionally visit St Joseph's Hospital in Ennis to play for the patients, where James himself was destined to spend his own final days. The drumming lasted for some years until he became too involved in the dancing once again. That was in 1990 when Dan and James were asked by Muiris Ó Rócháin to conduct an old style traditional step dancing class at the Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy, which proved very successful and very satisfying for both of them.

There's no doubt but that from the very start it became the high point of their year, with a tremendous air of excitement about it, where they met people from all parts of the world and were lifted out of their fairly predictable daily life in Labasheeda up into a new level where their dancing talents were recognised and sought after by large numbers of people. Many of the dancing pupils, both Irish and foreign, would pay them subsequent visits in Labasheeda, and as a result of new friendships they would be invited to teach in other places later on in the year. Dan had been a dancing teacher for most of his life whereas it was a new beginning for James, but he really enjoyed the experience and the fact that so many people thought so highly of his dancing ability. He taught his step dances at many venues around Ireland, and in London, Paris and America, usually with Dan but sometimes on his own. Also he was one of the visiting teachers at the University of Limerick for a few years.

James will be best known by dancers for the part he played, in conjunction with Dan Furey, in giving us the Paris Set and the (Labasheeda) Reel Set, and also passing on some of the solo dances he learned in his youth. James and Dan contributed four sets to Larry Lynch's book, Set Dances of Ireland, Tradition and Evolution, and they were the Plain Set, the Paris Set, the (Labasheeda) Reel Set and the Caledonian Set. They both also contributed the Paris and the (Labasheeda) Reel Set to Eileen O'Doherty's book, Set Left - Set Right, the title of which comes from the well known movement in the Paris Set. Dan's and James' step dances form the basis of the book, A Selection of Irish Traditional Step Dances, which was written by me and published in 1998.

I first became involved with James about 1986 when my wife and I began to visit Dan Furey. James would often be at Dan's house when we visited so we became friends. At Muiris Ó Rócháin's request I interviewed James for the Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy archives, and gave a talk about him at the school in 1999. James (and Dan) had very strong views about dancing, and they both lamented the fact that regional styles of dancing the sets were being lost. They didn't like all the battering which was being introduced into the different sets, nor the changes being wrought to the solo step dancing through competition.

Apart altogether from his prowess as a dancer, he was equally respected amongst his own local community as a very skilful carpenter and competent foreman, and amongst the farming community in County Clare for his ability to repair all the different makes of hay balers. In Labasheeda he played a very important role, as clerk of works, in the construction of the new church, which bears a plaque to him by way of appreciation. He likewise played a major role in the refurbishment of the old church as a community centre, and indeed also in the voluntary restoration of the old Battery building at Kilkerrin Point, which may well have been the location from where the Paris Set spread to the surrounding district. Other things which James did and which I know about were, and I am sure there are many more, that he built a motor boat (he did a lot of fishing), renovated his new house in Shanakea, Kildysart, four or five years ago, and was very helpful to the nuns in the convent in nearby Cahercon. In his early years he worked as a carpenter and travelled the country, but this resulted in him contracting pleurisy which prevented him from working and dancing for many years in the 1940s and '50s.

James' health and dancing ability had been deteriorating in recent years, and to enable him to continue to step dance, albeit in a restricted form, he conceived and constructed a pair of collapsible frames from copper tubing which he could easily carry with him, and which provided support and steadiness while step dancing. At the Dan Furey Weekend in Labasheeda in September 2000 his legs were giving him serious trouble and he spoke about going to hospital. He was admitted to the County Hospital in Ennis shortly after that, where his condition began to fluctuate. After some weeks there, he was transferred to St Joseph's Nursing Home where he was to spend the remainder of his life. Céline and I were in to see him several times, the last time being less than a week before he died when we were in Clare attending Vera Nugent's funeral, and each time he was very alert, spoke a lot about dancing, and walked out to the door with us. Vera Nugent was Dan Furey's sister and was one of those who grew up and danced frequently with James.

James died on Christmas day, 25th December 2000, and I don't think he would have chosen a better day to depart this life because he was always a very religious person. The removal of the remains was from Kildysart Funeral Home to St Kieran's Church in Labasheeda on the following Thursday the 28th to allow time for his brothers Michael and Henry to come home from Chicago. It was a bitterly cold day with heavy snow and ice in parts of the country. This prevented many people from travelling, but nonetheless there was a very big attendance. The local community kindly prepared some delicious refreshments in the hall after the ceremony in the church. People were generous in offering beds to those who could stay overnight, but unfortunately some, including ourselves, had no choice but to make the treacherous journey back home. James was buried in Killofin Cemetery where his long time dancing colleague, Dan Furey, was laid to rest seven years earlier. On behalf of the dancing community I sympathise with James' brothers, Henry and Michael, and his sisters, Ann, Peggie and Mary.

Go ndéanaidh Dia trócaire ar a anam uasal dhílis.

Michael Tubridy

James Keane, 1917-2000

from the Clare Champion, 26 January 2001

Labasheeda lost an illustrious son on Christmas day when James Keane passed to his eternal reward. James was born into a farming family in the townland of Ballina in 1917 the eldest of seven children. From the cradle James and the rest of the family were exposed to music and dance, he learned his first dance aged five from his grandmother and his father Charlie Keane was a dancer of repute.

James' handing down of traditional set and step-dances from the Labasheeda area is enough to accord him a special place in history, but there are many other noteworthy aspects to his life.

He was a keen runner in his youth and recorded many successes in the shorter distances at local sports meetings. He learned his carpentry skills at Paddy Con's in the mid thirties, but his chosen career was brought to a halt by serious illness. He was in hospital for fifteen months and was so debilitated that he had to learn to walk again. Because of this illness he remained at home for much of the next ten years where he amused himself by repairing clocks, watches and gramophones and he even succeeded in making wooden clogs!. He fished for mullet in Clonderlaw Bay and a love of fishing and the sea stayed with him all of his life. Eventually an operation to remove part of a lung heralded a return to full health and his life came back on track.

He bought a greyhound called 'Jeff's Pal' for £8 and walked him four miles each morning benefiting both the dog and his master. In 1951 after successful runs in Shelbourne Park and Clonmel, James sold him for the princely sum of £1,000. This good fortune helped to launch an extraordinary farming career. That same year he bought a tractor and mower and went on hire, if Sunday work was necessary he wouldn't accept any payment. He purchased the first mechanical potato digger in the county and in 1955/56 he started making silage long before it became the standard method of harvest. He bought a mill and travelled around harvesting wheat and corn and grew his own wheat. He trebled the stock on the farm and commenced account keeping, unheard of in those days. James featured in the Farmers Journal around 1970 as a result of his pioneering exploits.

James was renowned for his ability at repairing machinery, he was in great demand and obliged all with a pleasant smile. When the immense task of building a new church in Labasheeda through voluntary labour was undertaken in the mid-seventies James became foreman and like any project he undertook it received his total commitment. A factory in the old church making boardgames became his next quest and when that operation ceased production he worked at converting the building into a community centre. He headed the laying of wooden floors in Labasheeda Commmunity Centre and St. John Bosco College Assembly hall, making them suitable for dancers no doubt! In the early nineties, with a neighbour, he constructed a cabin cruiser.

Due to his heavy workload dancing had taken a back seat and didn't re-emerge until he retired from farming in the early eighties. He renewed a partnership with his great friend Dan Furey that went back to their youth. Apart from dancing locally, Dan and James had also crossed the Shannon to Tarbert for concerts and Feiseanna. They now came to prominence through their participation at the Willie Clancy week in Miltown Malbay and this provided a springboard to national prominence for them both. James, like Dan, took to teaching like a duck to water and liked travelling long distances to meet new people who were interested in learning from him. To them both, it didn't matter who you were or what distance you had travelled as long as you were interested in dancing! James maintained that in all of his travels he didn't come across anywhere as beautiful as Labasheeda! We are indebted to them both for keeping alive dances like the Paris Set, The Labasheeda Set and stepdances like the 'Gabhairín Buí' and 'The Priest and His Boots'.

In 1997 James became dancing-master in residence at Limerick University being invited there by Micheál Ó Súilleabháin. By this time James needed a support when dancing and his distinctive supporting frames came into being, made by himself of course. Last year he was photographed with Jean Butler of 'Riverdance' fame and also made an appearance on television during the Millennium celebrations.

The early success of the 'Dan Furey Set-dancing Weekend' is attributed to the circle of friends that James had built up. Such was the esteem in which James was held that people travelled from all over the country and abroad to meet him on home soil. The festival has also lost Vera Nugent, Dan's sister, who played an important role during the weekend and who died just two weeks before James.

Underneath James' calm gentle exterior was a determination to achieve things, and allied to this was a humble and unassuming manner. He didn't court fame but derived much pleasure from being in demand by so many people. His deep faith was part and parcel of everything he achieved, he was a daily massgoer, a minister of the Eucharist and the Rosary had to be recited every day no matter what. James lovingly constructed the Crib for the church, which was on display during his funeral.

Even though James was ill for some time the news of his death came as a shock to us. In his frailty he was so full of life, so supportive of progress in Labasheeda, still inventive and forward thinking. The overwhelming feeling at his funeral was of his death being the end of an era, the link being broken, the passing of a unique human being. James was truly unique and nobody can take his place. 'Ní bheidh a leithéid arís' ann.

Liam Woulfe, Labasheeda

Ceili House visits Malahide

Aidan Vaughan and Paddy Neylon step it out on Ceili House.
RTÉ's Ceili House recorded a programme at the weekend of set dancing held at the Grand Hotel, Malahide. This took place on Friday 13 January 2001 before the first ceili of the weekend. Music was provided by the Slievenamon Ceili Band and there was plenty of dancing during the programme. Betty McCoy, Michael Tubridy and the doctor who treated Connie Ryan's illness were interviewed by the presenter Kieran Hanarahan. The programme will be broadcast on Saturday 3 February 2001 at 9.30pm and will be available on the RTÉ web site for a week from that time.

Trip to Miltown from Los Angeles

Dancers in the Los Angeles area of California interested in travelling to Irish summer schools in July are invited to contact Michael Breen. He is organising flights, accommodation and transport for a trip which will take in the Willie Clancy Summer School and other events.

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

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