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).
Sometimes it's very hard to stay out of the pub but when Clingarry arrived on my doorstep I couldn't resist a pint with a ceili afterwards in Boxibelteeley. We hadn't met since Miltown Malbaya. He's a man who likes to stir it up in places where there's a great shortage of aftershave. As I revved up he shouted, "Stop! Listen!" and demonstrated his much practiced 'ceili chuckle'.
"I've got a new hair piece implanted and now can't turn on the shower too strong in the morning."
"Another man who can't use the shower at full speed, pity about that! Anyway why didn't you go for the Preparation Z?" I asked.
"It's the new thing for baldness. It shrinks your head to make the most of the hair you've left!"
The Little Birdie Cage was a very noisy pub beside the Boxibelteeley Hall where Clingarry once used to get 'appearance money' for his unusual antics. However it's 'disappearance money' he has been getting lately. I wasn't surprised about that from the way he queried the price of the pint. A lot of the clientele were ex-jailbirds who didn't dance. We were both wearing our bankrobber - style caps and fitted in well. It was the contrast which made it exciting. At ceili hardly anybody smokes, drinks, or makes loud noises, and they fall over each other to give you their seat (except in Ballygogooley where they all have their own seats and say things like 'That's my seat you're sitting in!'). We kept a close eye on our drinks at the bar.
After a few close shaves we arrive at the ceili where we meet up with another guy in the loo. It was then Clingarry told us his mother had passed away two weeks ago. I sympathised. Just as I did the band strikes up with "You never miss your mother till she's gone." We grabbed him by the neck as he made for the door. It wasn't easy to pull him back. Eventually we had to hold him down against the handbasin.
"It's a wind-up that's what it is!" he shouted.
"It's not, Clingarry, I doubt if they know, take it easy."
"I'm not so sure!"
"Look they're okay, they're not even taking the extended tea-breaks anymore, and play much livelier music."
Floranissima looked in and saw us holding Clingarry down. "Ah boys, stop the kissing!" she exclaimed. He cooled off as she caught his eye. I knew they were an item once and they seemed glad to meet again. They disappeared out the door. I overheard a laugh and a whisper, ". . . at every street lamp." I presume it's a kiss but then again it could be that he wanted to climb to the top and shout "Geronimo!" That would be after he takes out the bulb. I look out the door and count fourteen street lamps in the hot summer's night. He will be busy, I thought.
On the way home I tell him about my set dancing friend in Chicago who had an audition for a movie recently. It's about the Irish Mafia of the 20s and 30s around the windy city. She didn't get the set dancing part that she would have liked and thereby missed her chance to appear in the same scene as Paul Newman and Tom Hanks. However she did get a more anonymous part as an extra in a church.
"When was the last time you were in the church?"
"It's been a while. Remember that fella who was always talking about the devils?" he asked.
"The fires of hell! The fire of hell! Yes! Yes! Yes they are waiting, they sure are for those guys who keep climbing street lamps. Not only are the big devils piling up the big hot coals but even the 'little' devils - Yes! Yes! Yes! - are piling up the 'little' hot coals!"
"Even the 'little' devils?"
"Yes, but that's where all the characters will be."
"Hell ain't no bad place to be."
"Do you reckon?" I ask, looking at him.
"Mind the driving! Watch that wall, for God's sake!"
Copyright © 2001 O F Hughes
Last Saturday, 5 May 2001, I had a show with my group at a Swiss traditional dancing evening. We danced the Newport and then the Clare Lancers Set. It was very exciting and big fun. At the beginning of that evening we felt like the poor relatives in our simple skirts. But after our demonstration the spectators were very impressed and enthusiastic so that it was no longer important what clothes we were wearing.
It was very interesting to see the parallel between the Irish and the Swiss dancing traditions. A lot of figures are used in both forms of dancing. One of the differences I remarked is that the Swiss traditional dance is slower and it seems not as complicated as the Irish. We tried to dance some Swiss dances. It was very easy for us to follow the other dancers.
Swiss traditional dance is mostly danced by groups wearing traditional costumes. So most of these people are older because young people are not so much interested in Swiss traditions. Maybe you will find a place in the next Set Dancing News for the photographs and a few lines. The members of my group were: Sandra Ribeaud, Mark Hawes, Rene Diethelm, Andrea Bachtold, Christine Garcia, Beatrice and Geoffrey Nicholas.
Corinne Wernli, Solothurn, Swiitzerland
It proved to be a wonderful weekendDear Sir
I am writing concerning the set dancing workshop, advertised in Set Dancing News, which was to have taken place on the weekend of 23rd to 25th March 2001 in An Grianán, Co Louth.
This event has taken place every year for the past ten years and is always booked many months in advance. Unfortunately this year, due to the continuing foot and mouth crisis, it was cancelled at extremely short notice at 12.30pm on 23rd March by An Grianán. This was despite many assurances from An Grianán, continuing until 11.30am, that the weekend could still take place. At this point it was impossible to individually contact everyone who was to attend the event, so a message was relayed via 104 FM and Louth Radio informing people of the cancellation. At such short notice it was nearly impossible to find an alternative venue, but thankfully the Tullamore Court Hotel in Co Offaly was able to accommodate us, although it would be Saturday before they could offer us a room for dancing.
I would like to offer sincere apologies to anyone who was inconvenienced by the cancellation and subsequent change of venue, as for some it was not suitable. For those who were able to continue to participate, it proved to be a wonderful weekend despite the initial uncertainty, and I would like to thank, on behalf of all those who attended, the management and staff of the Tullamore Court Hotel who looked after us so well.
Laura Duffy, Dublin
Through Set Dancing News I made contact with the San Francisco and Los Angeles set dancers this summer. So, my vacation in the 'Wild West' included a good bit of set dancing!
In San Francisco, I experienced a very warm welcome from all set dancers. Greetings to Jim Belcher and thanks a million for giving me an absolutely lovely remembrance of dancing in your group. He taught the Ballycroy Set which was absolutely new for me. Later on, we moved into a pub in town, supplied with live music, great dancers and fantastic local SF beer. We did many different sets which are usually part of most Irish ceilis and I felt like I was back in Ireland. Thanks again so much Jim for dropping me safely at my hotel in downtown San Francisco. That was a great night of dancing!
From there, my family and I toured Nevada, Arizona and Utah, but some more set dancing came up in LA. Thanks to Michael Patrick Breen and the Los Angeles set dancers for giving me a fantastic time of Irish set dancing while our holidays were slowly running out. With his group, we did the Derradda Set, the Connemara, the Clare Lancers and more, which was most enjoyable. Very special greetings to Aleta - hope to meet you soon again.
To finish, special thanks to Bill Lynch. All those wonderful experiences would not have been possible without all your effort on the Set Dancing News!
Andrea Forstner, Erlangen, Germany
If you thought that the only dance to be found in Italy was the Tarantella - well you are wrong. Apart from a revival of rich and varied traditions of regional dances, Italy is well on the way to becoming a country where some the best set dancing is found.
Strangely enough, the country which gave birth to modern and complicated forms of dance during the renaissance period is not the country where a lot of people dance today. Local traditions were lost in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the pleasure of dance as a social accomplishment disappeared, as in many other European countries, and has only been revived very recently - in the last ten or twenty years.
Parallel to the new interest in local traditions is an opening towards traditions of other countries, with Ireland well to the front.
Irish dancing in Italy, as many other forms of international dancing here, took off slowly and certain ideas about dancing not being a "masculine" activity were hard to overcome. It was really only when Italian dancers and dance teachers visited Ireland and saw how workshops and ceilis were organised and then brought back home their experience and enthusiasm to share with others, that interest began to develop. Dancing as social activity took off and clubs sprouted up all over Italy.
So, over the last few years, many well-known Irish teachers have visited Italy and helped us to appreciate different styles, steps and local variations. This has meant more enjoyment in dancing as well as making new friends at home and in Ireland. Last July there were two all-Italian sets in the summer school workshops at Keadue - ten years ago the only "foreigners" at the much larger Tubbercurry workshop were myself and a Dutch-British couple.
In Italy there are several groups dedicated uniquely to Irish dancing, while for others it is an important part of an international dance programme. Some of the largest and most active Italian groups are Black Sheep (based in Treviso), John O'Leary and Folkolore (Turin), Carolando (Ivrea) and Robin Hood (Trieste). There are many smaller groups which I have not yet met. All the groups above regularly hold high level Irish workshops. In fact, the last September workshop in Ivrea with Pádraig and Roisín McEneany was really what started me off writing this.
Have you ever thought of the difficulties of teaching a large non-English speaking group? Having taught Scottish and other forms of dance in square and longways sets for many years it is surprising how difficult the concept of changing partners, stopping and starting at given times can be if you are used to spontaneous and individual forms of dance.
So, you have forty or fifty non-English speakers, and you need to communicate with these dancers and control the group! Otherwise the group will divide into tiny grouplets who don't understand what you have just explained and demonstrated, and are now chattering and asking what comes next! Or just chattering - they have not caught what you said or simply don't have a clue about "christmases", arches, ladies chains, and when they do know the acoustics may have made understanding impossible - so by now they are perhaps losing interest and motivation - Help!
So, with great relief, the organisers find that the McEneanys have all under control - smile, start again, explain again and bingo! Everybody is dancing, the figures are working and the style is correct, we're in time with the music. Everybody is smiling!
This did not just happen - but is thanks to the patience of teachers such as Roisín and Pádraig, who perhaps have led more Italian workshops than most, Pat Murphy, Mick Mulkerrin, Patrick O'Dea and William Hammond (to mention only those I have met here and in Germany and France), Irish dancing has become very important in Italy. So to Roisín and Pádraig and all of you, thank you for coming over, giving us a great weekend and then rushing back to Ireland for work on Monday!
Our next workshop is on St Patrick's weekend 2002 in Turin. It will be in the competent hands of Tom Quinn, William Hammond and Linda Quinlan - so please . . .
Come dance with us in Italy!
Tess Edelmann, Folkolore, Turin, Italy
My first trip to Heidelberg in Germany won't be my last, for I fell in love with the place. Set dance teacher Eddie Cleere from Durrow in Co Laois introduced me to Henning and Andrea Brouwer from Germany this year in Miltown Malbay, a lovely couple and organisers of the set dance weekend in Heidelberg. I would like to thank Eddie for inviting me to go along with his group for this weekend, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
We headed off on Friday morning, 5th October at 5.30am, three car loads of us. There was Donal and Aileen, Séan and Mags, Paul and Bridget, Ellen, Paddy, Mick, Eddie and myself. Not forgetting John Finbarr who drove all the way up from Cork to Dublin that morning and gave us all a fright as he was late arriving. We didn't think he would make it on time, but he strolled into the airport as cool as a cucumber.
The Heidelberg Irish Set Dancers proudly presented their annual Irish set dancing workshop, now in its fourth year and a regular autumn fixture for "continental Celts". Eddie Cleere has been teaching at this workshop since it started. As in previous years, the workshops and ceili were held in Zur Goldenen Rose, a hotel in Heidelberg which boasts its own very beautiful old dance hall.
The weekend started with a brilliant session on Friday night, "and what a crowd turned up." Saturday morning saw the start of the workshops with Eddie where he did some steps and styles. The band for the ceili that night, An Tor, were six musicians who have won themselves an enthusiastic and loyal following in the region, although I found the music very soft and the floor a bit hard for dancing - nonetheless the dancers battered it out to their heart's content. There was a massive turnout; the floor was covered from corner to corner with sweaty dancers.
On Sunday morning I woke up late, too late for the morning part of the workshop. Some of us headed into the town to get breakfast at O'Reilly's Irish Pub, as we had missed it that morning in the hotel. After breakfast the majority of the group decided to go shopping. I was torn in two trying to decide whether to stay with them or go to the workshop. All the time at the back of my mind I kept thinking about the workshop and dancing until I could not resist it any longer. So at 2pm I decided to get a taxi out to Zur Goldenen Rose - sorry guys, the shopping can wait!
When the taxi pulled up outside I couldn't get out quick enough, and as I approached the door I could hear the music and Eddie shouting out instructions to the dancers, and then I saw the crowd dancing on the floor, Eddie in the middle of them making sure everybody was getting it right. Had I not known what was going on it would be very easy to mistake this workshop for a ceili, the dancing was so superior. You taught them well over the years, Eddie, well done. Brilliant teacher and great craic!
Although I was late I managed to get into a half set and finish out the Skibbereen. I then danced the Plain Set with John Finbarr (thanks J F, lovely dancer) and the Cashel with Elfi (thanks for the lovely thoughtful present, and I will see you in Castletown next May). All in all this was a wonderful weekend of set dancing and more.
There were a lot of wonderful sights to see in Heidelberg. Of course when you go away on a set dancing weekend like this it's hard to find the time, but we managed to see some of them. The world famous Heidelberg Castle, in ruins above the town, with its spectacular views is something like a fairy tale. I believe the number of visitors is estimated at more than three million each year. Peterskirche is the oldest parish church in the town, and parts of the tower date from the twelfth century.
I think I can speak for everybody when I say we all had a wonderful time, and I for one will be back next year.
Áine Barrett, Half-Door Club, Co Laois
Once started, set dancing gets into your blood and so, in spite of (or maybe because of) our experiences last year during the floods we, that is Theresa Seabright, Ann Henderson, Mike, my husband, and me, decided to return to Enniscorthy for the set dancing weekend in November for a second dose of dance and fun. However, this time we had doubled our number. We had enthused so much about the wonderful time we had that Ann's husband, Pat, and three other friends, Audrey, Mary and Betty, from our Bournemouth set dancing group insisted on coming too!
We had an enjoyable crossing on Friday afternoon to Rosslare and arrived in Enniscorthy in excellent time to get ready for the first ceili. We had decided to stay in bed and breakfast accommodation this year. The Castle Hill Guesthouse was near the town centre and was comfortable and well run by the very helpful and friendly owners. It was also within easy walking distance of the Riverside Hotel, which was once more the venue for the weekend. More than all this, it met our most important criterion - it was high up in the town, well away from the river. There could be no danger of a repeat of last year!
In spite of all these precautions disaster had to strike one of our number. While she was unpacking Theresa discovered she had left her dancing shoes behind! Dancing shoes are the most important piece of clothing for a set dancing weekend. You can forget anything else, but not your shoes! No one had a spare pair in her size, so, for the Friday night ceili, she borrowed a pair from Audrey which were two sizes too big. Wearing several pairs of socks inside as padding, Theresa danced beautifully, as always.
When we arrived at the Riverside Hotel ready for an evening of dancing, we were met by Mary Walsh and John O'Connor. They greeted us with genuine warmth and pleasure, making us feel so very welcome. Many other friends we had made last year in Enniscorthy and also at numerous events both in Ireland and elsewhere were also present and so we were made to feel totally at home.
On the Friday evening the dancing was to Mort Kelleher's band. The music was superb and so the dancing was great. Pat Murphy, our workshop teacher for the weekend was acting as MC and all went very smoothly indeed. On each table there was a written list of the sets which were to be danced during the evening. They included the Clare Lancers, Connemara, Newport, Plain Set plus many old favourites and some not so familiar to us. We danced all evening and had a great time. A list of sets was put out at each ceili and this was an excellent idea. It meant everyone knew what was coming next and could organise themselves accordingly.
First thing on Saturday morning we had to go shopping for shoes. Naturally, all the women went to help, just to see what was available. And just as naturally, not only did Theresa buy dancing shoes in J J Murphy's, three other pairs were acquired as well. Such bargains cry out to be bought!
The workshop on Saturday was a great success. The four of us who had been caught in the floods last year wore our commemorative t-shirts for the Saturday workshop and these caused much interest and hilarity. Pat taught us in his usual kind but clear and thorough manner. We learned the Clare Orange and Green Set, which we really enjoyed. We are now adding it to the ones we dance in our group in Bournemouth. After the break we were taught the North Kerry Plain Set, while in the afternoon we did the Williamstown, which was more familiar to us, but it is always good to pick up hints from different teachers. We finished the day by learning the Pride of Erin Waltz which is a lovely dance. We had a very busy and productive day, learning three sets and a ceili dance. We were not at all daunted by this, but went off to have some food and get ready for the ceili in the evening.
The music for the Saturday night ceili was provided by Esker Riada. They played brilliantly and the whole evening was highly successful. There was a huge crowd but there was still enough room to dance - just. We danced the sets we learned in the workshop along with many of the usual, well loved ones we so enjoy doing. The evening was rounded off by a great session of singing and music in the bar. We hardly saw our beds that night!
The Sunday was another success. We learned the Ballycroy Set and the Ballagh Half Set during the workshop. Pat Murphy showed great patience and humour as we tried to master the intricacies of the figures. We almost got it in the end! The music for the afternoon ceili was by the Glenside Ceili Band who played with their usual verve and vigour, much to the delight of the dancers.
The weekend came to a close after this ceili and, sadly, we had to say goodbye to our friends once more. The welcome and hospitality we have received both times in Enniscorthy has been fantastic. Everyone we meet, whether of the set dancing fraternity or not, seems to take us into their hearts and treat us with such friendliness it makes the whole weekend one of real pleasure.
This year the weather had been kind to us, but, to be on the safe side, we returned to the UK on the overnight ferry from Rosslare and arrived home around 6 am to crawl into bed to repair the ravages of the weekend. We are already planning to return next year and, who knows, after all the things we are telling our friends, goodness knows how many will come with us then!
Margaret Nicholl, Bournemouth, Dorset
I e-mailed you in August just before I left for Ireland for my very first set dancing lessons. You were coming to America just as I was going to Kilfenora. Later, I met you in Listowel at the wonderful, delightful, stupendous, fantastic set dance festival. I bought a copy of Set Dancing News from you. I was just looking on the Internet at your web site when I saw a teacher of mine - Timmy McCarthy! It inspired me to write you.
I went on an Irish Cycling/Set Dancing tour on August 18th through 25th. Sean Kilkenny was our guide - what a dancer he is! Since I was the only one in our group who had never had any set dancing lessons before, he took me under his wing that first day and night. I had taken ballet lessons all my childhood life and had square danced (a far cry from Irish set dancing) as a youth and young adult, so I knew some basic dancing. But I was not prepared for how wonderful Irish set dancing was! When I heard those Irish musicians begin to play, my feet felt on fire. I loved every second of it!
Sean was my partner in Lisdoonvarna the first day, gave our group a private set dancing lesson before the barn dance in Kilfenora that night, and danced with me that night. I had not "caught on" yet, but he was such a good partner, I was able to stumble along - although my new, leather soled shoes were slippery and I got dizzy from the spinning. But after that, I began to catch on, and by the night of the Fleagh Ceol (oh, I hope I've spelled that right) I had learned to love that dancing!
Sean Kilkenny had taken us for a semi-private lesson from Timmy McCarthy one night before the Fleagh Ceol. Mr McCarthy first taught us the French Quadrille, which I loved, because it reminded me of childhood ballet lessons - I could hardly keep from curtseying when I'd meet my partner. Then, he taught us other dances and we danced and he played his accordion. I was on "Cloud 9" that night!
And then - Listowel! I danced my socks off, to use your expression. I had learned the steps fairly well by then (somehow I didn't get dizzy anymore and my shoes were not slippery anymore) and when I danced with those Irish men who had danced those dances all their lives, and those Irish musicians played their hearts and souls out, "I could have danced all night." My feet just took off! I didn't have to think about what came next, because those Irishmen were such good leaders.
I started off in a set of older Irish men and women, then the second set I was across from a couple of Italians that I'd met in Lisdoonvarna. We hugged like we were old friends. They told me that they had seen me "dancing on the streets" the night before. I had danced an Irish washerwoman jig that I had learned in ballet as a child. Each year when I go to Ireland (I've been the past five years and plan to go and join the Willie Clancy Dance School in July, 2002) I dance that same jig in a pub or two. (I've always gone on cycling tours before - I had not learned of the combination of cycling and set dancing!) Every year since I was five years old, I dance that jig on St Patrick's Day, and that first year, 1997, I got to dance it on Irish soil, I was in heaven!
Back to Listowel! The last two sets I danced with four young men in their early twenties from northern Ireland - one young girl from northern Ireland, one young girl from France and one young girl from Austria. We had a ball! Those boys could dance and didn't seem to mind a bit that I was a wee bit older than they were. They said they liked my accent - I'm from Atlanta, Georgia. They thought I sounded like Gone with the Wind - they'd heard New Yorkers mostly before.
I have not had as much fun in a long time as I had that night in Listowel. When they announced you that night, my Irish partner explained to me that you were an American who loved Ireland and lives there now. I'm an American who loves Ireland as well, and it is helping during these grim, sober, days here to be able to think about going to Ireland next July and dance my socks off again! I was sorry at first that we didn't have Irish set dancing here in Atlanta (we have Scottish country dance lessons, but that's not my love). But now that I know how much more exciting it is in Ireland than it could possibly be here in my country, I don't feel so bad.
Thank you for your Set Dancing News both in print and on the Internet! Hope I have not written too long an e-mail for you.
Barbara Brice, Augusta, Georgia
Anxious to see themselvesDear Bill
It is surprising where people who set dance meet up with each other. Last August, I did a set dance workshop up in Meenaneary, Co Donegal, organised by Rory O'Donnell - set dancers in the North West all know who he is - a very congenial bar owner from there. A lovely couple, Harold and Cathy Jones, home from America on holiday spent the day dancing with us. In the evening, a gentleman, David Holland from San Francisco, holidaying in Dublin appeared at the door. He kept staring at our dancing couple. When they had finished dancing, he approached and both parties realised that the last time they had met was at their own set dancing class in Scruffy Murphy's pub in California. I promised them I would have their photo published in Set Dancing News as they were anxious to see themselves in print.
Sheila Gormley, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh
Memory will live onDear Bill,
Thank you for the kind words in Set Dancing News for the late Simon Knight.
During his long illness and since his death, I have received love, kindness and support from family and set dance friends. May I through your wonderful magazine take the opportunity of thanking everyone in England, Ireland, Wales and the Isle of Man, whose thoughts and prayers gave me great support through a desperate year.
Simon's memory will live on through the music and dance.
Many thanks from Simon's wife,
Carol Knight, Wells, Somerset
It's been another crazy week at ceili. Coming through Nawnorpory we had to duck our heads down in the car. There was a ceili about to start and we were going to another one. I nearly crashed the car and with Oscar, Plipp's pet dog, barking fiercely and jumping up and down in the back seat. She insisted I bring Oscar along as he wasn't domesticated yet and she preferred if he left his calling card elsewhere.
"Phew! that was a close shave. So we don't have to pass any more ceilis I hope?"
"We go through Killkiloouey. There's one on there I think," she replied.
"I'll pull up down the road from it. Maybe you'll have a peek in the window to see who's there!"
"Okay! Okay! But no more of this hide and seek driving, keep your eyes on the road!"
I had met her outside a ceili one starry night. She had been trying to get into her car via the boot. It wasn't that she'd been drinking but her car doors were all stuck (set dancers banging them too hard)! My own cars doors weren't great either. Only one worked but my marvellous mechanic had given me a magic tool to open them. Funny enough it could open her car as well. We both had uncles in Dublin who had unusual house alarms. There were just too many coincidences. This had to be it.
"But why did you call your dog Oscar?" I asked.
"Because I have the same birthday as Walter Mathau, 'Oscar' in the Odd Couple!"
"That's unbelievable I've got the same birthday as Jack Lemmon who is Felix!"
"I think we are going to get on very well together!" she said.
Later the guy dancing tops shouts over at me, "The man from Del Monte says YES!"
"I'm not surprised!" I reply.
After the dance he tries to poach her using the big ceili chat up line. ("Will you do the Plain Set please?") Fortunately I had asked her outside for a breath of fresh air. We visited Oscar and let him out to spend a penny. He rolled in a lump of horse manure and we had a very bad smell in the car.
"Maybe we should bottle it?" said Plipp.
"It might be good for the global war against terrorism!"
"I've got a better idea! Maybe if I spray it on you it might keep them away from you at ceilis!"
Copyright © 2001 by O F Hughes
Dance festival organisers from Czech Republic, Italy, Hungary, the Netherlands, Turkey and Taiwan have been in touch with Set Dancing News seeking participation from Irish performing groups. Invitations to and other information about these festivals can be read on the Set Dancing News Mailing List. It's suggested that interested groups carefully check the costs and conditions before pursuing the invitations.
These three web site addresses:www.irishsetdancing.com, www.irishsetdancing.net, and www.irishsetdancing.orgare available to good homes - perfect for setting up your own set dancing web site. Contact Mark Ohrenschall.
Readers of Set Dancing News are invited to join a new mailing list for announcements, comments, questions and discussion on set dancing. Your editor will be using the list to pass on occasional questions and requests which may be of interest to all set dancers. Everyone is welcome to join the list - once you're a member you'll receive any messages sent to the list by email and can write messages to all members of the list.
You can join by following instructions on the mailing list web site, groups.yahoo.com/group/setdancingnews, or by sending an email to email@example.com. If you have trouble with either of those methods, please contact Bill Lynch. There is no charge for the service, though advertising will appear in each email. Both members and non-members can also read all messages on the mailing list web site.
I hope you'll participate to help make it an informative and interesting list.
This summer your editor travelled further in pursuit of set dancing than he has ever gone before. The city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, hosts what is said to be the largest Irish festival outside of Ireland, in a fairground beside Lake Michigan. There was plenty of set dancing over the long Irish Fest weekend, and at the summer school in the preceding week. While the experience was uniquely American, the pleasure of set dancing is universal, as you can see in the diary here.
Sunday 12 August
Milwaukee looked good in beautiful summer weather, which was surprisingly comfortable - I'd expected sweltering heat in August. I had a lift from Chicago with a set dancing friend I'd never met before - we're regular email correspondents. She met me at the airport yesterday, arranged overnight accommodation with a friendly set dancing couple and drove me ninety miles to Milwaukee. Set dancers are all a generous bunch, no matter where you find them.
My accommodation for the week was courtesy of a lively dancer I met last year at Willie Clancy. She invited me to stay in her big house in an idyllic old neighbourhood within easy walking distance of the summer school at the University of Wisconsin.
When I entered the Student Union building tonight for the opening reception, there was no sign of a summer school - an attendant directed me to the top of a huge flight of stairs. Here there was a registration desk and a crowd of strangers - plus a few set dancers I'd seen back home, so I suspected I'd found the right place! This was confirmed when the two set dancing teachers arrived, Anne Keane and Séamus Ó Méalóid, who already seemed well acquainted with some of the local ladies.
People were gathering in a nearby room for the reception, which conformed to the Irish theme of the week by starting an hour late. In the meantime, we helped ourselves to Bewley's teabags, nearly hot water, chocolate chip cookies and "soda bread", which was really a fruit loaf. I was invited to join a table of dancers and passed around a few of my subscription leaflets - soon I noticed a fellow picking his teeth with one.
I wondered where the dancing classes would take place and was told they'd be in this room. "That's odd," I said, "They don't have a floor in here." Silly me! There it was at the back, cleverly disguised as a checkerboard. It was a brand new, high-tech temporary floor laid on the carpet, composed of square black and white panels surfaced in plastic.
After the welcome speech which introduced the teachers, musicians slowly gathered near the floor and set dancing commenced. I found a partner and tried to join two couples at the back, but they didn't want us - they were doing the Four-Hand Reel. Then when a ceili dance was called next the set dancers did a set at the back, and it was like this all night. More musicians joined in until there were as many of them as dancers.
Monday 13 August
There are four daily set dancing classes during the four days of the summer school, starting at 9 am with Séamus Ó Méalóid and his steps for sets workshop. Four or five sets of us followed a whirlwind tour of various reel, jig and hornpipe steps this morning. He didn't dwell for long on any one step, promising to go over them again in the week. He had an immediate rapport with the group, joking with everyone and demonstrating with a different delighted partner each time.
Anne Keane continued at 10.30 with a class for complete beginners. Séamus was back after lunch for the Clare sets class and taught the Labasheeda. He admitted he didn't like the fourth figure - too similar to the first - but that one and the fling are my own favourites. Plenty of good craic for nearly three hours with five or six sets in attendance.
A quick supper then and back at 6 for the Cork and Kerry sets class with Anne Keane - six sets again, with mostly the same people all day. She started with the Jenny Ling, probably the longest set known to civilisation, and used a few techniques to shorten it, like only dancing half the figure or leaving out some of the repetitious moves. This left us time at the end for both the Ballyvourney Reel and Jig sets.
Class finished at 8 and some of the dancers went off to Bodolino's, a pizza joint which transforms itself into an Irish pub for the week. A big crowd of musicians attending the summer school were playing timidly, until John Whelan, a box player from Connecticut who's one of the stars of the Fest, came along and livened things up 1000%. I waited for some dancing but it wasn't long before I decided to go home.
Tuesday 14 August
Back to Séamus this morning for more of his reel, jig and hornpipe steps. He congratulated one fellow on a 100% improvement since yesterday, and congratulated me for dancing closer to the floor than normal - I was on my best behaviour.
In his second class this afternoon he taught the Clare Orange and Green. I asked a lady to dance who last night asked me if I would dance with her. As soon as we had danced one figure, she found another lady to take her place and sat out a couple figures. I had to actually drag her back into the set to dance with me before the set was over. "You did ask me," I pointed out. There were several extra dancers who were swapping in and out. Séamus finished after two hours this afternoon - he said the extra 45 minutes yesterday was due to a mistake in the programme. I hadn't heard a single complaint.
Anne Keane taught the West Kerry, Borlin Jenny and Sliabh Luachra sets tonight in her class. According to the schedule there was to be a dance session afterward, and I waited a while but nothing happened. A few music students wandered in and started playing for some ceili dancers. Around the same time some university maintenance men showed up to repair the checkerboard floor. It was serving us well, though there were ever widening gaps between the panels. Meanwhile, most of the set dancers had gone off to Bodolino's and I followed before long. Inside the music students' session was underway and a few keen ladies got a set of us up to dance. We danced pieces of figures to the short selections of reels and jigs. A half set of us managed to do nearly the full Ballyvourney Jig Set - everything but the final house.
Wednesday 15 August
I arrived at 9 for the morning class with Séamus, only to find it diverted to a new location because the checkerboard floor was in pieces. We were relocated in the art gallery where there was a smooth wooden floor on concrete. One of the steps we practiced was in preparation for the Aran Set, which we danced this afternoon. By that time we were back on the checkerboard floor - there were still gaps but at least it was in one piece. The Aran Set was great fun, and I helped demonstrate the second figure. I love doing the arches in it but Séamus said something about having too much enthusiasm, referring to me.
My enthusiasm continued in Anne Keane's class, where we did the Borlin Reel, Borlin Polka, West Kerry and Sliabh Luachra. This was her last class so Anne packed in the dancing. Getting accustomed to my surroundings and partners, I overcame any shyness about doubling in the Borlin Polka. In fact I had such a good time doubling around the house five times in the last figure that I tried to persuade Anne we needed to do it again for more practice, but she didn't fall for it.
Tonight there was a ceili in the Student Union ballroom, so I went over after Anne's class. It's an enormous room, the largest expanse of linoleum I've seen. The Bonfire Dance was underway as I arrived - my first time seeing it. Then we did the Sliabh Luachra, and the sets and ceili dances alternated all night, usually with a set or two dancing something else at the back as on Sunday. When the Sixteen-Hand Reel was called I was asked to join a Caledonian Set, but was more interested in the other and had a good time dancing it. Music was by Ceol Cairde, two whistles, a flute, two fiddles, a dulcimer and bodhran. Their sound fluctuated between medieval and Irish. They were keen to play till 1 am, but a couple of security guards ensured everything stopped at 10.30, ending the Lancers after a couple of figures.
I stopped by Bodolino's on my way home. As I climbed the stairs to bed, I could hear my knees complaining, "Snap snap, snap snap."
Thursday 16 August
Rain this morning - arrived to class soaked despite a borrowed raincoat. Class started slowly with some friendly chat with Séamus and dancing began when a few of the late stragglers arrived.
This afternoon in our last class he taught the Paris Set by request and I was in the demonstration set with him. One of our fellow demonstrators slyly asked everyone except Séamus to shake a leg in the air for two bars before swinging after the opening lead round. Séamus seemed very fond of shaking a leg in the air and had been doing it all week. The figure began and the plan was executed perfectly. Séamus hardly noticed it himself, but everyone else in the class laughed. Séamus was mystified and somehow assumed I was the responsible culprit. He restarted the music, not knowing what to expect next, but we behaved ourselves this time. Toward the end Séamus thanked everyone and said it was probably his last time in Milwaukee - protests were heard at this. We had one last blast of dancing with the Aran Set by request, the favourite of the week.
The rain lightened all day till it was time to go to the opening of the Irish Fest - the skies cleared and the weather was perfect. The Fest site is downtown, about three miles from the summer school. On arrival I proceeded to the media office where I obtained my first ever press pass. I proudly showed it off to friends, several of whom suggested that I go backstage and meet the stars, particularly everybody's darling, Natalie McMaster, the young Cape Breton fiddler who step dances while she plays. I pointed out that backstage photos of the Four Courts would probably be more appropriate for Set Dancing News.
Wandering the grounds I spotted a set doing the Sliabh Luachra Set to polkas by Beginish. When I got to the dance tent there was another Bonfire Dance underway. The huge tent covers a dance floor with comfortable room for fifteen sets, plus the stage and plenty of tables and seating all around. Most of the other stages are completely open, so I appreciate the shelter from sun and rain. The floor was an expanse of plywood, cleverly painted black to make it look like tarmac, and set in a hollow that gave it the slight shape of a satellite dish. Fortunately it was level near the band and gave reasonable dancing, especially after generous sprinkling of dance dust, which was kindly provided at most of the ceilis.
Sliabh Notes were the first band to play for sets and suddenly it was as if I was back in Ireland. It was the most beautiful Sliabh Luachra-style music with a great lift and speed. The fast polkas were pure bliss. I'd never danced to them before but those first three or four sets with them were priceless and on their own made the trip to Milwaukee worthwhile. They're Donal Murphy from Limerick, Matt Cranitch from Cork and Tommy O'Sullivan from Kerry, and what a pity it is they don't play more often for sets back in Ireland. The best set was the Corofin Plain - I couldn't help myself from doing the polka shout and the rest of the set joined in with delight.
As if all that wasn't enough, the Four Courts were on next and were warmly received by the dancers. Dancing finished at the reasonable hour of 10 pm when the festival site closed. I followed some dancers to a pub called County Clare where there was a big crowd and an inaudible session.
Friday, 17 August
The summer school held a day of short courses, but there was no set dancing so I was able to sleep in and relax till I went to the festival grounds at 4 pm. There was free entry till 5 but I still made sure to show my press pass. Today's set dancing began with RíRá, a local fiddle and piano duo who were well able to carry the dancing. Bands changed every ninety minutes or two hours at the most, and alternated between ceili and set dancing. Fortunately the two Irish bands played exclusively for set dancers.
I went over to the set dancing lesson in the "Crossroads" area, which appeared to be an outdoor basketball arena. They were teaching the Corofin and I was drafted in to assist. In my set there were two beginners and six experienced dancers, an excellent instructor-student ratio. On the way back to the dance tent I listened to Beginish for a while and watched an impromptu half-set in the aisle.
Sliabh Notes and the Four Courts played tonight and I was in bliss once again. Whenever I was standing during the sets I found myself moving from foot to foot - my legs were quite tired from all the activity of the week. I noticed that I obtained a bit of relief if I lifted each leg in turn and shook it. Now I know why Séamus does that! That dance dust definitely makes for smoother dancing. Whenever somebody sprinkles it around, folks from all over the floor rush over to rub their shoes in it - just like pigeons and breadcrumbs.
After the festival closed at midnight, there was yet more dancing. A special late night ceili organised by local dancers went on till 3 am at the Irish Cultural and Heritage Centre a mile or two away. Housed in a disused church, it had an excellent hall and a brilliant floor. Dancing was underway as I arrived, so I had time to sample some of the food people had brought to share. There was fruit, salad, cookies and cakes, but I only had eyes for a plate of Japanese seaweed sushi rolls - my congratulations to the enlightened set dancer who made those! During the next set I ran back for another roll between each figure - I offered one to my partner but luckily she declined.
Five musicians had been expected at the Irish Centre, but only one turned up - John Whelan, the box player I'd heard in session earlier in the week. John invited several musicians along and it didn't work out for them, but when he's playing no other musicians are necessary and the room danced with delight. I watched John on stage - he would sit and stand as the mood took him. Then during the Caledonian he actually left the stage and wandered around the floor among the dancers, playing all the while! His mobility was thanks to a radio microphone mounted on the box. He was almost dancing with us and everyone's pleasure suddenly doubled. He continued with non-stop energy all night, especially during the lengthy rake of reels, and when that finished he seemed to collapse in a heap!
Saturday 18 July
The Fest opened at midday today and I arrived just after that. There was a baking competition underway in the dance tent so I wandered the grounds, something I hadn't done yet. There are about a dozen different stages constantly running throughout the site, each with Irish, American and Canadian performers. There was a full spectrum of Irish and "Celtic" entertainment, with rock, country and traditional groups, dozens of step dancing girls, even drama, poetry and Irish language performances. After paying admission, you're free to come and go as you wish to any of the stages. There are plenty of other activities - today there were curragh races in the lake, a dog show, tug of war competitions, a parade and children's crafts. There's also a cable car running the full length of the grounds.
Food is for sale everywhere from different stalls and establishments which become Irish for the weekend - I noticed that a place selling baked potatoes was actually a Greek restaurant plastered with temporary Irish signs. Nearly as numerous are the tented markets - inside they sell Aran sweaters, pictures, carvings, dance shoes, CDs, you name it! At the far end of site was a Gaeltacht tent where Irish is spoken and language books are available. There's even a little floor here where I've heard there are music and dance sessions, but it was quiet when I passed.
They were teaching the Sliabh Luachra Set at the Crossroads area today to about six or seven sets of patient beginners and helpers. I did a few dances in the tent this afternoon but was trying to save the legs for later. Tonight there was another stunning performance from Sliabh Notes, and later from the Four Courts.
Just when we were going strong with the Four Courts, I heard an odd noise and looked out to see the rain storm to end all rain storms. It was the densest precipitation I'd ever seen, guaranteed to soak your clothes in seconds, but fortunately we could continue protected by the tent. The place filled with people as they took shelter and settled in to watch the dancing. There were a few small punctures in the tent and a bit of water came in, but that wasn't a problem until it threatened the sound equipment, so the band took a break. Fortunately the rain tapered off and we could continue the ceili on the damp floor beside a newly created pond. Aidan Vaughan was serving as the Four Courts' drummer on this visit, and he hopped out to dance a few sean nós steps to great acclaim by the biggest crowd of spectators seen so far in the dance tent.
The last band of the day was called Bohola, a three-piece band from Chicago with a proper ceili band sound. They were playing for ceili dancing so I watched for a while. The beautiful reels during the Sixteen-Hand Reel inspired me to get up when they called the High-Cauled Cap. They played it to polkas but it was nearly as enjoyable as if they used reels.
Sunday 19 July
I wandered the grounds after an early arrival on the last day and found the outdoor dance class just as it finished. They did the Mazurka Set and a set danced it through afterward without music. On subsequent wanderings I was pleased to find Sliabh Notes at one of the performance stages. A few of us found a shady spot under a tree and danced to some of their hornpipes.
The first sets of the day were danced to the Public House Ceili Band, a four-piece band from Madison, Wisconsin, which plays around the area and in nearby states. I relaxed in the dance tent during the following ceili dance, and noticed other set dancers resting - one fellow was even using a table for a bed!
Bohola were back today, this time playing for sets, followed by John Whelan playing for ceili. As good as John was on Friday night on his own, with his full band he was superb. I had a joyful Sixteen-Hand Reel where I must have been on overdrive. Later, the gent opposite asked me if I heard the gasps from the other dancers when he and I danced the second figure - this is a kind of complicated gents' chain and we went around each other twice when we should have done it just once. I'm sorry I didn't notice the gasps as I was too busy trying to remember how to do the figure!
I had hoped to dance to Sliabh Notes one last time tonight, but their earlier performance was the last one. We were raring to go when the Four Courts came on for the final dancing of the festival. The Christmas in the third figure of the Connemara was going so well that we kept going a few more turns for another eight bars - the opposite couple were all smiles. After the set Aidan Vaughan came out again for a few sean nós steps.
It was nearly nine o'clock and we were on the first figure of the Lancers when security guards informed the Four Courts that everything had to stop in five minutes time. This came as a great surprise to everyone, as the band were flying and would have been content to play till 1 in the morning. Regretfully they had to stop at the appointed hour, closing our final dance of the fest long before both dancers and musicians had their fill.
The reason for the sudden end was to gather everyone together to attend the closing events of the festival. These consisted of (believe it or not) a parade of bodhrans, a fireworks display and a final session and sing-song. Every available musician played on stage in the session, more than fifty, and clearly visible out in front in their white shirts and ties were several members of the Four Courts. Tommy Makem led the singing, which climaxed with hundreds of us singing The Mountain Thyme together.
After the festival closed many dancers were intending to go to the Park East Hotel. This is where many of the performers reside during the festival. My friends had special passes and I readied my press pass just in case, but we had no trouble getting in. There inside were all the musicians I'd just seen on stage, chatting in the lobby and bar, or playing in superb sessions all around me. Some of us found comfortable seating beside a session from heaven, and just chatted the night away. After a week of growing friendships it was relaxing to talk to each other without the interruption of constant dancing. Nevertheless the music inspired a few impromptu and improvised figures on the carpet. As I left the farewell hugs and kisses were warm and heartfelt, and we assured each other we'd meet again.
A weekend of set dancing and fun will once again be on offer this November in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, if last year is anything to go by. The whole weekend, organised by Mary Walsh and John O'Connor, was wonderful with superb dancing and brilliant hospitality, meeting old friends and making many new ones.
Four friends, Theresa Seabright, Ann Henderson, Margaret and Michael Nicholl, travelled over from Bournemouth in England to experience a weekend of fun, never dreaming of what else was in store for us! Theresa and Ann stayed in the Riverside Hotel, while Michael and I stayed at Treacey's. The weather during Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning was very pleasant, allowing people to explore the town and visit the surrounding area during breaks in the proceedings. However it was on Sunday that our adventure really began.
On Sunday afternoon it began to rain, but that did not matter to us dancers! We were all enjoying ourselves too much to be bothered by a few drops of rain! When the dancing had finished we all walked back over the bridge to the other side of town to Treacey's Hotel where we were to have dinner that evening. As we walked we noticed that the river, which runs right through the centre of the town, had risen quite considerably and was now almost level with the pavement. After a very delicious meal we met Mary, Chrissy and other friends in the bar where we continued to have a great evening. At some advanced hour Michael and I went to our room while Theresa and Ann left to walk back to the Riverside Hotel. We all had to pack and get ready for an early start back to England the next morning.
It was at this point that Ann and Theresa realized that all was not as it had been. The water had risen so much that it was now covering the road and they had to paddle, ankle deep, back to their hotel. When they got there they tried to pack only to find that the rising water had caused the electricity to fail so they could not see to do it! The emergency lights in the corridors and candles begged from the night staff illuminated the place a little and so they managed to get everything ready for departure. By this time the water had risen so much that the car park under the hotel was completely flooded. Loose barrels were floating about, knocking into things in their path, including any car unfortunate enough to be left there, causing their alarms to sound. There was not a lot of sleep to be had for Theresa and Ann that night!
Meanwhile, Michael and I knew nothing about this, having packed and had a good night's sleep in Treacey's Hotel. We got up at the early time arranged and just as we were leaving the room there was a phone call alerting us to the hazards ahead. We hurried out and there the full horror of the situation met our eyes. The water at the bridge was rising as we watched so Mike rushed to get the car from the car park opposite the hotel. As he approached his heart sank as all he could see were the roofs of cars which were parked close to the river. Luckily he had parked in a higher section and so the water only reached the door sills of his Granada. Thankfully the car started. He picked me and the luggage up from the hotel and approached the bridge which was awash with flood water. Praying that no other vehicle would stop him, he drove forwards and ploughed into the water which rose over the bonnet of the car as though it was the prow of a boat. He kept going with water coming in on all sides. The engine spluttered and stuttered but, amazingly, it did not give in, keeping on until it was through the flood and over the bridge. That was just the beginning!
The next thing was to find a way to the Riverside Hotel without stopping as the engine might never restart if it did stop. It was impossible to go through the town as the whole centre was completely under water so we headed for the high ground above and behind the hotel. We found a side street as near to the hotel as they could and parked at the edge of the flood. I kept the engine going while Mike went to look for Theresa and Ann.
In the meantime Ann and Theresa had spent the whole night in semi-darkness watching the rain pouring and the water rising, listening to the barrels rolling and banging and alarms sounding and wondering how they were going to get out in the morning! When morning came they went downstairs to find that the water was very deep, reaching well up the steps of the hotel. They were worried that Michael would try to drive to the hotel and so they tried to phone him only to find that all the lines were down. However the night porter managed to get through to Treacey's night porter on his mobile and left a message with him. Theresa was still concerned that perhaps the message had not reached Michael and so decided to go and look for him. She went out into the water, finding it way past the tops of her legs. As she waded through, she saw Michael coming towards her from the other direction, soaked and swearing vigorously about the freezing water. They both went into the hotel where we found Ann, stripped for action. She had decided to do the sensible thing and had removed her boots and jeans to keep them and herself dry for the journey! All three then carried the luggage above their heads and waded, waist deep, through the fast flowing water, passing stranded cars and being passed by an otter which had lost its bearings and had been swept out of the river into the flood. Eventually, with great relief, they reached the car where I was warm and dry, still keeping the engine going. At this point we all collapsed with laughter at the situation we were in and with relief that we were now together and safe.
We now had to find our way, first to Wexford to leave Ann as she was going on to visit family in Connemara, and then to Rosslare to catch the morning boat for Fishguard. The rain was still pouring and the wind was blowing strongly. Michael and Theresa were really soaked and so we wanted to get there as quickly as we could. It was impossible to go by the main road as it was blocked by water and so we looked at the map to find an alternative route. As we travelled we had to keep doubling back on ourselves and make several detours as roads were flooded and impassable. At last we reached Wexford in time for Ann's bus. In spite of being told that she was unlikely to get there, she reached her destination days before the rest of us!
Theresa, Michael and I continued our journey to Rosslare, glad to have made it in time and looking forward to being able to change into dry clothes. However, when we reached the port we discovered that no boats were sailing that day due to the storms! We were to phone that night to see when the next sailing would be. We had to find somewhere to stay so we booked into Danby Lodge where we were met with great hospitality and kindness even though we were unsure of our travel arrangements. Theresa and Michael were very glad to get rid of their wet clothes and shoes, to have a shower and to feel warm again. As it turned out, the boat did not sail again until Wednesday morning and so we enjoyed two extra days in Ireland, seeing a part of the country none of us had known before. We included a trip back to Enniscorthy where we saw the full horror of what had happened to the town during the flood and realized that we had indeed been very lucky to get out as we did!
We got home eventually on Wednesday evening having had an amazing weekend - certainly one we will never forget! Mike even made us all T-shirts to commemorate the occasion.
We are returning for more this year, albeit in a different car - the poor Granada was never the same again. Look out for us. We will be the ones with the T-shirts!
Margaret Nicholl, Bournemouth
In the year 2000 I had a short taste of the Merriman Summer School in Lisdoonvarna, which I enjoyed very much. So I dreamed of attending a whole set dancing summer school in 2001.
When I looked on the Internet at Set Dancing News the Miceál Ó Duinn Summer School in Co Laois caught my attention. However, I wanted to make sure it was the right one for me - eleven days at the wrong place can be very long - and searched my Set Dancing News issues to see if there was a report or comment on it. I found nothing, so that's the reason for writing this report.
I followed my first instinct and decided to go to Castletown and stay in the Pastoral Centre. A friend called it an adventure holiday. I had a fantastic time and the eleven days were everything else but long. I was astonished at what a body can manage with the push of the music - all the dancing and late nights.
The Pastoral Centre was the ideal 'headquarters' because everyone could meet and have a cup of tea no matter where they were staying.
I also enjoyed the successful mixture of dancing and sightseeing and it was interesting to experience the different styles of teaching of the range of dance tutors.
Everything during the summer school looked so easy going, but if you looked closer you could see this was the result of the hard work of the organisers. The weather also did its best to make the week so successful. I couldn't believe I'd get all this outdoor dancing in Ireland.
Now I know where Co Laois is, how it's pronounced and where to go next time.
On my arrival Micheál Lalor welcomed me to the smallest festival in Ireland. And indeed it was small. I have no comparison, but if someone doesn't like a big crowd and likes to be off the beaten track in a familiar and personal atmosphere, I can recommend this summer school warmly.
My special thanks to the organisers from the Half-Door Club, to the participants from all over the world who were responsible for the good atmosphere, and of course for Bill Lynch's work without which I would not have discovered this summer school.
Elfi Ackermann, Mössingen, Germany
We just returned from the O'Carolan Harp and Traditional Music Summer School held in Keadue, County Roscommon, between 30 July and 6 August. The daily workshops were led by Pádraig and Roisín McEneany. Last year's O'Carolan summer school was such great fun that we decided to return this year. We were pleasantly surprised to see so many familiar faces from last year.
The McEneanys create a friendly atmosphere that carries over from the daytime classes to the evening sessions in the pub. Dancers are encouraged to change partners and switch sets. In this way, we got to dance with everyone at the summer school. This year, Pádraig and Roisín managed to teach nine full sets in six three-hour sessions - Roscahill, Ballycommon, Glencorrib, Kildownet, South Galway, West Kerry, Derrada, Aran, Valentia Right and Left. Besides teaching the basic figures, they emphasize the styling and footwork which differentiate one set from another. Clearly, Pádraig draws from his training as a professional educator. With their grace and skill as dancers, Pádraig and Roisín make a dynamic team. So, besides learning the dances, we also learned effective teaching techniques that will help us teach set dances this fall. With luck, we'll be able to return next year with some of our pals from the States.
In addition to the wonderful set dancing, we had occasion to hear an excellent music session in one of the pubs. The Thursday night ceili drew set dancers from the locality as well as from the dance and music classes. The Michael Sexton Ceili Band was in top form and a great time was had by all. We danced familiar sets as well as sets that we had learned earlier in the week. If you are searching for an ideal set dancing class that blends warmth and humor with technique and many lovely dance figures, look no further than Keadue with Pádraig and Roisín.
Cathy and Jim Mieczkowski, Windsor, Connecticut
In Australia set dancing is relatively new and not as strong as, for instance, Scottish Country Dance which has hundreds of classes and clubs spread right across the continent. But the popularity of the sets is growing and those involved are enthusiastic and ready to welcome visitors with characteristic Australian hospitality. If any reader of Set Dancing News is considering a visit to Australia, dancing opportunities are one way to construct an itinerary. So here are some suggestions, with the proviso that Australia is a big country and I can only recommend what I know. I have danced sets with the Irish Club in Perth and with the Winnetts in Sydney, and I know there are two groups in Newcastle. But I live in Melbourne so I know Victoria best.
Marie Brouder has been teaching at Melbourne Comhaltas in Collingwood on a Wednesday night for more than ten years to a group that is largely Irish-born or Irish-connected. Melbourne Claddagh Dancers currently runs classes on the first and third Friday evening and last Sunday afternoon each month in the Melbourne suburb of Ivanhoe. Another group meets for set dancing in the old Court House in Geelong (Victoria's largest provincial city) every Monday night. There is also a group in Port Fairy, currently in recess, but hoping to start up again soon.
All of these groups get together each year for a céilí mór in Port Fairy organised by Fay McAlinden, who started the Geelong group and now teaches the Port Fairy class. On the last weekend in August, we gather at a local hotel for dinner and some informal dancing on the Friday evening, followed by two days of set dancing workshops and great craic at the Saturday evening party (which traditionally now includes an hilarious table quiz on Irish themes). We live-in over the weekend at a municipal facility used by schools and other community groups and walk across the park to the local cricket club pavilion for dance workshops on a good timber floor. Port Fairy is a delightful small town on the coast, well worth a visit for its own sake, but you should also consider taking a day to drive from Melbourne along the Great Ocean Road, which is one of Victoria's most popular tourist attractions.
If you are visiting Australia it is also a good idea to take in some of the local culture. Australian colonial or bush dancing is good fun, and it is intriguing to see how the Lancers or the Varsovienne have adapted in such different circumstances. Australia is also proud of its multi-cultural population, so there are opportunities to take part in many dance traditions through the more general dance events - the Holbrook Dance Festival, the Traditional Social Dance Association of Victoria's dance weekend at Portarlington, or the National Folk Festival in Canberra.
The Holbrook festival is on the last weekend in September, in a small NSW country town on the highway between Melbourne and Sydney. It starts with a welcome dance on the Friday night, followed by dance workshops on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday morning, and with dances in the evening. In 2001 the Saturday dance was a costume ball on the theme of 'Back to Germanton' (the former name of the town), and on the Sunday a Scottish-Irish ceili. There is always a set dance workshop somewhere on the programme, as this is Bill Winnett's home town, but there are also workshops in other dance traditions.
The programme is similar at Portarlington, another small coastal town about two hours' drive from Melbourne. Held on the second weekend in November, this weekend has an emphasis on Australian colonial dances, but there is usually an Irish workshop (ceili dances or sets or a little of both) and always other traditions represented as well.
Finally there is the National Folk Festival (familiarly known as 'the National') held at Exhibition Park in Canberra over the Easter weekend. It is hard to describe this event without purple prose. It runs from Thursday evening to Monday evening, with fifteen venues running parallel, starting with poets' breakfast at 8.30 am and finishing with the last concert or ceili about midnight, after which the enthusiasts retire to the sessions in the bar or the 'owls' camping area. (There is also a 'fowls' camping area, for those who prefer to sleep at night!) Your day or weekend ticket gives you unlimited entrance to all venues. They are all within the one site so you can move about at will among them. There is a carnival-like atmosphere, with crowds of people constantly moving about among the venues and the streets of stalls - you can buy almost any kind of ethnic food, clothing or musical instruments you can imagine. There are buskers or sessions at every corner, and a children's programme that keeps the youngsters out of their parents' hair for most of the day. Performance venues range in size from the huge Budawang pavilion, with about 3,000 seats, down to the wine bars and Acoustic Café where the blackboard concerts are run. There is always a strong Irish component of the concerts - among the headliners this year were the Liz Doherty Trio and the Fagans and Dicky Deegan. But the mix is eclectic - from Colcannon (local Irish-Australian band) to Gorani (from Bulgaria and Georgia) to Inka Marka (from the Andes) to Taikoz (Japanese drummers). For dancing, there are two large participation venues with a choice between two workshops from 9 am to mid-afternoon, and also alternatives among the several dances with live music from 3 pm till midnight. There is also continuous dance performance on the outdoor Piazza stage from 9 am to 6.30 pm; there you might find yourself watching belly dancing or American clogging or Morris dancers or just about any other folk dance tradition. This year the Irish component of the dancing was stronger than usual. Sydney Irish Ceili Dancers and Baganta Irish Dancers both performed on the Piazza stage, and there were also two set dancing workshops (one with Margaret and Bill Winnett, one with Baganta). In addition the Melbourne Welcome 2001 Ball was presented as a farewell dance on the Monday afternoon with the Plain Set and the Cashel Set on the programme along with English, Scottish and Australian dances. If you are really serious there is also a series of workshops (various instruments, and a dance workshop with different styles each day) held on the Monday to Thursday before Easter. So, do let us know if you are planning to visit - the phone numbers of several Australian groups are in Set Dancing News.
Events in Australia are included in the section on Europe, oddly enough.
For the fifth year Clarecastle, Co Clare, played host to a weekend of traditional music, song and dance under the auspices of the local Comhaltas branch. The festival began on Thursday night 19th July with traditional singing with the Ennis Singers' Club. The ceili on Friday night was a tremendous success with the popular Turloughmore Ceili Band.
The Abbey Hall was the venue on Saturday for set dancing and Clare battering workshops with the expert tutors Michael Mahony and Ciarán O'Dea. At 10 pm Donie Nolan and his ceili band started the ceili with the most popular Clare reel set, the Caledonian. By 12.30 am most of the revellers were beginning to feel tired so our hosts treated the large crowd with complimentary tea and cakes. This topped up the energy for the second part of the ceili which continued until approximately 2 am.
Aifreann de Domhnaigh at 10 am proved to be a challenge for some of the late partiers. The grand finale was at Kerins Cross at 5 pm with the Four Courts Ceili Band. The platform was one of the best constructed and smoothest surfaced I have ever had the pleasure of dancing on. Congratulations to all the organisers for a wonderfully organised and most entertaining weekend. I look forward to next year.
The sleepy little village of Feakle in East Clare held their fourteenth International Music Festival from 9th to 13th August. The official opening was on Thursday night with a special remembrance celebration of the life of the late P Joe Hayes, followed by the launch of the festival by Martin Hayes in the Community Centre. Music and traditional singing workshops were once again very popular, running from Thursday to Saturday. The fiddle recital with East Clare based musicians on Friday afternoon was a real treat. Later in the marquee a musical match of Clare versus Cork in concert was an experience not to be missed. On the Clare side were Sean Tyrrell, Mary McNamara, Pádraig MacMathuna, Conor Keane, and Clare set dancers. Cork lined out with Connie Connell, Noel O'Grady, the Four Star Trio, Jimmy Crowley, Eileen de Paor and Cork set dancers.
Clare's son of sons, Michael Sexton and his ceili band, played for set dancers in Bohan's Pub every night. The space here would accommodate six sets comfortably but most nights there were up to ten sets dancing - good training for keeping your sets square and being tidy, or an excuse for close waltzing when My Own Sligo Home was being beautifully sung by Dave Culligan.
Mick Mulkerrin gave one of his brilliant workshops on Saturday. Most of the students had never danced sets before, indeed some had never danced at all before, but Mick with his easy, relaxed and informative style had them all tapping in time by the end of the day, ably assisted by Mairéad Casey.
Step dancing and Mick Mulkerrin are synonymous. On Saturday night he performed in the concert in the marquee, a night to be remembered with Martin Hayes, Denis Cahill, Seamus Begley, Andrew McNamara, the Lahawns, Helen Hayes, the Tulla Ceili Band and Sliabh Notes.
On Saturday night the Four Courts Ceili Band played for the ceili in the Community Centre and on Sunday night the festival was officially closed with a ceili by the Tulla Ceili Band and Martin Hayes. Day and night the village was held awake to the sound of music, dance and singing.
Lisdoonvarna is the home of matchmaking and spa wells, well at least that is all I thought it was famous for, but this August I found a haven of culture, information and education and met some of the most intellectual people our little island boasts of. The Merriman Summer School was no stranger to most of the people there as this beautiful and friendly County Clare town was hosting the 34th meeting.
The Merriman Summer School is named after Brian Merriman (c1747-1805), author of the poem Cúirt an Mheáin Oidhche (The Midnight Court). The theme this year was Research and Discovery: Of Knowledge and the People in the New Century. Professor Jim Malone, Dean of Health Sciences at Trinity College and director of the summer school, in his opening remarks reminded us that "Research and discovery are the paths to knowledge, whether through scientific enquiry, the type of enquiry we have become accustomed to in tribunals, or through looking to the imaginative or spiritual. All have something to offer and we have chosen the perspective of how these impact on people's sensitivities and lives."
The programme had a medical bias, which included discussion of the success and failures in treating blood diseases by Professor Shaun McCann, St James Hospital, and Mr Jerry O'Dwyer, for Secretary General of the Department of Health. Many other well known speakers included Willie Reville, academic and science writer, William Binchy, academic lawyer and campaigner, John O'Donohue, poet and author of Anam Cara, Brendan McWilliams, writer and weatherman, and Maureen Gaffney, broadcaster and writer. The week had an extensive programme of lectures, Irish and history classes. I particularly enjoyed the Renew Your Irish class with Eoghan Ó hAnluain.
No cultural festival would be complete without dancing workshops. Tipperary's best Johnny Morrissey tutored on set dancing and two-hand dancing. Johnny, your wit, easy relaxed style, encouragement and attention to detail are a delight to the beginner or advanced dancing student. The late Connie Ryan's enthusiastic dancing partner Betty McCoy ably assisted Johnny.
The Merriman Club offered a miscellany of sets, song, sean nós and step dancing with a little bit of drinking into the late hours of the morning. Merriman and Lisdoonvarna, you have won my heart. This is a festival I would recommend to everyone from 20 to 100.
Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann was hosted for the thirteenth time in the literary capital of Ireland, Listowel. Ireland's newest heritage town with its large paved square embraces the whole idea of a festival of this magnitude. With music and dancing every where there was a space, anyone who visited this north Kerry town was surely catered for.
This year the fleadh coincided with the fiftieth anniversary of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann. Comhaltas supporters everywhere will be more than happy with the profile this year's fleadh has maintained.
Tradition is the key word for this festival, with set dancing, step dancing, instruments, ceili bands and singing - all talents were catered for in the competitions. You could dance up or down hill in the Dome, tread lightly in the fior ceili at the Boys School, or dance on the smooth floor of the Plaza. These three locations were within easy stepping distance from each other and with the Indian summer we enjoyed that weekend one could easily move from one to another or even dance at all three during the course of the night.
Listowel, you can be proud of your organising committee as their dedication and hard work was evident to be seen.
Labasheeda, a peaceful village on the Clare side of the River Shannon, paid tribute to some of its best-known sons with a festival from 31st August to 2nd September. In its sixth year, the festival took on a new dimension this year. In the past five years it has been a celebration of Dan Furey, his fiddle playing and dancing. On Christmas Day 2000 his lifetime friend James Keane passed away. James and Dan were regularly mentioned in the same breath, as they both taught with zeal the traditional dances of Labasheeda. The most popular sets in their youth were the Plain Set, the (Labasheeda) Reel Set and the Paris Set, as well as two-hand and individual step dances.
Michael Tubridy, who spoke of Dan and James and the part they played in keeping the culture of Labasheeda alive, officially opened the festival on Friday night. The evening continued with a ceili and music supplied by the wonderful Mayo band Heather Breeze.
Saturday morning at 10 am sharp Mary Clancy began her set dancing workshops. The first set was the Labasheeda. As she coaxed her participants through every move Mary made great progress with the beginners. This set took all morning, and in the afternoon we had the Newport Set and then the West Kerry. Thank you, Mary, for your brilliant tuition. You are especially gifted in your method of teaching with easy to remember prompts on figures and steps.
On Saturday night we had the Abbey Ceili Band who raised the roof in the packed hall at St Kieran's Centre.
After ten o'clock mass on Sunday morning a large group of visitors and locals visited Dan's and James' graves in the little cemetery on the side of a hill overlooking the beautiful Shannon. Father Kelly recited special prayers and the congregation then moved on to Dan's house up the road and down a boreen with grass growing up the middle. Driving in this procession one could easily see why tradition was so important to Dan. I was one of the privileged to stand inside his little cottage with a welcoming turf fire burning heartily in the grate. Some visitors, locals and James' brother Michael Keane danced two figures of the Caledonian Set to the fine music of the Kilmurray Players. Another brother Henry Keane danced a hornpipe before the enthusiastic group moved on to the Battery, down the road and across two fields.
Retired school teacher and local historian Frank O'Dea introduced us to the history of the Battery and told us stories of Napoleon and Josephine. But this construction was never used for the purpose for which it was built. It did however serve a far more important task. Dan Furey's and James Keane's family and friends danced here on Sunday nights for many years. Dan, Frank told us, played the fiddle and instructed dancing at the same time and if one made a mistake he was known to poke the offender with his bow and then continue on and pick up the tune in the appropriate bar of music. Many the Paris or Labasheeda set was danced here, or out on top, weather permitting, as the dancers enjoyed the Shannon air and the whiff of seaweed.
Ann Marie Moran, niece of James Keane, sang The Old House - very appropriate indeed. Visitors and locals made up two sets and danced a full Caledonian Set. This was followed by an old time waltz and Melissa Cleary brought the session to a close with a sean nós dance. Melissa is from Sydney but has been living in Ireland for some time and has taken to our culture with great enthusiasm.
The Glenside Ceili Band played for the afternoon ceili - once more the hall in St Kieran's Centre was packed from wall to wall with dancers. Michael Sexton brought the festival to a close with brilliant Clare reels and a few waltzes for the less energetic. The community effort was clear to be seen all weekend - brilliantly organised entertainment and refreshments of the highest standard readily available in St Kieran's Centre, or for the heartier appetite wonderful lunches and dinners at very reasonable cost in the school, all served with strict attention to hygiene. A genuine smile adorned the faces of all I met.
Thank you to these wonderful friendly people in the beautiful hills of Clare, the heartbeat of Irish culture.
Joan Pollard Carew
Pat Murphy, Ireland's busiest set dancing teacher and author of two popular books of sets, has left Dublin and is now based in Westport, Co Mayo, where he has a teaching position at St Colmcille's National School. His schedule of set dancing workshops will continue as advertised in Set Dancing News. Pat welcomes contact from friends and dancers - click his name above for the new phone number.
Matt Cunningham's latest CD is a departure from the set dancing music that he's best known for. Every Story Told is an impressive album of sixteen songs sung by Matt and four instrumental pieces. The album includes Irish traditional and country songs, dance tunes and original compositions. The many varied musicians accompanying Matt include his three children Eric, Joe and Ita, as well as Charlie Lennon, Charlie Atkins and Steve Cooney. Matt's talents as a multi-instrumentalist are well known to set dancers, and Every Story Told shows another side of his music. The recording is available from Matt and from Ainm Records.
The Sean Norman Ceili Band from Edenderry, Co Offaly, have issued their third album, Mighty Set Night, which is especially notable because it's their first one arranged for set dancing. The four sets included on the recording are the Inis Oírr Set from the smallest Aran Island, the Williamstown Set from Galway, the Killyon Set from Offaly and the Durrow Threshing Set from Laois. These are all recently revived sets worthy of being danced more widely. Sean Norman himself is one of the most enthusiastic musicians ever to play for ceilis and this comes across even in a recording. Contact Sean to get a copy.
The Public House Ceili Band from Madison, Wisconsin, have issued the first American recording of music arranged for sets. The album Go Figure has four popular sets, the Plain, Caledonian, Connemara and Sliabh Luachra. The Public House Ceili Band is a group of four musicians, Dan Cobb, Dave Delgado, Bob Newton and Alan Ng, who play banjo, whistle, mandolin and fiddle. After playing in sessions for years they took their act on the road in 1996 to play at festivals, concerts and dances in the upper Midwest region of the States. Their success and the new album is an indicator of the healthy state of set dancing in Wisconsin. The CD is available from the band.
Omagh Traditional Dancers and some local musicians received an invitation to Le Hay Les Roses, the twin town of Omagh for St Patrick's Day 2001.
We responded with great enthusiasm and anticipation and we were not to be disappointed. Preparation for the trip was co-ordinated by Mickey McAleer, our local teacher, and the team worked hard to compile a set dancing programme for the trip.
On arrival in France we were met by members of the council. We were transported to our hotel and later that evening treated to our first experience of true French cuisine.
The following day, we were introduced to our group of French dancers with whom we worked closely in the dancing workshops. Word had obviously spread and the turn out for the workshop the following day was phenomenal. The centre where the St Patrick's Day celebrations were held was a sight to behold and a credit to those involved in the preparation. Shamrocks adorned the stairways and a green voile canopy draped the entire bar. The walls behind the musicians were decorated with scenes from Northern Ireland and a hand painted picture of Omagh's churches took pride of place.
Results of our hard work and the efforts made by our French counterparts were evident in the wonderful stage performance of everything they had learned from us.
On Saturday, we had a tour of the wonderful city of Paris which was really the "icing on the cake". The friendliness shown to us was incredible and we take this opportunity to thank the people of Le Hay Les Roses for their hospitality and for making our stay so memorable. We would also like to thank the members of Omagh District Council who arranged the trip.
My dear friend Katie passed away on 4th July last, after a short illness borne with characteristic good humour, courage and dignity.
Katie loved traditional music and set dancing and could also sing a song or two when requested. Her love of dancing was evident from her enthusiasm and vigour on the dance floor.
She lived in Castleknock and mostly danced in Dublin - Drumcondra, Ballyboden, Bohernabreena, as well as Dunderry, Delvin, Moate and Castletown. She always enjoyed the craic where ever she went.
It was she who introduced me to the ceili scene and we both made many wonderful friends through set dancing. Those friends are shocked to hear of her death and indeed her presence at a ceili is sadly missed.
Ar dheis De go raibh a h-anam Dilis.
Brid Gallagher, Castleknock, Dublin
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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