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).
One of these years you must come to East Durham, New York, for Irish Arts Week. I went on my own last year but this year eight of us from the South Florida Claddagh Set Dancers went and we had a wonderful time with Patrick O'Dea, our great teacher for the week. We also had much fun re-enacting "Dancing at the Crossroads" circa 2001, a spoof on the black and white photo taken in Galway circa 1930 right.
The Set Dancing News gets better and better with every issue and it gets passed around our group for the enjoyment of all. I hope you get more subscriptions to fill, ordered by my friends. Keep up the good work.
Carol Hieronymus, Pompano Beach, Florida
Dear Mr Lynch
This summer I was fortunate enough to travel from San Diego, California, to Elkins, West Virginia, for a week-long workshop with Mick Mulkerrin and Mairéad Casey. This was my first real introduction into the world of set dancing, and a fantastic introduction it was. I met many people who have been doing the sets for years and most, if not all, of them knew about your newsletter. Since July I have hit the website many times. Last week a new found friend from the workshop sent me a photocopy of an issue. For some reading material there can be no replacement for the feel of the article in the hand. Your wonderful newsletter is one of these. I look forward to receiving my first issue of Set Dancing News, and I thank you for the wonderful job you have done creating the newspaper and the web site.
(A convert! Step and ceili to set!)
PS There is very very little set dancing here in San Diego. I hope to change that. The joy of this dance is too good to keep to myself. Slán.
To London Set Dancers,
I would like to thank the people that I have danced with for the past twelve or thirteen years throughout the London area.
A big thanks to Geoff Holland and Kevin McMahon from whom I first learned the sets and enjoyed so much dancing fun in Camden and Áras na nGael.
Recently, I had been teaching a group of set dancers in the Halfway House, West Ealing, and in St George's, Sudbury, both classes which have been running for ten years or a little more, and it is to these people that I must express the biggest thanks of all.
To the "Top Table" in the Halfway, for your generosity, thank you all. To the Acton and Ealing Whistlers club for putting up with me for so many years and for the kind present, thank you all.
To my Monday night people in Sudbury, for the many years of dancing and the happy memories I have of all of you, thanks! I love the gift from all you Sudbury dancers. A special thank you to the Monday night organiser, Mary Flannery.
It is impossible for me to mention everyone's name but to all the people who make set dancing so enjoyable in London, thank you!
Helen O'Neill, Glandore, Co Cork
On behalf of the Lyre Heritage Committee, Lyre Heritage Centre, Kilmacthomas, Co Waterford, I would appreciate it if you would, through your Set Dancing News, express our sincere thanks and gratitude to John Vaughan who organised a ceili in the Barn in June to help raise funds for a man who suffers from MS and is badly in need of a wheelchair. The man is a regular visitor to Kilfenora and is well known to most people there. To all those who supported us on the night, we will be forever grateful.
Enclosed is the wedding photo left of Bridget Coady and John Conway on 21st April in the County Arms Hotel, Birr. The couple met while attending my set dancing class in Kilcormac. They are shown here with some of their friends from the set dancing class. We had a wonderful night's dancing to the music of Davy Joe and Carousel with plenty of sets on the floor. The bride and groom attended the workshop in the West County in Ennis the following weekend while on their honeymoon.
Reading an article in the last issue of Set Dancing News you stated, "They're mad in the Midlands." I have to agree. There is one gentleman who rambles from one set to another during a ceili, class and especially during the Clare Lancers. He has promised to behave for the next term of classes.
Nora Carroll, Kilcormac, Co Offaly
Simon Knight, a box player from Wells, Somerset, England, died in hospital on 27 September 2001 after an illness. A superb musician who deserved wider recognition, Simon had a vast repertoire of tunes, all played with the same flawless ease no matter which style. He formed a band called Show the Lady which played for Irish and English dances and recorded two albums arranged for set dancing. He was equally happy to play on his own and could carry any number of sets of enthusiastic dancers. He was a regular visitor to Ireland for at least three decades and was passionate about Irish music and dance. He was also one of the organisers of monthly ceilis and twice-yearly workshop weekends in the village of Priddy, which introduced sets to many in the west of England. Farewell, Simon, thanks for the lovely music.
The first weekend of December saw the last Irish workshop weekend of 2001. I travelled up to Westport, Co Mayo, a town I'd never danced in before, expecting a quiet weekend to finish the year. I was surprised and delighted to participate in three busy, lively days of music, song and dance, well-supported both by locals and visitors.
In the centre of town on Friday night I headed for the famous traditional hotspot, Matt Molloy's Pub, where dancers were gathering in the Yard Bar, a former yard that has been converted to a small hall by the erection of a glass roof. It was particularly hot tonight with four or five sets in full flight as I arrived and a blazing coal fire increasing the already elevated atmosphere. The room became progressively tighter as more participants arrived, including a large contingent from the north. Seamus Heneghan was supplying the music on box with Eamonn Connolly on keyboards and soon Mick Mulkerrin joined them with his own box. Mick was here to teach the workshops with Mairéad Casey, and he loves to play music as much as he loves to dance. They played together for several sets, alternating with breaks for songs, musical solos, sean nós dancing, food and a raffle. Everyone was handed a ticket on arrival and when the raffle began, Eamonn Gannon, one of the weekend's organisers, joked that the first prize was a night with Mick. "Second prize," joked Mick, "is two nights with Pat Murphy." Pat was here enjoying the fun too, close to home as he now lives in Westport. The session went on far too late to get a full night's sleep in time for Saturday's workshop, but it was a great evening and I'd rather dance than sleep anyway.
The workshops and ceilis took place in the Westport Woods Hotel and the hall had a fine view of some of Westport's woods. It was a cosy hall and floor with an additional floor laid on carpet. A big crowd showed up for the workshop so the extra space was appreciated. Mick and Mairéad warmed us up with a few figures of the Plain Set. Pat Murphy came along to join in the dancing and Mick was still in joking mood - he sympathised with teachers who are under great pressure when school inspectors come on their school visits, glancing at Pat all the while. There was good natured fun and banter between them all day. Mick and Mairéad taught some of their patented steps, plus the Williamstown, Skibbereen and Limerick Orange and Green sets. I noticed in the Orange and Green demonstration set that Pat and his partner were dressed appropriately in orange and green shirts.
Mick shifted the music from one wall to another during the workshop to make room for more dancers. When I arrived at the ceili, Heather Breeze was setting up along a third wall, so the first tops shifted location all day. The floors, both permanent and temporary, were in full use for a night of perfect enjoyment. There was a moment of concern when I heard a crash and gasps - Pat Friel, the band's box player was down on the floor! His chair had slipped off the tiny stage and he'd crashed down with his box. He was helped up and continued playing without problem after finding a more secure location for the chair. Midway through the night I spotted a couple of strange looking characters, two jolly looking ladies in floral dresses and big wigs who danced a set or two. They seemed a bit out of place here, but had escaped for a break from a murder mystery weekend taking place simultaneously in the hotel. The dancing continued till late.
The Kildownet Half Set was revived by Eamonn Gannon and he demonstrated it with Mick and Mairead at the Sunday morning workshop. The set was originally danced in the townland of Kildownet on the southernmost part of Achill Island, which is where Eamonn comes from. It hadn't been danced for many years when he collected it in the mid-eighties. He took the set to competitions in Ballycastle, Co Antrim, in 1989 and won the All-Ireland that year and the next four years, and also won with it at the Fleadh Nua for five years from 1991. Mick Mulkerrin, Pat Murphy and other teachers are now spreading the set around the world. After the workshop Matt Cunningham provided more superb music for an afternoon ceili. We finished on a high and could have continued dancing all night. Luckily there was more to come.
For those that didn't have to head home, the final session in Molloy's Yard was well worth staying for. People drifted over immediately after the ceili and soon Pat Friel and Liam Grealis of Heather Breeze were blowing out more of their beautiful music, accompanied by Chris O'Malley. The dancing was easygoing and there were plenty of interludes for solo performances. Mick Lavalle, a local character who's appeared on TV, performed some hilarious songs and stories. I was impressed by Eamon Connolly who sang two songs in sweet, gentle, moving manner. There was a special treat when the National President of the Irish Countrywoman's Association gave us a song. Breda Raggett from Kilkenny happened to be in Mayo that day for an ICA meeting, came to the session with friends and enjoyed herself as much as any of us. There were a few solo dances and a clap dance where two dancers clapped each other's hands and danced a few steps. A few dancers played solo music, including Pat Murphy who preferred to play for a set - we danced the Derradda to his music. The musicians were only booked to play till 9pm, but when I left at midnight the session was still going strong.
The Westport weekends have been running annually since the late eighties, and it's easy to see why they've lasted so long. With ceilis and workshops sandwiched between two great sessions there's plenty of variety and something for everyone. The event was strongly supported by large numbers of visiting dancers who came long distances as well as by locals who were only too pleased to join in the fun with us. Long may it continue.
Many special features surrounded the Sean-Óg set dancing weekend in the Longford Arms Hotel from November 23rd to 25th 2001. It happened on the last weekend of the liturgical year and at Mass we celebrated the feast of Christ the King. Wouldn't our heavenly King be proud of us sharing and caring and expressing the talents bestowed upon us? Our kings of dance like Connie, Willie and James who have gone before us would keep time with us all the way. It's perhaps our last chance to meet some friends before Christmas so it's imperative to be there to express good wishes for the festive season and new year.
The dancing was once again superb. Pat Murphy taught the Ballycroy and Williamstown sets. What a surprise we got when he announced that the Roscommon Lancers was on the list. It was perfect timing for teaching this set because I think dancers are ready for the challenge. How often have we admired it and wished we could learn it. This was the perfect opportunity to have a go. I must confess I thoroughly enjoyed it.
It was my first time to attend a workshop conducted by John Fennell. The enthusiasm and the talent for set dancing just ooze from this young man. His philosophy of "if you feel like dancing take the floor and have a go," and his spirit of inclusiveness made everyone very comfortable. He had cleverly enlisted the help of a couple of young male dancers from Clare who had obviously learned their steps from John. They were prepared to give people extra help where required with an abundance of patience and encouragement. When I attend céilithe I sometimes observe that we are missing the younger generation who will pass on the steps and sets. Not so in Longford. There were many young girls and boys in attendance and it is reassuring to know that the future of set dancing is safe in their hands (or should I say feet).
The Emerald Ceili Band played super music on Friday night. I sincerely hope that their drummer has made a full recovery by now. [Michael McGurk injured his back in a fall a month earlier and couldn't attend the weekend.] To help bridge the gap created by the tragic death of Gerald Durnin RIP, Gabrielle Cassidy, on behalf of the committee, presented a plaque to his sister Janette in his memory. In spite of all her losses this young girl is playing excellent music and smiling once again.
The music on Saturday and Sunday was played by the Abbey Ceili Band - another magnificent performance. Taking a wild guess, I'd estimate that there were at least seventy sets on the floor on Saturday night, not the appropriate time to introduce new sets. They were cleverly postponed until Sunday afternoon when the crowd was a fraction smaller. We were very glad of a break for instruction between the figures in the Ballycroy and Williamstown sets.
The floor in the Longford Arms is without doubt one of the best in the country. Jugs of water and air conditioning were supplied from beginning to end. It's location is suitable to people from the four corners of Ireland and also attracts many visitors.
Longford and Roscommon Hospices benefit financially from the profits of this weekend. What a lovely gesture from us who are healthy to people who are less lucky and may themselves have been dancers at some stage, before being stricken by this killer. The raffles are part of the fund raising. Congratulations to John Sheehan from Carlow who won first prize on Friday night - a specially commissioned bowl carved by local artist Bill Quirk and inscribed with the Sean-Óg logo. John's luck was certainly in that night when his ticket was drawn for another prize.
The caring attitude of every committee member is amazing. I witnessed Bernadette Wall, who once again was my hostess, at 3.30am making calls to ensure the last few late arrivals were accommodated. No effort is spared to make everyone welcome and perfectly comfortable.
The highlight of the weekend? As we commenced our journey home Séan put it in a nutshell - "just being there." We earnestly look forward to Longford 2002 with perhaps a ceili on Sunday night for good measure. Míle buíochas to all concerned.
Maureen Culleton, Ballyfin, Co Laois
A castle in Germany, high on a hill overlooking a picturesque old village was the spectacular setting for a weekend of set dancing in December 2001. The village of Blankenheim lies low in a valley surrounded by high hills near the Belgian border, thirty miles southwest of the city of Bonn. The huge castle with walls ten feet thick towers over the place and has been a fully restored and extended youth hostel for many years. It's the venue for two traditional Irish music and dance weekends a year, and this one being the tenth. Irish visitors to one held over New Year's Eve 2000 were full of praise so I was happy to check it out myself!
On Friday afternoon I flew over on a flight from Dublin along with Pat Murphy, Celine and Michael Tubridy, Katriona Geraghty, and musicians Kathleen and John Nesbitt, Maeve O'Loughlin and Liam Purcell. Our destination was Charleroi (or "Brussels South" as the airline industry refers to it) in Belgium, where a bus was to meet us and take us 120 miles to Blankenheim, a three hour journey. It was only when we landed in Belgium that we realised we weren't quite where we were supposed to be - it was the start of a mystery tour. The plane had arrived in Ostend, the North Sea coast port, because of fog in Charleroi, so we had a further two hour bus journey to get to the right airport. We had the unique experience of a complete motorway tour of Belgium by night, from one side of the country to the other.
We arrived at the castle after 11pm and many of the participants had already retired for the night when our night was only beginning. The hardiest ones were dancing the Paris Set as we arrived, and after helping ourselves to a bit of refreshment, the musicians played for couple of sets. Nearly everyone had a long journey to get here, and there was a full day of dancing on Saturday, so we soon retired to our rooms.
It was a clear, bright and frosty morning when I got to breakfast - the dance hall was set with three long rows of tables. We could help ourselves to cereal, cheese, cold meat and a delicious assortment of bread. When breakfast was over everyone helped move the tables and chairs aside so dancing could begin. Pat Murphy started with the Williamstown Set, and also taught the Inis Oírr, North Kerry Plain and Derradda sets, plus a two-hand hornpipe he called the Canadian Barn Dance. Celine Tubridy taught a separate workshop for traditional step dancers, and the musicians also held classes.
The lunch break began when everyone moved the tables back into place, and we all dined on hearty German fare. There was time afterward for a descent down a steep winding path to the village in the valley below. Blankenheim has narrow streets and ancient half-timbered houses in a fine state of preservation. The place was deserted like a ghost town in what would be prime shopping time in Ireland and elsewhere - German shops close early on Saturday. When I returned there was more shuffling of tables and chairs for the afternoon workshop, and again for the evening meal and the ceili that night. The regulars were well used to the routine and never even had to be asked to shift the furniture.
We were dancing in the largest room of an enormous castle, but by set dancing standards it was an intimate venue. For the ceili the musicians assembled at the side of the hall and were able to reach all the dancers without the aid of amplification. There were as many as five or six sets on Saturday night. I was surprised to see a set of German children dancing the Plain Set together, and doing a fine job of it too. These industrious children also sold drinks at a bar in the cellar. Pat Murphy called most of the sets and for this he fortunately had the benefit of a microphone. Most of the dancers were German and even if many of them weren't as experienced dancers as those at home, they were at least as happy, welcoming and enthusiastic as the Irish themselves.
The Saturday ceili began about nine and finished after midnight. The musicians continued with a bit of a session but went to bed before long. Some of the keenest regulars, in fact the same ones who were dancing when we arrived the previous night, went over the CD box and put on the Paris Set again. Only one set got up to dance, and one of the dancers called it. I watched keenly, certain there would be an opportunity for more dancing. After the Paris, the caller retired to bed and I was drafted in then to call and dance the Mazurka Set. Next I took the chance of suggesting a polka set, as I was suffering cravings in this department. I suggested the West Kerry and got some blank looks. Surely they'd know the Ballyvourney Jig, I thought, but was met with more blank looks. "Well, then," I chanced my luck, "how about the Borlin Polka?" Bingo! They had an idea of it and with a bit of calling we had a brilliant end to the night, the last eight people in the place still on their feet.
In a couple of hours after Sunday breakfast Pat covered the Ballycroy Set, the Loughgraney Set which he now teaches as a full set, the Pride of Erin Waltz, battering steps and a bit of the Fermanagh Quadrilles. The weekend officially ended with lunch, as many people had long journeys home, but the musicians and those that could stay on participated in a session for an hour or so with a couple of sets danced. Right on time at four o'clock the bus arrived to return the Irish visitors to Charleroi Airport.
After the farewells we departed for a trouble-free journey. We were at the airport with two hours to spare and after a bit of duty-free shopping sat lifeless in our seats waiting. A few Irish schoolgirls on an outing to Belgium were playing with a video camera interviewing people on how they liked their trip to Belgium. Most people pointed out that they were actually visiting Germany, France or Holland. There were a few glances exchanged between the dancers and musicians, and suddenly we had a half set on the floor accompanied by five musicians. The schoolgirls rushed over to capture it on-camera and other travellers gathered round with great interest. We just did two or three figures of the Plain Set and when we stopped there was a spontaneous roaring cheer, the biggest one I've experienced when dancing. We departed soon for Dublin, full of satisfaction after our weekend away.
The Mighty Weekend of Set Dancing in the Grand Hotel, Malahide, is always one of the bright spots on the dancing calendar. It was started by Connie Ryan many years ago and continues now as a tribute to him. As the first set dancing weekend of every year, it sets off a chain reaction of successive weekends which lasts almost till the summer. As well as being the first, Malahide is special for the people it attracts - folks from everywhere come here and create that elusive summer school atmosphere in the middle of the winter.
In 2002 the hotel forced a major change on the weekend by permanently closing one its ballrooms to turn it into a business centre. To accommodate the many dancers, both ballrooms were used simultaneously in previous years, but this year less than half as many would fit. No one knew what to expect and we all thought there would be crushing crowds on the floor. In the end the organisers managed the crowds beautifully so that there was great dancing for all.
The missing ballroom might actually be an advantage. Last year there were six teachers but it was only possible to attend three workshops. This year I enjoyed all five workshops - they were shorter but it was great to have a quick taste of the different teachers. It was the same story with the ceilis. Last year there were five bands but you could only attend three ceilis - this year I danced at four ceilis. And with only one ballroom to search I had an easier time finding friends and partners.
Aidan Vaughan opened the weekend early on Friday night with a battering workshop. He offered an hour and a half of practice starting with the basics, demonstrating and practicing his clever battering steps and progressing on to dancing them in a slowed-down Caledonian set. He started with a sparse ring of dancers and by the end the floor was full of sets. I kept my eyes on the door to see who'd be joining us next. With every new arrival there were hugs and kisses, "Happy New Year," and "How was your Christmas?" Visitors from New York, France, the North, Tipperary and Dublin were plentiful, and there were some from Holland, Luxembourg, Germany and even Japan.
The Friday night ceili at Malahide is one of the rare outings for the Slievenamon Ceili Band - Michael Tubridy, Liam Purcell, Johnny Morrissey, Aidan Vaughan and Ned O'Shea. The easygoing music kept everyone on the move with fun and good spirits. The floor was full for every set - tight but still pleasant. There was much talk on how it would work out on Saturday night.
At ten o'clock on Saturday morning Pat Murphy had ninety minutes to teach the Ballycastle Set, a new set from County Mayo, and this was a challenge. The video cameras were out for this one, but recordings were forbidden because some details of the set haven't been finalised yet. Much practice was needed for the second figure which had a number of moves involving sevens. There were eight bars of it needing an extraordinary amount of work in which the tops and sides dance sevens in a square in opposite directions! Sounds simple, but after all the practice I still hadn't danced it through correctly.
When Mick Mulkerrin and Mairéad Casey came on to teach the Kildownet Half Set there was only an hour, but they managed it with great efficiency. There was probably the same number of people on the floor as in Pat's workshop, but the half-set formation made it seem much more crowded. So when we practiced the second figure Mick instructed half the floor to sit down and we took it in turns to dance. Each group danced each figure twice in comfort, and we still finished right on time for lunch. But the concerns about the Saturday night crowd were growing.
The Saturday afternoon ceili was the new idea for the weekend - we sacrificed an afternoon of workshops for the Glenside Ceili Band and I think that's a fair trade. Their brilliant music is some of the liveliest heard anywhere. The floor was full but comfortable, except for the Lancers and Plain sets when it was packed. We had another chance at the Ballycastle Set called by Pat Murphy and I still didn't get that second figure right. There were a noticeable number of babies present - their parents took turns dancing and babysitting. Aidan Vaughan did a sean nós display, and toward the end of the ceili the band announced that there would be another display of solo steps by Sinead Bray from Co Meath before finishing with the Plain Set. However, once the magic words "Plain Set" were uttered, the solo steps were forgotten and the floor filled in around her before she could begin. But the crowd moved aside, she did her dance and we had our Plain Set.
The Saturday night ceili was scheduled for 9.30pm, so in my usual fashion I arrived early to settle in and line up a partner or two. I'd just found myself a seat when suddenly the Caledonian was called. It was only 9.15 but Michael Sexton's band was ready and with a good crowd in place there was no reason to delay. The floor was comfortable for the first set, but surprisingly it stayed comfortable most of the night! Numbers were strictly limited - the "house full" signs were out early and a friend told me the next day she was turned away at ten o'clock, as were up to fifty others. There was a session in the hotel bar which was full all night. And in the ceili we did a nice variety of sets that aren't danced too often including the South Galway, Connemara Jig, Waltz Cotillion and the Ballycastle again (no improvement in my performance though). The floor was very tight as usual for the Lancers and Plain. Michael Sexton and band were in the best of form playing truly inspirational dance music.
Sunday began quietly with Céline Tubridy's traditional step dancing workshop. She taught the Priest and his Boots, a jig which is probably the most popular of this type of dance. I nearly managed to do all five parts or steps of it, though it takes more thought and concentration than I'm used to in my dancing. She began with a little line of people and by the end of the session there was a ring around the entire floor. Séamus Ó Méalóid followed with a workshop on the Sneem Set, a polka set from Kerry. It's an easy set but the more complicated slide figure took a bit of practice and there was some quick work to get it all done by the break.
The most crowded ceili was the final one on Sunday afternoon, though everyone was having too much of a good time to worry about it. It started on time and was full from the first set. Every empty bit of the floor would attract another set, even if it was only a sliver that would hardly fit a person. They were dancing on the carpet for some of the sets. Matt Cunningham performed to perfection - the music was top class all weekend. There were a couple of pleasant waltzes, one sung by Matt, and the second played as a beautiful flute solo by his son Eric. Matt also had a request from a ninety year old friend to play Boolavogue on whistle just before the final Caledonian Set.
It worked. Despite the loss of more than half the usual floor space the weekend was just as good as it ever was, and it's been superb in years past. Congratulations to Betty McCoy and the other organisers, and long may the mighty weekend continue!
For a couple of years, I have enjoyed set dancing on a regular basis. In Germany, however, we don't have that many opportunities to attend workshops and ceilis. At Christmas this year the situation was particularly bad: there was no set dancing for two or three weeks.
So I decided to help myself and organized a ceili in my own house, like the old tradition in Ireland. As a member of our local dance club in Erlangen and having my own little set dance group, I called up some friends to get one set together for New Year's Day. They all gave me their "Yes" to come to my house, so we had one set and two extras.
Some preparations had to be done before. With the help of my family, we pushed the furniture aside, removed the loose woven carpets, revealing a lovely wooden floor. We also moved the Christmas tree into the entrance hall. Finally, I had a picturesque 'Ceili' signpost as a help for my friends to find their way.
All was arranged by 5 pm and after wishing everybody a Happy New Year, I started calling the Williamstown Set. Everything went fine and we had a tea and sandwich break after that. We continued dancing the High Cauled Cap. In the end, we finished with the Corofin Plain Set.
We were all exhausted but very happy. My windows were steamed up from sweating. We said goodbye by 10 pm, everybody driving home on icy roads. Since Christmas, we had nearly half a meter of snow which stayed on the ground, and temperatures down to minus 20 degrees celsius. So, whatever the weather conditions, we will continue with this Irish tradition in my home.
Andrea Forstner, Erlangen, Germany
There's an abundance of festive parties, dinners and ceilis around the Christmas holidays. Your editor began with a ceili in the middle of December and intended to dance as much as possible till the holidays were over.
Friday 14 December, Tullamore, Co Offaly
The last ceili in Tullamore - the set dancing club here has lost the use of the GAA Centre next year so tonight was the final ceili there after more than ten years. I met up with a friend beforehand and was put to work making two trays of sandwiches. I recalled a poem published in these pages a couple of years about skimpy ceili sandwiches, so I was generous with the fillings.
The hall looked awfully quiet when it started before 10pm, but there was soon a nice crowd of twelve sets. I was provided with a Santa hat and with the greatest of courage wore it for most of the Cashel set, until it became rather too damp for comfort. My partner had a glittering green hat herself and it was a struggle for her to keep it on with all the swinging and doubling. I found I couldn't dislodge it with a swing, but I could occasionally make it disappear in a good long double!
Music was played by the Fodhla Ceili Band who had Christmas pictures in their illuminated signs on stage. After the break all five musicians reappeared in Santa hats. The crowd loved the music which was relaxed but perfectly paced. Dancing beside the remains of the tea, I spotted just three of my sandwiches, whereas there were plenty others uneaten.
The mad dancers were out in force tonight. The Lancers has never seen so many variations as they do in these parts, with dancers swapping sets freely, going in opposite directions to normal, and numerous other surprises.
Later the final ceili was commemorated with a poem by Noel Cooney who praised the musicians and music at the weekly classes, and then added to everyone's amusement that "sometimes it was dire." That wasn't the case tonight as it was a brilliant ceili. Best of luck to the club in finding another venue!
Saturday 15 December, Dunderry, Co Meath
I learned in Tullamore that tonight's ceili in Dunderry was preceded by a dinner, so I phoned up and booked a place for myself. I travelled via Trim and had even more trouble finding the still unmarked Dunderry road than when I came here in April. (For future reference - take the Athboy road from Trim town centre and turn right opposite the Malt House Pub. A mile or so out keep right at a Y-junction and continue a couple of miles to the village.)
On arrival I found myself promoted to the top table with such honourables as the parish priest and the Leinster Comhaltas chairperson. After a fine meal the microphone came out for a few brief speeches and presentations and everyone seemed so relaxed and confident speaking to the crowd of more than 100. One award was made to Nollaig Ní Laoire who won an All-Ireland award in the 15 to 18 age group for sean nós singing at the Listowel Fleadh.
After a few words from the other guests at the top table I heard Carmel O'Callaghan, Comhaltas chairperson of County Meath board and Dunderry branch, asking whether I'd like to say a few words. Despite my polite refusal and genuine reluctance, I found myself standing there with the dreaded microphone in my hand in front of a crowd that now looked like more than 1000. The words come hard enough here in front of a computer screen, so all I could do was offer my congratulations and finish by saying, "I hope the dancing begins soon." When I sat down I immediately began to think of all the lovely things I could have said, that after my first ceili here I was impressed with the enthusiasm and electric atmosphere, with an especially strong presence of excellent young dancers, and so on.
And all of that was true tonight. The tables and chairs were quickly cleared and Carousel took to the stage and the dancers to the floor. It was a relaxed night of mixed dancing, with sets, waltzes, quicksteps and ceili dances. Frank Keenan is the teacher who started the dancing here fourteen years ago and tonight he quietly called the sets. After the tea break there were some songs, including one by Nollaig the All-Ireland champion whose powerful voice brought silence to the rest of the hall. We saw a brush dance and sean nós steps by some of the youngsters, including one entertaining lad of an age barely into double figures.
Sunday 16 December, Moate, Co Westmeath, and Thurles, Co Tipperary
They were dancing the Connemara as I arrived in Dun na Sí, a pleasant little purpose built cottage-style dance hall in Moate. Actually this is one place where some dancers have a strong tendency to go a bit mad and with the Glenside Ceili Band in charge there was no stopping them. One of the liveliest ladies was wearing Christmas earrings with little flashing lights - one lad commented that she had her hazard warning lights on.
I was lucky enough to share in the madness for several sets. There are hardly any idle moments, as the sides danced when it was tops' turn and vice versa. Everyone advanced and retired in the wheelbarrows in the Plain and Corofin, and the little Christmas was for as many as would fit. Everyone shouted together four times when we danced the body in the Corofin polka - they shouted "Yea!" then "No!" and "Yea!" and "No!" I wondered what the mysterious significance of this was. When I tried shouting the opposite way, "No, yea, no, yea," suddenly I noticed they all changed to doing it that way.
The Lancers Set as danced in Westmeath is worthy of an article on its own. I engaged a partner and we were invited into the mad set for the final rake of reels. We agreed to dance the Lancers and my lady became worried that she didn't know how to dance it in this set. If in doubt about what to do, just dance - it doesn't matter where you go and what you do. In the first figure all eight danced the square together, which involved a lot of scrambling around the set for those who'd normally be standing. Then while the leading couple passed back and forth as usual, the other three couples did the same, or just turned around each other and into the line-up. The "train" is the big feature of the second figure - while the leading gent turns his lady, the other six link hands and pass under the arch back to place. The third figure was relatively normal, after which the band broke into a rake of Christmas carols and we all grabbed the person in front and snaked around the room singing together.
Afterward I set off for Thurles where there was another dinner dance. I arrived after the meal had finished in time for the ceili. The dancers quickly cleared the tables and the Ard Erin Ceili Band readied themselves on stage. I spotted a saxophone among the instruments.
Michael Loughnane, drumming and calling tonight, announced a waltz for the first dance as he thought they might not be ready for a set immediately after a big dinner. I hadn't eaten so was ready for anything. I hope everyone digested their dinner during that waltz because there was no chance to do it in the first set - the Ballyvourney Jig. The dancing was lively all night, but after my mad afternoon I was grateful for a quieter night. Two hand dances are popular here - we did the Military Two-Step, the Gay Gordons and a waltz for three couples which Michael picked up on a trip to Denmark. The couples dance a series of quick arches alternately making the arch and passing under. Then the partners dance apart and together twice, waltz around and repeat it all. The saxophone accompanied us beautifully.
For the final rake of reels there was a choice of High Cauled Cap or Plain Set - only one set danced the Cadhp and I was with the rest. When the reels stopped, the sax came out again for a jolly version of Rudolph. Everyone linked up and snaked around the room singing along. After the end, the club secretary commended Michael for being the only person who could play and call sets at the same time.
Monday 17 December, Crowenstown, Co Westmeath
They dance every fortnight in the Crowenstown Inn, which is just outside Delvin on the Athboy road. The comfortable, spacious lounge has a nice floor and plenty of seating. There were just a handful inside when I arrived and we chatted about their weekend dancing. Carousel is the house band and when they called the Connemara there were only enough for one set. More soon arrived. I was intrigued to see a nun in full habit at the back of the lounge and wondered if she was in costume or a genuine sister. When the sister came up to dance the Newport I thought it more than likely a costume, and I learned we were all expected in fancy dress tonight.
Once there were three sets on the floor the dancing rose to the usual level of madness I've come to expect here and I was as guilty as the locals. I was at the back of the hall in the Plain Set and was able to gallop across the carpet and nearly out the door into the car park - four times, of course. Three sets comfortably filled the floor but I heard that up to six have been crammed onto the floor at times. There were three sets out for the High Cauled Cap too, all dancing to perfection. There were plenty of waltzes and I was pleased to hear each of the three members of the band sing for us. The landlady was also full of Christmas spirit and dispensed tea and cake in a Santa outfit.
Tuesday 18 December, Strokestown, Co Roscommon
I arrived in time to help shift tables and chairs in the school hall of Scoil Mhuire, the secondary school in Strokestown, and to see the band arrive and get ready. This was the class Christmas party for Gabrielle Cassidy's classes - she teaches four nights weekly in the area. I watched the dancers arrive, counting sets and calculating the ratio of men to women. When the dancing began, there were four sets and just four men. However, it didn't take long for the room to fill with eight or nine sets and a healthy number of gents.
Early on in the first set, Gabrielle announced that we were to beware of the exceptionally slippery conditions - she wasn't referring to the wintry roads outside but to the slick dance floor inside. People were convinced that she'd put something down on the floor, but I myself had witnessed no such activity. Dancing required care and concentration to remain upright at all times, and I found that doubling and swinging were my preferred activities (no surprise there) as partners could balance and hold each other in a vertical position. Other dancers had the opposite strategy for dealing with the floor and planted firm roots to keep themselves upright. The sets would sometimes relocate themselves, seeking out places where dancing was slightly easier. Nevertheless, it was a night of great fun and Swallows Tail enjoyed themselves playing for us.
Wednesday 19 December, Boherbue, Co Cork
If in doubt about where to dance on any Wednesday night, consider the Rambling House - it's always worth the journey for some of the best dancing in Sliabh Luachra. Tonight's music was by the Breens - John and his sister Martina on box and piano who come from Kenmare, Co Kerry. Polkas, jigs or reels, every bit of the music exhilarated me. I always thought there was an easy pace of life here, but that's probably because people are saving their energy for a fast night in the Rambling House!
A set of beginners was dancing at the back of the house, and when I was in their set they seemed to look to me, the stranger from Clare, for guidance. I was outnumbered in the Plain Set by seven to one and when the gallop fell apart I asked a couple from a neighbouring set to swap with a couple from my set - we completed the final figure to perfection.
There was a lovely mix of sets, the Sliabh Luachra, Connemara, Cashel, Jenny Ling, Ballyvourney Jig, Ballyvourney Reel and Plain, all danced without calling, though Anne Keane announced the figures of the Ballyvourney Reel. There were a few extras in the tea break - Anne brought mince pies, Michael Fleming passed out whiskey and beer to any interested takers, and one of the dancers, Davy Breen, brought a roast leg of venison from a deer he caught in the Kerry mountains. At the end of the dance Davy brought in a big black bin bag and ho-ho-hoed like Santa - what presents were in there? When he dumped the contents on the floor the whole room scrambled to grab something. They were the most beautiful cuttings of holly with enormous bunches of huge, fresh red berries, looking good enough to eat.
As the musicians packed up, Michael Fleming, the house's proprietor, took John Breen's box and played a few final figures of the Sliabh Luachra. There was a short singing session of Irish and country and western songs, ending in We Wish You a Merry Christmas.
Thursday 20 December, Ballyvourney, Co Cork
They were dancing the last figure of the Mazurka Set when I arrived in the Abbey Hotel for the weekly ceili. There's a fine big floor here and always a dozen sets of dancers. It's probably the biggest weekly ceili found anywhere.
It's easy to see why, with all the great dances and music. There was a delicious selection of sets with a generous serving of local ones, including the Ballyvourney Jig, Borlin and Sliabh Luachra, as well as the more universal ones. The music came from the Mort Kelleher Ceili Band, with Mort himself, his wife Noreen and three of their five offspring. It was quick and bright and full of fun, sometimes with four boxes playing together, sometimes with a box and three fiddles, and for one figure we heard Kenneth playing the box on his own. A substitute pianist accompanied the band for a couple of sets - Micheál Creedon, formerly of the Abbey Ceili Band.
A ceili band of the future gave a special performance in the break. Noreen Kelleher is a well-known music teacher in the area and tonight she brought along some of her pupils. There were eleven kids on box and a lone girl on fiddle, all dressed for Christmas. We were invited to dance three figures of the Sliabh Luachra, a waltz and Shoe the Donkey, and then they finished with Christmas carols. The parents were watching and videoing with pride from the sidelines.
Larry Creed, the man in charge of the ceilis, made a few announcements toward the end of the night, advertising the many upcoming ceilis in the area and advising dancers of the new Euro admission charge. The ceilis are currently £4 and Larry said the new price will be €5, a decrease of six cents. He'll try to maintain the price as long as he can and hoped that bands would cooperate with price cuts of their own. Kenneth Kelleher magnanimously offered to give back six cents of the band's fee.
Friday 21 December, Lisdoonvarna, Co Clare
Back home after a week on the road, I only had to travel a few miles to continue my dancing in the Royal Spa Hotel. The weekly ceilis have finished here, though a class continues on Tuesday nights and there's now a monthly ceili with the Four Courts Ceili Band. A useful list of sets was posted around the hall and I was pleased to see the Ballyvourney Jig Set included. Some of the regulars thought we'd be dancing the Ballyvaughan Jig Set.
Saturday 22 December, Kilbeacanty, Co Galway
A fire blazed at the back of McCarthy's lounge with the early dancers huddled around to relieve chilled bones. I ordered drinks at the bar and when I tried to pay I learned they were free! The full Four Courts Ceili Band played tonight with six musicians, sounding better than ever. There were a few dancers I'd seen earlier on these travels and I had a couple of fun-filled sets with them. Plates of sandwiches were passed out to all the tables toward the end of the night so when we left we were content from head to foot.
Sunday 23 December, Kilfenora, Co Clare
I'd missed the Christmas party here last Thursday, but the festive atmosphere continued in the Barn tonight with soft illumination from strings of lights and candles, and cheery dancers all around.
Christmas Day, Boherbue, Co Cork
Last week I spotted a notice in the Rambling House for a Christmas day ceili - this year only Christmas Eve has been a dance-free day for me! It was the frostiest night yet, but the roads were dry and empty. There was a blazing fire in the hall but it was still quite cool. Even after a few dances there was a chill in the air and all my heavy breathing produced white vapour. But the four sets of dancers never stood still the whole night, except for the break, dancing seven sets and a waltz. A group of young dancers from Scartaglen were there and they danced an energetic Sliabh Luachra of their own at the end. I joined seven of them in a set and had a whale of a time. The hornpipe was unique - I think they danced the body twice each time, always moving around the set rather than dancing in and out, then doubled around the house and circled up to change partners and repeat.
Wednesday 26 December, Tralee, Co Kerry
Despite having half an hour to engage a partner, I was caught unprepared for the first set, the Caledonian, and watched from the sidelines. I was here last year and recall the same thing happening - and I was ready to give up set dancing as a result. This time I quickly found partners for the next two dances and kept going the rest of the evening.
The dancing was swift and active thanks to the music of Tim Joe and Anne Riordan, a duo who can fill any hall. Tim Joe was in the best of form, even helping Mary Philpott call the sets when she was distracted or he saw dancers going astray. He added some unique excitement to the Cashel Hop by going silent at just the right moment. We made our own music to fill the gap - clap-clap-clap stamp-stamp-stamp - and the whole room was clapping and stamping with a peak of enthusiasm! During the Lancers Tim Joe played a one note reel that stretched for several bars - we were going at such a pace it seemed to last for many minutes. The performance verged on jazz. The room was shouting and cheering all evening. I marvelled at how the cheers were all coming from separate sets of dancers, yet they were all on cue in perfect unison.
In the break the floor was cleared for some solo steps, by several dancers including Santa Claus himself. Looking in good shape after his Christmas, he danced a joyful frenzy of steps.
Thursday 27 December, Nenagh, Co Tipperary
There was electricity in the air long before the dancing began at the Abbey Court Hotel. The crowd was ready and sets spread across the whole floor from the first dance. There must have been around twenty sets, all dancing like experts and having the time of their lives. The ceili had a healthy number of young dancers, and the mix of ages definitely enhanced the atmosphere.
Michael Loughnane was the fear an tí tonight, unobtrusively calling the sets and encouraging us up to do a few unusual dances. He regularly calls the Williamstown Set and tonight also did the Aherlow Set, a local set, plus a few two-hand dances. I enjoyed another go at that new three couple waltz from Denmark I'd seen in Thurles.
Matt Cunningham gave an exemplary performance tonight and every set seemed better than the last one. There were plenty of waltzes too, including a beautiful medley of Christmas carols sung by Larry the drummer. This was immediately followed by a jive, which is usually my cue to leave the floor. Tonight though my partner prevented that so I struggled with a quickstep. The band played a rake of reels at the end of the night to give a choice of Plain Set or High Cauled Cap, then broke into more Christmas carols as everyone gleefully held hands and sung along.
Friday 28 December, Mullaghmore, Co Sligo
Even in darkness Mullaghmore seemed like a unique place - from the road it was a cluster of street lights all by itself surrounded by the inky darkness of the sea. The lights of the Donegal coast were easily visible in the clear night. There were boats parked on the road beside cars and the Pier Head Hotel, as expected, was beside the pier. Dancing commenced with the Connemara and finished with the Caledonian, with plenty more in between, all played by the Glenside Ceili Band, who never fail to generate a good night. There was plenty of mad dancing and willing partners and I never missed a dance.
A troupe of around ten mummers showed up in the middle of the evening, all in sexually confusing disguises. Three were musicians who played a waltz while the rest grabbed non-costumed dancers and took to the floor. Afterward the mummers made a quick round of the hall for charity contributions and slipped away. The Glenside played a couple of waltzes too, which they followed with some great jive music. Tonight I kept going with an imitation of a quick step and had a great time.
The most notable event of the night was Tom Scully's birthday. Tom is the band's long-haired (and getting longer every time I see him) banjo player, and his colleague, Tom Flood, the box player, made the announcement to universal acclaim - numerous ladies rushed up to shower him with kisses. John Barry, the ceili's organiser, presented him with a special banjo birthday cake. He celebrated the night before at another ceili, but Tom told me that today was his birthday, and quietly added that it wasn't every day that a man turns fifty. Congratulations, Tom! Ceilis do indeed keep us young.
Saturday 29 December, Omagh, Co Tyrone
A day of sunshine and snow - brilliant blue skies alternated with half-hour blizzards so that by the time I arrived at the ceili the roads were white, slick and dangerous. I expected a cancellation but the Dun Uladh Heritage Centre, a new hall just outside Omagh along the Carrickmore road, was open for business as usual and the Emerald Ceili Band was ready to go. Some dancers had stayed away and others arrived late, but the ceili began with three sets and later there were seven on the floor. The Emerald sounded fabulous - they gave great life to the dancing and played with the same gusto as if the hall were filled with twenty sets. The night finished with a great non-stop Plain Set by the band, which was marred by an accident during the wheelbarrow figure when a Christmas broke open and a lady landed on the floor. Luckily there was no injury and she recovered from the shock to finish out the jig figure and the final reel. The band helped by stopping before the final figure. Keep a good grip in the Christmas!
Sunday 30 December, Rathallen, Co Roscommon
The epicentre of the snowfall seemed to be the car park of the Four Provinces pub, because the roads seemed to get progressively worse the nearer I got to the place. Today only the fearless dancers were out, some coming good distances for a dose of ceili and determined to have a good time. We were fortunate to have the music of Sean Norman and band, here for the first time, and all were full of praise for the music. The dancing started with three sets and later there were six on the floor, so there was more room than usual here.
I danced a few sets with some of the mad midlands crowd here this afternoon, including their trademark free-form Lancers. Good partners abounded and there was no shortage of silky smooth doubles. Sean's peppy music kept us happy and warm on a cold day, and everyone was especially delighted to hear him lilting. In fact there was a special request for more lilting after the last set, so Sean gladly gave us an encore.
Monday 31 December, Aubane, Co Cork
New Year's Eve was frosty but all roads were clear of ice except the very smallest. Aubane Hall is located beside a country crossroads outside Millstreet, and the tiny roads leading here up and down hills were well covered with snow. They dance here every Monday night and this year it happened to fall on the last night of the year. This was my third visit, and I've never managed to get here on time - they always begin at 9.30, starting tonight with the Sliabh Luachra Set. I've never seen more than three sets in the hall, but the regulars always tell stories of the nights I missed with six sets. Tonight the roads kept people away, but just as on my previous visits I had a brilliant time with only three sets.
The music was by Andy O'Connell, the fiddler with the Abbey Ceili Band, and three of his friends, Mickey Hourihan, Aoife O'Donovan and Mairéad Higgins, on box, fiddle and piano. It was a superb combination of instruments and players with a stunningly beautiful sound - I was on cloud nine while dancing to them. I certainly hope there will be more ceilis with this group in the new year.
After the third set there was a tea break in a separate room. We reconvened in the hall for the second half, and stopped dancing after the Caledonian to welcome in the new year. Glasses of hot mulled wine and other drinks were passed out to all, and there was time for a couple of songs. An official count was kept by a fellow with a watch, but when he started counting up, the rest of the room began counting down. Cheers, hugs, kisses and Auld Lang Syne followed. The first set of the new year was the Ballyvourney Jig, and we ended the night with the Connemara.
Tuesday 1 January, Ennis, Co Clare
Despite dancing every day but one for the past two and half weeks, it was as though I hadn't danced for a month when I did the first set tonight in Cois na hAbhna. There's something thrilling about dancing the Plain Set to Michael Sexton's music at the start of an evening. Cois na hAbhna is different that way - they seem to dance the most popular sets first and finish the night with the more unusual sets. For example, tonight's dancing ended with the Labasheeda and Newport sets. In between there were plenty of good sets and a great choice of partners. It almost seemed as though the Tipperary dancers who travelled up for the night outnumbered the Clare crowd! The spacious hall and fine floor make for the most comfortable dancing. Even though the snow had melted today, it was a cold night and the band played in their coats. But I never felt the chill till the music stopped - I wished I could have continued all night.
The new CD and cassette tape from Heather Breeze Ceili Band is their first recording, with music for six sets and two waltzes. It's an interesting collection of sets, with three from Mayo, the Newport, Derradda and the newly revived Ballycastle, plus the Connemara, Cashel and Williamstown.
Heather Breeze are based in Westport and they play regularly in and around County Mayo. They've been heard more and more in other parts of Ireland, and were playing at ceilis in the US last year. This year they're heading to England in March, Spain in April and back to the States in October.
The recording captures the beautiful traditional sound of the band and will make for good dancing in halls and homes everywhere. It's available on CD from the band for €20, £15 and , and on cassette for €10, £8 and . Contact Heather Breeze to order.
It was getting so fast at ceili that I knew something was going to give. I was polishing my shoes not sure if I had the brown brush or the black brush when a lively polka came on the radio.
"Keep that down or you'll have the neighbours over looking for a dance. Are you off smashing floorboards again tonight?"
"Maybe. Will you come?" I asked.
"No! I'm cutting and painting the toenails tonight!" said Plipp.
"Make sure you cut them outside!"
"And you be careful you don't get too close to someone in this weather!"
Later that night I drove behind a tractor on a narrow hilly road. The farmer turned his head and stuck out his tongue at me. A few of the drivers behind me were going berserk because they would probably miss the first set. Then a guy two cars back stuck his head out and shouted "Will ya for frig sake!" I had no doubt it was Griff. I decided not to overtake to rise him further. Then all of a sudden foot down I began overtaking. Griff had already almost done so. Oh no! My car was very slow on the pick up. I could see him coming like lightning. (He watches too much of the Roadrunner cartoon.) My heart went crossways as he scraped past me smashing my side mirror. I could hear the farmer shouting, "Photo finish! Photo finish!" A car overtaking a car overtaking a tractor. He brought down a few clumps from the wall too. As we went over the hill I relaxed. Phew! Just as well there was nothing coming in the opposite direction. I looked in the mirror and could see the farmer laughing.
Griff, like all good 'far away ceili punters', eventually disappeared over the distant horizon. Funnily enough I caught up on him again. He had been stopped by the cops with the hairdryer (euro around these parts for the speedgun)! I slowed down when passing to hear what kind of a going over he was getting. The cop took the words right out of my mouth when he came out with, "Well what the hell? What the hell is going on here then?" I got the feeling that it was going to be a great ceili.
When we got dancing I was hoping he wouldn't start bragging about his 'near death experiences', having had one on his journey.
"We all do crazy things on the narrow hilly roads of Ireland!" he exclaimed.
"And at ceili too? Saw you doing a bit of arm twisting with the girl who used to dance in San Francisco?"
"Are you after her too? She's better than the doctors bottle, and she'd take the auld condition off ye but just think of all the conditions some of them would give ye, and that fellow in the band should be put down he can't play music!"
"I hope you don't meet him on the narrow hilly roads of Ireland!" I said.
"Yes! You're right, he'd better pull in. Seriously though, think of all the fun you'd have with her."
"I might have had enough fun getting here for one night!" I said.
"Come on come on! Race you over to her?"
"Photo finish! Photo finish!"
Copyright © 2002 by O F Hughes
I am writing following the publication of my article in the last issue of Set Dancing News - what a great means of communication! My telephone has been red hot from all the calls I received, the postman was laden with cards from all over the UK, Ireland, America and Australia from set dancing friends, many of whom I had not seen for some time, and on the set dancing circuit in the south east of England I have been congratulated at every venue for my achievement.
As a result the final sum raised is £6,130.
I would like to thank all those who very generously gave to the funds for the Handicapped Children's Pilgrimage Trust.
Finally, John, Bernisi and I wish you a very happy, peaceful and prosperous new year and may Set Dancing News continue to go from strength to strength.
Margaret Morrin, Wimbledon, London
It was the peopleDear Bill
I hope you enjoyed your stay in London for the Return to Camden Town festival. There was some mighty music and dancing. Unfortunately I was unable to dance (some might say I couldn't in the first place) due to recent coronary artery surgery. I would be ever so grateful if you could include in your next issue of the Set Dancing News a big thank you to all the people who sent me get well cards. I would also like to thank the people who came to visit me in hospital. Some people I will see to thank but others I won't but I want to thank you all - it means so, so much. I'm on the mend and it won't be long before I'm on the floor enjoying the fun of set dancing again. I started set dancing three years ago and apart from the music and dance (which we all know is great) it was the people who I found were so enthusiastic and good-natured. Long may it continue!
Tom Kelleher, London
Warm and friendlyDear Bill
I was fortunate to have the opportunity of visiting Chicago for two weeks at the end of October and was able to go to a ceili in Milwaukee (dancing to brilliant music by the Public House Ceili Band) and a set dancing class in Chicago whilst I was there.
Both events were great fun, thanks to the warm and friendly reception I received. A special thank you to Susanna Haslett and Alan Beale for their kind hospitality and for making my visit one that I will always remember.
Liz Somers, Birmingham
Each and every oneDear 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 second year, we were once again delighted with the tremendous support we received, and which proved to be a wonderful success. We donated £650 to the Roscommon-Mayo Hospice and £650 to the Longford-Westmeath Hospice.
A big thank you to Pat Murphy for his excellent work throughout the weekend, to John Fennell, the Emerald Ceili Band, the Abbey Ceili Band, all radio stations, 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 on the weekend commencing 22 November 2002.
Go raibh a mile maith agaibh go leir.
Suzanne McTiernan and Gabrielle Cassidy
Fundraising thanksWe would like to say thanks to all our fellow ceili goers who supported us in our Mencap Fundraising Challenge. In August 2001 we undertook a challenge to raise £7,500 Sterling for Mencap, a charity working with children and adults with learning difficulties and their carers. It was extremely hard work but we are delighted to say that we exceeded our target and our final figure was £8,500.
We would like to say a special thank you to the Davey Ceili Band for their generosity. They played free of charge at our fundraising ceili in the Rainbow Ballroom, Glenfarne, Co Leitrim, and donated a £50 voucher for this year's Spanish set dancing holiday to our draw. Thanks to the members of our own ceili club, Shannean Set Dancers, Belcoo, Co Fermanagh, for their support and the food provided. Thanks also to all who bought tickets and attended on the night helping to make the ceili a success. A special word of thanks to the Swallows Tail Ceili Band for their offer of support.
We can now sit back and relax and look forward to our set dancing weekend in February when we will enjoy the sounds of the Daveys and Swallows Tail without feeling the need to divest you of any spare change you might have in your pockets!
Thanks everyone, we really appreciate your support.
Bridie Sweeney, Carol Corrigan and Peggy McGovern
A fantastic €6,000Dear Bill
The Slievenamon Set Dancers wish to sincerely thank all those who supported our Malahide Weekend. As a result we have donated a fantastic €6,000 to cancer research and therapy in St Vincent's Hospital in memory of Connie Ryan.
Our dates for 2003 are January 10th to 12th.
Really lovely peopleHi Bill,
We had a great Shindig [18-20 January 2002 at the Earl of Desmond Hotel, Tralee, Co Kerry] again this year with record crowds at all the ceilithe and workshops. Everything went well with the weekend and the feedback was all positive T. G. We had extra flooring this year and it was a great help. Johnny Reidy went down very well. Indeed all the bands played great dance music. Both Pat Murphy and Michael Loughnane were excellent and made everyone feel at home instantly. As you know, next year will be the tenth anniversary and as a result I will be pulling out all the stops to make it a really memorable weekend.
If you have any free space in the next issue, you might say a very special thanks to all the supporters of this year's Shindig. Especially the people that travelled from such far away places as Germany, France, Switzerland, Romania, Austria, America, the UK and I would say from every county in Ireland. Above all it is these people that make a weekend as good as it is, and every single one of them were really lovely people.
See you soon,
Paddy and Carolyn Hanafin, Shindig organisers
Where in the world would you find a set dancing weekend with live music day and night, yet without any sign of a ceili band? Where would you dance dozens of sets, without a single Lancers Set at all and no one even missing it? The answer is Dingle, Co Kerry, of course, during Timmy McCarthy's weekend in the Hillgrove Hotel, 9-11 November 2001. Everything's different down in Dingle, the sets, the music and the teacher. The regular dancers attending it wouldn't have it any other way.
Activities began on Friday night soon after ten, once there were enough dancers to make up a set - Timmy welcomed us to his eighth weekend and revved up the Paolo Soprani. Timmy's son Tony joined him on flute or bouzouki - they now perform together in concert under the name Sliabh Luachra. We began with the customary West Kerry Set, which they dance in Dingle at least as often as the Clare folk do the Caledonian. In fact that was the second set we danced, and it was done nearly as often as the West Kerry over the weekend.
Timmy and Tony were only warming us up for the main attraction - soon Seamus Begley and Jon Sanders appeared and things really started to motor. They played another West Kerry, and we rushed to the floor in anticipation of Seamus' exceptionally lively music. In fact I'd gone to Dingle with the hope of doing as many West Kerry Sets as possible! I find it hard to get enough of them anywhere else. Timmy announced a few reel sets during the night, the Caledonian, Plain and Connemara, and oddly enough, these were most often requested by the Kerry people. The rest of us get enough of those elsewhere, but they're a rarity for the locals. The night ended with, you guessed it, the West Kerry - it was 2.30 in the morning and four hours seemed to have passed in minutes.
At the workshop next morning Timmy let us know that we'd danced twelve sets yesterday, and he kept a running count going all weekend till the number became so large that everyone lost track. He had been at a festival in Copenhagen the weekend before where they'd managed to dance 45 sets, and was trying to beat the record. Numbers aren't everything, but I find the more sets I dance at a weekend, the better the weekend is. Even if we didn't surpass 45, we had plenty of great sets.
We had five sets done before the lunch break and a similar number in the afternoon, all to Timmy and Tony's live music. Timmy would talk us through each figure and would even jump down and show us a bit of it, and then we'd dance it - no need for a full demonstration. We did the Kenmare, Televara, Sneem, Set of Erin, West Kerry, Hurry the Jug, Sliabh Luachra, Waltz Cotillion - it didn't matter. Timmy would call it and we'd dance it - we were under his complete control.
There were a few musicians among the dancers and they got on stage at the end of the afternoon to finish the workshop. These six were the closest we came all weekend to a ceili band and the sound was tremendous! Two boxes, two mandolins, a bodhran and a mouth organ, and I was ready to buy their CD, if only they had one.
On the way to Saturday's ceili I popped into An Droichead Beag for a look as I heard there was some dancing here on Friday night. I saw dancers from Kenmare expertly dancing their local set while the pub became progressively more crowded. I found it fascinating to watch them not for the set, but because of a lantern on the low ceiling that was a constant hazard for a tall fellow dancing sides. I drifted off to the Hillgrove where it was pretty quiet, but Timmy started on time with another West Kerry. The set count was approaching thirty by now, and suddenly it had become the ninth, rather than eighth, annual weekend. Time does fly when you're having fun.
Johnny O'Leary and Tim Kiely soon took the stage for the first half of the night, and there was great pleasure in their gentler style of music, especially dancing the Sliabh Luachra and Televara sets they play every week in Knocknagree. We had a great Connemara too. The headline musicians were the powerful Pádraig Ó Sé accompanied by Jon Sanders, both from Dingle. If the guards had radar traps on dance floors, most of us would have had a speeding fine that night, thanks to the two lads on stage. We started and finished with the West Kerry and I marvelled at the full floor dancing it expertly without a word of calling. Timmy commented that "Some people dance sets as a service to the nation . . ." and left us to fill in the rest. There was no doubt - we were in this for the pure unashamed hedonistic pleasure of it.
Who'd have thought we'd get five sets for the first dance at 11am on Sunday morning when we'd only left the hall at 3am? We danced the Victoria Set and gladly revised some we did on Saturday for the two hours, including the inevitable West Kerry. The afternoon ceili began with Donncha Lynch and ended with Donal Murphy, and somehow the dancing seemed even better than it had been before. In fact that last West Kerry was by far the best dance of the weekend and sent me home dreaming of polkas and slides.
At the end Timmy McCarthy was given a well deserved ovation. After all the fabulous music, passionate dancing and the nicest people you'd ever meet, it was Timmy himself who made the weekend the pleasure it was. His energy, enthusiasm and love of the culture seem unlimited. He taught, played, called, danced, greeted, gave himself 100% to our enjoyment. Thanks, Timmy, it was fabulous.
Helen Crotty and the committee of the Dungarvan branch of Comhaltas played host to an autumn weekend of workshops and ceilis in the beautiful Clonea Strand Hotel from 12th to the 14th of October.
The weekend got off to a tremendous start with music provided by a group of local musicians for the opening ceili on the Friday night.
On Saturday morning at 10.30 sharp Jim Barry began the workshops with the Fermanagh Quadrilles. This is a wonderful set and sadly very rarely danced at ceilis. We had some fun with the fourth figure, as some people didn't know the difference between looking in and looking out. The fifth figure posed difficulty for some also with the swing at the end - any gents not having the proper handgrip put their partners in danger of a pile-up. However with Jim's expert tuition before long all dancers were well versed in all the procedures.
The West Kerry Set was next up and we all took to this easy going set with lovely polkas, slides and hornpipe - nothing too difficult here even for the beginner.
For the afternoon workshop we danced the Durrow Threshing Set. This took considerable time as Jim emphasised the importance of the batter in this set. Again a very easy going set with jigs and polkas and a hornpipe in the fourth figure with the same movements as in the Cashel Set.
On Saturday night the dancers nearly brought the house down with exuberant music by County Cork's own Mort Kelleher Ceili Band.
Sunday morning Jim Barry was bright eyed and nimble footed again as he workshopped the Caragh Lake Jig Set. This set has beautiful formations in the square and diamond. This set is also rarely danced at ceilis probably because its one of the longer sets with seven figures and the energetic fifth figure with all the squares might be a bit much for some dancers.
The morning workshop concluded with the Bruca Set, a short easy going set with only three figures, again jigs and polka.
The weekend was defiantly devoted to polka sets. No surprise as the dancing master himself comes from polka country - Jim hails from Castleisland in the Kingdom County, but is now domiciled in County Wicklow.
Sunday afternoon brought the weekend to a close with music by Esker Riada for the afternoon ceili.
This was my first time attending this weekend. Thank you Helen and crew for making me feel so welcome and congratulations on a well-organised weekend. This is an event you should all mark in your diaries for next year.
Joan Pollard Carew, Thurles, Co Tipperary
At the glorious age of 56 and never having run since leaving school, I was approached during the spring with an offer to run the New York marathon as a guide for a disabled athlete. Terrified that the athlete would be fitter than me, panic set in and I started training in May - however in hindsight I realise that all those nights of battering to infectious music in halls across the southeast of England had provided me with the best stamina training in the world!
The day before the race I met my assigned athlete, Sam, who was visually impaired but being so close to race time, we did not have the opportunity to train together so we arranged to meet the following morning, determined to put our best feet forward.
The day of the race, I rose at 4.30 am in order to catch the athlete's bus from the city centre to the start line at Staten Island before New York was sealed off to traffic for security purposes. There I met Sam together with 30,000 other athletes, all looking over the Verrazano Bridge towards Manhattan, waiting for the starting gun to go off. Having been warned to expect snow or heavy rain at the beginning of November, I was heartened when the day dawned glorious and bright. In fact the weather was unseasonably mild with the temperature hitting seventy degrees, and so Sam and I set off, determined to finish.
As a guide, I was wearing a fluorescent yellow t-shirt and hat so that I could easily attract the attention of the race marshals if Sam needed assistance. However, the outfit also brought it to the attention of the spectators lining the route and the other runners passing us that Sam was a disabled athlete. It was brilliant that both the spectators and runners took special notice of Sam, continually shouting encouragement, clapping and cheering him on. Numerous members of both my family and my husband John's family live around New York and they all made an effort not only to come and watch the race but to move around the course following our progress and ensuring that all the crowds around them gave us a special cheer as we passed - it was wonderful to have that support.
We completed the first seventeen miles in four hours, according to our race plan, but then disaster struck and Sam 'hit the wall.' In exhaustion he asked for a cheeseburger as we passed McDonald's on First Avenue, but of course there was no way he would be able to continue if I let him have a Big Mac. Having travelled so far to compete and with the thought of sponsor money riding on me completing the course, I was determined that we were going to finish. Out of my pockets I fished packets of glucose tablets and a squashed Mars bar to feed Sam and spectators handed us bananas, orange quarters and cup after cup of Gatorade (the US answer to Lucozade) to give Sam the energy to get past the wall and onto that final five miles around Central Park.
As we approached the finish line in the park, the commentator on the tannoy called out our names and the crowds watching in the stands gave up a tumultuous cheer as we crossed the line and collected our medals, finishing in 7½ hours.
I was delighted to finish and looking across at Sam, I felt proud that I had helped him to achieve a wonderful goal. At the same time I felt very humble having been with him every step of the way and watched the huge effort that he had made to complete the course. He told me that he was going to wear the medal to bed that night and I feel sure that the medal has not strayed too far from his side ever since.
Having the privilege of competing in the New York Marathon also allowed me the opportunity to raise money for a very worthwhile charity - the Handicapped Children's Pilgrimage Trust. Phyllis Brosnan takes a group to Lourdes each Easter as part of the charity's annual pilgrimage. My goal when I set out was to raise £410, which is the fare for a child to go to Lourdes next Easter. However, the generosity of the set dancing circle in London has been overwhelming and to date I have collected £2000. Money is still arriving and I will let you know the final amount raised in the next edition. Thank you to everyone for your generosity and words of support and encouragement - I never thought I was capable of completing a marathon!
Margaret Morrin, Wimbledon, London
One of the features of Set Dancing News that is getting some use is the directory of set dancing classes. I used it to find a class in Sunnyside, Queens, on my way through New York City to Dublin. Some friends and I used it to locate classes in the Dublin area so we could do some dancing every night of our visit. Over the past couple of years, at least three people who were traveling on business have located and visited the Monday and Wednesday classes that Anne McCallum teaches in Detroit and Windsor where I go to keep improving.
Anne recently sent two of us, Linda Wearn and myself, off to the October weekend at the Nevele Grande Hotel in the Catskills very well prepared to dance with the crowd there. We both had a fantastic time dancing into the wee hours each night. I think back to just about a year ago when I was still struggling to remember the figures and relying on my Palmpilot to prompt me. [Dave keeps instructions for sets stored on a pocket computer.] It stays in my pocket more and more now and at the Nevele weekend, I sometimes found myself giving the group huddle the figure sequences instead of straining to hear someone else explain how the next figure goes.
Anne makes sure that we learn some Cork and Kerry area sets so Linda and I were comfortable doing the Sliabh Luachra and the West Kerry, but these don't seem to be as well known there so they were called for us by Tony Ryan. Tony's workshop covered the Derrada Set to help launch the new CD by Heather Breeze that included tunes for the figures. The other set that he covered was the Aran Set which everyone enjoyed learning. Linda extended greetings to the Heather Breeze musicians from a mutual friend who plays for us in Detroit and Windsor so we had a few pictures taken to carry back to him see above. We had great music from Shaskeen, Boston Comhaltas and Pete Kelly as well. The setting for the weekend is very scenic. The trees on the hill sides were a week past the peak color but were pretty none the less.
On Saturday, November 17, our Windsor and Detroit classes hosted our first ceili in Detroit at the Gaelic League hall. It was an enjoyable success with three sets on the floor for all the dances. Of course there were some waltzes and a Siege of Ennis to add some variety. We danced to some local Comhaltas virtuosos from the Crotty-Doran branch who have a superb feel of the pace to play for each figure. We are uniquely blessed that they also come and play for us as we learn and practice in Windsor. The dancing was great - or is the adjective supposed to be "mighty"? Plans are already afoot to host another ceili next spring.
This one was prompted by some friends in Pittsburgh who wanted to come up to Detroit and do a turn-about for what we did last June. That's when ten of us hopped in a couple of mini-vans and drove from Detroit and Windsor, picking up two more in Toledo and proceeding across the state of Ohio to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with the goal of attending a ceili featuring Matt Cunningham and his band. It was a nice opportunity to visit the hometown of one of the dancers, Maureen Laffey, who had been commuting to Windsor weekly on assignment by her company, and for over a year had been joining us on Wednesdays.
After a great summer's evening of dancing to Matt's music, some delicious snacks and free beer, we stayed overnight at one of the motels in the area. Arising refreshed and late the next morning, we enjoyed a wonderful brunch hosted and prepared by Maureen and her husband Jim, before heading back west across Ohio. Our friends Lenette and Larry Taylor of Stow happened to live along the route back and I consulted a web-based map service to discover that altering our route to visit them for tea would only add eight tenths of a mile to the trip. They were amazed to find us wanting to go down into their basement to the dance floor Larry had built and dance several more sets. They assumed that we would be danced out after the ceili.
Dave Braun, Toledo, Ohio
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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