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).
'What's going on in Clonoulty today?'
That's what he said when we asked the way.
'What's going on in Clonoulty today?
You're the umpteenth car that has come this way.'
'What's going on in Clonoulty?' you say,
And you just a few short miles away.
We'll tell you what's going on in Clonoulty
On this sad day in the month of May.
They're coming from Germany, England and France
To say goodbye to the king of dance.
From north, south, east and west
To say farewell to the one who was best.
When we arrived at the church it was packed to the door
And around the grounds were as many more.
Faces we knew and those we did not
But for the same reason we had come to this spot.
At the Mass Finola sang at his request
And from his friends in the gallery came music the best.
At the offering the things he held dear
Brought many a sigh and many a tear.
Another request was that his faithful crew
Would dance a set, one we all knew.
You could imagine his "mighty" grin
When finally the "hearse backed in."
At the graveside the words spoken by Dermot B
Could have been said only by he.
And the blackbird that was singing loudly from a tree above
Went silent for Matt and Róisín Dubh.
We left Clonoulty that sad day
And all went our separate way.
Some thought it was set dancing's death knell
But no, Connie, you taught us well.
We're dancing away and we're keeping the faith,
The things you taught us were great.
"Out on your left and down on your right"
"Tear away" now and dance the whole night.
Doreen Corrigan, Dublin
The temperature was rising at ceili. I had been dancing with too many 'pressure is only for tyres' people. Griff, it seemed, had something cooking in Castletown. I didn't want to get into another 'I have a woman you haven't' contest. He telephoned as usual on the dot twelve midnight.
"Are you going over?" he asked.
"No, the usual excuses for me to the fella on the door."
"The one, you know, who greets me with the 'Oh you were here befoor,' " I said.
"It will be good there this year. Are you sure you won't be down?"
"There does be women looking for fellas down there."
"Do you reckon it's safe to go?" he said.
"I'll miss it I know, but what can I do? They are after me."
"Who?" he asked.
"The Mob," I said.
"The - !" Click.
Dugo (not his real name) had telephoned earlier. He wanted to jump on a plane and I came along for the ride. We were glad his cousin Pronsus was in the control tower. Dugo had great faith in him in cases of emergency. We certainly didn't need one. However he had kicked off insisting on a Big Brown Paper Bag in the duty free shop after being told they had none. "Will I check the tyre treads for wear with my new gadget?" he asked as we started climbing the jetway. He was not good at giving gentle hints. The airport was on alert when he was around. I had a feeling the cabin crew knew. They made the announcement about the smoke alarm in the toilets four times. He liked excitement and had applied for The Job of going on planes which the ground control were worried about something happening aboard. This is how he got his kicks. It was either that or a rapid West Kerry. Nobody was going to stop him going to ceilis in a car, on a bus or a plane. Anyway nothing happened on board and we landed safely at O'Hare airport.
The Jamba Juice tasted different in downtown Chicago. They had a sign up saying that if you could think of a nickname for the shop assistant you'd get a dollar off. Guys back home would do so well here. I rang my set dancing friend and hoped she still had that car with the flashy bumper. We talked awhile and then she came right out and said it, "There's a ceili tonight."
As the cab hoovered off to the Irish American Heritage Center, a recorded announcement was made about putting on safety belts. Dugo wasn't expecting this and reluctantly dragged it around. The only time he talked seat belts was during the Ballyvourney Jig Set.
We were about to sit at the bar when my friend arrived.
"Shooting or no shooting?" she asked.
"I don't smoke, never mind the wisecracks. I'm starving. They didn't feed us much on that plane."
"No second halpings?"
"No, I had to do the usual 'if you don't want all yours' round a few seats," I said.
We couldn't help overhearing the guy on the payphone.
"What are you doing up at that Cajun ceili upstairs on the thirty-seventh floor? We're down here at an Irish ceili. Come on down. I think you might like it. It looks good. Okay, no rush, just hurry."
We got really going during the Newport. The polkas were lively.
"Is set dancing good in Chicago?" I asked.
"Oh yes, so long as we have good sets."
"Good sets. What did you think I said?" she asked.
"Yea, something like that."
"You are getting rather boring. I'm going to have to shoot you," she said.
Afterwards we all sat down and talked.
"We had better travel home our own ways," I said.
"Yes, if you hear any machine gun fire, duck."
"I think so too but I'll walk you to the door in case you get mugged."
"Okay," she said.
"Is that the same car?"
"It doesn't look like I remember it," I said.
"Mind that door. If you let it go you won't get back into the Centre." she said.
Unexpectedly the door shut. We had a few smooth smackers and walked to the car.
"Boy, are the bugs big here."
"You mean that pest you brought over?" she asked. Suddenly the door opened wide.
"Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. I've got a machine gun and you haven't," shouted Dugo. "Hahahahaha!"
We ducked. He was only pretending.
"Oh ye daw ye!" she said.
"And he wants to parachute into Cois na hAbhna on the way home."
"Do you fly over Ennis?" she asked.
"We'd need to be careful that we don't land in the middle of that hurling match."
"Anyway see you all," she said.
Should I say slan go foill or arrivederci?" I asked.
"Don't tell, don't tell nothing to nobody!"
Copyright © 2002 by O F Hughes
While reading the April-May edition of Set Dancing News, the interview with Matt Cunningham was of special interest, especially the paragraph where he makes an appeal for a change in the kind of sets that are danced. I have been suggesting this for a long time myself as I am sick and fed up dancing any one, or indeed all five of the following sets every night, the Caledonian, the Connemara, the Plain, the Cashel and the Clare Lancers.
Why do we have workshops at all if this is going to be the trend? Why not introduce a mixed set with a figure from each of the following four sets, the Killowen, the Armagh, the South Sligo Lancers and the Melleray Lancers, ie the so-called difficult figures. If those four were learned off then the entire set is known. We could also have the odd ceili dance as well as the Pride of Erin waltz. Also let's have the ceilis starting earlier, another point made by Matt Cunningham. Variety is not only the spice of life, it may well be the saviour of set dancing as well.
Is mise lé meas
Diarmuid Dé Roiste, Taghmon, Co Wexford
The wrong productsDear Bill,
I'm one of a number of people who may have to give up sets due to the dusty conditions in the Dublin halls.
It seems the wrong products are being used to coat the floors - polyurethane perhaps - and the effects on lungs, throats and migraine are serious. Can you publicise this more and make the promoters wake up?
Thanks for asking, Fergus. I'm keen to publish an article on floors someday but I'm no expert on the subject. Any interested experts are invited to reply! Also dear readers, tell me about your favourite dust-free floors and I might eventually let others know about them.
By the way, it was mentioned in an article in the December 1998-January 1999 issue that teak oil had been used to solve a dust problem in Priddy Hall in Somerset, England.
The good news from County Longford's Glenside Ceili Band is their brand new CD, Set Dance Music from the Glen. The music on the recording beautifully reproduces the excitement of the band's ceilis, which always have an electric atmosphere and an enthusiastic crowd. There are four sets, the Corofin Plain, Newport, Connemara and Cashel, and two waltzes.
The friendly musicians are Tom Flood, accordion, Tom Skelly, banjo, Liz Adlum, piano, and Aidan Flood, drums. They're a busy band and can be found anywhere from Dublin to Mayo, Cork to Down and beyond. They were part of the successful week in Ibiza and the week of dancing in Miltown Malbay in July.
The CD is available from the band at their ceilis, or from Tom Flood.
Chicago set dancers and Irish musicians mourn the death of fiddler Gwen Sale. On Wednesday, May 8, Gwen was struck by a van while standing by her car, about to get in the driver's side. She passed away in the hospital a couple of hours later as a result of the injuries.
Gwen had played with various musicians for Chicago ceilis. Most recently, she was part of the Chicago Ceili Band, who played for a couple of Chicago ceilis this past April. The band also competed in the North American midwest region fleadh cheoil and won second in the senior ceili band competition. Gwen's lively music, her beauty, humor and her wonderful personality lifted the hearts of all of the set dancers here in Chicago and of everyone who met her. She came out dancing herself a few times.
Gwen was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1970. She was an artist as well as a musician. She met Dennis Cahill at a concert in Scotland in early 1997. They became so close that she moved to Chicago at the end of '97 so they could be together. They eventually married. Gwen immediately became an integral part of the Irish traditional music scene (she had all the tunes!) and enjoyed playing for dancing. She also toured with Lord of the Dance.
Her husband, Dennis, also has played for numerous ceilis in Chicago over the years, accompanying on guitar. Dennis is well known internationally for playing with fiddler Martin Hayes, but he has been part of the Irish music scene since the 1970s.
Gwen is survived by her husband Dennis, her parents Maggie and Michael Sale, and two children from a previous marriage Oliver and Anders. Her parents and children reside in Scotland. Dennis and his friends have taken Gwen's ashes back to Scotland. There was a memorial service for Gwen on June 9, in Chicago.
Susanna Haslett, Chicago
A web site for Gwen, www.gwensale.com, gives more information about her.
The Longford set dancers were hit with a mighty blow in March when we were told that a mighty set dancer Brendan Casey was taken in the prime of his life. Brendan was a wonderful lively dancer and he will be sadly missed by his family and all of his friends.
I only got to know Brendan when I started set dancing, as many friendships do grow from the set dancing circle. He was an experienced dancer and was always kind and patient with new dancers.
He was involved in organising dancers for different occasions. He would help dancers out for Scór and community games. He was involved in Tops of the Towns before I ever met him. He had us dance at weddings, parties, parades and even for the President.
When Brendan's daughter got married he asked us to dance at the wedding. He was just out of hospital and was not able to dance in the set. But he sat at the edge of the dance floor with a big smile on his face as his feet tapped away on the wooden floor. His heart was in the music and dance.
The last dance I had with Brendan was in Mohill the end of 2001. We danced the Plain Set. I knew he was not supposed to be in great form. Well, Brendan battered the floor like mad. He had the sweat pumping out of me. I thought to myself, this isn't the antics of a sick man. I was barely able to keep up with him. And that is the way that he was. When he was fit to dance, he danced and danced and danced.
We will all miss Brendan Casey dearly. He was a great character and loads of fun at a ceili. You wouldn't know what he would do next.
I know he has left a bit of himself with everyone he knew. He will always be with us in spirit. I know that if Brendan was here he would tell us all, "Keep dancing, keep dancing as long as you're fit! And have a bit of fun. Do the wheelbarrow backwards, grab someone in the lineup, turn the lady twenty times if you want! But keep dancing."
We will never forget Brendan Casey.
Bernie Collum, Drumlish, Co Longford
Barney was one of the most genuine friends that anyone could ever have. He was always happy and good humoured. He had time for everyone. The ceilis will never be the same without him. I am finding it so difficult to come to terms with his sudden death. He will always hold a special place in my heart.
May he rest in peace.
It was through the ceilis that I first had the honour to meet Barney Molphy.
To see Barney at a ceili was a great joy to me - for one thing I was always assured of a dance.
One of the things I most admired about Barney was his ability to enter into the spirit of what it was all about - laughter, enjoyment and fun.
Thank you Barney for the gift of yourself. May you dance forever.
Barney was one of nature's very own gentlemen. He was kind, thoughtful and ever ready to reach out to everybody. He had the loveliest gentle way with him and was topped up with fun. He loved his set dancing and looked forward to the weekend when he travelled to all the local ceilis. He was a brilliant waltzer and won lots of competitions. His caring nature followed through into his dancing. He was a joy to be with. His lovely, jovial happiness was felt by all around him. He was so light of foot, he just loved to set dance.
May the Lord have mercy on his kindly soul, until we all meet again in God's house at the Ceili Rince Mór.
The Sonna Ceili Gang, Co Westmeath
Gemma Smith is missing a coat last seen in the Armada Hotel during the Willie Clancy Summer School. It's a khaki green fleece, with four zip pockets at the front, two at waist height and two at chest height. Anyone able to help can contact email@example.com.
This poster announcing a new monthly ceili in the west of England was thought to be interesting enough to show to everyone.
And by the way, here are a couple of Set Dancing News posters seen briefly in Miltown Malbay. One shows ten of the ceili bands which played in Miltown this year, and the other shows numerous dancers who are making absolutely no contact with the floor. Those of you who didn't manage to nick copies for yourself can obtain them legitimately by contacting your friendly Set Dancing News representative.
The Gathering was an apt name for the festival held in the Gleneagle Hotel, Killarney, Co Kerry, from February 21st to 24th, because of the huge numbers of people brought together from around the world into one venue. Seventy travelled from Boston, five sets of dancers came from London, and the Dubliners were out in force as well. They were there from other parts of Ireland, England, Europe and the States. Best of all there was remarkable support for the weekend from local dancers in Kerry and Cork who mixed with the visitors as if they were first cousins. The Gleneagle Hotel was well able to accommodate everyone in a variety of venues, most notably the huge National Event Centre.
The Gathering was very serious about its music, with superb musicians in ceilis, concerts and sessions. The first event was the opening session on Thursday night with Johnny O'Leary, Ellen O'Leary, Michelle O'Sullivan and Tim Kiely held in the ballroom, which was really part concert and part ceili. Johnny and friends played a few tunes, then the dancers were invited out for the Sliabh Luachra Set. Johnny himself is close to eighty years of age, and his ageless playing has something in it which makes us all feel like we were kids again on the dance floor. The group gave us three waltzes, including a song from Tim, and I had a brilliant time flitting around the floor and through the crowd with a friend from Dublin. "You're a good navigator," she said. "You're a good ship," I replied. We continued with the Jenny Ling Set, duplicating the usual Sunday night programme in Dan O'Connell's Pub in nearby Knocknagree, where they've been doing these dances to Johnny's music every week for nearly forty years.
Another group of musicians took over after that, Jimmy Doyle, Tim Gleeson, Paudie Gleeson and Joe O'Sullivan, and gave us a couple of sets from outside the region, the Connemara and Corofin, and finished up with a waltz and the Sliabh Luachra. Afterward crowds gathered in the residents' bar for the session, but sleep overtook me before it started.
Many more visitors arrived on Friday in good time for one of the highlights of the weekend, the concert with Martin Hayes in the National Event Centre. Before it began I studied the venue, the roomy auditorium with seats rising to a great height, the stage that ran the full width of the room and the enormous lounge outside. I noted the timber floor beneath it all and wondered how it would work for Saturday's ceili, which was due to take place here. Brendan Begley opened the concert that night with lively west Kerry music, but duty called and I had to miss Martin Hayes' performance to attend the ceili starting in the ballroom.
Taylor's Cross supplied the music for the ceili. They're a highly regarded band from west Limerick headed by Donie Nolan on box. Every bar of music was beautifully paced and filled the dancers with brilliant energy. The various nations mixing on the floor got on perfectly. Some of the Yanks were experiencing set dancing in Ireland for the first time and were having the time of their life. We danced three Cork and Kerry sets, the Sliabh Luachra, Ballyvourney Jig and West Kerry, five standard ones and a waltz. Afterward, the late session was underway when I went to the bar. A circle of musicians including Brendan Begley played in the centre, surrounded by the chattering crowd. I was back in the ballroom on Saturday morning, along with around twenty sets of people for the workshop with Mick Mulkerrin and Mairéad Casey. We warmed up with a few figures of the Connemara, then spent the day on some sets from well north of Killarney, the Monaghan, Fermanagh and Aran sets. The Monaghan was a popular choice and was repeated by request at the end of the afternoon. Meanwhile a lot of dancers had gone out to enjoy the town, but there were still around ten sets dancing when we finished.
The evening events had swapped venues for Saturday night, with the concert in the ballroom and the ceili in the Event Centre. The ballroom was an intimate place for Seamus Begley's performance. He played even faster music than Brendan did the night before and seemed desperate to get some dancers onto the floor. "This is what we play for the last figure of the West Kerry," he said to urge a few out, but despite the strong encouragement no dancers came forward. I was ready to go myself but wasn't going to be the first one out! The concert continued with Altan after Seamus finished, but I hurried out to the ceili - I wasn't going to miss any part of it.
Saturday's ceili was greatly anticipated by all dancers, mainly because of the chance to dance in the Event Centre. The Abbey Ceili Band was setting up as I arrived, and were dwarfed by the enormous stage and hall. The seats which filled the room yesterday had completely vanished, leaving a vast expanse of floor bigger than any I'd seen before. The ceiling soared overhead and there were two tiers of balconies above. People compared it to Seapoint Ballroom in Salthill, but I wondered if you could fit two of them in here. You might expect such a large place to be cold, but the heating was on full force and it was actually very warm. The sound was superb on every part of the floor. Of course there was plenty of space, even when everyone was out dancing. I heard reports claiming there were anywhere from seventy to ninety sets on the floor during the Plain Set toward the end of the ceili, and there was ample room for more. It looked as if there were as many people in the lounge at the back as there were out dancing. We did a fine mix of sets, alternating the polkas and reels, finishing with the Connemara. I would have enjoyed a waltz too because I love waltzing in a spacious hall. Also it's a great way to see who's there - it's easy to miss friends when there are so many.
After cooling down from the ceili I went into the bar to see that the sessions had warmed up nicely. The musicians had microphones tonight so everyone could hear, and the place was heaving with bodies. I didn't stay long, but was amazed to see musicians when I came down to breakfast at 9.30 the next morning! A fiddler had conked out but his mates were still churning out the music. I learned that Mairéad Casey had climbed a table at 3am to dance a few steps, as did Mick Mulkerrin. Some die-hards were still dancing sets at 5am!
The Sunday morning workshop with Mick and Mairéad fitted nicely into a smaller hall which looked like a disco. They warmed us up with the last figure from the Limerick Orange and Green, which we did in a big circle around the hall rather than in sets. Then we danced two Cork sets, the Skibbereen and the Borlin Jenny, getting ourselves quite warm in the process. There was a bunch of fine local musicians in the bar during the lunch break and a set got up to dance.
We returned to the ballroom for the Sunday afternoon ceili, which was only partially cleared of chairs from last night's concert. The master of the melodeon from Connemara, Johnny Connolly, played with backing on piano by Michael Twomey. After a few sets they were joined by Seamus Begley and Richard Lucey and the already excellent music became even better. Dozens of dancers were drawn to the floor, filling it to capacity and beyond.
After the evening concerts, the all-night bar sessions reached an unforgettable climax. In the main bar the musicians sat to the side, fully equipped with microphones, leaving a bit of floor free for occasional use by dancers. A real connoisseur's session with seven accordions went on in another lounge nearby - participating were the two Begleys, John Brosnan, and Mick Mulkerrin. More groups of musicians occupied other handy spaces around the hotel reception. A night to remember.
The Gathering in the Gleneagle had a great deal to recommend it. Musically it was exceptional, with top notch players in concerts, ceilis and sessions. The programme had strong appeal to both dancers and non-dancers - dancers were able to bring along their non-dancing spouses and friends and share in the fun together. As a result people came in their hundreds from around Ireland and the world, filling the rooms and generating a strong buzz at every event. The hotel is large enough to handle the crowds with ease and has several venues very suitable for dancing. The National Event Centre made a spectacular ballroom and I look forward to seeing even bigger crowds there in future. The town of Killarney is an ideal setting for a weekend - accommodation and meals are easy to find, and anyone tiring of music and dance only has to go a short distance to town, the lakes and the mountains. The event organisers, John O'Shea and Anne Keane, were always available and ready to help with any queries. Anne also did good work as MC at the ceilis. The consensus on the weekend was universal - a colossal success.
Okay, it may be a long way to go for an evening, but we can certainly recommend a visit to Margaret and Bill Winnett's set dancing evenings in Sydney!
Last December we took the opportunity to travel to Australia for our annual holiday, and to spend Christmas with our daughter and her family, who are currently living in Sydney.
Having read about the local set dancing group in Set Dancing News, we decided to call the Winnett's after the Christmas break, on the off-chance that there may be some set dancing to be enjoyed.
We spoke to Margaret and found out that, unfortunately, they had just closed down for their summer holidays, and had had their end of term party the previous week. Anyway, Margaret raised the possibility of arranging some dancing, and we worked out that the only time we could fit it in was that very evening, as Margaret and Bill were off to a folk festival some two hours drive away the following evening. This was at five o'clock. We then altered the arrangements we had made for the evening, and Margaret rang back an hour later to tell us that she had contacted enough people to make up two sets, if we were still interested. What a question, but what an achievement!
So two hours later we were dropped off at a Girl Guides hall south of the city, quite close to the airport, and were delighted to meet Margaret and Bill and their most enthusiastic and competent group of dancers. We then enjoyed an excellent evening of dancing, mostly Irish set, which is definitely our favourite dance form, but also some English folk dances and some couple dances as well.
Everyone in the group was really friendly, which we also found to be the case everywhere we went during our holiday, and made us feel very welcome.
At the end of this most enjoyable evening, Margaret and Bill were kind enough to drive us back to our daughter's house in North Sydney, and took us for a drive through the centre of that beautiful city, showing us many of the sights on the way.
It was an evening we shall remember, among many memorable occasions we enjoyed on that holiday. We would like to express our thanks to Margaret and Bill and their dance group for their hospitality and friendliness.
And if anyone from their group in Sydney, or indeed set dancers from anywhere, is visiting the Netherlands, we would be delighted for them to join us for a dance in Amsterdam.
Nina and Ron Anderson, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
On Sunday, February 3, 2002 Fiona Buckley hosted her second set dance occasion of 2002 at the VFW Post located in Berlin, New Jersey. Patty Furlong on button accordion, accompanied by Dana Lyn on fiddle and Brendan Dolan on keyboards provided the fantastic music with Fiona directing traffic on the beautiful timber floor. As always, there was a workshop one hour prior to the dance, at which time two or three of the more difficult dances were reviewed. The band came on at 2.30 pm sharp; by then everyone should have their various partners pencilled in on their dance card because there is no lost time between dances. Fiona has the program for the afternoon firmly planned out, and there is no time for partner hunting. When Fiona calls out the next dance, you had better spring to the floor, with partner in hand.
The occasion was divided into halves, with a long break in between. The first part consisted of the Glencree, Aran, Ballyvourney Jig, Plain and North Kerry. The break came next, with all sharing in a magnificent selection of hot and cold dishes, coffee, tea and sinful arrangement of fresh fruits and desserts, all prepared by the dancers. Of course, the musicians are encouraged to eat first so that they'll be up on stage and ready to go for the second half. A fine meal, a cup of tea, a few announcements, and it's back to the floor. Of course the band, which is a fantastic dance band, was acknowledged before we continued - rousing applause welcomed the musicians back. Their music is full-bodied and drives you to every movement.
The second part of the program consisted of the Cashel, Monaghan, Newport, Connemara Reel and finished with a blast of reels. The afternoon started with nine sets on the floor and ended with seven sets up and running, a fine tribute to set dancing in the Philadelphia, South Jersey, and Delaware areas. Fiona, as director of the Shanagolden Set Dancers, has established a rock-solid foundation for set dancing in the Delaware Valley. Along with Colleen Kisielewski's Half-Door Club Set Dancers of south Jersey, and Jim Ryan of the MacSweeney Club teaching in the Philadelphia area, the set dancing scene is alive and growing in the Delaware Valley. Of course with bands like Patty Furlong and friends and our own local and visiting musicians, along with dedicated dance teachers, why wouldn't it be!
John Shields, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Omagh Traditional Dancing Club was invited to go to Warrington, England, in December by Omagh District Council. Warrington is twinned with Omagh as both towns have been victims of violence. The Bridge Warrington, a community centre bringing together people of different traditions, was putting on a concert for Advent called A New Beginning. Omagh dancers were accompanied by chief executive Danny McSorley, entertainment officer Frank Sweeney and councillors Barry McElduff and Alan Rainey. We were met at the airport on Friday December 14th and were taken to the Parrhall, the old town hall, for a reception where we met Reverend Steven Kingsworth, Methodist minister and chairman of the Bridge Warrington. Later that day, we met with the Lord Mayor and Mayoress at the council offices. At night, we had supper with members of the Bridge committee.
On Saturday 15th we had a practice between 10am and 11am, and in the afternoon our time was our own, so we visited the shops. The concert started at 7.30pm and was compered by Gordon Burns from Belfast. Choirs from Warrington performed in the first half and also a youth dance group from Cork. Sean Keane, a brother of Dolores Keane from Galway, closed the first half. We had a programme made up which included set dancing, ceili dancing and solo step dancing. Our time was very near and the sight of the capacity filled hall was daunting to say the least. Once we started dancing however the nerves settled and the audience gave us great encouragement by clapping and foot-tapping. The concert concluded with a medley of Christmas Carols performed by Omagh Community Choir who were joined by all the performing artists.
On Sunday we went to the church service and had lunch with Reverend Steven Kingsworth. In the afternoon we went to Trafford shopping centre which was a visit and an experience we will never forget. We all had a brilliant weekend and the people of Warrington made us feel really welcome, with their friendship and support. We would trust that this mutual pilgrimage marks a significant step towards everyone's shared goal - peace.
Michael McAleer, Omagh, Tyrone
The Earl of Desmond Hotel in Tralee played host to the ninth Shindig by the Windmill from January 18th to the 20th. This annual set dancing festival has grown in popularity since its inception. This is due in no small way to the wonderful organising skills of Paddy and Carolyn Hanafin and the management and staff of this homely hotel.
I arrived on Friday evening somewhat frazzled, after driving a hundred and twenty miles in bad weather conditions. Thanks to Aileen on reception I checked in with ease and a friendly porter promptly brought my baggage to my room. After a very welcome jorum of coffee and a cheese sandwich, I showered and changed to greet the first nights ceili.
Johnny Reidy Ceili Band played some of the most exuberant polkas I have ever had the pleasure of dancing to. The floor was packed with sets even before the set was announced. I decided from the beginning of the night that I was going to dance every set and be bold enough to always stand in first tops place. The standard of dancing was excellent and everybody was full of energy on this the first night.
Saturday morning at eleven o'clock the workshops started under the expert tuition of two well-known Tipperary men, Pat Murphy and Michael Loughnane. Pat told me he was delighted this year to be tutoring the sets withMichael, one of his oldest and best friends.
Pat began with the Valencia Right and Left - this is an easy going set with an unusual ladies chain. Ladies don't touch or chain in the centre they pass each other by and chain with the opposite gent. Six lovely polka figures, pretty typical of the Kingdom's style of dancing.
Michael Loughnane took over to tutor us on the Aherlow Set. This set has recently been revived in the Glen of Aherlow by Roy Galvin assisted by Michael Loughnane, Pat Murphy and some Glen people who remembered the set from years gone by. This set is indicative of Tipperary style of dancing at the crossroads with six figures, all polkas except for the fifth figure which is a hornpipe. In this figure we return to the old ceili hold, a feature not often seen in set dancing today. After our most enjoyable instruction on these two marvellous sets we all adjourned to the bar for lunch to top up our energy levels for the afternoon.
Relaxed and eager, the throngs gathered at 2.30 in the ballroom for the workshop. Pat Murphy started the session with the Ballycastle Set. This little set is from north Mayo and had been danced a lot in competition in the 1980s. Pat told me that Tralee was the first major workshop to demonstrate this set apart from Malahide the week before. This is a very stylish set with jigs and polka. In the second figure there is a lovely diamond and square and the third figure boasts an L-shape movement. One can see why this set was popular for competitive dancing.
The next set was the Durrow Threshing set; Michael Loughnane took the baton of tutor for this set. Again an easy going set with jigs, polkas and a hornpipe. One of the characteristics of this set is the battering. Michael took great joy in teaching this and was adamant that all pupils should be comfortable with this very important feature.
The afternoon flew by and we all adjourned once more to our rooms to prepare for Mass, which Paddy and Carolyn had organised in the ballroom. Afterwards the dancers headed to the dining room for dinner. Service was excellent and the staff most helpful and friendly.
The ballroom was packed at 9pm even though the ceili was scheduled for 10pm. Enthusiastic dancers had their shoes on and their supply of water ready. At 10pm Michael Sexton began playing and the floor was packed for the Caledonian, the first set of the night. The music was unbelievable and to those who love reels Michael and his band played their hearts out. At 12.30 an old time waltz was announced and the assembled sets paired off across the crowded floor. A marvellous opportunity for close dancing, well that's my excuse anyway and my dance partner was not objecting. Back to the sets once more and the dancing concluded with a wonderful quickstep.
Sunday morning got off to a slow start; one could see tiredness and lack of concentration on some faces as the workshop began. Soon the music of Heather Breeze streaming from Pat's music centre had everybody's feet tapping once again as he taught that wonderful Roscommon-Galway border set we know as the Williamstown Set. This set has five sensational figures, the first three reels, then a jig and a polka. The reels are soft and gentle. This set has been danced in Thurles and Nenagh on a regular basis for the last year. It's definitely one of my favourite sets.
Half-sets are making a comeback in recent times; now Tipperary dancers have revived their very own half-set, the wonderful Ballagh. Michael Loughnane taught the set with true Tipperary grit, vigour and style. This set has three polkas, a slide and a hornpipe, and is a definite treasure to all set dancers. The workshops came to a close with a quick demonstration of the Drummond Waltz. Once more dancers sought lunch, a shower and change for the afternoon ceili.
At 2.30pm the floor was packed once again with groups of eight ready to dance the afternoon away to the fantastic music of Donie Nolan and Taylor's Cross. I noticed more Cork and Kerry dancers had joined the crowds. The West Kerry, Sliabh Luachra, and Ballyvourney were definite musts this afternoon. The ceili finished with a selection of reels.
As I bade goodbye to my many old friends and some new I felt a little sad that the weekend was over, but there is always next year. The Shindig 2003 is celebrating its tenth anniversary. Paddy Hanafin promised us that this will be a mega weekend. Pencil in your dates for this, all you mad dancers.
Joan Pollard Carew, Thurles, Co Tipperary
I wandered into the Waterside Inn in Belcoo, Co Fermanagh, just over the border from Blacklion in Co Cavan, wondering who I'd know on my first visit to the place. The pub was packed, and I knew I was in the right place when I saw familiar faces. No matter where I go dancing I see someone I recognise.
This Friday night session on February 1st was the start of the third annual weekend of dancing in Belcoo. Teresa McKeaney welcomed me to the pub and when the dancing began found me a lovely partner for the first set. Three or four local musicians played music in an old fashioned trad style which made for some great dancing. The accordion player was having trouble with one of his buttons and was eagerly awaiting his backup box. When the gent's daughter walked in with the replacement there was a rousing cheer. After four or five sets, a song from Teresa's son and a few musical solos, I left for some rest at 1am. I heard though that the session continued another two hours with plenty of singing and a rare performance of a clap dance.
Séamus Ó Méalóid had been expected that night but was delayed by the flood of the century in Dublin. Fortunately he managed to evacuate himself from the city bright and early next morning and arrived in Belcoo Community Centre in good time to teach the workshop. Seamus gave us a day of most interesting sets. We made a good start with the Sneem, and continued with the Gillen Set, which I last danced with Connie Ryan many years ago. I was delighted to dance it again. After the break we danced the Inis Meain, Borlin Jenny and Connemara Jig sets. For most of the day there was a crowd of six sets, all in good spirits thanks to the enthusiastic fun that Seamus brings to his workshops. He worked hard during the day, so much so that he changed shirts after every set.
The original "ballroom of romance", the Rainbow Ballroom in Glenfarne, Co Leitrim, was the venue for Saturday night's ceili. It's two counties away from Belcoo, but actually just a short hop down the road. The talk about the place concentrated on its marvellous floor, which was laid on hundreds of old tyres back in the sixties to ensure a good bounce. When I entered the ballroom I was expecting something close to a trampoline, but what I found was a very good floor with a light bounce to it. The bounce was strongly evident during a set - even when I was standing still waiting for the other couples to do the figure I felt like I was dancing! With such a fine floor and energising music by Swallow's Tail, I was able to lose myself completely in the pleasure of dancing. The room was frequently filled with spontaneous cheers for the music which raised the atmosphere a notch every time. Eamon McKeaney quietly called the sets while dancing the whole night.
We were in good spirits on Sunday morning as we trickled back into the Community Centre. Pat Kelly was ready and eager to teach us some of his two-hand dances so he started as soon as he had a willing couple while the rest of us chatted over tea. Soon we were all doing the Pride of Erin and several other waltzes, marches and hornpipes. It was a relaxing and liberating break from set dancing. Nevertheless after lunch I was eager to return to the sets at the ceili with the Davey Ceili Band. They were three today, with John Davey on piano, daughter Lorna on box and her friend Laura Beagon on fiddle, a trio of expert players. The crowd of dancers was smaller now, mainly a local crowd and we enjoyed each other's company for the last dancing of the weekend. Since my arrival here on Friday they'd all become friendly and familiar to me and I look forward to seeing them again!
I have been to many set dancing workshops, but having the morning call played live on accordion and fiddle was a first for me. On Saturday morning we awoke to the strains of We're on the One Road, Road to the Isles and Pride of Petravore, played in the corridors of An Grianán (the sunny place) Adult Education College, Termonfeckin, Co Louth, by Brian O'Kane of Fodhla Céilí Band fame. Sunday morning it was Jingle Bells and the lullaby Seoithín Seó. This time Brian was joined by his wife Pat.
This weekend of set dancing was organised by Maureen Dennis and Susan O'Shea from 1st to 3rd March. The atmosphere in this 18th century mansion needs to be experienced to be appreciated. Warmth, space and brightness in the library, drawing room and conference room were balanced with quiet areas like the museum and exhibition centre and the 'Quiet Room.' Here stools are scattered about where one can sit and think or pray. Another option is to read through the book of quotes. For Sunday it read, "Bless my family today Lord and bring us closer together. We need each other and you beside us. Amen." How appropriate for the family of set dancers and musicians gathered together for the weekend. Two others worth noting were, "Do unto others as though you were the others," and, "You get out of life what you put into it minus the taxes."
The exterior can boast of walks, a browse through the garden centre, a stroll to the nearby village, or the beach. When I went outside on Sunday morning, a grey squirrel crossed the avenue and was in no hurry escaping to his drey. Pink and red magnolia in bloom on the sunny side of the Kellogg Hall reminded me that I was on the east coast.
The weekend of dancing got off to a great start with a lively selection of dances on Friday night while in the drawing room, the O'Kane duet on piano and violin played some beautiful airs to calm the tired and stressed, and some lively numbers to add zest to the proceedings. Lest I forget to mention, trays of sweets greeted us each time we entered the Kellogg Hall and the kettles were continuously boiling in the nearby kitchen - a magic touch.
Saturday was full steam ahead in the comfortable and ventilated hall. The Williamstown, Durrow Threshing, and three figures of the Seit Doire Chomcille were danced with energy and enthusiasm by approximately ten sets. Michael Loughnane kept the fun going and made all very welcome. On Saturday night we danced to the music of the Fodhla Ceili Band. What a band for atmosphere as well as excellent music. The usual lighted scrolls in front of the band took on a St Patrick's Day image - and I quote, "For the good are always merry save by the evil chance, and the merry love the fiddle and the merry love to dance," "It's a day for wishing Irish luck and here's wishing the best of it to you," and "Happy St Patrick's Day." All five members came on stage attired in hats, vests, etc and the céilí began with one loud squawk "played" on party noisemakers in St Patrick's Day colours. Large shamrocks read, "Kiss me I'm Irish," and needless to say there were those who made the best of the opportunity. At the break we had a recitation, songs, St Patrick's Day (the solo jig), and excellent music on harmonica. The sing-song after the céilí continued until 3am.
Sunday morning was fun filled and energetic. We finished Seit Doire Cholmcille, Sweets of May, as many two-hand dances as can come to mind and a waltz. The Ballyvourney Jig concluded the weekend's dancing and sent all participants to the dining room for lunch with a broad smile. Speaking of food - magnificent from start to finish. Where else would you be served a scrumptious high tea on arrival and each sitting was tastier than the previous. Next year, God willing, it will be the 28th February to the 2nd March and bookings should be made directly with An Grianán. As lunch concluded a token of gratitude was presented to Maureen Dennis and Susan O'Shea in appreciation of the work they had done organising the event for the last ten years. This is certainly a weekend not to be missed. Thanks to all involved for the experience, and I earnestly look forward to next year's reunion.
Maureen Culleton, Ballyfin, Co Laois
"Are you American, or have you lived there a long time?" my partner asks me after the first figure. I am delighted at the mere suggestion that I might be a lapsed local, and even more so that it might be my dancing skill that led her to compliment me. That's my fantasy, anyway. "Thank you for even thinking I might be Irish," I reply. It is the opening dance of the Spiddal dance weekend, at a pub in the center of town. P J Hernon and Mary Shannon are playing. In the interval before the dance, her sister Sharon's music was playing on the house system, as it seems to be in every public place in Ireland these days.
This is not one of those big ceili weekends that attracts half of Dublin from across the country. The crowd is almost entirely local. The announcements are in Gaelic. The floor holds, at best, three sets comfortably and four with much bruising of elbows. Spectators crowd the perimeter, and most of them are smoking. The dancing is of the 'round the house and mind the dresser' variety, though I find myself with my elbows out just to claim a tad more floor from the standing crowd.
My next partner is another American. I learn instantly that she is an exceptionally assertive dance partner. One misstep and she decides I need a lesson on the figure. "Across now, ok, we house now," she demands. I'm a dancer who will never fully remember the figures or do them precisely, but the Irish forgive me my lapses. But apparently, I am reflecting badly on my country. Count on a fellow American to keep the miscreants like me in line.
At breakfast the next morning are two couples, both on the traditional American tour of Ireland, which is, drive like hell and circumnavigate the island in seven days. They're not going to see much; it is still storming up a gale. There is nothing to stop the south wind here in Connemara, and sun and squall are in constant exchange. The sea, visible from my room, is a constant roil.
So it is a good day to stay indoors. Mick Mulkerrin is teaching the Monaghan Set. We're in a wonderful, large hall outside of town. Morning light streams in through tall windows. After our first run through he admonishes us, "Connemara has a very staccato style of step. This is a reel set, smooth, like the Clare Lancers. Don't do the Connemara style to these reel sets." This is the tone for the workshop - pay attention to style. The tone of the floor changes from a percussive, pounding beat to a quieter, respectful shuffle.
Evening. Hughes Pub is rapidly filling in. Johnny Connolly is holding his accordion, but he hasn't started to play yet. A woman fills in the seat next to me, an Irish language student who is taking a night off from her studies. "Set dance, now that's just a foreign import. It's not truly traditional," she says when I tell her why I'm in town. Harrumph, I think. I didn't know this fight was still going on. "An import from the 18th century," I retort. "How far back do you want to go?" The Celts were a foreign import, if you want to extend that line of reasoning to its illogical end.
Mick arrives with his box, and soon an impromptu set forms to the delicious tones of the dual accordions. This feels pretty darn traditional to me. The pub is crowded and I have no room to maneuver, so I perch on my chair and photograph the scene from above. There's no light to speak of, I'm handholding, and I have no right to expect this shot to turn out. But the composition from this angle is wonderful, and I hope for the best.
By the time I arrive at the ceili, Michael Sexton and his band are in full swing. I photograph for awhile, then join in on the Cashel Set. The American from last night agrees to dance, but I think she just wants another whack at me. "You need to hold me like this, more parallel." This is a figure where I'm swinging with my corner half the time. She's much nicer: "Thank you, you're a lovely dancer." For the Connemara I find my B&B lady, who is thrilled at the novelty of an actual male to dance with for a change. At last, a role I am unquestionably qualified to fulfill.
It is now Sunday. A sean nós workshop is on, led by Paraic Hopkins. "Sean nós is a natural dance. You don't learn it, you just have it by nature," he announces, before proceeding to teach it. Nature has not blessed me this morning. The workshop leaves me overwhelmed - I can barely shuffle my way through a set dance this weekend, much less master this complex arrhythmic batter in an hour. I revert to journalist mode, and photograph it instead. The American teenager, whose legs I am shooting through, just placed 21st in the All Ireland step dance competitions in Killarney. "This is way different," she exclaims. "You'd never hold your body this loose in competition."
I have a major poignancy attack at the afternoon ceili. It is my last dance in Ireland for this round. Fittingly, it is the Caledonian, the dance of Clare, where my most potent dance memories lie. I dance it with my eyes closed, feeling every step.
Doug has been dancing and photographing his way across Ireland for over four years now. You can see more Ireland photos at his website: www.dougplummer.com.
Copyright © 2002 by Doug Plummer
The Milwaukee set dance club held their first (hopefully annual) Midwinter Set Dance Weekend on February 22-24. Yutaka Usui taught a workshop on Clare style footwork as well as the Cashel Set. The musicians were Madison's Public House Ceili Band and the seven time All-Ireland button accordion champion John Whelan.
The weekend officially started Friday night with a ceili at the Irish Heritage and Cultural Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. However, the weekend started a bit early for some of us as John gigged at the County Clare Pub. It was a wonderful hors d'oeuvre. John revved up his high-energy style and kept the throttle open all weekend.
Public House played the ceili Friday night. Southern Wisconsin Irish dancers should be very satisfied to have these four musicians (Dan Cobb on banjo, David Delgado penny-whistling, Bob Newton with octave mandolin and fiddler Alan Ng) at their disposal. They have a very strong ceili style sound. It is a sound so big and robust that one must keep looking back at them, wondering where all the other musicians must be, surprised at seeing only four. For a while there was indeed another musician, Whelan himself joined and gave a tune, enlarging an already bold sound.
Yutaka's workshop on Saturday focused on a battering step to be used for Clare style sets. This was my first footwork workshop. I found Yutaka's teaching style thoroughly enjoyable and very practical. He must have broken the step down four or five different ways, respecting the diverse ways that different people learn such things as complex body motion. As I scanned my eyes across the room throughout the day, I saw looks of frustration and stress morph into those of pride and happiness, as students found their feet doing things and making noises they did not think they were capable of.
The day was broken up with an unexpected surprise. I do not know about anyone else, but that was a damn fine meal that was served there at that old American Legion in south Milwaukee. (Older dancers will remember this site well, as it was the home of the monthly set dances before the ICHC became available for set dancing.) I never had such exotic tasting sandwiches before. It is amazing what focaccia and hummus can do for ya. Also, my apologies to all I danced with for the heaping red onions I loaded my sandwich with. It was rather selfish of me. But, jeez, it was good.
We put our newly discovered foot magic to work that afternoon via the Labasheeda Set. By the last 45 minutes, as with most workshops, fatigue started to infect the crowd. But pain is a small price to pay to be able to perform in a manner Yutaka was leading us to.
Saturday night's ceili was soloed by Whelan. I do not know much about the button accordion, but I know I like the way he plays it. John was showing his Celtic pride, and his legs, wearing a Scottish kilt (providing fodder for some hilarious banter between Yutaka and himself at the next day's ceili). A musical highlight for me was John's funked-up version of my favorite reel, Tam Lin, during the Lancers. I did not know you could get so funky with an accordion. He was also joined briefly by local musicians, accompanied on bodhran by Terri Sullivan and on fiddle by a beautiful young lass from Madison whose name escapes me. John has just released a new CD of jigs and reels, Celtic Roots, all classic session tunes and all wonderfully suited to dancing.
New York, San Francisco, Toronto, Chicago, and both Twin Cities were represented on the dance floor. The now world-famous sushi of Julie San Felipe was available that night. Fortunately for the rest of the attendees, I did not eat it all like I usually do. Julie also created the logo of the weekend, two curiously gazing dancers intertwined in the Celtic style. You would swear it was straight out of the Book of Kells. Gail Clark gave her own quick workshop on the Borlin Polka Set, a favorite of high stepping polka enthusiasts.
I have been going to Milwaukee ceilis for about a year now and this was by far the loudest as everyone tried out their new step. Will this new found percussion change the normally smooth Milwaukee style? Come to the Irish Heritage and Cultural Center at 2133 Wisconsin Avenue on the fourth Saturday of the month from 7 to 11pm and find out!
John's playfulness turned rather somber at the end of the night as he brought the crowd to attention with proud renditions of the Irish and American national anthems. The dancers all helped him with singing, quite impressively I might add, the latter, and some even with the former.
The next day's workshop we learned how to dance the Cashel Set like the people in, yep, Cashel. Two points that Yutaka emphasized were that the fifth figure should be danced to polkas, not to slides. Also, only one circle at the end for the show-off lead-around figure. He pointed out that although what he was teaching was, to his experience and understanding, how they do it in the "auld sod," that should not be confused with a sort of set dance fundamentalism on his part. I, and I think most there, enjoyed his philosophy and anecdotes he offered that served both to help remember what was being taught, as well as to rest our now well battered feet. After that, we reviewed the step of yesterday, and then, yes, more food! Even more surprising, and hospitable, as it was complimentary and not part of the weekend's package.
We bade farewell for the next two hours dancing with John again, this time showing American pride with a sharp-looking star spangled tie. I made sure to dance with the ladies I had not stepped with as well as those I wanted to try again. One of the best things about these "international" workshops is the different styles each individual dancer brings to the set.
We ended the ceili again with the anthems, and said our "Slan go foills" to some and "See you at Bodolino's" to others. Bodolino's is the Irish, er, I mean Italian restaurant where Milwaukee dancers meet weekly on Mondays from 7 to 10pm. It was also where the weekend was extended a wee bit further as John and Yutaka graced the weekly Sunday session with giving us a squeeze on their accordions along with the locals.
It was a fabulous weekend dancing to some of the best Irish dance music. It was wonderful seeing people from around the continent, especially my "dance trinity" from the Twin Cities. Everyone who helped put the weekend together should be proud and be thanked. And again, I can not say enough about John and Yutaka. They combined to be a great duo and I hope they get into a habit of kicking their winter blues up here in Milwaukee. I can not wait to see both of them in action again.
Timothy McAndrew, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Yutaka Usui is a Japanese-American dancer with a bit of Irish ancestry. He teaches set dancing classes in Maryland and is an occasional visitor to Ireland.
On arrival in Abbeyfeale, Co Limerick, I checked into my B&B and went into town for a cup of tea. In the café I was greeted by set dancing customers having a meal and by the set dancing staff who were serving us. Back outside the town was gridlocked with traffic as buses and lorries tried to squeeze through the street. Slowly making my way back to the B&B I spotted Betty McCoy walking down the street after stepping off the bus. I made my contribution to road congestion by parking on a yellow line and dodging cars across the street for a chat. Almost immediately another car coming the opposite way pulled across traffic and stopped in an entrance - Timmy Woulfe came over to greet Betty. Abbeyfeale is a real set dancers' town.
Betty, myself and many other visitors had arrived for the tenth annual West Limerick Set Dancing Club weekend from March 1st to 3rd. The hotel restaurant was full of dancers that night, and then everyone convened in the Railway Bar for a ceili with the Four Courts from Kilfenora. The Railway is a cosy lounge for dancing, with space for nine sets on the beautiful floor, and just that number dancing tonight. The Four Courts are welcomed here every year for their classic Clare reels, and they did an admirable job at the polkas, playing them at a west Limerick speed. We finished the night fully satisfied and anticipating even better tomorrow.
On Saturday morning in the Convent Hall Pat Murphy was on hand to give us exactly what we were looking for, a fun-filled workshop. First there was tea on offer and enough cakes and scones to make a filling breakfast, or second breakfast in my case. Pat taught a couple of rarities in the morning session, the Fermanagh Quadrilles and Newmarket Meserts. Dancers loved the Meserts, which is full of good moves. In the first figure gents swing with all the ladies, changing from one to the next without stopping the swing. It's a similar in the second when each couple swings with each of the three ladies. There were cheers up and down the hall when we successfully danced the highgates in figure four.
The town filled with set dancers at the lunch break, many dropping into the first café on the street, the Coffee Pot, operated by Ann Curtin, one of the club organisers. It was like Set Dancers' Central Headquarters in there. After lunch Pat continued with the Aran and Loughgraney sets and then there was Mass in the GAA club on the edge of town. It wasn't possible to hold Mass in the Convent Hall, but there's no problem just over the Kerry border where the GAA club is. Several dancers contributed to the service in song and music.
On Saturday night the gridlock relocated to the convent grounds where dozens of cars filled every space around the hall. Inside, our bodies, minds and hearts were taken over by the music of the Abbey Ceili Band for the best part of four hours, the only relief being the tea break and a couple of brush dances and solo steps. Pat Murphy continued his tuition on Sunday morning with the Derrycolmcille Set. Time allowed us only to do two figures of the Tory Lancers, another old rarity that I'd welcome further practice on. There was ample time for a meal and chat at the café.
The local band, Taylor's Cross, provided beautiful dance music at the Sunday afternoon ceili, and a few special treats at the end. Donie Nolan was persuaded to sing, and in a soft, rich, warm voice he gave us his version of Sweet Kingwilliamstown without accompaniment. Then the bodhrans arrived - three of them marched up the hall, beating out a rhythm in unison to marches played by the band. They followed with an encore of jigs, and finally the weekend closed when the band played the national anthem. It was a satisfying weekend for everyone, including visitors from as far away as Maryland and Wisconsin, all of whom enjoyed the music and dance, and felt at home with the warm, genuine Abbeyfeale welcome.
Abbeyfeale '02Alas the workshop in Abbeyfeale
For this year is past and gone
And we're all home and back at work
But sure the memories live on.
We landed there on Friday night
And to Fitzgerald's Farmhouse B&B
Then before we were rightly in the door
Sure Kathleen made us tea.
We knew from her hospitality
That we would enjoy our stay
Then a short wee rest, a shower and change
To the Railway made our way.
There was Timmy, Ann and Josephine
And they welcomed everyone
The Four Courts played the music
Now the weekend hooley had begun.
Bold Timmy called the dances
And supplied the banter too
And as this mighty night went on
The craic just grew and grew.
Saturday morning soon came round
And it was agreed by all
To load up all the transport
And head for the Convent Hall.
Our thanks to Pat and Betty
Who conducted the good workshop
The next we knew 'twas lunch time
But nobody wished to stop.
Then off down to the Coffee Pot
To have something to eat
The food again was lovely
That place was quite a treat.
Saturday evening after dinner
With talc and towel in hand
'Twas back down to the Convent Hall
For the Abbey Céilí Band.
There I teamed up with my very dear friend
A lass well know to you
That's right, she comes from Thurles
Her name Joan Pollard Carew.
Another workshop Sunday morning
And a ceili in the afternoon
With the music played by Taylor's Cross
Alas we would be heading north east soon.
This is my memory of Abbeyfeale
Though two hundred miles away
The one thing we have to look forward to
Abbeyfeale again in zero three is just eleven months away.
Our thanks to all too numerous to mention.
Shay White and the gang, Royal Meath
Most of my journey to Pontoon was through dark, damp weather, but once I passed Castlebar the sun emerged to illuminate a stunning Mayo landscape. The closer I got to Pontoon the better it became, till I came on the Pontoon Bridge Hotel, surrounded by lakes, forests and mountains. A more scenic location for a set dancing weekend in Ireland would be very hard to find.
The set dancers from Newport met here from March 9th to 11th for their annual weekend of workshops and ceilis, along with plenty of visitors, some coming from as far as Dublin, Cork and America. The hotel ballroom was lined with windows along one side, but the dark of night prevented any scenic distractions during the Friday night ceili. We danced to the Davey Ceili Band and gave undivided attention to the joy of set dancing. The floor was big enough for a dozen sets, and overflow capacity was available on boards laid on carpet around the room. There were a couple of waltzes - so many couples here do the Pride of Erin and similar dances that there's little space for free-form waltzing in the middle of the floor!
During the break a queuing system was used to distribute the tea in a side room, and roving cake ladies dispensed nourishment to all. More cake entered the hall on a trolley in celebration of Maureen Halpin's birthday, augmented with kisses and hugs from friends. A set began while the birthday cake was still being cut and distributed - some dancers took a bite whenever they had an idle moment in the set. Then another break was called for some solo dancing. The Butler brothers, Colin and Gerard, were first up with an impressive and inventive routine which began with a clap dance, and others followed with quick turns before the dancing resumed.
On Saturday morning the full glory of the ballroom windows was revealed. We were almost floating over the lake, it was so close. A wild island sat a short distance away and snow-covered mountains were off in the distance. One dancer compared it to dancing at the Armada near Miltown Malbay where the ballroom faces the sea. In fact, the lake was very much like the sea today, with waves and whitecaps blown by a stiff wind. One moment there was bright sun and blue water; the next glance a hailstorm would be churning the water grey and making the mountains vanish.
Jim Barry overcame the view with his dance workshop, teaching the Borlin Jenny Reel, Ballycastle and Melleray Lancers sets during the day. He worked efficiently through every figure and repeated each one twice. The group of ten sets was the right size for him to give individual attention where needed. The most work was needed for the second figure of the Ballycastle, particularly the "diamond square" in which tops and sides square around each other in opposite directions see page 22. Everyone managed it correctly with his instruction and lots of practice. The Melleray Lancers is the perfect set for an afternoon - the third figure (the kiss) gave an energy boost when we needed it most.
Before the Saturday night ceili there was a performance in the bar by the Molloy Brothers, who sang rousing ballads and kindly played for a bit of the Plain Set. The ballroom was already filled when Matt Cunningham began the ceili. We danced the Ballycastle and even though the sides didn't know it in my set we managed it well, even the dreaded diamond square. Matt's music kept everyone inspired and on the go, and little time was wasted between figures and sets. There were breaks for tea and solo steps, and Matt himself played one of his unique tin whistle solos. After the last set, Matt immediately broke into a song and the room broke into a jive, concluding, of course, with the national anthem. There was great value for money tonight!
Any lingering sleepiness at Jim's Sunday morning workshop was eliminated by the West Kerry Set. Again we repeated each figure, but when it came to the last figure, the hornpipe in which we double around the house five times, Jim wisely asked whether we needed another go. There was a resounding "No!" in response, so we continued with the Shramore, a Mayo set with a few unusual moves. The view outside was again highly unsettled and totally fascinating to watch.
The music seemed to get even better at every ceili, with Heather Breeze playing at the final one on Sunday afternoon. I was pleased to dance the West Kerry again. Unusually there was a rake of reels early on when there was a choice of dancing the Caledonian or the High Cauled Cap. I counted three doing the Cadhp and around a dozen doing the Caledonian.
After leaving I was once again in sunlight and beautiful scenery which lasted until I passed from Mayo into the next county. I pondered a question I overheard when a lady asked her friend, "If you didn't dance, what would you live for?" and concluded I was very lucky to be dancing.
The Mid-Atlantic Region of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann held its Hall of Fame céilí mór on Saturday February 16th at the Irish American Society in Mineola, New York. The Hall of Fame honors two members of the Comhaltas community (sometimes posthumously) who have made outstanding contributions to Irish traditional music in the region. This annual event attracts musicians, dancers and music enthusiasts from Boston to Baltimore, including four buses from the Philadelphia and southern New Jersey area this year. The 2002 Hall of Fame inductees were Philadelphia button accordionist Tommy Moffit and fiddler Paddy Reynolds from New York.
The céilí mór was opened by the popular Ceol na gCroí Ceili Band. The crowd of 300 was treated to this New York group's solid traditional Clare-style music for the second year. Band members are button accordion and flute player John Fitzpatrick; phenomenal fiddler from Flagmount, Co Clare, Mike Brady; button accordionist Pat Murray; accompanist Denis O'Driscoll on keyboard and vocals; and ceili drummer Brendan Fahey.
After a presentation to Paddy Reynolds and his wife, talented fiddle players Brian Conway and Patrick Mangan, accompanied by Brenda Griffin on keyboard, provided a wonderful musical tribute to Paddy. Then it was on with the ceili. Brian, Patrick and Brenda were joined on stage by another dozen of New York's finest musicians. Led by legendary accordionist Martin Mulhaire (a fellow Hall of Fame member), Brian Conway and Brendan Fahey, this group provided great dance music for a very appreciative audience.
The evening's second Hall of Fame inductee was Tommy Moffit. Tommy is very involved with the Philadelphia Ceili Group's annual music festival and is an active member of CCÉ. After the award presentation, Tommy was joined on stage by Kevin McGillian (last year's Hall of Fame honoree) and a dozen Philadelphia-area musicians. This group provided yet another hour of terrific music.
Unfortunately the evening always seems to end too soon. Even as a great session was underway upstairs, the Philly-bound buses were waiting to leave. This merging of two great Irish communities with such a strong traditional music base happens too infrequently. But I think all would agree that it was a spectacular night - once again! Much thanks goes to Paul Keating for his untiring efforts on behalf of CCÉ.
Maureen Donachie, Floral Park, New York
On the weekend of the 15th and 16th February, the Belfast and District Set Dancing and Traditional Music Society organised a workshop to be taken by the American teacher, Malke Rosenfeld. Although resident in North Carolina, Malke has lived in Canada and is a Cape Breton enthusiast, and she was delighted to accept the invitation of dance teacher Mary Fox and the society's chairman, Peter Woods, to come to the Crescent Arts Centre to teach us Cape Breton steps and the Inverness Set.
The solo workshop proved quite a challenge when we realised that there would be no particular sequence of steps and we would have to devise our own routine! But, it was great craic learning steps so different from those in Irish dancing - tap around, slide around, ankle switch and funky syncopated back step!
On the Saturday afternoon, Malke taught us the Inverness Set. It appears that Inverness County on Cape Breton Island has a number of variations of the set, depending on whether you dance in Glencoe, Magaree, Mabou, or Judique--all these place names reflecting the origins of their early French and Scottish settlers. It was not quite a question of 'anything goes' but very nearly! Although there are three figures (two to jigs and one to reels), the Inverness Set is in no way structured like an Irish set. For example, the only indication to the musicians that the figures are ending is when the dancers start to clap! And when dancing on the spot, any Cape Breton step will do!
The Inverness Set at the ceili on the Saturday night was hilarious! Newcomers who had not attended the workshop were baffled by the looseness of the pattern, but let themselves go for a real fun session of Canadian-style dance.
The musicians rose to the occasion with Martin Dowling (fiddle) joined by his wife Christine (flute), Ian Carmichael (banjo), Caroline Judge (accordion), and Donal O'Connor (keyboard) and Fergal McConnell did an expert job on the sound.
It was clear that Malke really enjoyed the experience of taking the workshop, and her own dancing was a delight to watch. Her fabulous footwork in the Cape Breton steps was matched only by her fantastic demonstration of the Appalachian style. What a lovely dancer! It would be great if she could come back again and combine a second visit to Belfast with a tour of other Irish clubs. It's worth thinking about!
It is with deep regret that we have to announce the death of Bill Lewis, chairman of the Bradford Irish Music Association. Both he and his wife Mary dedicated all their leisure time to promoting and teaching all styles of Irish dancing.
It was a joy to see Bill at the association headquarters in Shipley, West Yorkshire, diligently working behind the scenes, either running the bar, serving tea and sandwiches, playing host to the many musicians who frequently played for dancing on Saturday nights, and often raising money for local charities such as the Bradford Community Transport Association, of which he was the chairman for many years.
I hope the loving support that Bill gave to Mary over the years will sustain her resolve to carry on her Thursday night set dancing classes.
Ted Toon, Leeds, West Yorkshire
When I got past the "What are you doing over here?" and "What are you up to?" questions I went to the loo to wipe the Lucozade stains off my mouth (the Editor has asked not to mention the demon drink again). I was at a 'nobody knew it was on ceili' in Hammersmith. They had become suspicious having seen a copy of my CV earlier which read "Runai an Cumann Peil Gaelach" (Gaelic for 'Secretary of the Gaelic Football Club'). Walking home from the ceili I was followed home by a helicopter that had a spotlight. It's not every night that I have such company to show me the way. It's a pity I hadn't herself with me. She would have been impressed.
Sometimes I think the quieter you keep about your ceilis the more people you'll have coming which was the case in Hammersmith. Polly, or was it Molly or Dolly, I can't remember which, kept coming out with, "Where's the lolly, Ollie?" and calling Griff wrong names too when he'd try to get one free. He had had a few and was a bit worried about how'd he'd be on the dance floor (sorry Editor, aviation fuel again). "Sure you can dance them off can't you?" (Joke! It would take a few ceili's for that to happen.) Polly, or was it Molly or Dolly, was the right side of fifty but the wrong side of the bar. Having served two thousand one hundred and twenty seven spring waters that night she shouted, "And I haven't spilt a one of them!" Griff had a theory about creating atmosphere at ceilis, ie, have the dancing in a small room and have some laughing woman spilling drink down backs. (She'd have to be very apologetic but it doesn't matter whether the drink is laced or not.) Later a few drinks were spilt and things began to liven up and I got the feeling it was going to be another one of those ceilis. Suddenly I saw an old flame of mine talking to a Brazilian. I thought I'd better play safe and dance with the Brazilian first not to make it look too obvious.
"Are you new to the dancing?"
"I dan't speaka tha langwich!" I replied (always works when you're with a foreign looking dance partner).
"Am I in tha right place?"
"Definitely the right place!"
"Hold on tight and no stopping."
"You'd swear we were on the motorway."
"In that case you'd better let off the handbrake!"
I kept a good grip on her, one she mightn't escape from that easily and we danced around at full throttle. The Caravelles were turbocharged as was the price on the door but somehow I felt I was getting value for money. It was a night that anything could happen. I had heard that she was a psychiatrist. Tip the Tipper had been dancing with a few analysts down in Miltown Malbaya and afterwards he reckoned he was more centred, more balanced emotionally, and liked himself a lot more. However I had stepped on her foot twice (left one I think) and I didn't rate my chances.
"Do I get a free consultation?" I asked.
"I don't think I could sort you out!"
"Maybe you could try?"
"Are you really new to the dancing?" she asked.
"Well, keep up the fecking L sign!"
When things got in full swing in the Cashel set I decided to try the oldest trick at ceili. I pretended to house around and stopped.
"I think you could do with that consultation alright," she said.
As we danced she started playing games and wouldn't hold hands. Suddenly I tripped but luckily my hand caught her belt. It was all that held me up as I nearly fell to the floor. Fortunately her jeans didn't come down with me.
"Just testing again?" she exclaimed.
I noticed my old flame was flying it with her new fella (Cork registration, no L sign up) and it didn't seem like they wanted to be interrupted. The guy in the band spoke of how all the set dancers are one big family. The crowd applauded.
"Well, there's a helluva of a lot of black sheep in that family!" she said.
"Don't be like that."
"I'm never going to a ceili again."
"You sound like a person with a hangover talking about giving up the drink."
"Yes I know! What's that song? 'Babe I'm an addict now?' " she said.
"A ceili addict? Can we dance later?" I asked.
"Maybe? I never book in advance, I might get thirsty!"
Copyright © 2002 by O F Hughes
Oh my God, how time flies! We were first introduced to Anne O'Donnell in December 1991. We asked her would she teach set dancing in St Anne's and she agreed to do so. Our set dancing classes started in mid-January 1992 and on the last Saturday of the same month we had our first ceili. Our monthly ceili has been held on the last Saturday of the month ever since.
From a very small beginning St Anne's has become one of the best venues for set dancing in Dublin and it is going from strength to strength. Long may it continue.
The highlight for us in that ten years has got to be when St Anne's hosted Ceili House on 16th February 1993. The music that night was provided by Toss the Feathers. A great night was had by all.
Mick and Marie Glennon, Tallaght, Dublin
Kind and generous soulsDear Bill
Thank you so much for the newsletter you put together and for the website on Irish set dancing. This is a great thing you do, making certain that people who love the dancing can know where to find it and getting new folks involved in all this fun, as well. I appreciate all the time and effort you put into this passion of yours.
I have never had such a wonderful vacation as my first trip to Ireland. I danced every day but one, and I met the most wonderful people, kind and generous souls every one of them. Ireland is a beautiful country - everything that I thought it would be and more. My heart aches to return. I hope to be back soon.
Take good care of yourself, Bill. Enjoy the dancing, always.
Susan Sommer, Madison, Wisconsin
Drafted into teachingDear Bill,
Enclosed is a picture of our Wednesday evening set dancing class taken before Christmas. Several of our regular dancers are missing from the picture due to shopping, school programs and other Christmas activities. Feel free to print it in the Set Dancing News.
We have set dancing classes every Wednesday evening at the Irish American Home Society in Glastonbury, Connecticut, from 7pm to around 9.30. The classes are entirely free - a cultural function of the society. I have been teaching set dancing at the Society since 1989 and I donate my time and limited talents also. I teach all of the popular sets (over 20 in all) and gradually blend beginners in with the more seasoned dancers. This way we have just one dance group which eliminates the division between beginners, novice and advanced and any "graduation" situations.
I got drafted into set dance teaching after some of the guests at my daughter's wedding reception over twelve years ago danced a Clare set (we had three sets, unusual back in 1989) and several other guests at the reception who did not know any set insisted that I teach them. My Clare upbringing and love of set dancing and traditional music since childhood prevailed and here I am still at it.
John Droney, West Hartford, Connecticut
Now that winter is truly past us, what a heartening thought to remember the long summer days and nights, joyfully spent from 21st-28th July 2001 at the Joe Mooney Summer School. This is an exceptional festival with a wealth of superb music, song and dance happening in a small country town. The Celtic tiger seems to have jumped over this little spot in the heart of Leitrim so it remains gloriously unaffected by the stresses of the modern world. Everything moves at a slower pace, contributing greatly to the relaxed state achieved by attending this wonderful summer school. The weather is usually on its best behaviour. The local people not only open their doors to participants and visitors, but their hearts and souls also. Nancy Woods and her organising committee deserve great credit for their quiet unassuming methods of getting things done. They are genuinely glad to see people return each year and the welcome is warm and hearty. Over the past three years, I've seen the numbers of set dancers grow steadily with some having to take to the stage in the community hall.
The céilithe are held in one venue with the exception of the Monday of the festival when we dance in Meehan's Lounge to the joyful music of Camillus, Tom, and Pauric. I personally enjoy the idea of all dancers meeting to celebrate and absorb the music and friendship together. Last year, we were treated to Apples in Winter, Davey Céilí Band, Swallow's Tail, and a spectacular double performance by Glenside - one being an outdoor céilí on High Street on Saturday afternoon, and the farewell on Saturday night. Without doubt, this outdoor celebration of music and dance is the highlight of the year for many elderly people in the town. They reserve their vantage point in the early afternoon and the gentlemen, in particular, really enjoy meeting and talking with visitors, many of whom are from foreign lands. Speaking of gentlemen, on the Tuesday of the festival, the sale of cattle at the mart takes place in the town. This event brings farmers from a wider area. When the sales are completed and financial matters are in order, they come to the local and sing and dance until the next day, again enjoying the superb music which takes place in the pubs right through the festival.
Two superb concerts take place during the week - Tuesday night the young people take to the stage and Thursday we are treated to five hours of top class traditional music provided by the tutors of the summer school and their friends. As for dancing, we can ask for nothing better than Pat Murphy's set dancing workshop each morning, traditional step dancing with Celine Tubridy on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons, and sean nós dancing with Róisín Ní Mhainnín on Friday afternoon. I am deeply grateful of Pádraig, his wife Joan and their son Gavin for extending a hand of welcome when I first arrived in Drumshanbo and to the organising committee for putting this feast of music, song and dance at our disposal. I look forward to meeting friends old and new next summer and to people who have not yet participated, write Joe Mooney Summer School into your summer 2002 diary straight away. Bígí linn!
Maureen Culleton, Ballyfin, Co Laois
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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