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).
For the second year running, Listowel, the literary and cultural capital of Ireland, was host to our greatest cultural event in Ireland, Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann. This town with its magnificent square lends itself perfectly to a festival of this magnitude. No wonder then that this was the fourteenth time Listowel played host.
At the festival launch Mayor Denis Stack said, "We live in very exciting times in the history of our traditional culture of music, song and dance. Never before was there greater interest and acclaim both at home and on the international stage. Irish music is on the crest of a wave, reaching new heights of which our forefathers never dreamed as they played and danced and sang around the open hearth."
Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú, Director General of Comhaltas, said, "Ireland's success in maintaining and enhancing its own cultural identity has not only been impressive but has won the admiration of many other nationalities. People from abroad often come to Ireland to study our cultural and artistic infrastructure. Such attention also helps our standing internationally in relation to other matters, social tourism, etc. These are assets which should not be undervalued, and very often such international respect can translate into support and friendship when our broader interests are at stake. Comhaltas looks forward to an era of renewal in the coming decades. The movement will focus on the new challenges facing Ireland's distinctive identity in a global setting."
Once more the hardworking organising committee had a calendar of ceilis to suit the most advanced céilí or set dancer and the not so sure-footed dancer. Friday night at ten o'clock the specially erected dome saw set dancers from all over Ireland and visitors from across the world stepping it out to the "Nea" man himself, Sean Norman. Timmy Wolfe was on hand to give the odd prompt in the less familiar sets.
The floor was a bit hilly, and at times my mountain walking came in handy as I housed up hill at speed. The floor space was more than adequate and the large crowd called for more at 1.30am. The first night's céilí came to an end with a selection of lively reels.
On Friday night there was another céilí nearby in the Boys School with music by the brilliant Clare band Michael Sexton. John Joe Tierney called all sets very expertly. At one point he asked the crowd if they wanted a set or a céilí dance, as it was a mixed céilí for both types of dances. The majority voted for sets and on that night their wishes were met. The school gymnasium had a beautiful floor for dancing, well sprung, well kept and cleaned to perfection.
I arrived at the platform for the outdoor céilí on Saturday afternoon at approximately 2.30pm. Mort and Noreen Kelleher and family were busy setting up their sound system. I walked across the platform and as is now customary for me I tapped out a few steps. The feel of the floor was great and reminded me of the lovely floor Gerry Flynn had erected in Ibiza last April. With the sun blazing I almost forgot that I was on my own native sod. Miley Costelloe, céilí co-ordinator for the Fleadh, enquired if I thought the floor was good enough. I answered him with a thumbs up sign, another few taps on the floor and a large smile. By three o'clock the platform was packed with eager dancers forming sets. The Kelleher family played their hearts out as dancers stepped it out in brilliant sunshine.
Midway through the céilí Dick O'Connell announced that he had a special treat in store. "This is an international festival and I am proud to welcome our Austrian friends and now invite them to perform some of their own traditional music and dance. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the Villach Folk Dance Group."
The group of twelve dancers graced the floor in promenade style with an exotic swirl of ladies' skirts and men's evocative pants. Some spectators wondered if some of us ladies could jump and swing by the arms like our guests. I personally feel that our men folk would have some difficulty keeping up with these young Austrian lassies. This was one of the most colourful and entertaining events of the whole festival. Thank you to all the dancers and musicians for sharing your culture with us.
The Villach Folk Dance Group was founded in 1967. They have performed at various festivals and cultural events in Germany, Italy, France, Liechtenstein, Hungary, England, Portugal, and Canada. Listowel was not the first time this talented group performed on our native shore. As guests of Lorraine Murphy-Walsh and her group in Cobh, County Cork, they also danced in Cobh and Glanmire during their stay here. The Austrian group were on an exchange visit, as the Cobh Folk Dance Group and musicians had spent a week performing in Austria in August 2001.
The Clare Lancers Set seemed most subdued by comparison when we resumed dancing after this display. But a few exuberant dancers included some of their own creative choreography, and suffice it to say that County Tipperary women instigated some of these innovative moves.
Everyone agreed that the platform was brilliant, the setting superb. We are all familiar once more with cross roads dancing, thanks to places like Clarecastle in County Clare every July. Kerry people are usually a step ahead of everyone else, contrary to popular opinion. The platform was situated near a roundabout - surely the first ever roundabout dance!
Listowel was alive with music almost around the clock. Every nook and cranny housed musicians of all age groups who had a ready-made audience. People danced on the streets at any given opportunity. But this town is renowned for literature and culture and now boasts a literary and cultural centre, called Seanchaí. This centre is housed in a combined 19th century Georgian residence and modern auditorium, and encompasses a unique audio-visual exhibition on the great writers of north Kerry. The Kerry Writers Museum at Seanchaí brings to life the imaginative worlds of writers including Dr John B Keane (RIP), Dr Bryan MacMahon (RIP), Professor Brendan Kennelly, George Fitzmaurice and Maurice Walsh. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday night the Seanchaí Centre took on a different mantle as it housed open singing sessions each night with bean an tí Karen Walsh.
The Dome was one of the many venues used for competitions during the festival. Unfortunately these competitions ran over time on Saturday night and it was after eleven o'clock before the céilí started. Some dancers were disappointed that this happened and felt it detracted from an otherwise excellently organised festival.
Meanwhile at the Boys School Matt Cunningham was able to start the mixed céilí on time. The delay in the Dome brought over more than the usual number of dancers - it was probably the biggest crowd ever seen at a mixed céilí. John Joe Tierney was back calling the sets, and the dancing was truly mixed tonight - there was no voting for the next dance. The organisers felt that as this is advertised as a mixed dance there should be céilí dancing. There were still plenty of sets to please those who came from the Dome and the atmosphere was electric. Things quieted down a bit for the Sweets of May, and many took the opportunity then to go to the Dome. However the dancing continued with high energy here all night, thanks especially to Matt and his band.
When the competitions ended in the Dome the wonderful Fodhla Céilí Band from Dublin soon had us dancing. The Fodhla was one of the first céilí bands on the road. Brian and Pat O'Kane and the rest of the group played on later than scheduled and even when the céilí finished everyone applauded for more. Brian then promised another three and a half hours dancing on the platform tomorrow afternoon.
Sunday I took a quick walk around the square as throngs of people gathered in the early noon sunshine. Amongst the tunes in the air I heard a familiar hornpipe tune that reminded me of the tune Heather Breeze play for the second figure of the Newport Set. I guided my feet in the general direction of the joyous sound. Sure enough Pat Friel of Heather Breeze sat in a folding chair playing a black accordion. After the usual pleasantries I asked Pat if he would play a few tunes for a set. I had spotted Anthony Broderick and a few other set dancers near by. We gathered ourselves and moved people on to the footpath and formed a set. I requested reels for a Connemara and away we went. Sandals on concrete, watching the slope of the ground and the exposed toes, we had one of the most enjoyable sets of the whole weekend. Thanks, Pat, for your wonderful music.
After lunch crowds began to convene at the roundabout dance. Pat, Brian, Don, Darragh, Brendan and Donal, the six members of the Fodhla Céilí Band were ready to start at three o'clock as planned. The floor was packed with dancers ready to dance the Connemara set, when Bryan announced that because competitions were running late in the hall across the street, the céilí would have to be delayed. Was the Fódhla jinxed? Some people were not too happy, especially the dancers who had to suffer a similar scenario the night before. These wonderful musicians once more showed a great understanding of our laid back Irish culture. Three quarters of an hour later dancers made up for lost time and danced until seven o'clock, tremendous music and craic, once more in scorching sunshine.
Sunday night back at the Dome everything was in order for the céilí to begin at ten o'clock. Matt Cunningham and his band started on the dot of time. Crowds began to gather but only slowly at first, the experience of previous delays still fresh in people's minds. The master of ceremonies was Dick O'Connell and everyone had a fantastic night's dancing. Toward the end of the night there was a special request and Matt played Boolavogue to the enraptured crowd. The céilí finished with a selection of reels where some dancers danced the High-Cauled Cap.
Michael Sexton played once more for the mixed céilí in the Boys School. The crowd was smaller and they had a good time with some vigorous and creative dancing on display.
Monday dawned as some travellers collected themselves for home. Others waited on for the farewell céilí in the Listowel Arms Hotel. The town was still alive with musicians and dancers. At times it seemed like no one had a home to go to, and everyone had just got a recipe for renewed energy. There was some memorable dancing in the square when members of several céilí bands joined together in one fabulous session.
By the time the farewell céilí got underway a large crowd converged in the ballroom at the hotel. Mort and Noreen Kelleher and their band played in their now familiar and exuberant Cork style. The floor was packed, everyone was in joyous mood and many spectators had gathered on the sidelines, including a large group anticipating the disco to follow.
Dancers who spotted Donie Nolan and Denis McMahon playing in session outdoors as they went into the céilí were able to wave goodnight to them as they left - that session of Sliabh Luachra music lasted longer than the céilí! The gods smiled on us with beautiful weather for the whole weekend.
Listowel, you can be proud of your town. All venues are within easy walking distance. Your restaurants, delicatessens, public houses and conveniences are a credit to a town of your population. The success of the festival surely is an honour to the organising committees at national and local level.
Joan Pollard Carew
Arriving in Killadysert I drove through the village following the directions given to me by the accommodation officer Marian Kenny. I took a sharp right at the bend with the sign for Labasheeda and the coast road. A few miles down this narrow west Clare scenic route I found myself outside the gates of Mary and Gerard Kenny's house. Kathleen O'Connell stopped by to welcome me to Co Clare. Mary arrived just then and I felt at home immediately on entering her beautiful home. This epitomised what I am always telling friends - County Clare people are the warmest and friendliest people a soul could meet.
A jorum of coffee and a hot shower and change and I was ready for my first nights céilí in the beautiful St Kieran's Centre in the heart of the village. I arrived as the chairman John Malone welcomed the large gathering. "I am honoured to be chairman of this committee. It is wonderful to work with such a dedicated group of hardworking people. We are proud of our heritage here in west Clare. We are privileged to be part of a community where Dan Furey and James Keane lived. This weekend is a tribute to Dan and James, but particularly Dan. I would like at this time to remember also Peter Finucane, (RIP) who died since our last festival. Peter was a wonderful friend of the people of west Clare and particularly this festival. He is sadly missed."
Fr John Kelly addressed the people and said he was delighted to be part of this very prestigious weekend. "I know there is a wonderful programme arranged for the weekend with music and dancing. This is a real community festival and there's something for everyone young and old."
John Malone then invited Michael Tubridy to say a few words. Michael said he was delighted to be back in Labasheeda. "Celine and I came to Labasheeda for the first time in 1986 and formed a firm friendship with Dan Furey and James Keane. These men are the saviours of the traditional dances of the Labasheeda area. Dan was known far and wide for teaching dancing in the schools of west Clare and latterly came to prominence at the Willie Clancy Summer School. His favourite dance was the Priest and His Boots, a solo dance."
John Malone then invited Celine Tubridy and John Creed to dance the Priest and His Boots, in memory of Dan. Michael Tubridy played the melody on the flute.
Pat Breen TD from Ballynacally officially launched the festival. "This is one of my first official functions in west Clare since my recent election. I am honoured to be invited to launch this cultural festival. This is one of the most important social weekends in Ireland. It's sad to see depopulation in rural Ireland. West Clare has suffered greatly. This loss in population is a huge blow to rural communities. I would like to see all of County Clare but particularly west Clare developed to its full potential. We have our beautiful landscape and our rich culture. Festivals such as this one will certainly draw people from all over our island and far beyond. As Father Kelly said earlier, the organising committee have a packed programme of events and I can see a few itchy feet ready to dance. Without further ado I declare this festival open."
The Emerald Céilí Band from County Fermanagh started the night with the Connemara Set. From the very beginning of the night the floor was packed with dancers as these young musicians doled out jigs, reels, polkas and hornpipes with the true grit of youth. By 1.30am, as dancers packed away their shoes and made haste for their accommodation, most were anticipating the following day's workshops.
Saturday morning by 10.30am, John Fennell had the large attendance in two lines. In his own words, ladies at one side, gents on the other, like in olden times. I had never had the privilege to take a workshop with this young accomplished tutor. What a joy to watch his tremendous Clare battering steps. John took great care to break down each move and tap of the feet. He moved around the hall and took each pupil individually through every move.
John hails from Kilrush and teaches dancing all over west Clare. His special joy is in teaching children. Kathleen O'Connell told me that all the children are mad about him. I am not surprised, with his gentle but precise manner. John is also a lovely singer and a brilliant footballer and coaches the Clare ladies football team.
To conclude the workshop John went through the West Clare Caledonian, often referred to as the Round the House Set. This was my first time dancing this set, which is very interesting as all couples dance at the same time. Everyone was anxious to put John's battering steps to use for this set. Some accomplished this with ease, others found themselves falling back to their own old style. Thank you, John, for a fantastic morning.
The ladies of the festival committee had scrumptious sandwiches freshly prepared in the spotlessly hygienic tea room. Tea, coffee and mineral waters were readily available. Most who attended the morning workshop stayed in the hall and enjoyed the cuisine.
Energised on our carbohydrate lunches we were all ready for the afternoon workshop. Mike Mahony organised his music and speakers and announced that he was workshopping the Williamstown Set. He said, "Mary Clancy was unable to give this workshop this year and invited me along. I am delighted and honoured to be here and especially thrilled to be afforded this opportunity. Mary said she had intended to do this set. The Williamstown is from the Galway-Roscommon area although I am told it's more a Galway set."
Mike has a rare style of teaching, most concise, instructive and patient. I know this set very well and have been dancing it around the country for the past three years; it's one of my favourite sets. Most participants in the workshop had never danced it before. By the end of the workshop everyone seemed comfortable with all the figures - surely a tribute to our wonderful tutor, Mike. When everyone was happy with the Williamstown, Mike went on to teach the Loughgraney Set, which was originally danced as a half set. This is a simple but lovely set, quite similar to the Caledonian.
Mike Mahony is no stranger to Labasheeda; his father came from the area. Mike now lives in Shannon, and is an accomplished tutor. He has been teaching for many years in Shannon two nights a week, with beginners on Monday nights and advanced classes on Thursday. He teaches in the One Mile Inn in Ennis on Wednesday nights. During the summer months Mike has been teaching in the beautiful new Glór Centre in Ennis.
Also on Saturday in the room adjoining the main hall Celine Tubridy gave her step dancing workshop. In the morning she taught the Double Jig to a large group of participants and in the afternoon the Priest and His Boots.
Meanwhile the school down the road was alive with music workshops. Michael Tubridy gave tuition on the flute to a group of adults. Joan Hanrahan taught the fiddle and Dympna O'Sullivan taught the concertina and most of their pupils were children.
When all the workshops finished the school became a restaurant. Dinner was available from five to seven o'clock with beautiful, freshly prepared food, served in the style we have come to expect in this west Clare village.
Saturday night at 8.30pm saw the local church packed to capacity as visitors and locals gathered for the special mass for Dan Furey. Father John Kelly said the mass and welcomed visitors to the congregation.
At 10pm the hall was packed and dancers graced the floor for the first set of the night as the Corkonian Abbey Céilí Band gladdened our ears and feet. What a joyous night of dancing in this wonderful community hall.
Sunday at eleven o'clock people arrived at the little graveyard at the side of the hill a mile beyond the village. Father Kelly said special prayers at the graves of both Dan Furey and James Keane.
The crowd then adjourned to the Battery Castle which guards the Shannon River. Barney Moloney, the owner of the castle, welcomed us and told the history of the castle. Barney's niece Noreen O'Sullivan from Killarney and his granddaughter Deirdre Fitzpatrick sang individually. Deirdre is one of the local Kilmurry musicians. Antoinette Neylon, another Kilmurry musician, treated us to her wonderful singing.
The Kilmurry players then played the Caledonian Set. Five sets took the castle by storm and battered out this wonderful Clare set. The musicians played a number of waltzes to the delight of the crowd. No one was in any hurry to leave the warm hospitality of Barney Moloney. It was almost like being in his kitchen. Barney was proud to have such a large group of people dancing where Dan and James had so often danced in the past.
Michael Tubridy proudly showed a pocket clock which belonged to Dan Furey. The little digital alarm clock in a folding leather case was still functioning after nine years, even if the display was a bit obscured. It was almost as though part of Dan was there with us.
Eventually people began to scatter for lunch in the school, anxious to see the fancy dress parade at two o'clock. No one was disappointed as the parade was a joy to watch. Most innovative and imaginative floats kept everyone entertained. The judges selected three winners. First place went to the float called Stone Mad, second place was Butter Making, and third place Fairy Tree.
On display in a trailer was an enormous bull with a sign that read, "Gamble on Rambo." Rambo was raffled off that afternoon and there was a brisk sale in raffle tickets for him. The parade concluded with some outdoor dancing on the little platform on the bank of the river. The Kilmurry players once more provided the music.
The afternoon céilí was a little late beginning because of all the festivities of the parade. At 3.30pm the Glenside Céilí Band had the packed hall on their feet dancing, as they played in their usual exuberant Longford style for set after set. By 6.30pm most dancers were happy to take a break. Some visitors had to return home. Some decided to stay on for Michael Sexton's céilí that night and took meals in the school again. The final céilí was a nice way to wind down the weekend, as it was mostly locals dancing Clare sets and plenty of waltzes. It gave the remaining visitors time to mingle with local dancers.
This festival has grown in popularity over the years and it's easy to see why. It has become a real community and family festival of many pursuits, with swimming competitions, parish league football games, fancy dress, parade floats and children's art competitions.
Clare FM radio gave a full one and a half hour programme to the festival on the Friday. Members of the committee and the local community spoke on several topics about the area and the festival. Tributes were paid to Dan Furey, James Keane and Peter Finucane.
The local set dancers, the Shannon Gaels Set, did County Clare proud when they danced in Croke Park to represent County Clare before the All-Ireland hurling final Clare-Kilkenny match on Sunday 8th September. Unfortunately the Banner County were defeated by the Kilkenny Cats, but there is always next year.
Regardless of hurling matches one thing we are sure of is another wonderful Labasheeda festival in 2003.
Joan Pollard Carew
The Cork Folk Festival is an annual celebration of traditional Irish music in Cork City. During the six days it operated this year, from 27 August to 1 September, it presented dozens of musicians in concert and sessions in venues all over the city to entertain music fans. Set dancing is always prominent in the programme - this year there were three ceilis and a workshop on the weekend.
I drove into the city for the Friday night ceili with the Abbey Ceili Band without knowing where to find the Imperial Hotel and where I'd leave my car. Luckily the hotel appeared before me on my first circuit searching 'round the centre and I quickly found street parking nearby. The Imperial is a grand hotel from a different era, at least 160 years old. The ballroom was at the top of two flights of stairs and was a large, lofty and light room which hasn't lost all of its past grandeur. Most of the floor was carpeted, except for a long narrow patch of old well-kept timber exposed in the centre.
The Abbey Ceili Band has a strong local following and they attracted a crowd of fifteen or more sets here. We began with the Sliabh Luachra, which was danced in comfort, but after that the crowd grew bigger than the floor so there were sometimes three sets on the carpet. The band nicely alternated the reels and polkas and I was delighted for the chance to dance the Borlin Polka. A number of youngsters came into the ceili from the bar and concert next door, attracted by the Abbey's infectious music. They crowded onto the floor to dance beside the sets and the hotel security staff helped to keep the dancing in order.
On Saturday morning I returned to the Imperial Hotel after leaving the car in a parking garage. Timmy McCarthy, one of the founders of the folk festival, taught his usual inspirational workshop to three sets of dancers. The pace was brisk as we did the Sneem, Victoria and Borlin sets in two hours, with Timmy playing the music, calling and jumping up to demonstrate.
Timmy has an intriguing theory about the name of Victoria set - why would the Irish call a set after the British queen? He wonders if instead the set was named for Vitoria, the site of a decisive 1813 battle in Spain in which troops led by the Duke of Wellington broke Napoleon's power there. Similarly, an 1809 battle in Talavera, Spain, could have given the Televara Set its name, just as a well known reel, the Salamanca, has the same name as another Spanish battle site of French defeat.
Johnny O'Leary and his daughter Ellen played for a ceili in the hotel on Saturday afternoon. The lovely music wasn't enough to tempt people inside from the beautiful weather so there were only two sets. Timmy was back to call and teach. We practiced the sets from the morning and also danced the Sliabh Luachra, West Kerry, Jenny Ling, Ballyvourney Jig and Connemara.
After the ceili I had some experiences that happen only when dancing in the city. On returning to the multi-story car park I found myself waiting in a queue for twenty minutes to pay the parking fee (€17.80). Then I queued in the car for another twenty minutes to exit the garage and then one more time in the streets to leave the city centre. In some ways life in the city rolls along at a pace which is more relaxed than in the country.
Luckily the ceili that night was out in the suburbs. I found my way to the hall at the Nemo Rangers Football Club without a hitch thanks to the handy signs placed at a few strategic junctions. There was an odd smell in the hall which everyone noticed on arrival. The gas had been left on in the kitchen and shut off as soon as it was discovered. The smell seemed to clear at the same time as Matt Cunningham started to play and we never thought of it again as we were too busy having a brilliant ceili. Matt's music was superb, the crowd was as big as the previous night, and the hall was spacious enough for exuberant dancing.
The dancing at the Cork Folk Festival is only a small part of the programme. Most of the festival goers attend the numerous concerts and sessions with both well-known and local musicians. The festival though is strongly committed to dance and always has two days of ceilis and workshops in varied locations in and around the city. My visit to dance at the Cork Folk Festival was a welcome break from the usual.
Ossian Publications, the Cork publisher of traditional music books and recordings, has released four new CDs of music for set dancing, with a total of seventeen sets. The recordings have been previously available on cassette tapes and are collected together on CD for the first time. Each disk includes a booklet containing instructions for all the sets on it - these have been written by William Hammond, the series editor.
The collection is strong on the sets of Cork and Kerry, with a few Clare sets included as well. The music is by a number of Cork and Kerry musicians, including Breanndán Ó Beaglaioch, Paul O'Shaughnessy, Paul McGrattan, Pat Sullivan, Donnacha and Aogan Lynch and Steve Cooney. Timmy McCarthy plays music for some of the sets and provides calling on others.
Some of the more unusual sets included are the Ardgroom Polka, Kenmare Polka, Mealagh Valley, Set of Erin, and Victoria. Three Clare sets are the only reels in the collection - the Lancers, Corofin Plain and Orange and Green.
Contact Ossian for further information.
Our dear set dancing friend Packie Conboy passed suddenly away on Saturday night 15th June as he was about to administer Holy Communion to the congregation in his parish church in Newtownforbes, Co Longford. A cloud of sadness hung over Longford and surrounding areas. The previous night he was dancing in Rooskey with his wife Josie. Nobody knows what lies ahead.
Packie was a wonderful homely man. He lived for Josie his wife and for ceilis. They travelled all over to ceilis and to set dancing competitions. We got to know Packie and Josie through set dancing - of course so many friendships are made at ceilis.
Whenever we went to the Longford or Leitrim areas, after the ceili it was back to Packie's house for tea, more set dancing and Packie would render a song or two. One of his favourites was The Cliffs of Dooneen. To round off the night, or rather the morning, the brush was introduced and Packie would do his party piece to perfection. The dawn was after breaking as we headed for our homes in Edenderry and Kinnegad. Memories like this will always live on.
Our heartfelt sympathy to Josie with whom we will please God always keep in touch with.
Go ndéanaidh Dia trócaire ar a anam uasal dhílis.
from the two Marys, Margaret, Michael and Jimmy
The sudden and untimely death of Sean Hogan from Lisdoonvarna, Co Clare came as a great shock to all who knew him. He and his wife Anne were well known to the set dancers of Kilfenora and Lisdoonvarna. I loved their gentle, lilting, elegant style of Clare dancing. They usually danced together, and there was always a lovely feeling about being in a set with them. Sean most often had a kind word and a twinkle in his eye. He loved his set dancing, and especially the Plain Set. Sean danced all his life; his brother Christie is also a wonderful dancer. His mother danced sets; in her time people danced in each other's houses.
April 16th this year was Sean's 59th birthday. After a full day of farming which included attending the birth of a calf, Sean was raring to go out set dancing to celebrate his birthday. He and Anne arrived late for the set dancing class in Lisdoonvarna. When a visitor had to sit down half way through the Plain Set, Sean stepped in opposite me and eight of us danced the last three figures of the set. Shortly after that Sean passed away, surrounded by his wife and set dancing friends.
Sean and Anne grew up as neighbours just outside Lisdoonvarna, although they hardly knew each other growing up. In 1982 they started dating and in 1983 they were married. Sean was quiet, unassuming and kind to all who knew him. He was a brilliant farmer. He was a lifetime supporter of the GAA, playing Gaelic football, acting as an official for the football, and often going out to support the young lads in the under 12 and under 14 games just as much as going to the big matches and the All-Irelands.
Sean is mourned by his wife Anne, and children Sarah, Sean, Clare, Lisa and Michael, his brother Christie and family, and many friends.
May he rest in peace.
Nattanya Hewitt, Kilfenora, Co Clare
The weather was getting colder so I was having that extra swing in the Clare Lancers set to keep myself warm. The therapy (the set dancing) wasn't working and I was wondering was it all the bingeing on it that was the trouble. I just couldn't resist taking in ceilis on the quiet. Especially ones in far away halls right in the middle of nowhere. These would have been the perfect places for Bin Laden. I decided to go to my fabulous Doc, the one with the long legs. I never minded her examining me at all.
"Am I getting too much of the therapy, Doc?"
"You can't get too much of the therapy! It either works or doesn't work," she shouted.
"I was bingeing on it again, I mean I was dancing again last night in Nawporpory."
"Agh! better than the auld viagra!" she exclaimed.
"Yes but why do I have sore legs?" I asked.
"It must be all the pints you're not drinking!"
"Do you have any of those pills, the ones for the sore legs?" I asked.
"Yes, but did you know they've been taken off the market because they cause heart attacks?" she said.
"Hey Doc, I'd prefer to have a heart attack than have sore legs!" I said.
"I know like all set dancers, for whom I always keep a few stashed away."
"Fair play to your pancreas, Doc. May all your ceilis be good ones."
At the All Ireland Fleadh in Listhrowinthetowely I bumped into Dugo. That night Dugo was on a potent combination of pints and pills. However I don't think they were for sore legs.
"It's either two pints and four and a half pills or four pints and three and a quarter pills," he said.
"The all important combination," I said.
"I can always pretend I'm on the blue ones when I'm on the green ones," he joked.
"I know, Dugo. You get better when you know you're not going to get better."
The guy on the microphone was a 'grab them as soon as they get in the door' man. He shouted at set dancers who hadn't partners, "Put up your hand in the air and see what God will send you!" I knew Dugo wasn't happy with what God had sent him with the expression on his face. She was attractive but towering over him. When the Plain Set ended he was over like a shot to me sweating like a horse.
"She's a fine woman okay, but she's a big woman," he said.
"Oh, you'd need to be in your health Dugo and do you know something else?"
"What?" he asked.
"Even if you weren't it would be a great way of finding out!"
Copyright © 2002 by O F Hughes
I read with great interest the Matt Cunningham story in a recent issue of Set Dancing News. A good deal of it I knew already as I've been to Matt's home on a number of occasions collecting set dance tapes. Towards the end of the interview he expressed his concern about playing for the same eight or nine sets at most ceilis. I think there are a couple of reasons for this and I know a lot of dancers might not agree with me but I feel it must be said anyway.
There are a lot of sets that we danced some years ago that you would never get now at a ceili and I think it would be a pity if these polka and jig sets were dropped in favour of battering reels.
- Around this part of the country we always have a caller and this way you can always call different sets and dancers have no trouble dancing them. Some people might not be too happy with a caller but it is a big help to people who are not long dancing.
- A lot of bands would rather play reels and because of this some of the lovely polka, slide and jig sets are being forgotten. A lot of people prefer reels for battering and some even have plates on the toes of their shoes to make even more noise. Some batter on beat and some batter off beat and this can knock the band out of time. I'm as fond of a bit of a batter as anybody but dance to a rhythm without banging.
Shay White, Staleen, Donore, Co Meath
Thank you Tim Joe and AnneThe Abbeyknockmoy Set Dancers would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank Tim Joe and Anne Riordan for the wonderful music they have provided at various set dancing competitions including the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil held recently in Listowel. They feel that Tim Joe and Anne's contribution to competition set dancing has made their team's success. Again, thank you Tim Joe and Anne.
Marie Moran, Abbeyknockmoy, Tuam, Co Galway
The Abbeyknockmoy dancers won first place in the senior mixed set dancing competition at the Listowel Fleadh Cheoil in August, dancing two figures of the Cavan Reel Set.
Great craic from seeing themselvesHello Bill
Just to let you know that I received the latest issue in the mail and it has given so many people such pleasure! I was in O'Shea's/old Moran's tonight and I think about ten people looked at it and got great craic from seeing themselves in photos!
Thanks again for a terrific magazine.
Nora Stewart (Aussie!), Dublin
Hundreds of dedicated set dancers gathered from the 5th to 14th of July in the Armada Hotel on the west coast of County Clare for ten days and nights of set dancing.
The owner Johnny Burke and his crew had once more secured the crème de la crème of ceili bands - three local County Clare bands, the Four Courts, Michael Sexton and the Kilfenora, all well known and acclaimed bands both nationally and internationally; the super Abbey Ceili Band from County Cork; the exuberant Glenside from County Longford; and the youngest ceili band for the week, the wonderful Emerald all the way from County Fermanagh. Dancers had a dancers' paradise with jigs, reels, polkas and hornpipes as these brilliant musicians lifted the hearts and soles of everyone.
Outdoors the sun was smiling and the Atlantic waves crashed against the shoreline on Spanish Point, but dancers had come for one purpose, and day and night the tapping of feet of the joyous crowds seemed at times to overpower even Mother Nature herself. Dancers from all over Ireland, England, Europe, North America and elsewhere made new friendships or in most instances renewed old friendships in this haven of genuine social Irish culture.
On Tuesday midway through the afternoon ceili we were all given a real treat and celebration of our young dancers. The Young Mullagh Set Dancers danced three figures of the Caledonian Set. Style, class, panache and joy are the four adjectives that best describe these young boys and girls. No surprise to learn that this awesome group were All-Ireland winners with this set in 2001.
I spoke to their tutor Marian Casey from Ennis. "I am delighted that you enjoyed the young people dancing. I am very lucky these children are rich in culture. Their parents have a very genuine interest and involvement in their dancing. I am indebted to Carmel O'Looney. Carmel is one of the parents and takes great joy in assisting in their tutoring.
"The group is together just over a year. Our philosophy is simple. We encourage the children to be proud of their heritage, to dance from the heart and to share their talent with the general public.
"This year they danced with the wren boys to raise funds for Saint Luke's Hospital and the money collected each week from their classes is given to the Children of Chernobyl Fund."
I asked Marian about her background in set dancing. "I was lucky to be born rich in culture. My father Frank Casey and my uncle Monty Casey were both well-known set dancers. Uncle Monty competed against the famous old Mullagh Set in the past. Each time we dance I feel it's a tribute to the old Mullagh Set.
"It's very special to me to be teaching the natural style and steps of the Clare set. I encourage the children to wear soft shoes as I was always taught the importance of not being able to see the sole of the shoe in the Clare style of dancing. I have also taught the children the background of the Caledonian Set."
Marian is a most humble and unassuming lady. She is rightfully proud of her dancers and gives all of them a chance to participate. I noticed all the children present from her class were given an opportunity to dance as she substituted them through the figures. Most admirable, Marion, these young dancers will certainly grow and develop in their dance secure in their culture and heritage. You can see these brilliant dancers perform in the new Glór Centre in Ennis.
Ten days of dancing came to an end on Sunday afternoon with fantastic music from County Clare's own Michael Sexton. Dancers gathered themselves for home. Amid goodbyes one could hear promises to return again next year to the Armada Hotel on Spanish Point, this little piece of heaven between Kerry and Galway.
Joan Pollard Carew, Thurles, Co Tipperary
In 1997 as hundreds of mourners gathered at the funeral of Connie Ryan, Paddy Heffernan, mayor of Clonoulty, formed a plan to put some kind of celebration together for Connie's first anniversary. He spoke with Pat Murphy, Michael and Celine Tubridy, Michael Loughnane, Jim Doyle, Matt Cunningham and many other close friends of Connie's who thought his idea would be a wonderful tribute to the Clonoulty man who had given so much of his life, time, energy and expertise to ceili and set dancing.
Paddy, one of the most innovative and motivated men in the parish, was one of the leading organisers in 1999 for the first ever Connie Ryan Gathering. Over the last four years this festival has gone from strength to strength. Attending the weekend again this year, one could easily see the amount of enthusiasm, dedication and hard work that the committee and organisers had put in to ensure that the fourth gathering would emulate the three previous years. The little village in south Tipperary took on a festive atmosphere as the community of all the neighbouring parishes and visitors from all over Ireland and across the world gathered to celebrate Clonoulty's set dancing hero.
The festival opened with a ceili in the marquee. Hundreds of locals and visitors danced the night away to the wonderful music of the Ard Erin Ceili Band. Saturday morning Pat Murphy and Betty McCoy started the workshops with one of the recently revived local sets, the Ballagh Half Set. The Ballycastle Set from Co Mayo followed this. In the afternoon the workshop continued with the South Sligo Lancers Set.
Dancers and tutors alike took a well-earned break. Some went home or to their respective guesthouses. Others relaxed in the local hostelries or got involved in the numerous sessions on offer. At 9.30 dancers began to collect for the night's ceili and by ten o'clock hundreds danced to the exuberant music of the Longford Glenside Ceili Band. After a short break for tea, coffee and finger-licking-good brack the musicians and dancers were energised once more.
On Sunday morning forty dancers arrived at 9.30 for Celine and Michael Tubridy's class. Celine taught the first three of the five steps of the Priest and his Boots. Celine and Michael told the class that they were the best group of dancers they had for a long time.
At eleven o'clock Clonoulty church was packed for the anniversary mass at 11.30. Young musicians from the parish and the parish choir enhanced this special mass. Claire Ryan and Teresa Bourke played tin whistle, David Fitzpatrick played the flute and Kathy Maher played the mandolin. Amy Maher played a slow air on the tin whistle. Michael Tubridy, long time friend of Connie's, played a slow air on the flute. Noreen Ryan sang Mo Gra Thu Haoine during the offertory. Following mass, friends and visitors visited Connie's grave. Shane Ryan (Connie's nephew) played Eamonn an Chnoic on the concert flute.
Dancers and visitors enjoyed well-presented nutritious and beautifully cooked lunches in the local bars.
Matt Cunningham and his band were on stage at 2.30 as throngs of dancers started forming groups of sets. Most were delighted at the variation of sets being danced. Pat Murphy and Michael Loughnane called the less familiar sets like the Aherlow, West Kerry, Labasheeda, Williamstown and Clare Orange and Green.
Sunday night closed the festival with ceili and old time to the music of Danny Webster. Jim Doyle was on hand as master of ceremonies. Dancers were delighted that he included some ceili dances like the Walls of Limerick, Haymakers Jig and High-Cauled Cap. Jim hails from nearby Rosgreen and has returned to the area to live in Ruan after spending many years in Manchester where he was a leading light in set and ceili dancing.
The committee are delighted to report that this year's festival has been the best ever. More importantly this festival has been the catalyst for young dancers and musicians in the area. Twenty young people under the age of fourteen are attending music classes in the surrounding parishes. Once a month these young people have a seisiún in the local community hall. Forty to fifty dancers all age groups now meet every Thursday night during the winter months for set dance classes given by Connie Ryan's sister Margaret Slattery. Surely this is the perfect tribute to Connie Ryan, the quiet man with the broad smile and brilliant sense of humour.
Joan Pollard Carew
Kenmare had its first county Fleadh Cheoil from 21st to 23rd June. Kenmare, or Neidin as it's fondly known in Irish, is a beautiful heritage town nestling on the seashore at the foot of the Cork and Kerry mountains. The town, founded in 1670 by Sir William Perry, has preserved many original features. Development has been sympathetic to the tradition of an Irish town.
The Ring of Kerry with one hundred and ten miles of breathtaking views is a treasure not to be missed. A visit to the Ring of Beara, Rossdohan Pier, Gleninchiquin, Cloonee Loughs or beaches at Allihies or Castle Cove is a must. A walkers, golfers and fisherman's paradise, Kenmare is "the jewel on the Ring of Kerry."
On this June weekend it was certainly the cultural hub of the Kingdom County. The festival began with a fancy dress parade led by pipers. The opening ceremonies began with speeches from the county chairman Jackie Walsh and the festival chairman Donald Lynch. Emphasis was put on the importance of the tradition of Irish language, music and dancing as a major part of our history, culture and identity, and our responsibility to keep these alive and to pass them on to our youth.
The large crowd that gathered in the summer sunshine were treated to a set dancing exhibition by last year's All-Ireland winners. Figure dancers formerly in the show To Dance on the Moon followed this. The outdoor festivities adjourned indoors to local pubs and bars, with music, singing and dancing to the small hours of the morning. Set dancers thronged to the marquee in the Lansdowne Hotel grounds to dance the night away to the music of Tim Joe and Ann Riordan.
On Saturday morning at eleven o'clock all the competitions started in the various centres. The attendance was tremendous and the talent at all venues and all age groups epitomised that tradition is alive and well in our fair land.
The set dancing workshop began at 3pm. We started with the Connemara Set. Pupils were privileged to have the very talented Gerard Butler from Roscommon as their tutor. Gerard is now a professional dancer and as some pupils so rightly put it he is our Lord of the Dance. The workshop continued with the Williamstown Set followed by the Derrada. When the workshop concluded those remaining with enough energy danced a lively Plain Set.
The square was alive from eight thirty with music from Liam O'Connor, Lisa Ahern and friends and more dancing exhibitions. Dancing started in the Atlantic Bar at approximately nine thirty, and quite a few local and visiting dancers decided to go there while they were waiting for the set dancing competitions to finish in the marquee.
We danced a few usual sets like the Plain, Connemara and Sliabh Luachra. Then Vincent Crowley, the box player, announced that they were playing the Kenmare Set. A group of six locals stood hesitantly and one of the men scanned the crowd - I took this as an invitation for a couple to join them and said this to my dancing partner. However he was a bit dubious and expressed a desire to remain a spectator as he said there is something special in the style and tradition of local dancers dancing their own local set. It began to look like the group were nurturing the idea of abandoning the challenge to dance as they had only six dancers. I quickly stood up and asked the elder of the group if he wished my partner and myself to join their group. He very graciously thanked me and the set began. I had never danced this set before but with the gentle prompting of the accomplished local dancers I enjoyed this set more than any other I danced for the rest of the weekend.
Dancing was still in full swing when I left for the marquee at 12.30. On arriving I soon discovered that the Glenside Ceili Band had everyone's feet tapping. The marquee was buzzing with dancers and everyone was having a tremendous time. Gerard Butler was on hand to call the less familiar sets. The ceili concluded with the Clare Lancers. Tired and happy dancers retired in anticipation of another day of festivities on Sunday.
Sunday morning started for some with mass at ten, then a treat of storytelling with Teddy Black and friends in a local bar. Meanwhile the competitions were coming to a close at the various venues. The last of the set dancing workshops was at two thirty in the marquee. Gerard Butler taught the Corofin Plain Set. Then we all adjourned to the square for the open air concert. A multitude of musicians played throughout the afternoon. At around 4pm a group called the Ring of Beara asked if some set dancers would join them on stage. Again I was one of the first to go forward and as Brendan joined me we advised the musicians Derek, Robert and Janet that if we could get six more dancers we would dance the Sliabh Luacra Set. Within a few minutes the stage was hosting two sets. Locals led by Martina O'Neill and friends then danced the Kenmare Set and the Black Valley Square Jig Set.
The evening continued with a sheaf throwing competition and side show attractions, children's entertainment and music continued to fill the square. The marquee dancing and the festival came to a close with a grand ceili to the music of Neily O'Connor and the Sean Nós Ceili Band. I haven't danced as many polka sets for a long time. The music was unbelievable. I thought when I danced to Johnny Reidy at the Shindig in Tralee last January I would never hear such astonishing polkas again, but of course this is true polka country.
The local people made my weekend with their open friendliness and charm. Kenmare was the perfect choice for this festival. The organisers at county level but more importantly at local level are to be commended for this true Irish festival of music, song, dance, storytelling, but most of all great craic.
Joan Pollard Carew
Cape Clear Island boasts that it is an island for all seasons. Just as well, as when Bertie and Annie Moran and gang sailed from Schull Harbour on Sunday morning, 30 June, a heavy mist greeted the travellers. Set dancers by their very nature are a resilient gang of people and no rain or mist could dampen the enthusiasm of this smaller than usual group.
Our skipper Kevin Molloy kept us entertained on the journey over with information on the island and the waters surrounding it. Cape Clear is Ireland's southernmost inhabited island, three miles long by one mile wide, lying eight miles off the coast of Cork. Four miles west of the island is Fastnet Rock, with Mizen Head to the northwest.
Kevin told us that the waters in the lake on the island had magic cures for bunions and other ailments. He told us that Saint Ciaráin, the island's patron saint, is allegedly the earliest of Ireland's four pre-Patrician saints. He spoke of the 12th century church ruin and a 14th century O'Driscoll castle. The island is a perfect place for bird watching (the feathered kind) because of its remote location and proximity to the continental shelf.
The island's 120 inhabitants speak Irish and English, Kevin said, and most would be delighted if we spoke in the Irish language to them. I made a mental note of this and anticipated quite a lot of dialogue in our native language, as this would enhance my day of culture in this wild romantic place.
The mist cleared as we docked at the island's north harbour. Travellers made haste to the local hostelries for refreshments. Bertie advised us that our set dancing workshop would begin at two o'clock and be followed by dancing and a bit of good old Irish craic.
Nurtured on the beautiful home cooking offered on the island everyone scattered to follow his or her own pursuits - a quiet drink, a walk to some of the highest points, a visit to the church, a peaceful nook to watch the birds or just playing a few tunes outdoors sheltered by the clubhouse.
At two o'clock most of the day-trippers had gathered in the clubhouse for the workshop. Derry McCarthy from Dunmanway was our tutor for the day. Derry began with the Mazurka Set. This set sometimes gets forgotten at ceilis. I think it's a shame as it's a simple little County Clare set of six reels. The next set was the Fermanagh, followed by the West Kerry. This was a real family day out. It was wonderful to see children from as young as eight set dancing with adults.
Everyone took a well-earned break before the grand finale. Bertie and Derek Hare played some wonderful waltz tunes to start the party. After that we danced a Haymakers Jig, two sets got on the floor for the Castle Set, some more waltzes and then the Connemara Set.
Finan Cogan sang a song of the Cork ladies tales of woe. This was followed by an entertaining story by Chuck Kruger. Chuck lives on the island and is a well-known writer. Father and daughter duo Mark and Molly O'Mahony sang a beautiful song called Skibbereen.
Micheál Cadogan who is the manager of the island's co-op addressed the gathering in both Irish and English. He said he was delighted that this tour returned each year to the island and brought so many talented entertainers.
At seven o'clock we all made haste for the pier and our return sailing to the mainland. A relaxed troop of mainlanders arrived back happy that we had a special day on Cape Clear, one of the most romantic, unspoiled islands with its sparkling harbours, breathtaking cliffs, bogs, and rugged hills - a true haven of peace.
Joan Pollard Carew
On the weekend of July 7-9, the Irish American Heritage Center in Chicago, Illinois, reverberated with the music and dance of Sliabh Luachra. My dear friend, Chicago set dance teacher Susanna Haslett, invited Timmy "the Brit" McCarthy, his lovely wife Rhona and friends to teach music, dance, and sean nós singing. Yutaka Usui, the set dancing teacher who drove the group cross country, taught a Clare step workshop Saturday morning. The Donncha Lynch family taught the music and singing on Sunday in addition to playing and singing for the ceilis.
Participants in the workshops came from New York, Kansas, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Missouri, as well as from Illinois. We had wonderful ceilis on Friday and Saturday nights; a full workshop on Saturday with a delicious lunch of pizza, salad, and sweets included; and a series of workshops with a seisiún on Sunday.
With wit and passion and warmth, Timmy taught five sets on Saturday: the old style version of the Sliabh Luachra, the Borlin Jenny with the skip step, the Set of Erin, Hurry the Jug (a fast-paced, intricate old dance that soon became my all-time favorite), and the Ballyvourney Reel Set. On Sunday he taught the Ardgroom Polka Set and the Sneem Set.
What impressed me about Timmy even more than his delightful sense of humor and his vibrant, energetic teaching style was his reverence for teaching the history of the dance the way the old people had taught him. To me, dance has been much more about passion and culture and the expression of love and joy than about the technical aspects of it. Timmy is adept at passing along all of those things.
Stressing that he teaches dance to pass on the old ways and to honor those who taught him, he spoke of learning dancing thirty years ago at Dan O'Connell's Pub in Knocknagree, County Cork. He explained that the older people have been doing the sets all along over the years, never stopping when sets became unpopular. Now, he explained, the dancing has evolved, and dancers from all over the world are going to that same pub, telling the old ones that they are doing the Sliabh Luachra set "wrong." The original dancers, he says, are too gracious and polite to argue with their visitors; instead, they try to adapt to the way the visitors are dancing it. Impressed by their kindness and humility, Timmy tries to honor them by showing his students the original dance and by telling his students about the people who passed the dance on to him, thus giving them the credit for keeping Irish traditions alive.
He also asked us to celebrate the masculine and feminine energy of dance. As an example, he talked of a very large man who is adept at making the woman he is dancing with feel safe and protected in his arms.
Then he spoke of attitude and style in dancing. He talked about the joylessness of some dancers, who go around frowning and criticizing others for "doing the dance wrong." When teaching the Borlin Jenny, he gave us a history of the dance and its name; he also taught the skip step, encouraging dancers to add individual style and attitude to it. Emphasizing that individual styles enliven any dance, he encouraged dancers to have fun, and we did have glorious fun listening, learning, and dancing.
He also dealt with misconceptions about polka sets, that idea that the music is too fast and the dancing too exhausting to be enjoyable. He demonstrated how with economy of movement and small steps, kept close to the ground, one never has to become winded or hurried in the dance. How beautiful it was to watch Timmy and his wife Rhona demonstrate their unique style.
Timmy's passion for dance and culture is contagious, and so is the reminder that dancing is about so much more than learning steps and sequences. My favorite quotation is "Dance is the breath of life made visible," and that breath of Irish life that took root so long ago is the cherished gift Timmy and friends have left all those who were lucky enough to spend a weekend with them.
Linda McManus, Kenosha, Wisconsin
Your editor first came to Ireland in 1993 and found himself at the Willie Clancy Summer School where he had the time of his life. He's never missed a week in Miltown since then. Irish summer schools offer a beautiful mix of culture, pleasure and friendship - every year is better than the last. These few pages give a taste of one person's experience.
Friday 28 June, Newport, Co Mayo
I went to Newport for a cultural exchange weekend with dancers from West Limerick. Last year a coachload of Mayo dancers travelled down to Limerick, and this time 32 from Limerick travelled north. They were welcomed to Newport in the lounge of the Black Oak Pub, a cosy little room with a floor big enough for just one set. Pat Friel and Liam Grealis of Heather Breeze Ceili Band played enough music for three figures of a set, and then the dancers sat down to give the next eight a chance to dance. There were a few waltzes when twice as many filled the tiny floor, and plenty of songs.
Saturday 29 June, Newport
Newport's community centre, the Parochial Hall, is in a beautiful setting overlooking a river. The floor is well-seasoned after more than sixty years of use. Five sets assembled for the workshop, mostly Limerick and Kerry people with a few Mayo locals. Timmy Woulfe began with the North Kerry Plain Set and John Joe Tierney continued with the Limerick Orange and Green. Timmy pointed out that dancers in their area traditionally use a polka step when dancing reels. I've done the Orange and Green many times, but this was the first time I danced its reel with the 'correct' step.
We spent the afternoon on the Tournafulla Set, a polka set, which has two newly revived figures launched here by Timmy today. Traditionally dancers would have preceded the set with an eight-hand reel and jig much like a ceili dance and this was the first time these were seen in public in decades. A set of Limerick dancers demonstrated the reel (polka step again) which had a couple of interesting moves. In one of them all four gents simultaneously cross the set to the opposite lady and Timmy taught us how to do it without crashing into each other. The visiting dancers accomplished this perfectly, but some Mayo dancers at the back of the hall only managed it after high hilarity. Another nice move was a grand chain - usually both the ladies and gents move around the set, but in this reel the ladies dance in place while the gents go travelling.
After the reel, Timmy decided to save the jig for later so we danced the rest of the set. Then he showed three two-hand dances, the Baby Polka, and west Limerick versions of the fling and barn dance. The Baby Polka is danced to a hornpipe and includes lots of clapping and finger wagging. My partner found it easy to imagine Victorian ladies and gentlemen dressed in the height of nineteenth century fashion dancing it in their elegant ballrooms.
In the evening I returned to Newport for the ceili and arrived just as the first set was forming. Taylor's Cross Ceili Band was on the tour from west Limerick and played beautiful music and their renowned selection of tunes. The locals were out in force tonight. Not many of them got up to dance the Limerick Orange and Green, though nearly everyone was out to dance the Newport Set. They have their own way of serving tea here - it's a waitress service where everyone stays seated and volunteers with trays bring the nourishment right to you.
After the national anthem, there was a special treat for the stragglers like myself who are the last to leave a hall. Timmy and his demonstration set performed the new reel from the Tournafulla set plus the jig we'd missed in the afternoon. Both were beautiful to watch and even at 2am after a full day of dancing I'd have loved to have had a go at them myself.
Sunday 30 June, Newport
The day was wet and stormy, which didn't dampen the Limerick visitors' enthusiasm for a mystery tour of Mayo. They were transported in two small buses to better navigate the Mayo roads and bridges. I missed the tour but arrived at their final destination - the community centre in Derradda - in good time to meet them. Cecily Breen organises weekly summer ceilis there and fortnightly dancing the rest of the year. She told me that the hall was a National School which the locals bought for a community centre. They've been dancing here close to thirty years.
When the bus tour arrived from the trip over rain-soaked mountains we were all treated to tea and cake, once again with waitress service. The entertainment began with a solo dance, followed by songs, the Derradda set, a brush dance and more songs. Donie and Maura Nolan of Taylor's Cross each sang beautifully, and Mick Lavalle of Westport sang two wonderfully comic songs, a satire of The Green Fields of France, and his popular Lotto song in which he wins a huge sum of money in the lottery. Mick said he'd truly be a millionaire if he had a euro every time he sang the song.
By the time the proceedings finished in Derradda, the afternoon ceili in Newport with Taylor's Cross was well underway and I quickly slipped out and rushed back down the road to the Parochial Hall. Taylor's Cross was playing to four sets who'd just started the Cashel Set. I engaged a partner, formed a set and was nicely warmed up when the rest of the tour arrived back. With the hall filled the atmosphere rose and the ceili passed quickly with lots of fun. The dancing included another Derradda Set and some two-hand dances, before finishing with the Connemara.
The goodbyes to the West Limerick gang took place at the Black Oak Pub. They were in a merry mood and the kisses were awarded freely to all the Newport folk. Once they left Pat Friel and Pat Murphy began playing music and I danced my third Derradda of the day.
Shoeing the donkey on three nights in a row at ceilis in Midfield, Ballaghadereen and Ballinlough.
Monday 1 July, Midfield, Co Mayo
Midfield is a tiny village at a crossroads in the middle of some boggy fields. The main attraction here is Julian's, a pub with a large and comfortable lounge which has a ceili every Monday night. I arrived while the Plain Set was finishing up. The Cashel was quickly called and there was a rush from the back of the hall, where everyone was seated, to the floor. The sets formed from bottom to top all in a line, and another line formed when the first one was full. During the break, plates of sandwiches and cake were left on the tables and dancers helped themselves to tea. Music was by the Woodlands Ceili Band, a four-piece group with box, flute, piano and drums from Castlerea, Co Roscommon. The music was beautifully traditional and made for a pleasant evening of dancing.
Tuesday 2 July, Ballaghadereen, Co Roscommon
Tonight's ceili in Durcan's Pub was part of the Douglas Hyde Summer School. I arrived right on time only to find the band setting up and the hall empty. Two dancers followed me in and it took twenty minutes before there were enough for a set. Music was once again by the Woodlands Ceili Band - I never heard them before yesterday, and here they are again! One set danced the Plain Set, then two did the Cashel, three for the next one and four after that. The floor wouldn't fit any more - it's circular, with a pillar and low beam on one side. There was one tall fellow dancing under it who was always ducking to avoid concussion. Nevertheless everyone had fun and enjoyed the lively music to the full.
Wednesday 3 July, Ballaghadereen and Ballinlough, Co Roscommon
I joined the summer school set dancing class in the Parish Hall today. Pádraig McEneaney taught twelve of us the Corofin Plain Set. He explained every detail of the moves and made us repeat them until we did them correctly. We practiced each figure in three half-sets and then again in a set and a half. Then he swapped one half-set out and one in so that everyone had a chance to dance in a full set. The dancers were all beginners and eager to learn. My half-set was practicing the Christmas, and the other gent explained how to place the arms, "Left hand over, right hand under." As we started turning, I added, "Then lie back and think of Ireland," which I heard someone say last weekend in Newport.
At the end of the class Pádraig asked for volunteers to perform in the summer school concert that night. I was reluctantly roped into it. We rehearsed the Corofin wheelbarrow a few times and Pádraig helpfully worked on the details. The show began at 8.30pm and we were the second item on the agenda. When I arrived on time there were hardly any performers or audience. When the show started half an hour late some members of the set were still absent. Finally one last lady arrived without her partner, so Pádraig danced with her. He told the musicians to take it handy but they gave us quick, lively music. The set was executed perfectly and left me wishing for more dancing.
As soon as that was over I rushed off to a ceili in the White House Hotel, Ballinlough, about half an hour away through the Roscommon bogs. The White House is a remarkably luxurious hotel to find in a tiny village, new and gleaming. The ballroom has four chandeliers, a big conservatory, tables covered in linen and a fine floor big enough for eight sets. Just as soon as I entered the hall I was greeted and welcomed by the organiser and teacher, Mildred Beirne, a passionate and enthusiastic supporter of set dancing. Throughout the night, she encouraged dancers onto the floor and made certain every set was filled. We danced a few of the usual sets, plus the Roscahill, a three figure polka set from Galway. The ballroom was well designed for sound so we could clearly hear every musician in Matt Cunningham's band. I had the last set, the Connemara, with Mildred, who asked if I did the Connemara step. I wasn't certain what step she meant but when the music began I was amazed to see the whole hall doing the proper Connemara step together, so I joined in and enjoyed it immensely.
Thursday 4 July, Ballaghadereen, Farran, Co Cork, and Kilfenora
This morning twelve of us were back in Pádraig's class where we danced the Lancers to the classic music on Michael Sexton's recording, a lively way to start the day. The mid-morning break is signalled by the arrival of the tea lady carrying a box containing milk, sugar, teabags, a pot and biscuits. Each day she boils the kettle, readies the table and serves the tea. Everyone sat around the table for some most enjoyable conversation.
After class I went down to a pub in Farran outside Cork City where the Abbey Ceili Band were launching their second live CD, Béal a' Ghleanna. I was late and missed the speeches and actual launch. The pub was totally gridlocked with hundreds of friends of the band. A session and dancing were expected but I thought I'd have a long wait. I wondered if I had a chance of a set at the ceili in Kilfenora. I headed home and managed to arrive during the final Caledonian. I was immediately greeted by Dutch friends, and a lady dancing the gent with one of them kindly sat down to let me finish the set.
Friday 5 July, Miltown
The day I'd been waiting for - the start of the summer school! I arrived at the Armada in the evening where a nice crowd had gathered for the opening ceili with the Four Courts. We started with the Caledonian, as usual. During the Connemara I attempted the Connemara step again, but it didn't have the same appeal when I was the only one doing it. The best part of the night was greeting all the friends I hadn't seen since last year.
Saturday 6 July, Miltown
I returned to the Armada for the afternoon ceili where the hall was buzzing with excitement. A lady who was at the White House in Ballinlough asked me for the first set - the Connemara! We had a great time stomping the floor with the Connemara step. A great afternoon with fantastic music from Michael Sexton.
The Mill Theatre, housed in a disused factory, was in operation again for the official summer school ceilis. Tonight's ceili started quietly and became nicely filled before long. The Kilfenora Ceili Band were in good form and pleased about the upcoming launch of their new CD, Live in Lisdoonvarna, with advance copies for sale.
Sunday 7 July, Miltown
After leaving the memorial service at Willy Clancy's grave I heard the big sound of the Emerald Ceili Band just down the road in the Mill Theatre. Inside a small crowd were making the most of the lively music. I was pleased to see some youngsters in the hall. In the Caledonian there were three girls who were dancing like experts. One fellow danced the Lancers with his infant daughter strapped to his chest. Three ladies and five girls danced the Corofin set by copying what the rest of us were doing, and did a good job of it. Despite a small crowd, the Emerald played beautifully. I imagine they'd have a fabulous time playing for themselves if no one else showed up.
The Abbey Ceili Band played tonight in the Mill. There were plenty of good sets, including a lively Newport and a Siege of Ennis. The Borlin Polka was great fun - I had a partner who was bouncier than I am, and she had the most entertaining hair that bounced even higher than she did.
Monday 8 July, Miltown
I dithered about which class to go to this morning and it was only when my car stopped at the Armada I knew I was going to Paddy and Carolyn Hanafin's. They were in the smaller hall which has a permanent floor and a few panels on carpet which together would hold eight sets. The place was packed with dancers. Paddy got a set up to show the first figure of the West Kerry Set, and when everyone got up to dance, we quickly discovered it was too crowded. Paddy started moving furniture so a few sets could dance on carpet. However the carpet was new and the hotel didn't want it danced on, so Paddy had us take turns to dance. Half the group danced a figure, sometimes two or three times, then the rest of the group got up. A few people did double duty, and sometimes there was a set outside on the patio. We made it through the set with great fun. Paddy promised extra flooring for tomorrow. He revealed he was suffering from toothache, but we never noticed as he was full of life and humour.
Back in the Armada again this afternoon I had the pleasure of dancing at one of the best ceilis in living memory. The Emerald Ceili Band played their hearts out to a small group yesterday, but today with a large, enthusiastic crowd to encourage them, their performance was nothing short of a masterpiece. Numerous spontaneous ovations filled the gaps between figures and sets. Everyone was relaxed, friendly, polite and dancing better than they ever had before. The sun was out, the sea views beautiful and the hall was perfectly filled - plenty of people and plenty of space.
Every set was a delight. I flew through the Lancers. I was in a set that danced the Cashel with some inspired improvisation (or messing about) which worked so well it was as though we'd been rehearsing for weeks instead of making it up as we went along. My partner for the Corofin was having such a good time that she was making little screams of pleasure, and I was so happy that my smile was fused in place because my facial muscles refused to move in any other direction. The last set was the Plain Set and the band asked if they should play it straight through - after a ceili like this there was only one answer to that question and we danced it non-stop. If anyone was tired it never showed because the music gave us all the energy we wanted and more. I experienced a new level of pleasure in my dancing - I was so satisfied by my afternoon in the Armada that I wouldn't mind if I never danced another step. But I'll be back again!
My contentment carried over to the ceili in the Mill tonight with the Four Courts. Set dancing is very cosmopolitan here - I danced sets with two French ladies, two Dutch, two Danish and a German. She's from Berlin and was part of a group of eight, all with matching t-shirts. The Danes were in a group of around fourteen, all women and very good dancers. The Europeans were joined by some locals who came along to support the band. The Four Courts played well for every set, starting and finishing with the Caledonian, just like they do twice a week in Vaughan's Barn. We also had the Aran Set which went like clockwork even though most of my set weren't sure of it.
Tuesday 9 July, Miltown
Back in Paddy and Carolyn Hanafin's class this morning, the sets were dancing in shifts again. The floor was the same as yesterday because the hotel didn't want any more boards on the carpet. The set of the day was the Clare Lancers. In the second figure Paddy had a memorable way of explaining one of the moves. "It's fierce important to wind the lady the right way," he said. "Do you want to know why?" Our curiosity was aroused. "If the lady has a wooden leg and you wind her the wrong way, she'll get taller and taller, and soon she'll fall over." In the last figure Paddy instructed everyone to say "hello-goodbye" to each person we shook hands with as we chained around the set. At first I thought it was silly but when the whole room chanted together the rhythm was irresistable.
The Tulla Ceili Band played in the Mill Theatre tonight. People arrived early to get a seat so there was a good crowd for the first set. More dancers soon filled the floor, and large numbers of spectators took all the seating and crowded beside the dance floor. We danced the standard collection of sets with the Caledonian and Plain danced twice. The only variation was the Cashel Set when Aidan Vaughan took over from the regular drummer, Michael Flanagan. It was played at a perfect pace and the polkas wouldn't have been out of place down in Kerry. Aidan continued drumming for the waltz, which gave Michael a chance to take to the floor. J J Conway's singing during the waltz was most welcome and had nearly the entire floor joining in the old favourites with him. Martin Hayes played with the band, sitting in the back but dancing in his seat with every note he played. Mike McKee is one of the two box players and he has his own way of dancing with his shoulders while playing. The band finished with a rake of reels and received an ovation. The buzz in the hall after that was a long time fading.
Wednesday 10 July, Miltown
I stopped by the Mill Theatre this morning where Mick Mulkerrin and Mairéad Casey are teaching Connemara sean nós dancing to ninety students. Mairéad said it was their third year teaching the class. Some students have been here every year and are now very good at it. She and Mick separate the class in two - she handles the newer students while Mick was concentrating on rhythm with the more advanced. Sinéad Bray is an accomplished young dancer from Co Meath who was here for her third year, "Picking up new pieces," she said. She was highly enthusiastic about Miltown, and said there's nothing to match it with people of all nationalities. She attends class and two ceilis every day.
Miltown during the summer school must be the friendliest place on Earth. Walking the street this afternoon I met a friend every ten paces, each one happy and experiencing the best week of the year. Miltown is like a home town for set dancers!
My stroll through town left me late for the afternoon ceili in the Armada. My partner for my first set agreed with me about the relaxed, friendly and polite atmosphere of the afternoon ceilis here - "All the wolves come out at night," she said. The Abbey Ceili Band had a request for the Borlin Polka Set, and I was pleased to see the floor filled for it. My partner and I had a fantastic time doubling at every opportunity. After that there was a waltz and Shoe the Donkey. I saw one man dancing Shoe the Donkey on his own - a great idea, I thought - and then he was joined by another man and they danced it together. The Corofin was a delight and most of the hall shouted together when dancing the body in the final polka figure. At the end I was overtaken by a happy, warm feeling which seemed very much like being in love. There were more spontaneous cheers for the band and they received a warm, enthusiastic ovation at the end.
The Templehouse Ceili Band in the Mill Theatre tonight began with the Caledonian and the Sliabh Luachra. Many of us in the hall were delighted by a surprise visit from Joe and Siobhan O'Donovan, looking better than ever, who began the set dancing classes here twenty years ago. During a break between sets, two young girls danced some solo steps with Sean Kilkenny, who teaches dancing in Holland. He's leading a tour group who are dancing and cycling around Ireland. Aidan Vaughan took a break from drumming with the band to display his sean nós steps. There must have been a shortage of sets that night because both the Caledonian and Sliabh Luachra were repeated.
Thursday 11 July, Miltown
Aidan Vaughan and Betty McCoy's class takes place in great comfort in the lounge of the Quilty Tavern. Today Aidan took a break from teaching his battering steps to show the traditional way of dancing the Clare Lancers. "It's nice to dance a relaxing set sometimes," he said.
I was eagerly awaiting this afternoon's ceili to see the Emerald Ceili Band again in the Armada. I was there in good time, lined up a partner for the first set and when the Connemara was called, we found a place and waited to begin. "Another Connemara Set," I thought, "do I really want to be doing this all over again?" Suddenly, nearly unexpectedly, the music began like an explosion and within a fraction of a second my entire being was carried away with it. I instantly remembered why I was here again - the stunning music! The Emerald musicians are so professional they all begin on cue without the need for leaking any notes of the tune beforehand. They play all the well known tunes, plus some amazing reels and polkas I've heard nowhere else which seem to stay in my head for days afterwards.
In the Corofin Set I was unable to stand still while the sides were dancing, and started dancing with the top lady in the neighbouring set. Her partner then took my partner and the four of us began dancing the figures with the sides. We'd switch back to our correct partners to finish the figure and dance tops in the next figure, then change over again to do sides. I thought of Aidan Vaughan when we did the Lancers but this wasn't the time or place for relaxing. The band played the Williamstown Set by request. People were eager to dance but some weren't sure of the moves. Denis O'Connell from Co Cork came to the rescue and announced each figure in advance. The dancing proceeded perfectly, apart from a few hiccups in the final Haymaker-style polka figure.
I marvelled at how smoothly the dancing works in the Armada. There's no MC so the bands announce the sets and seem to know exactly what the crowd likes. The dancers themselves request the more unusual sets and the bands happily play for them. There's no need to repeat any sets because there are plenty to fill a ceili. There's no calling so the dancers help each other out with the figures. Applause for the band happens completely spontaneously, which is more genuine than if it was urged on us by an MC.
When the last set was finished the dancers cheered for more music. The band played the national anthem and shortly continued with more reels - out came the solo dancers for a perfect finish to a fabulous ceili!
The dancing was more relaxed tonight at the second appearance of the Tulla Ceili Band in the Mill Theatre, but no less pleasurable. I met a friend who reminded me that tonight was the first anniversary. "First anniversary of what?" I wondered. "Of the Cashel Set," she said. Yes indeed, last year on this evening she was dancing opposite me when we had the most remarkable Cashel Set. The Tulla played like they'd never played before and it was lovely to recall it. We weren't sure if there was to be another Cashel tonight, but just in case I engaged the very lively partner who danced with me last year. After the Caledonian, Lancers, Plain, a waltz and the Corofin Plain, we got lucky. Aidan Vaughan took over the drumming and we danced our first anniversary Cashel Set. The band played it beautifully and I suppose as we were all a year older we danced it with an extra fraction of maturity.
I spotted a couple of Norwegian folk dancers in full traditional costume who were all smiles as they danced. It was hot enough in ordinary clothes so I'm glad heavy costumes aren't required for set dancing. After a second Caledonian, Martin Hayes treated us to a couple of beautiful fiddle solos, and then the band finished with another Plain Set.
Two Norwegian folk dancers in full traditional dress danced at the Mill on Thursday.
Friday 12 July, Miltown and Quilty
I visited Paddy Neylon, Mary Clancy and Geraldine Connolly's class held in the main hall in the Armada with about twelve sets in attendance. Sean Kilkenny was here with his tour group and after class he danced a step with two girls, followed by Paddy Neylon who did some sean nós.
I returned to the street in Miltown after lunch where I met more friends. When I arrived at the Armada's ceili I was just in time for the Ballyvourney Jig. I danced non-stop the rest of the afternoon to the energetic music of Michael Sexton and band and had another highly satisfying ceili. I stopped in the hotel bar afterward where there was a big session and more mighty dancing.
I'd avoided the night time ceilis in the Armada, apart from the first Friday, because of the huge crowds, but was feeling brave tonight. I arrived early and was treated to the sight of Georgie Byrt, the veteran ceili band pianist from Ennistymon, playing with the Glenside Ceili Band during their sound check. I spoke to an English fellow who was here for the first time and had never danced sets before. I gave him general advice on finding partners and dancing sets, but I didn't want to put him off by telling him that he was jumping in at the deep end. Luckily the first set was the Connemara and when I spoke to him afterward he was pleased with himself.
The hall was full from the start and by the second dance I was knocking heels with the set behind me. After the third set I lost my bravery and decided to take a break. I took a few photos around the hall and then jumped up on stage beside the band for the higher viewpoint. Big mistake - Tom Flood kindly took the opportunity to make an announcement on my behalf and then the entire room of a thousand or so dancers turned their eyes toward me. All I could do was take a few pictures then make a quick getaway. Fortunately the second hall was open tonight for an alternative ceili with the Four Courts. There it was like a different planet, with a small crowd, plenty of space and a relaxed atmosphere. I had a brilliant Corofin Set, and then slipped away after that.
I called in at the Quilty Tavern only to find another haven of relative peace and tranquillity. Michael Sexton was playing, there were plenty of good partners and I counted myself doubly doubly blessed when I discovered how comfortable the floor was here. Waltzing was effortless and during the sets there were no complaints from my joints!
Saturday 13 July, Miltown and Quilty
By the time I got to Miltown it was one o'clock so I headed straight for the Community Hall where the class ceili was still underway. There was a beautiful atmosphere with a strong buzz from the crowd which took me back to the days when there were nightly ceilis here. It was here in this hall seven years ago where I first developed confidence in my set dancing, thanks to the summer school ceilis where they called every set. Today all the sets were called and there were dancers of all levels enjoying them. I was in time for the final Caledonian and had a most enjoyable dance to the some lovely live music.
Shy of the crowds in the Armada and in love with the floor in Quilty, it was easy to decide where to spend my afternoon. Unfortunately few others made the same decision as there were only two sets dancing to the Four Courts. Nevertheless all of us were delighted to be there and had a pleasant, relaxed afternoon.
I stayed on in Quilty and was rewarded with an outstanding ceili tonight. The Glenside Ceili Band were here, and the crowd of ten or so sets enjoyed themselves to the full in spacious comfort. The band enjoyed playing as much as we enjoyed dancing to them.
There were a couple sets of young dancers who provided some superb entertainment. They had imaginative and even beautiful variations for the Lancers and the Connemara sets. In the third figure of the Lancers when the ladies advance and retire, all the gents joined hands and made arches for the ladies to pass through. In the second figure of the Connemara while each gent and opposite lady swing in the middle, the others joined hands and quickly circled around. Somehow in the third figure a lady and gent changed places so two gents and two ladies danced together. When there was a break for some solo steps several of the group took turns doing the brush dance. I complimented one of the dancers later and he said they dance the sets differently every time.
A friend who hadn't heard the Glenside before was full of praise for them. She told box player Tom Flood she thought they had a delightfully 'chunky' sound.
"What do you mean by 'chunky'?" Tom wondered.
"It's the difference between a slim bar of chocolate and a Yorkie bar," she explained.
Tom Skelly, the banjo player, held his stomach and said a hearty "Yeah!" in agreement.
Tom Flood made a special announcement during the ceili - it was Tom Skelly's thirtieth wedding anniversary. "Aren't we very good to bring him out here tonight!" I spoke to Tom Skelly later who loves playing so much that the banjo is like a second wife. He only started playing at the age of forty and was just fifty last year. He's retired from the army, works part time and spends the rest of his time playing music. He enjoyed the week's ceilis so much that he would have happily played till 4am. He doesn't like playing the national anthem because it means the night is over. Even the best ceilis don't last forever and I was very happy with my four hours tonight.
Sunday 14 July, Tubbercurry, Co Sligo
My last summer school ceili took place at the South Sligo Summer School. After the drive from Clare I was in time for the opening ceremony, performed by Kieran Hanrahan of RTÉ, and took advantage of the complimentary tea, sandwiches and cake served to all. The ceili with Matt Cunningham started slowly but the dancers were keen and energetic as most of them were only beginning their week. I was delighted to see the hall fill up with new faces and familiar ones who travelled up from Miltown. When the dancing finished I said goodbye to my friends and headed home, very content after a beautiful fortnight of dancing but still wishing for more.
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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