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).
Your editor stayed an extra week after attending the Cape May weekend to sample the dancing at a few of the ceilis and classes in the region. His recollections are included here for your information and enjoyment.
The secret of happinessThe early finish on Sunday in Cape May gave me a chance to attend another New Jersey ceili that afternoon. A couple of dancers with the same idea led me for an hour across the state to the town of Berlin on the outskirts of the Philadelphia area. In a small hall on a suburban street I found a ceili with superb music and a loyal group of dancers from all around the area.
These ceilis are run monthly by Fiona Buckley with help from her husband Gerry and two young children. I arrived while everyone was dancing the Connemara Set. Fiona was calling using a microphone worn on her head which allowed her to dance as well. In fact she danced every set and called most of them. Patty Furlong, a box player from Connecticut, with the help of two friends, played gorgeous dance music at an ideal pace.
There was a nice mix of standard and unusual sets, ten in total, including the South Kerry and the Aran sets. During the North Kerry I was surprised when the first figure ended before it was finished, but I was told they don't repeat the first and third figures here. One lady had an amusing way of remembering the fourth figure of the Lancers. When opposite couples lead around, "First you drive like the Irish, then you drive like the Americans," she said, meaning keep left the first time, and right the second.
In another set, my opposite lady informed me of the results of a recent survey on happiness. It showed that you have a better chance of achieving happiness if you A are a woman, B are married, C have children or D do square dancing, which of course is the American form of set dancing. I knew it all along, but apparently the researchers were surprised when they found dancing near the top of their results. There's a lesson in this for unmarried and childless men!
Just as I saw in Cape May, many dancers arrived with a picnic and spread out food and drink on the tables, happily sharing with those of us who weren't so well prepared. In fact they used to have pot luck dinners, when everyone brought along a hot dish to share for a sit-down dinner. That was a lot of trouble so Fiona experimented with dropping the dinners at a couple of ceilis. Today everyone voted against the return of the pot luck dinners, but there will never be a shortage of food at these ceilis.
Finally I'd like to say a word in praise of the raffle. In the break they were selling tickets by the yard (91.44 cm). For $5 I ended up with a long strip of twenty or more pulled from a big roll. Fiona called a number and I stared at my strip in disbelief when I found the number in it. "Oh great," I thought, "I wonder what the prize is." I went up, showed my ticket and didn't she hand me a big wad of money! That was the only prize. This was a new kind of raffle to me, the 50-50, where the raffle money is evenly divided between the organiser and the winner - much nicer than a bottle of whiskey or a box of chocolates. With the dancing and my prize of more than $100 I'd achieved a double dose of happiness today.
Gents in a boxOn Monday night I was still in New Jersey, dancing in a pub in the town of Gloucester, across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. Oh Hara's Pub is an Irish establishment in a quiet old neighbourhood, a tall narrow three-story building. Colleen Kisielewski holds class here every week on the top floor, safely away from the bar patrons two floors below.
A group of dedicated beginners and helpful experienced dancers joined to make up three sets. We danced the Lancers and Cashel sets, and Colleen insisted on dancing them correctly so that each figure was done a couple of times. When some went left instead of right and vice versa, Colleen demonstrated a nearly foolproof way of telling your left from your right. Hold up your hands (palms away) and extend your thumbs and forefingers - the hand where the two fingers form an L is the left.
As is usual in classes everywhere, the women outnumbered the men so some ladies doubled up as gents. To avoid confusion and make their roles clear to all, these ladies wore a special gent symbol. One of the class cut them out of blue board in the shape of a gent, as you'd see on the rest room door, and tied each to a loop of ribbon. A box full of them was available. A simple, clever and effective idea.
Afterwards most everyone met in the bar for a drink and a chat.
Dodgems no moreGlen Echo Park in the Maryland suburbs of Washington DC was once an amusement park with bumper cars, roller coaster and carousel. Today it's a historic site and the old amusement buildings are being preserved and restored by volunteers. The only ride left is the carousel, but as a centre for arts and dance, it's still an 'amusement' park.
The Spanish Ballroom is a beautiful, enormous 1930s dance hall in the park which is the home of the Wednesday night set dancing class taught by Dick de Freyre and Ann Marie Breheny. This year the ballroom is being restored to its original glory, so the dancing takes place in the Bumper Car Pavilion. This is the place where dodgem cars crashed into one another for many years, and while it may seem an unlikely place to dance, it's actually a remarkable venue. All trace of the cars and the sparking electric ceiling and floor are gone, revealing a gleaming floor of diagonally laid boards and a fascinating network of roof beams. The walls are open to the weather - transparent 'shower' curtains had been installed for a bit of shelter from the autumn evening chill and rain.
Dick and Ann Marie taught each set in turn, first to a group of beginners and later to more experienced dancers. There were up to four or five sets dancing during the evening - it would take ten times that amount before that enormous floor started to look filled. There was a healthy mix of young and old, all relaxed and enjoying the craic. Among the sets taught were the Skibbereen and Donegal which Dick and Ann Marie picked up in Cape May.
Passing on the setsThe Frost Center is a former school which is now a community centre in Rockville, Maryland, another Washington suburb. Paul O'Donnell holds classes here on Thursday nights which was attended by experienced dancers. We danced in what used to be the school auditorium and it made a roomy, bright hall. The stage is occupied by musicians for live music ceilis once a month, but we were using tapes the night I was there.
Paul is a confident teacher who kept us going all evening with plenty of dancing and fun. Once again we did the Skibbereen and Donegal sets and I was pleased to see local teachers passing on sets learned at the weekend.
One thing I noticed at both Maryland classes was a tidy display of around two dozen leaflets of local events. This useful information service was provided by Larry Dorney. He always arrived early with his box of leaflets, carefully arranged them on the most suitable surface available and then just as carefully packed them all up after the dancing finished.
Police protectionAll of my dance excursions around Washington DC caused great concern to my friends and me because of the sniper that was terrorising everyone in the area. I was safely staying about seventy miles away and travelled in each time. Before setting off we made sure to fuel the car and when we got to DC we made sure to avoid any white vans, which were suspected at the time.
We were somewhat relieved when we found the venue for our Saturday night ceili - the John C Wood Center is directly attached to a police station. The police share the space as a community centre and the local Comhaltas branch use it for their monthly ceilis. While the ceili has been in this location for only a few years, in fact it's one of the longest running ceilis in the States, operating for close to thirty years at various venues. The hall is bright and clean with a lino and concrete floor.
The dancing was in progress when I arrived and I was immediately struck by the atmosphere. This was very much a family ceili with plenty of kids on the floor, dancing with each other, their parents and the experienced dancers. The first half of the evening was mostly ceili dancing, so the kids could participate fully. After that the families started heading home and set dancing took priority.
Calling the dances for the first time was Carl-Henry Geschwind, a German living in the area, who made sure everything went like clockwork. The musicians were called the Bogwanderers Ceili Band. They were a group of ten with many excellent players and gave us a good night of dancing. Plentiful food and drink was brought and shared, and as if that wasn't enough, after the ceili a group of us decided to visit a 24-hour pancake restaurant where we had an enormous breakfast at 3am!
Available nowhere elseThe favourite ceili of my Maryland friends was held in J Patrick's, a scruffy little Irish pub in an isolated corner of Baltimore that has so far escaped all gentrification. They dance here on the second Sunday of the month and wouldn't dream of missing it. It's the ceili which is most like the ones in Ireland, they claimed. They also warned me about the décor and praised the crab cakes.
They were right about the décor. The place is small and dark, the walls are full of signs and pennants, and the ceiling is partially covered with plastic rubbish bags that have been stapled in place. That made no difference to the atmosphere, which was warm, cosy and friendly. At the back there was room to squeeze three or four sets on a lino covered wooden floor.
The keenest dancers were out today. Marilyn Moore was on hand to call the sets and do a quick demo when needed. The sets included the Kildownet Half Set and once again the Donegal Set. I hadn't danced it before arriving in the US, and this was probably my sixth time doing it!
My friends were also right about the crab cakes. These are a local speciality made from Chesapeake Bay crabs and they're excellent at J Patrick's. I suppose this must be the only ceili in the world where they're available.
The five musicians, known as J Patrick's All-Stars, played music that was as Irish as it comes. The regular box player Billy McComiskey had injured his hand, so his capable teenage son Sean filled in for him.
It was easy to see why this was my friends' favourite ceili. It may have been in Baltimore's inner city, but the folks, dancing and craic were much the same as you'd find in any of the small local ceilis in Ireland.
The first weekend in November saw the first set dancing weekend in Enfield, Co Meath. The venue was the new Johnstown House Hotel, which opened for business last year. It was easy to find when I arrived on Friday night as it was well signposted from the main roads. When I turned off a local road and passed through an entrance gate, I suddenly found myself on an impressive new road which was extremely well lit - was I heading to Dublin on the new Enfield bypass? No, the bypass actually has very little lighting. This was the hotel drive and far away at the end of it I could see the new hotel, lit up like an industrial estate.
Johnstown House is an old stately home which forms the front of the hotel - the main building behind it dwarfs the old house. Inside the décor and furnishings are sumptuous. The ballroom is an enormous, high-ceilinged room. The portable dance floor laid on carpet in the centre occupied about a quarter of the full floor space - there were plenty of tables and chairs all around.
The opening session on Friday night featured music by three members of the Templehouse Ceili Band. The dancing was slow to begin, but once it did the three or four sets who danced the night away enjoyed the music. There were local dancers here, including several children having mighty craic, plus visitors from Dublin and the west and a few from abroad. There was entertainment in the break from some of the youngsters on concertina and whistle.
The workshop teacher, Eddie Cleere from Durrow, Co Laois, is an experienced teacher who regularly holds popular workshops in Germany and Switzerland. His workshops in Ireland are a rare treat and six sets joined him for the day. Eddie began with a review of steps, beginning with polkas and returned to them regularly, covering jigs, reels and hornpipes by the end of the day. He had everyone dancing in a circle practicing the steps to moves from well known sets like the Caledonian and Cashel. Most of the time was spent on the Skibbereen set in the morning and the Labasheeda in the afternoon. We learned details in some of them which were different to the usual, danced most of the figures twice and repeated them in full at least once. There was plenty of dancing!
All six members of the Templehouse Ceili Band were in place tonight and a great crowd of twelve sets was there to greet them. Everyone fitted perfectly on the floor and the energetic music gave us all brilliant enjoyment.
Eddie returned on Sunday morning to give us a taste of the Kilkenny Lancers Set, which isn't often taught. He taught three of the eight figures, beginning with the hornpipe. This is where each gent takes it in turn to dance with each lady, and when he changes partners, does a double and throws each lady into the arms of a waiting gent. I've seen a demonstration team from Kilkenny make a very impressive show of this where the ladies are propelled with surprising force. I've long wanted to try it myself and it was great fun even if I was very careful with my ladies. We also danced the jig and a polka figure. Afterward Eddie taught more steps and we practiced them by dancing figures from a number of different sets.
The highlight of the weekend was an appearance by the Tulla Ceili Band. It's a rare occasion when they play outside of Clare and Galway and the significance of the event wasn't lost on the dancers who came out in huge numbers. The Tulla can always be relied on to make fabulous music and with today's crowd they excelled themselves. I estimated around twenty sets were on the floor, with many more dancers happily listening from the sidelines. We were crushed on the floor but couldn't resist going back for more. I particularly enjoyed the waltz, especially when J J Conway sang a few rousing songs with everyone joining in.
Thanks to the Tulla and the big crowd the weekend ended on a high note and everyone went home in the best of spirits. Eddie Cleere, the hotel and especially the organiser Áine Barrett were delighted with the weekend and are making plans to repeat it next year.
Nenagh, Co Tipperary, is one of the many places in Ireland which are blessed with an active set dancing club. Club Rince Aonach Urmhumhan has been offering weekly classes since 1989, monthly ceilis since 1990 and a workshop weekend every year since 1991. This year's workshop took place on the 8th, 9th and 10th of November in the Abbey Court Hotel. There was a full programme of ceilis and workshops, and the special highlight was the first public appearance of a newly revived set.
The opening session on Friday night featured box player Tom McCarthy, who didn't require help from any other musicians to give us a superb evening of dancing. Tom plays in a timeless style of his own and his music generated huge amounts of energy from the dancers. A true one-man band, he also sang for the waltzes. We were dancing in the comfortable lounge of the Western Pass, a pub in the nearby village of Ardcroney, as the hotel in Nenagh wasn't available. It was a lovely room for dancing, with a great little floor that perfectly accommodated the five sets that came along.
There was an air of excitement in the hotel's hall on Saturday morning for the workshop with Pat Murphy. Six sets began the day and soon grew to eight - the hall was divided in half by a partition so we neatly filled the floor. Pat began with the Televara Set, the Cork set which is one of Timmy McCarthy's specialities. It's a long set with seven figures, and the figures themselves are all very long. Pat said that the fifth figure is the longest one in all of set dancing.
After lunch, we were all very eager to see Pat's new set, the Kilfenora Set. Pat and a group of local dancers followed some forty-year-old notes to revive the set. It's similar to both the Plain and Corofin Plain sets, with six figures alternating reels and jigs, except for the final figure which is danced to what Pat called a quadrille, which was similar to a hornpipe. The figures are variations on those of the other plain sets, easy to do and different enough to be new and exciting. Pat prepared music from recordings by the old Kilfenora Ceili Band of the past, and by the new band currently playing today. Both were enjoyable to dance to, with the sweet sound of the old band contrasting with the energetic style of the young band.
After that we finished the day with a return to Co Cork for the Black Valley Jig Set. Then chairs were quickly arranged for Mass, at which several dancers sang and played music.
The Saturday night ceili was a big affair in the full hall with music by Matt Cunningham. Matt played a variety of sets, including the Williamstown and new Kilfenora sets which were both called by Pat, and Michael Loughnane called all the other sets. There were breaks in the sets for an old-time waltz, the Pride of Erin and Shoe the Donkey, and of course for tea and an enormous spread of cakes. Matt's music was a dream to dance to, and the fabulous flute of his son Eric was especially welcome.
Eight sets were back on Sunday morning for another session of Pat Murphy's workshop. This time he taught the Ballycastle Set and we made excellent work of it, even that challenging second figure which features a complex selection of gallops in every possible direction. When that was completed, Pat moved to Prince Edward Island in Canada for a figure of the Souris Set. It was a simple figure with flowing moves and the rousing music we danced to from the island was half the pleasure of it.
Dancers arrived by the coachload for the Sunday afternoon ceili, with separate groups from Dublin and Bray joining the already swollen crowd. Betty McCoy, the guest of honour of the weekend, was among the visitors, and during the ceili she was presented with a bouquet. The musicians of the Abbey Ceili Band devoted their genius to our pleasure for a few hours. Michael Loughnane tried to repeat as few sets as possible from the previous night's ceili, so the dancing included the Killyon and Clare Orange and Green sets, plus a selection of two-hand dances including the Military Two-Step and the Gay Gordons. It was the old familiar Clare Lancers which ended the ceili with a blast and sent us home feeling great after a fabulous weekend.
Look for the official launch of the Kilfenora Set at the Mighty Weekend of Set Dancing in Malahide, Co Dublin, 10-12 January 2003. Complete instructions and the story of the set will appear in the February-March 2003 issue of Set Dancing News.
The next set dancing weekend in Nenagh is planned for 9-11 January 2004.
The Sean Óg Set Dancing Club in Longford hosted a tremendous weekend of set dancing in the Longford Arms Hotel, from Friday 22nd to Sunday 24th November. This festival is one of the most popular dancing events in Ireland.
Longford town is located in the midlands amidst a handful of Ireland's most impressive lakes. Accommodation is no real problem as Longford boasts not only the Longford Arms Hotel and Leisure Centre, but has many high-class guesthouses. The hotel is usually booked up very early for this festival. This year I was one of the lucky dancers to secure accommodation there thanks to Gabrielle Cassidy.
Friday evening as crowds started to gather it felt like a school reunion, with handshakes, hugs and kisses. Everyone was anticipating another wonderful weekend in the heart of the Irish midlands.
The weekends dancing commenced with a ceili on Friday night music provided by Swallow's Tail Ceili Band. Dancers packed the floor even before the first set of the night was announced. This was the pattern for the remainder of the weekend. The music was a delight, the floor a dream and the dancing a very high standard.
I was thrilled to see so many young set dancers. Looking around I was conscious of a large contingent from England and America. Some people travel over here so often they would almost qualify for an Irish passport. I was delighted to share the company of Phil and Mary again; also Sean and Eileen, Jim and Helen, Peter, Pat and Bernard. Hughie and Mary and the gang brought their usual good humour and witty jokes.
Saturday morning at 10.30 sharp Pat Murphy began his first workshop of the weekend with the Longford Set. This set has three figures two reels and a polka. Pat started with everyone in a big circle as he taught the reel step. This gentle little step reminds me of a cross between the Roscommon Lancers step and the Cavan Reel step. Pat told us that there was a slight difference in this set to the notes he had published in Toss the Feathers. "As we go along the trail of reviving sets small changes can come up from time to time. I like to teach the truest version possible. I will be giving Bill Lynch these revised notes to publish in the Set Dancing News magazine."
This is a lovely set with some nice moves and when we conquer the steps it will make a nice addition to our list of sets at ceilis. The next set Pat workshopped was the Doire Colmcille from County Derry. An interesting little set, easy going, no awkward moves. These two sets really complemented each other and brought us up to lunchtime. Pat announced that he would be doing the Kilfenora Set after lunch, to the delight of the hundreds of set dancers who had danced all morning.
A little after 2 pm crowds started to gather for the 2.30 workshop - the number of dancers had increased. Pat Murphy told us the Kilfenora Set was an old west Clare set. "We have notes going back forty years. I am delighted to teach this set and honoured to have Michael Slattery here with us today. If it wasn't for Michael this set would most likely be forgotten. I have the recorded music of the old Kilfenora Ceili Band. This music was recorded in 1963 on audio tape and thanks to technology I was able to put it on a minidisk."
This set is a joy to watch and dance; what a shame it slept for so long. The footwork in this set is the usual west Clare style - soft gentle perfection, no sounds, only the music. The moves are tidy; one can easily envisage this set been danced in the little kitchens of west Clare. Pat announced that he would be giving the notes to the editor of this magazine. I am sure that everyone in the fifty sets at the workshop join Pat in his desire to see the Kilfenora Set danced all over the world.
The Ballycroy Set was the final set of the day. This is a Mayo set with three nice figures - a jig, a polka, and a reel to finish. Like most Mayo sets, this has a sequence of sevens in it.
Another set dancing workshop had come to a close. Everyone agreed that the selection of sets was excellent. We were all privileged to have the gentleman himself of tutors, Tipperary's own Pat Murphy. The committee had arranged Mass in the hotel. This seems to have become a custom at weekends like this.
The Abbey Ceili Band provided the brilliant music for the ceili on Saturday night. Fantastic Baile Bhuirne Jig and reels to keep you reeling long after the dance was over.
Some people were starting to get tired before the end of the night. At one stage one of my dancing partners said he was only half alive. "That's all right," I replied, "but I hope it's the bottom half." I view all my dancing partners from the knees down.
Sunday morning as the ballroom packed with dancers, I spoke with the tutor for the Clare battering steps, Peter Hanrahan. Peter assisted John Fennel with this workshop last year. This young unassuming dancer is from Lisseycasey, Co Clare and has numerous accolades for dancing, particularly with St John's Set in Clare. He teaches children dancing at home, but this was his first major workshop. Peter has a real gift as a teacher. His attention to detail and patience are to be commended. What a joy to watch such a high standard of professionalism in such a young man. I believe we will be attending more of Peter's workshops in the near future.
The bar and lounge area of the hotel was filled with the joyous sounds of session music as musicians whiled away the Sunday morning, sipping beverages and sharing tunes. Listeners huddled close together with a look of concentration on their faces.
Sunday afternoon at 2.30 the ballroom was alive with wall-to-wall dancers. The Abbey Ceili Band were once more on stage. It was wonderful to start the ceili with a polka set for a change as everyone graced the floor for the Co Cork set, the Borlin. Even though space was tight everyone had a wonderful time. Pat Murphy called the Longford Set. The figuration was easy but the steps - some mixture of shapes here!
Midway through the ceili Gerard Butler announced that we were to be treated to some sean nós dancing. This has also become a feature of festivals such as this one. The greatest joy I derived from this display was that all participants were young people. The youngest of all was five-year-old Sinéad Breslin, representing Longford. We had dancers from Leitrim, Roscommon, Westmeath, Offaly and Tipperary.
The afternoon flew as the music of the men from Cork lifted the roof. As dancers queued for dinner everyone agreed that this weekend was one of the best in Ireland. Some suggested that it was a mini-Miltown.
Sunday night had stolen up on us as we gathered for the farewell ceili with the Davey Ceili Band on stage. The music was magic and the company was brilliant. Timmy, as you said yourself, you are no Bill, but you can double - what a hop in the Cashel!
John Davey was in his usual good mood - always nice to get a smile of recognition from the bandleader. Thanks, John, for the Tipperary song for that quickstep.
The space was a little confined. This was the first year that the committee had organised a ceili for the Sunday night. No one could have envisaged such an enormous crowd. The committee promises a larger venue for the farewell ceili next year.
The management and staff of the hotel are most courteous and professional. The committee can be proud of their festival, from beginning to end the whole weekend had a stamp of professionalism. I have booked again for next year. Longford, you are easy to reach but hard to leave.
Joan Pollard Carew
To be honest on the weekend of 18-20 October there was no Nice vote in Luxembourg as there was in Ireland, but there was 100% consensus that Pat Murphy had delivered a great weekend's set dancing! Pat has written two books on the subject and wowed the crowd with his clear instructions, affable manner and constant good humour. People travelled from the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and France to attend the workshop and all agreed they had a marvellous time.
Pat took us through reels, jigs, hornpipes and polkas from the length and breadth of Ireland. The first ever set dance ceili in Luxembourg took place on Saturday evening and it was a resounding success due in equal measure to the lively music of Heartlands, a local group, and the enthusiasm of the set dancers.
Sunday was a beautiful autumnal day and it was amazing how much energy people had for the last workshop which took place from 11.30 to 3pm. Only the constraints of a long journey home and flight times prevented the workshop from finishing much later than anticipated, as I don't need to tell you, this set dancing seems to have its own revitalising effect as people were loath to stop. Thank you Pat for making it all happen!
Mary Butler, Luxembourg
Set dancer Tim Crowley from Ardgroom, Co Cork, died unexpectedly on Thursday 21st of October last. Tim worked as a postman until his retirement and lived all his life in Ardgroom. He started dancing sets in the Beara peninsula at a young age and held on to the old style of dancing throughout his life. He favourite set was the Ardgroom (Beara) Set and he took great care in passing on the set to dancers who visited him and his sister Mary. Tim, in his younger years, would travel anywhere to dance, often travelling to dances by motorboat across the Kenmare River to Sneem and Caherdaniel and returning late that evening. In recent years Tim travelled with his friend 'Dodie' to Kenmare for regular set dancing nights - they would dance the Kenmare Set and the Blackvalley Square Jig there. Each year in November he would make the trip to Dingle to celebrate Timmy McCarthy's Cork-Kerry weekend where he took great delight in teaching the Ardgroom set. Tim will be sadly missed by all his friends, family and dancers.
Williams 'Hammy' Hammond, Cork
They travelled wide,
They came from afar,
Down to the West County
By train, bus and car.
To dance the weekend away
With Julie and Mary,
To swim, use the gym
And dance the contrary.
I thought I was back in sunny Ibiza
Dancing to the Davey family again
But when I opened my eyes
Alas I was in Ennis in the rain.
But rain or sun
The music was the best.
We danced the night away
With little time for rest.
We learned the Armagh
A beautiful set
At the workshop on Saturday,
Threading the needle and figure of eight.
Mort Kelleher and family from Cork
Put on a fine show
With a Paul Jones and two-hand dances.
Their music would make you glow.
But soon it was over,
We had to bid adieu.
To Mary and Julie,
A very big Thank You.
Mary Caldwell, Ennis, Co Clare
After fifteen years of set dancing, I'm throwing in the towel.
I've gone from high elation to a disgruntled growl.
The cause of my frustration, and I know I'm not alone,
Is the monotony of selection - Ochón! Ochón! Ochón!
My friends all know about me and the way I grieve and groan
About the six Cs that have driven me to moan.
The Plain Clare, Caledonian, Clare Lancers, Corofin,
Cashel, Connemara again and again and again.
I've travelled all over Ireland and enjoyed every bit,
Workshops, ceilis, sessions, craic and lots of skit.
I've learned the Aran, Inis Oírr, Lancers - Roscommon and Mayo.
But do we get to dance them? No!
The Connemara Jig Set, tug, hug and swing,
The lovely Labasheeda, with its unique fling.
The Monaghan, South Kerry, Valentia Left and Right
But do we ever get them on the céilí night?
I'm very much aware of the work organisers do
And the less experienced dancers must be catered for too.
But set dancing folk, on the whole, are kind and understanding
Most will lend a hand to the fledgling who is floundering.
So come on all you good folks, A K A the Powers That Be,
Please have a little pity on the likes of me.
I'd love to have a go at some unusual sets,
When good music's playing, what harm if we make a mess?
For the work that has gone into reviving the lost sets
Can vanish into the past again without a proper test.
We all know repetition is the best way to instil
And that is what is needed to fill the bill.
It has taken me so long to write about my growling
I've discovered lately that the Winds of Change are blowing.
The Labasheeda, Roscahill and Inis Oírr are suddenly appearing
Instead of moaning now, I feel more like cheering.
August 23rd, to Listowel I made my quest
In search of a Kerry - North, South or West.
And did I get them? You've guessed!
Doreen Corrigan, Co Wexford
Matt Cunningham's series of music for set dancing, The Dance Music of Ireland, has now expanded to thirteen volumes with the release of his latest CD. His previous twelve volumes include over seventy sets and are available now in a convenient box set.
With Volume 13, Matt shows himself to be, as always, at the forefront of the set dancing revival. The new recording has five of the most recently revived sets - the Aherlow Set from Tipperary, the Ballycroy from Mayo, the Inis Oírr from the Aran Islands, the Loughgraney from east Clare and the brand new Kilfenora Set. There's also a long track of waltzes for the Sweetheart Waltz often seen in Donegal and Mayo.
The CD is available from Matt himself at any of his ceilis or from his record company, Ainm Records. In addition, Matt's recordings are often easy to find in shops. If you haven't started your collection of Matt's music, you might be interested to know that when you buy the twelve volume box set you'll get Volume 13 for free.
The work of Maureen Mulvey-O'Leary (centre) for music and dance in and around Toronto was recognised at a ceremony in October when she was inducted into the Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann Canadian Eastern Region Hall of Fame. Maureen teaches three set dancing classes a week in Toronto and returns home to Leitrim in summer to participate in the Joe Mooney Summer School.
Packie Conboy was a born dancer, a talented storyteller and the life of the party. We have the best memories ofPackie dancing with his brush on the kitchen tiles in one of our houses and the craic continuing on into the early hours. I can personally remember Packie at the ceilis twenty years ago, taking the lead on tops and leading newcomers around the floor, letting them believe they could dance any step; many are still ceili-ing today. Packie had the gift of loving to dance, expressing that in how he moved, and invigorating everyone around him to get into the spirit of the set in the same way that he used to. The sing songs under the setting sun at Miltown Malbay, the absolute joy of being with friends and dancing all nightm the grá he had for the set and his joi de vivre are the memories that Packie leaves with all his friends. We miss him, but we know he's still there at every set and dancing with us.
Go mbeannaigh Dia trocaire ar a anam.
From all your loving set dancing friends in Longford and Strokestown.
Rita Farrell, Longford
After four years in Ireland, Nattanya Hewitt has returned to Canada. She's a keen supporter of set dancing and especially of Set Dancing News. She has been the magazine's dedicated and conscientious proofreader for three years. She also sold copies, promoted the magazine wherever she danced, and even bought copies to give away. Expect to find more mistakes in these pages in future.
Thanks, Nattanya, for all your help, support and friendship!
The days were getting darker and we didn't need our sunglasses at ceili anymore even though there were still some bright people dancing. Nevertheless we decided to jump on a plane to step up the tempo and dance once again at a far away ceili. It was the usual forty questions from security at the airport. It must have been that Dugo let it slip about his being 'Hachetman' for the Brian Boru's London senior gaelic football team. "Is that a position in the backs? Where are you staying? Who with? How long?" I was murdered before we got away.
As we sped down the M11 we were London bound for a ceili which we weren't sure was on or not. 'Mehin the Man' collected us. Once upon a time he used to be the main bodyguard for the Ayatollah in Iran. We weaved our way through roadworks picking up speed, slowing down, passing through then braking suddenly and barely edging a different way. Every now and then he'd just miss a bollard. I couldn't help thinking it was a bit like the way we used to dance the South Galway Reel Set. Then Mehin smiled and turned on his cassette and sure enough it was the music of that set.
"You must be psyhic Mehin!" I said under my breath.
"What was that?" he asked.
"Nothing," I replied, "lovely music, eh?"
We always felt safe in his company except when he was driving. He had an awful habit of taking his eyes off the road when engrossed in conversation.
"So you're off to a ceili that mightn't be on?" he sniggered.
"You can never be sure of anything," replied Dugo.
"No? Even ceili's?" said Mehin.
"You never lost it, did you?"
"Lose what?" asked Dugo.
"I'd better not say what you didn't lose."
It was comfy in Camden as we led around for the Plain Set. I was dancing with somebody who I hadn't seen for a long time. In fact the last time Dugo had tried to drag her home with him. She's a great dancer and it doesn't matter a damn to her whether she's ever heard of the set before. She never needs to book ahead.
"How are you keeping?" I asked.
"Very good, thank you."
"Anybody try to twist your arm and drag you home from ceili with them lately?"
"No!" she laughed.
"Agh! your life is dead boring."
"Oh! I wouldn't be so sure about that," she exclaimed.
We met Tip who seemed to be on a go-slow. However he has often been fined for tearing along the dotted line on his way to the dancing in the Cork and Kerry mountains. I tell him about the new points system for speeding coming in back home. He is not impressed. He had already booked a room at the hotel in Tralalaee for the end of January. He likes to be close to the action. This is a pleasant change from Dugo who is brilliant at last minute stuff. He claims to have got the last couch in Miltown Malbaya this summer.
"Wow! I had a great dance with her," I said.
"You thought you were going to be out late, did you?" Tip joked.
"You'd lose a few hours sleep," said Tip.
"You know something Tip?" I said.
"What?" he asked.
"I wouldn't miss a few hours sleep at all!"
Copyright © 2002 by O F Hughes
I wanted to tell you about the wonderful dancing experience we had this summer. Preston and I and our daughter Cory traveled to Prince Edward Island in July. Your web site told me that Helen Gough-Conboy's lessons stopped for July and August, but I called her to see if there was any chance of getting some dancers together. She said she'd try and to call back the next day. She was able to gather seven dancers and we met at Dave and Cheryl Corrigan's house. We danced on their deck, with a view of the Bay of St Lawrence and a full moon! Helen had to work, but her husband Gary came and brought the music. They taught us the Lot Seven Square Set which has been danced there since at least the 1930s.
Hope your recent visit here was fun and that we get you to southern Maryland next time.
Diane Clark, Mechanicsville, Maryland
An honourable tributeDear Bill,
On September 28th and 29th, two friends of mine, Vicky Salway and her sister Helen Stonehouse, ran a set dance and music weekend in Priddy, Somerset, in memory of my husband, box player Simon Knight, who died a year earlier. The weekend was a tremendous event, an honourable tribute to Simon. There's no doubt that he was with us in spirit, enjoying every second.
A CD was recently compiled of tunes played by Simon and various other musicians, and on it Simon sings three songs. Not many people heard Simon sing. During the last two or three years he began to become increasingly confident and sang more, and fortunately some recordings of his singing were made. Simon had a tremendous voice and sang from the heart, with many songs bringing tears to the eyes from pure emotion, others tears of laughter.
So, although Simon is not with us in person, he is certainly brought back to us with this CD. Phil Dawson, fiddle and banjo player, and Adrian Tuddenham compiled the CD, working hard finding tapes, collating them and having the CD ready for the weekend. The CD was played during the weekend, and is on sale for £10. Copies can be ordered from me on 01749 675844.
Any profits will be donated to a holiday arts project in Wiltshire for children with autism, to buy musical instruments for children to use in workshops. Music has been found to be extremely beneficial for these children, offering them an alternative means of self expression and creativity.
Thank you to everybody who helped organise the weekend, and to all those came along and enjoyed it, and made it something special.
Carol Knight, Wells, Somerset
They would love to see itDear Mr Lynch
On holiday in Toronto we looked for a set dancing class and found Maureen Mulvey's class at Eastminster United Church, 310 Danforth Avenue. We had a lovely evening of set dancing and met so many nice people. Could you please put this photo in the Set Dancing News? I am sure they would love to see it. Thank you.
Mona Dingley, Wolverhamption, England
Bring Dublin to lifeDear Bill,
We are looking for set dancers to perform at some of the events at 2003 St Patrick's Festival in Dublin. It is a wonderful chance for dancing groups to perform before a live family audience and be a part of the fabulous atmosphere of celebration surrounding St Patrick's Day.
The "12 Bells" event is held on Saturday 15th March and Sunday 16th March 2003 from 12 noon to 1pm. Musical groups from Ireland and around the world will bring the Dublin city centre to life with music and energy. We are looking to expand our programme to also include Irish dancing displays.
St Patrick's Festival Parade is held on Monday 17th March 2003 at 12pm. We would like to invite set dancing groups to perform as pre-parade entertainment to the grandstand audiences between 11am and 12 noon.
After the Parade on Monday 17th March 2003 a Céilí Mór is held from 2.30 to 5pm at St Stephen's Green. The line-up for 2003 is the Kilfenora Céilí Band, Galldubh and Gráda who were a great hit with the audience in 2002.
The Festival can arrange for a special area for any dancing groups who would like to be part of the fun and demonstrate their skills.
If anyone is interested in these performance opportunities then please contact Veronica Taylor on 01 676 3205 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Veronica Taylor, St Patrick's Festival
A feast of dancingDear Bill,
This year's Sean Dempsey Set Dance Festival was another great success. It got off to a flying start at the Irish World Heritage Centre, Cheetham Hill, Manchester, on Friday night, October 25th, thanks to the awe inspiring Davey Ceili Band. John, Laura and Lorna transported the dancers to another world of delight and entertainment.
The competitions on Saturday and Sunday were a feast of dancing at its best. It was an absolute pleasure to watch the brilliant dancers and we are privileged to have them return year after year. The senior dancers go from strength to strength, and the well behaved junior dancers are a credit to themselves, their parents and their teachers. A big thanks to all competitors for entering into the spirit of the festival.
Saturday and Sunday nights' music was provided by the magnificent Matt Cunningham along with Jimmy, Joseph, Larry and Ita. They had the dancers bouncing in the Forum and Matt's slow airs were enchanting.
Our adjudicators for the weekend were Kathleen and Michael McGlynn, Paddy Mee and Michael Loughnane. We were privileged to have such competent judges. They worked extremely hard over the weekend.
Our local musicians blew the roof off the Irish World Heritage Centre at the farewell ceili. Grace, Michelle, Brendan, Colin, Eamon, and Sean are in a league of their own. We are lucky to have such fine musicians on our doorstep.
A special word of appreciation for everyone who attended the céilithe and especially those who travelled from Ireland and all over Britain. Grateful thanks to Gerry Flynn, Enjoy Ireland and to all our sponsors without whom the festival would be difficult if not impossible to finance. Last but not least we are indebted to our own volunteers and those people who provided raffle prizes. Without their dedication and generosity, the Sean Dempsey Set Dance Festival would not have been the success it was.
Josephine Murtagh, Manchester
Glencolmcille and the west coast of Donegal have some of the most spectacular scenery in Ireland, as I discovered on my first visit there in August. The full glory of summer arrived there at the same time I did, and the gleaming sunshine revealed a rocky, wild landscape full of ancient monuments, a glittering expanse of ocean beside enormous cliffs and clean sandy beaches, and people, both locals and visitors, in the best of spirits and as friendly as could be. It's an unforgettable place which completely captivated me.
The main tourist attraction in Glencolmcille is a small folk village located between a beach and a rugged hill. Here there are replicas of three typical Donegal cottages, each one illustrating life from a different century. All the antique furnishings in them were supplied by local residents. There's also a tiny one-room schoolhouse filled by six long school desks, more artifacts and a local history exhibition.
On Sunday afternoon, 18 August, the replica schoolhouse became a genuine classroom, though all the school desks were shifted outdoors. For a week it was the home of the Donegal Dances Summer School, probably one of the smallest summer schools of the season, yet it was everything a good summer school should be. Oideas Gael is a community project that specialises in running Irish courses throughout the year, and they also offer other activities, such as hill walking, poetry, art and music. This is the sixth year of their dancing summer school.
Set dancing is something of a rarity in Donegal, where ceili and two-hand dances are the traditional dances. The summer school specialised strictly in two-hand or couple dances, which are usually easy to learn and dance. Many dancers know Shoe the Donkey and the Stack of Barley as they're often danced between sets at ceilis. Edie Bradley, the summer school teacher, is an expert on two-hand dances and knows more than enough of them to fill a week. She's from nearby Carrick and has been teaching dancing since 1984.
The first class on Sunday was an introductory session when Edie showed the Highland Fling, Shoe the Donkey and the Military Two-step. The rest of the week there were classes both morning and afternoon, and we learned three or four new dances every day. Edie is a great believer in practice, and had us practice every dance we learned, one after the other in sequence at the start, the middle and the end of every class. She showed the steps with great clarity, sounding them out on the timber floor. We also learned the Long German, Barn Dance, Stack of Barley, Pride of Erin Waltz, St Bernard's Waltz, Mazurka, Polly Glide, Breakaway Blues, Three-Step, Mississippi Dip, Gay Gordons, Peeler and the Goat and more. Some of these I've danced before, but usually Edie had versions which were longer or different to what I'm used to, so it was always interesting.
My favourite dance of the week was the Mazurka, and it was probably the most difficult to learn. It's like Shoe the Donkey combined with a waltz - instead of going forward and back, the couples turn one way and then the other in waltz hold. The steps were a fascinating challenge - where you go up in Shoe the Donkey you stamp down in the Mazurka - but the patterns of both dances are the same. It took all my concentration and I had a great sense of accomplishment the times I managed to get it right. The Polly Glide was another favourite which I'd seen before in Mayo. It's a simple solo dance with a repeating step followed by one of three 'figures' in turn. Edie learned it from an old Donegal man near Derry and I was delighted to learn it from her.
The summer school is intended for beginning dancers, but Edie soon saw that most of our group of twenty were 'established' dancers. The beginners had full benefit of Edie's help, as she'd dance with anyone who needed attention, and they were partnered with experienced dancers. Edie always brought along a local dancer who was equally helpful. Edie was equally helpful to experienced dancers, demonstrating the finer points of the steps and moves. We were an international group - three French, three Germans, three Japanese and the rest from across Ireland. You'd hardly find a keener group - nearly everyone showed up on time for both daily classes.
The folk park was ideally suited for a summer school. We fitted nicely into the little schoolroom and during the break rested outdoors on the school benches or took tea in the café next door. The lunch break was a generous two and a half hours, but time goes quickly in a beautiful spot like Glencolmcille. Brilliant food was available in a nearby restaurant, An Cisten - don't miss the homemade seaweed pudding! After lunch there was still time to visit beaches and mountains.
The schoolroom door was open during our classes and many tourists looked in on us with pleasure, even taking photos and videos. One day two coaches of tourists arrived and the class was asked to perform for them. We assembled outside and danced our complete repertoire of two-hand dances for them to great acclaim. Actually I was pleasantly surprised at how few tourists there were here - those were the only coaches I saw all week. If this was Kerry or Clare there'd be at least two every hour. B&B was easily available even in August; nothing was ever crowded.
On Tuesday, Edie told us about a live music dance that night in the Harbour Bar in Killybegs, half an hour away. She encouraged us to join her there and most of the class showed up that night. We danced every one of our two-hands and a few new ones as well, and it was a revelation to dance them to live music, played by a duo called Country Traditions. Most of us stayed with the same partner in classes all week, but that night we freely swapped partners and got to know each other better. Edie was up for every dance, dancing with some of us, encouraging the rest out and reminding us of the steps and moves.
Wednesday was my last day in class and all morning Edie was promising us that she'd let us dance a set that afternoon. After lunch I felt my excitement level rising as we got a set together to dance a few figures of the Plain to show the rest of the class. That went well enough that she had us dance part of the North Kerry Set. They were a welcome diversion but then we were quickly back to yet another repetition of our entire repertoire of two-hand dances. Edie wasn't about to let anyone get distracted by set dancing!
I was sorry to leave the Donegal Dances Summer School and Glencolmcille and I hope it won't be long before I return. It's perfect countryside for a memorable holiday, and this enjoyable little summer school with its superb teacher Edie Bradley is worthy of my highest recommendation.
The next Donegal Dances Summer School takes place 16-23 August 2003 and costs €140 for six days of classes and nightly cultural activities. Contact Liam O Cuinneagain.
I learned the difference between Irish set dancing and ceili dancing by experiencing both taking classes every day at Augusta Irish Week in Elkins, West Virginia. I had a wonderfully, fabulous, great, perfect week in Elkins, July 21st through July 26th, 2002.
How do I begin to tell the magic of it all? To begin with we had the cream of the crop of Irish musicians and dancers teaching the classes. I took Irish set dancing for four hours each day from the delightful Mick Mulkerrin and Mairéad Casey. I took a mini class (an hour long each day) in ceili dance from Jim Keenan (originally from Co Antrim, taught in Washington DC and now living in Brussels). There were many former students of his from the Washington area in my class. I absolutely "floated on air in the waltz hold" the times in class when I danced with Mick Mulkerrin. I danced with many, many other fine dancers in that class as well.
I loved every second of set dancing and floated on Cloud 9 during each class. My first leap into ceili dancing was a "horse of a different color"! It was a little too energetic for both my feet and my mind. I always seemed to be headed north while the rest of the class was headed east or west! The most frustrating part is that I thought that I was going to be brilliant at it, having taken ballet classes all of my childhood years, and some of my adult years. I love dancing, and I love ceili dancing, but I will have to admit that I have a long way to go in ceili classes. The teacher Jim Keenan was a brilliant dancer himself.
The ceilis each night were divine! The super musicians with their Irish music flowing through their Irish veins and playing from the depth of their hearts kept my feet a tappin'.
I simply cannot close without thanking Set Dancing News for letting me know about Augusta, without thanking Augusta Heritage for their excellent Irish week, and without thanking each and every one of the talented Irish musicians and dancers. It was an exhilarating experience!
Barbara Brice, Decatur, Georgia
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia and other sources, St Patrick was born of patrician Roman parents in Kilpatrick, Scotland, in the year 387. As a young man he was captured and carried off to Ireland as a slave to what is now Co Antrim - learning the Celtic tongue and elements of Druidism. After escaping he returned to Britain and then to Rome, where his saintly life started. But no more history - or does this help to explain the especially warm welcome extended to Irish dance teachers in Italy?
So, St Patrick's Day in Turin welcomed old friends, Tom Quinn, William Hammond and Linda Quinlan, for what was an experiment for Italy: a basic level of dancing to encourage beginners and an advanced level to satisfy those who had already taken part in workshops and visited Ireland. This was a first for a singing workshop, and very successful it was - so thanks to Linda for showing one of the many facets of Irish culture that is not so well-known in Italy.
The dance workshops had different styles of teaching, dancing levels, and choice of dances. This was a deliberate decision of the organisers: Tom taught less well-known set dances such as the Campden Hornpipe, Galway Bay Set, and his own great ceili dance choreography, the South Armagh Jig. Hammy taught the more traditional Set of Erin, Jenny Lind and Corofin Plain. And teachers swapped classes and levels. But that was not all - we had a fantastic traditional evening ceili with live music by Zest (one of the few Italian groups who understand playing for dancers!), Celtic harp solos, then singing from Linda accompanied by Hammy, followed by a demonstration of brilliant tap dancing by a local UK tap teacher to Riverdance themes, and ending with Tom's broom dance.
Although the basics of dance and music workshops in Italy are similar to workshops anywhere else, a ceili or "festa" is open to a wider public. Non-dancers come and people just want to enjoy themselves as spectators or participants - so you literally have to get them up on their feet! When that magic happens and all merge without necessarily understanding each other's language - then you know how much hard work teachers, musicians and organizers have put into the evening.
So thanks to you all, and here's to the next workshop, alla prossima.
Proitzer MühleMoving on to a different kind of workshop, let me tell you about the Proitzer Mühle, the Old Water Mill, a permanent centre for dance and music courses in Northern Germany. It's different because of the splendid isolation of the location in the depths of the Saxony countryside in a seventeenth century post house with a ballroom with a 300 square metre sprung wooden floor. Once you have reached Hamburg, Hannover or Bremen you'll find somebody to help for the rest of the way!
All courses are held in English and I have yet to meet a German participant who did not speak excellent English - they are all so enthusiastic about Irish and Scottish culture that learning the language comes naturally. A great group of enthusiastic young (and not so young!) dancers from all over Germany got together to dance sets, hard shoe, soft shoe and Scottish country dance, and play bodhran, tin whistle, sing Hebridean waulking songs in Gaelic (a course which even the Scottish Isles themselves would find hard to equal).
Proitzer offers the most comprehensive courses for beginners, intermediates and advanced level dancers that I have yet come across. The Proitzer workshops attract top-level teachers: this May it was Mick Mulkerrin and Mairéad Casey for sets, Sean Kilkenny for step and soft shoe, Brian Berryman for tin whistle, Guido Plüschke for bodhran and Michael Kievenhaus for Gaelic singing, but most of the "travelling" Irish dancing masters and "mistresses" have visited and fallen for Proitzer.
I know that we appreciated the ideals of all the teachers present - very clearly expressed by Sean - that it is not sufficient be a competent dancer if you want to be a good teacher and that those Irish (but also Scottish) teachers who live on the European mainland are only too happy to pass on their expertise to anybody dedicated to dance and music. But anyway, whatever your reasons for coming, you will have a fantastic time in Proitzer. And, we hope to welcome you in Turin quite soon!
Tess Edelmann, Turin, Italy
At one of our Tuesday night set dance practices on the north side of Chicago in September we had an extremely disconcerting disruption. The substitute security guard for the Irish American Heritage Center, where our dance session takes place, came into the room and told us there was someone with a gun downstairs and said we should turn the lights off. I'm the person in charge of this set dance session and did not exhibit any leadership abilities, but rather went with the "every man for himself" school of behavior and immediately hid under the piano. It was up by the wall, in the corner. Someone called the police on their mobile phone. The idea was that with the lights off and everybody completely silent, the room would appear to be uninhabited in case the insane gunman might be looking in each room for people to shoot. But one of the women had the idea to roll the piano away to put it front of the door. I was exposed crouching there! I stealthily slunk across the floor and squeezed underneath a bench up against the wall.
After a while the guard came and said to turn on the lights again and that all was clear now. So we started dancing again, but police were out in the hall (guns out), checking the building and told us to stay in there. Later we found out that someone in the theatre on the ground floor, rehearsing for a play, had a prop gun and when the guard questioned him, didn't take it seriously and joked around. There was really no danger, ever. The whole thing only took maybe fifteen or twenty minutes, but during that time I thought we were all going to die with our dancing shoes on.
It was also a little embarrassing, because there were some newcomers there, seeing if they liked set dancing enough to take it up. I had to say to them, "Sorry - this really hardly ever happens!" These good sports said, "Are you kidding? All of this for .00? That's real value!"
Susanna Haslett, Chicago, Illinois
Friday night at the Bridge Bar, Portmagee and there is the usual buzz of anticipation as the musicians prepare to play for the two hours of dancing ahead and, in what must be one of friendliest bars in Ireland, the conversation level is high in decibels as everyone endeavours to catch up on the weekly happenings.
The atmosphere on Friday 9th August involved something more for those of us who were awaiting the arrival of a group of visitors. Beryl and Julian Stracey, who are very much the workers involved with all set dancing workshops in Portmagee, also have very persuasive powers when they want 'volunteers' for demonstrations - so how could we resist when asked to demonstrate for a mini-workshop on Saturday afternoon?
The tour leader for the group of eleven French and Belgian dancers was Didier Matherat, who had brought dancers to us before. We were delighted to recognise among this latest group several who had visited three years ago. Since none of us have fluent French, there was much hand and arm conversation. On their last visit they had learned a local set usually known as the Valentia Right and Left, although I believe purists in the area would prefer to have it known without the island of Valentia mentioned. This time the South Kerry was to be taught and there is no dispute about that name! That, however, was for the next day and we still had Friday night for dancing.
I'm not sure how all the dancers, tourists and our overseas visitors managed to fit onto the floor, but, crowded as we were, there was much good humour and enjoyment. We were assured that at home in the French and Belgian border area there was little or no dancing of the Irish sets, but we certainly wouldn't have been aware of it from the standard of their steps and ease of following instructions - shouted through the general commotion! Leaving the Bridge Bar that Friday, both my husband Ian and myself were looking forward to the next afternoon.
We duly presented ourselves at the Community Hall in Portmagee a little before 2pm and joined Beryl and Julian, sitting on a wall in beautiful sunshine. Julian had already set up the music arrangements inside the hall and the sound was wafting out to us. The rest of the demonstration set arrived, Ina and Marcus back from their holiday in Italy, Gerry in his new car and Anne. Anne's husband Bobby doesn't dance but he had been persuaded to take the photographs so necessary on such occasions.
Somewhat late and with profuse apologies, our 'pupils' arrived. They had taken advantage of the fine weather and explored some of the locality with Didier driving. Julian gathered together our set and, with Didier translating, explained that both Gerry and Ina are accomplished set dance teachers. He would have had difficulty to apply that description to the rest of us!
Our visitors were adept and very soon had mastered the movements, despite a few problems with the unusual left hand ladies chain that occurs in this set. In fact, the set was danced through (almost) faultlessly before the end the three hour session. It was decided to dance through the Portmagee Mezerts - decided by Julian, who by this time had the bit firmly between his teeth and was in his best taskmaster mode. Finishing all those jigs, we went straight into the Stack of Barley and Shoe the Donkey for good measure. It was at this stage that Ian found his co-ordination had gone - well that was his excuse for stepping heavily on my foot.
We felt liquid refreshment was necessary and straggled our way to the Bridge Bar where we took over enough table space to sit, drink, talk and later eat. By this time language didn't seem to be too important and anyway some of our visitors had good English and everyone was included in the hubbub of conversation. Saturday nights are not live music nights at the Bridge, a point which had disappointed a little, but after we had eaten our party took over a front corner of the bar and here we sat, still talking.
Beryl, who is a singer locally much in demand, started to sing an Irish air and suddenly all the musical talent came alive. Claude, who lives in Lille but was born in Marseilles, started to sing French songs and Belgians and French alike joined in, not only with the airs but also with four part harmonies which were beautifully sung. Pascale sang a song from Africa and had us all joining with her in singing (or yelling) completely unintelligible words.
In between all this music we were dancing sets. Julian had set up the CD player and, notwithstanding the cramped corner and flagged floor, we were given a demonstration of the afternoon learning of the South Kerry. We danced the Clare Plain, Connemara, Caledonian, another South Kerry, and then somehow found ourselves in the learning role. I am not at all sure what the names of the Belgian dances were, but we hope to remember them for future occasions. I cannot imagine what were the thoughts of the bar patrons - especially those who had anticipated a quiet evening drink, but in most cases I believe they enjoyed the unknown.
We said our au revoirs, exchanged addresses, wished them bon voyage, expressed the hope that we would all meet again and meant every word. It was a very enjoyable weekend that we will long remember.
Barbara Gloinson, Cahersiveen, Co Kerry
August is the month I look forward to each year. The Dublin (Ohio) and the Milwaukee Irish Festivals both occur during that month. I have been going to Milwaukee now for seven years but this was only my second year for Dublin, which is closer to home for me.
This year at the Dublin festival Jim Keenan taught the sets and covered the Skibbereen and one called the Uibh Rathach or South Kerry Set. A great group of dancers from Washington DC came up again to help teach and enjoy some dancing. However, the weather was exceedingly hot, especially on Sunday. The music was provided by several groups including the perennial MM&M (Billy McComiskey, Brendan Mulvihill and Zan McLeod), and the local General Guinness Band from Columbus, Ohio, who played for the ceili dance instruction.
The Dublin organizers put down a superior floor for dancing. It's not your usual 4 by 8 plywood screwed to 2 by 4s. The panels are four by eight by about 4 inches thick with tongue and groove edges that appear to be bolted together. The dancing surface is varnished mahogany with no screws to pop up and the edges mate for a smooth continuous surface. Better yet, they put it on a flat surface to start with.
The Milwaukee Irish Fest Scoil Samhradh featured Séamus Ó Méalóid and Anne McCallum as set teachers this year. Séamus taught a 'steps for sets' class in the morning and sets in the afternoon. Anne taught the beginning class and the evening class.
I was expecting Séamus' "advanced" class to be all about Clare dances but instead he decided to cover the Sneem set, Limerick Orange and Green, the Aran Set, the Connemara Jig, and the Tory Set. It's always amazing how many different ways there are to do a swing, a lead around or a chain. We had a lot of fun learning the dances but there were so many that I wonder if any of us could get up and dance them now without referring to a card or Palm Pilot (pocket computer)?
In the evening class with Anne McCallum, we learned (stress on 'learned') the Plain Set from Newmarket. Let me explain that.
Most workshops that I have attended are designed to familiarize people with several different dances. You might only spend an hour or two on a particular set and then go on to another and another. By the time that is done, the figures are all jumbled in my brain. Sure, I could put them in the Palm Pilot but then when the opportunity to dance it comes along many months later, I hardly remember it.
What Anne did, by contrast, was concentrate on one set and spend time on each figure until everyone had it, especially including the nuances and timing of Crown the Lady in the fourth figure. As we learned each figure, we would get quizzed on the names of the figures so that we could eventually remember the order. Put me in a ceili next month or next year and I could probably dance the Newmarket Plain Set as comfortably as the ones that comprise the "canon" (Clare Lancers, Caledonian, Cashel, etc). Hopefully the others in the class will be taking the Newmarket Plain Set back to their home crowd and teaching it there so that someday it will show up on the list at a ceili where we can all dance it again.
Personally, in a workshop setting I would rather learn only one or two dances so thoroughly that I could dance them again elsewhere without someone on stage calling over the grand music of a band like the Kilfenora.
I had a great time in all the classes at Milwaukee and Dublin. It's always nice to dance with friends that helped me along when I was starting and meet new ones to run into somewhere else at a later date.
Dave Braun, Toledo, Ohio
Many of the Irish festivals are dedicated to the memory of a local musician, clearly demonstrating the genuine respect and affection of their friends and neighbours. Everyone participating in these festivals shares in the respect and feels the affection, even if they never knew the individual being commemorated. With the many young people attending festivals, the traditions of the past are being kept alive for the future.
The people of Williamstown, Co Galway, held a weekend on August 16 to 18 in honour of a musician called Mickie Timothy who died in 1996 at the age of 87, the last of his era. Mickie was a well-loved character who was born in the nearby townland of Carranderry in this remote corner close to Roscommon and Mayo, and lived there all his life. He started playing accordion at the age of 9, learning from a lady called Maggie Kenny. Whenever music was required, Mickie was the one they sent for, and he always came willingly. He often played for stations, when Mass was held in a home. The festivities would continue well into the night with plenty of music and dance. Mickie was a farmer and tradesman (carpenter), an active strong man, jolly and outgoing. He travelled everywhere by bicycle and was still on the bike in his eighties.
The Mickie Timothy Music and Set Dancing Festival began on Friday night with a traditional mass celebrated not only for Mickie, but for all the local entertainers who are no longer with us. Mickie's first accordion was brought up at the offertory. Across the street from the church in Morgan's, the festival was officially opened by Mickie's son John with a loving and amusing speech about his father.
After the opening, musicians gathered for sessions and dancers collected for the ceili down the road in the Parish Hall. This is a former schoolhouse which has been converted into a beautifully kept hall, clean, bright and pleasant, and in regular use as a kindergarten. There were mostly local dancers here with just a handful of visitors. Many parents brought their children and everyone danced together with pleasure. The music was by the local favourites the Woodlands Ceili Band who have a traditional sound and lively tempo.
Saturday was a day of workshops. In the brand new lounge in Morgan's, Pádraig and Roisín McEneaney showed a keen group how to dance the Kildownet Half Set in the morning and continued in the afternoon with the local Williamstown Set. This set was successfully revived by local teacher Mary Whyte and it's now regularly danced in many halls around Ireland. After the set there was time for the Military Two Step, the Old Country Waltz and the Peeler and the Goat. One of the teachers at the afternoon music workshops was box player Patty Furlong from New York, who regularly plays for ceilis there with her band Coolmagort.
Local musicians were the main performers at the Saturday evening concert in the Parish Hall, including groups of children taught by fiddler Fiona Doherty. The visiting teachers also played on stage, and Pádraig and Roisín danced in a set displaying a couple figures of the Williamstown Set. Mickie Timothy's son Paraic was also one of the performers, playing box and mouth organ. The ceili that night was in Morgan's lounge with music by Swallow's Tail Ceili Band, and of course there was another Williamstown Set danced there.
Pádraig and Roisín continued their teaching on Sunday morning in the Parish Hall with the Aran Set and the Ballycroy from Co Mayo. Music workshops continued in the afternoon. In the end the first Mickie Timothy Festival was as successful for its participants as it was for the organisers, who are planning to hold it again at the same time next year.
Meenaneary is a remote and tiny village in the depths of the Donegal countryside. Located about four miles inland from Carrick in a valley along the Glen River it has one remarkable feature that's probably unique among Irish villages - it's dominated by a huge fish factory. Four or five enormous buildings line both sides of the road, quite a contrast to the surrounding wild, empty countryside devoted to sheep farming. Seafood from around the world is processed here and shipped out around the world, the largest employer for as far as twenty miles.
A cooperatively-run vegetable processing factory was started here in the 1960s through the efforts of Father James McDyer, the local priest who worked long and hard to improve life for his parishioners. In the seventies the enterprise was taken over by a limited company and began processing seafood and has been operating successfully ever since. Beside the factory stands O'Donnell's, a typical Irish country pub and shop which has served the village for 110 years. Rory O'Donnell is the third generation of his family in the pub and his son works with him today. The factory was built on a field donated by his father.
Meenaneary might be an unlikely place for a festival, but every village in Donegal wants to celebrate summer. O'Donnell's pub is the home of the Glen River Summer Festival held over three weekends in August - this was the third year. While the festivities are on a small scale, the local support has been strong enough to raise €7,000 for a local hospice over the past two years. Rory O'Donnell himself is a keen set dancer, so the final weekend from August 16th to 18th featured music and set dancing beginning on Friday night with an Irish night and a session.
I drove up on Saturday and was the last to arrive at the Community Centre for the afternoon workshop held by Sheila Gormley from Irvinestown, Co Fermanagh. I immediately filled the last gap in a set and started dancing the Labasheeda Set. I was in one of the most remote corners of Ireland and here I was dancing a set from back home in Clare! We were just two sets in an enormous hall, a mix of eager beginners and experienced dancers. At 5pm everyone was keen to depart on time to see Donegal play Dublin in the football match that was just beginning.
Before that night's ceili I visited a popular community restaurant in a converted national school that stayed open late, served huge meals and charged very reasonable prices. When I went over to the Community Hall just before ten, it was dark - a sign at the entrance redirected dancers to O'Donnell's. There I found the members of the Emerald Ceili Band setting up for a ceili in the conservatory and on a platform just outside. The ceili was relocated because of the football match - some of the local dancers were in Dublin where the Donegal team had been defeated, so not many were expected tonight. It was a good move because the dancers fitted better in the pub than in the big hall. We had one set dancing inside, one out. After dancing indoors, overheating as usual, it was a relief to do the next set outside in the brisk night air. The Emerald was brilliant as always and it was great to have them there on the floor beside us.
A barn dance was the big event on Sunday afternoon. It took place on the outdoor floor at O'Donnell's in front of a gig rig stage. Playing there were Country Traditions, a versatile local band with box, guitar and piano who play for traditional and ballroom dancing. Today it was mostly two-hand dances, the floor filled with locals for each one. I watched amazed at the variety of these dances done expertly by all of them, with a few moves I'd never seen before. Visitors tried them and some of the experienced locals helped by dancing with us. We danced three figures of a couple of sets with two sets dancing, most of whom were visitors, including some from Germany, Japan and France. The beautiful weather was warm, sunny and perfect for comfortable outdoor dancing. The atmosphere was so relaxed that most were content to take it all in from their seats with a drink and chat.
You might think that there would be certain disadvantages to holding a festival beside a fish factory, but there was absolutely no fishy smell! I drove past the buildings many times, wondering what went on in them, and in the end I had to ask Rory what they were all about. Luckily his festival takes place when the factory is closed for summer holidays.
A break in the beautiful Donegal countryside is highly recommended, and if you're up here in August, be sure to join in the relaxed, pleasant festivities at the Glen River Summer Festival starting on the first weekend in August.
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).
Set Dancing News, Kilfenora, Co Clare, Ireland
076 602 4282 Republic of Ireland
087 939 3357 mobile
+1 410 504 6000 North America
+353 76 602 4282 elsewhere
+353 87 939 3357