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).
New Year's Eve will never be the same again after I ended 2002 and began 2003 in Blankenheim Castle in Germany. The hundred or so lucky people who attended feasted on music and dance as well as on excellent food. The Irish visitors were warmly welcomed by the German dancers, who always showed their appreciation for the musicians, teachers and everyone else.
Blankenheim is about 60km south of Cologne and only 20km east of the Belgian border in a rural area of hills and forests. The village nestles low down between the surrounding hills. One of the hills rises steeply over the centre of the village and high above sits the castle, dominating the little valley.
While the fabric of the castle is ancient, inside it's a model of comfort and quality, thanks to a recent refurbishment. It serves as a youth hostel with dozens of rooms, most of which have en suite bathrooms. Normally the rooms sleep four or six people in bunks, but each one was shared by just two or three people.
During waking hours, most of the activity took place in the hall, located along a series of corridors and staircases in the tallest part of the castle. This was a grand room, with wood panelling, parquet floor, large fireplace, three metre thick walls, windowed alcoves and a balcony overlooking the village. This was where we ate four times a day and danced in workshops, ceilis and sessions. Some of the workshops were held in other rooms elsewhere in the huge building. There's also a bar below the hall, which sold reasonably priced drinks in the evening and was the only place where smoking was permitted indoors.
Dancers from the four corners of both Ireland and Germany, plus a few other countries as well, convened in the castle on Saturday 28 December. After checking into the rooms and taking a light supper in the hall, everyone gathered for the first ceili. Pat Murphy called the sets and music was by Dublin musicians Liam Purcell, Michael Tubridy, Kathleen and John Nesbitt and Maeve O'Loughlin. We danced five sets plus three two-hand dances taught by Maureen Culleton, and the room was full with eight to ten sets. There was no amplification yet the music was easily heard in the back of the hall. The dancing finished promptly around midnight and after all the travelling of the day, most were too tired to contemplate a late night dancing session.
A full day of dancing on Sunday began with Pat Murphy's workshop after breakfast. He taught the Inis Oírr Set, and then repeated it at a second workshop in the afternoon. There were simultaneous workshops in traditional step dancing with Celine Tubridy and steps for sets with Aidan Vaughan, as well as music workshops. Pat repeated the day's set so that those attending other workshops would have a chance to learn it. Pat has a remarkable repertoire of sets - I would have been pleased if he'd been able to teach different dances in the afternoon. There was another workshop after dinner when Maureen Culleton took the mystery out of ceili dancing with her crystal clear explanation of the Eight-hand Jig. She had time for more two-hand dances before the ceili.
The sets at Sunday's ceili were varied to avoid repetition and also included the workshop dances. During the break both Aidan Vaughan and Celine Tubridy performed solo dances. Aidan's sean nós routine was highly appreciated by the crowd who gave a huge round of applause. Similarly Celine's traditional hornpipe was also warmly received. In fact even the routine applause after each figure of a set was stronger here than it ever is in Ireland.
There was a marvellous late session after most people had left the hall, thanks to a couple of musicians who were eager to play for any dances. Claus Kessler, a young German concertina player, played one of Celine's traditional step dances and around ten people danced it together. He played more dances for them and once the group's entire repertoire was exhausted we moved on to set dancing. Claus was joined by Liam Purcell on box and they gave us beautiful music for two or three sets. Their sound was beautiful because they were nearer and the crowd smaller.
Monday's programme was much the same as Sunday's. Pat Murphy's set of the day, the new Kilfenora Set, generated good interest among all the dancers, and some people deliberately attended both the morning and afternoon workshops for double the practice. Maureen Culleton taught the Three Tunes after supper, complete with acting lessons for the move called Roly Poly. This is when the gents try to impress the ladies by charging into the set brandishing their fists and clapping hands. The ladies spurn these advances by turning away with a look of stern disapproval.
The ceili was even more laid back than the others. There was a break for performances by the music classes - tin whistle, flute and concertina - and from the trad step dancing class. There were numerous special requests for a brush dance by Jim Monaghan, a fellow from Dublin who often seems to think he's Elvis. In fact the Presley style has infected Jim to such an extent that it even comes out in his traditionally Irish brush dance, to the great amusement of all who were fortunate enough to witness it tonight. Aidan Vaughan returned to the floor by popular acclaim, and Kathleen Nesbitt impressed everyone by playing a slow air and reel on fiddle.
More people stayed on for Monday's late session, and it turned out to be the highlight of the day. We danced a few sets and witnessed some great performances. Liam Purcell displayed his previously hidden talent for sean nós dancing in a hilarious performance. John Creed from Dungarvan sang a comic song about the limited spending power of a man on a date with an extravagant lady. Eight German dancers gave an exciting demonstration of two figures of the Curassiers Set, devised by Michael Tubridy and Terry Moylan. The inventive moves were beautifully executed and a delight to watch. Rita Gallagher from Clare serenaded Liam with a love song, and John McEvoy from Louth delivered Percy French's recitation of Carmody's Mare with such realism that he had us sitting on the edge of our chairs.
After three enjoyable days, everyone was feeling especially festive for New Year's Eve on Tuesday. Pat Murphy caught the mood of the day well by teaching the Melleray Lancers, a set of pure pleasure. Maureen's ceili workshop covered the High-cauled Cap, but this time it was before dinner because of preparations for the evening's festivities.
Every day we ate three meals plus an afternoon tea, and the food was good and plentiful. Breakfast was served continental style, with a buffet of bread, cereal, cold meat, cheese and boiled eggs. Dinner at 1pm was the only hot meal of the day, with a choice of meat and vegetarian dishes, plus salad and pudding. There was cake and tart for the afternoon tea, and the light supper in the evening was a buffet of cold meat, cheese and bread.
The transformation of the hall from dancing to dining was a remarkable sight. Three times a day the tables and chairs were brought out of storage and three times they were put back. Dancers queued up to collect the furniture and there were long queues of tables going back into storage. Each time the tables were set with plates, glasses and cutlery. The changeover was accomplished quickly and efficiently thanks to the communal effort.
However, for the special New Year's Eve dinner the kitchen staff were in charge of all the preparations. The hall door was locked and a sign told us "No entry before 7.30." I showed up just before the appointed hour and patiently waited for the door to be unlocked. The door opens onto an old circular staircase and as far as far I could see there were dancers queuing up and down, eager to know what was inside.
When the door opened and we were allowed inside, the hall was entirely lit by candle light. There were candles on all the tables and high up the walls. The spread of food on the buffet looked like a picture from a glossy magazine. There were six hot dishes, salads, cold meat, cheese and fish, beautiful bread and rolls, plus sauces and dessert. Once everyone arrived, we were invited to help ourselves and a long, slow, orderly queue of patient, hungry people filled the back of the hall. Outside snow began to fall during dinner - even the weather was in a celebratory mood!
The kitchen staff made a special request to see a performance of step dancing. They'd seen the set dancing every day but were interested to see some steps. A space was cleared at the back of the hall, musicians and dancers positioned themselves, and when the staff took their seats they were enthusiastically applauded by all. They were shown traditional steps by Celine and friends, sean nós by Aidan and a figure of the Caledonian.
After the hall was cleared of tables we danced sets until just before midnight. We rushed back to our rooms to get heavy coats, and then slowly emptied onto an outdoor terrace for the midnight countdown. The snow had stopped but everything was covered in white. A piper played, people had sparklers and down in the village below people were launching fireworks from their back gardens. It was a lovely setting for handshakes, hugs and kisses to welcome the new year. When we returned to the hall there was champagne waiting for us. The only thing left to do was to sing Auld Lang Syne. Three musicians were encouraged out to the middle of the floor, then everyone linked arms and sang the two verses.
The formalities of the evening were complete, so now we were free to begin the session. It was the biggest and best yet, with many excellent party pieces performed between sets. The Germans sang in beautiful harmony and in rounds which were lovely even for those who couldn't understand the words. A couple performed some steps while seated in chairs and acted out a little drama. Peter Davies from Manchester and Liam Purcell both gave solo dances. Jim Monaghan's Elvis was also back tonight, this time with a song rather than a dance. It was certainly a highly convincing portrayal of the King for the small hoard of ladies who smothered him with kisses when he finished. It was late when I left but the dedicated singers looked like they were just getting warmed up.
There was a late start next morning, with brunch at 11am and no other scheduled events. It was a long and relaxed morning that stretched into the afternoon, and the session atmosphere continued with more recitations, songs and, of course, dances. Goodbyes took a long time because we had to say farewell to everyone. After four days together it was like we'd become one big family. My compliments to organisers Kasia Jankowska and Michael Benden, to the teachers and all the dancers for a brilliant time, and best wishes for the new year.
The price of the complete New Year's Eve package including four nights accommodation, all meals and dancing was €220. Most Irish visitors flew by Ryanair from Dublin or Shannon to Charleroi Airport in Belgium where we boarded a coach to Blankenheim costing €40 return. Visitors from Manchester flew to Dusseldorf and travelled by rail to Blankenheim. You can walk to the village from the castle along paths down the hill. Don't count on doing any weekend shopping because shops are only open on weekdays and Saturday mornings. It was rather difficult to attend Mass - some Irish visitors travelled 15km by taxi to another village.
Timpeall an Tí Set Dancers celebrated their tenth anniversary of the now world renowned Shindig by the Windmill from Friday 17th January to Sunday 19th January. The venue once again was the Earl of Desmond Hotel, Tralee, Co Kerry.
Some guests were a bit put out on arrival to see renovations in progress at the hotel. I was not overly concerned with the temporary floor in the reception area as I was there to dance. A quick glance in the Desmond Suite, the ballroom for the weekend's dancing, reassured me that the floor was adequate both in space and surface.
I decided to top up my caffeine levels and relax in the bar. I was delighted to see my Galway friends - Kevin and Tomas had been at last year's festival but this was Fiona's first Shindig. We agreed to meet in the ballroom at 9.30pm, to secure a seat or at least a base for our bags and water. By 9.45pm it was clear we had made the right decision - dancers gathered in throngs.
I was lucky to have all brilliant partners for the weekend. The first set was the Cashel followed by the Jenny Lind, which the weekend's organiser Paddy Hanafin called, to the relief of some of the dancers who were not at all familiar with this County Cork set. I love the challenge of dancing a set where I have to think of the next move.
Slides and polkas featured strongly in the line up of sets such as the Baile Bhuirne Jig and Sliabh Luachra, but then we were in polka land here in Kerry. Of course the usual Plain, Clare Lancers and Connemara reel sets also got a whirl. The round of waltzes was sheer bliss, but then I had a wonderful dancing partner - thanks, Kevin. Johnny Reidy's music reaches your very soul. This Sliabh Luachra man and his band gave us polkas and reels from heaven.
Nourished by a wonderful breakfast on Saturday morning, dancers began to convene once again in the ballroom for Pat Murphy's workshop. By 10.30am Pat began with the Kilfenora Plain Set, using the taped music of the old Kilfenora Ceili Band. Pat stressed that this was the original music and musicians for this set and gave us a brief history of the set. For his help in reviving the set, Pat thanked Michael Slattery to a thunderous round of applause. Michael danced in the demonstration set. I have always admired Michael's style of dancing almost floating along with perfect timing. He has definitely mastered the craft of Clare steps and those of us sometimes privileged to share a set with him dream of one day emulating his standard.
This wonderful set has six figures and as one watches the set you can see the quadrille influence. The first five figures start with a lead around, gent's arm around his partner's waist. In the first figure I noticed a square as in the Clare Lancers - different, of course, but still a square. The line of four in the third figure has similarities with the Corofin Plain, as does the curtsy by the swinging couple. Some dancers took advantage of this bow to steal a little kiss, although Pat Murphy emphasised that there was no pogín. The fourth figure has a Christmas; I love the gentle style of dropping off the lady. The fifth figure is a jig with an easygoing gallop. Pat described this as a bit of old world style of dancing. The sixth is a hornpipe figure danced to a tune called a quadrille, something between a reel and a hornpipe. We danced each figure a couple of times and then danced the whole set straight through. This old Clare set is definitely the crème de la crème of recently revived sets.
Time was rushing by and Pat said he would just introduce us to the next set of the weekend, the Louisburgh Set from Co Mayo, with three figures, jig, reel and polka. Pat and his team demonstrated the first figure and then we all danced it. Everyone was charmed with the set and as we left the hall everyone was excited about finishing the set at Sunday morning's workshop.
Dancers adjourned for lunch and some socialising, before the afternoon ceili. By two thirty dancers had secured chairs and in most cases a space to dance as ladies and gents took bookings for sets. John Joe from Galway took a slight exception to this "booking craic" as he called it. "I prefer to wait until the set is named and then ask a girl to dance. I believe otherwise the same people get to dance all the time and others are left sitting, especially if you don't know people." Personally I hope the booking craic continues.
Matt Cunningham and his band doled out their usual terrific music, starting with the Clare Lancers. After the Labasheeda and Plain, Pat Murphy called the Kilfenora; even dancers who had not attended the workshop had no trouble in following Pat's concise instruction. We danced the Cashel, Connemara, Baile Bhuirne Jig, Newport and Caledonian, and of course Matt's wonderful waltzes relaxed us all as the sweetness and purity of his music made our feet glide across the floor.
Paddy Hanafin announced that Mass was to be held immediately after the ceili at 6.30. He was delighted to have Dean Dan O'Riordan saying the mass. I briefly met The Dean as he was making his way to the ballroom. "I love all traditional music and dancing and all things involving our good Irish culture. I have just returned home from Boston after many years away. I originally hailed from Millstreet. I had a ceili band myself many years ago and also danced a lot, but I'm now out of practice. I am a Comhaltas man and proud of it."
Dancers were delighted with the arrangements for Mass. Matt Cunningham played two tunes on the tin whistle, Mise Eire and The Passion at the offertory and communion. The service was a true feast of prayer, goodwill and friendship, as Matt's music enticed our hearts and souls to meet and sing.
When I entered the ballroom at 9.30 Michael Sexton and his band were all set and ready to play and the crowd was beginning to gather. I noticed a few more locals arriving and my bookings for the night were filled even before the band started playing. I am sure that every county in Ireland was represented at this festival. The crowd also boasted visitors from England, America and Holland. All age groups were represented. The youngest lady ever to attend the festival was three-month-old Aisling Murphy in the arms of her mother Lorraine. Of course music is in Aisling's blood as her dad Pat plays piano with Michael Sexton's Ceili Band.
The music started at 10.10pm and suddenly the dance floor had wall-to-wall dancers. The sons of Clare were as usual true ambassadors of their county and craft. We danced the Cashel, Clare Lancers and Connemara sets, and then Pat called the Kilfenora. This was my first time dancing the set to live Clare musicians; for me it gave yet another layer to this newly revived set. The night concluded with the Corofin Plain, the Plain and the Sliabh Luachra.
Some Dublin ladies mentioned to me that they were disappointed with the variety of sets danced. "The same old sets - no Caragh Lake, Borlin, West Kerry or North Kerry." I can understand their point of view. I suppose one would anticipate a few more polka sets in Kerry.
I could hardly wait to dance the Louisburgh Set this morning. At 10.30am the hall began to slowly fill with dancers - no Sunday morning lie-in for anyone today. Pat Murphy sorted out the music of Heather Breeze and got his demonstration set ready. He told us that he learned the set from his class in Louisburgh around Halloween and that this was his first time doing it at a workshop. He paid thanks to the Louisburgh dancers and especially to Maureen Duffy for teaching him the set. Most dancers had danced the first figure at Saturday's workshop but Pat began from the beginning again.
When everyone was comfortable with the Louisburgh Set, Pat moved on to the Valentia Right and Left. "Whenever possible when I am in Kerry I like to include a Kerry Set." Pat explained that Muiris O'Brien learned the set from Joe Lynch, a dancer from Valentia Island. Muiris brought the set to Dublin where he taught it to Connie Ryan, Pat and others. This six-figure set is danced to polkas - a fantastic conclusion to yet another of Pat's successful workshops.
Donie Nolan and Taylor's Cross were all set and eager to start at 2.45pm. Once more the dancers gathered and the floor filled with sets. The first set was the West Kerry - I wondered if the ladies from Dublin were happy. Next came the reel sets - Plain, Clare Lancers, Corofin Plain, then the Sliabh Luachra, Newport and some waltzes. By special request Donie sang Four Green Fields, the version by Seamus MacMahuna. Donie is no stranger to singing as he was the All-Ireland winner in solo singing at the Fleadh Cheoil in Listowel in 1986. The ceili and the weekend concluded with the Caledonian Set. The dancers were thrilled that Donie played all the set including the entire last figure.
Another Shindig had come to an end. Almost everyone agreed that the weekend had lived up to their expectations. It was time to pack the shoes for a few days and bid goodbye to friends. Well done, Paddy and Carolyn. I look forward to another wonderful weekend in Tralee next year.
Joan Pollard Carew
Sheer heavenWe headed off in the early morning
To the Earl of Desmond in Tralee
The Shindig by the Windmill
For the 10th anniversary.
The hotel was in repair
There were builders on site
Wobbly floorboards at reception
But it didn't take from our delight.
The room was warm
The grub was good
And Johnny Reidy played mighty fast
As only a Kerry man could.
We had Michael Sexton, Donie Nolan
And the very talented Matt.
We danced the hours away
And hardly ever sat.
Matt played two airs at Mass
We had dinner at seven
Paddy Hanafin at ten
Sure it was sheer heaven.
The workshops with Pat
As always so bright
The Kilfenora, the Louisburg
And the Valentia Left and Right.
Sunday afternoon came too soon
It was time to pack
But there's always next year
We can't wait to go back.
Mary Caldwell, Ennis, Co Clare
On Sunday November 24, 2002, the Irish music community in New York and New Jersey held a most successful benefit for one of their own. The recipient of this effort was New Jersey resident Margie O'Driscoll, Bronx-born and raised by parents from Cork and Mayo. Margie, only 47, suffered a massive and debilitating stroke in October 2001. She was self-employed as a computer software consultant, with minimal health care coverage. With health care costs rising dramatically in recent years, Margie's bills soon became astronomical. And the cost of her rehab and recovery continues to grow daily.
However, Margie has been a very active member of the Irish music and dance scene for years and a truly indispensable member of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann. The community rallied around her and the benefit planning took off last spring with Paul Keating and Tom Vesey spearheading the effort.
The day began with a céilí mór led by Eileen Clune Goodman and anchored by the combined musicianship of the Green Gates and Ceol na gCroí Céilí Bands (Pat Casey on flute, Mike Brady and Rose Flanagan on fiddle, John Fitzpatrick and John Kennedy on box, Denis O'Driscoll on keyboard, and Brendan Fahey on ceili drums). That group alone would have delighted the crowd, but add a few more top-notch musicians, and you have one incredible "all star" céilí band. Joining them were Mike Rafferty, Felix Dolan, Joanie Madden, Larry McCullough and Dennis Donahue on flute; Martin Mulhaire, John Whelan, Patty Moriarty, Patty Furlong, Kevin Killeen and Billy McComisky on box; and Mary Scanlon, Mary Mahon and Maeve Flanagan on fiddle. There were nearly 20 sets on the floor with several hundred more "wanna-be's" (on-lookers) for the entire two hours of the best music to be found anywhere!
And the crowd continued to grow! Nearly non-stop entertainment was provided for more than eight hours by Séad, Morning Star, Rent-A-Crowd, Cherish the Ladies, the Eileen Ivers Band and Celtic Cross. And many musicians were even seen dancing sets and steps when they weren't on stage! Colleen Donahue and her terrific sound crew kept the show moving, with only fifteen minute intervals between performers.
And Margie was able to attend (who could stop her?) for a while. She is truly an inspiration! So many people worked long hours to make this event a huge success, and it would be impossible to mention them all here. Thank you to the musicians and the talented sound team who donated their considerable talents, the "unofficial" photographers, raffle ticket-sellers, security staff, advertisers, organizers and supporters who made this an amazing day for all involved on any level.
Should any readers wish to contribute, donations may be made to the Margie Fund, Denis O'Driscoll, 7 Arlington Street, Westbury, NY 11590.
Maureen Donachie, Floral Park, New York
"We foot it all the night weaving olden dances" (Yeats) on November 26th at a Thanksgiving ceili in Hampstead, New Hampshire, with a band of visiting musicians and dancers from Sliabh Luachra. My family and I have been making ceili memories for almost five years at monthly ceilis held in our 200 year-old home. This ceili, however, was one of the most notable and magical ceilis we ever held.
Some of the Sliabh Luachra musicians and dancers had been in Boston for a long weekend of workshops and concerts. The event was held at the Burren Pub in Somerville, Massachusetts, with John 'the Lepper' Lynch teaching set dance workshops in the afternoons and the Sliabh Luachra musicians playing for the ceilis in the evening. The musicians were Connie O'Connell, fiddler from Kilnamartra, Cork, Johnny Cronin, box player from Killarney and formerly New York, and Brendan O'Shea, guitarist from Killarney and New York.
'John the Lepper' was patient and quite witty, and an accomplished dancer and teacher. He taught workshops on Saturday and Sunday, and was the guest teacher at Ger Cooney's Monday night class in the Burren. John's sister, Breda, also an accomplished set dancer, traveled with the group as well. For many new dancers and seasoned ones, having Johnny teach every figure of the West Kerry Set slowly, smoothly and with laughter was a highlight of the weekend.
After this special music and dance festival at the Burren, some of the group from Ireland hopped a train to ride up north to New Hampshire for more revelry and celebration. John O'Shea, the organizer for the group, did a marvelous job in making all the preparations that were necessary for the Sliabh Luachra festival to take place. Many of the group had never been in the States before, and it was a unique experience for them to see more of New England and play and dance at a house ceili.
Many of the dancers had come from around New Hampshire and the Boston area; some had never been to a ceili before. The house was lit with candles, there were china tea cups set out for midnight tea and homemade cakes, and fifty people showed up on a busy weekday before the Thanksgiving holiday.
The musicians and dancers were introduced one by one and there was much clapping and excitement. One of the dancers, Eileen Sullivan, originally from Cork, has lived in the States for almost thirty years. She was ecstatic as well as nostalgic to be amongst people from home and to be able to dance with them. Many of the dancers were surprised to hear her sing as the musicians played some tunes. They didn't know Eileen was such a superb singer!
Martin and Ger, two dancers from the Kerry-Cork border, were some of the liveliest and most interesting dancers that those from the States had ever seen! "Listen to the music in your heart and respond with your heart and not just your feet!" Martin explained to me. I met Martin and Ger last February in Killarney while dancing at 4am at the Gleneagle Hotel. They had promised they would show up at one of my ceilis someday. That they did!
The music and dancing continued until 5am "while the world is full of troubles and is anxious in its sleep" (Yeats). It began snowing and the hosts and neighbors up the street thought the snowstorm was caused by fairies who favored Sliabh Luachra's magic feet and fingers and hoped they would linger longer in New Hampshire. Everyone is hoping this could become an annual event in New England!
It truly was magic.
Cynthia Neale, Hampstead, New Hampshire
I am writing to tell you about my experience at the second annual Chicago Set Dancing weekend that was held over the weekend of January 17th through 19th 2003. It was a wonderful time. I'd been there last year and had to go back again because I enjoyed it so.
From the moment we, a few of my New York friends and I, arrived at the ceili on Friday we were feeling excited and happy. It was the first time I'd heard the music of Tim Joe and Anne Riordan and I can say I am looking forward to the next. They are young and lively and play traditional with an added spirit. The music was great.
The friends I met last year were there too. Great Irish men and women, transplanted to the mid-US, bringing with them the warmth and hospitality the Irish are famous for. It is a pleasure to be in their company. And my American friends Brendan Houlihan, Marge Mount and Mary Hackett are, without a doubt, the most gracious hosts one could ever hope to have. These three young people really know how to make you feel welcome and at home even though you may be hundreds of miles away. In addition to my friends from New York and New Jersey, people came from Canada, Ohio, Wisconsin, New Mexico and even California - a great group of people together for the purpose of dancing.
Saturday there were workshops. Aidan Vaughan was out to teach the Kilfenora Set and the people really liked the set. There was an accordion workshop taught by Chicago's own master player Jim Thornton and even a singing workshop. People who attended these workshops were very happy with the teachers and the tunes and songs they learned.
Saturday's ceili was even better than Friday's. The local Chicago band played for us the first part of the evening. The name of the group is Tunes of Erin with again Chicago's great Jim Thornton playing for us along with Sean Ryan, Clodagh Boylan-Ryan and Tony O'Connell. I must say the music was sweet and beautiful. You could see it in the room as you were dancing. It enveloped us - I loved it.
The second part of the evening was with Tim Joe and Anne again and we all had a grand time. It's amazing that two people can have such stamina and play with such enthusiasm to get a whole room of people dancing and sweating and loving every minute of it.
In addition to our own dancing Saturday night, we were treated to see some step dancing by two pretty local Chicago girls, one of our own, Joan O'Connell from the New York area, and some awesome sean nós dancing by Aidan Vaughn and big Brendan Tunney from Rochester, New York. I'll tell you we were witness to some very impressive footwork.
On Sunday there was another ceili. Tim Joe and Anne played again with the same energy and enthusiasm. Needless to say, we the dancers were waning in that department a bit. It was the end of the weekend and you know yourself, it is always hard to say good-bye.
We were in Chicago's Gaelic Park - what a beautiful venue! I would have to write another letter to really explain what a gorgeous place it is and a shining credit to the founders but that will be for another time. After the ceili we went into another room where every Sunday evening you can have a delicious dinner, and listen and dance to some live show band type of music. They play a variety of waltzes, quick steps, jives and even rock and roll for everyone's taste. They even gave us ten minutes of reels for a few figures of the Plain Set. These people are very accommodating.
It was a terrific time all together and I am looking forward to seeing my friends again and to going to Chicago again some time soon.
Rachel Luzzi, Jersey City, New Jersey
Christmas is a great time for dancing, with ceilis and parties nearly every day of the month! Your editor found his way to a few of them and filed the following reports.
A chip off the old blockDolan's, Limerick, Tuesday 10 December
Pat O'Connell teaches a set dancing class on Thursday nights in Dolan's Pub, a popular music venue on the Dock Road in Limerick. Both experienced dancers and young university students loyally attend Pat's classes and everyone came out to the class Christmas party along with many other dancers.
The dancing was in the Warehouse, a lofty hall at the back of the pub which is regularly used for concerts. There's floor space for about a dozen sets in a squeeze, and little seating, though there's a balcony above with tables, chairs and a good view.
The mix of young and experienced dancers made for a lively atmosphere. Even if many of the dancers were beginners, none of them were shy of the floor, joining in every set. Pat called the sets, the regular dancers helped and all enjoyed the dancing. Even Mike Dolan, the proprietor, was out in the sets. We danced non-stop, apart from the break when food was available on the balcony.
We were fortunate to have great music from Micheál Sexton, son of Michael, who sounded like a ceili band even though he played on his own. There's no generation gap in the Sexton family - Micheál plays the box with every bit of style we hear from his dad in the ceili band. Between sets Micheál switched to the keyboard and sang the waltzes and jives in a fine voice.
Exceptional night in KanturkEdel Quinn Hall, Kanturk, Co Cork, Friday 13 December
It might take a bit of searching to find Edel Quinn Hall in Kanturk, but once you do you'll never forget it because it's one of the best halls for dancing in the country. Built in the sixties, it's been recently refurbished and still retains the original sprung timber floor in beautiful condition. The floor seems to stretch for acres to the distant four walls, and has a bounce that I normally only experience in my dreams. I never tired the whole night, stayed free of any aches and could have continued dancing forever.
While the venue was excellent, most of the credit for the night's exceptional pleasure goes to Tim Joe and Anne Riordan, a two-piece band that can fill any venue with some of the most joyfully danceable music in Ireland. There are built-in speakers around the hall, so the sound was excellent. I was delighted to see that they were recording some tracks for a CD on the night and look forward to reliving the night's experience.
This was probably the first set dancing ceili in Kanturk, organised by Gerry Kelleher to raise funds for charity. As many as thirty sets were dancing in plenty of space as the floor would surely take fifty with ease. There was a healthy mix of reel and polka sets, all without calling except for the most welcome West Kerry Set, when instructions were given between figures. May there be many more ceilis here!
Those of us who were late departing after the national anthem had a bit of a bonus. After most of the crowd had left, Tim Joe announced he was re-recording a couple of figures of the Lancers for the CD. He invited us to dance and two sets eagerly got up. He even recorded another set after that but there weren't enough dancers around interested in making up a set. I left with Tim Joe and Anne's music filling the beautiful night - it's most unusual to be leaving when the band's still playing. On the drive back to Kilfenora I imagined I saw shooting stars in the sky, and when I got home after 4am I saw dozens of them silently sailing overhead.
Donncha's last nightNa Fianna, Glasnevin, Dublin, Saturday 14 December
Donncha Ó Muíneacháin has been involved with the dancing at Na Fianna GAA Club in Glasnevin, Dublin, for over thirty years. Tonight was his last night as Mary Murphy and Ann Ryan take over his responsibilities there. Donncha had hoped the night would pass without anything special happening, but his friends made a couple of presentations in the break. Ann Ryan gave him a bronze lamp, the head of the club made another presentation and his friend Seán Clerkin also spoke a few words in his honour.
Otherwise it was business as usual in Na Fianna. The Green Groves Ceili Band played some nippy music for a mixed evening of sets, ceili dances, two-hands and waltzes with calling by Donncha. I'm quite fond of lively music so was delighted with the band. It was my first visit to the hall - the reputation of the place in my mind was so big that I imagined a larger hall, but it was just right for the ten or so sets dancing tonight. The dancers were mostly local regulars.
My partner for the Plain Set showed me an interesting move in the third figure. Normally when the gent crosses to meet his lady on the opposite side, he turns her once with the right and twice with the left. Instead, my lady asked me turn her once with the right, once with the left then once with the right. She learned this from Donncha and said it was how the Clare people in Dublin originally danced it. We tried it and I liked it - there was a nice flow which better matched the turns in other figures.
During the break at many ceilis, the kitchen helpers set up a special table in a back room for the band's tea. That happened at this ceili, except that the table was brought out to the middle of the dance floor, which seemed very homely.
From around the worldSt Joseph's School, Drumcondra, Sunday 15 December
I arrived at St Joseph's for the last ceili of a weekend of ceilis and was pleased to see a handful of people who travelled over from Britain. In fact, Mary Brogan, who calls the ceilis here, also welcomed visitors from Japan, India and France, and a few from around the country. The bands were the big attraction of the weekend, with the Glenside playing on Friday and the Emerald on Saturday and today.
The Emerald was in superb form and brought back fond memories of their July ceilis in Miltown Malbay. With good dancers in the hall, I flew through the sets.
At both of my two ceilis in Dublin, I observed how there was a slow, constant trickle of dancers arriving throughout the first half, and then leaving throughout the second. Elsewhere people aren't quite as slow to arrive and then don't leave till the end.
First rate in Waterford
Bridge Hotel, Waterford, Monday 16 December
The Monday night ceilis in Waterford city have been running for close to fifteen years, 52 weeks a year. They're held in the Bridge Hotel, the very first building across the river bridge from Kilkenny. Immediately on my arrival I was greeted by a lad who gave a friendly welcome to everyone, all in their best party outfits. Tonight's Christmas party was held in the hall rather than the bar where they usually dance.
Dancing began with the Cashel Set and the floor filled in a flash. Music was by local Comhaltas members, seven mature gentlemen, including one on mouth organ, plus a lone young woman on banjo. Their music was first rate - traditional, lively and warmly appreciated by the crowd.
Martin Forristal is the friendly MC for the ceilis who calls an interesting mix of dances. In the break Martin ensured an orderly queue for food by asking the tables round the hall to line up one after the other. It took around half an hour for everyone to get a bite. After the dancing resumed there was a second break for a musical performance by two sisters, Clare and Rachel Dunne from Enniscorthy, and a funny story by Nick Dempsey, also from Enniscorthy.
Martin had an interesting way of getting people on the floor for the Walls of Limerick. The band started playing marches immediately and couples marched around as they came to the floor. When the music stopped, every second couple faced the other way and the dance began.
An unusual spectacle
Castlecourt Hotel, Westport, Co Mayo, Wednesday 18 December
The annual Westport Comhaltas dinner dance was held in the sumptuous hall of the Castlecourt Hotel. The choices for the fine sit-down dinner included turkey with stuffing and Christmas pudding. After everyone had dined, Heather Breeze Ceili Band took to the stage and began the dancing with the Derradda Set, which is probably danced at least as often in Mayo as the Caledonian is in Clare. Another Mayo speciality is the Sweetheart Waltz, danced in couples to a slow waltz called The Spinning Wheel. The other dances were the more usual sets, plus waltzes and two-hands.
There were two breaks for an unusual spectacle at a ceili - musical chairs. A dozen chairs were put in a line down the centre of the floor and MC Eamonn Gannon asked fourteen ladies to come out. The band played while they marched around the chairs and when the music stopped there was such a scramble for seats that I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it for myself. Ladies were fighting for chairs so fiercely that some of them ended up on the floor. As ladies were eliminated and chairs removed the scrambling seemed to get stronger and there were more bums on the floor. Later when the gents took their turn at the game the competition was much more sedate, with no one thrown to the ground. The two winners danced a waltz together on their own.
Over a hundred times a year
Vaughan's, Kilfenora, Co Clare, Thursday 19 December
The Christmas party at Vaughan's Barn is always a special night. The hall is lit with candles and fairy lights, people who you haven't seen for a while turn up and there's a generous supper afterward with tea, cake, sandwiches and Lisdoonvarna smoked salmon on brown bread.
The sets in the Barn are generally the same predictable five (Caledonian, Plain, Connemara, Lancers and Caledonian) so it was a surprise when the band called the new Kilfenora Set. I don't believe it's been danced in public here and dancers were slow to take the floor. Aidan Vaughan, who was drumming with the Four Courts Ceili Band tonight, thought it would be better to wait till he'd taught the set in his classes here, so we danced the Corofin instead. The band play here over a hundred times a year and it's amazing how they always seem to enjoy it and never fail to provide inspiring music.
Three sean nós dancers were called to the floor tonight - Paddy Neylon from Liscannor, Ciarán Vaughan, Aidan's nephew from Miltown Malbay, and Hilaraí Nic Cába from Connemara.
Special seaside quality
Claddagh Hall, Galway, Friday 20 December
The first appearance by the Glenside Ceili Band in Galway's Claddagh Hall was eagerly welcomed by all the local dancers, and many travelled from further away to join the fun. There was never a night like it here, with probably the biggest crowd of dancers ever. The Glenside always draws a remarkable group of young and old who create a brilliant atmosphere that ensures everyone has a good time. They love the dancers and the dancers love them.
Claddagh Hall is a unique place to dance - is there another hall that has resident swans in the car park? It's the only building located on a pier between the Corrib and Galway Bay and so has a special seaside quality. Inside there's room for as many as fifteen sets without crowding, as we discovered tonight, and a fine floor that was built and finished by the organiser and teacher, John Henchy.
The hall was all smiles as we danced through our favourite sets, plus waltzes, jives and two-hands. There was a birthday surprise when Siobhán O'Reilly, who helps John with the teaching and organising, was given a cake and candles. The huge success of the night will surely result in further appearances by the Glenside in Claddagh.
Like a night at home
McCarthy's, Kilbeacanty, Co Galway, Saturday 21 December
A night at McCarthy's lounge is almost like a night at home - there's a cosy warm fire, comfy seating everywhere, friends all around and Michael Sexton playing on the stereo. Except that's no stereo, that's the real Michael Sexton there on the stage and a fine floor out in front of him! If only it was that good at home!
McCarthy's is about four miles from Gort - take the Loughrea road, turn right at the first crossroads for Kilbeacanty and follow the road till you see the pub on the left. There's dancing nearly every week here and the regulars are pretty choosy about their music. The selection of bands is consistent and includes the very best in the area, as you can see from the schedule in the event listings.
The regulars know they don't have to worry about being on time here, and the band doesn't worry about beginning till the regulars arrive. It was another night of classic sets mixed with waltzes. The band's drummer and singer Dave Culligan had some special Christmas songs for us that night, which he discreetly offered for sale on his new CD.
A fine crowd of youngsters
Longford Arms Hotel, Longford, Sunday 22 December
For my last dance before Christmas I went to an afternoon ceili at the Longford Arms Hotel, the venue for a popular set dancing weekend every November. Never having been able to attend that weekend due to pressure of work, I was delighted to have a chance to try out the venue myself, and doubly delighted to enjoy the Glenside Ceili Band again.
While the number of sets was only a fraction of those attending the November weekend, there were as many as a dozen enjoying the dancing today. A fine crowd of youngsters were dancing the sets and some of them did a few solo dances, including an excellent teenage sean nós dancer called Edwina. The afternoon was a fundraising event which managed to raise a substantial sum for charity. Immediately after the last set the band went straight into a mad blast of Christmas carols. Everyone joined hands in a big sloppy circle, charging around the floor, singing at the top of their voices and wishing everyone a very happy Christmas.
Probably the only place
Rambling House, Boherbue, Co Cork, Wednesday 25 December
For some of us, Christmas Day wouldn't be complete without a dance in the Rambling House, probably the only place in Ireland and even the world where you can find a set today. It was a tidy little group of four or five sets, with just a few from outside the area, including a lady from Dublin. A set of youngsters from Ballydesmond danced with an impressive amount of style and energy, especially when dancing the local polka sets. Michael and Lottie Fleming have run dances on Christmas day for years, always with music by Michael's cousin Eddie O'Callaghan on box, accompanied by Leo Fitzgerald on piano.
A very odd couple
Ballygarry House, Tralee, Co Kerry, Thursday 26 December
Good Christmas cheer continued on the afternoon of St Stephen's Day at this popular ceili in a comfortable hotel ballroom. Tim Joe and Anne Riordan fuelled the combustion of many thousands of excess calories in over three hours of blissful dancing. There were a few special events during the afternoon that made it a memorable ceili.
Mary Philpot, who called the sets and helps organise the ceilis, apologised for the lack of a tea break as the hotel kitchen was closed over the holidays. So for a bit of entertainment in the break, she asked for sixteen gents to come out on the floor. The volunteers came out, some reluctantly, were paired up in couples and formed two buck sets. They were instructed to dance a couple of figures from the Clare Lancers with predictable chaotic results and high amusement.
Next onto the floor were a very odd couple, a female Santa Claus and a male Tina Turner. They did a bit of sean nós, and Santa danced such a frenzy of steps that the pillow stuffed inside the costume fell out! A bit of sanity returned as Mary and her brother Michael O'Rourke danced the brush dance. I heard there was an American tourist watching the entertainment at the bar who asked, "Is this some kind of gay event?"
After a set there was more entertainment when a large band of costumed wren boys showed up. They made a striking appearance dressed in white with beautiful and elaborate straw hats. Their musicians played, the dancers danced figures of a set and solo dances and the other wren boys collected contributions from the crowd. I asked a young fellow in the group about their most impressive hats - "We were all the year making the hats," he said. Time well spent, I thought.
Jumble sale wardrobe
Cois na hAbhna, Ennis, Co Clare, Thursday 26 December
The strawboys that invaded the ceili in Cois na hAbhna later that night may have lacked the elaborate headgear I saw earlier in the day in Tralee, but they were a more colourful sight dressed in a jumble sale of assorted costumes. Their musicians, including members of the Kilfenora Ceili Band, made their way to the stage and even displaced members of Michael Sexton's band from their seats. All the musicians played together while the strawboys danced a figure of the Caledonian, then when they left us we glad to get back dancing.
Waterford branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann holds a ceili every Monday night from 9.30 to 11.30pm in the Bridge House Hotel. The local Comhaltas Ceili Band supplies the mighty music. The supporters travel from Tipperary, Wexford, Kilkenny, Waterford City and all the hinterlands in between. Usually the floor is graced by a minimum of eight sets.
In the summertime the ceilis become an international gathering as guests in the hotel and tourists to the city and surrounding areas are offered a warm welcome. Indeed it is traditional for everyone in the hall to join in the last figure of the Connemara Set to conclude the night's dancing. Master of ceremonies and club chairman Martin Forristal is to be commended for this innovative idea.
This club will be celebrating its sixteenth year this September. The seeds were sown in January 1987 when the then chairman of the Comhaltas county board, Michael Marninan, ran a dancing workshop in two-hand dances and reel sets in Dungarvan with Pat Liddy from County Clare as tutor. Up to then few reel sets were danced in the area as this is polka country.
Mary Marrinan, Alice Fitzgerald, Tom Hyland and John Creed, founder members of the Dungarvan club (which is still going strong under the baton of John Creed) encouraged Martin Forristal of the Waterford City branch to form a set dancing club. With the support of members like Polly and Michael Power, Mary and Frank Dempsey, John Collins, Seamus Brady and Denis Kinsella, the Cine Rince Club was formed in September 1987. Before then, most set dancing in the area was geared toward competition; Martin wanted encourage set dancing for pleasure and so the name of the club means "dancing for everybody".
Tom Hyland from Ballyduff Upper, Co Waterford, was the class tutor and the venue was the Metropole Hotel. Tom taught two-hand dances and set dancing. The club held its first ceili in the Bridge Hotel in December 1987. The Green Isle Ceili Band from Arklow, Co Wickow, kept the throngs of dancers stepping it out in to the small hours of the morning.
The club became an instant success and went from strength to strength during the winter months. Like most clubs, dancing was to recorded music. A decision was made to have live music in the summer for visitors. From the wealth of talented musicians in Comhaltas a band was formed, and with Martin Forristal as fear an tí, the summer nights were a brilliant success. The Cine Rince Club continued during the winter with Martin Forristal as dance tutor and once a month there was a live night with the band. With the popularity of the band, every Monday night became a live night by the winter of 1989. The present band has nine members ranging in age from twenty to eighty.
Club members and band members have performed on trips to Waterford's twin town in France, Saint-Herblain. Club members regularly attend dancing workshops and ceilis all over Ireland.
The Metropole Hotel closed down six years ago and the Cine Rince Club moved to their present venue, the Bridge Hotel. I first visited the club last summer and was immediately impressed with the warm welcome I received. I was delighted with the variety of dances both ceili and sets. For the first time in my dancing years I saw only three figures of a set danced at one time, thus enabling those unable to join in the first half of the set to get a chance to dance the rest of it later.
The highlight of the club's year is the Christmas buffet ceili with beautiful finger food and terrific music and dancing. A real treat is the melodious singing from John Aspel and Michael Dee and the humorous recitations of Nick Dempsey. It's a night not to be missed. I was privileged to be a guest last Christmas and I have already made a note to include it in my Christmas party list for this year.
Joan Pollard Carew
Sally died on 15 November 2002 after a short illness. To the dancers at St Joseph's, Drumcondra, Sally was one of the backroom girls - buttered brack, set tables, washed up and in between sold tickets. To the bands, she was the lady who looked after their food.
Sally's "home" set was the Cavan Reel but she was accomplished in most sets. She gave up competitive set dancing in the late eighties. She was skilled also in céilí dancing and in her younger days was no slouch as a solo dancer.
She was the very personification of the old saying, "If you want something done ask a busy person." Married to John for 44 years, she raised a family of five girls and two boys. In her spare time was deeply involved with her church, Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann and the Society of St Vincent de Paul, and up to the time of her illness was a minister of the Eucharist at Beaumont Hospital.
Doubtless she was given crosses to bear during her lifetime but Sally was not a complainer. She was an example to all of us of how to live a Christian life. She died as she wished, at home in the arms of her family, happy to meet her Maker.
She is sorely missed by the team at St Joseph's and all who were fortunate enough to know her.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a h-anam.
I hear them talking about it at ceili. January is a hard month to get through. Just as well we had a good dance the last night. It was the Heather Breeze Ceili Band. They are playing well and are top of the ceili band Premiership with a few home games at hand. It's nice to dance the Newport and Derrada. However if we don't get to do the Borlin or the Ballyvourney Jig Set and go to Cork and Kerry now and then, life would be boring. Pity they don't dance these sets more often north of the County of Clare.
At another ceili Dugo told me he was losing interest in set dancing. He compared it to the interest Mayo supporters would have in their county team after a messy championship exit. He had had too many bad ceilis on the trot. A lot of this was his own making. "You look like a few streaky rashers hanging out of a bag of straw on a frosty morning," joked one of his favourite set dancing partners. That finally took the biscuit. He decided to go missing from ceili. As he put it himself, too many 'Well! will ye look at the state of that' people.
"What will you do without ceili?" I asked.
"What will ceili do without me?" he replied.
"I thought it was only the guy from Nawporpory who would say that," I said.
"You mean the godfather of set dancing!" he laughed.
"Is it true that there are still people afraid not to go his ceilis?"
It was in a village that Dugo and I had our last good ceili. I can't remember its name. The car moaned its way to the long climb to the top of the hill and then there it was, a little thatched cottage pub with a sign, 'Ceili Tonight', and musical notes painted up in the corner of the window.
"Another one not on the ceili calendar or in Set Dancing News!"
"Oh! they're slipping up those guys!" exclaimed Dugo. (Oops! sorry Editor don't take it personally please, it's only a comic column.)
"How did you know about this?"
"Well! I'd better not say . . . "
It was pelting raining as we walked in and there was your man at the bar with a cigar in his hand and a smile that he couldn't wipe off his face.
"I knew you were here," I said.
"How did you know that?" he asked.
"I saw your horse outside with his Nawporpory registration."
"Ha! I knew you were coming."
"I don't know how you knew that, as I don't know if I'm coming or going myself," I said.
"Musha, sure we're all much the same. Will ye be doing a few sets tonight?"
"Maybe. By the way it looks like you should be with the mob yourself in Chicago! When did you start smoking those?" I asked.
"It's only a dummy! Any sign of you going to a Chicago ceili yourself again?"
"No, missed it last month in Gaelic Park but then there's the Midwinter Set Dance Weekend," I said.
"Where's that on?" he asked.
"Wisconsin on the 21st. Public House Ceili Band. Do you want the address? Irish Cultural and Heritage Cent . . . "
"No, are you going yourself?"
"Hardly, but I might have a spy there." I whispered, "I thought you were supposed to be in Tulsk."
"Tulsk?" he asked.
"Yes, Tulsk, Tulsk, Roscommon, remember?" I said.
"Oh that's next weekend."
Afterwards as we finished the Fermanagh Set with a bit of a jump he pointed out a set dancer who can really get around the floor.
"She's too young for you!" I said.
"I only want to dance with her. She's too young for you too!" he exclaimed. Alright, alright, I was thinking that too but I don't like being included in 'the nearly over seventy age bracket'. This is another of his specialities.
"Are you still doing the wheelbarrow backwards?" I asked.
"Yes, you don't like that when you're dancing opposite do you?"
"I don't mind it at all so long as there is no letting off."
"I'd say you mustn't be far off fifty now."
"You're away out, but I'd say you're sixty years dancing yourself," I said.
"You are joking? Seriously though where do you go for a pint these days or is it a spring water?" he asked.
"Well it depends," I said.
"Anywhere they let you in, I suppose?"
"Mostly in Max Queloroonuery's." I said.
"Yes, it's an older crowd you could even go in there yourself!"
Copyright © 2003 by O F Hughes
Once again, the Slievenamon Set Dancers would like to thank most sincerely all those who supported their Mighty Weekend of Set Dancing in Memory of Connie Ryan in Malahide in January, held in aid of cancer research in St Vincent's Hospital, Dublin, where Connie was cared for in the final months of his life. He is now gone from us 5½ years, but in our minds he is still very much alive and we are glad to be able to make this gesture to help others with similar ailments to his, an undertaking which Connie would certainly approve of. All the proceeds from the weekend, €7,300, are being donated to the Medical Oncology Unit in Saint Vincent's Hospital.
As we all know, this year the dance floor, due to an unforseen circumstance, was not up to its usual excellent standard, which we have come to take for granted since Slievenamon first became associated with the Grand Hotel fifteen years ago. Still, the positive response from you the dancers far outweighed your discomfort and we have been assured by the hotel management that this problem will not occur again. The management are embarrassed by what happened, and have sent us the following apology:
"The Grand Hotel Malahide wish to apologise for any inconvenience caused due to the new lacquer on the floor not setting properly. This work was done especially for the event, as in previous years. The Grand Hotel looks forward to continuing its involvement in this event, and has also made a special contribution to the research fund, agreeable to the Slievenamon committee."
Please make a note of the date for next year's event, Friday 16th to Sunday 18th January 2004.
Betty McCoy and Michael Tubridy
Olympics entertainmentDear Bill,
I am hoping you would allow me to use the good offices of your Set Dancing News to make an appeal to set dance groups and musicians to take an active part in the 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games. We need assistance in entertaining some of the many thousands of athletes participating in the Games, which will be the biggest sporting event in the world next year.
Entertainment will be provided at the Special Olympics Town at the RDS, Merrion Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4, every day from 9.30am through to 5.30pm from 22nd to 28th June, and from 9.30am to noon only on Saturday 21st and Sunday 29th June due to the opening and closing ceremonies. This entertainment will take all forms - music, song, dance, drama, displays, etc. Sunday 22nd June has been designated Irish Day.
Evening entertainment (7.30-9.30pm) will also be provided at various accommodation centres throughout the city and its environs on the evenings from 23rd to 28th June with the exception of Tuesday 24th June.
All the entertainers are volunteering and are self-funded. We would be delighted if any of your readers could help out. If so, would they kindly contact me.
I eagerly look forward to hearing from you.
Ailish Finnegan, 01 668 0855
It has enriched my lifeDear Bill
If you remember, in the article I sent you about our trip to the Catskills during Irish Arts Week, I spoke of Anthony Belotto, our wonder boy.
Well, he was just accepted as a student by Georgetown University and attached is one of the essays he was required to write in his application see below.
This one was a description of what makes him unique. I thought you'd enjoy reading it or perhaps even printing it if you thought it would be of interest to others in the world of set dancing.
We were glad to read there will be opportunities for him to dance in the Washington area. He hopes to start a student group of dancers at Georgetown if they don't already have one.
Happy New Year!
All the best
Carol Hieronymus, Pompano Beach, Florida
Georgetown EssayWhat comes to mind when you hear the name Belotto? Lasagna, chicken parmesan, Little Italy, the Godfather, Guido's Meat Market? Probably not Irish set dancing. Yes, you heard me correctly. I, Anthony Belotto, an Italian with a grandmother straight from the island of Sicily, am an Irish set dancer. I like to think of myself as a living, breathing oxymoron.
Let's start from the beginning. My good friend and neighbor, Miss Carol, first introduced Irish set dancing to me when she returned from one of her many excursions to Ireland five years ago. When she came back to the "States," she was hoping to find a dance group here in Florida. Well, there was only one such group in Florida and just ten minutes up the road from where we live. For the first year, I didn't go with Miss Carol. There was no reason for a teenager going into eighth grade to have any interest in Irish set dancing; I just wasn't interested. However, after a year of Miss Carol recounting tales of fun and laughter, I became intrigued. I went with her one Friday night, and have been going Irish set dancing ever since.
The dance group is not the one you are probably picturing - a group of young adults gathering to practice their Riverdance steps. I am the youngest member by at least twenty years, significantly altering the average age of an older yet vibrant group of individuals. The group is made up of mostly parents and grandparents and ranges from forty to eighty-two years old. We dance together three nights a week for about three hours at a time, always remembering to break for tea. Once a year, the group journeys to the Irish Arts and Cultural Week in the New York Catskills, where everyone learns new dances under the expertise of Patrick O'Dea, our "god" of Irish set dancing. We then bring these sets back and occasionally perform for retirement communities in our neighborhood.
Since showing a skill for dancing the steps and a knack for remembering the sets, I have become one of the group's teachers. I don't know what has drawn me to Irish dancing, whether it is the Gaelic culture, the Irish jigs, the laughter, the people, or the dance; but one thing that is for certain is that it has enriched my life. I genuinely love to Irish set dance.
Everyone needs a passion, and it's just funny, that my crimson, Italian blood, "thicker than water," has been infused with just a hint of Irish Kelly green.
Shindig thanksDear Bill,
We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who attended this year's Shindig in Tralee. Once again thanks to all concerned - it was a great success. This year for the first time we had a Saturday afternoon céilí with Matt Cunningham, which proved to be very popular.
We would like to say a big "thank you" to all the bands, Johnny Reidy, Matt Cunningham, Michael Sexton and Taylor's Cross, and of course to Pat Murphy who was his usual best. Thanks to everyone who travelled long distances from home and abroad.
We would also like to apologise to everyone on behalf of the hotel management for any inconvenience caused due to renovations taking place in the lobby of the hotel. As the hotel is usually of the highest standard, this was most uncharacteristic and we have been assured will not happen again.
Looking forward to seeing you all again. Our dates for the Shindig 2004 are 23rd, 24th and 25th January.
Paddy and Carolyn Hanafin, Tralee
Cape May, New Jersey, is a unique and special location for a set dancing weekend. Weekends have been held there every year since 1988, and this year's Connie Ryan Memorial Set Dance Weekend took place from October 4th to 6th. Cape May is one of the oldest beach resorts in the USA, located at the southernmost tip of New Jersey where the Delaware Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean. There are endless miles of white sandy beaches with excellent bathing - even in October the water is warm enough for pleasant swimming. In fact the summer weather was on overtime this year as temperatures were sweltering close to 90 degrees during the weekend.
Even if it wasn't located beside the ocean, Cape May would be a remarkable place. The twentieth century seems to have passed the town by without making the slightest impression. The streets are from another era, with beautiful Victorian-style houses everywhere. Traffic was surprisingly scarce, the pace was relaxed, and the peace and quiet was most welcome. The shopping was geared to tourists, with quaint gift shops and a street market. It's a good town to visit even if you're not looking for set dancing.
On Friday I arrived in Cape May after a short sea journey - I sailed from Lewes, Delaware, across the Delaware Bay to Cape May on the car ferry, a ninety minute trip. After a short drive to town I found the beach and the Inn of Cape May where I was staying. This decorative Victorian hotel would have been the height of fashion a hundred or more years ago, and is still a comfortable residence today. A long covered porch on two sides of the building was filled with wicker furniture and rocking chairs. It served as the social headquarters for the dancers who were here at all hours, except when dancing!
When I checked in and registered I was handed a big envelope containing my name badge, the programme of events, breakfast tickets and notes for all the sets being taught. I also received a free gift - a heavy duty canvas carrier bag printed with the name of the weekend, a practical item which everyone put to use immediately. The bags were a great help in spotting set dancers on the street.
By the time I visited my room, met friends on the porch and dined Italian, I was only able to get to the ceili in time for the second set, the Cashel. I engaged a partner and another couple joined us for a half set, and by the third figure we had a full set. I was off and running.
The dancing was held in Convention Hall across the street from the hotel, an enormous hall by Irish standards. It stands right on the beach - you could step out the back door onto the sand and walk down to the ocean. There's a well seasoned timber floor set on concrete. Probably 25 sets were dancing that night but it would only begin to get crowded there with twice that many. It was a hot evening and we were all wishing for someone to switch on the air conditioning. It was only when I stepped outside in the break that I realised the truth. The sweltering blast of hot, sticky air that greeted me made it clear that the air conditioning was indeed on. It had a tough job battling against unseasonable tropical weather combined with overheating set dancers.
The sets continued with the Corofin, Lancers, North Kerry, Plain, High-Cauled Cap, Caledonian and finally the Mazurka. Music for the weekend was played by five players from the New York area, Brian Conway on fiddle, John Nolan on box, Brendan Dolan on flute, Jimmy Kelly on drums and accompanied on piano by Felix Dolan. They started off easily, picked up energy as the night wore on and played some fabulous reels for the last couple of sets.
I found it remarkable the way the dancers assembled their sets here. The only time we heard any words from the band was when they announced the set. There then followed two quiet minutes while the dancers organised themselves into sets, entirely on their own, without anyone on the microphone urging out one last couple to fill the last set. It was a beautiful moment when, as if by magic, the music began just when everyone was ready. No one called the sets - dancers who knew what to do helped those who didn't.
Around 25 sets were back on the floor for the Saturday morning workshop with Pádraig and Roisín McEneany. They taught three sets, the Skibbereen, Donegal and Melleray Lancers, and began each with a review of the steps. After lunch the tropical heat attracted some dancers to the beach, but most of us continued dancing till the end of the workshop at 3.30pm.
I learned a joke from a fellow dancer during the day - How many set dancers does it take to change a light bulb? Eight - one to change the bulb and seven to say, "That's not the way we do it back home."
At 4.30 there was a concert with the musicians from the band, but instead I took to the streets for my only chance to explore Cape May, which I did with pleasure. There was a dinner that night for the dancers at the Inn. It was a quiet meal and a good opportunity to meet and make friends.
I was in time for the start of the Saturday ceili, and once again I began with the Cashel. During the night Pádraig called the Skibbereen and Melleray Lancers sets, and we also danced the Newport, Ballyvourney, Connemara, Corofin, Caledonian and Plain. The heat wave had broken that evening and the cool, dry air was beautifully comfortable. The crowd seemed slightly bigger tonight, perhaps as many as thirty sets, still with plenty of space.
The Yanks sure know how to have a good time at a ceili. Many of them brought huge bags of sweets and snacks and big coolers filled with wine, beer, soda and ice. It was like one big party with tables full of food and drink. I couldn't get used to seeing so many bottles of wine at a ceili. Folks didn't mind sitting out a dance when they had their munchies and beverages at the table. Those who neglected to bring refreshments only had to step out to the fast food joints beside the hall and across the street.
After such a good Saturday night ceili, Sunday morning's workshop at 9.30am with Pádraig and Roisín was quieter than before, though people drifted in all morning. We danced the Ballycastle full of enthusiasm on a day of perfect weather. It was a pity the dancing ended at 12 noon, but this allowed people one last visit to town before heading home, with enough time to stop at the outlet stores on the way and still get home at a decent hour.
The first Cape May weekend began in 1988 with a workshop by Joe O'Donovan. Connie Ryan taught every year after that until his death in 1997, when Mick Mulkerrin took over. Since 1998 Pádraig and Roisín have been here every year and are great crowd pleasers. After so many years, the Greater Washington Ceili Club from Washington DC has perfected the organisation and everything runs smoothly.
In addition to the old fashioned Inn of Cape May, the weekend package also offered a modern hotel where the rooms are small flats, with two double beds, a lounge, kitchen, bathroom and a balcony facing the ocean. Accommodation is so plentiful in Cape May that a convenient B&B should be easy to find. Many participants did that this year and took advantage of a weekend ticket for just the dancing events.
The best feature of the weekend is the town of Cape May, with the ocean and beautiful beaches, the historic quiet streets, a spacious hall and good hotels, all within easy walking distance. Equally impressive were the friendly, polite and well-behaved dancers I met here, and I hope to meet them all again soon.
On September 28th 2002 a memorial ceili was held in Priddy, Somerset, in memory of Simon Knight. I consider myself lucky enough to be asked by Vicky Salway to attend. I had such little time to prepare that when I reached Bristol Airport, I could hardly believe that I was there.
We travelled through very picturesque countryside before arriving at our destination. When I went into the hall, I was completely taken aback by the amount of Irishness around me. For a brief moment I thought I was back in Ireland as with every turn I saw "Cead Mile Failte", green white and orange balloons and shamrocks all over the place.
This was the beginning of a memorable weekend, which consisted of three ceilis and Trad sessions in the Hunter's pub. The hospitality at all venues would put the Irish people to the test. Ninety percent of the dancers and musicians were English and all performed admirably our traditional Irish music and dance.
Simon Knight's tape was launched at that weekend. When his music was played, especially his rendering of The Moonshiner, as we say in Ireland, there was not a dry eye in the house.
This was a wonderful tribute to Simon Knight by the people who loved him. If he could have seen us, I'm sure he would be well pleased at the gathering of his friends. The weekend was organised brilliantly by Vicky Salway and her team. I would like to thank Vicky and all the rest of the friendly people that made my stay so memorable.
May I finish with a quotation from the famous Johnny O'Leary - "Simon Knight was one of the finest men that ever put two legs into two shoes."
Tomás Ó Suilleabháin, Glanworth, Co Cork
Greetings from New York! Yet another Nevele weekend has come and gone - too quickly, as usual. Gertie Byrne runs these Irish entertainment weekends twice a year in the Grand Nevele Hotel in the Catskill Mountains. Friday October 25 was a lovely day for the 2½ hour drive to upstate New York, but the extended drought left the usually brilliant fall colors muted and brown.
The last time I made it to a Nevele weekend was in the spring of 2001. So I spent much of Friday afternoon visiting with friends I hadn't seen since then - from Ohio, Milwaukee, Chicago, Philadelphia and Baltimore. And, of course, there were my old friends from Connecticut and Boston to catch up with. The opening ceili was well-attended, with music provided by the Pete Kelly Ceili Band. Pete, Martin Mulhaire, Hugh O'Neill and Tommy Brady did a fine job of setting the atmosphere for the weekend.
The evening "ceili marathon" began around 9pm, just after dinner. Most of the dancers had their tables and their sets staked out by the time the Heather Breeze Ceili Band took the stage. These musicians blend their individual talents into a sweet sound that's great for either your dancing or listening pleasure, whatever your preference.
Shortly after 11pm, Swallow's Tail took over. To say their music was lively would be an understatement. However, many dancers managed to keep up - indeed, some never left the dance floor! At home we are used to dancing primarily to a mixture of Clare-style tunes and the "old standards". So it was refreshing to hear other regional tunes, played in a different style.
By 1am, the crowd had begun to thin somewhat, with the quick pace taking its toll, as well as concurrent performances by Declan Nerney and Sean Wilson. But a newcomer to the Nevele, the Green Gates Ceili Band, formerly known as the Clare-Sligo Express, played as though there was a packed house. Although playing for a ceili can be hard work, these musicians make it appear effortless. They have been together as a band for slightly more than two years, having grown out of a session group that plays monthly at the Doonbeg Social Club in the Bronx. Band leader Eileen Clune Goodman plays both accordion and flute. Pat Casey from Sligo plays flute. John Kennedy plays accordion. On fiddle is Rose Conway Flanagan. Rounding out the band are Denis O'Driscoll on keyboard and vocals and Brendan Fahey on ceili drums. This band was very well-received by dancers who have never heard them, as well as those in the tri-state area who dance to their music regularly. (The Green Gates plays year round on the fourth Friday of the month at the VFW hall in Bogota, New Jersey. The proceeds are always donated to the "charity-of- the-month".)
Many of us struggled down to breakfast before the cut-off time of 10am. This is no easy feat! (Four hours of sleep just doesn't cut it anymore once you're over forty!) The morning workshops in dance and music were well-attended. The usual lunch-time charity raised a substantial amount of money for Margie O'Driscoll (Denis' sister). Margie is an active and well-known member of Comhaltas Ceolteori Eireann, who suffered a serious stroke a year ago at the age of 46. The Irish community has rallied around Margie with a number of fund raisers. Thanks very much to all who contributed so generously at the Nevele!
After lunch, Swallow's Tail kept us hoppin' for the afternoon, while others amused themselves with a waltz competition, jive contest and card games. The Nevele also offers swimming, horseback riding, hiking and a golf course. But the raw, damp "Irish" weather kept most of us indoors.
Saturday night cocktails and dinner are always a lavish affair, with a "Grand March" around the dining room and patriotic songs, both American and Irish. It's easy to over-indulge at meals here, but we were ready to go when the Heather Breeze began the second "ceili marathon". The Green Gates were on next, followed by Pete Kelly. And, once again, dancing was available until 3am. But wait . . . we gain an extra hour tonight when Daylight Savings Time ends! So we can keep going! We found an easy-listening session below the lobby with members of Green Gates, Heather Breeze and Swallow's Tail sharing tunes, songs, humor and stories.
After Sunday morning Mass, an abbreviated one hour ceili was held, with a combination of musicians from Heather Breeze and Swallow's Tail. We had time for only three sets, but at the pace that was set (and with the heat on in the dance hall!) three was enough. What great music! Then it was time to say goodbye to the musicians from Ireland, as their bus was leaving before lunch. Names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses were exchanged, and promises to "see you over next year." Handshakes, hugs, kisses, last minute compliments - these are all musicians who truly appreciate each other's talents. Time for one more ceili after lunch, to the music of the Pete Kelly Band, and then we were all for home.
We're already looking forward to the spring Nevele weekend, to be held March 28-30, 2003. The ceili bands scheduled to play are the Emerald and the Four Courts from Ireland, Ceol na gCroi and Pete Kelly from New York. For information contact Gertrude Byrne or Kathleen Gallagher.
Maureen Donachie, Floral Park, New York
The Dungarvan, Co Waterford, branch of Comhaltas Ceoltoirí Éireann paid host to a wonderful weekend of workshops and ceilis from the 11th to 13th of October. The venue was the beautiful Clonea Strand Hotel in the sunny southeast.
Having negotiated some torrential rain just outside Clonmel and enjoyed the breathtakingly beautiful scenery of the Nire Valley, I arrived in Dungarvan just as daylight was welcoming dusk. I parked my car near the hotel entrance. This was my first time staying in the hotel for this event.
Showered and changed I went down to the lounge for coffee and a sandwich. I was delighted to see familiar faces beginning to gather. Mick Meaney came over and joined me for coffee. We chatted about the many festivals we had met at, especially Ibiza as we reminisced on the wonderful days and nights of music and dancing, both pledging to return again next year. Mick went on to say that both he and his wife Margaret preferred smaller dancing workshops and felt it was a real treasure to dance with the local people. Mick is a fellow Tipperary person - he was born and reared in Fethard in south Tipperary but now lives in Ipswich, Suffolk, England.
Relaxed from the chat and numerous cups of coffee I was ready to start the night's dancing. At nine o'clock I arrived at the ballroom door and was delighted to see the men of the Waterford Comhaltas band ready to start playing. John Creed had his list of sets for the night posted in several prominent spots around the hall. By 9.15 the floor was packed with local dancers and many visitors. John was master of ceremonies for the night. He has been on the dancing scene for many years and is a brilliant step dancer also. I was delighted that he was not one of those microphone happy MCs calling every set - far better for everyone to have to think. Calling is not as popular at most ceilis now, unless for new or newly revived sets.
The wonderful wholesome music of the Waterford Comhaltas band kept us all dancing until 1am. Some retired to bed to boost energies for Saturday morning's workshop; others decided a few beverages and good old-fashioned chat would be better.
At 10.30 on Saturday morning, crowds began to gather for the first workshop of the weekend. Jim Barry was well prepared and had his demonstration set ready, as he announced that he was workshopping the Fermanagh Set. This is a short enough set with only four figures. Nothing too daunting even for a beginner. Last year Jim did the Fermanagh Quadrilles. Obviously he has a certain grá for these sets. I can well understand why and indeed many others at the workshop shared his love of these sets.
When everyone was comfortable with all the figures of the Fermanagh, Jim moved on to the Inis Oírr Set. The first three figures of this set are danced as a half set to reels. The last figure is danced in a full set to polkas. A couple of years ago while visiting Inis Mor I saw this set danced in Tig Fitz. The first three figures were danced as one long figure. I was intrigued by this and lucky to be in the company of the lady of the house Penny Mahon. I asked her the name of the set, as I did not recognise it danced in that manner. Every time I see it danced since then on the mainland it is broken into four figures. I wonder if some instructor would consider dancing it in the old fashioned way.
When the morning workshop finished we retired to the restaurant for lunch, and relaxation. Jim Barry told us he was planning on doing the South Sligo Lancers Set and the Portmagee Meserts after lunch.
At 2 pm the hall packed once more, extra dancers had arrived and everyone was well energized. The South Sligo Set is easy going but like all sets has its own little idiosyncrasies, like ladies housing with gents on their right in the first figure, and in the second there's a bit on the side - nothing boring about this set! The fourth figure is the long reel with a bit of thinking - the figure '9' is very important to remember as it simplifies the movements. Jim spent extra time on this figure until everyone was happy. At times I thought Jim had eyes in the back of his head, nothing missed him.
We moved on to the Portmagee Set. This is a brilliant jig set, typical of all the County Kerry sets, and a welcome change in tempo for us dancers. Any time I hear the word 'double' I am home and dry. I was lucky my dancing partner for the afternoon was willing and able to double. Thank you Anthony, perhaps it was the Kerry blood in your veins.
The wonderful tuition for Saturday came to an end as Jim promised us an interesting set for Sunday morning. The committee organised Mass in the ballroom - a wonderful idea as everyone could stay on site and relax or have dinner before the ceili.
Mort and Noreen Kelleher and family were ready to play at nine o'clock sharp. The floor was packed for the first set of the night, the Plain Set. It was wonderful to dance the Labasheeda, the West Kerry and the Sliabh Luachra sets. Of course we danced all the usual sets also and Jim Barry called the Portmagee. We really had a feast of dancing. The music of the Kellehers would make a dead man dance. Such life, enthusiasm, what a joy just to even look at this band! The committee provided tea and the customary brack. This gave us all a chance to take a little rest or mingle and chat. I was delighted to meet Celine and Michael Tubridy again. I spent some time in their company in Labasheeda at the Dan Furey weekend in August.
I also spoke to Anthony O'Connor from London. This was his first time at this festival, although he has been coming to festivals in Ireland since the first international in Galway in 1990. Another dancer I have seen on the festival trail was Eamonn McGowan who lives in Stamullen, Co Meath. Eamonn was introduced to set dancing by Margaret and Mick Meaney when he lived in Ipswich. This was also his first time at this festival. Three ladies from Wexford had travelled together for the weekend, Peggy Quigley, Kathleen Burke and Mary Malone - "We are not long dancing but we find everyone so friendly and helpful. No problem getting dancing partners; we are having a ball."
After the tea break Moll Shields thanked everyone, the musicians, the dancers and particularly Jim Barry for his wonderful tuition. Moll paid a special tribute to John Creed - "John comes out here every year to help with this festival. He organises the listings for sets and is always on hand with help and advice. We really appreciate this, John." The lively music put paid to all chatting as the ceili resumed. We danced until 1.30am and retired to our respective abodes.
Sunday morning, rested and relaxed dancers convened in the ballroom once again. Jim had decided to keep south of the country for the final set in this workshop. The Jenny Lind was his chosen set. The first four figures are danced to jigs. There are some wonderful formations in this set, particularly the square. The fifth figure is very like the fifth figure in the Sliabh Luachra, and also danced to slides. The sixth figure is danced to reels; the square this time is danced in sevens. A nice relaxing set to conclude yet another fantastic workshop with one of the wittiest tutors I have had the pleasure of being taught by.
We all made haste for refreshments before the afternoon ceili. At 2.30pm the sounds of Tim Joe and Ann Riordan's music filled the ballroom and gladdened our hearts as we changed into our dancing shoes. Dancers thronged the floor, as set after set was enjoyed. No one wanted to stop, not even for the tea and brack, while these two very talented musicians doled out jigs, reels, polkas and waltzes. The pleasure they give to dancers is mirrored in their faces, as they definitely play to their hearts' content. I particularly love their Cashel Hop as they stop the music for the stamp and clap, and so brilliantly pick up the notes right on cue.
When the ceili finished everyone was hesitant to go home. It seemed a shame that such a wonderful weekend had come to an end. The organising committee are to be commended for their wonderful work. We look forward to next year in the sunny south east.
Joan Pollard Carew
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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