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).
Throwing some luggage into the car, my wife and myself left the fair town of Coalisland in Co Tyrone on Holy Saturday morning 2003.
Our first stop was at Blacklion in Co Cavan. We had a nice break with tea and scones, and the car had a fill of diesel before continuing our journey. Some efforts are being made to improve the road from Enniskillen to Sligo, but it would be a great bonus if the numerous sharp turns were removed as so many people from the North use this road on a regular basis.
Continuing on our way through Sligo we took the road for Ballina, and then the coast road to Enniscrone where we booked into a B&B for the night. The weather was beautiful for our long Easter weekend, so that Holy Saturday evening was spent on the nice sandy beach.
Now to come to the real reason for making our first stop at Enniscrone - I get the Set Dancing News sent from Kilfenora bimonthly. I knew from this booklet that the Glenside Céilí Band were playing in the Castle Arms Hotel after the church ceremonies on Holy Saturday night. It turned out to be a marvellous céilí - an excellent hall, lovely people and great music. I must admit the sweat was serious and I was glad to have a shower in the B&B when it finished at near two in the morning.
It's important to keep an eye on the Set Dancing News as in other years when touring, I have managed to fit in ceilis in many other places. I find them very good and a welcome is always extended to visitors.
This céilí in Enniscrone was one of the highlights of the Easter weekend. The second big bonus was our visit to the island of Inishturk. We were never on this island before, although, at one time or another we visited nearly every island off the coast of Ireland, even to the sets on Inis Oírr some years ago. Every Irish person should try and visit, if possible, Skellig Michael off the coast of Kerry. It's a great experience, the pathways around the rocks, the steps going up to the Beehive huts on top.
Touring in Ireland is very pleasant, but I must admit that after all the walking we did on Inishturk, I was not fit for sets for some days afterwards!
Vincent Lewis, Coalisland, Co Tyrone
Dún na Sí Heritage Centre is situated on the Mount Temple road ten miles east of Athlone, one kilometre from the Gap Pub in Moate. From the moment you step inside the Teach Cheoil you are immediately brought back in time by the welcoming fire in the old fireplace, the kettle hanging on the crane, hobs at each side of the fire, sugán chairs, timber beams on the ceiling and of course the friendly cup of tea or coffee with sumptuous finger food supplied by the welcoming committee. Two of these ladies are Betty Horan and Mary Conlon. I have known these lovely ladies for some years as they always have the kettle on the boil when I arrive early as usual for the céilí. Betty hails from Castletroy in Co Limerick but has lived in Moate for many years, and Mary lives in Moate and is the Comhaltas branch secretary.
Betty was busy preparing food as I sipped my coffee on Sunday 18th May, but she was delighted to share her memories of set dancing with me. "Set dancing is nothing new to the older members on the committee. Back in the late thirties and into the forties when we were growing up, set dancing played a big part in our way of life and entertainment. At that time weekly sessions would be held in homes. Usually a particular house in the area would be the focal point. This house was sometimes known as the 'céilí house' or the 'half way house'. There the musicians, singers, dancers and storytellers would get together for a night's entertainment. The musicians sat around a big turf fire and played music to their hearts' content. Later the kitchen table would be pushed back against the wall and space would be made for set dancing and waltzing. Young and old alike took part in these dances. The expression 'around the house and mind the dresser' originated from these kitchen scenes. Sparks would sometimes be seen flying from the flag stones as the tips on the men's boots would connect in a lively swing."
I enquired if these sessions went on late in the night and wondered what method the householder used to let visitors know when it was time to go. Everyone got the message when it was time to go home, Betty said. "Granny sitting in the corner on the hob would let down her long grey hair and start to plait it in preparation for bed. The woman of the house or the bean an tí as she was known would be seen standing over the dying embers of the fire stirring something in a big three-legged pot. In the pot was stir - about or gruel, as it was known in some parts of the country. Before the people left for home a large mug of tea and brown bread was passed around to everyone present, as well as a good sprinkling of holy water to guide them on their way. They were the good old days, long since gone. But we do not despair, as we believe we have re-created some of the atmosphere here in the Teach Cheoil. We are delighted to host two céilí here every month."
The Moate branch of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann was formed in 1976 by a small group of dedicated traditional Irish musicians and enthusiasts. The first meetings and seisiúns were held in the Gap House Pub and subsequent meetings were brought to numerous locations around the town until 1985 when the Teach Cheoil in Dún na Sí was officially opened. The Teach Cheoil was the brainchild of the late Frank Bracken and the hardworking committee of the Moate branch of CCÉ.
Matt Conlon of Moate, a member of the Comhaltas county board and an avid supporter of all things traditional reminisced with me. "The Teach Cheoil was a great achievement. We had a lovely hall, but a lot had to be done to keep the door open and make it pay. Up to 1985 céilithe were held in the Grand Hotel. Enthusiasm for céilí dancing was beginning to wane so we had to look for something new. Set dancing on a public dance floor in Westmeath and adjoining counties was unknown. The committee at this stage agreed to hold a set dancing workshop. Two of our committee had attended a workshop with the late Connie Ryan. Their enthusiasm gave the rest of the committee the incentive to go ahead with a workshop themselves.
"On Saturday 28th February 1987 we had Joe Troy from Thurles in Co Tipperary to teach us two polka sets, the Castle and the North Kerry. The following day Dan Liddy from Co Clare taught us the Caledonian set. This weekend was a tremendous success and was the start of set dancing in dance halls in the midlands. It wasn't until 16th December 1988 that we felt confident to run an all night set céilí. We believe it was the first set céilí to be held in Leinster. The sets on the night were the Castle, North Kerry, Mazurka, Caledonian, Ballyvourney Jig and Plain Set. During the next five years until 1993 we continued our set céilí, helped by two further workshops with Joe and Siobhán O'Donovan from Co Cork as tutors. These were very difficult years for our committee as our income wasn't sufficient to keep set dancing going. Thankfully set dancers continued to come and the bands were very good to us. We owe these people a great debt and are very thankful of the support they gave us. Many of these people are still coming here today. From 1993 the Teach Cheoil started to slowly take off. Now ten years on it has passed all our expectations. We know over 20,000 people have passed through the door over the past fifteen years. On behalf of the committee and myself we thank the dancers from all over the country, and all the bands who have made our venture such a success."
From September to the end of April céilí and set dancing classes are held under the guidance of Eileen Daly from Roscommon and Tom Shine from Athlone, but the centre boasts much more than dancing. The centre provides many courses during the year such as Irish language classes and junior and senior traditional Irish music classes in all instruments.
Dún na Sí Folklore Group has been taking part in international festivals right across Europe since 1986. The group consists of 25 to 30 artists, including musicians, singers, dancers and storytellers. They regularly participate in European festivals to represent Ireland and integrate with folk groups from other European nations. This group are continually producing and presenting shows based on the traditions and folklore of Ireland. They have established quite a reputation for themselves with their high standard of excellence, which has resulted in a constant demand for their participation on the international circuit.
The next time you are attending a Sunday afternoon céilí take a walk outside to see the Heritage Park, set in six and a half acres and still under development. The first thing you see is the ring fort, with its Stone Age buildings. Further on are Fionn MacCumhaill's shelter and the portal dolmen. The hedge school and Mass rock come next, where both priest and teacher worked under great stress during penal times. The lime kiln produced lime for whitewashing the farmhouses. Next you will see the forge, a very important place long ago, for apart from shoeing horses or making gates, many a story both good and bad was told in this building.
Dún na Sí houses the Genealogical Research Centre for Co Westmeath, assisting the public at home and abroad with family research through the setting up of a computer database.
The development of Dún na Sí has been made possible by the dedication of the Moate branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann with the assistance and co-operation of FÁS (the Irish Training and Employment Authority) through community employment projects, and much local funding. Dún na Sí preserves and fosters Irish culture and heritage, and is a very interesting and educational place well worth a visit. Check the dancing diary in this magazine and perhaps we will see you at the next céilí there.
Joan Pollard Carew
We were drilling along to the ceili in Definitlideadley when we came onto the end of a funeral. Sometimes Dugo'd overtake these when he was late for a flight. This time it was that he didn't want to miss the first set. My heart went crossways as he put the foot down. It was a long funeral and there must have been about fifty cars. I breathed a sigh of relief as we almost reached the front. Suddenly he turned to me and started shouting. The undertaker had a look of shock upon his face and braked slowly. It was as if he couldn't believe what was happening alongside.
"Let down your window, let down the fecking window!"
"Are you off the head can't you see we're going round a corner!" I exclaimed.
"You have no respect for the dead," shouted the undertaker.
"Who's dead? Who is dead?" demanded Dugo.
"Timoleen O'Cradellelely," moaned the undertaker.
"Oh! a great dancer. There'll be a mighty ceili up there tonight and good music too!"
At that response there was a screech of tyres as we swerved narrowly in front of the hearse. This was just in time to miss the oncoming car blaring its horn. "A bit like losing control while housing at full speed in the Cashel," joked Dugo. All jokes aside I knew he was losing the run of himself and this was another shocking near miss. He was on a high after his driving holiday in Italy and it was like the near misses he was having at ceili. Nearly getting off with this one then asking another out before being turned down after something backfiring.
We were in good time for the first set. However after that journey I felt lucky to be alive. We had time to sit down before asking somebody to dance.
"I wonder will there be many at my funeral?" asked Dugo.
"I promise to go to yours if you die first," I replied.
"And if you die first?" he asked.
"Oh! it will be a reciprocal arrangement."
"I was very annoyed at those gravediggers last week," he said.
"Why?" I asked.
"Talking during the burial of that set dancer," he said.
"About what?" I asked.
"About how dangerous the dancing was in Deadangley."
"You mean dancers nearly getting dates with one another?"
"Yea," he smiled.
"Is that not a bit rich coming from you when overtaking funerals is one of your favourite pastimes!"
While they were filling the sets he rambled on. He was gloomy which wasn't like him. Too much talcum powder had been spread on the floor and he was afraid someone was going to break their neck and start shouting, "Compo! Compo!"
"Does that smell remind you of nappies?" I asked.
"Yes a bit, but wouldn't the dance floor be a great place to pop it!"
"How do you mean, pop it?" I asked.
"Drop dead dancing!"
"Wow! That's a nice expression and what a great way to go," I said.
"How great?" he asked.
"Pop it, Dugo! Pop it!"
Copyright © 2003 by O F Hughes
I thought you might enjoy this photograph above. The event was Betty McCoy's birthday (which one, we don't know!) on Thursday, 6th March 2003. Some of the men-folk at Betty's set dancing class held in Moran's Hotel on Thursday nights performed a Buck Set in Betty's honour. Needless to say, great fun was had by all!
Aisling Mahon, Tallaght, Dublin 24
The bucks of TermonfeckinDear Bill
This photograph right was taken at An Grianán, Termonfeckin, Co Louth, in March 2003. If you would like to include it in your next issue of Set Dancing News we would be delighted. It is of the fun group of lads who performed the West Kerry Set and also a fashion show.
Thanks a lot, Bill. I enjoy each issue of Set Dancing News.
Celia Gaffney, Templeogue, Dublin 16
Welcome back to St Phillip'sDear Bill
Another set dance venue in Manchester restarted recently after being closed for a while. This photo right shows dancers enjoying themselves at St Phillip's Church Hall, Prestwich. We gather each Sunday for a mixture of fun, dancing and learning, and dancing begins as soon as eight people are present. Mid-evening we stop for tea and biscuits for which we pay a nominal amount. The proceeds go to the local St Vincent de Paul charity.
Joan Rigby, Bury, England
Set dancing has never looked this good on television before! Matt Cunningham's third video is called Come to the Céilí Mór, a follow-up to his first one, Come to the Céilí, which was released ten years ago. The new video was recorded at one of the best ceilis of the year during the Gathering Festival at the National Event Centre in the Gleneagle Hotel, Killarney. It's probably the largest hall used for set dancing in Ireland and shows up well on screen, clean, spacious and full of dancers as far as the eye can see.
A selection of sets from the night are included in the hour and a half tape - the Corofin Plain, Newport, Kilfenora, Sliabh Luachra and Caledonian sets. In addition, Matt sings for a waltz and plays a slow air on tin whistle, and there are demonstrations of sean nos dancing and a figure from the Roscommon Lancers by the Gleneagle Set Dancers. The dancing is shown exactly as it happened, mistakes and all, particularly during the Kilfenora Set, so the tape wisely presents Pat Murphy's notes for all the sets on screen at the end.
Come to the Céilí Mór is available now from Matt Cunningham and Ainm Records.
A set dancer from Castleisland, Co Kerry, is competing for €100,000 on an eight-week television series on RTÉ, Cabin Fever. Marie Walsh is one of ten contestants sailing around Ireland together on a 90-foot, two-masted ship under the constant scrutiny of television cameras. Viewers of the program are invited to vote for their favourite contestant - the one with the fewest votes each week is forced to leave the ship by walking the plank into the cold sea.
Marie is originally from Carrigaholt, Co Clare, and runs an electrical goods shop in Castleisland. She dances regularly in the area and was a visitor to Fleadh España in Ibiza this year. She asks all set dancers to cast their votes for her by phoning 1540 717101 or sending the text CABIN MARIE to 53101 in Ireland, or by phoning 090 1307 1601 in the UK. Voting costs around €0.60.
The broadcast at 8pm on Sunday summarises the contestants' week on board the ship, following the daily experience of living together in cramped and difficult conditions and the challenges that are set to them. The live followup programme on Monday night presents the results of the voting, culminating in the abrupt departure of one contestant. Voting takes place from the conclusion of the programme on Monday through to midnight on Sunday following the main broadcast. Votes cast outside this time are not counted but the call will still be charged.
Good luck, Marie!
Cabin Fever update!The ship and crew met with disaster on rocks near Tory Island, Co Donegal, when it hit rocks and sank on Friday afternoon, 13 June 2003. Everyone was rescued and is safe and well, though suffering from stress of the incident. A new boat has reportedly been located, and the contestants are at home deciding on whether they will resume the journey.
Cabin Fever continuesAfter a couple of weeks on dry land, a new boat was found and prepared for the series. Marie is still on board while some of her shipmates have walked the plank. During her break on land, Marie managed to get to a ceili in Kanturk where she addressed the dancers and asked for their support. In the live programme on Monday, 14 July, Marie had the highest number of votes from the telephone poll.
Marie walks the plankTwo weeks later, Marie had a reversal of fortune. Her vote was the lowest so she walked the plank into the harbour at Cobh, Co Cork.
The Gathering Festival at the Gleneagle Hotel, Killarney, Co Kerry, has become more enjoyable every year since it began in 2000. Interest among dancers has grown and huge numbers joined in the fun from the 19th to the 23rd of February. They were not disappointed as this year's Gathering far surpassed even last year's highly successful festival.
Events began a day earlier than before with a bus tour on Wednesday, designed to bring the visitors to Sliabh Luachra, rather than the other way around. The highlights were stops at Dan O'Connell's Pub in Knocknagree and at the Scartaglen Community Centre.
I arrived on Thursday to attend that night's combined concert and ceili in the hotel ballroom with a mix of local and visiting musicians. Johnny O'Leary was the special guest who opened the evening, joined by his daughter on tin whistle and other musicians. Johnny has been recovering from illness so it was a special pleasure to see him looking so well and sounding as good as ever. We enjoyed the first of their music from our seats but it didn't take long for them to invite us out for the "polka set", the first of many Sliabh Luachras Sets danced over the weekend.
We had only a brief taste of Johnny's music before more local musicians took the stage. A teenage lad gave a good showing on box, followed by a band of seven musicians for the first of many Jenny Ling Sets. The final band was Coolmagort from New York, another group of seven headed by box player Patty Furlong, who played the Connemara and Sliabh Luachra.
On Friday evening I wandered down early for the ceili and heard beautiful music coming from a small room where I found Sliabh Notes broadcasting on Radio Kerry. They're a highly regarded concert and recording trio, Matt Cranitch, Donal Murphy and Tommy O'Sullivan, and dancers at the Gathering were especially fortunate to have them play for tonight's ceili. This took place in the National Events Centre (NEC) beside the hotel, which must be one of the largest venues in Ireland ever to hold set dancing ceilis. It was built for bastketball matches so the floor seems twice the area of any comparable venue, and there are two tiers of balconies under the soaring ceiling. Despite the enormous size, there was a good crowd and keen atmosphere right from the first set. Sliabh Notes' music was perfect for the many polka sets danced, and equally inspiring for the reel sets.
Mick Mulkerrin and Mairéad Casey had the benefit of the NEC for their workshops. Mick began on Saturday morning with a request - he asked everyone to bring a chair out to divide the floor in two. This confined the sets to half the floor and kept us from getting lost in the vast space. He started with the Monaghan Set, and continued with the Kilfenora Set, which is gaining popularity everywhere. Mick called it a "well constructed, well balanced" set. After lunch we continued with the South Kerry and Williamstown sets plus some step practice. There must have been a slip of the tongue when I heard Mick refer to the last figure of the Williamstown as the "strip the widow" figure.
Some of us became worried by the extraordinary amount of dust that appeared this afternoon. It seemed to roll from behind the stage and down onto the floor and didn't bode well for the forthcoming ceili. No one had noticed any dust the previous night. An organiser enquired into it and reported later that it wasn't dust at all! It was a harmless mist of water vapour produced by a machine which was being readied for tonight's ceili.
Mist machines don't normally get used at ceilis, but this one was special because Matt Cunningham was filming it for a new video. An early start was promised so I showed up before 9pm. Two cameras were set up on the floor - one on a long boom that floated up and down over the crowd, and another on a tripod and rails in front of the stage that rolled from side to side to capture the band and dancers at the front. There was a third camera on the balcony.
Once the dancing started soon after nine it was easy to forget about the cameras. Those who were shy of being photographed could still enjoy themselves at the far sides of the hall. Matt Cunningham and band played at the peak of their form and I'd guess the floor was filled with as many as eighty or more sets for the Clare Lancers. The floor could probably hold a thousand dancers.
I was particularly pleased with the stage and its lighting. At most ceilis the stage is a jumble of chairs, wires, coats, drinks and plenty more. Tonight there was no clutter, the band was neatly arranged on stage and the lighting was spectacular. There were stars and moving images behind them, beams of overhead spotlights burning through the mist, and frequent changes of colour and effects. It was primarily to benefit the video but I'm sure it helped make the ceili special and exciting for all who were there. Thanks, Matt! It's rare for set dancers to get this kind of production.
Later in the night we were called to dance the Kilfenora Set, and the cameras followed every move. It was new to many on the floor and even those of us who'd done it before struggled to remember the moves, so I'm afraid it will take careful editing to come out right on screen. There was a break for a demonstration by the All-Ireland winning Gleneagle Dancers who danced two figures of the Roscommon Lancers. A few solo dancers came out to do some steps, though there would have been many more out if cameras weren't there. Before the last set Matt played Mise Éire on tin whistle and by the time the national anthem had finished it was 2.30 in the morning.
It was hardly the set you'd want to dance first thing on a Sunday morning after a long, late ceili, but Mick and Mairéad did the Cavan Reel Set. They taught it brilliantly by completely dispensing with the daunting steps and concentrating solely on the figures. Then after we danced it through using ordinary reel steps, Mick showed the proper step to those who were interested. This approach might get more people familiar with the set so that it could be danced at ceilis; gradually people would work the Cavan step into it.
The last ceili of the Gathering was on the Sunday afternoon with the Abbey Ceili Band back in the NEC. The crowds continued strong, the dancing was tremendous and I could have done with another hour or two for a set with the many partners I missed dancing with.
There was a commendable variation from the usual sets all weekend long as the organisers stayed true to the Sliabh Luachra theme - every second set was a polka or jig. The sets were discreetly called by local teachers Anne Keane and Ann Mangan, who also taught a beginners class.
The weekend is more than just dancing - concerts, music workshops and sessions are a big part of it. I found the lunchtime sessions held in one of the hotel bars to be excellent. There was brilliant local music and an occasional set or step which made it a great place for a snack or drink. Late at night the main bar was thronged with people and music, and more sessions were scattered around the lobby and in other adjacent rooms. I heard someone say it was like "Miltown without umbrellas."
Matt Cunningham's new video of his ceili at the Gathering will be available in mid-April from Matt and from Ainm Records.
Corinne Thor-Wernli hosted a great workshop in Trimbach this year in January, and a ski holiday in the Swiss Alps afterward. We were joined again this year by Eddie Cleere, who has built up the workshop's reputation over several consecutive years. Eddie and a core group of plucky Irish from Galway and Cork braved the cold and uncertain weather (some even slept in their car in Dublin to be sure to catch their early flight over) to arrive together in Zurich, where they were met by Corinne's sister Geraldine and Nicholas, her partner. The whole group was staying for at least a week, so they all purchased passes and came by train to Trimbach. There the Swiss reputation for honesty perhaps exceeded the expectations of at least one Irish visitor, whose case was left on the curb at the Bahnhof - only to found neatly set aside there several hours later, untouched!
It was a new hall for us this year, with an excellent sound system and facilities. The whole weekend was marked by the Swiss and German set dancing communities joining together with new Irish friends to enjoy the teaching of Eddie Cleere.
The undoubted highpoint was the performance at the Saturday night ceili by a new ceili band, Firlan. They're a group of Swiss musicians who play traditional Irish music as well as their own compositions in the Irish and Celtic style. For this night, they worked with Corinne to learn the tempo and style of set dancing music. Everyone agreed it was a splendid event, because they not only learned the dancers' favorite tunes but also brought their own compositions and adapted them to the sets. Brilliant!
Most people left after the weekend, but the hardy band of Irish visitors, with Peter Knight from England, Bert and Heike from Germany and six of us from Switzerland all went down to Grindelwald in the Bern Alps for an incredible week of skiing and snow sports. All the Irish tried skiing, some cross-country and all the downhill, aided by coaching from Peter and Nicholas. Denis O'Connell from Cork tried it for the first time, and after two days was skiing with the more experienced skiers, to everyone's delight and amazement (including his)! The weather in Grindelwald was splendid again this year, and those who didn't get the ski bug went on treks and sledging. Some took the first day to go up to the Schilthorn (James Bond 007 country) for the view.
Our accommodation in Grindelwald was nearly ours for the week, and the hosts served wonderful food including a fondue. Everyone's highlight was the visit by Sean Kennedy and his friend who led an evening of song and story in the cozy dining room. Each night we fell wonderfully tired into bed, and were rushing for the 9 o'clock bus the next morning to take us down into town for another day of excellent skiing.
Next January, we'll return to Aarburg for the workshop, with the wonderful atmosphere and nice dancing floor, and to Grindelwald for more skiing adventures.
Tim Thor, Switzerland
As a regular visitor to workshops and ceilis in Ireland and Germany, I often enjoyed attending well organized events. In February, I had the chance to host Aidan Vaughan as set dancing tutor in my home town Erlangen. I was going to learn how it feels on the "other side" of such an event as an organizer.
It was a great pleasure to prepare a weekend like this for dancers, in gratitude for many enjoyable weekends elsewhere organized by others. I was lucky enough to get a beautiful Gothic-style hall with a wonderful wooden floor. The hall is situated in the middle of Erlangen behind an ancient part of the old town wall.
For the workshop weekend, we had continental February weather: pure sunshine and low temperatures down to 10 degrees below. For me, the most moving moment during the weekend was to see people gathering in the hall. Many of them had to travel far for this event. It was a pleasure to watch them meeting, hugging each other and having a great chat. Everybody who booked in advance turned up and even a few more.
Aidan gave all of us a warm-up with a few easy steps just to get into the rhythm of the music. We started off with the recently revived Kilfenora Plain Set - an old Clare Set including six lovely figures with a quadrille influence. Aidan demonstrated each figure exactly and everybody was able to dance through afterwards. Aidan gave us a good understanding of his smooth and gentle authentic Clare style.
I was very much moved to see all people enjoying themselves here in the centre of my home town. Before the lunch break we had the chance to do two figures of the Labasheeda Set. We continued with it in the afternoon. To finish the workshop, Aidan let us go through the Mazurka Set and paid very good attention to the tricky high gates in the third figure.
Well nourished in one of our local Franconian-style restaurants nearby, everybody was fit again for the ceili by 8.30pm. The hall was nicely illuminated and our local Irish band Greenfield was ready to play.
Very often I am asked by friends what set dancing is like. Everybody thinks it is like Riverdance and I do my best to explain what it really is. So a number of friends arrived at the ceili just to enjoy the music and see what set dancing is like. To start off we danced the Kilfenora Plain learned during the workshop followed by the Plain Reel Set, the Connemara, the Labasheeda and the Clare Lancers. All sets were called by Aidan.
Also, we danced an old time waltz and various ceili dances called by our local ceili tutor Bernd. During the break, we enjoyed a lovely step dance show from Sabine and her group and a sample of sean nós dancing by Aidan. When the ceili was finished, many dancers moved on to local pubs which don't close before 2am. The band found a nice pub as well and had a little seisiún until 3am.
The next day's weather greeted us again with sunshine and there was still snow on the ground in our local castle garden - the town showed us its best side. We gathered in the hall for more sets at 11am. Aidan gave us the chance to learn more steps and afterwards we danced through the Kilfenora again, the Mazurka and the Clare Lancers. Aidan got a great clap for coming such a long, long way from Clare.
The goodbye hugging and kissing took us a good while and we all hope to meet here again.
Andrea Forstner, Erlangen, Germany
Termonfeckin Set Dancing Club, Co Louth, held their first set dancing weekend in An Grianán on the 24th to the 26th January 2003. On the Friday evening when we arrived at the registration desk after our journey from Limerick there just before us were John and Maura from Dungarvan. We received a hearty "ceád mile fáilte" from Sheila and Jim and after we had registered, the bean an tí escorted us to our accommodation, which for us was one of the six luxurious bungalows situated in a tranquil setting in the grounds of An Grianán. Sharing the bungalow with us were Francie and Tera from Navan.
After we showered and had a short rest, we proceeded to the dining hall in the college, where everyone had come together for high tea. After the meal John McEvoy welcomed everybody and hoped we all would have an enjoyable weekend. At 9.30pm in the Kellogg Hall our first céilí of the weekend got under way with John Davey's Céilí Band. John McEvoy called the sets and after four hours of excellent music and dancing, with just a short tea break, we retired to bed.
On Saturday morning at 8.45am we were all back in the dining hall for breakfast. Workshops began at 10am and continued until lunchtime. Michael and Céline Tubridy taught advanced step dancing in the drawing room, Pádraig and Roisín McEneany took care of the beginners in the gym, and Michael and Kathleen McGlynn taught the Cúchulainn Set in the Kellogg Hall. This set is danced in the Cooley Peninsula of Co Louth. The first figure is danced to jigs (Lead with the Lady), the second figure reels (Back to Back), the third figure reels again (Queen Maeve figure danced to the Connemara step) and the final figure is danced to hornpipes.
After lunch at 2pm workshops resumed. At this stage some took a break from the dancing and opted for a walk on the beach, as An Grianán has a right of way to the beach. Tea time was at 6pm and again we were treated to more delicious home cooked food served to us by the very efficient and friendly staff. At 8pm we had Mass in Termonfeckin Church, during which the priest Father Hanratty, welcomed all the visitors. The choir under the direction of Ann McArdle was loudly applauded at the end of Mass for their beautiful singing.
Music for Saturday night's céili, again in the Kellogg Hall, was provided by Séamus and Fidelma Bellew. John called the sets and we had an excellent night's dancing during which we had a short tea-break. Also on Saturday night in the Drawing Room, the McEvoy family and Roisín McEneany entertained us with some very fine music, so much so that the carpet was rolled back and a group from four different counties danced the Corofin Plain Set under a sparkling chandelier!
After breakfast on Sunday morning, Pádraig and Roisín had a workshop at which they taught us the Fermanagh Quadrilles. We had another tea-break and then a seisiún of music, song, dance and recitation until it was time for lunch. At 2 o'clock our farewell céilí got under way. Music for this was provided by the Full Shilling Céilí Band. This ceili was due to finish at 5pm but the dancers were enjoying themselves so much that they kept shouting for more and more and it did not end until 6pm. This brought a most memorable and enjoyable weekend to a close.
Many, many thanks to John and Sheila, Jim and Margaret and all the members of the set dancing club. Míle buiochas also to the management and staff of An Grianán, which is renowned for its hospitality and warm atmosphere .
We all said our goodbyes and look forward to our return in 2004.
Pat and Maura Lyons, Bruree, Co Limerick
Tulsk, Co Roscommon, is a village you might not take any notice of while driving along the N5, the main road between Longford and Castlebar. However, in earlier days this was the sacred heart of Connacht. One of the great royal sites of Celtic Ireland - Crúachain - lies three miles north of the village. It was the royal seat of the province where the kings of Connacht were inaugurated. Today the only evidence of Tulsk's illustrious distant past is the dozens of ancient monuments in the fields, and the impressive new interpretive centre in the village.
For a few short days in February, Tulsk was once again the centre of the universe, at least for the many set dancers who attended the Tom McHale Weekend. This was a celebration in memory of a local musician and included sessions, competitions, a Céilí House broadcast and dancing. Three ceilis and a workshop were held at the Tulsk Inn in a lofty, sturdy lounge which has seen much dancing over the years.
Friday's ceili with the Emerald Ceili Band was advertised for 9.30pm, so I arrived right on time to find the band was still setting up and waiting for their tea. In Ireland it's generally safe to assume that dancing won't get underway till 10pm or later. Once underway the band gave their usual blazing performance finishing with the Plain Set. They went non-stop from the first into the second figure, and when that finished my partner and I charged ahead into the lead around for the third. The band, however, had taken a break so we had to rewind ourselves back to place. The last three figures were non-stop, and I noticed something curious in the neighbouring set - there was a complete gender reversal. The ladies danced as gents and gents as ladies just for the craic of it.
The Roscommon Lancers is one of those rarely seen and awe inspiring sets that are danced in competition and demonstration by expertly trained dancers. While the moves aren't difficult, the steps are very challenging, but with practice I'm sure many dancers would find the set well within their capabilities. It would be most welcome if this set lost some of its competitive mystique and began to be danced socially at ceilis.
The Elphin Set is the team of dancers who won All-Ireland awards dancing the Roscommon Lancers. One of the set's members is Michael Gunn from nearby Elphin town, who now trains young dancers for competition. He shared his expertise with a small group of set dancers at the Saturday workshop. He began by showing us the step which we practiced in a circle around the hall, and Michael spent time helping each dancer.
There are nine figures in the set, six reels and three jigs. We tackled the first four reels before lunch and I found that dancing the step and the figures together took more concentration than I can maintain while dancing. It got slightly easier in the afternoon session until we moved on to the jigs, which have an entirely different step. It's tough to be a beginner again but if I can get further practice I suspect it won't take long to become comfortable with the Roscommon Lancers.
The Glenside Ceili Band played a double feature here at ceilis on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. In preparation for the expected crowds, some of the carpet was covered with boards for extra dancing space. Fifteen sets filled the hall on Saturday and everyone had great fun on the floor. At each of the ceilis a generous tea was dispensed from the adjoining bar.
During the workshop we concentrated on five of the nine Roscommon Lancers figures to dance them at the ceili. When the set was called that night I was afraid that the two sets of us from the workshop would be the only ones on the floor, but I was delighted when eight sets of brave dancers got up and enjoyed the set.
On Sunday I wondered whether the Glenside would be able to fill the hall at a second ceili, but there's no doubting their popularity. The floor was nearly as full as the previous night and there were many new faces not seen the rest of the weekend. There was a break for a brush dance from local lad Tom Brady and some sean nós from the relaxed and natural teenager Edwina. The ceili and weekend ended with smiles all around and optimism that we'd meet again next year.
The success of the weekend was a tribute to Tom McHale, who is still missed in Tulsk and across Ireland more than 25 years after his death in a road accident at the age of 32. Tom was a remarkable tin whistle player who won the All-Ireland in 1960, played in the local Killina Ceili Band, taught music, composed a jig (Tom McHale's), played day and night and dedicated himself fully to music. He is survived by his brother Michael who also won the All-Ireland, and they're believed to be the only brothers to win solo All-Ireland competitions. Michael teaches music in America, won another All-Ireland in 2001 on flute and was a guest at the weekend in his brother's honour.
The next Tom McHale Weekend will take place 13-15 February 2004. Contact Paddy Beirne for information.
As part of their tour of the southern states, Yutaka Usui and Doriane Rencker were hosted by the New Basin Canal Branch of CCÉ for two set dancing workshops here in New Orleans on the 8th and 9th of January. We were the only city on the tour, beginning in Asheville, North Carolina, and ending in Atlanta, Georgia, to host them for two workshops and it was well worth it.
Yutaka and Doriane arrived at Mick's Pub in New Orleans fresh from a workshop in Birmingham, Alabama, the night before. We were able to put two full sets on the floor, which is a good turnout for our relatively young set dancing scene in New Orleans. The theme for the workshops was the sets of counties Cork and Kerry. Yutaka's knowledge has been built from numerous trips to the sites of these sets and working closely with people like Timmy McCarthy and Donncha Lynch.
We began the night with the Borlin Jenny Reel Set. This set was very appropriate for our New Orleans crowd as the first set many of us learned was the Ballyvourney Reel Set. According to Yutaka's research it was a direct descendent of the Borlin Jenny. This lineage was easily apparent as all six figures are mirrored in both sets. Attention to the differences, rather than the similarities, gave these two sets increased interest. Foremost of these was the skip step used in the Borlin Jenny's square the house.
Attention was also given to the regional differences in music. To demonstrate this Yutaka has collected music local to the areas from which these dances originate. He made this music available as a CD featuring five sets from Cork and Kerry performed by the Donncha Lynch Band. I found this to be an especially nice feature. It is much easier to continue learning a set when a great set of tunes is readily available. The CD also contained a handbook written by Yutaka and Doriane explaining in detail each of the featured sets, including some regional variations.
The first night concluded with an introduction to the basic Clare reel battering step. We practiced as Yutaka accompanied us on the button accordion.
Irish dancing has had a home in New Orleans for quite a number of years now, but until recently the focus was primarily on ceili dancing. Most dancers perfected their sevens and threes and were fluent in the Fairy Reel and Siege of Ennis long before they had even heard the term Irish set dancing. To be sure, frequent airings of Riverdance on PBS brought many people in the door to the Irish dance classes offered in town. But just as many, if not more, were infected by the spectacle of dancing at our local pub, O'Flaherty's.
In the early eighties O'Flaherty's began offering music for dancing every Saturday night. That tradition continues to this day. Every Saturday anywhere from two to twenty dancers are there having a great time, and putting on a bit of entertainment for the French Quarter tourists and locals alike. Of course a Haymaker's Jig or Siege of Ennis is always thrown in for folks who want to have a go at dancing.
It was just such a night over seven years ago that got me started. Irish dancing has been a fixture in my life ever since. In the last few years a small core of us got taken with set dancing. We began incorporating a few sets, like the Plain, Lancers or North Kerry, into the ceili dance dominated classes. Then just under a year ago a few of us decided to offer a class in association with the local Comhaltas chapter dedicated to sets. The class has proven to be quite successful. And visits from talented set dance instructors only strengthen our growing community.
The second night's workshop saw us back at Mick's pub and another two sets of dancers on the floor. This night's set was the Sliabh Luachra. Yutaka not only taught the basic six figures, but also introduced many regional variations. Dancing this lively set soon had everyone laughing, especially as we tried to incorporate different battering combinations into the slide and change moves. We closed the evening by returning to the Clare reel step and learned a number of variations. The result of the two workshops was not just two new sets, but a renewed energy on the part of many dancers. More than a few dancers told me that they looked forward to Yutaka and Doriane's next trip south, which hopefully won't be in the too distant future.
I personally was looking forward to not just the workshops but to getting re-acquainted with Yutaka. I had first met him a little over six years ago when I was living in the Washington DC area and got my first serious taste of set dancing. The last time I had seen him was the Comhaltas Convention held in DC in 2000 and that had been a brief encounter. Hosting Yutaka and Doriane in my French Quarter apartment was a great chance to both catch up and also learn much of his travels and research. Set dancing and its related music and history is definitely the passion of Yutaka's life. The location also gave Yutaka and Doriane a great opportunity to explore the French Quarter during the day while I was at work. After their three days in New Orleans they were off to Jackson, Mississippi for their next workshop. But their plans included a side trip for a swamp tour just north of the city. Hopefully their quest to see an alligator or two was successful.
Kirk Whitmer, New Orleans, Louisiana
Set dancing in St Bon's has now taken off.
We have mastered them all,
The Caledonian, the Plain and the Cashel hop.
Dancing begins every Sunday at eight,
Most of the class are usually late.
Vicky goes on stage for the figures to call
As the class batter out sets, down in the hall.
At sets from every county, we do have ago,
Some are fast, and more are slow.
With the Connemara or Caledonian we always begin.
Vicky teaches sets to suit all dancers,
The Sliabh Luachra, the Labasheeda and also the Clare Lancers.
Most of the dancers have preferences of their own,
John O'Leary and Maeve say they like sets from home.
The West Kerry they say is their favourite set,
Once you see them dance it, you could never forget.
Jim Costigan and Phil say it's the Plain Set for them.
Whatever the set it does not matter,
Provided Jim can have a good batter.
Mary and Eoin may have to dance at home.
With twins on the way they have no regret,
It was at set dancing they first met.
Roger and Stephanie, Alex and Kevin
They say when dancing the Baile Bhuirne they feel in Heaven.
Regardless of what set Vicky may play
Brendan and Nancy can give a good display.
Paddy Haydon has just got over his ops,
He will soon be back doing first tops.
Eileen McGeary who comes from Tyrone
Says she learned the sets as a wee girl back home.
Jeff and Helen, Sharon and Sue
Tommy and Sheila, Ann and Geraldine too
They are all dancers of considerable renown
As good as you will find in any town.
Their footwork is skilful and neat,
They are blessed with dancing feet.
To Vicky our teacher we are in debt
She is the lady that taught us the set.
To Nora and Steve we must now say farewell,
To Ireland they are returning to dwell.
We wish them a safe journey and the best of luck.
In Ireland we hope they find prosperity and fame
Without them set dancing in Bristol will never be the same.
To me set dancing is a social night out,
I usually celebrate with a pint of stout.
If and when I ever drink four
Barbara says she has to drag me around the floor.
It is now getting late and almost time to pack it in,
Everybody on the floor, we will finish with the Corofin!
Seamus Garry, Bristol, Somerset
Vicky Salway teaches a class on Sunday nights from 8.30 to 10.30pm in St Bonaventure's Irish Club, Berkeley Road, off the Gloucester Road, Bishopston, Bristol, England.
Dancers in London and generally across England have long had a fondness for Cork and Kerry sets. Timmy McCarthy has been coming regularly for years to share his wisdom, and since June 1997 has been visiting in the excellent company of two Dingle musicians, Pádraig Ó Sé and Jon Sanders on accordion and guitar. They were invited back for the weekend of February 28th to March 2nd and I counted myself lucky to be there.
The Friday night session didn't look promising when I arrived at the Lamb Pub, North Road, Islington, situated in a bleak London estate, but inside the lounge was impeccably clean and pleasant. Soon after I arrived Pádraig and Jon were ready to play and they began with a waltz. Without delay I was asked to dance and we joined three other couples on the floor, which was the right size for one set. After a round and without warning the waltz seamlessly changed to polkas and the eight brains on the floor had the same simultaneous vision flash across their synapses - the West Kerry Set! We'd given over control of our minds and bodies to Pádraig and Jon and their blazing music.
Their musical creativity was again evident during a Connemara Set when in the middle it was transformed into a jive to accommodate a smart looking pub regular in a trilby hat who fancied some music he could dance to. Even while Pádraig was sitting and playing on the other side of the room from the dancers, mentally he always seemed to be right there with them, keenly watching every move. When someone went wrong in a set, even the tiniest mistake, Pádraig never failed to notice and played a brief discordant note in response. Sharp and responsive music, and this was just an informal session.
The Saturday workshop was in a hall familiar to dancers across London - the Mazenod Hall, Quex Road, Kilburn, known as just 'Quex Road'. There's been dancing weekly live music dancing here for 25 years - see page 13. This was its first event after being closed since November for redecoration, and the new look is light, modern and very pleasant. The old timber floor looked better than ever, though the old fans and air conditioning were dearly missed during the day.
Timmy was full of energy as usual, dancing, playing, calling, teaching, joking and storytelling the whole day. He prides himself on the number of sets he can teach in a day, and claimed today's eight as a record, though I'm sure I've seen him do more. There were five sets dancing today, some of whom travelled long distances from Yorkshire, Suffolk and Manchester.
As the only teacher who plays his own music at workshops, a big part of Timmy's appeal is in his music. His playing has a raw power which, when combined with his unique selection of tunes, goes straight to the heart. He apologised for playing the same tunes all day, and even fumbled a bit trying out some new tunes, but I love his regular tunes. The more he repeats them the deeper they sink into my consciousness.
When I arrived at the Saturday night ceili, also at Quex Road, Timmy was on stage playing for the Sliabh Luachra. Never one to keep dancers idle, he'll take the stage himself if there's any delay with the scheduled music. After that Pádraig and Jon began with the West Kerry, their trademark set, and we were off and running in top gear. They were in their element in a hall of dancers under their total musical control. We'd be flying through the set when for a few bars they'd go quiet, and we'd tone down the dancing in response. Then suddenly they'd blast forth again and we'd explode with pleasure! It's rare to dance to such dynamic music.
Londoners like reel sets as much as anyone else, and Pádraig and Jon are equally brilliant playing them, but remarkably only two were danced tonight, the Connemara and Plain; the rest were polkas and jigs. The final set was another West Kerry which reached a climactic frenzy of dancing in the last figure when Pádraig and Timmy yodelled along with the polkas, and the excitement was absolutely mighty!
Geoff Holland's monthly first Sunday session in the London Irish Centre, Camden, has been the favourite set dancing event in town for close to fifteen years. With Timmy, Pádraig and Jon the normal four and half hours of dancing expanded to six with plenty more of what we experienced yesterday. Soon after 11am Timmy opened with a workshop where we danced another four or five sets, plus a break for the Corofin Plain to tapes.
When the Dingle lads arrived, they began as usual with the West Kerry, which we'd already danced earlier with Timmy. Polkas and jigs filled the afternoon, and despite numerous requests the only reel set was the Connemara. The weekend could only end with a West Kerry Set, and Timmy, Pádraig and Jon once again gave a bravado performance complete with a reprise of the rousing singing polka to bring the final figure to a climax.
After such excitement it took the participants a while to unwind, have a chat, say goodbye and leave the hall. There was one last performance from the lads later that night when they joined the regular Sunday night music session at the Red Lion, Wedmore Street, Holloway. The London and Dingle musicians sat in the front of the pub, while the dancers congregated around the wooden floor at the back. The Londoners' sound didn't travel well to the back of the pub, but even without amplification Pádraig and Jon had no trouble reaching the dancers for yet another West Kerry. After that we drifted away to home for rest and recovery after an immensely satisfying weekend.
Pádraig Ó Sé and Jon Sanders play every Monday night in John Benny Moriarty's, Strand Street, Dingle, Co Kerry. Contact John and Eilis Benny.
Abbeyfeale and set dancing are synonymous, and once again this year their annual set dancing weekend from Friday 28th February to Sunday March 2nd was a brilliant success.
The weekend started as is traditional in the Railway Bar, with the wholesome music of Co Clare's Four Courts Céilí Band. I was especially privileged to meet George Byrt, the band's keyboard player. Members of George's family were instrumental in reviving the old Kilfenora Set, with the help of Michael Slattery.
It was a night of exuberant reels except for two polkas, the Castle and Baile Bhuirne. When the Kilfenora Plain Set was announced everyone was delighted. Mike Mahony called the figures in his concise and encouraging way thus enabling everyone to dance. As is customary at these weekends there is always a slot for some sean nós dancing.
Shay White and Donal Morrissey took the floor for a display of brush dancing. Everyone was in great form and anticipating a weekend of great dancing and fun. I was delighted to meet my old friend Shay and the gang from Drogheda. He invited me to be his dance partner for the workshops - I knew I would have a speedy session and bags of fun.
Saturday morning in Convent Hall, Pat Murphy started the workshop with the Tory Island Set, assisted by Betty McCoy. Dancing master Connie Ryan collected this set from local dancers on Tory Island off Donegal. This easy going set has five figures starting and finishing with a slide with three polkas in the middle. All swings in this set are hug swings, a trademark of the warmth of the people of Tory Island.
The next set Pat and Betty decided to workshop was the Louisburgh Set, another recently revived set. I really like this Mayo set and feel it could be a hit around at céilí as there are only three figures in it. I also like the variety of the figures with a jig, reel and polka to finish.
The hall's tearoom doubled as a step dancing venue for Celine Tubridy's workshop. Celine began her Saturday morning workshop with hornpipe steps and in the afternoon moved on to the Priest and his Boots. I spoke with Celine Saturday evening. "I had a marvellous class," she said, "most attentive. One of the best classes I have taught for a long time. I had hoped to get a few figures, maybe three, of the Priest and his Boots done but the standard of the dancers was so high I was delighted to do all five figures." She had twenty pupils. This was the first year of her workshop in Abbeyfeale - obviously a welcome addition to the festival.
Pat Murphy's afternoon workshop was once again packed with eager dancers. The Kilfenora set was next up. This recently revived set is really taking off all over Ireland. I have danced it at several ceilis since November last. Pat told us that it is now danced at two regular ceilis in New York. Surely testament to the people who have revived the set and the dancing masters promoting it.
The next set was the Paris Set, another Co Clare set from the Labasheeda area. Pat told us that Connie Ryan and Michael Tubridy got this set from Dan Furey. I love this set and have danced it many times in the Barn in Watergrasshill with the help of Michael Murphy's gentle prompting. As the workshop concluded, dancers scattered for Mass, some energising food and welcoming showers.
John Fennell had 54 students in his class for young dancers in the Community Centre, who ranged in age from seven to sixteen. John taught some unique battering steps for the old Caledonian. An even mix of boys and girls from counties Clare, Kerry and Limerick were among his students. John said this group was one of the most enthusiastic and best he has had the pleasure of teaching. He was so pleased with their progress that he also taught them the Plain Set. John's workshop, like Celine's, was a new addition to the festival. With the success reported surely this would be a permanent feature of this weekend.
9.30pm saw the floor in the Convent Hall packed with dancers as the Abbey Céilí Band started the night with the Connemara. This lively band from Cork kept us dancing until after one o'clock. After Pat Murphy called the Kilfenora Set, sean nós dancers lined up to entertain us - included in the performance were Tipperary man Pat Gleeson, Donal Morrissey from Offaly, Roscommon men Colin and Gerard Butler, and Paddy Bushe. We finished the céilí with the Caledonian and Saturday had come to an end. Of course some late night revellers adjourned to Leen's Hotel for a late session. I heard a whisper that a dancing master had just begun to sing when the boys in blue cleared the establishment.
Sunday morning at 10.30 dancers began to collect. Some looked a bit tired and others were full of life. Slowly the crowd increased and Pat and Betty began the workshop with the Mayo Lancers. Unlike most of the familiar Mayo sets, this is rather a long set with seven figures, a mix of jigs, polkas and a reel, and of course an opportunity for a poigín. I especially like the fifth figure, the céilí-style fling with a three hand dance. The workshop concluded with the Longford Set. Pat showed us the step and proceeded to go through each figure. This is another good set with three figures, two reels and a polka.
As the workshop finished in Abbeyfeale for another year, some dancing friends debated if any of these recently revived sets would be danced at céilí apart from the Kilfenora. Many dancers expressed frustration at the same familiar sets being danced around the country. Of course there are exceptions where organisers are starting to make some changes. Perhaps we can look forward to a new variety of sets being danced in the near future.
The afternoon céilí began at 2.30 on the dot. Donie Nolan and Taylor's Cross gave us some mighty music to dance to. After the tea break Donie sang The Land of the Gael to rapturous applause.
Timmy Wolfe on behalf of the West Limerick Set Dancing Club thanked everyone for attending. He thanked Pat Murphy and Betty McCoy for the set dancing workshops, Celine Tubridy for her step dancing workshop and John Fennell for his workshop with the juniors.
"We are privileged to have the expertise and dedication of these wonderful people at our disposal for this festival. I am especially touched by Pat Murphy's readiness to reiterate the importance of Connie Ryan in the set dancing world." Timmy also wished a speedy recovery to Kathleen Roche. "This is the first year in all our eleven festivals that John and Kathleen have not been with us, indeed the corner back there near the door has been known as Roche's corner. We wish Kathleen well and hope both her and John will be back dancing again with us soon." Timmy thanked the bands and the ladies and gents on the hardworking committee. He wished us all a safe journey home.
All too soon the céilí and weekend came to an end. This was definitely one of the best festivals I have been privileged to attend. With sumptuous sandwiches, scones, cakes, tea, coffee and fresh cool spring water all readily available and free to patrons, the hardworking committee certainly deserve our praise. Those of you who have not yet been to one of their ceilis or festivals, I urge you to mark Abbeyfeale as one of your spring festivals in 2004!
Joan Pollard Carew
The famous Pontoon Bridge Hotel situated between Loughs Conn and Cullin and the Nephin and Ox mountains is an angler's paradise. This is a locality with no housing schemes, no industrialisation or intense farming, known by the locals as a "stress free zone". For the weekend of 7th to 9th March this nineteenth century hotel became a dancers' paradise. Mickey Kelly and his crew organised yet another fantastic weekend of workshops and ceilis.
The weekend got off to a fine start with a céilí at 10pm with music by the Davey Céilí Band, beginning with the Castle Set. John Davey and his band played polkas, reels, jigs and a hornpipe for the Plain, Clare Lancers, Derradda, Corofin, Connemara and Newport sets. We also had some waltzes including the Sweetheart Waltz, and other two hand dances including Stack of Barley and Shoe the Donkey. John Joe Geraghty was his usual nimble self with his sean nós dancing.
During the céilí Mickey Kelly asked for one minute silence for fellow dancer and friend Gerry Beirne who passed away very recently. "Gerry was originally from Strokestown but in later years he lived in Castlebar where he had a business," Mickey said. He was a great friend of mine. I miss him. He would certainly have been here tonight, God rest him."
After the tea and porter cake there was a birthday surprise for Maureen Halpin from Westport. Marie Ruane and Mary O'Neill presented Maureen with a huge birthday cake, and then we had the ceremonial blowing out of the candles to the joyous applause of the huge crowd. As the night was drawing to a close Mickey Kelly welcomed everyone to Pontoon and advised about the workshops for the weekend. He also informed us of a special raffle for a holiday in Greece from 1st to 8th October as first prize, given by Gerry Flynn of Enjoy Travel, known better to most of us as the man who organises Ibiza. When the céilí finished at 1.30 am some people went to bed; others choose to burn more than the midnight oil.
Saturday morning at 10.30 dancers gathered for the first workshop of the weekend. The set selected by dance master Jim Barry was the Durrow Threshing Set. This is an easy set with six figures with jigs, polkas and hornpipe. It was remembered by Jack Fitzpatrick from the Durrow area, Co Laois, and revived by the Durrow set dancers. There is a lovely battering step. I was privileged to have learned this set many years ago from dancing master Michael Loughnane of Thurles. It's a shame it is not danced more often.
The second set was a recently revived Mayo set, the Skirdagh, from the townland of Skirdagh near Newport. Jim Barry told us, "The set was last danced about forty years ago. After all this time memories sometimes fade - dancing it brings it back as it really was. I am delighted to do this set today here in Pontoon." Mary McManamon gave it to Mickey Kelly. This Mayo gem has four figures, jig, polka, reel and a waltz.
The afternoon workshop began with the Mayo Lancers Set. Although this is a beautiful set it may be a bit long for ceilis with seven figures. The set has a good variety of movements, especially the kiss in the fourth figure and the bundles of fun in the sixth. The last set of the afternoon was the Kilfenora. Jim Barry emphasised the low footwork in dancing this set and acknowledged Michael Slattery in the hall as one of the dancers from Co Clare who revived it. Some of the dancers who had not danced this set before were delighted to learn that it is already being danced at ceilis in some areas. The Saturday workshop concluded and dancers prepared for dinner in the restaurant.
By 10pm we were eager to start dancing. As Matt Cunningham began playing dancers graced the floor for the Connemarra Set. Midway through the first half of the céilí Jim Barry called the Skirdagh Set and I was privileged to be dancing it with a group of Mayo dancers. All welcomed the break when once again dancers were fed brack, porter cake, scones and tea and coffee, all free. Jugs of iced water were constantly on the go.
After the tea break Mickey Kelly invited Gerry Flynn (who had only arrived because of a delay in his sailing) to explain to the dancers about his newest fleadh in Rhodes, Greece, in October. He also spoke of his plans for a three-week trip to Australia in 2004.
Some sean nós dancing followed, then Mickey Kelly introduced a team of Scottish dancers known as Dannsa who had been in Ireland since 3rd March. They had performed in Connemara with Seosamh Ó Neachtain and also in Monaghan and Armagh. Dannsa - Gaelic for dance - aims to promote and share the enjoyment of dancing traditional Scottish step dance and reels. The core group of four dancers, Caroline Reagh, Frank McConnell, Mats Melin and Sandra Robertson perform fiddler Mairi Campbell, singer Elizabeth Maclean and piper Fin Moore. We were privileged to see these young talented people and share in their joy.
Matt and his band gave us reels, jigs, polkas and hornpipes that energised us as we danced until well after one o'clock. A brilliant night was had by all. It was not just another céilí - Mickey Kelly had scooped a true festival atmosphere with the visiting dancers. As the night's entertainment closed Mickey told the crowd that he had another treat for us on the following day - the Cunningham family from Cashel in Connemara would be giving us a display of their dancing talents during the afternoon.
Sunday morning at eleven o'clock dancers were eager once more. Jim Barry decided to teach the Caragh Lake Jig Set. This set is a nice easy going set to conclude a workshop. A long enough set with four jigs, a slide, reel and hornpipe and lovely moves with the square and diamond. All the dancers in the workshop enjoyed it including some of our Scottish dancers - Caroline Reagh was dancing in the set I was in and having a ball. The workshop concluded in time for lunch before the final céilí.
Heather Breeze was ready to start at 2.30 and dancers were eager to dance. We started with the Connemara, Caledonian, Castle and Clare Lancers sets. Wonderful melodious tunes were doled out by this fantastic Mayo band.
After the break the Cunningham family enthralled us with their sean nós dancing. This family of five children are truly gifted. Bryan, 17 years old, and Irene, 19, started the demonstration, then Aisling, 15, joined in. As they paused for a few minutes, seven year old Michael danced his steps, then six year old Lorraine did her display. The grand finale was with all five children dancing together in perfect step with each other. These children were born and bred on dancing and culture.
The ordinary mortals of dancers resumed their céilí with the Corofin and Plain. The grand draw was announced and everyone hushed to hear the name of the winner of the holiday in Rhodes. Maureen Smith scooped the coveted prize. She told me she had just changed jobs but would be able to get time off for this wonderful holiday - congratulations Maureen. The céilí concluded with the Newport and a set of reels.
The Scottish dancers gave a further display of dancing in the bar at eight o'clock. The night concluded with more set dancing in the bar to music by the Amethyst Trio, a local group. Some dancers showed their singing talents including John Joe Geraghty and Mickey Kelly. I have no doubt that some people were still singing and dancing until dawn.
Another brilliant weekend in Pontoon had come to an end. Before leaving on Monday morning I explored the old oak wood near the hotel where some of the oldest oak trees in the country are still growing. Pine martens and squirrels are plentiful here and the scooter duck breeds in the waters between the hotel jetty and the oak wood. Nearby there is a designated wildlife sanctuary.
As the slogan says - Pontoon is not just a destination, it's an experience.
Joan Pollard Carew
As many times as I've been to dance in Carrigaline, Co Cork, over the years, I still always look out for the 'ceili' signs along the road for the reassurance that I haven't made a wrong turn or travelled on the wrong day. The well-organised Owenabue Valley Traditional Group puts out signs before each of their monthly ceilis, and takes them down immediately afterward. They start on the edge of Cork city, and appear at junctions and roundabouts all the way to the GAA Pavilion.
So there was no chance of getting lost on the way to the annual workshop weekend held this year from March 7th to 9th. The hall was quiet when I arrived on Friday night, but soon the place was buzzing with the famous polkas of box player Tadhg Kearney. It was my first time dancing to his live music and I loved the unique collection of tunes, precise rhythm and beautiful dancing lift. Tadhg was accompanied by his son Seán, with an even bigger box than his dad's, and daughter Bríd on piano. His music is a rare treat which is worthy of wider recognition. There were up to eight sets of dancers on Friday night, though many times that number were expected on Saturday night.
A similar number of people attended Pat Murphy's workshop, where he started the day with the Jenny Lind, my third weekend in a row dancing it. The Kilfenora Set came next, and it's greeted with praise wherever it's danced. The Louisburgh Set is a simple three-figure Mayo set which Pat learned from members of his dancing class there. To finish on Saturday afternoon we danced a figure of the Souris Set from Prince Edward Island.
Michael Sexton's ceili band was the resident band for the rest of the weekend. They attracted a remarkable crowd of as many as forty sets to the Saturday night ceili for a fabulous night of dancing. There was a new fiddler filling in with the band tonight - drummer Dave Culligan took great pleasure in introducing me to his son David. Mid-way through the night the band called a Siege of Ennis, which often attracts a small number of people to the floor - not so this night in Carrigaline! It was easily the biggest Siege I've ever seen, with three lines of dancers filling the roomy hall from front to back.
A great set for a Sunday morning (or any other time of day or night) is the Melleray Lancers. We had a delightful time dancing it at Pat Murphy's workshop. Michael Sexton returned for the afternoon ceili with most of his band, though Ralph Morgan, his distinctive banjo player, was called overnight back to Clare due to the death of his father. Even with a smaller band and a slightly smaller crowd there was absolutely no reduction in the enjoyment.
The dancers finished the weekend on such a high note that it was hard to get back on the road home. We had to be urged out gently to clear the hall for the Sunday night bingo.
The Quex Road Ceili in Kilburn celebrates 25 years of weekly live music dancing at a special anniversary ceili on 23 April 2003. All dancers, musicians and friends, past and present, will be warmly welcomed.
The Pioneer Association began dancing on Friday nights in an Anglican church hall in Kilburn. After two years they moved to the hall of the Catholic church on Quex Road, but because there was already a disco on Friday, they shifted the ceili to Wednesday. The hall was packed from the very start with as many as 200 attending. The Pioneers (a religious association of non-drinkers) were succeeded by a nine-member committee, and dancers benefited from having a bar in the hall. Every excess penny collected was donated to worthy causes, amounting to many thousands of pounds over the years.
The first musicians were John Bow and Mick O'Connor. Martin and Teresa McMahon, better known as the Caravelles, played in Quex Road for seventeen years before returning to Shannon, Co Clare. Taking their place for the past seven years are Delga Trad.
The emphasis is on ceili dancing, but set dancing has also been part of the programme. They have their own unique set danced nowhere else in town. It's the Mid Kerry Set, which Áine Flaherty, one of the committee, learned from Patrick Joy when she taught school in Killorglin. It was truly danced with great joy every week in Quex Road.
The Quex Road Ceili takes place every Wednesday night, 9-11.30pm, in Mazenod Hall, Mazenod Road, behind the church in Quex Road, Kilburn, London NW6. Contact Willie Purcell and Phyllis Brosnan.
Joe O'Donovan and his wife Siobhan conquered the Cóilín Sheáin Dharach memorial weekend in Ros Muc, Connemara, Co Galway, with their very presence over the first of February weekend. The Friday evening opening ceremonies were officially launched by former GAA president, Seosamh MacDonncha. There was a strong representation of local dancers doing the Connemara Set and stepping-out to Miss McLeod's. Particularly notable among the solo dancers were Eddie Beatty from Inis Mór, Pádraig Ó'hOipicín and Róisín Ní Mhainín, but the evening was greatly enhanced in variety by Willy Clancy Week regulars who at one time or another were all taught by Joe. Margaret Wray, Barney McCaul, Anne O'Keefe, Noel Clarke and others demonstrated hornpipe steps and collectively did the Plain Set under the watchful eye of 'the Master'.
The Saturday all-day jig workshop, which the organisers had hoped would bring in dance enthusiasts from outside the Gaeltacht was a great success with more than half of the fifty or so dancers coming from different counties of the four provinces. In addition to the jig elements of his old style solo dance video being available on a large screen projector, Joe was assisted by three capable dance instructors: Rióna Ní Fhrighil, Margaret Wray and Marie Philbin. So successful was the teaching team that the Master dispensed with the video teaching aid after the first sink and grind step. Forty-five minutes after the end of the scheduled evening session, festival organisers finally had to rein Joe in and instruct him to rest up for that night's adjudication duties. Most of the workshop participants were still standing under his spell.
The annual Comórtas Cóilín Sheán Dharach solo jig competition was won by Róisín Ní Mhainín, who is also this year's Oireachtas sean-nós dance champion, with Co Antrim dancer Noel Clarke the runner-up. The following day Joe adjudicated Brian Cunningham, from nearby Cashel, as the best dancer in the under eighteen category. Brian is also this year's under eighteen Oireachtas champion, and he has won that title for two years in a row. Mairin Ní Neachtain, a protégé of Róisín Ní Mhainín, won the under twelve competition. These contests are restricted to the double jig rhythm, and they outlaw feis and tap shoes in an attempt to perpetuate the form and style that Cóilín himself so personified.
Sunday morning at Pearse's Cottage, Scottish piper Alastair Kearns "woke the dead" with his war pipes calling all to the bilingual presentation by Raidió na Gaeltachta presenter Seosamh Ó Cuaig, who has done considerable research on local history. Seosamh himself is related to a participant in the 1916 rising who was a local confidant and friend of Pearse. During the discussion about Pearse's oration at the grave of O'Donovan Rossa (that speech was written in the Ros Muc cottage) Siobhán spoke up and endeared herself to all present by pointing out that Joe was related to Rossa. Go méadaí Dia stór Joe agus Siobhán agus nár lagaí Dia iad!
It was with great sadness that members of the Bradford Branch of Comhaltas heard of the demise of Betty Ring. She was a founder member of the branch and with her husband, Jerry, who was the first chair, she gave great service to Comhaltas in Bradford and beyond. Set dancing was the basis of the branch's existence as it was founded by the Rings and others in 1988. Later, there were to be the Irish language and music classes, but dancing was its main activity and great enthusiasm was generated in the district for the sets.
Betty and Jerry were to be seen at all and every set dancing venue, both in Britain and Ireland. Her great joy was to dance the sets at the Bridge Bar in Portmagee, Co Kerry close by Jerry's hometown of Cahirsiveen. I remember her whirling and waltzing her way through set after set in Cois na hAbhna at the Ennis Fleadh Nua each May and her laughter at the costumes we wore in the parade to celebrate the 800th Anniversary of the town one year.
She was very much a Yorkshire woman, but with a strong and abiding love for Ireland. She was in the Seán Dempsey mould, who in turn was her great friend and teacher. Ní bheidh a leithead arís ann. We offer Jerry our very sincere condolences and wish him well. Betty was his wonderful partner during many years of life's dance. Ar dheis Dé go raibh sí.
Joe Ó Síoráin, Bradford, Yorkshire
Mary Loughman passed to her eternal reward on Friday 14th of March. Mary was well known for many years in the dancing scene in Tipperary and far beyond. In May 1990 Mary was one of the founder members of Cumann Céilí & Set Rince Durlas Eile (Thurles Set Dancing Club). Since the inception of the club, she was assistant treasurer and was always on hand to prepare finger foods and tea. Her welcoming smile will be sadly missed in the future for the club's monthly céilí in the Anner Hotel. The classes in the Band Room on Thursday nights will never be the same without Mary's laughter and great sense of fun.
In October 1999 dancing master Michael Loughnane formed a junior section of the club. Mary worked tirelessly to promote this new venture. She was one of the first committee members to support Michael and even introduced her grandson Kyle to céilí and set dancing.
Mary always enjoyed the club's outings and travelled the length and breath of Ireland to festivals and céilí. She especially enjoyed her two trips to Bollington, the twin town of Thurles in Cheshire, England, and to Fleadh España in 2001.
Just two years ago Mary had major surgery - not even this stopped her dancing. She bore her illness with dignity. All her wide circle of dancing friends will miss her. Her heartbroken husband Larry, her daughters Tina and Bridget and grandchildren Kyle and Rebecca will sadly miss her. Mary lived for her family and her dancing.
Ar dheis De go raibh a h-anam.
MaryThere's a space on the floor
Where you danced for many years
And a pain in our hearts
Washed by a million tears
Remember all the trips we took
Aran Islands, Bollington, Spain
Galway, Cork and Kerry
Sometimes in pouring rain
And the bunk beds in Ennis
For the Willie Clancy weekend
We never slept a wink
We had laughter and time to spend
Today Mary we mourn you
Your life's journey at an end
The world's lost a brilliant dancer
I have lost my treasured friend.
Joan Pollard Carew
Dan Deslauriers and Elizabeth MacDonald of Halifax, Nova Scotia, were married on 27 February 2003 in a small ceremony at Elizabeth's home. A spontaneous reception took place a few days later at the regular Sunday pub dance session, complete with reels, cake and champagne.
Elizabeth teaches set dancing in Halifax and hosts Pat Murphy for an annual workshop weekend at Easter. The couple are regular visitors to Ireland during the summer, and with luck might be able to visit more often after they move to Germany in June where Dan will be on assignment for a few years.
Their friend in the photo is Jessie the Westie.
Dear Bill Lynch
While on a trip to Berlin in July 2001, my friend Audrey Kelly and I started out with the Set Dancing News to help us find the Oscar Wilde Pub, which was listed in the News as having set dancing that evening. When we arrived, we were welcomed by the bartenders, waitresses, the teacher Bill Whelan, the dance instructor and students.
It was a most interesting experience. They were being taught the Plain Set and when finished, they included us in the High Cauled Cap. It was fascinating for us to see Irish dancing being taught to German students in the German language. The instructor, who was originally from Austria, was taught in English by Bill Whelan and he was passing on the traditional dances of Ireland in German.
The dancers told us they absolutely love Irish dancing and can't wait for their next class each week. It was a pleasant evening and we were glad to have had the Set Dancing News to help us find Irish dancing in Berlin.
Cass Tinney, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Welcome back, ValDear Bill
A lovely surprise greeted me on arrival at Dinder Village Hall in Somerset on Sunday 3rd March for a day of Irish set dancing - the familiar though unexpected voice of Val Knight, calling the second figure of the Labasheeda to the lovely music of the Templehouse Ceili Band on tape.
By the afternoon, four sets danced the Dunmanway, the Plain, the Baile Bhuirne Reel and the Labasheeda to the band of musicians who were in fine form and whose music lifted the steps.
Perched on her chair to call, Val's stepping was restricted. Not so once she took to the floor! Everyone enjoyed the lovely sunny weather, spectacular country scenery with cows mooing and snowdrops peeping through the dark earth.
Thank you to the organisers and to you, Bill, for bringing us the news "as it breaks!"
Jenepher Parry Davies, Southampton, Hampshire
Val Knight taught classes in Dinder and elsewhere, as well as workshops around England, for many years before she became ill in 1999. Her return to teaching is good news indeed!
Attention all brush dancersDear Bill
My name is John Regan, and I am the producer and director of Cyrus Films International. I am writing to you in the hope that some of your readers may be able to help in my production of a short documentary film about the brush dance or broom dance. This is an exciting dance seen in traditional Irish dancing clubs and events that I feel would be of interest to viewers around the world.
I have been able to get names and locations of performers who have a reputation for their own unique style of broom dancing and I look forward to contacting as many as possible. However I am very interested in contacting anybody who feels they may like to contribute anything at all to the film. Perhaps they have knowledge of the origins of the various dances, and could be interviewed about this or indeed perform the dances themselves and would like to be featured in the movie. Any trad bands that play accompaniment to the broom dance, and would like to sponsor their services to appear on the film are welcome to contact me.
We hope to begin shooting in early summer, June or July. I am also looking for a suitable premises, a pub or hall where we could shoot the broom dances taking place. The owners of the premises could also be interviewed and their pubs featured in the movie. I would like to film also any children who are able to do their version of the broom dance. Production costs are limited; however after-sales are expected to provide some rewards for participants and sponsors. I would like to hear from anybody who feels they would like to invest financially in this and other ventures.
Many thanks, Bill.
I don't care what you say but if you can't dance as fast as the guy behind you, you're in big trouble. While leading around also you can't go any faster than the couple in front of you unless you go through them. This is a thing only tried in football matches by forwards when they are two points down with seconds left in the game. They are usually playing against a strong breeze. Some of them also like to tackle the man from behind which is rule 5 from the GAA or 'Grab All Association' Official Guide that is. Somehow I couldn't help thinking about that rule the last night.
Whoever had put up the signposts for the ceili must be quick on the turn whether it's the Caledonian, Newport or Borlin set. I was tearing along en route to Killkillimfastley when I spied the ceili sign. I braked suddenly and lost control of the car on the loose gravel. Just as I got it straightened out again I looked in the mirror. It was then I saw her coming. I knew I was in big trouble. It was going to be a direct hit. I braced myself for the impact as they do in Irish foreplay. Bang! Right into the back of me. My neck was sore and as I walked back I could smell the burnt rubber. I was careful not to say anything about her brake pads. She might think I was getting fresh with her. Brake pads are another word for contraception down her way.
"Are you alright?" I asked.
"Yea," she muttered.
"Are you sure?"
"Sort of. How are you?" she asked.
"I'm sort of okay too. Are you doing anything tomorrow night?"
"Not really. Had you something in mind?" she replied.
"Was this a stunt for the sole purpose of making a claim for whiplash?" she asked.
"Not really but now that we've met can we?" I said.
"Can we what?" she asked.
"Can we do the fandango?"
Later as we lead around for the Connamara a guy thumped me in the back. I in turn accidentally hit the guy in front. He looked back angrily as I nodded to the couple behind. "Rule 5!" I shouted, but I don't think anybody was listening. One thing led to another. It was a bit like another pile up on the M50/M25. Suddenly they were at it hammer and tongs. The band played slowly and then the music fizzled out as the punches got harder. Some people love a good row or fight and boy did they get their money's worth. It took two cops and as one of the cops put it, "a little help" to stop it. That "little" help consisted of six set dancers who barely managed to hold them apart.
On the way out the door the victor was asked what type of work he does.
"Oh, up to recently I used to do a bit of the bare knuckle stuff!"
Copyright © 2003 by O F Hughes
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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