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).
From the 22nd to the 25th of April 2003, the Robin Hood Folk Country Club in Trieste, Italy, had the pleasure of hosting seventeen friends from Garvagh, Co Derry, and from Belfast. Last year we were their guests and our stay was so exciting that we wanted to repeat the experience, this time in our country. The friendship that ties us to them began in 1991 when a group of set dancers and musicians came to Trieste to teach us our first sets. From then on we haven't stopped practicing and enjoying the set dancing and our friendship has strengthened. Therefore we wish to thank all the friends who came to Trieste this year; with their willingness and sympathy they have made these few days memorable. Special thanks go to Brendan Boylan, the "patriarch" of the group who began this particular twinning, and to Maeve and Thomas Close who have taken the trouble as usual to entertain us those evenings - they even taught us a beautiful dance, the High-Cauled Cap. Ciao cari amici (dear friends), see you next year!
Erica Ianezic, Trieste, Italy
The town of Kenmare in the county of Kerry is an attractive place for a weekend in any circumstances, with plenty of good shops, restaurants and pubs surrounded on all sides by spectacular landscape and seascape. When the Fleadh's in town to provide some extra culture and entertainment there's no better place to be. This year the Kerry Fleadh came to Kenmare for the second year in a row on the 20th to the 22nd of June.
The Fleadh was opened in the town square by the colourful local independent politician, Jackie Healy Rae, who once headed the local Comhaltas branch. Music was on offer for free every evening in the square with some well-known groups attracting as many as 2,000 listeners. As usual at a fleadh there were competitions and sessions around town.
The weekend's three ceilis were all in the Kenmare Bay Hotel on the edge of town, in an unusual hall above the hotel reception. It appeared to have been built in the seventies to what must have been an innovative design at the time. The hall was in the shape of a U with two separate, narrow dance floors on opposite sides of the building. For the Friday night ceili the Glenside Ceili Band set up between the floors, adjacent to the bigger and better one, and with the other in sight.
The hall had another unusual feature - two pairs of live peacocks and peahens. They were resident on the hotel grounds and came up to the hall each evening to watch the ceilis and people. They roosted on railings just inches away from the dancers, separated by floor-to-ceiling windows. They weren't bothered by attention from the dancers, and even after the music began sat contently watching the sets.
A good crowd turned up for the ceili, with the main floor filled and a couple of sets on the alternative floor. Spectators were plentiful too, most standing in front of the band to watch the dancing as good viewing space was limited. The band could hardly see the main floor themselves though they had a clear view of the gents' and ladies' toilets. Nevertheless it was a brilliant night of dancing, full of the excitement the Glenside always brings to their ceilis. A few of the braver tourists attempted a set or two, and the band played the Walls of Limerick to lure more of them out.
The peacocks and peahens were back for Saturday night's ceili with the Davey Ceili Band. John Davey kept the stage at the same place where he could see both floors, but moved it onto the dance floor a bit to improve visibility. The music was magic, the sets superb and the floor a bit more spacious. The second floor was never used.
Johnny Reidy tried out the stage in a new location for the Sunday night ceili - at the opposite end of the main floor. Here they had a spacious bit of carpet to set up on and a full view of the dancers. In fact it was just a normal ceili this way. The floor in the other side of the hall remained unused.
Johnny and his band are popular with local dancers who love his speedy polkas and slides. A few of the visiting set dancers hadn't encountered music like this before and appeared quite dubious, but were won over by the beautiful, lively and inspiring music. He doesn't only play polkas - the reels, hornpipes and waltzes were all perfectly paced as well. We danced all the standard reel sets, plus the Cashel and Ballyvourney. At the end of the night Johnny did his trademark finish, playing the Sliabh Luachra followed immediately by a non-stop Connemara Set.
It was my first time dancing to Johnny in a long while and I was impressed with the band's new line-up with two new musicians on fiddle and flute. The flute player often switched to tin whistle which added an extra bit of excitement. I was inspired to dance with as much vigour as I've ever used in the past and finished the night exhausted and completely content, yet still wishing for more.
After dancing to three great bands at three enjoyable ceilis during three beautiful days in June, I hope I'll see Kenmare again for the third year in a row at another dancing weekend next year.
On 9th May 2003, Mattie Greene peacefully passed away in the loving care of Rosemount Nursing Home, Gort, Co Galway. Mattie was born in 1924, an only son to parents William and Kate Greene of Rahasane, Ardrahan. He had four sisters, now all deceased. As I recall my childhood days growing up in Rahasane, Mattie was a regular visitor to our home. His most treasured possession was a blue Morris Minor, EYI 4481. And thus his dancing days began, his love for the Irish music and set dancing. He had a season ticket for Seapoint in Salthill, and Sunday night would not be the same without a visit to the Warwick with his wide circle of dancing friends. He travelled far and near at the mere mention of a ceili, from Lisdoon to any part of the country! Even in his later years he continued to attend all of the ceilis up to a few months before he died. Mattie will be sadly missed by all who knew him.
"Not just today but everydayin silence we remember."
Mary Warde, Mattie's niece
A new book, A Touchstone for the Tradition by Tony Kearns and Barry Taylor, published by Brandon, tells the story of how Miltown Malbay, Co Clare, became the traditional music capital of Ireland thanks to the piper Willie Clancy and the summer school which bears his name today. The book describes the origins and development of the summer school, the music and dance classes, the students and teachers, and the school's contribution to the tradition.
Tony Kearns has spent more than a decade photographing the school and the book is lavishly illustrated with his best black and white images. The text is by Barry Taylor, a writer and academic devoted to the practice and study of traditional music, who first attended fiddle lessons at the school in 1975. The book was launched in July at the summer school and is available in bookshops throughout Ireland.
A new book by the author of Loving You in Waltz Hold [the continuing set dancing soap opera appearing exclusively in Set Dancing News magazine] is soon to be published. The Irish Dresser: A Story of Hope During the Great Hunger tells the story of a girl as she experiences famine and emigration. She finds comfort when she crawls into the old dresser beside the hearth and dreams of cakes and fairies. When her father decides they must sail to America, the dresser is one of the few possessions which accompany them. Hidden in the magical dresser on a ship to a new land, the girl lives an adventure that transforms her life and turns hope into reality.
An American with Irish ancestry, the author, Cynthia Neale has a deep interest in the Famine, and has written stories, essays and a play on the subject. A keen set dancer, she attends classes and ceilis in Boston and upstate New York, and hosts occasional ceilis at home. Her romantic fiction first appeared in Set Dancing News in 2001 and appears in nearly every issue.
For information on The Irish Dresser contact Cynthia or White Mane Publishing, P O Box 708, Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, 17257, USA (1 717 532 2237).
Set dancing at Wimbledon is now going strong
Thanks to the efforts of Margaret and John.
Moira also we must not forget,
She was the previous teacher of the set.
The Irish centre is the venue,
Long may set dancing there continue.
Danny and Bernie supply the hall
And enjoyment is had by one and all.
Classes are held every Tuesday at eight.
Many I know look forward to that date.
The usual sets are danced in this hall.
Many of the others Margaret will call.
The Sliabh gCua, Doire Colmcille and Derradda too
Are some of the other sets we also do.
At the Williamstown we do have some crack
Stripping the willow and sometimes not getting back.
Sets that were forgotten and danced in the past
Are now revived and here to last.
Many of these sets Margaret will call.
The Kilfenora is one enjoyed by all.
Attending this class is a pure delight.
Up to seven different sets are danced on the night.
The Castle or Baile Bhuirne are usually the last.
They are danced furious and fast.
The music is good, and the craic is great.
Do come early, and don't be late
If on a Tuesday you fancy a treat.
Come set dancing to Wimbleldon and move your feet.
Seamus Garry, Bristol, England
I heard Coralinky had been brushing up on her Caledonian for Miltown Malbaya. It would be nice with her, besides there would be plenty to dance with during 'Willie week'. That was not to mention the many set dancers seeking entanglements. The New Yorkers really spiced it up. I don't know if it was the way they danced. I met one of them at the bar in the L'Armwhambamba hotel. She was good fun and looked great. She was arm in arm with Clingar. I couldn't help feeling jealous and thought I'd throw a spanner in the works.
"Oh Clingar is a great dancer," she said.
"I know that and he is good at other things as well," I said.
"Like what?" she asked.
"Other skills," I said
"Other skills?" she repeated.
"Yea, more suitable to dark enviroments!" I snapped.
"I didn't hear that, I didn't hear that!" insisted Clingar.
I knew a few of the them were on the run. Sometimes it seemed everybody on the dance floor was on the run. That was from either the taxman or the second husband or wife or someone else at ceili. I was hoping I'd run into one of them myself. Clingar discussed plans with me for the night over a few scoops in a pub called 'Marrytheman' uptown Miltown Malbaya. If 'Plan A' didn't work then I would have 'Plan B' in operation. Plan B meant leaving the door unlocked in the bedroom overnight and leaving the window also a little open. I would keep a brush by the bedside in case I got the wrong sort of intruder. It never ceased to amaze me all the sleepwalking set dancers in that hotel. Well, that was according to Clingar who always booked in there and let his room number be known to a few. Word got around fast and I'm not saying I'd do as well as him with his fantastic pulling power but it would be worth a try if everything else failed. He always came down in the morning with a smile on his face and I don't think it was the smell of the Clare rashers. I would usually greet him with "Testing bed springs again? You look awfully tired!" Anyway it would be Plan A for the moment and we were dancing in the Mill. I had fallen for Coralinky at another dance in the hills.
"Gosh there's an awful lot of auld fellas down here," I said.
"Sure what do you think all us young girls have come down for!"
"Seriously though, I'm a borderline case myself."
"What age are you?" she asked.
"If you tell me yours first I'll tell you mine" I replied.
"I'd say I'm older than you."
"Fancy a breath of fresh air?" I asked.
"So long as there isn't something in that fresh air!"
We walked slowly along the narrow road in the midsummer's moonlight. Finally we came to a gate with the smell of long grass gently swaying. It was there amid the echoes of passers - by talking we embraced and had a few smackers. We thoroughly enjoyed the dark and colourful horizon as the sweet sounds of the Tulla Ceili Band flowed across the fields. Afterwards we walked back and talked of what we would be doing in twenty years time and wondering would we remember this night.
We took different partners for the Cashel Set but before it started she came over and stuck a long blade of grass behind my ear. Later I tried to catch up with her when she was leaving. Coralinky was in a rush and maybe had to meet somebody else. "It's a loose arrangement!" she shouted out the car window as she zoomed off into the night. You just can't beat these loose arrangements, can you?
Copyright © 2003 by O F Hughes
We have still been madly dancing and having a great old time [in Australia]. Bill and I manage to get up to Queensland once a year to give workshops as well as down to Victoria and then a few times a year we travel to Canberra which is much nearer to us. That is where our big National Folk Festival is held every Easter and where thousands of 'folkies' meet to catch up on the news of the previous year.
Our Canberra workshop earlier this year focussed on teaching the sets that the dancers would need to know to enjoy the ceili at the National Folk Festival. We had an eighteen piece "Canberra Ceili Band" provide the fabulous music and danced from 8pm until midnight. Sets danced included Mayo Lancers, Borlin Jenny, Kildownet Half Set, Ballyvourney Jig, South Galway, Plain and Waltz Cotillion with a Sweets of May thrown in as well as Stack of Barley, Cornrigs and the Pride of Erin. I think someone counted twenty sets at the workshop earlier that day with many more at the ceili.
As a bit of fun when we were giving our February workshops at the Yarralumla Woolshed in Canberra we 'rounded up' the dancers into various sheep pens for a photograph. It was difficult getting a good clear shot and of course I couldn't fit everyone in. The woolshed has not been used as one for many years but the smell of sheep and lanolin more than lingers!
Whilst at the National Folk Festival our dance group usually takes part in displays at the open air stage called the Piazza which is run from about 10am until 7pm each day. Apart from Irish dancers you would be able to see Scottish Country, Morris men, Scandinavian, Australian Colonial, Tango, Macedonian plus many more. Indeed in 2002 four of us women formed the "Sole Sisters" and performed Irish Step, Cape Breton Step, English Clog and Appalachian Clog. That was fun!
So, for 2003, the Sydney Irish Ceili Dancers performed an Irish wedding in 25 minutes. The bride and groom arrived on a bicycle, followed by the flower girl, we had the priest with his altar 'boys' dancing the Priest in His Boots; even the strawboys arrived to wish good luck to the happy couple! As can be seen by one of the photos we had a slightly nervous groom if the message on the soles of his shoes can be believed.
All in all we work hard at keeping the dancing alive over here which is not as easy as in Ireland. Now, if we had a few of the ceili bands over here that would make a huge difference.
I thank you once again for all the fabulous work you put into keeping us all in touch around the world.
Margaret Winnett, Bexley North, NSW, Australia
Special Olympics thanksDear Bill,
You might remember you allowed me the use of 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. You might allow me to do so again but this time to say a heartfelt thank you to all who volunteered to entertain the athletes during the games.
The response was terrific. We had a full programme and it was a wonderful success. I cannot thank all of you who volunteered enough. I know many had been involved in fund-raising in the early days, but in addition you also helped to provide Irish music and dance - giving a taste of our culture - to over 7,000 visitors during the Games themselves, and all on a voluntary basis. You know who you are - the ceili bands, the Fir agus Mna na Tithe, and all the dancers who helped the athletes take part. You made my job a pleasure and because of you I can honestly say I am proud to be Irish.
I cannot let this letter go without truly giving one gentleman a very special mention. You wouldn't believe the amount of work, time, and energy he has put into the entire venture and I would like him to know he is very much appreciated. Donncha Ó Muíneacháin, please take a bow.
It is all over now and I hope everyone who has taken part has gained as much pleasure in the experience and has as many happy memories as I feel sure the athletes have taken with them.
Ailish Finnegan, Entertainer's Manager, 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games
Connie Ryan Gathering 2003Dear Bill
The organising committee of the recent Connie Ryan Gathering would like to take this opportunity to thank all the people who attended the event in Clonoulty, Co Tipperary. All the weekend events were packed and it was yet again a great success. The Gathering was overshadowed with the death of Mrs Nora Ryan RIP, Connie's mother, two days before, but true to form the Ryan family showed their great generosity yet again and insisted the event went ahead as normal. A minute's silence was called at each ceili in Mrs Ryan's honour.
As usual the music provided by the bands at the céilithe was excellent and we say thanks to Tim Joe and Anne, the Glenside, Matt Cunningham and Danny Webster. We had very well attended workshops on Saturday and thanks to Pat Murphy and Betty McCoy. Our Fear An Tí for the Gathering was Michael Loughnane, assisted at times by various guests, and on Sunday night we had Donnacha Ó Cinnéide and Jim Doyle and again thanks for a job well done, lads.
The bands are booked for the 2004 Gathering on the 11th, 12th and 13th June, 2004, so again thanks to everyone that came along or helped in any way and we look forward to seeing you all again in 2004.
Billy Maher, Event Coordinator
Set dancing is different under the Mediterranean sun, as I learned on my first visit to Spain for the Fleadh España. The Fleadh is a week-long package holiday organised by travel agents Enjoy Travel based in Blackburn, Lancashire, England. It features all the usual attractions of a sun, sea and sand vacation, with the added bonus of set dancing morning, afternoon and night. Beginning in 1998, the first three Fleadhs were held in different resorts on mainland Spain. When it arrived on the Mediterranean island of Ibiza in 2001 the Fleadh found its ideal setting and has stayed ever since, growing in popularity each year. This year nearly 1,200 exiles took part, two-thirds from Ireland and a third from Britain, most on a return visit.
The exodus took place on Sunday 27 April when three flights left Dublin, two from Manchester and two from Gatwick. The festive atmosphere began at the airport check in and gate as hundreds of dancers met with great anticipation and high expectations for their holiday. My flight was routine, just slightly delayed and one of the last to arrive in Ibiza. After collecting our bags, we were directed to coaches waiting just outside the airport doors. We travelled forty minutes to the hotel where we queued under an hour to check in. Having arrived at Dublin airport around midday for the scheduled 2.30pm flight, by 9pm Spanish time I was in my room, and a very nice room it was too.
I immediately left for the dining room to catch dinner before the restaurant closed at 9.30. The choices on offer were highly tempting and I filled my plate for an eagerly awaited feed. After a brief rest back in my room, I set out for the hotel ballroom for the opening ceili. The Glenside Ceili Band had just started the last set when I arrived, so my first dance was postponed till the next day.
The next morning I set out after breakfast to explore my new home. We were located on the western coast of Ibiza, on a small spit of land surrounded by the Mediterranean on three sides. I was staying at the Aura Hotel, a newer twelve-building complex of small suites with outdoor entrances. Directly adjacent was the larger Seaview Country Club, half a dozen buildings with standard-style hotel rooms accessible by indoor corridors. The Fleadh filled these two hotels and part of a third complex ten minutes walk away.
The Seaview was the main hotel where nearly all events took place. In the middle of the complex was a large area facing the sea with a pool, café, stage, wooden dance floor and plenty of seating. Beyond the hotel buildings at the end of the tiny peninsula were peaceful and private gardens used regularly for music and singing sessions. There was an interesting collection of desert and semi-tropical plants, and many birds and tiny lizards inhabited them.
The Spanish-style buildings of the Aura Hotel were pleasantly surrounded and covered by plants and flowers. Here too was an open area for sunning and swimming, but as there were no events here, apart from a late night session in the bar, it was a quieter place to do them. Both hotels were connected by a passage and participants could freely wander between them. Other outdoor amenities included tennis courts, a football pitch and a children's playground.
Just outside the main door and down a passage was a small public beach popular with locals and visitors. On the street were a tourist shop and a grocery, both charging very reasonable prices. Nearly everyone visited the grocery daily to buy bottled water, as we were strongly advised not to drink the tap water. I tasted it once and found it reminiscent of sea water, but suffered no ill effects. Further shopping was available twenty minutes walk away, and a bit further away in the town of San Antonio via taxi, bus and boat. There was a rental car and motorbike office opposite the hotel, and bicycles could be hired from reception.
When I went down to the outdoor dancing at the Seaview on a beautiful Monday morning, Frank Keenan from Co Kildare was teaching the Cúchulainn Set from Co Louth, my first time seeing it. The moves were easy yet interesting, the pace relaxed. The floor was packed with dancers getting their first taste of sun and sets. There was a special treat when we danced the set to live music by several Louth musicians, including one lad who played with the Cúchulainn Ceili Band in the fifties. Mickey Kelly continued after the lunch break with the Louisburgh Set and a selection of two-hand dances. The Glenside Ceili Band took to the stage for the afternoon ceili which finished just before dinner. This routine was followed most of the week, with two-hour workshops before and after lunch, followed by a two-hour ceili finishing up at 6pm. Frank, Mickey and a few guest teachers shared the workshops, and the Glenside, Davey and Heather Breeze bands played in rotation for the ceili.
It was at the outdoor daytime dances, particularly the afternoon ceili, that I realised we were a long way from home. In Ireland there are unwritten rules about clothes and hygiene that keep everyone comfortable with each other while dancing. When dancing at home, hands and arms are the only flesh in direct contact - shoulders and backs are usually shielded by clothes. Not so in Ibiza, where many ladies and gents danced in swimwear, bringing us all that tiny bit closer together. And usually every square inch of exposed flesh was copiously lubricated with sun cream, forcing us to dance with care to avoid slipping out of contact. I found the reduced friction especially useful when turning a lady under my finger.
While this style of dancing may have felt slightly different at first, it soon became just part of the fun of being on holiday. When you're dancing, nothing else matters. Young or old, large or small, tanned or pale, everyone dressed for warm weather comfort without inhibition. The only clothing that remained unchanged from home were the regulation black dance shoes worn even in the blazing sun. Other essential items were sunglasses and a hat, though I found that when I was fully fitted out with all my holiday gear, friends sometimes had trouble recognising me!
Dinner was served from 6.30 to 9.30pm every evening in enormous restaurants in all the hotels. I was able to eat in either the busy Seaview or the quieter Aura - the food was excellent and much the same in both. The huge range of dishes available in the help-yourself buffet had something for everyone. Several choices of meat, fish, vegetables and potatoes were served, plus soups, salads, rice and bread. There was a grill where a chef cooked fresh meat or fish while you waited. Cake, puddings, fruit, melon and ice cream were offered for dessert. You could take as much as you wanted and go back for more. Drinks had to be purchased from the staff; no coffee or tea were available in the restaurant.
Birthdays and anniversaries were often celebrated at dinner. The staff arranged and decorated tables especially for the party, which was sometimes held in a room to the side. At one double birthday party the dancers bought a cake in town, and the restaurant manager himself brought it to the table and presented it to the happy celebrants.
Breakfast wasn't as sumptuous as dinner, but the choice was good, everything from the continental style to a full Irish breakfast. Lunch was not included in the package and could be obtained inexpensively at a good café by the Seaview pool. It was open most of the day and served tea, coffee, sandwiches, ice cream and other snacks. Some rooms in the hotels had kitchens - people staying in them looked after their own breakfasts, took dinner in the restaurant and benefited from a slight reduction in the holiday cost.
After dinner, there was nightly dancing from 9pm to 1am in the Seaview ballroom. The hotel's ground floor, every inch of it covered in polished marble, stretched a long distance from reception, through the lounge, past the bar and restaurant entrance, finishing up in the ballroom. This was a long narrow room with a bar at the back, the stage in the far distance and two rows of broad pillars in between. The pillars reduced visibility so that the band on stage could only be seen in the centre third of the room, which is where the dancing took place. The two thirds on either side were filled with chairs and tables, with plenty of seating for everyone.
Entry to the ceili was through just one door, and it was the only place where the Fleadh badges were inspected. Every participant was issued with a named and numbered badge before departure, white for those staying one week, and yellow for those lucky folk remaining for a second week. We were under strict instructions to carry the badge at all times and they could be spotted dangling from shirts, belts, hats and swimming costumes. With everyone's name clearly printed on them, they were a handy way of making acquaintances and identifying people.
Two of the three ceili bands shared the music for the night-time ceili, two hours each with a changeover at 11pm. Each band was excellent and had its own distinctive sound - Heather Breeze from Mayo with their smooth, danceable and timelessly traditional music; the Glenside Ceili Band from Longford have a lively, "chunky" sound and a strong rapport with the dancers; and the Davey Ceili Band play a unique selection of tunes with dazzling virtuosity and style. Every set was called by Mickey Kelly, the "godfather" of set dancing from Co Mayo, or by Frank Keenan from Co Kildare, who had a beautifully restrained manner with the microphone.
We were back in familiar Irish territory at the night-time ceilis. The sun cream was showered off and the swimwear replaced by the usual dresses, shirts and trousers. The hard marble floor made no difference to the dancers, who attacked it just the same as if it were timber, though any battering was totally silent. Ventilation was scarce so a dense atmosphere developed from all the hot, perspiring bodies, with perhaps as many as thirty sets at peak times. Relief was available in the cool night air on the outdoor floor just beside the ballroom, where the music was piped through a speaker. It took a while for the sets to move out here, with hardly one or two to start, but there could be as many as ten. At midnight the speaker was unplugged so everyone had to return to the ballroom to continue dancing. One night a set was called and three sets had formed outside when the music was switched off, so they quickly had to run inside and find themselves a place.
Also at night there was ballroom dancing by the main hotel bar, and after the ceili finished you could dance here for another hour. Music was by P J Murrihy and Seamus Shannon and other bands. The bar in the Aura Hotel hosted popular music and singing sessions each evening from 10pm lasting till the small hours of the morning. There was also late music in a basement bar below the ballroom which began after the ceili.
The daily programme was ideally timed to suit set dancers. Breakfast was served till 10.30am so you could have a good lie in without going hungry. Early risers could avail of Mass every day at 10am. Dancing began at the civilised hour of 11am, but it never mattered when you showed up. All the events were usually scheduled in two hour slots, just long enough to learn a set or two at the workshops, and a handy amount of time for a ceili in the hot Ibiza sun. There was time for a rest and a leisurely dinner before resuming dancing at 9pm. A 1am finish allowed a good night's sleep, or a chance to get some late music.
In addition, there were numerous other activities which would take you out of the hotel for a day. A ceili cruise of the island in the company of the Glenside Ceili Band and 200 others took place on Wednesday. There was music, a bit of dancing and I heard there was a bit of diving too. Several bottles of champagne were tossed overboard, and anyone who dived down to retrieve a bottle could keep it. Independent travellers hired cars, motorbikes and bicycles and took taxis and buses to the nearby town of San Antonio, the main town of Ibiza and the rest of the island. A handy €5 boat to San Antonio left hourly from the beach just outside the hotel.
The workshops were well supported all week with an interesting selection of sets and other dances. Frank Keenan had two rarely seen sets, the Cúchulainn, which he taught on Monday, and the Kildare, a typical Munster-style polka set which we learned on Wednesday. He explained how people from around Ireland came to Kildare in the twenties to work in the bogs and danced this set at the camps. Frank's sets were popular with the dancers who requested them to be repeated at a workshop on Friday morning and at some of the ceilis.
Mickey Kelly had two new Mayo sets to show, the Louisburgh on Monday and the Skirdagh on Tuesday morning. By special request he showed the Kilfenora Set on Thursday afternoon. Mickey also included a selection of two-hand dances and waltzes at all his workshops, sometimes devoting a full two-hour session to them. These included the Military Two-step, the Polly Glide and the Pride of Erin, St Bernard and Sweetheart waltzes. The floor appeared to be fuller for these dances than for the sets.
Clement Gallagher from Donegal taught ceili dancing at some of the workshops. On Tuesday afternoon he did the Morris Reel, and at the end of a couple workshops taught the Two-hand Reel, Jig and Hornpipe.
The Dublin Set emerged from obscurity during the week, thanks to Kaye Treacy. Sean Clerkin and a group of his young dancers on the Navan Road devised it in 1988 for the Dublin millennium with figures that depict scenes from Dublin's history. Kaye has been teaching it recently at her classes in Dublin, and when I said I'd never seen it she invited me to watch her dancers perform it. On a very high Seaview balcony on Tuesday evening Kaye and her team danced it to music played on flute by her husband Paddy. The set is intricate and elaborate with interesting moves that serious dancers would delight in learning. Fortunately, Kaye was able to teach it at the Friday morning workshop, though the hour she had available wasn't enough time to do the set justice. She volunteered to teach it again that night before the ceili and five or six very keen sets danced it in the twilight.
The afternoon schedule varied during the week to accommodate other events. On Wednesday, there was a large open session in place of the workshop, with dozens of musicians and singers. At the same time in the hotel there was a bit of impromptu ceili and old-time dancing with box player Danny Webster from Tipperary. Then following the outdoor ceili the crowd shifted around to the pool behind the stage for an aquatic waltz competition hosted by Mickey Kelly. The two-dozen competing couples were required to waltz in water deep enough to reach the knees. John Davey, the Davey Ceili Band's leader and pianist, remained on stage after the ceili to play a rake of waltzes without being able to see any of the action. The winning couple was duly selected by the adjudicator and interviewed by Mickey.
There wasn't a ceili on Thursday afternoon - instead we danced to the music of P J Murrihy and Seamus Shannon to give the ballroom dancers a chance at the outdoor floor. There were plenty of lovely songs for waltzes, quicksteps and jives, plus some two-hand dances and a set. Rosie Stewart from Fermanagh joined them on stage for a few songs at the end, her earthy voice quite a contrast to the mellow singing of P J and Seamus.
After that, we once again went around behind the stage for the swimming pool set dancing competition, an eagerly anticipated event. Close to a dozen sets arranged themselves in the pool and were in such a state of tension waiting to begin that water battles broke out spontaneously between them - very different to the patience normally exhibited on dry land. Tom Flood of the Glenside Ceili Band provided the music and the competitors danced all four figures of the Connemara Set. After three figures the judges had seen enough to choose seven ladies and a gent from Ballinasloe, Co Galway, as the best of a good lot.
On Friday afternoon a talent competition lasted all afternoon with 43 participants over four hours. Pat Jordan and Finian's Rainbow were there to emcee and provide backing for the competitors, and began by singing for a few dances. Anyone could get up to do a party piece - you just had to add your name to a list, though this was eventually closed to keep the contest from continuing past 6pm. We watched singers, storytellers, poets, musicians, actors, and all kinds of dancers - set dancing, of course, plus trad and modern step, sean nós, line, clap and brush dancing, usually with music kindly provided by Tom Flood. One brave group performed the Dublin Set which they'd only just learned at the morning workshop. The winners were three comedians who portrayed country people in amusing conversation, complete with bicycles. They produced the biggest laugh and applause of the afternoon simply by cycling around the dance floor.
The nightly ceilis in the ballroom continued all week without interruption. Clare and Mayo sets predominated, with a few other counties represented by the Cashel, Ballyvourney and Connemara, plus some of the sets covered in the workshops. There were a few other specialties during the week. The South Galway Set made several welcome appearances, Jim MacCormack from London twice called the Ballycommon Set from his native Tipperary and I recall a couple of Sliabh Luachra Sets. We danced the High-cauled Cap almost daily, always combined with a non-stop Caledonian for those who preferred a set.
There were special performances during the 11pm break when the bands changed over. On Tuesday, the Slate Quarry Dancers from Co Kilkenny performed three figures of the Kilkenny Lancers, as they've done for several years at the Fleadh. Their performance was hugely entertaining for the vigour of the dancers, especially so in the hornpipe figure where each gent danced with every lady. As he finished dancing with a lady, the gent threw her back to place with astonishing force. In one case the receiving gent was knocked back when his lady was delivered and they both lost their footing. Luckily there was a cushioning crowd of spectators behind them to keep them off the floor. By popular demand the performance was repeated on Friday night.
Strawboys from Fermanagh performed in Wednesday's break, with a mixture of dance, song and story, and there was similar traditional entertainment on Thursday by a group of mummers from Mayo. The mummers acted out a comic story with an ugly bride and groom, pulling members of the audience into the show to liven it up. I was amused to see the groom fall to the floor, seemingly unconscious, when a helpful fellow from the audience came over to administer mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Miraculously, just before their mouths made contact the groom shot up in a flash!
On Friday night I missed the half-time performance because I was engaged for the old-time waltzing competition held at the ballroom dancing stage by the hotel bar. This was run in three heats with around twenty couples in each. My partner and I had a lovely dance in the second heat, but weren't among the chosen few to get called back for the final. The winners, Seamus Butler from Co Roscommon and his partner Martina Mallon from Sligo, were applauded later by everyone in the ballroom where they demonstrated their winning form to music by the Davey Ceili Band.
Participants in the fancy dress parade, including the winner (first photo), Olive Oyl and Popeye, Weapons of Mass Destruction and Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.
Saturday was the last full day of the Fleadh, the climax to the week, and there was an air of excitement all day. Mickey Kelly was out at the morning workshop with more two-hand dancing. The afternoon ceili with the Davey Ceili Band was shifted forward to run from 2 to 4pm to leave the rest of the afternoon free for what was probably the best event of the whole week.
The fancy dress competition has been an increasingly popular feature of previous Fleadhs, so much so that it outgrew the ballroom where it was previously held. This year it was in the spacious comfort and brilliant afternoon sunlight on the outdoor dance floor, and what a sight it was! The costumed participants gathered themselves together a distance away while a big crowd assembled around the floor. To make their entrance, the fancy dressers followed a circuitous route round the back of the pool, over a little water bridge and emerged beside the stage, led by an enormous leprechaun. The costume parade seemed to last forever, with so many in it that it must have taken ten minutes for them all to arrive.
Individually the costumes were beautiful, mysterious and hilarious, and once they were all together on the floor the effect was overwhelming. We marvelled at them with childish delight and they beamed at us with the greatest of pleasure and pride. The atmosphere was truly electric and cameras were popping all around. There were country bumpkins, household appliances, cartoon characters, gender reversals, weapons of mass destruction, pregnant ladies and many more. Some were beautifully executed with a great deal of work, others were more quickly assembled, and all who took part are to be congratulated. My personal favourites were Popeye and Olive Oyl, looking as if they'd walked straight out of the comic strip!
The contest was judged by members of the hotel staff chosen specifically for their objectivity, and their winner was a twelve-foot high construction of boxes, bin liners, Astroturf, bamboo, posters and feathers, advertising the Fleadh and future holidays to Greece and Australia. There was some trouble getting the winner on stage, as the outfit was so tall it scraped the roof. Gerry Flynn, the main organiser of the Fleadh, tried to show who was inside, but the costume's construction didn't allow for easy opening. On interrogation, the costume revealed himself as Tony Kearney of Southampton, England, who also won last year.
Everyone, costumed or not, continued on a high once the fancy dress competition was over and danced to Pat Jordan and Kieran's music till 6pm when Mass was held in the ballroom. The service was a memorial to deceased members of the set dancing community with music and songs by talented members of the congregation.
Saturday was a day of photographs, as people took pictures of their Fleadh friends and groups posed for portraits. Group loyalty is strong among set dancers, who closely identify with their friends, locality and county. However, I found the Fleadh remarkable for the way it brought people together from so many corners of the Irish world and made friends of us all. People who met only rarely or never even laid eyes on each other before were dancing, eating and talking together on a daily basis as friends. The distance that normally keeps us apart was irrelevant on Ibiza.
The Fleadh also performs a useful service by bringing dancers and non-dancers together. Back home most set dancing events are of little interest to non-dancers, but the Fleadh's appeal is broader than that. It allowed us to meet the rarely seen spouses of a few dancers, and the parents, siblings and children of others. Couples who are seldom seen at ceilis at home since becoming parents were able to enjoy themselves fully here as a family and among friends. The Seaview and Aura Hotels are perfectly suited for holidays with children.
The festive spirit continued at dinner in the restaurant where at least three parties in the Seaview celebrated birthdays and anniversaries. It was a night of high enjoyment at the ceili in the ballroom, with Heather Breeze and the Glenside Ceili Band closing out the week. There had been a raffle every night, and tonight's raffle offered a big prize of a three-week Australian holiday for two. The person with the winning ticket, Geraldine Cantillon from Limerick, walked up to the stage not sure what it was she was winning, and had a bit of a shock when she learned the truth. Soon she was showing her delight with a broad smile as her celebrating friends carried her around the floor. There was an extra hour of dancing as the ceili finished at 2am.
Sunday was a day for travel for most of the participants. I was on an evening flight so once I vacated my room and stored my bags in the hotel reception I had a few hours to relax. My airport coach was scheduled to depart at 5.30pm, so I showed up around 5 to wait at the main entrance. Both my coach and flight were subject to long delays and it was only at 2am Irish time that I left Dublin airport, pleased with my special holiday, but glad to be back home.
The Fleadh was a welcome break from the usual, a chance to experience our favourite Irish pastime in an environment totally dedicated to pleasure. Dancing is a bit different in constant dry, warm and sunny weather, and the people and enjoyment are unchanged from home. The holiday is ideally suited for sun-loving set dancers, but you don't have to be a set dancer to have a good time here. Non-dancers, ballroom dancers, beginners, musicians and music lovers enjoyed themselves as much as we did. The hotels were first rate, with good rooms, excellent service and delicious food. The week's organisation has been developed to a fine art by Gerry Flynn and his Enjoy Travel team, and all aspects of it operated smoothly. Staff were easily visible and available at all hours for questions, problems and requests. For most of the hundreds of participants, the Fleadh España is their favourite set dancing event of the year.
The Fleadh returns to Ibiza next April - see Fleadh Ibiza for more information. The Autumn Fleadh in Rhodes, Greece, is fully booked. A three-week tour to Australia is also being planned for 2004.
The holiday in IbizaThe holiday in Ibiza is something to remember.
There was plenty room for dancing
On the flag floors or on timber.
The music was sensational, everybody got their wishes.
You could dance around the swimming pool,
Or have a session in the bushes!
The sets in the pool they took some beating
With Kelly shouting,
"Knee deep and no cheating!"
The songs and recitations were entertainment at its best.
I'm sure people are still laughing
About the dog called Sex!
Thank God for all the characters
Which made the holiday so enjoyable.
Long may they live.
Sheila Carty, Streatham, London
A second week of music and dance called Ireland in the Sun followed Fleadh España, with a greater emphasis on ballroom dancing. Set Dancing News was there thanks to Joan Pollard Carew.
As the many of the Fleadh España holidaymakers departed from the sunny Mediterranean shores on Sunday 4th May, those lucky enough to stay for the following week began enjoying the 'Ireland in the Sun' festival.
That afternoon one of the neighbouring towns, Santa Eularia, began a festival of Spanish culture. On invitation from the hotel management a group of set dancers led by Bobby and Frank Keenan and Tom Flood and Tom Skellig from the Glenside Céilí Band travelled the 25km by coach to take part in the festivities. We discovered on arrival that the festival was not scheduled to get underway until later on Sunday evening.
Irish people by their very nature can have a hooley any time and any place and Santa Eularia was no exception. The boys set up the music and two sets tapped out the Connemara Set and the High-Cauled Cap in the market place while the Spanish stall owners enjoyed siesta time. When the market place began to open, our dancing space on the paved market street became reduced as onlookers began to show more interest in the goods in the stalls, so we moved on across the street to the town hall. Once more musicians and dancers set up and the Plain Set was danced. We sat in an English owned sea front restaurant and enjoyed snacks and beverages and the relaxed atmosphere of a Spanish afternoon sun. We returned back to the Seaview Country Club just after 7.30, relaxed and excited by our venture.
Dancers who remained at the hotel danced the early afternoon away to recorded music. With Mickey Kelly as tutor the dancers enjoyed two-hand dances and sets alike. By dinnertime most of the holidaymakers and musicians for the Ireland in the Sun festival had arrived.
The venues in the hotel for the week were the ballroom and the cellar bar. Sunday night got off to a good start with Dermot Hegarty and Trudy Lalor in the ballroom, while Seamus Shannon and P J Murrihy played in the cellar bar and included the Caledonian and Connemara sets in their selection of dances.
On Monday morning beside the pool, the great tutor and ambassador of dance, Mickey Kelly, gave a workshop in two-hand dances by popular demand. I was privileged to be Mickey's partner for that morning. He taught the Pride of Erin and Saint Bernard Waltz and finished with the Peeler and the Goat. Many participants had not danced them before but as usual with his gentle prompting and individual attention Mickey had everyone at ease and enjoying the dances. The morning concluded with nine sets on the wooden floor in fantastic sunshine dancing the Plain Set.
Monday night in the main ballroom Mary Darcy, the Tom Healy Band and Art Supple performed as dancers enjoyed modern and old time dancing. Looking around, most set dancers were happy to waltz, quickstep and tango the night away. The night concluded in the cellar bar with Eoin Condon on the accordion. Eoin played the Plain, Castle and Connemara sets. Set dancers had renewed energies as this young brilliant box player doled out reels, jigs, hornpipe and polkas to make your heart sing.
Tuesday morning the scheduled set dance workshop by the pool had to be cancelled due to inclement weather. On my way to breakfast at 8.30 Gerry Flynn and his team were busy covering the wooden floor, to protect it from the threatening rain.
By 11.30 Gerry had secured the ballroom for our set dancing workshop. Frank Keenan workshopped the Glencree Set from County Wicklow, a lovely easygoing polka set. Frank began the workshop teaching basic polka steps. Some participants were taking their first set dancing workshop, but there were plenty experienced dancers in the twelve sets on the floor. Dancers were advised of a four-hour céilí in the ballroom in the afternoon starting at 2pm.
The crowd began to gather just before 2 and by 2.15 we had ten sets on the floor for the Connemara set. Frank Keenan called figures and reminders as the crowd grew to fifteen sets for the remainder of the evening. After a short break of ten minutes at 4pm the céilí resumed with Mickey Kelly as master of ceremonies. As rain lashed against the windowpanes, the scene was more reminiscent of Spanish Point and the Armada Hotel in July. Nothing could dampen the spirits of the dancers or musicians. The brilliant Longford men and the beautiful Liz of the Glenside played their hearts out for the enthusiastic dancers. Modern, country and Irish style dancers enjoyed the comforts of the lounge area and the brilliant music of numerous artists including Curtis McGee and P J Murrihy. Despite the inclement weather there was a distinct festival atmosphere.
Sunday night in the ballroom and the cellar bar had set a precedent for the remainder of the week. Mega artists including Dermot Hegarty, Pat Jordan, Tom Healy, Curtis McGee, Alana, Art Supple, Mary Darcy, Trudi Lalor, Eon Condon, P J Murrihy and Seamus Shannon all graced the stages at least once in the night. Set dancers headed for the cellar bar, after twelve o'clock, as they were sure of a few sets with the many talented musicians. No night passed without at least three sets being danced in the cosy cellar.
Wednesday morning we were back by the pool in brilliant sunshine. Mickey Kelly began at 11am with a beginner's class in steps for the Connemara and Newport sets, and also the hornpipe steps in the Castle Set. Mickey concluded the morning workshop with the Mayo Lancers Set.
Before the afternoon workshop the great boss himself, Gerry Flynn, and Noel Ryan attended any loose boards on the wooden floor caused by Tuesday's rain. With Mickey Kelly as tutor once more dancers crowded on to the floor for a fabulous two-hand dance called the Breakaway Blues, to the tune of Roaming in the Gloaming. The Pride of Erin, St Bernard and Sweetheart waltzes also featured. Fifteen sets enjoyed yet another outdoor céilí, with our resident band for this week, the mighty Glenside, on stage. The grand finale of the afternoon was when two Sligo ladies, Helen Kilgallen and Vera Meehan, gave a demonstration of the Clap Dance.
Thursday morning Frank Keenehan taught the Cúchulainn Set. Many in attendance had danced this the previous week but were delighted to dance it again. The workshop concluded with a nice two-hand dance demonstrated by Mick and Kay Doyle, called the Fermanagh Highland. Everyone present attempted this simple little dance.
Set dancers once again convened in the ballroom for the afternoon céilí. Shane Ryan, nephew of the late great Connie Ryan, enthralled everyone when invited by Mickey Kelly to demonstrate his unique sean nós style dancing. As set dancers wallowed in céilí music, modern style dancers danced outside on the wooden floor in the warm afternoon sunshine.
On Friday we had to forfeit our céilí as the Glenside band accompanied the boat trippers. Nonetheless we had plenty to occupy us with Mickey Kelly once more at the helm for the Roscahill Set and finishing with the three most popular waltzes of the festival, the Sweetheart, Pride of Erin and St. Bernard. Mary Cregg from Co Roscommon gave us a treat with a few Connemara sean nós steps. She gave credit to her tutors for these steps, the great Pádraic Ó hOibicín in Connemara and Brenda O'Callaghan from Co Sligo.
The country 'n' Irish holidaymakers had their talent show in the afternoon in brilliant sunshine. Many set dancers also participated in this wonderful display of talent.
Saturday morning Frank Keenan taught the Killyon Set from Co Offaly. Frank used some recorded music by Offaly musician Sean Norman for this workshop. Frank was delighted to include mother and daughter Della and Aoife Horan from Co Offaly in the demonstration set. Aoife's sister Caroline and dad Pat had also come on holiday. Pat is a shy dancer Della told me. His interest lies in hurling and he's a well-known hurling referee. Mother and daughters are brilliant dancers. Nice to se young teenagers involved in dancing and encouraged by parents.
At 12.30 local dancers from Ibiza visited the hotel to demonstrate their own traditional dancing, reputed to be the oldest form of dancing in the world. They chose to demonstrate a special traditional wedding dance. The bride wore a white dress with twelve layers, one for every month of the year. All the ladies wore numerous solid gold chains over their costumes. These chains have been passed down through generations, from grandmother to granddaughter. Sequences of the dance were called Windmill, The Line, and the final dance, The Nine Roués. This final dance is to ensure that the girl getting married is worthy of her groom. A group of Irish set dancers led by Frank and Bobby Keenan danced the second figure of the Connemara Set. Gerry Flynn presented the Spanish dancers with a Fleadh T-shirt as a token of thanks.
Saturday evening in the scorching sunshine set dancers and modern and country and western dancers mingled and danced to brilliant music. Some set dancers revisited their interest in modern dancing while modern dancers vowed to attend set dancing on returning home.
Dancing that night was as usual in the ballroom, with the fancy dress parade at 10.30pm. P J Murrihy was announced as the winner. However he very graciously declined to claim the prize and requested that it be given to Duncan Hayes from London who was wheelchair bound and representing the Wheelchair Association of Britain. The big raffle prize of a two-week holiday went to Michael McKeown from Manchester, and a one-week holiday for the next Ireland in the Sun went to Oxford lady Kathleen Heart. The night concluded at 2am on Sunday morning with all artists and musicians gracing the ballroom stage in turn.
Another fantastic festival had come to an end. The second week had worked out exceptionally well for set dancers. The numerous ceilis held were way beyond my expectations. Full marks to Gerry Flynn and his team and many thanks for the several impromptu set dancing sessions. Thanks also to the musicians especially the fantastic Glenside Céilí Band.
I can hardly wait for next year and I definitely will be booking two weeks again.
Joan Pollard Carew
Ibiza, time twoHere's to Ibiza two years in a row
With Mickey and Maureen and all in neat tow.
The bus trip to Dublin was not for the weak
It required strong kidneys or there could be a leak.
We came from all over to dance at the Fleadh
To sing, have the craic or act the galah.
There were teachers most earnest and pupils alert
Some came with friends, others to flirt.
Then into bikinis, sun chairs or the pool
Going home with a tan is considered quite cool.
Alas for most figures the food was a problem
Such tempting varieties led to much gobblin'.
In musical matters we were spoilt for choice
By fiddles or flutes or the dear human voice.
Accordions, tin whistles and banjos galore.
Bodhrans too added to the score.
Bands were abundant, masters of art
Their skills so fine-tuned captivated each heart.
We were there for two weeks but they flew like a dream
Ibiza time two was really the cream.
So here's to Ibiza or wherever next time.
One thing is sure they'll choose a good clime.
The organisers now have it down to a T
The truth of the word: they are the key.
Julia Fitzgerald, Balla, Co Mayo
Ibiza MassSinging dancers singing
Mass in the Ibiza sun
Bring back to me
May days of fun.
Bring flowers of the rarest
Of family gone
You bring them back to me
In your song.
Round and round the old church in Knock
I walk with them again
Praying in the rain
Singing in the sun
Dancing in the ceilis of Ibiza.
Alex Reid, Rossylongan, Donegal Town
Directly across the ocean from Ireland are the Atlantic Provinces of Canada, which have strong cultural links to Ireland and Britain. The transatlantic connection may have begun as early as the sixth century ad when St Brendan, an abbot from Tralee, is thought to have made a seven-year voyage by curragh and landed in Newfoundland, where an island bears his name today. In the centuries since Brendan, many more have made the journey and settled in the new world, bringing along their music and dance. These traditions are very much alive today, most famously in Cape Breton, the rugged eastern part of Nova Scotia, with its thriving and popular Scottish-style music.
Irish set dancing is a relatively recent arrival in this part of Canada, practiced by dedicated dancers in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, and in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Since 1997 the Halifax dancers have hosted a set dancing weekend every Easter, bringing together friends from the region, North America and Europe. I was delighted to make my first visit to Canada and attend the weekend from the 18th to the 21st of April.
The Nova Scotia countryside is a vast pine wilderness, empty and unspoilt, from what I could see on the 25-mile journey from the airport. Halifax is the province's capital and the largest Canadian city this side of Quebec City, 400 miles to the west. It's an important military and commercial port on a long Atlantic inlet which is one of the finest harbours in the world. It was the nearest port to the Titanic sinking, where survivors first reached land and where many of the victims are buried. The city suffered its own disaster in 1917 when two ships collided in the harbour, one loaded with munitions, resulting in the largest man-made explosion before the atomic era. 2,000 were killed and a large area was levelled.
I saw the city on an evening tour led by local dancer Dan Deslauriers, who described every famous and infamous sight in amusing detail. It felt like a quiet, relaxed and spacious town. On an outing to the coast with Sue Hill from neighbouring Dartmouth, there was more pine forest, which was gradually replaced by bog and rock the nearer we got to the Atlantic. It had some of the austere, bleak beauty of Connemara. The weather was sunny but cold and wintry, quite a contrast to the early summer I left behind in Ireland.
On the evening of Good Friday, I was back in familiar territory when we got down to the more important matter of dancing. We met in Titanic House, a Victorian mansion in the posh part of town, built by the only Haligonian to lose his life on the Titanic. The rooms were elegant and cosy, with just enough space for the five sets of dancers attending. Around three of the sets were local dancers, and the rest came from Prince Edward Island, Québec, Ontario, Maine, New York and even a visitor from Luxembourg. The guest of honour was teacher Pat Murphy, who's been here so often that he's nearly one of the locals.
Rather than wait for the absent musicians, we began dancing the Plain Set to a particularly fast recording for some brilliant fun. When the musicians arrived, we continued dancing while they set up beside us. I thought the pace might slow down a notch when they began playing, but it was even faster! Quick music is one of the characteristics of the local style and it made for great dancing. There were no bands during weekend, just informal groups of musicians, most of whom were also dancers and they'd take a break for a set occasionally. The standard of dancing was excellent so no calling was required.
On Saturday everyone reconvened in Titanic House for Pat Murphy's workshop, which covered the Tory Island, Kilfenora and Louisburgh sets. Everyone was attentive and enthusiastic. There was a long lunch to allow us a relaxed meal downtown. I spent so much time wandering the streets that I was late back and missed my chance to dance in the demonstration set for the Kilfenora - which was just as well since a set with three Bills in it might have been too confusing for Pat.
While most of the ladies here are well able to dance the gent, genuine male gents are in short supply. One lady used a novel way to engage one for the workshop - she arranged a blind date. The poor fellow arrived bright and early before his partner, probably unaware of what was in store for him. He'd never danced a step but gamely stuck with it most of the day, generating great hilarity among the others in his set, only to vanish after the workshop, never to be seen again. The Halifax ladies have strict rules regarding visiting gents, the main one being, "You brought him - you dance with him!" However, if he demonstrates an ability to dance, then he must be shared with all the ladies.
Our final event in Titanic House was the Saturday night ceili with the same group of musicians as on Friday. Everyone was having so much fun dancing I thought it might be a good time to try a few of the bad habits I've picked up at ceilis in Ireland. Before the second figure of the Lancers I explained how to do the "train" - while the leading gent turns his lady four times, the lady to their left leads the others, hands held, through the arch. In some parts of Ireland, particularly in the midlands, this has become almost standard. The Haligonians enjoyed the craic.
The other embellishment I tried was the "polka shout", as I've called it, heard in the last figure of the Corofin, but no one seemed to share my enthusiasm for it. I did notice a special Halifax shout which occurred at the end of each figure - one shout at the last eight bars and a double shout four bars later. At first, its only practitioner was Dan Deslauriers, but after hearing it all weekend, the rest of the dancers tried it too. We could never match Dan's perfect timing and so ended up sounding like a pack of excited dogs in a kennel. I thought it was a spontaneous demonstration of his dancing pleasure at the climax of a figure, and was only slightly disappointed to realise it was just a clever signal to the musicians to stop playing.
I was spotted messing about by one lady who asked me for the Connemara and made an explicit warning that she was a troublemaker. I took this as a challenge, a battle of the messers, and cheered on by a small band of spectators we tried to outdo each other. It was a set not to be forgotten, except that I don't remember the specifics. I do recall that at one point I contrived to swap places with the opposite lady and so ended up dancing with Pat Murphy, while his partner got landed with mine. This caught everyone by surprise, including myself when I realised I couldn't dance around the house as a lady.
The Halifax dancers demonstrated their mastery of Irish dancing when nine of them including two gents did the Job of Journeywork, a traditional solo step dance. However, when there was a request for a waltz I was amazed to see just three couples on the floor, all visitors. Pat demonstrated his versatility too when he spotted an idle accordion and an empty musician's seat and played with the others for a set. The ceilis began at 8pm and ended by midnight on both nights in deference to the residents upstairs. There was no tea break, but dancers brought drinks and snacks which were freely shared with all, and there was plenty of time between sets to grab something.
Easter Sunday began in the Old Triangle, an Irish pub in downtown Halifax which has become the second home for most of the dancers and musicians. A few even stopped here on the way home from the ceilis. There's nightly live music and dancing every Sunday afternoon. We gathered for brunch as soon as it opened at noon, more than thirty, and ate very well. One of the motives for this was to claim as much floor space as possible for dancing. After eating, we moved most of the tables and chairs aside which wouldn't have been so easy if non-dancing customers had occupied them.
Once again we began dancing to tapes until the musicians were welcomed to their seats. The lead musician at all the ceilis was Kevin Roach who played his fiddle with a bold, strident sound characteristic of Nova Scotia music, changing tunes often. It was no problem for him keeping a dancers' pace; in fact he outpaced us for every figure. He was accompanied by three or four other players without amplification, so the best place to dance was directly beside them. The third set by the wall had trouble hearing, and I don't know how the fourth set which appeared on the other side of the room for the final Plain Set managed at all! A brilliant afternoon was had by everyone.
John Brett and Mern O'Brien hosted a kitchen party at their house in the wooded outskirts of Halifax on Sunday night. They had an immaculate and tastefully decorated house with beautiful, gleaming wooden floors. To keep them gleaming, there was a square of linoleum taped down for dancing. We got up for a set only occasionally, even though there was superb music all night by two women playing fiddle and piano. They swapped places regularly, both excellent players on both instruments, a perfect combination and typical of the local music.
Nova Scotia has its own set, and five couples, all ladies, danced it at the party. I noticed that the music continued after the figures ended, and the dancers clapped hands till the musicians became embarrassed enough to stop. One of the figures was very controversial, with some of the ladies arguing vigorously about how it should be done. There was peace among them only after they consulted Pat Murphy's book - see the Inverness South Square Set in The Flowing Tide. The set was danced with battering steps similar to the Roscommon Lancers, and with ten dancers spilling off the square of lino I feared the worst for the floors.
On Monday night we visited an ethnic part of the city when we danced a final workshop with Pat in the Italian-Canadian Club. The hall was much like an Irish one, with a full size sprung timber floor, though most of it was filled with tables. Pat noticed the expert footwork of the dancers in the Nova Scotia set last night, and decided it was a good chance to teach the Roscommon Lancers. He taught the reel step and four of the nine figures. After class ended, there was one final farewell visit to the Old Triangle where friends old and new had plenty of chat, posed for pictures and made fond farewells.
I had a very satisfying weekend of dancing in Nova Scotia. There are no direct flights from Ireland so the travel took a while, but there's little jet lag with only four hours time difference from home. The events were well organised by Dan Deslauriers and local teacher Elizabeth MacDonald to take advantage of an interesting variety of locations and superb live music. Most of all, my Easter weekend in Halifax was special for the friendly, welcoming and generous dancers.
St Patrick's Day is now celebrated in the north of Italy (Turin, Milan, Treviso and Trieste) at ceilis where the dancing is full of enthusiasm, enjoyment and pleasure. The region has a reputation for good dancers with regular events and classes. Numerous clubs have been established, particularly for the local ancient dances of the Renaissance, and for international dances including French, Israeli, Swedish, Greek, Breton and others. However, over the past five or six years Irish dances are gaining more importance.
Here in Italy, Irish dancing teachers are few and far between, but many efforts are made to invite well-known set dancing teachers for weekend workshops. We Italians will travel as many as a thousand kilometres to come together for the love of dance, where we strengthen our steps and share many happy moments. Obviously a workshop with an Irish teacher on St Patrick's Day is an event we all look forward to. On this important day, the 'Johnny O'Leary' and Folkolore clubs of Turin enjoyed the privilege and luck to have the dynamic teacher of Irish dances, Mr Patrick O'Dea, as a guest for the third time in 'County Piedmont'.
Of the 53 people who came, many from Milan, all but four beginners had experience of five or six years in practicing set dancing. Many of them have been to summer schools in Miltown Malbay, Drumshanbo and Keadue, so the workshop proceeded fluently and intensively. We performed the Armagh Lancers, Caragh Lake Jig and Cavan Reel sets; five or six hours of step dances that are still practiced and appreciated today; and two evening ceilis. A very full Irish immersion - bellissimo!
What made the workshop even more marvellous was the hall in the Folkolore premises with a wooden floor, bar with beer on tap and a comfortable and well-equipped kitchen for dinner and evening breaks. And as we usually say, "the cake at the end" [or "the icing on the cake"] was one of the best Italian fiddlers, Francesco Colucci and his band the Zest. Our compliments to them!
Flora and Mario Sarzotti, Turin, Italy
How many times have you found yourself in a new place, searching for a dance hall you've never seen before? It happens to me all the time. Usually a hall stands out from other buildings and isn't hard to find. On my first ever dancing visit to Belfast, I paced up and down the Antrim Road searching for the hall that wasn't there. I found shops, Victorian terraced houses, a city park and a modern housing estate, but where did they hide the hall?
My question was soon answered - it's cleverly concealed within the Victorian terrace. Karen Mezza, who arranged the weekend of dancing here on April 12th and 13th, came out to open the gate in the secure iron railings and welcomed me inside the CBPPU (Christian Brothers Past Pupils Union). The hall is up several flights of stairs at the very top of the building, a light room with half a dozen windows overlooking the city, the park and the mountains beyond.
A small group of keen dancers gathered for a day's workshop with Pat Murphy, a few from as far as Offaly and Galway. Pat taught the Tory Island, Kilfenora and Aran sets during an enjoyable day. Lunch was included in the modest fee, with abundant supplies of delicious, hearty soup, bread, butter and tea, with everyone eating together in a smaller hall in the club.
When I returned to the CBPPU for the ceili at 9pm, I just pressed the buzzer to enter like all the regulars did. I was expecting to see the Emerald Ceili Band set up and ready to go, but when the musicians saw the hall at the top of the building, they didn't think they'd be able carry their substantial collection of sound equipment up all the stairs. The set dancers themselves rescued the ceili by helping carry everything up. Some of them showed exceptional fitness by working in pairs to lift enormous heavy cases up five flights.
It was a job well done because the band quickly set everything up and soon were ready to go with their electrifying music. The hall was full and busy, but the floor was never too crowded during the sets. When the dancing was done, there was a constant stream of volunteers moving the band's equipment down the stairs.
The Ros Glas Ceili Band was set up and ready to go when I arrived back on Sunday afternoon. With a modest amount of equipment it didn't take quite as many set dancers to move them up and down the stairs. They're a new band based in Monasterevin, Co Kildare, and were on one of their first gigs. The members, Michael Bland, box, Eugene Nolan, flute and sax, and Pat O'Meara, piano, are all experienced ceili band musicians, having played with the Ard Erin and Bridge ceili bands. The dancers were full of praise for their music.
My first experience of dancing in Belfast was most enjoyable, with good music and dancers all weekend. Once I knew where I was going, I found the city easy to navigate by car and never got stuck in traffic, even though I drove through the city centre on every journey. I look forward to more dancing weekends here.
It began in brilliant sunshine, a warm, beautiful spring day with 60 degree temperatures, and ended with a snowfall. And in between was mostly 'fine, soft' weather which I'm sure arrived on the plane with our Irish guests! However, the hours were filled with terrific music, dancing and friends. The semi-annual #1 Irish Weekend at the Nevele Grande in Ellenville, New York, held from March 28th to 30th, was a success once again. Although the crowd was somewhat smaller than usual, those in attendance were no less enthusiastic or appreciative.
The Pete Kelly Band opened on Friday afternoon for the usual welcome ceili. This band has become a fixture at the Nevele, and most of the dancers are accustomed to its familiar sound. They did, indeed, make us welcome. The Friday night ceili mór showcased the Four Courts, Emerald and Ceol na gCroí ceili bands. From shortly after dinner until nearly 3am dancers filled the floor, and the musicians did not disappoint us.
On Saturday morning there were the usual workshops for both dancers and musicians. One of the best memories of the weekend for many people will be Chris Droney's 'workshop'. The legendary concertina player from Bellharbour, Co Clare, brought along some of his band-mates (Peter Griffin, Joe Rynne, Micheal O'Rourke) to help him with his 'workshop'. They were joined by the musicians from Ceol na gCroí (John Fitzpatrick, Mike Brady, Linda Hickman, Niall O'Leary, Brendan Fahey) for a mighty session lasting several hours.
A number of personal connections were made during the weekend, too. Linda Hickman, flute player from New York, was thrilled to meet Chris, whose early recording was Linda's first introduction to Irish music. Mike Brady from Flagmount, Feakle, living in New York for forty-plus years, discovered he still had many friends in common with the lads from Clare. One of the most touching connections was the family reunion for Peter Griffin, from Lisdoonvarna, and his sister, Bridie Sheehan. Bridie, who lived in the Boston area for many years, traveled from New Hampshire with her children, their spouses and her grandchildren. It was a large contingent - they filled the biggest table in the dining room! And they all seemed to enjoy the music and the atmosphere.
The Emerald Ceili Band played for the Saturday afternoon ceili, and everyone looked exhausted as they left after the last set. The Emerald is certainly a very energetic band! Saturday evening offered the usual cocktail hour, grand march (which I finally took part in - we had fun!) and dinner. Then it was a rush back to the rooms to change into more suitable dancing attire and rush back to the ballroom for the céilí mór. The Four Courts opened, followed by Ceol na gCroí, with the Pete Kelly Band closing out the night.
All of the bands provided outstanding entertainment, with Ceol na gCroí making a fine showing in its first Nevele appearance. With John Fitzpatrick on button accordion, Mike Brady on fiddle, Linda Hickman on flute, Niall O'Leary on keyboard and Brendan Fahey on ceili drums, they gave their best performance to date. Their music on Saturday night was brilliant. As usual, Paul Keating did a superb job as ceili MC. It's not an easy job to balance the requests of the dancers with the time constraints and each band's desire to play its specialities. Paul does a wonderful job at each Nevele weekend, and deserves the thanks of both dancers and musicians! I'm sure that the dancers would agree that there was more than enough music suitable to anyone's personal preference.
On Sunday morning there was time only for brief appearances by both the Four Courts and the Emerald. During the Four Courts' performance, Aidan Vaughan demonstrated why he is regarded as one of the best dancers in the world. He gave a brilliant presentation of sean nós steps, while Brendan Fahey filled in for him on drums with the Four Courts. But, as usual, the weekend ends just as it seems to be getting started, and many of us have to be back at work (early) on Monday morning! So, with snow falling, we said our "safe homes" and "see you soons" and headed back down out of the mountains. Until next time. . . .
Maureen Donachie, Floral Park, New York
Jim 'Elvis' Monaghan was warmly welcomed by his French fans in Tarbes from the 6th to the 11th of May. It is said that the Bigorre area, which includes Lourdes, owes its name to an Irish Celtic tribe, the Bigorri. This may explain why the group which calls themselves the Irish Bigorri claims that Tarbes is the capital of Irish set dancing in the south west of France.
There was a lot of work on the solo step dance called St Patrick's Day. We learnt two new sets, the Borlin Polka and Killyon. A review was made of the finer points as we danced though the repertoire already learnt with Jim in Tarbes and Lussac les Chateaux last year: the Skibbereen, Clare Lancers, Cashel, Plain, Corofin Plain, Caledonian, Mayo Lancers, Mazurka, Wicklow Half-set and Connemara sets and the Rakes of Mallow.
On Friday Jim went to Lourdes on the high speed TGV train and met TGV train driver Christian, a member of the Irish Bigorri.
Saturday was spent in a little village called Ledeuix (pronounce the x as sh in ship). The night was a mix of Irish, Gascon and Breton traditional songs and dances. The Gascon dancers learnt the Wicklow Half-set before working their way into the more complicated sets with the Irish Bigorri. The Gascons contributed rondos, congos, sauts and branles and all - especially Jim - danced and sang the Breton an dro's and hunter dro's [circle dances with singing from Brittany].
Max Creusot and Charlotte Leopold, Tarbes, France
There's Brigadoon and then there is Portmagee, Co Kerry. At least that is the way it appeared to me as I approached the charming village with a busy little harbor.
The twelfth annual set dance weekend, 2-4 May 2003, proceeded with an ease that reflected the planning and work behind a successful event. Beryl and Julian Stracey kept the weekend running smoothly as we enjoyed the workshop led with grace and humor by Betty McCoy. As I was traveling on my own, I really appreciated the warm welcome I received from the friendly set dancers who patiently encouraged my dancing all day.
There was no running around looking for a decent meal on Saturday evening as an elegant dinner was served by Gerard and Patricia Kennedy at their restaurant, the Moorings at the Bridge Bar. The sessions and dancing also took place at this cozy pub with enough room for a few sets.
I was very happy to have a wonderful room en suite at the Harbour Grove Farmhouse, hosted by Kathleen Lynch, who is an avid set dancer herself enthusiastic about the weekend schedule and the local scene. There was some sweet free time to explore the immediate area including a photographer's dream, Valentia Island.
Mary June Hanrahan, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
The second annual New York City Dance Festival, presented by the Irish Arts Center of New York, took place on Sunday, May 4th. It was held in a lovely location, one of the old piers on the Hudson River that has been refurbished and given a second life as one of many entertainment and sports complexes in the area. Several thousand people visited and participated in the free event from noon until 10pm, including a large number of families. Festival directors Niall O'Leary and Lisa Goldenberg are to be congratulated for running a well-organized event offering something for everyone.
The day was organized as a wonderful mix and blend of exhibitions, demonstrations and participatory events. And each segment was just long enough for the inexperienced to learn something new and short enough to hold the spectators' interest. In addition to the dance program, there were films, lectures and music workshops. A session broke out in the early afternoon and continued into the evening on the bow of the Frying Pan, a former fishing trawler moored to the pier.
There were step dancing workshops conducted by Donny Golden and Niall O'Leary, two-hand dancing and waltz instruction by Jo McNamara, ceili instruction and dancing led by Niall, and performances by a number of New York area step dance schools and the Darrah Carr Group. The music for the afternoon events was provided by the Niall Mulligan Group. The highlight of the program was the set dancing workshop conducted by Kathleen Collins that led into the evening ceili. Brilliant music was provided by Ceol na gCroí Ceili Band. The nine or ten sets who braved the chilly temperatures (until the heat was turned on inside the tent) are a testament to this group's popularity in the New York area.
And it wasn't just New Yorkers who attended. Mary (Lynch) D'Arcy of Ennis and her daughter Marian, now living in Dublin, had just arrived for a visit with family in New York. They are the aunt and cousin of Ceol na gCroí drummer Brendan Fahey. Aunt Mary is a wonderful set dancer, originally from Milltown Malbay. She and her husband Paddy are Sunday night regulars at the One Mile Inn and have been for many years. Marian lived in New York for a number of years where she sang with the Atlantic Bridge band. By all accounts, they enjoyed the atmosphere and the music, despite the chill in the air blowing off the river.
I spent more than nine hours on the pier, and the only 'complaint' I heard was of a need for more space - many of the spectators simply couldn't see well because there were so many people watching! What a wonderful 'problem' for the organizers to have in only the second year of its existence - to have already outgrown the festival location! This event was extremely well organized, efficiently run, and on time. Congratulations to the Irish Arts Center, its staff and the festival directors. Well done! As we left the pier, my friends and I stopped to look at the Statue of Liberty lit up in the harbor below. One of my friends said, "I remember seeing her when I came over. I came by boat. We came into the harbor. I don't remember where we came into, but it must have been somewhere around here." It was a great day for all!
Maureen Donachie, Floral Park, New York
Geneseo is a small but quaint village 45 miles west of Rochester, New York. Its population is about 40,000 and one of its main attractions is the State University of New York at Geneseo. In 1997 the Irish Students' Union (ISU) at the University was formed. They wanted to promote activities like music, dance or even language. The Union had about 45 members at the time.
David Halligan, the chairman of the local Tom Finucane branch of Comhaltas at the time, contacted the ISU. This seemed a great opportunity to introduce some traditional Irish set dancing to the area and during October of that year a dance workshop followed. Later that year the students wanted to do a fundraiser. The local CCÉ branch and Halligan were happy to oblige. A ceili was held in the University's ballroom in which over 100 people took part. New friendships were formed and genuine fun was had by all.
Unfortunately, many students graduated the next semester and moved away from Rochester. This truly hurt the amount of young people interested in the Irish culture during the last few years in our area. But as they say in Mayo, "never show the white feather." Coincidently, this year Kevin Letts, a CCÉ member, contacted the college about the ISU. Kevin was met with an enthusiastic response. Megan Reynolds and Sara Mairéad Higgins, the ISU contact person, invited Comhaltas to the college to do a dance workshop this April.
About 30 people showed up and it was a great success. My wife Mary and I did a step workshop and taught the Haymakers Jig and the Caledonian Set. By the end of the night, the students had danced four figures of the Caledonian by themselves. What a feat! This fall the local CCÉ branch will be involved with the students for a ceili again. Hopefully, there will be just as much craic as in years gone by.
Sara Mairéad Higgins is from originally from Albany, New York, and is presently attending the University working on her BS degree in business management. "My dad is an accordion player and originally he's from Arigna, County Sligo," she said. "I am going to get Jimmy Kelly (the Comhaltas Hall of Famer) and my dad to play for us." What an honor that would be for our local musicians! Megan Reynolds graduated in May and has ties to County Leitrim. We all look forward to the upcoming ceili at the college this September.
The local branch of Comhaltas was formed in 1985 by Ted McGraw who named the branch in Tom Finucane's memory. Tom, from Tarbert, Co Kerry, played many instruments and was involved in setting up a number of local sessions that still take place today.
If you are ever in the western New York area give us a call or visit us on line at www.irishrochester.org.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh.
Brendan Tunney, Rochester, New York
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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