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).
We are into our fourth year here in Los Angeles and our set dancing group goes from strength to strength and we are having more and more fun! We have had another very busy year with weekly classes, workshops, ceilis and performances. At the end of February 2003 members of our group traveled to San Francisco to participate in a workshop weekend with our good friend Patrick O'Dea and a wonderful ceili hosted by the San Francisco set dancers. The following weekend Patrick joined us here in Los Angeles for another great weekend of workshops, dancing and 'Cosmopolitan' fun! In August we welcomed the wonderful Pat Murphy to Los Angeles. His workshop weekend attracted visiting dancers from San Francisco, a large group from San Diego and our friend Teri all the way from Milwaukee. In October Pádraig Timmons from Dublin joined us for classes and taught us a set.
In the past year we have been kept very busy with numerous performances at cultural events, festivals, parties and weddings, including the Hollywood movie premiere of Irish Eyes starring Daniel Baldwin; the American Film Institute's Film Festival in Hollywood, where we danced at the screening of Photos To Send, a documentary filmed in Co Clare, directed by Irish-American film maker Deirdre Lynch; the Los Angeles St Patrick's Day Parade (our third year); 'Burbank On Parade', where we were awarded a first place trophy in the dance category, beating out the other groups which included a youthful gymnastics team and a very colourful Mexican Ballet Folklorico troupe; and the Topanga Banjo Fiddle Festival, the Calabasas Folk Festival, the Manhattan Beach Arts Festival and the new two-day Los Angeles County Irish Fair where we performed and taught workshops.
In July sixteen members of our group plus musician friends traveled to Ireland to attend the Willie Clancy Summer School in Miltown Malbay, our third year participating in this wonderful festival.
It was great to be back in Co Clare again to meet old friends, make new friends and to 'refresh' a romantic connection. The highlights of this year's trip included our third anniversary party, where a 'licrevious' time was had by all! We were joined by friends and family from Mayo, Clare, Dublin, Armagh and America. Also in attendance were Patrick O'Dea and our own 'Mr Editor' Bill Lynch. We enjoyed many songs, jokes and recitations from the guests in attendance. Mary Connolly from Westport, Co Mayo, and my uncle James Breen, TD from Kilnamona, Co Clare, seemed to be in competition for best entertainer-I think it was a tie! We had a birthday cake for Mary McLoughlin, who is the bandleader of our own local Ceili House Band here in California.
We celebrated our anniversary a day early as we were invited to perform at the festival's dance recital on the Thursday night (our third year). It was an honour to be introduced by dance legend Joe O'Donovan and to dance to the wonderful music of Bobby Gardner. It was another World Premiere for us this year, our first public performance of two new figures of our own Hollywood Set! (Last year we premiered our 'Oscar Polka' and 'Spielberg Reel'.) This year we danced the 'Kilnamona Reel', named for my father and family from Kilnamona, Co Clare, and the 'Cecily Hornpipe' named after my mother, to honour her love and promotion of Irish dance and music at the ceilis in Derradda, Co Mayo. To add a little fun to the performance we finished off by spelling out the word 'Hollywood' by dropping gold-lettered flaps from the men's waistcoats, which brought a big cheer from the large audience in attendance.
The following week we danced our new figures at the ceili in Derradda, County Mayo. We were joined by subs Mary Hughes and her young nephew Martin Hughes from Derradda and Margaret Joyce from Westport, who were given a crash course in the new figures!
There was no rest after returning from Ireland as we were hosting a ceili and concert on the first weekend in August. We were delighted to welcome the wonderful Barefield Ceili Band from Co Clare, who played for a great ceili and headlined our Irish cultural concert in Pasadena. Both events were tremendous successes. The concert also included Dublin folk singer Ken O'Malley and uilleann piper Patrick D'Arcy and the Gaelic Choir of the Los Angeles Celtic Arts Center. Our dancers performed throughout the concert in period costume and we also debuted our Los Angeles strawboys with a special solo hornpipe by Dolly Martin, our 'old woman,' which brought the house down! A special thank you to our own dancer and costume designer Patty 'Talulah' Ellis who has made all of our costumes! While we were enjoying ourselves in Ireland our wonderful Patty was busy at home knitting shawls, sewing aprons and making our California-style strawboy hats, which she imaginatively made from beachcomber hats and hula skirts!
In September the movie Duplex starring Ben Stiller and Drew Barrymore premiered with one of our dancers, actress Karen Kahler being featured as a body double for the dance scene. Karen is also a member of the Morrissey School of Irish Step Dance and has appeared in many stage and film productions. I myself was contacted early last year by the research department of the Duplex movie and assisted in costume design.
In October we hosted out third annual Halloween ceili, which is always our biggest and best ceili of the year. Prizes were awarded to the best costumes, which included the Marx Brothers, the Pirates of the Caribbean and the hilarious tartan-clad Scotsman.
In recent weeks I have been in meetings with the producers of a new Irish musical which is scheduled to open in March 2004 at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, the new home of the Oscar ceremonies. The director has asked me to assist with choreography, script consultation and dialect coaching. Our Los Angeles Irish Set Dancers will perform on opening night and throughout the four-week run of the musical.
We would like to send a special get well wish to one of our dancers, our favourite Kerryman Erc O'Connor, for a speedy recovery from his recent illness. Erc, we hope you are back dancing very soon. We miss your enthusiasm and your wonderful smiling face!
We would like to invite you all to come dance with us if you are in the Los Angeles area.
Michael Patrick Breen
The Mizen Set Dancers, a group of set dancers from west Cork, all met at Cork airport in plenty of time for our flight to Plymouth on the first leg of our journey to Perranporth in Cornwall to be part of the festival of dance, music and song known as Lowender Peran, from the 15th to the 19th of October. This was the 25th anniversary of the Festival of the Celts and was to be special.
We arrived in Perranporth and were met by an official of the festival who showed us to our accommodation, three self-catering flats which were clean, warm and comfortable. Our first task was to find a restaurant and we could not have done better than the place we found called the Cottage, on the main street. We were to dine there together every evening for the duration of our stay. We looked forward every evening to "the trip to the Cottage!"-sorry about the pun. Good food, good staff, and reasonably priced.
Thursday evening was to be our first céilí of the festival. Our musicians were joined on stage with a host of interested and like-minded locals, who had no problem playing with us for the rest of the evening. The sound could have been a bit better from the sound man, and it did improve as the evening wore on. After a set and some céilí dancing for one hour and a half, our allotted time, we were satisfied with our performance.
Friday was a free day from dance for us so some took off on a shopping trip to Truro, the capital city of Cornwall. Others went on a historical walk around the outskirts of the town and learned about the Celtic links to Ireland, particularly to west Cork and St Kieran from Cape Clear Island.
Saturday was a very busy day for all the participants, starting at 12 noon with a procession of musicians and dancers in full costume, followed by street dancing. The sun shone like never before as the parade gathered outside the Ponsmere Hotel. With all the flags of the different Celtic nations on parade the colour was magnificent. We were lined up in front of the Cornish dancers and musicians, and as happens on these occasions, the musicians were well able to play each others' tunes. As we paraded through the streets of the town we felt proud to be part of the family of Celtic nations. On the village green, we were delighted to perform in turn with dancers from Brittany and Cornwall.
At 2pm we put on a set dance workshop in the Memorial Hall. We had to move the workshop along as we only had one hour. But, with a good caller and all our dancers moving into the learners' sets, we were able to do wonders. We danced the Kilfenora Set, which was appreciated by all twelve sets who participated.
After a few hours and dinner we were back at it again, demonstrating parts of various sets from around the country, both north and south. To finish off the evening of Saturday, we put on the late céilí, which finished at 2am. We adjourned to the lounge for refreshments! Some left for bed. The music and song carried on until 5am Sunday morning.
On Sunday at 2pm, we did a one hour 'troyl' dance workshop. This we learned is the Cornish word for céilí. Again the experience of the dancers and the caller came to the fore. A full hall easily participated in several two-handed, three-handed and four-handed céilí dances and called for more, but our time was up and it was the turn of another group to take the floor. So, the weekend progressed and the 'dance till you drop' céilí was still to come. We went home, showered, had dinner and changed into our special clothes we had made for this festival, all pleasant designs which reflected modern Ireland. Not a waistcoat in sight!
Our final display of the weekend was quite special. We danced and played some instrumental music to an appreciative full house. We introduced everybody and their contribution to the weekend. They were Cathy Boyle, Helen and Willie Lawlor, Olive Lynch, Paudie McCarthy, Bert and Annie Moran, Kitty Murphy, Gearóid O'Driscoll, Ted and Ann O'Leary, Noelle Roycroft and John Sheehan.
We were living on adrenalin by now having joined in different workshops and céilíthe put on by our fellow Celts from Brittany, Wales, Scotland, the Isle of Man and of course our hosts, the Cornish. There were a lot of demands put on us during our stay to do this dance and that dance, and we hope we satisfied most of those we came in contact with. It was a privilege to be involved in such an important event as this. Many friends were made, and notes swapped, and who can forget eating real Cornish pasties at all hours of the night! Until we meet them all again, a great big thank you to the people of Cornwall and to every one of our Celtic brethren. May God keep you in the palms of his hands.
Bertie Moran, Schull, Co Cork
One of the finest beaches in Europe lies on the Wexford coast north of Wexford Town. The smooth white sand of Curracloe Beach gently curves for seven miles by the Irish Sea. It has a blue flag award for cleanliness, and is bordered by unspoilt dunes, forests and nature reserves. Curracloe became Omaha Beach in Normandy when the opening sequence of the Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan, depicting a fierce D-Day battle of World War Two, was filmed here. Wouldn't a beautiful, peaceful place like this be a good setting for a set dancing weekend?
The Castlebridge Set Dancers had that very idea last year when they held their annual weekend in the Curracloe Hotel for the first time. Their popular weekend was previously held in Wexford Town and Enniscorthy. Now after their second successful weekend in Curracloe from the 3rd to the 5th of October 2003 they've settled into an ideal home. The modern hotel is located in the village centre, a mile or so from the beach.
When I first arrived in the hotel ballroom on Friday night, I admired the spacious timber floor which stretched from wall to wall in every direction. I was early enough to have the entire hall to myself so selected a seat near the band. As the hall filled some ladies asked to share my table-they turned out to be the advance scouts for a group of 35 who had travelled by bus from Bray. Soon they all crowded around the table, treating me as though I'd arrived on the bus with them!
Music for the ceili on Friday was by the Davey Ceili Band. They usually play as a five-piece band these days, though they were only four this time as their fiddler Laura Beagon was on tour in the States. Most bands share the same tunes, but the Davey Ceili Band has some stunning ones that are all their own which clearly demonstrate their incredible musical virtuosity. John Davey has a pleasant singing voice for the waltzes and is a friendly MC. He amused us all by referring to the final figure of the Connemara as "Margaret in the forest." There were as many as eight sets enjoying the music.
Gerard Butler from Co Roscommon gave an excellent workshop on Saturday, beginning with the Seit Doire Colmcille (Derry Colmcille Set). Gerard demonstrated each figure without any prior explanation-they just danced it. I recall that Connie Ryan used to show sets this way too, which I think heightens the excitement of watching a new dance. Explaining it beforehand takes away the mystery. We danced to Gerard's fine collection of music recorded live at ceilis-it was a special pleasure to practice sets to the music of Tim Joe and Anne and the Emerald Ceili Band.
It was a spectacularly sunny day but fortunately the weather was no distraction at all thanks to the hotel's window-free ballroom. We had a chance to practice the Roscommon step when we danced the Roscommon Half Set. This is shorter than the Roscommon Set, with just three figures instead of nine. Gerard's father Seamus danced it in his younger days and he taught it at home to his children. We danced the two reel figures, but the jig figure hasn't been revived yet as the old dancers don't remember it as well. Gerard also taught the Polly Glide, a simple solo dance which we danced in lines of two or more, the Kilfenora Set and some basic battering steps which were clearly explained and broken down. We then had enough time to dance the Williamstown Set.
Tim Joe and Anne outdid themselves at the Saturday night ceili, fitting in ten sets plus a waltz, a brush dance from Gerard and a rake of reels to finish. The polka shout in the last figure of the Corofin Plain Set (everyone shouts "Hey" or "Whoa" or something similar during the polka body-in-two-three "Hey!" out-two-three) is pretty common now and Tim Joe added his own embellishment by silencing the accordion at the right moment. After that there was a waltz when he revealed his beautiful singing voice. Then I joined seven ladies to dance the Seit Doire Colmcille, none of whom were at the workshop or had danced it before, so it was a struggle to get through but it only fell apart in the fast-moving jig figure. We did quite well with the Roscommon Half Set, which is easy to dance if you know the beautiful Roscommon step very well, or if you ignore it completely. We also danced one of my favourites, the Borlin Polka Set with the jump-kick body-what bliss!
By the time the dancing began on Sunday it was clear that the weekend was getting better every day. Gerard's workshop was attended by even more than on Saturday, with eight sets dancing. For an hour he concentrated on basic sean nós steps, and then devoted the remaining time to the Newmarket Meserts from Co Cork. The Sunday afternoon ceili with the Glenside Ceili Band brought at least twenty sets into the hotel ballroom. The band plays every year at this weekend for good reason-the dancing was brilliant! In the second half, sisters Bronagh and Leanne Murphy from Waterford performed a brush dance for an entertaining pause. By the time the ceili concluded there was immense satisfaction showing on every face.
Curracloe has a lot going for it as a set dancing weekend-a pleasant seaside location, a spacious ballroom in a comfortable hotel, good organisation led by local teacher Mary Walsh, three top ceili bands and, best of all, loads of enthusiastic, fun-loving and friendly dancers.
A little gem of a set dancing weekend took place in the rural depths of County Mayo on the 11th and 12th of October, 2003. The tiny village of Taugheen has a church, school, post office and a few scattered houses. The pub is a mile and half away on the main road, which is four miles from Claremorris. It's the kind of place you'd normally only see if you managed to get yourself totally lost. Once I found my way here on Saturday morning I was made to feel at home by the peaceful rural atmosphere and genuine country welcome. There was a cup of tea and scone for everyone on arrival in the beautiful hall, which was built as a National School in 1860.
Pádraig McEneaney took charge when the workshop began and had everyone in a circle on the floor practicing steps. The participants were a mixture of beginning and experienced dancers, mostly locals plus a fun-loving group from Louth and Meath. For our first dance of the day, Pádraig introduced us to the Kiltimagh Set, a Mayo half set which none of us had seen before. It's an easy set in four figures danced to two jigs, a reel and a polka. After that we did the Skibbereen Set, one that's been around a while but not often danced-it's enjoyable enough to dance regularly.
The lunch break was a fine example of Mayo country hospitality-Chris Oates, Chris White and their large team of helpers served us a sit-down meal in an upstairs room in the hall. For €5 we lunched on soup, bread, sandwiches, cake and tea, all homemade, and received a free raffle ticket as well. The tables were beautifully set with red tablecloths, the service was great, the food delicious and the raffle prizes were a nice bonus.
After more step practice, Pádraig showed us another set from Mayo called the Skirdagh Set, and after a tea break we finished our day's education with the Kilfenora Set. Even when the workshop was over the organisers didn't abandon us-dinner was arranged at a hotel in Claremorris for a reasonable price for those of us who wished to take advantage of it.
Music at the Saturday night ceili was by Carousel, the three-piece ceili band from Westmeath who play so regularly in Mayo that they're considered local. The locals love them and their music and came out in force for a lively night of dancing. In addition to the usual collection of sets, Pádraig called the Skirdagh Set and we danced the Fermanagh Set without any help at all as it's danced regularly in the area. A feast of a tea was provided in the break and there was more of same available after the dancing had concluded. The night also included a free raffle with unusual and generous prizes donated by local businesses.
On Sunday morning there was time for two more sets from Pádraig, the West Kerry and the Aubane (Co Cork) sets. Then at one o'clock when he was about to wish us farewell, we suddenly learned that we had still had an additional unexpected hour of dancing! Lunch was planned for 2pm followed by the ceili at 3. This gave us a chance for some additional practice on the Kilfenora Set. Lunch was again served upstairs on red tablecloths, with another free raffle. Heather Breeze was on stage for the ceili and gave us an afternoon of great fun. The Roscahill Set, an enjoyable three-figure polka set from Galway, was danced without any calling as it's another of the unusual sets danced regularly here. There was another chance at the Kilfenora Set. I had a surprise during the third figure of the Connemara Set when the little Christmas didn't stop after eight or sixteen bars and continued for a full 24 bars. We enjoyed that! There was one last raffle, three dancers performed a few solo steps, and tea was served in the break and at the end of the ceili.
Chris White, the local set dancing teacher and the main force behind the weekend, told us that this was her tenth and final set dancing weekend. All of us had enjoyed the weekend and were sorry to hear this news, particularly those lucky ones who had attended every one of them. I hope they can find a way to keep going next year and maintain the high standard of hospitality that I experienced on my visit here. My thanks to Chris and her team for looking after everyone so well and making my first trip to Taugheen such a pleasure.
The first annual set dance and workshop weekend in the Listowel Arms Hotel, Listowel, Co Kerry, was held from Friday 17th October to Sunday 19th October. This heavenly weekend began with a céilí on the Friday night at 10pm. The Davey Céilí Band graced the stage as large crowds of eager dancers took their places on the floor. The céilí started with the Corofin Plain and finished with the Plain Set. The dancers applauded this brilliant family band and didn't want the night to end. With each round of applause dancers stamped the floor to convey their delight to the musicians for their exuberant music. This exercise was repeated at all four céilís during the festival. The beautiful maple floor in the ballroom was a dream to dance on and was more than adequate in size for the throngs of dancers who turned up for the weekend.
Saturday morning at 10am Pat Murphy began his workshop. We danced the Kilfenora Set to warm up, as most people are familiar by now with this gentle set from Co Clare. Pat proceeded with the Fermanagh Quadrilles, a nice easygoing set with two reels and three jigs. Some people had a lot of fun with the second figure when ladies "look in and look out". Pat mentioned that this set was a favourite of Connie Ryan's, who recorded it in the Cashel and Belcoo area of Fermanagh.
The second set of the morning came from Castlegregory in Co Kerry. This set is called the Cloughane Set, also known as the Brandon Set, and was recently revived by John Chambers. John hails from Camp near Tralee, Co Kerry. We were privileged to have John at the festival and Pat Murphy invited him to join the demonstration set. Pat thanked John for giving him this wonderful polka set and said he is always delighted to include a local set in his workshops.
The morning workshop concluded with Pat calling the Louisburgh Set from Co Mayo. This is a super little set with three figures, a jig, a reel and finishing with a polka. Nine sets had enjoyed the morning's tuition and dancing.
Instead of a workshop in the afternoon as is usual at these weekends, Mary Philpott and Jerry O'Rourke organised an afternoon céilí beginning at 2.30pm. The talented Turloughmore Céilí Band from Co Clare provided the music. During the break in the céilí, dancers were given a real treat.
A young group of four musicians from Kenmare called Alana performed for approximately forty minutes. The group was made up of three lads and a lady. These musicians intrigued us with their modern and traditional tunes-what an experience to listen to Catherine their vocalist singing Fields of Barley.
The group concluded with a set of reels and willing sean nós dancers tapped out their steps in their own inimitable styles. The céilí continued for a further three sets with the Turloughmore Céilí Band, finishing with the Clare Lancers. Saturday night the Emerald Céilí Band was ready to start at 10pm. Sets formed and the night began with the Caledonian set. This most energetic young band set our hearts racing with their exuberant reels and the pattern was set for the remainder of the night. When the céilí finished at 1.30am with more magic reels for the Plain Set, dancers wanted to stay going. This young band is growing in popularity all over the country. One can easily see the joy the musicians themselves are getting from performing and their smiles and energies are transported to everyone present, dancers and spectators alike.
Sunday morning at 10.30 Pat Murphy's workshop began with the Armagh Set. This set has six figures, three jigs, two reels and a hornpipe. Pat told us that this set was remembered by older traditional dancers in the Armagh area and revived by the Evans family from Bessbrook near Newry in County Down. The set was based on a number of different kinds of dances and was formerly a threshing dance, danced by eight men.
To conclude Pat showed the Valentia Right and Left, a wonderful polka set with six figures revived by Muiris O'Brien. The six sets that had turned up for the workshop were delighted that they gave up their Sunday morning lie in as they felt energised by the workshop and eagerly anticipated the afternoon céilí.
The afternoon céilí began at 2.30 sharp with Matt Cunningham on stage. This magical family band played their hearts out all afternoon. I was delighted that they included the Labasheeda set, a particular favourite of mine. Matt also played some slow airs on the tin whistle including Danny Boy. You would hear a pin drop as this charming man put his heart and soul into every note. The weekend concluded with the Clare Lancers Set and the large gathering of dancers applauded, stamped the floor and shouted for more.
Mary Philpott advised dancers that she had secured the hotel for 2004 for a repeat festival. The loud cheer left no doubt that everyone would be back again in Listowel and most would bring their friends along. Listowel is known to everyone as the literary capital of Ireland, and is steeped in tradition and culture. I have no doubt that this festival will strengthen its title worldwide. Congratulations to Mary, Jerry and their team. This was a true gem of a weekend. I am delighted that it will be an annual event.
Joan Pollard Carew
Carryduff is a Belfast suburb located six miles south of the city centre. The road from Belfast climbs up and up for the whole of the journey until the city is gone and green hills are all around. The local set dancing club meets in St Joseph's Hall here on Thursday nights, and on Halloween weekend opened their doors to all for an excellent weekend of dancing. The Carryduff Set Dancing Club has held annual workshops in the past but this was their first full weekend of dancing.
Halloween coincided with the first ceili on Friday night, though only one dancer was inspired to show up in costume. We danced in a comfortable and pleasant ballroom in the Ivanhoe Hotel, which is beside St Joseph's. The Davey Ceili Band was out in full force with all five members and gave a stunning performance as always. The ceili started out with six sets on the floor and people kept showing up all evening till there was double that number. Distance was no object to many of them who came from Limerick, Galway, France and the Netherlands to join the local dancers. Among the more unusual sets were the Williamstown Set and the Sliabh gCua Set, a real rarity which I hadn't danced for several years.
St Joseph's Hall was the venue for the rest of the weekend's dancing, and a fine one it is. The spacious sports hall can hold a huge number of sets, with everyone dancing in the greatest of comfort on a well-sprung floor. The entire ceiling was beautifully timber panelled and so didn't suffer the sound problems of similar lofty halls. To one side there was a smaller room with a bar where tea and homemade scones in assorted flavours were served on arrival at the Saturday workshop.
Pat Murphy supplied everyone with an enjoyable selection of sets, beginning with a couple figures of the Kilfenora Set to warm up. Next was the Connemara Jig, with the gorgeous move where you "tug and hug"-take hands with your partner and pull towards each other, then swing by holding onto each others' arms. There were a few more good moves in the Armagh Set after that, especially when starring six times in one reel figure, and dancing a gent's chain in another. After lunch we danced the new Cloughane Set from Kerry and Pat gave us a taste of the Roscommon Lancers. For this we practiced the very challenging reel step in a circle around the hall, and attempted it on two of the nine figures. To finish there was time for two parts of the Labasheeda Set.
Swallows Tail Ceili Band travelled up from Sligo and Mayo to play for the Saturday night ceili and more than 25 sets came to dance to them. Halloween was still in the minds of two ladies who showed up in witches' regalia and stayed in character all night long. Among the sets tonight there was the Kilfenora Set, the High-Cauled Cap and a choice of an old time waltz or the Waltz Cotillion. Whatever set was called, dancers were out on the floor having a great time and showing it with smiles, cheers and shouts. The night also included a door prize, a raffle and a tea break with a mighty abundance of food.
In place of a workshop on Sunday morning there was a guided walk along the River Lagan to a hidden garden and an impressive megalithic monument. The afternoon ceili with the Emerald Ceili Band gave us one last fling with the excellent dancers in attendance. The music was unforgettable, particularly the band's unique polkas for the Cashel Set. The last dance before the tea break was a waltz, and when I saw the mouth watering selection of homemade shortbread and biscuits placed on the table, my partner and I waltzed in place there ready to join the queue as soon as the music stopped. In addition to a few more sets, the second half included a solo step from a young girl and another drawing for a door prize. The weekend concluded and climaxed with a non-stop Plain Set.
At all the weekend's ceilis we danced an interesting selection of sets and repetition was kept to a minimum. Only a limited number of sets were repeated at all three ceilis. This was thanks to Joe Farrell who called nearly every set of the weekend with tremendous energy and enthusiasm. Joe is king of the ceili and whatever he says goes-when he urged everyone to shout, for example while advancing and retiring in the last figure of the Cashel Set, the entire hall roared along with him. He has his own way of doing certain figures and everyone is advised to listen carefully and always follow his lead. His power was clearly demonstrated on Sunday in the Lancers Set. When it was time for the fourth figure he inadvertently called the moves of the fifth-a few sets tried to do the fourth figure, while the majority faithfully followed Joe. When he realised the mistake, he tried to get everyone back on track by restarting the fourth figure but by then there was no turning back. To finish we all danced the fifth figure together.
There was one final bit of dancing on Sunday night when a dozen or so dancers met in Robinson's Pub in Belfast city centre. The gig was mostly singing, but the musicians kindly invited the dancers up for a set whenever they played some trad tunes. The drinking crowd cleared a space for us and cheered us on as we danced a few non-stop figures from three sets.
The Carryduff weekend was a complete success-well-organised, beautiful music, well-supported by dancers and highly enjoyable. As a visitor I'm pleased to see a full workshop weekend in Belfast-it's worth making the journey when there's plenty of dancing on offer. I hope there will be many more and look forward to my next visit to Carryduff.
It was time once again for another great weekend of Set Dancing at the Nevele Grand Hotel. The weekend really begins by leaving New York City for the two-hour drive that takes us through spectacular views of New York. At this time of year the leaves are changing color and hues of orange, gold and copper are to be seen everywhere. This time, the longer route was taken to take advantage of the scenic countryside. After having passed through a small town called Walden it would be an uphill climb over the mountain where the Nevele was to be seen in the valley below.
On arrival at the Nevele many familiar faces were to be seen checking in at the lobby for the weekend ahead. The afternoon started with a welcome tea reception which was followed by the first ceili of the weekend with music by Pete Kelly and his band. Now that we had been "broken in" it was time for cocktail hour followed by dinner in the main dining room.
The evening's entertainment opened with Sean Norman and his band, one of three visiting ceili bands that were over from Ireland. The music was "mighty'' and even better when Sean lilted for a figure of the Clare Lancers Set. The second ceili band to take the stage was Esker Riada who picked up from where Sean Norman left off. It was their first visit here in a few years but once again the music poured out and the dancers would not give in until the last band of the evening would play. The Four Provinces Ceili Band closed the night with more sets and nobody having any notion of leaving until the last note was played.
Saturday morning and it was time to learn some new sets. Our instructor for the workshop was Tony Ryan from Co Galway who is no stranger to the Nevele weekend. The first set of the morning was the Cloughane Set which comes from Co Kerry and is very new to everyone. It's danced to polkas and hornpipes and is similar to the North Kerry and West Kerry sets and is a very "easy and laid back'' set to dance and was perfect to start the day with. From Kerry, next it was to Co Clare for the Paris Set, a five figure set with reels, jig, and a combination of a hornpipe and march for the last figure. Time was ticking and it was time to squeeze in the last set in the workshop which was from Co Mayo, the Louisburgh Set, a three figure set comprising of a jig, reel and polka. It was a great morning of dancing.
There was also a beginners' workshop which was taught by Paul Keating. Here, people who were new to set dancing and eager to learn, could learn the basic steps and figures and would be able to dance at the ceilis later that afternoon. While the set dancing workshops were taking place there were also music workshops. These were being taught by the musicians from the various ceili bands. It's great to take advantage of this opportunity of playing and learning tunes from these accomplished musicians.
Time for lunch and then it was off to the dance floor for the afternoon ceili. Once again Sean Norman and his band provided the music where he played to a packed hall. During this ceili we would hear Sean adding a lift with his never ending lilting and the crowd loving every minute of it.
The afternoon ceili gave us the opportunity of dancing the new sets that we had learned that morning in the workshop. We had Tony Ryan calling the sets and there was no fear of anyone going astray. It was time for people to debut their new moves. As the afternoon was drawing to a close the Cloughane Set was danced. Polkas were played for the last figure, the first tune was familiar and then Sean Norman and his band broke into Jingle Bells. It was my first time to have heard Jingle Bells played to polka time. The crowd went wild and it just goes to show how much fun set dancing can be!
Saturday night and it was time for cocktail hour. Set dancers swapped their sweat drenched t-shirts, water bottles and even headbands to flaunt around the lobby in evening wear and fine suits. They looked more like Hollywood celebrities at the Grammys! The main dining room was dimly lit with only candles lighting each table, which were well groomed with little Irish and American flags sitting in every glass. There was a parade through the dining room with the first two people carrying the Irish and American flags. Both Irish and American songs were sung as we paid tribute to our own country and to our adopted country. After a huge meal it was time to get back into the soon-to-be sweat drenched t-shirts for another night of dancing.
The night began with music by the Four Provinces Ceili Band followed by Esker Riada. The music was flying and people dancing like crazy, at the same time burning off the huge dinner. Tony Ryan called the sets for us again and made sure that we got to dance the Louisburgh Set. Who could care less about the time? The clocks were being put back an hour so it didn't matter what hour of the morning we danced 'til. Pete Kelly and his band played the last shift of the night, once again delivering great music for everyone to dance to.
Sunday morning and it was very quiet. We all knew that the weekend is coming to a close and it will be time to say goodbye to everyone until we will all meet again. The Sunday ceili began when Mass was over. Members from all three ceili bands got on stage for one more gig before getting on the bus at lunchtime and making their way to the airport to fly home. As the dance floor began to fill up all the musicians were getting tuned up for an almighty blast of music. There was only time to dance three sets but it was music like we never heard before. It was a blistering performance by the bands from Co Offaly and we wished they could have played all day.
It was feeding time once more where lunch was served and then the farewell ceili to close the weekend until next April. Pete Kelly and his band played the last ceili of the weekend. This weekend at the Nevele was a set dancing junkie's dreams come true!
Fergal O'Halloran, Bronx, New York
I was fortunate enough to be invited to this year's Sean Dempsey Set Dance Festival in Manchester, 24th to 27th of October. Previously I would have been well aware of it, but never sufficiently motivated to experience it. A bit like numerous others from the homeland!
It wasn't the easiest voyage in the world to get there, what with dense fog, cabin-crew strikes and changes of flight times, but all those difficulties fade into the background on arrival. Thereafter we were in the so-hospitable hands of the organising committee led by Ted Twomey, Colman Murtagh, Barbara Aherne and a host of volunteers who were only willing to make our trip memorable.
The opening ceili on the Friday night was in the Irish World Heritage Centre, Cheetham Hill. This is a quaint, beautifully-kept building; apparently it is due for demolition in the near future. The Abbey Ceili Band arrived almost simultaneously, so one felt even more at ease straight away.
I was amused to find that the ceili would get under way at 8.30pm, which it did promptly; meanwhile dancers had already poured in from Birmingham, Coventry, etc. with me wondering would I see any familiar faces. I recognised a few whom I had seen here and there in Ireland as if that mattered!
Soon all the barriers were down and everybody took to the floor with an enthusiasm which I would have pictured back home about five years ago. It was, as one might deduce, a high energy night's dancing with the exiles just as well up on the repertoire of sets as any back home.
The rest of the weekend's festivities took place in Romiley Forum, quite a distance away, with the competitions commencing on Saturday and Sunday morning at 10am. They were two stimulating days, the only cloud being the poor entry to the competitions. Evidently the numbers have decreased in recent years for whatever reason because these wonderful people deserve a lot more support from mainland Ireland.
Nevertheless, there were some brilliant performances from the Cappamore, Dunmanway, Abbeynockmoy and Carrickruppin contingents who turned up in strength and were as gallant losers in turn as gracious winners.
The new venue for Saturday night's ceili was much bigger and the crowd twice as large. Now the familiar faces began to stream in and the ceili atmosphere was electric with the ubiquitous Barbara Aherne at the helm to call the sets and to share the burden from time to time. It was like home to see the changing of gear in the bathroom.
The Chippendales wouldn't have much to spare! The Sunday competitions were more festive than competitive. The highlights were the sean nós competition and the buck set. Only the brown envelope waved in front of the adjudicators gave any indication of seriousness. They brought down the house-as well as themselves!
We had, once again, the Abbey for Sunday night's ceili; a fine performance with the crowd down a little from Saturday night's one. This was understandable enough seeing that it was back to work the following day for many.
It was back home the following morning for us with a plethora of thoughts abounding as to the future of this great festival, the only one of its kind in England, now dedicated to the memory of a great exile and being carried on through the trojan work of a small band of tireless workers.
Looked at from an Irish perspective, we, sitting pretty at home, should give serious thought as to how we should support a community fighting an uphill battle to perpetuate every aspect of our Irishness, whether it be song, dance or music and, indeed, the Irish language. Next year is not too far away!
Timmy Woulfe, Athea, Co Limerick
The Bridge Bar, Portmagee, Co Kerry, around 9.45pm Friday October 10th, musicians Ger and Con ready to play, dancers ready for anything! It appears to be a usual Friday evening until you hear a different language and realise that once more French speaking visitors have arrived with the guidance of Didier Matherat and his wife Christine.
We were delighted to welcome these visitors returning from Corsica after two years. They are well used to set dancing with Irish musicians as every year they have great celebrations for St Patrick's Day taking place in their town square. It must be marvellous to be able to rely on good weather so as to advertise the event as Tutti in Piazza (together in the square).
With great enthusiasm we danced polkas, reels and jigs for the remainder of the night but were absolutely delighted when eight of our visitors entertained us with one of their own quadrilles. The varied patterns and movements were a pleasure to watch and much appreciated by all in the bar-dancers or not.
An enjoyable evening, but at the back of the mind was the niggling thought that once more our teacher Julian Stracey had somehow 'persuaded' his group of demonstrators to take part in a mini-workshop the following afternoon. A good night's sleep was definitely desirable!
Two o'clock on the Saturday afternoon found Julian's 'volunteers' assembled in the Portmagee Community Hall awaiting our friends. Since they were not due until 2.30, we had assumed this meant some minutes' respite, but true to form Julian had us on our feet practising a few tricky movements in the two local sets that were to be learnt.
Figure by figure the Valentia Right and Left was tackled and because the Corsicans have good rhythmic sense, everything went quite smoothly. Even the walk round and house at the end of each of the first four figures found all of us back in our rightful places-and that doesn't always happen with local dancers!
The next set was the Portmagee Meserts-I can never fathom what makes this set so tiring! Step by step the ladies 'changed positions' in the first figure, joined the next couple to 'dance in threes' in the second, turned 'under the finger' in the third and passed under the 'high gates' in the fourth. The final figure was performed with much enjoyment and aplomb!
Relief and drinks (water) all 'round-and then Didier asked for both sets again. Whether this was to test our memories or our stamina he wouldn't specify. The last step was executed at exactly the finishing line-5.30pm-and we separated to prepare for the evening. Dinner at 7.30 was a fairly noisy affair and the struggles with languages only made the gathering friendlier.
The Bridge Bar, Portmagee, around 9.30pm October 11th, musicians Paddy and Anthony ready to play. With shouts of 'house', 'wait', 'right', 'left' and 'walk' in French and English with a fair selection of Franglais thrown in, we danced the evening away. The roof almost lifted on two occasions-first when the quadrille was repeated, and second when Didier treated us to a very comprehensive and compelling brush dance.
A session revealing the musical knowledge and abilities from the Mediterranean brought the evening to a close. Sunday morning brought the au revoir and departure. The French phrase á bientôt (see you soon) is the one I'm sure the Irish will wish to use to bring our Corsican friends back.
Time rushes by and a fortnight later, the 'demonstrators' arrive at the Community Centre, 2.30pm Saturday afternoon 25th October. Thinking we were on time for the start, we were amazed to discover that Julian had coerced our new visitors into an early start with step practice.
We had little opportunity to talk to these visitors-this time from Bourgogne (Burgundy for those of us more accustomed to wine than French geography), as the Bridge Bar the night before was crowded with local dancers who wanted few and short intervals between sets.
The South Kerry was the set for learning and we soon were in the throes of the unusual left hand chain for the ladies and slide to corners after housing. Didier assured us that 'house', 'home' and 'chain' were used in France for calling. Personally, I'm not convinced, as it seemed to me that my partner obeyed my (very) basic French instructions more readily than the English. It was difficult for Julian's logistical powers as we had only two Frenchmen accompanying ten ladies of the party-aren't we lucky that Irishmen will still stand in the sets?
Workshop over, we walked to the Bridge Bar for refreshments and general chat and then parted to refresh ourselves for the evening ceili.
Gathered together once more with musicians Paddy and Seamus we started our evening sets. With encouragement to our visitors from latecomers and hoarse instructions from afternoon participants, we worked our way through the South Kerry plus any thing else played for us. Thus ends our season of continental entertaining. We enjoyed every minute and hope that our French visitors did too.
Thank you Julian and Beryl for the continued contact with Didier, which makes such occasions possible.
Barbara Gloinson, Portmagee, Co Kerry
Copenhagen Irish Set Dancers were delighted when Pat Murphy came to visit us for two days for our annual workshop in connection with the Copenhagen Irish Festival-we have never had him here before. This year the festival celebrated its 25th anniversary and set dancing has been part of it for fifteen years. Connie Ryan was the dance instructor at the first workshop back in 1988, according to Mich Nielsen who was the one who came up with the idea.
The set dance workshop on 8 and 9 November 2003 went on from Saturday at 10am until 4pm and then again on Sunday from 11am until 3pm. On Saturday about fifty dancers were at the workshop and eight of them were beginners. Six came all the way from Göteborg in Sweden. There was also a woman from Holland. Pat Murphy went through some lovely sets: the Kilfenora Set, Set of Erin, Fermanagh Quadrilles, Atherlow Set and Souris Set.
Saturday evening a group of dancers went to the festival café and met somebody who hadn't been at the workshop and was anxious to learn the Kilfenora Set. As we were trying to explain the set to her, Pat Murphy came along and in the next second we had a full set and danced the Kilfenora Set while Pat lilted the whole way through the set! We have never tried anything like that and we were very impressed! And Pat said he had never danced in a set with only women before! We do hope he felt at ease doing so!
In the same corner of the café-only a short time later-Anders Trabjerg (a Danish box player who lives in Galway) and Klavs Vester from Moving Cloud began playing with such energy and power that all the festival guests got attracted to the splendid tunes and the dancers danced a couple of sets with great joy and happiness! It is very difficult to find something that can match an experience like that!
Unfortunately, Pat Murphy had to leave Denmark right after the workshop Sunday afternoon, and therefore he missed the ceílí Sunday evening. The ceílí takes place in a beautiful ballroom in the same building as the festival-there is a very nice atmosphere in the room and it usually attracts lots of the festival guests.
We are very proud of having our own Copenhagen Ceili Band-Bjarne Schmidt (banjo), Tim Goddard (flute), Peter Gorm Sørensen (fiddle) and Sonnich Lydom (box). They played wonderful music with lots of joy for several hours. Patrick O'Dea, who had been teaching in the step dance workshop during the weekend, also came and guided us through some sets.
We plan to ask Pat Murphy to come back to Copenhagen in November next year.
Laila Wedel and Elsebeth Rønne, Copenhagen Irish Set Dancers
October was a somewhat "slow" month in New York as far as set dancing goes. However that left time for a couple of outstanding music events-both involving musicians who are well-known to set dancers. Early in the month, New York University sponsored a week of traditional music, with lunchtime and evening concerts each day. Such notable musicians as Brian Conway, Tony DeMarco, Jerry O'Sullivan, Joanie Madden, Eileen Ivers and others performed for very knowledge-able and appreciative audiences. The week closed with a concert of banjo and button accordion greats, re-creating the sound of the old New York City dance halls, before the use of amplification. Mick Moloney, James Keane, Tom Dunne, Don Meade, Eamonn O'Leary, Mary Rafferty and Donal Clancy provided a bit of education as well as brilliant music.
The month ended on a particularly high note: Johnny Cronin, Sliabh Luachra box player, spent a few days in the New York metro area. A small contingent representing the Gathering, a yearly festival held in Killarney in February, was in the area to promote the festival. On Friday, October 31, Johnny played a concert at Biddy Early's (formerly the Blarney Star) with Pat Jones, Brendan O'Shea and Denis O'Driscoll. I attended with a few friends, and we were so impressed with the music and with the friendliness of the group Johnny was traveling with, that we decided we had to attend the ceili he was playing for the next evening.
Saturday Many dancers remember when Johnny was a regular on the New York ceili scene, prior to his return to Ireland. There was a large crowd (more than 100) at the Kerrymen's Hall in Yonkers on Saturday, November 1st, particularly when one considers that there were a number of other events on that same evening. Johnny was joined by Pat Jones on fiddle, Felix Dolan on keyboard and Brendan Fahey on ceili drums. It was one of the most relaxing and enjoyable ceili nights I've been to in a very long time, although when I left I felt as though I had run the marathon (the NYC Marathon was the following day). The group from Sliabh Luachra was friendly, and they really love their polka sets! By the time the ceili had finished, I was seriously considering attending the Gathering, too. Maybe if there were a few more reels . . .
November saw the Ceol na gCroí Ceili Band back in the dance hall again. The band took four or five weeks off as the individual musicians pursued separate projects. However, the Irish-American Society of Nassau, Suffolk and Queens was the venue for a terrific ceili on November 14th. Friday night ceilis sometimes suffer from a lack of motivation on the part of the dancers. After commuting home, it's often difficult to motivate oneself to have a quick shower and an even quicker dinner, and another battle to get to the ceili venue. That infamous New York City traffic, congestion at bridges, tolls and road repairs all conspire to keep people from venturing back out.
However, there were more than eighty dancers when Ceol na gCroi played in Mineola, and the music did not disappoint us. James Keane on box, Linda Hickman on flute, Niall O'Leary on keyboard and Brendan Fahey on ceili drums were in fine form, particularly on the reel sets! They graciously honored tune requests from the dancers and seemed to enjoy themselves as much as we did. Both James and fiddle master Patrick Ourceau are scheduled to play regularly with Ceol na gCroi in the coming months.
Maureen Donachie, Floral Park, New York
Timmy McCarthy's Cork-Kerry Weekend is the highlight of the year for lovers of polka sets from the southwest of Ireland and of the beautiful music of Sliabh Luachra. Everything about the dancing is different on this weekend, the sets, the music, the musicians and most of all Timmy himself. For the past ten years the weekend took place in the beautiful town of Dingle, Co Kerry, which was a major part of the attraction to those loyally attending the weekend every year. This year Timmy took the major step of moving the weekend to Ballyvourney, Co Cork, and many were concerned that the weekend wouldn't be the same. After attending the 11th Cork-Kerry Weekend on the 7th to the 9th of November, I am pleased to report that it was better than ever in its new home!
The new venue is the Abbey Hotel, already familiar to set dancers thanks to the popular ceilis there every Thursday night-some dancers came a day early to take advantage of this. The hotel staff love set dancers and the welcome was genuine when we arrived. The rooms were comfortable and warm, the food and service were good and the price was right. Ballyvourney is home for Timmy, so organising the weekend is easier for him and his wife Rhona.
Never one to keep dancers waiting, Timmy always begins ceilis and workshops exactly at their advertised times. At 10pm on Friday night he was on stage with box to begin with the Ballyvourney Reel Set, which despite the name is a six-figure set danced to polkas. Each ceili began with this set and it was danced again later, along with the other local set, the Ballyvourney Jig, which despite the name is always danced to slides. Timmy was joined by his son Tony on mandolin and two French musicians on flute and percussion. The percussionist played a selection of cowbells and drummed on the seat of a wooden chair that he carried from France on his back.
After a few sets, Timmy handed the music over to Richard Lucey from nearby Kilnamartyra on box and Jon Sanders from Dingle on guitar. They began with the Ballyvourney Reel, ready to play reels for it until Timmy set them straight. We were allowed a couple of reel sets, the Connemara and Plain, but we were there for the polkas and among others danced the Sliabh Luachra, West Kerry (twice) and Jenny Ling, a jig from Knocknagree.
Timmy has strong followings in Brittany and in Norway and there were groups attending from both countries along with the usual large number from England. There were also a few from Germany, Paris and Amsterdam. The overseas visitors probably outnumbered the Irish. A surprising number of Irish set dancers were experiencing Timmy for the first time. The Norwegians performed a couple of folk dances on Friday, accompanied by three fiddlers. Singing and acting play a big role in their dances, which always seemed to tell a story. There was also an interlude of French music.
Another advantage of the move to Ballyvourney was the Abbey Hotel's ballroom, which is fully timbered (no carpet) with around four times the dancing space of the Dingle venue. There were more on the floor this year but it was never crowded. When a set was in a tight squeeze, they just moved off to an empty space elsewhere.
The ballroom may have looked pretty empty at 10.25 on Saturday morning, but by 10.30 Timmy and Tony were playing and we were dancing the Ballyvourney Reel. Timmy is in his element in workshops, playing box and calling, explaining the history of a set and crediting his sources, telling stories and jokes. There were no formal demonstrations; he hopped into a set to show a move and then hopped back on stage to play the music. This style of learning might be a bit challenging for inexperienced set dancers like the Norwegians, but there were plenty of others to help out. We danced the Sliabh Luachra, West Kerry and Ballyvourney Jig, with Donal -'Village' Cronin replacing Timmy on box for some of the sets.
In the afternoon we danced the Sneem, Ardgroom and Borlin Jenny sets. Two ladies from Sneem in Kerry who danced the set all their lives served as authorities on its moves. Timmy paid tribute to Timmy Crowley, his source for the Ardgroom Set and a regular guest of honour at the weekend but who died in an accident in the past year. Noel Burke from Bantry revived the Borlin Jenny Set and took over from Timmy to teach it to us. It's the only Cork or Kerry set danced to reels, though using a polka step rather than a Clare reel step. We had music from Diarmuid McSweeney accompanied by his young granddaughter on bodhran. John Coakley, pianist with the Abbey Ceili Band, played box with two fiddlers, Johnny Sweeney and Richard Tisdall-it was a special pleasure to dance the Borlin Jenny to their music.
A welcome addition to the weekend's programme was a dinner attended by close to 100 of the participants. After the main course there was a special presentation to Brian and Mary Saunders of Borehamwood in England, who have never missed this weekend. At the first one they won a raffle prize of a settle (a high-back bench with a lift-up seat covering a storage space) made by Timmy, but it was too large to bring home with them. After ten years Timmy finally made a few pieces easier to carry on a plane-a bog oak sculpture, a mirror in bog oak and elm, two elm corner shelf units and a miniature settle. These were given to Brian and Mary in a highly theatrical presentation. Then the Norwegians performed a couple of their dances. In the rarely seen Bear Dance the men bounced up and down on the floor doing a kind of press-up. The four couples dancing the Tobacco Polka delivered a remarkable bit of acting-the men inhaled tobacco and sneezed, the couples had a violent fight and made up at the end with kisses and hugs. Afterward the group thanked Timmy and presented him with a Norwegian traditional hand-made wooden butter churn.
Once again Timmy was right on time for the Saturday night ceili, starting with another Ballyvourney Reel. Amergin took the stage after that, a group playing box, fiddle, bouzouki and mouth organ that formed after an impromptu appearance at the weekend in Dingle two years ago. Halfway through the ceili the music changed again-Pádraig Ó Sé and Jon Sanders are a powerful combination on box and guitar who had everyone moving with the greatest of energy. The sets came fast and furious, though the gaps between figures seemed to get longer and longer as the night wore on. It was getting late when Timmy called the Jenny Ling, which was abandoned after the second figure to leave time for the last set of the night-the West Kerry. The musicians outdid themselves. For the final, climactic figure Timmy, Jon and Pádraig formed a chorus to sing the polkas. The excitement was so good it survived an old-time waltz and there was still enough left over for a repeat of the last figure of the West Kerry. It was close to 2.30am when all was over.
No sign of Timmy at five to eleven on Sunday morning, but there he was right on the dot at eleven, starting off with Hurry the Jug. A difficult dance, he thought it would be a good one to do when there were only two sets on the floor, but soon there were eight. It's a beautiful figure dance done to slides and Cork-Kerry style steps, so there's no other dance like it. With a good bit of practice, everyone managed to get through it and I'd be happy to dance it all day. Afterward we danced the Borlin Polka and the Borlin Jenny.
One of the most visited holy sites in Cork is St Gobnait's Well and Church in Ballyvourney, and Timmy arranged a walk there after lunch accompanied by historian Daniel McSweeney. Gobnait was a native of Clare but was directed by an angel to make a journey which finished in Ballyvourney where she built a nunnery. She's the patron saint of bees and a modern statue of her on the site shows her standing on a beehive.
Always true to the clock, Timmy was right on time for the Sunday afternoon ceili, playing the Ballyvourney Reel Set himself. After that we were blessed with probably one of the best groups of musicians ever to play for sets. Donal Murphy and Matt Cranitch are two-thirds of Sliabh Notes, playing box and fiddle. They were joined by Donal's brothers Kevin and Declan on bouzouki and banjo and Jon Sanders on guitar. Together they formed a veritable Sliabh Luachra style ceili band that made the entire weekend, as good as the rest of it was! Anyone who wasn't persuaded of the enormous pleasure of polka sets was converted after dancing to these lads. The polkas were breathtaking, both figuratively and literally, and the slides for the Ballyvourney Jig were worth the price of admission on their own! There were reels for the Connemara Set, and for the Caledonian, which was especially requested by a lady from Kerry who prefers it to the West Kerry. The musicians were as delighted with the ceili as the rest of us and Donal said, "It doesn't get better than this." He was absolutely right. They were so keen to play they sometimes filled the pauses with music. During the last set, the Ballyvourney Reel once again, they couldn't stop themselves after the fourth figure so half the room continued with the fifth figure while the rest waited for a pause. It was Timmy who said, "This is as good as it gets."
The move from Dingle to Ballyvourney couldn't have gone better. The hotel, its staff, facilities and ballroom were a great improvement and this made for a better atmosphere in the ceilis and workshops. With some of the best music Ireland has to offer and one of the most enthusiastic and enjoyable dance teachers in set dancing, this is a highlight of the year for anyone who loves the music and dance of Cork and Kerry. Thanks, Timmy and Rhona, for a wonderful experience. Long may it continue!
The magic will never dieThis was my first visit to the Cork-Kerry weekend. For the past ten years this festival was held in Dingle, a very picturesque town that throbs with culture. The new venue this year the comfortable and welcoming family-run Abbey Hotel in Ballyvourney, Co Cork. This is a Gaeltacht area which is the heartland of Irish culture, set in the tapestry of history and legend. Several saints built monasteries and churches dating back to the sixth century which are still places of devotion today, including Naomh (St) Gobnait and Naomh Abbán in Ballyvourney, Naomh Fionnbara in Gougane Barra and Naomh Laichtín in Kilnamartyra.
This magical place is a superb venue for a weekend of polkas. Timmy 'the Brit' McCarthy brought polkas alive. I was excited to meet Timmy and experience his workshop as I had heard so much about his style of tutoring. I could not in any way be prepared for this warm smiling man with the mop of curly hair. His love for culture and style were evident in every word he spoke. Timmy spoke fluent Irish although he mentioned that he was not a native Irish speaker. No time was wasted at workshops. Everyone got out on the floor and danced as Timmy instructed the movements and played his beloved box at the one time. Timmy is a natural dancer and instructor and has a fantastic sense of humour.
We danced, we laughed and we learned so much about our culture and all the polka sets Timmy managed to squeeze into the weekend. Timmy gave everyone who attended the weekend the spirit of Ballyvourney to take home, its music, dance, song and story. This glen still has the myth and magic of Ireland around every bend in the road. As long as people like Timmy continue to pass on their love of polkas, history and true Irish tradition the magic will never die.
Timmy's popularity was clearly visible by the large attendance at workshops and ceilis all weekend. All the musicians for the weekend played their hearts out. I was amazed by their repertoire of polkas. I thought I had arrived in heaven, and was hesitant to leave on Sunday evening as the mists crept over the mountains.
Joan Pollard Carew
A tip from your editor: imagine this article as though it was spoken by someone with a thick, deep southern USA accent, such as that used by Butterfly McQueen in Gone with the Wind.
Honey, I did not know what fun was 'til I was introduced to Irish set dancing at Vaughan's Barn in Kilfenora three years ago! Ever since I began learning the sets, I've had so many, many exciting times. The most recent of these was at the Connie Ryan Memorial Set Dance Weekend at Cape May, New Jersey (October 3rd, 4th and 5th). I was the only southerner there. No one could believe that I'd come "all the way" from Atlanta, Georgia. The long weekend at Cape May was absolutely, positively, "P-Turkey" perfect!
At the three workshops, I loved learning sets that I'd never even heard of before: the Auban, Kiltimagh, Killenaule Lancers, Inis Oírr, and Skirdagh sets. Our teachers, Pádraig and Roisín McEneany made the learning at each workshop easy and fun and exciting. Oh, the wit and charm of the Irish-there's nothing in the whole world like it!
The musicians for the weekend kept our feet tapping and our souls soaring. It was especially great to bump into Brendan Dolan again. I've heard him play the piano at concerts for the past two summers at Augusta Heritage Irish Week in Elkins, West Virginia. And at Cape May, I got to meet and hear his delightful and talented (all the way through his body) dad, Felix.
There was an hour long concert on Saturday afternoon at which we heard all our musicians play. There was standing room only for this concert, and you better believe that everyone in that audience enjoyed every split second of that beautiful, beautiful music. It is becoming a tradition at Cape May for these musicians to play on the porch of the Inn of Cape May on the Saturday night way into the wee hours of Sunday morning!
The town of Cape May is pretty hard to beat. Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and Victorian architecture and quaint shops, it might be tempting to skip a class, but all that beauty was lost on me. All I could think about was dancing, dancing and more dancing.
The wind from the ocean was quite nippy-made me want to wrap up in the gift that was given to all the participants at the weekend, a warm cuddly blanket. It would have felt great thrown around my shoulders on the way to and from the workshops and ceilis.
I've nearly forgotten to mention the ceilis themselves. Really, there's no adjective grand enough to describe them. All I can say is "thank you" from the top of my head to the tips of my toes to the Greater Washington Ceili Club for organizing such a wonderful, wonderful event!
Barbara Brice, Decatur, Georgia
I was at a lively ceili last week in the greater Dublin area. The band was on its last run of reels and my set decided to choose a ceili dance. It seemed like other dancers had already exhausted the Plain Set and Connemara figures while we were still going. The band played on to the last bar and it was great.
As soon as we had finished, a group of local set dancers rushed over to us-
"What was that dance? I have never seen anything like it."
"Yes, it looked great. We couldn't help watching your set the whole time. We nearly stopped dancing all together!"
"What do you call it? The High-Cauled Cap? Never heard of it."
"First time we have seen it."
I was taken aback. Yes, there was genuine enthusiasm expressed but it greatly saddened me to witness something I had quietly suspected for some time. Here was a whole new generation of accomplished set dancers who had never seen one of the most popular of all ceili dances!
In the seventies and early eighties great effort was made to revive set dances as it was felt at the time a crime to ignore this great expression of Irish culture. Now thirty years later I feel it is a great shame that today's dancers are in turn abandoning a huge part of the same dance heritage, namely the whole ceili dance repertoire!
In the great rush and enthusiasm shown for the latest reconstructed set did the teachers simply forget the most beloved dances of early ceilis, the High-Cauled Cap, Trip to the Cottage, Eight-Hand Jig, Humours of Bandon, etc, or do they simply not know them?
There is a growing interest amongst accomplished dancers for steps, sean nós and old style, so why are ceili dances not considered worthy of the same attention?
The time has now come to reclaim these dances from a past where perhaps the compulsory nature of the teaching may have killed the enjoyment. The new generation of dancers however do not have this negative attitude and are eager to learn.
We should now appreciate these dances, know their value before it is too late and integrate them fully into the modern ceili scene. I send this call to all teachers and dancers: Wake up, learn and teach all those spirited dances with steps and style while there are still some people who can remember them.
Annie 'The French' O'Donnell, Bray, Co Wicklow
Over six years ago Angela Bernard and Liam Doyle of Rinceoiri Chualann, the Bray Set Dancers, went to Fitzsimon's in Dublin's Temple Bar to hear a young box player. They had heard that Joe Hughes could play for sets and they duly booked him to come out to Bray for a trial run. The trial run led to a regular gig and eventually him forming his own Brian Ború Ceili Band.
So it was with a great sense of pride that Katie Gallagher's, the regular venue for Rinceoiri Chualann, hosted the launch of the band's first CD, House Around. It was a night of lively music and great dancing. The CD has music for the Connemara, Caledonian and Tipperary Lancers sets. Joe Hughes leads the band on the accordion, his sister Theresa plays the banjo, Finian de Brun is on keyboards, Jimmy Flynn is on drums and Johnny Morrissey on concertina.
Visit to PraguePradsky Hrad, the castle area in Prague, is a vast complex of historical buildings overlooking the town. There is a huge Gothic cathedral, an art gallery, a Hapsburg palace, a toy museum and the house where Kafka wrote his short stories. On October 4th last in a beautiful 200-year-old hall the Brian Boru Ceili Band played exuberant and lively music for Rinceoiri Chualann, the Bray set dancers, who were meeting up with enthusiastic Czech set dancers. The baroque architecture quivered as dancers battered out their steps and danced until they were ready to drop. It was a wonderful weekend in a beautiful city and the Czech dancers were delighted to meet and dance with Irish people.
Dancers in Clare and beyond were shocked and saddened to hear of the death of -Margaret Brohan in an automobile accident in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Margaret was a young sean nós dancer, age 19, whose exceptional talent was becoming widely noticed. She spent the summer as a resident dancer at the Glor Centre in Ennis where she was spotted by Rhythm of the Dance, a show produced by the National Dance Company of Ireland. She was invited to join the show for a tour of the USA and was excited to make her first trip there.
The show visited Pittsburgh for two weekend performances. The following Tuesday night, 11 November, Margaret and some of the cast gave impromptu performances in an Irish pub in the city. Unable to get a taxi back to their hotel in the early hours of the morning, Margaret and three others accepted a lift from a pub patron. When the driver proceeded through a traffic light after it had turned green, the car was struck by a pickup truck which failed to stop for the red light. The truck's driver was on active duty with the Army National Guard. His blood alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit. He is charged with involuntary manslaughter, homicide by vehicle and homicide while driving under the influence. Colin O'Halloran, a singer with the show from Ballynacally, Co Clare, was seriously injured in the crash. The show cancelled two performances but was back on stage again the following weekend.
Hundreds attended Margaret's funeral on Tuesday, 19 November, in Clooney, Co Clare. Peter Hanrahan performed a brush dance in her honour at the end of the service.
Just received the latest issue and it looks smashing with the color. It really brings the pages to life and I am sure that many of your readers will agree though the black and white format wasn't really that bad. It's really terrific for the advertisers.
Paul Keating, Hillsdale, New Jersey
I would like to compliment you on the quality of the October-November edition of Set Dancing News. The colour certainly adds a new dimension to your publication. The layout and graphics are of an extremely high quality. I still have a copy of my first Set Dancing News (December 1997) which I purchased at the 1998 Malahide weekend. This was a four-page A4 document stapled together. Things have come a long way since. I also wish to complement you on keeping the cost static (for the present at least). I'm sure that the production costs for a coloured magazine must be considerable more than the black and white version. We now have a magazine that any organisation would be proud of, and I'm sure that set dancers through the world appreciate your efforts.
Keep up the good work.
Ger McInerney, Limerick
We like the colour! And of course the content and information.
Set Dancing News forms an essential part of our planning and travel kit for our trips to Ireland, and has been responsible for many encounters with some lovely people over the last few years. Thank you.
Jim and Sue Crick, Newbury, Berkshire
It's brilliant, Bill. More power to your elbow.
Janet and Joe O'Hara, Hungerford, Berkshire
I just want to congratulate you on the recent publication of the Set Dancing News in colour. It's only gorgeous! I must confess that the first thing that occurred to Gerrie and I after we had finished reading it from cover to cover was that us ladies had better colour coordinate in future when you are around with your 'dancing' camera! What vanity I can hear you say! And it was such a coincidence that the cover was about Labasheeda. Let me explain-when we resumed the set dance class in September, Gerrie and I did the Labasheeda as we had quite a few beginners. At the second class somebody asked me what does Labasheeda mean? Well I could have a guess that 'Laba' was maybe leaba as gaeilge for bed but after that I was lost, so very kindly one of the Irish ladies present emailed to her friend in Clare who emailed us back the derivative of Labasheeda and it corresponded exactly with your article. So much so that I had to make a copy of the cover and the article so it could be sent to the friend in Clare!
All the best, Slán,
Mary Butler, Luxembourg
Received my Set Dancing News yesterday. The colour is fantastic! Congratulations. I am glad the magazine is doing so well.
Hope all is well in Kilfenora. Keep up the good work.
Michael Breen, Burbank, California
Just wanted to say how much I enjoyed my most recent, full color, edition. Thank you!
Helen Gardner, Mattapoisett, Massachusetts
I just wanted to congratulate you on a terrific issue with all the photos in colour! The cover photo is particularly striking and the colour really seems to bring everyone to life. As the day here starts with a dark, crashing thunderstorm, I'm sure the colour will see us through the winter.
Best wishes to you,
Nora Stewart, Sandymount, Dublin
The new coloured magazine is really smart and flashy-congratulations! Much more fun, exciting, and professional-looking. Not that it wasn't excellent before, but there's something about colour-printing that just lifts publications into another class altogether.
Hope all's well with you,
Jinny Thomas, Beaumaris, Gwynedd, Wales
Congratulations on the new look to Set Dancing News. The color work is excellent-and I recognized the dance floor on the cover right away.
Trudy paged through it and left page 54 open for me. I wondered about the odd lady in the lower picture, then saw Bob Ginn. Last Sunday [October 19] some of us from Wilmington went up to the Poconos for the dance that Bob and Ruth put on yearly-and the picture got quite a chuckle from their friends there. Bob and Ruth started with figure dancing (ceili) lessons in Springfield, Pennsylvania, when we did. They have been great promoters of Irish dancing from there on. A friend, Dan DePretis, sent you the picture.
Thanks again for your great work for all set dancers.
Jim Holland, Wilmington, Delaware
Congratulations! Today we got the latest colourful Set Dancing News. It's just lovely!
Isao and Masako (Paddy and Bridget) Moriyasu, Tokyo, Japan
We are only sixteenHi,
My name is Michelle and I live in Limerick. I am an Irish dancer. I did set dancing for a few months in my local GAA Hall with my friend Laura, then it finished for the summer. We loved doing it. Our only problem was that everyone doing it was in their fifties, sixties and seventies and we are only sixteen. So I was wondering if you knew of anywhere set dancing classes are held in Limerick for people my age. If you don't know that do you have a name or number of someone we can contact to find out about it?
Thanks for taking time out to read my note. Yours sincerely,
Michelle Murphy, Limerick
I suggested to Michelle that she try the class in Dolan's Pub which is popular with university students. Classes for specifically for children are indicated on the Set Dancing News web site. Teachers wishing to include a class in the list are most welcome to contact me.
Juvenile set dancingDear Bill,
I would like to draw the attention of your readers to a juvenile set dancing workshop we ran on November 2nd, prior to our afternoon ceili with Matt Cunningham.
The workshop was conducted by John Fennell (Cooraclare, Co Clare) and centred around steps for reel sets. Upwards of sixty attended with ages ranging from 6 to 17 and was the second such workshop we have run within the past nine months.
Nothing very spectacular in that, one might think; however it pinpoints the need to introduce the young people to the set dancing culture. Many will have noticed that the numbers attending set ceilis have fallen-with some exceptions-and the age profile is increasing, which emphasises the need for those promoting the phenomenon to safeguard their future!
Might we suggest the need for other promoters to adopt our policy and ensure a continuation of the most significant development in the Irish dancing arena as fuelled by the late Connie Ryan.
There are two immediate obstacles to this progression:
I almost forgot to mention that the children and their mentors were admitted free to the ceili and hopefully they enjoyed it.
- The scarcity of instructors for children,
- The absence of a national, central body to coordinate this work.
We would be happy to speak with others who might share our aspirations and of course we will be including a further workshop alongside our annual adult one the first week in March.
Timmy Woulfe, West Limerick Set Dancing Club, Athea, Co Limerick
Why do the ceilis start so late?Dear Bill Lynch,
I write to you as, given the readership of the Set Dancing News, you are possibly the most influential person on the ceili scene at the moment.
Over and over again it comes up in conversation: Why do the ceilis start so late? In the wintertime we sit at home all night and then when it's close to bedtime we go out to a ceili that starts at 10.30-if we're lucky! The recent ceili in Derrygonnelly [at the Eddie Duffy-Mick Hoy Traditional Music Festival, Co Fermanagh] didn't start until almost eleven.
Why not move the starting time for ceilis to, say, 9.30 when the clock changes to winter time. Perhaps you could do a poll in the paper to see how your readers feel about it? If they would prefer an earlier time I'm sure organisers would take note. Thanking you for your attention,
Joe McGowan, Mullaghmore, Co Sligo
Well, by golly, I did!Dear Bill,
I was delighted to receive your October-November issue of Set Dancing News thanks to my cousins, Terry and Mary Burke of Florida who ordered a subscription for me.
My husband Jack and I live in Connecticut and are fortunate to own a home in Labasheeda, Co Clare. What a wonderful time we had at the Dan Furey Weekend in September! Never having danced sets before, I attended a workshop on Saturday afternoon and was introduced to the Kilfenora Set. On Sunday evening I was determined to try out my new skills. Everyone, knowing right away that I was a novice, was amazingly patient and helpful. Early in the evening you said to me, "You're going to have the best time you've ever had here tonight!" Well, by golly, I did!
Jack and I now attend Thursday night set dancing at our Gaelic American Club in Fairfield under the able direction of Joan and Pat Kennedy. We are hoping to attend next year's Dan Furey Festival in Labasheeda with some expertise.
Thanks again for the beautiful newsletter featuring our own lovely Labasheeda. I even found my picture!
Nancy Hurley, Monroe, Connecticut
A breakthrough in Maitland
It's taken many years but finally we have infiltrated the Australian Colonial scene with Irish set dancing! At this year's Bush Music Club 23rd Subscription Ball we had on the programme the Clare Lancers and Plain Set as well as the Sweets of May.
The ball was held in Maitland Town Hall about 2½ hours drive north of Sydney. The hall was designed in 1888 and the foundation stone laid in the same year-local Council approval must have been speedy in those days! The reason Maitland Town Hall is so popular with the dancers is that it has a fully sprung floor-even if you are not dancing you get the feeling you are. It is sheer magic to dance the night away in such surroundings.
I have enclosed a photo showing the fifth figure of the Clare Lancers-and yes, it was danced in lovely gliding Clare reel stepping.
Those intending to attend the Ball are given the opportunity to learn the dances which will be on the programme by attending workshops in the weeks leading up to the Ball. On the night dance cards are handed out at the door and gentlemen may engage the ladies in the dance of their choice. The night commences with a Grand March followed by the first quadrille on the programme. This year's programme included Australian, Irish, Scottish and Welsh dances both traditional and contemporary.
In 2004 the Bush Music Club will be celebrating its Golden Jubilee and I am reliably informed that the Clare Lancers has already been earmarked for the programme.
Best wishes to you and all fellow set dancers.
Margaret Winnett, Bexley North, NSW, Australia
A fantastic success in ListowelHello Bill,
On behalf of the "Stepping It Out" Set Dancing Club, Co Kerry, we would like to thank everyone who supported and helped to make our first weekend in Listowel a fantastic success. Those who travelled from far and near, without your continued support a weekend like we just had would not be possible. We would also like to thank Bill Lynch and Joan Pollard of Set Dancing News magazine for their continued support and also Pat Murphy for a most enjoyable and successful workshop. We'd especially like to thank all the bands, the Davey Family, the Turloughmore, Alana, Emerald and Matt Cunningham for their tremendous performances. We hope everyone enjoyed the weekend and look forward to another success next year.
Jerry O'Rourke, Michael O'Rourke and Mary Philpott
Sean-Óg thanksThe Sean-Óg Set Dancing Club, would like to take this opportunity to thank everybody from all over the country and abroad who came and supported our weekend.
Our thanks to the talented teachers who gave workshops, Roisín Ní Mhainnín, Pat Murphy, Peter Hanahran and John Cassidy, and also to the bands for their excellent music.
Again we had another wonderful success with enough funds left over to donate to both the Breast Cancer Unit and Our Lady's Children's Hospital, Crumlin.
We're looking forward to seeing everybody next year in Longford on 19th, 20th and 21st November 2004.
Gerard Butler and Gabrielle Cassidy, Sean-Óg Set Dancing Club
An outstanding contributionDear Mr Lynch,
AOIFE-the Association of Irish Festival Events-represents some 385 festivals throughout the island of Ireland. Founded in 1993, today AOIFE is the recognised voice of the festival industry in Ireland.
Our Annual Conference takes place in Tralee, Co Kerry, from Friday November 7th through Sunday November 9th at the Brandon Hotel.
A feature of the Annual Conference is the presentation of the Donal O'Driscoll Memorial Award. This award is bestowed on the media organisation, publication, programme or personality that, in the opinion of the AOIFE National Executive, has made an outstanding contribution to publicising and promoting Irish festivals. The Award is made at the Conference Banquet on Saturday November 8th.
Previous winners include the Irish Times, the Irish Examiner, Mugshot TV and TG4. Further information on the award is available at www.aoifeonline.com.
I am delighted to inform you that Set Dancing News has been nominated as a candidate to receive the award this year. In due course the National Executive will complete the adjudication process and I will then advise you further.
Please convey to your team our congratulations on the nomination.
Nicole Mulholland, Secretary General, AOIFE, Creagh, Ballinasloe, Co Galway
Nicole wrote again after the adjudication to inform me that the award was presented to the Ray Darcy Show on Today FM. Many thanks to those responsible for nominating Set Dancing News.
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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