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).
Everyone has a story to tell about dancing and what it means to them. This is the first of an occasional series of short interviews with ordinary dancers who have extraordinary stories. I met Kate Carr in April at the #1 Irish Weekend in the Nevele Grande Hotel, Ellenville, New York, where she told me about her Broadway dream come true.
I came from a non-dancing household in Ballsbridge, Dublin. My parents had absolutely no interest in any kind of traditional music. They were big band dancers but just a completely social basis. They'd go to hear the big showbands. My uncle travelled back and forth to America on a regular basis and he'd bring Broadway show albums home. I think from the earliest stage I remember I was dancing around the parlour, making up my own dance routines and lip syncing to the records. It was just something that I adored. And then I saw American musical movies and I was hooked on the dancing.
As a kid I did step dancing. I was good but, let's put it this way, I don't think I was Riverdance material. I wasn't a champion. I did compete, but it wasn't quite as vicious as it is here in competition. It's like a beauty pageant almost. My parents did not pay a thousand dollars for my dress!
Then I came to America actually with my parents, New York City, Manhattan. My father had a job opportunity here. I'm the only child and my dad died six months after we got here. We decided to stay and my mother remarried. All the time that I was finishing school, all I could think of was dancing. I spent all my money going to Broadway shows and I took a lot of classes. I would take jazz dance classes at a place called Luigi's.
And one day I decided that I would try what they call a 'cattle call', which means you don't have your Actors' Equity trade union card but you can go and audition. About the fourth audition that I did, I got a part in the revival on Broadway of a show that Bob Fosse did called Pippen. I did that for seven months and then after that I worked off Broadway in the revival of Hair. And no, I did not take my clothes off because my mother begged me, "Please do not take your clothes off every night!" That was optional. I worked in Godspell on Broadway and off Broadway and did an awful lot of what they call 'bus and truck' for the next seven years. Bus and truck is where you take a Broadway show and you go out of town, whether it's Boston or Washington and you do that. I also did a few dramatic acting roles including 1776 and Shakespeare in Central Park.
At first it was a shock to come from a homogenous country to New York City and to work in the theatre with all different sorts of people, black and white and gay and straight and Asian and Latino. Your boundaries are only within your own small circle of dancing so there's no room for prejudice. You're all doing the same thing and you're all loving the same thing and you're all young. I think it taught me a valuable lesson straight away that people are the same.
So I danced for seven years on and off Broadway. It was a dream. I carried a forty pound dance bag, which I'm almost doing right now actually-leggings, shoes, leotards, towels, all sorts of things. But the problem is that a professional dancer's body wears out very quickly. So by the time I was 29 that was it, that was the end of my career. Number one, you don't get the jobs that you used to get. Number two, your body starts to feel it a lot more. It's like a football player's body. Then I had to enter the real world of a regular person's job. I got a job. I was a civilian. We call them 'civilians' in the business.
I always loved Irish music, dancing to jives and waltzes for the next some odd years. And then seven years ago my husband Pat and I were at Lincoln Center on a beautiful night and the Kilfenora Ceili Band were there and we watched sets for the first time up close. I fell in love and I said, "We're gonna do this!"
Pat said, "No, no, I don't want to do anything where I'm dependent on three other couples."
So we started to take lessons-the first teacher was Daphne McAllister in Queens and then Kathleen Collins, who really whipped us into shape.
We try to get back to Ireland two or maybe sometimes three times a year to do some of the major dance events. We're very spoiled in New York. We have sometimes three ceilis on a weekend and we'll go to all three if we can. And we're very lucky with the music over here. We have at least three very, very fine ceili bands and so we get our obsessive dose every weekend. We've travelled to Ibiza to dance and we'd like to go to Australia to dance.
But what amazes me, and that's at Willie week primarily, is that we can be dancing in a set with an Italian couple, and we've danced with couples from Israel, and it seems to me that the love and the feel of this music just transmits itself to many other cultures as well. We have some Asian dancers, there was Al from Chicago who's Afro-American. It helps to be Irish, but I don't think it's essential if you have the rhythm for it and you have the love of the music.
The one other thing I'd say is that dancing on Broadway or dancing professionally taught me an incredible sense of discipline that rightly or wrongly I've carried into everything in life. I think that set dancing also teaches you a kind of mental discipline. While you're on the floor if you think of anything else, that's it-you're in big trouble!
I think that in my whole life, whether it was Broadway music or whatever dancing I ever did, set dancing to me is magical-the melding of the music and the dance, and the feeling in a hall. I feel very fortunate that I have a great group of friends that I met through this, new friends I meet. When I go to Ireland I see old friends, teachers that we know, and then I make another bunch of friends. So that the set dancing community is a lovely, lovely place to be in. It's changed my life and I kinda hope I can do this into my middle, later middle and real older age. I think after my family and my friends, this is the love of my life.
Kate Carr, Long Island City, New York
If you'd like to tell your story or know of someone who'd be a good subject for an interview, please contact Bill Lynch.
For those who are not familiar with the geography of Japan, I'd like to start by explaining where 'Kansai' is. Kansai implies the west part of Japan on the largest island Honshu and includes large cities such as Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe. Before the government moved our capital to Tokyo, which is located in the east part of the country, Kansai was the administrative center of Japan and is still one of the cultural and commercial strongholds. The largest Kansai city Osaka and metropolitan Tokyo have had a sort of rivalry-just like Dublin and Cork. We settled in Kansai last year, one year after we eventually moved back from Ireland. Here, I got to know friendly and enthusiastic local set dancers.
Hitoshi Kubo (aka Kirin) and Eiko Kubo are the pioneers of set dancing in Kansai. They organized the first-ever workshop in Kansai in 1998 and now run three classes and workshops in Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe. I actually met Mr Kubo and shared the same B&B in Miltown Malbay for the Willie Clancy Summer School more than ten years ago. He then attended a concertina class, while I of course did set dancing. Every night I went to céilí and came back after midnight. One morning he asked me what I had been doing so late at night. He may have thought set dancing could be something dangerous. But now he understands what set dancers do at céilí. He and his wife have become regular visitors to summer schools in Ireland.
What is unique about them and their dancers in Kansai is that they love the tradition of set dancing combined with music. The most impressive céilí for Mr and Mrs Kubo was the one with the Tulla Céilí Band at the Willie Clancy Summer School. They do not like dancing too aerobically or battering around for sets like the Clare Lancers. Because they believe that live music is essential for set dancing, they set up their own céilí band, Sainak, derived from Kansai. Sainak plays not only for their céilí, but also for their regular classes in Osaka. Both musicians and dancers keep the dancing scene in Kansai active.
Céline and Michael Tubridy, Patrick O'Dea and Aidan Vaughan visited Kansai and taught their steps to the dancers. This year, Pat Murphy will have workshops here in August. Mr and Mrs Kubo participated in his workshops in Drumshanbo and decided to invite him to Japan. The eager set dancers in Kansai look forward to his visit in the hottest (not only due to their enthusiasm) season in Japan.
From the moment dancers started to arrive at the annual set dancing festival in the Earl of Desmond Hotel, Tralee, Co Kerry, on the weekend of 23rd to 25th January, it was evident that this Shindig was going to be different from all the others. A quiet sadness shadowed events and dancers talked of the sad death of Michael Sexton.
The weekend got underway at 7.30pm with Peter Hanrahan's workshop, a very popular addition to the festival. The beautiful Chieftain Suite saw sixty dancers eager to learn from this brilliant young Co Clare tutor. Peter encouraged everyone in the room to get out on the floor and went around individually to anyone who needed assistance to master the steps. Peter has a unique method of teaching-his melodious calling is like lilting the tune so there's no real need for music.
Before the Friday night céilí began Paddy Hanafin asked for a minute's silence in memory of Michael Sexton. Paddy announced that the weekend was dedicated to Michael. "This is our eleventh festival and Michael has been with us for the last ten. As you are aware we still have Michael's band playing tomorrow night with Michael's son Micheál taking his late father's place."
The first céilí of the festival started at 10pm with the smiling, enthusiastic and exuberant Emerald Céilí Band on stage. The céilí got underway with the Plain Set and finished with the Newport. The pace was set for the weekend.
Saturday morning saw twelve sets all eagerly anticipating another exciting workshop with Pat Murphy. Pat began with the South Kerry Set and told us he got this set from Muiris O'Brien many years ago. Like so many sets this one is not danced at all at céilí. Yet it is simple enough and nicely paced with polkas, jigs and a slide for the fifth figure. Pat moved quickly to the second set, Seit Doire Cholmcille. Pat paid tribute to Frankie Roddy who composed this set some years ago. Pat mentioned a slight amendment to the notes in his book, Flowing Tide-there is no turning the lady after the lead around. Time was closing in and dancers were eager to have lunch so Pat decided to finish the set in the afternoon. As we had danced the first three figures, all reels, before lunch, afterward we danced the remaining two figures, a jig and a hornpipe.
Then it was back to a Kerry set again and the Cloghane Set. This little treasure of a polka set is also known as the Brandon Set. John Chambers from Camp near Tralee recently revived this set. The Saturday workshop closed with the Ballyduff Set, from Co Waterford, another lively polka set.
The ballroom was prepared for Mass at 5.45pm in memory of Michael Sexton. Michael's niece Caroline Tubridy O'Dea read the prayers for the faithful and his son Micheál played a slow air specially composed for the occasion called Michael's Lament. Family, friends and dancers fought back tears as the tune pulled our heartstrings. The Mass concluded with Michael's band, including his son and niece, playing a selection of reels in his memory.
Long before its start, troops of dancers gathered for the most important céilí of the weekend. When Michael Sexton's band with his son Micheál and niece Caroline started playing reels at 10pm the floor was thronged with eager dancers. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves yet there was an almost tangible sadness as dancers remembered all the other years at this festival, and indeed all the other céilís, that the Michael Sexton band had played for over many years.
The musicians on stage played unforgettable music with their emotions mostly held in check. However at times we could see and feel the loneliness in their performance, but this heightened the whole experience for everyone present.
Michael's nephew was in charge of selling CDs and tapes for the night and not surprisingly all were sold out as dancers queued to purchase these treasures.
At break time mid-way through the céilí Paddy Hanafin made a special presentation to the band in recognition of their association with the festival. A minute's silence was held and Paddy spoke of Michael's contribution to music-"The music industry has lost one of the best musicians in the world. Dancers and musicians have lost one of life's treasures, but his music will live on and his warmth and smile will be forever in our hearts."
On Sunday morning at Pat Murphy's workshop we danced the Ballyduff Set again by popular demand, and the Monaghan and Loughgraney sets. Pat decided that demonstrations were not necessary. He called all the moves and walked the chain in the Monaghan and hornpipe in the Loughraney. Peter Hanrahan then took over and the workshop continued with Peter teaching Clare battering steps and concluded with dancers putting their newly acquired steps in to practice dancing the Caledonian Set.
At 2.30pm Taylor's Cross Céilí Band graced the stage and the floor was thronged with eager dancers for the final céilí of the weekend. As usual Donie Nolan and his band played their hearts out. Dancers also enjoyed a few waltzes as Maura Nolan sang haunting lyrics. The afternoon and the festival closed with Donie singing My Blue Eyed Mountain Girl as dancers took a breather before the final set of reels.
Another brilliant Shindig had come to an end. We look forward to a repeat performance from the organisers Paddy and Carolyn Hanafin in 2005.
Joan Pollard Carew
Omagh, nestled in the heart of Tyrone, was the venue for a marvellous weekend of music and set dancing on 30th January to 1st February 2004. Despite the monsoon-like conditions over the weekend, the weather failed to prevent great crowds 'raining' down on the Dun Uladh Heritage Centre on the outskirts of the town. This was the first time in many years that this annual gathering included a Sunday workshop and afternoon ceili.
The weekend kicked off with an informal session in Molly Sweeney's pub to welcome our set dancing friends from all over Ireland. On Saturday morning and afternoon, the ever-popular Pat Murphy taught some new dances including the Ballyduff Set from Co Waterford and the Claddagh Set from Connemara. Both sets were intricate in parts, which led to a few light-hearted moments when mistakes were made in dancing the more complicated figures. With Pat at his enthusiastic best, coupled with some antics from our Mayo friends, it all made for a thoroughly enjoyable day's dancing and craic.
Traditionally, the Michael Sexton Ceili Band played for many years at the Saturday night ceili. Sadly, we all learned of Michael's passing just before Christmas. A minute's silence was observed with solemn respect for this legendary accordion player who will be sorely missed throughout Ireland and beyond.
The Swallow's Tail Ceili Band played for this ceili. It is a few years since the band has played in Dun Uladh-and what a performance they treated everyone to! The five-piece group has greatly enhanced its reputation as a result of the wonderful music resonating around a packed Dun Uladh Centre. For the benefit of the less experienced dancers (as well as those who should know better!) Marie Garrity, Mickey McAleer and Pat Murphy called the sets. At the end of the night, the band was given a rousing ovation and was immediately approached to play at next year's event. I am pleased to announce they accepted the invitation.
On Sunday morning, after a very late night for some revellers, Pat Murphy attracted a pleasing crowd for his workshop. He presented another new dance, the Cloghane Set, a Kerry polka set also known as the Brandon Set.
The Davey Ceili Band played for another packed audience on the Sunday afternoon. This young band (including John and his pipe) is a marvel when they are all playing together. Some wonderful reel music together with fantastic dancing all but raised the Dun Uladh roof. It was a fitting finale to a wonderful weekend in the Co Tyrone town.
On behalf of Omagh Traditional Dancing Club, a very big thanks to all our friends from around Ireland for making the weekend an outstanding success. For the well organised dancing enthusiasts, next year's event takes place from Friday 28th to Sunday 30th January 2005.
Paul Cairns, Chairperson
Weather conditions were very wintry here in Erlangen, Germany, at the end of January, but Aidan Vaughan made his long way from Clare safely and in time for the weekend of dancing from 30th January to 1st February.
When he arrived, I was honored to host him for a couple of days. As Friday evening approached, I watched every snowflake, scared that workshop participants would have trouble with difficult road conditions. Friends were travelling to Erlangen from as far as Switzerland, the very north of Germany and various other parts of the country.
As we gathered in the Erlangen Irish Pub, a lovely old style building, Aidan and I noticed with great joy that many participants had already made their way into town and were already enjoying a Guinness and a few sandwiches in the pub. There were great hellos, hugs and kisses with friends who haven't met for a while. We all were happy to be together for two days sharing our passion: set dancing.
Chatting away for a long time, we eventually got to dance the Clare Lancers and the Connemara Set. Later on Aidan called the Caledonian for us. Fintan Walsh, the owner of the pub, was very pleased having more than thirty thirsty set dancers as his customers.
Next morning, people gathered in the gothic-style hall where we danced last year. José Sanchez, an artist from New York living in Wuerzburg, exhibited his lovely pictures in the hall. They gave the room a wonderful warm touch.
Aidan started the morning workshop with the Sliabh Luachra Set, a lively polka set from the Cork-Kerry-Limerick area. Having danced that, our legs were well warmed up and ready for steps for sets, Aidan's speciality. A circle of about fifty people watched Aidan with envy-everybody was trying to copy his wonderful style. He broke down the steps exactly, so most of us could follow him. He concluded the morning workshop by calling the South Galway Set. Before we left the hall for a break, we had the great pleasure of watching Aidan dance his sean nós steps for us.
After the lunch break, the day continued packed with action. Aidan taught us the lovely Connemara Jig Set, a favourite of mine. When he spotted us having problems in the first figure, he repeated and explained the movements exactly and with great patience. After being successful with the Connemara Jig, we continued with the West Kerry Set, another speedy set.
Thankful for a three-hour break, all assembled at 8.30pm for the evening ceili. As last year, the Erlangen Irish band Greenfield played. The musicians were in great form and every single tune came from their heart and soul. Dancing the Lancers, Cashel, Kilfenora Plain, Ballyvourney Jig, an old time waltz, Connemara Jig and Reel, Labasheeda and Plain Set, I felt like I was back in Ireland. Most of the time there were six or seven sets on the floor. With the help of our teacher, we got safely through all the sets.
During a twenty-minute break, Aidan danced out his steps absolutely perfectly. He did not seem to touch the floor at all but yet the sound of his feet was terrific. He seemed to have an earthquake in his shoes. As the night was winding down, most of us were drowned with sweat. After the last set was played, Aidan and the band got never ending applause for giving us a wonderful ceili night here in Erlangen. Talks between friends went on for a long time and continued in the local bars and pubs-Erlangen is proud to offer more pubs than days in the year.
Sunday morning at 10.30am four sets gathered in the hall for more. Aidan taught the Clare Orange and Green Set, a little treasure of a Clare set with lovely movements in it like the contrary. To finish off this weekend, we repeated the Connemara Jig with great enthusiasm. We didn't let Aidan say goodbye without giving us one more sample of his sean nós steps. Sunlight poured onto the floor and dust came up around Aidan's feet! A perfect finish to our weekend.
Good to know Aidan will be back in town the same time next year.
Andrea Forstner, Erlangen, Germany
In a few short years the Gathering Festival at the Gleneagle Hotel, Killarney, Co Kerry, has become one of the biggest events of the set dancing calendar. This year saw even more dancers joining in the fun from the 25th to the 29th of February. What's the attraction? There's all the usual dancing weekend features of workshops and ceilis, but the Gathering offers more. There's a strong emphasis on music, with a full programme of concerts and sessions day and night, so there's plenty to do if you don't fancy dancing all the time. Killarney is one of Ireland's top tourist destinations so you can easily keep busy outside the hotel too. But the main attraction for me is that everyone else is here too, hundreds from every corner of the set dancing world. This "herd mentality" resulted in the biggest ceili I've ever seen!
Events started modestly enough with a bus tour on Wednesday which gave the early arriving visitors a chance to experience the real Ireland. The only stop on the tour was Scartaglen, Co Kerry, where a genuine slice of Ireland is guaranteed. Half the bus went to Tom Fleming's Bar for a session and the rest went to the Sliabh Luachra Cultural Center, a small recently built hall, for a ceili. When I arrived (travelling independently) at the hall the bus had already deposited a big crowd who were waiting itching to dance. Tim Joe and Anne O'Riordan mounted the stage, revved up the instruments and set us off dancing at full throttle. A second bus soon unloaded its cargo into the hall and there were as many as ten sets on the floor, and a good crowd of spectators too. I'd been expecting a quiet little ceili but was delighted by a full floor of keen dancers, and by the unbeatable music of Tim Joe and Anne.
Six Sliabh Luachra musicians were honoured at an awards ceremony on Thursday night. Johnny O'Leary's death was still on everyone's mind and a moment of silence was observed in his memory. Local teacher and musician Nicky McAuliffe presented a lecture on Sliabh Luachra and its music using a mixture of recordings and live music. Brendan Begley sang beautifully in Irish during the talk. Awards were presented afterward to six legendary musicians of the area. Johnny O'Leary's award was accepted by his daughter Ellen. The other five each played a tune, some told stories and proudly posed for photos with their trophies. Afterward, Seamus MacMathuna performed a song he wrote in honour of Johnny O'Leary and there was a brief performance by a group of local musicians.
Once the formal part of the evening had concluded, the chairs were cleared from the floor for a ceili with the Four Star Trio. It was my first time hearing them and yet it was very familiar-they played in the gentle Sliabh Luachra style I heard many times from Johnny himself. The four sets we danced were the perfect end to the night. No dancing was scheduled on Friday until the ceili that night, so on request from some visitors, an afternoon session was organised in the hotel bar. Mairéad Casey took charge of the music and put on a CD to dance the Connemara Set, but before the set was finished, she got Brendan Begley to play for us. We carried on with the West Kerry and Kilfenora sets and the craic was mighty. Brendan's young son accompanied him on melodeon for a few figures, and Brendan gave us more of his lovely songs. Mick Mulkerrin and Mairéad danced a few solo steps and Brendan was so enchanted by this he tossed his box in the air when they finished!
The ceili on Friday night was the first of three held in the enormous INEC (Irish National Events Centre) during the weekend. It's designed to hold spectator events such as concerts, shows and sports, but it works well as a ballroom. The sound is good, there's plenty of seating and the floor is surely the largest used for set dancing in Ireland. Taylor's Cross Ceili Band from Limerick was on stage, along with bean a' tí Anne Keane, and dancing began with the customary Sliabh Luachra. A couple of times the music ran longer than the figures, and quite a bit longer in the Cashel Set hornpipe to claps and cheers from the crowd. Donie Nolan, the band's box player, explained that they didn't want to cut the tunes short as the music was being recorded. It would be good news indeed if the music of Taylor's Cross was available on CD.
Mick and Mairéad's workshop on Saturday was back in the ballroom, which was just the right size for the attendance. After warming up with a few figures from the Connemara, Mick taught us the South Kerry Set and the popular new Claddagh Set, which he continued after the lunch break. Mairéad took over after that to teach her local set, the Longford Set and its challenging footwork. As the workshop finished there was an impromptu demonstration of table dancing. Mick mounted a table to do a bit of sean nós dancing and Brendan Begley hopped up to accompany him. Mairéad provided an encore.
I then went along to the hotel bar to see how John 'the lepper' Lynch was getting on with the beginners class. He was in charge of three sets dancing the Jenny Ling, the local jig set. Brendan Begley arrived soon after I did and played more of his heartfelt music for the dancers.
From the first set at the Saturday night ceili with the Abbey Ceili Band the floor seemed noticeably fuller than I'd seen before, last night and last year. When a set was called the crowd in the seating area had to form queues to squeeze through the narrow gaps between tables. The floor filled quickly, though it took a long while to find partners for all the solitary dancers waving hands in the air. At the time I had no idea of how many sets were on the floor, but later I heard estimates as high as 103! That's close to the mark, I'd say, and despite that, the floor never felt jammed. There was room for more. Sets were capably called by local teacher Ann Mangan, though Tim Joe O'Riordan took over the microphone during the Connemara Set to give her a break. The Abbey Ceili Band excelled themselves throughout. After the last set, no one wanted to stop so the band kindly supplied a brilliant rake of reels to let us dance one more set of whatever we wanted.
The hotel had installed a café especially for the Gathering, located nearby the INEC. It was open from morning until 3am and did a roaring trade late at night. I chatted to friends there after the ceili, and when I passed by again on Sunday morning, there they were again as if they'd never left!
Workshop venues were reassigned on Sunday morning and Mick and Mairéad were awarded the use of the INEC. I think they prefer to teach in a cosier hall and tried to keep everyone together by setting a rectangle of chairs on the floor. These were pushed back gradually as more dancers came down to learn some sean nós steps. Sets were organised in the second half of the workshop for more practice at the South Kerry and Claddagh sets.
With such a fabulous crowd of dancers around me, I would have needed a week of ceilis to dance with all of my friends. For the final Sunday afternoon ceili with the Glenside Ceili Band, I asked a few ladies and a few asked me and before the first set I had seven partners booked, a new record! I had to resort to writing them down as I knew my memory would fail me. It was a delightfully vigorous ceili-there was probably enough energy generated by the dancers to illuminate the nation for an hour. The Glenside were just as energetic as any of the dancers, and barely paused even for a breath between figures.
Immediately following the end of the ceili the hall was transformed for another event that evening-partitions went up and seats came down as dancers slowly departed. The café was filled then so I continued on to hotel reception where we could help ourselves to complimentary tea and coffee. This part of the Gleneagle is full of rooms and odd corners which attracted sessions, which were still gaining momentum after the ceili. Later in the early hours of Monday morning, the place was packed, with musicians scattered everywhere, playing their hearts out.
Once again the Gathering proved to be a superb weekend of dancing with a strong emphasis on music in a spectacular venue. And best of all were the friends who came from far and wide to join in the fun.
While reading a popular Irish travel guidebook in February at an Irish B&B, I noticed references to set-dancing (with a hyphen). Travelers were advised to view a "hoedown" at an Irish céilí or to see set dancing at such-and-such pub; tourists were not encouraged to join the dancing. I sent an e-mail message to the author to provide additional information about "hoedowns" and pub dancing. Among other things, I notified the author many, if not most, dance venues encourage visitors to join the dancing. I also mentioned there are some travelers who plan trips to Ireland around dance activities. We have done so and we know others do so as well. We've enjoyed combining traditional tourist stops with set dancing. We planned to visit many of the same places shown in the travel guides during the day. Then, using information in Set Dancing News, looked for a place to dance after the sun went down. Such trips are grand fun.
As we entered the lobby area of the Earl of Desmond Hotel for the first day of the 2004 Shindig at the Windmill, we met dancers from New York, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin. Several of them had already been to the Malahide event the preceding weekend. The Shindig was enjoyable. We participated in workshops and ceilis during the very busy weekend. We noted with interest how some of the dancers battered mightily during the céilís and during the final anthem. The battering was so intense (read "loud") on occasion other dancers couldn't hear the music. The all-battering sets occupied a lot of floor space as other sets moved away as best as possible to avoid being kicked or stepped-upon.
> After the Shindig weekend, we spent a few days in Galway City. We visited dance classes taught by Tony Ryan (twice) and Marie Philbin. We had an amusing time trying to locate the hall where Marie's class was held. We pulled up beside a jogger who readily agreed to give us directions but insisted we drive along at his jogging pace. He yelled the street names and proper turns as we tried to ensure we missed the parked and moving cars around us. In all the classes we visited, it was pleasurable to dance with young, old, experienced and less-experienced dancers. Refreshingly, the sessions were about actually dancing. The teachers didn't spend time lecturing dryly on history or theory or whatever-we danced.
We toured Connemara then went on to Mayo. We visited Pat Murphy's class at Louisburgh and were delighted to see so many young people in Pat's class. Most were dancing the sets in class for only their second time. They were having a wonderful time learning a bit of the Corofin Plain and the Set of Erin. An older couple came into the dance area late and told me they just wanted to watch. It wasn't long, however, before the gent shed his suit coat and he and his partner joined a set and danced the rest of the evening.
At one of the fine Westport hotels, we visited Eamonn Gannon's dance class. One of the newer dancers was housing across the set verbalizing the pattern Eamonn had taught, "hop-2-3-4, hop-2-3-4, hop-1, hop-2, hop-3, hop-4." The steps were being very enthusiastically and successfully danced.
While with Tony Ryan, he announced there would be a dance weekend at nearby Spiddal. We decided to explore the opportunity since some of Tony's students spoke so highly of it. "It's our dance weekend", said Mary, one of the Galway dancers. The Spiddal weekend began Friday evening, 6th February, in one of the fine pubs. Caitríona Ní Oibicín welcomed us as we were putting on our dance shoes. Around 9.45pm, P J and Marcus Hernon began playing sparkling music for dancing. We pushed back chairs and three sets were in the dance area straight away. The sean nós dancing started sometime after midnight.
Refreshed by a night of rest and a hearty breakfast at our B&B, we attended the set dance workshop led by Mick Mulkerrin. The Limerick Orange and Green and the Williamstown Sets were taught in a school hall built in the 1930s. There's a strong timbered floor in the hall that has withstood the pressure of dancing and other activities for many years. We like Mick's mixing-of-the-dancers for his workshops. After a figure has been danced, parts of each set are asked to move on to another set. Those who attended the workshop plus many others arrived to enjoy the Saturday evening dancing to the music provided by the Turloughmore Céilí Band, a ten-piece group that filled the hall with excellent dance music. Interestingly, neither they nor Johnny Connolly and friends who played for the céilí on Sunday afternoon said anything from the stage-they just played and played. The dancers applauded their skills multiple times.
We truly enjoyed the charm of the Spiddal weekend. It was a warm, friendly setting. Everyone made us so welcome. They invited us into their sets and we enjoyed dancing with them. We may have been the only international dancers there for the weekend, but the local dancers made us feel like long term County Galway residents. The weekend truly was a highlight for us. The organizers are commended for creating and sustaining the music and dance weekend!
Larry Taylor, Stow, Ohio
For the third year in a row Róisín Ní Mhainín from Ros Muc has won Comórtas Chóilín Sheáin Dharach, the traditional jig competition held in Connemara. Máire Áine Ní Iarnáin of Leitir Caladh was the runner-up in the contest. Once again it was lán go doras (standing room only) for the Saturday night crowd in Tigh Mhaidhcó, Ros Muc, but somehow when the contest concluded, they managed to clear a bit of floor space and a mixture of sets and solos continued 'til closing with the lively beat-box orientated "Connemara Cajun" sound of Ceann Golaim.
This year's contest was adjudicated by Catherine Foley of the World Irish Music Centre at the University of Limerick. She also adjudicated the comórtais shóisearacht (junior competition) the following day. P J Shony Cholm Learraí (Ó Con-ghaile) provided the robust box playing for all of the contests.
Most of the students from Scoil Scairte "Connachtman's Rambles" (the all day-jig school on Saturday) attended the half-door dance session at Tigh Clarke following their afternoon classes. This attracted many participants who would not consider themselves "competitive dancers". As a result there was quite an exhibit of diverse styles. Particularly of interest was the emerging difference between the very close to the floor style of the older dancers compared with the more elevated and percussive style of the younger generation. There was great atmosphere with the dance teachers, students and local Connemara dancers being "inspired" by the accompaniment of Johnny Connolly, Róisín Jhohnny Sheáin Jeaic (Mac Donncha) and Seosamh and Michil Ó Fatharta.
Scoil Scairte dance teachers Margaret Wray, Paul Moran, John Sikorski (Scotland) and Catherine Sherer also danced for the crowd at Tigh Mhaidhcó prior to the Saturday night competition.
Risteárd Dónal Mac Aodha, Co Galway
On the evening of Friday 23rd January 2004, we arrived at An Grianán for the Termonfeckin Set Dancers Weekend. This, their second annual gathering, even surpassed last year's event. After registration, we proceeded to the dining hall, where everyone had assembled for high tea. At this stage John McEvoy welcomed everybody, and hoped we all would have an enjoyable weekend.
Friday night's céili began with John Davey's Céilí Band playing for the Mazurka, in the Kellogg Hall. The dances were called by John McEvoy, and after three and a half hours of excellent music and dancing, with just a short break for tea, the night came to an end with the Connemara Set.
After breakfast on Saturday morning, workshops began. Michael and Celine Tubridy taught advanced step dancing in the Drawing Room. Michael and Kathleen McGlynn taught sean nós dancing in the gym, and Pádraig and Roisín McEneany were in the Kellogg Hall teaching the Aubane Set and the Kiltimagh Half-Set.
After lunch, some took a break and went for a walk on the beach. A group from Kerry went on a tour of the Cooley Peninsula and took the opportunity to cross the border and visit Newry. Kathleen and Michael McGlynn continued with the sean nós workshop. The McEneanys did the Claddagh Set, and the Tubridys taught a lovely Dutch folk dance.
Tea time was at 6pm, and again we were treated to more delicious home cooked food served to us by the very efficient and friendly staff. John and Maura from Dungarvan, gave us transport to Termonfeckin Church for Mass at 8pm. Father Quinn began by welcoming all the visitors, and again this year the choir under the direction of Ann McArdle was loudly applauded at the end for their beautiful singing.
Saturday night's céilí was again in the Kellogg Hall, and after the long trip from Kerry the Johnny Reidy Céilí Band played brilliant music that delighted the dancers. John McEvoy again called the sets, and was helped by Michael McGlynn and Pádraig McEneany. In the Drawing Room on Saturday night the McEvoy family and their friends entertained us with some fine traditional music, and a group of ladies danced some sean nós steps, which they learned around 1am. We had tea with Johnny and the members of his band and Johnny's co-driver Pat from Tralee before they set out on their return journey to Kerry.
The Sunday morning workshops began straight after breakfast, with the Tubridy's step dancing in the Drawing Room. The McGlynns did the Cúchulainn Set in the Kellogg Hall. We had a tea break and then a seisiún of music, song, storytelling and recitations. Kathleen McGlynn danced sean nós on a half-door, Celine Tubridy and some others danced the Gabharaín Buí, Pádraig and Roisín McEneany danced a hornpipe, and there was an international flavour to the seisiún when Sui from Japan sang a song for us in her own language. We had lunch at 1pm and at 2pm our farewell céilí got under way. Music for this céilí was provided by Triskell from Co Louth who played excellent music and we had a most enjoyable afternoon's dancing. This brought a most memorable weekend to a close. Many thanks to the organisers, and to the management and staff of An Grianán for their hospitality. We all said our goodbyes and started on our homeward journeys.
Pat Lyons, Bruree, Co Limerick
Surrounded by the wild bogs of Roscommon, Ballinlough stands at a crossroads with all the usual amenities of a rural Irish village-pubs, shops, church and post office. What's different here is that right on the crossroads stands an oasis of luxury, the White House, a modern and well appointed hotel. It has a small but perfectly formed ballroom which is in regular use by set dancers on nearly every Wednesday night of the year. Mildred Beirne, the local teacher, hosted an enjoyable weekend of dancing here on Saturday and Sunday, the 7th and 8th of February.
Pat Murphy was invited to do the weekend's workshops, and he taught several superb sets, beginning with the Connemara Jig. Pat's two newest sets were the Ballyduff Set from Co Waterford and the Claddagh Set from Connemara, which was introduced by Séamus Ó Méalóid in January at the Malahide weekend. The Ballyduff Set is a great way to expend a lot of energy, especially as Pat played lively music recorded by the Emerald Ceili Band.
The Claddagh Set is full of unusual and entertaining moves, especially in the third figure where the ladies dance around the set to swing with each gent. How they change places took some careful teaching from Pat and lots of concentration from the dancers. There's nothing like it in set dancing, with two ladies chaining left and right, the other two advancing and retiring, and the gents turning in place, but soon we were dancing it like clockwork. In fact both the Ballyduff and Claddagh sets proved to be so popular that they were repeated by request at the Sunday workshop and both ceilis.
Mass was held in the ballroom on Saturday evening, with music supplied by a group of Mildred Beirne's young music students on tin whistle. A figure of the Connemara set was danced afterward, a moment full of poignancy as the music was by Michael Sexton.
The music of Sean Norman and band was a special treat at the Saturday night ceili. Mildred met Sean last year when both were on Open House, the RTÉ afternoon TV programme, and promised to bring him to a ceili in Roscommon. Sean's music is as lively as any of the bands playing for set dancing, plus he is a master showman. This can be seen at the moments when he sets down his accordion and takes up the microphone to lilt. This brought an incredible lift to the last set, the Connemara, when Sean had everyone accompanying him.
Attendees at the Sunday workshop insisted on dancing the Claddagh Set again, and had tremendous fun at it. The fun continued in the afternoon with the Emerald Ceili Band, live and in person this time. The youthful energy of their music was contagious as everyone, no matter what age, danced like young kids. During an interlude between sets, a few youngsters took the floor to show some entertaining steps. By the end of a beautiful afternoon of dancing, everyone was delighted with their visit to Ballinlough and the White House. Mildred spoke for us all as she gave her heartfelt thanks to everyone who helped make the weekend such a pleasure.
Ireland took over the presidency of the European Union for six months beginning in January, and to celebrate the occasion, a few Irish members of the Irish Club in Belgium decided to hold a weekend of set dancing, which took place from the 13th to 15th of February. They searched around for a suitable place to hold workshops and ceilis and came up with a remarkable and historic venue in the city of Leuven (Dutch) or Louvain (French), the Louvain Institute for Ireland in Europe.
The Institute offers residential courses and conferences which promote awareness of the EU in Ireland and of Irish culture in Europe. It is housed in buildings which were once the Irish Franciscan College of St Anthony, founded in 1606. The original 1607 cornerstone of the first building is preserved on the site and some of the other buildings are nearly as old. Irish friars were educated here during penal times when the Catholic religion was banned in Ireland and were sent as missionaries to Ireland and Scotland. The Irish College also played an important role in the publication of books in Irish-a printing press operated in the gardens. It was in Leuven that the first authentic Irish typeface was created and the first Irish dictionary and grammar, as well the Annals of the Four Masters, an extensive collection of ancient historical texts, were compiled.
Thirty or forty friars occupied the college during the seventeenth century, but by the nineteenth century the buildings were sold. The Franciscans returned in 1922 and in 1983 the college was leased to the Louvain Institute. Renovations carried out over the years have not been kind to the interiors, though the original façades are intact. The Office of Public Works, in cooperation with parallel bodies in Northern Ireland and Belgium, is planning major refurbishment which will preserve all the old features, restore the monastic atmosphere and modernise all the facilities, resulting in what the Institute's director, Malachy Vallely, called "a three-star monastery." He gave a talk on the premises on Saturday afternoon and took us to visit the chapel.
Today there are fifty-five bedrooms in the Institute, all en-suite-singles, doubles and some amazing rooms for four on two levels in the roof. Three meals are served daily in the large dining room. All the staff are friendly Irish folk so it's like a little outpost of Ireland. The location is in the centre of the city of Leuven, close to the beautiful town square, shops and restaurants. Transport from Brussels airport was quick and easy by rail and taxi-ninety minutes after landing I was in my room.
Of course, the serious history surrounding us in these buildings had absolutely no impact on our enjoyment of the weekend. We were there to have a good time and the local organisers did everything they could to ensure that we did. The workshop teacher was Jim Keenan, an Armagh man living in the US for many years and in Brussels for the past couple of years. The weekend's big attraction was the Davey Ceili Band, four exceptional musicians from Co Meath who are one of Ireland's top bands.
The organisers had set up two rooms with smooth parquet floors for the dancing-they're normally used for conferences. The rooms were adjacent, but the second was never used as everyone fitted into one, once all the tables and chairs were removed. We started dancing with the Fermanagh Set on Friday night, taught by Jim Keenan. Dancing continued to CDs until around midnight, when some of the crowd retired to the bar for jars of the white stuff (Hoegaarden, a popular Belgian beer) rather than the usual black stuff (Guinness).
Jim began the dancing earlier than scheduled on Saturday morning to offer some basic tuition to the beginning dancers. Afterward, he continued his concentration on the sets of the north at the Saturday workshop, teaching the Armagh and Monaghan sets. He taught with a relaxed manner, enthusiasm and attention to detail. After completing these sets, we practiced the more challenging figures of the Plain and Kilfenora sets for the benefit of the beginners so they could dance them at the ceilis. The Davey Ceili Band arrived in the afternoon-John Davey produced a copy of his new CD which contained the Fermanagh, Monaghan, Kilfenora and Lancers sets, so it was perfect for dancing most of the weekend's sets.
Lunch was served in the dining room for €10 with soup, salads, cheese and sliced meat. Hot and cold drinks were freely available here, and thirsty dancers rushed out between sets and queued for refreshment. Those needing more substantial liquids could nip upstairs to the bar. In the evening, dinner was available for €24, but I followed a group into town where we sampled one of the local restaurants. Finding seats for eight was tough though as every restaurant was fully booked for Valentine's Day.
On Saturday night there was excitement in the air as we were finally going to dance to the Davey Ceili Band. Once the music began it was clear they were definitely worth the journey to Leuven. We danced through the three sets from the workshop and a selection of Clare sets plus a Ballyvourney Jig near the end of the night. The dancers were a remarkably diverse bunch from the Netherlands, Germany, France, Luxembourg and England. About a dozen people travelled from Ireland-Donegal, Galway, Limerick, Laois and Dublin. Native Belgians were scarce though as nearly all the locals were Irish ex-pats. In fact, unlike other weekends in Europe I've attended, all the organisers were Irish. When the dancing finished up after four hours, we dispersed to bed or bar to give our feet a break.
On Sunday morning I think we set the world record for the earliest ceili ever! It began at 10.30am and finished at 1.30pm, which left time for lunch and an early start home for those with long journeys. A number of beginners even assembled at 10am for another basic session with Jim Keenan. The early start made no difference to the enjoyment. The band must have had a good rest because they were just as lively as last night and everyone had a tremendous time.
The weekend ended too soon for me so I was heartened to hear talk of another one next year. The organisers Mary Fitzgerald and Mary Brennan are to be commended on doing such a fine job at organising their first weekend. We stayed in a beautiful setting, learned from an excellent teacher and danced to one of Ireland's best bands. It was a memorable experience I look forward to repeating in the future.
You're always guaranteed a warm welcome and fabulous dancing at any event organised by the West Limerick Set Dancers. They held their annual workshop weekend from the 5th to 7th of March, beginning on Friday night in the Railway Bar on the edge of Abbeyfeale, Co Limerick. Everyone entering the bar was greeted with hugs and kisses and made to feel at home, whether coming from abroad or next door. The welcome was repeated at every event all weekend!
The Four Courts Ceili Band from Kilfenora, Co Clare, played for the opening ceili, one of their rare appearances outside Clare or Galway. Aidan Vaughan was the drummer tonight, and despite having the wrong shoes, he agreed to dance his sean nós steps for us-it's always an enjoyable performance. The Railway Bar has a cosy little floor that's noticeably smooth and comfortable for dancing. It's big enough for nine sets, and we exceeded that number for most of the night. When the ceili was over, I came out into a frosty night with a bright full moon, but the warmth of the night's dancing lasted till I returned to the B&B.
Saturday was a day of three workshops. Pat Murphy taught the Ballyduff, Claddagh, Cloghane-Brandon and South Kerry sets with the help of Betty McCoy in the Convent Hall. Celine Tubridy gave a workshop in traditional step dancing on a floor which the club had installed in the tea room beside the hall. John Fennell's workshop on Clare battering in another hall in town was especially for youngsters.
Convent Hall is a secondary school gymnasium, but the floor is so comfortable it could have been purpose-built for dancing. When I arrived in the morning Pat Murphy was dancing a few steps to the music near the stage; I stood at the back of the hall and felt his steps through the floor. We did a lot of dancing at the workshop, with three new sets and an older one (the South Kerry) which has been taught more often recently. The Claddagh Set was definitely a favourite with the dancers.
The Saturday night ceili was the usual excellent combination of a great band, the Abbey Ceili Band, and a room packed with the keenest dancers. An unexpected incident turned a great night into one that we'll remember for a long time. There's never been anything like it and we'll probably never see it again!
Mid-way through the ceili, the first figure of the Labasheeda Set was under way when suddenly the lights just faded away. At first I thought someone was dimming them but when they went completely dark I assumed someone had accidentally hit the switch and they'd be back right away. But no, the darkness remained, not a light anywhere. Miraculously, the band and their sound system were unaffected, so we had plenty of music and kept dancing without difficulty, though there were some minor collisions when we went 'round the house at the end of the figure.
The calm voice of Timmy Woulfe asked whether we wanted to continue with the second figure. It occurred to me that it might be slightly hazardous, but the shouts from the floor persuaded Timmy and the band to keep going. Dancing in the dark became easier as the eyes got used to it. The moon was full and gave us just enough light through the windows and skylights to dance normally. Timmy's calling kept pace with the dancers.
Meanwhile a couple gents from the committee left a set (forcing the remaining gents to do double duty) to try to fix the situation. A torch was located but it hurt rather than helped because it dazzled us with its brilliance. A few camera flashes went off as well (including my own) but these were also shouted down. Finally in the sixth figure, the fling, light returned to a huge roar from the crowd. I had hoped we could finish out the set in darkness but we did very well to do most of six figures. It made a great ceili something special!
Even more sets attended Pat Murphy's workshop on Sunday morning than on Saturday. We danced three figures from the Roscommon Lancers (two reels and a jig) with lots of practice on the step, followed by the Armagh Set.
Taylor's Cross, a local four-piece band headed by Donie Nolan on box, were on stage for Sunday's ceili. There was much talk about last night's blackout, but there was no chance of that happening today with bright sunlight streaming into the hall. Someone had discovered a secret that Betty McCoy had kept to herself all weekend-yesterday had been her birthday. Josephine O'Connor presented her with a belated bouquet of flowers on behalf of the club, and dancers offered her their hugs and kisses.
The programme of sets posted around the hall included two workshop sets before the break, the Claddagh and the South Kerry. When it was time for the Claddagh Set, Pat Murphy still hadn't arrived and no one else felt confident to call it. So the schedule was juggled and Matt Joe O'Neill from Cahersiveen volunteered to call his local set, the South Kerry. The Corofin came next and I was amazed to see several sets abandoning the last few moves of the final figure to get a head start on the tea and cakes on offer during the break. Many took their tea outside to bask in the beautiful sunshine. After the break, we finally got a second chance at the Claddagh Set-it was worth the wait!
Once the ceili ended, the club committee began work to turn the hall back into a gymnasium. Chairs were removed and the floor swept, all with clockwork efficiency. A team with electric screwdrivers disassembled the temporary floor, and mugs and kettles were packed into boxes. Once all the jobs were done, they were able to relax at a session 'round the corner in Jack Foley's Pub. With music by Donal De Barra and Mickey Murphy there were a final few sets danced before they parted. The West Limerick Club is a hard-working, committed group of volunteers dedicated to the pleasure of set dancing-I thank them for a beautiful weekend.
Once more Pontoon Bridge Hotel was the venue for the annual spring festival of set dancing in Pontoon, Co Mayo. On the shores of Lough Conn this superb hotel is family owned and run by the Geary family since 1964. When I arrived I was greeted with a true west of Ireland céad míle failte. Indeed I felt as if this wonderful family and their staff had adopted me for the weekend. This is one of the reasons I return every year as a guest for the dancing festival.
The festival began with a céilí at 10pm with the Davey Céilí Band providing the music. As usual Mickey Kelly was in fine form and greeting everyone in his own inimitable style. Twenty sets arranged themselves on the floor for the Corofin Plain Set as John Davey and his musicians played their usual brilliant music. I was delighted that we danced the Derradda and the Kilfenora. All the usual sets were danced, concluding with the Plain Set.
Saturday morning the workshop began at 10.30am sharp with dancing master Jim Barry teaching the Portmagee Set. Jim told us this set was remembered by Joseph Falvey of Portmagee, Co Kerry, and was recorded by Muiris O'Brien. This lively set has five figures and is danced to jigs.
The second set of the morning was the Skirdagh Set. This is a Mayo set with four figures, jig, polka, reel, and finishing with a waltz. I overheard a dancer's comment that it had more chains than a jewellers shop. In the waltz figure at the end, dancers are encouraged to continue waltzing around the hall after the sequence finishes. Dancers took a well earned lunch break as Mickey Kelly advised us that we were to be honoured with another local set, the Kilmeena Set, in the afternoon with local dancers demonstrating for us.
The workshop resumed at 2.30pm on the dot. The twenty sets that had attended the morning workshop had all returned. The ladies and gents of the Kilmeena set dancers dressed immaculately in black and white formed their set on the floor. They demonstrated each figure and then all dancers tried to emulate their moves with the very able assistance of Jim Barry. There are three figures-jig, polka and reel. It has some similarities with the Derradda and Louisburgh and is another lovely set to add to Mayo's repertoire of sets with relaxed, unhurried and authentic dancing style.
I spoke with Thomas Staunton who gave me some background about this set. Kilmeena is an area near Westport. The Kilmeena Set is estimated to date from around 1900 when a travelling dancing master visited parishes in west Mayo where he taught the same set in every parish. This was the set danced in popular house dances, which eventually met with disapproval and were discontinued. After being almost forgotten the set was revived with variations in the different parishes in the 1930s. Then the dance band era supplanted set dancing until the countrywide revival of set dancing in the 1980s.
The Kilmeena Set was revived by Thomas' father, the late Michael Staunton. With his assistance Mary and Eamon Connolly taught this set to their class in Kilmeena Community Centre, Westport. It was first shown in Newport Hall in 1993, danced by Michael Staunton, Noreen Feehan, Margaret Duffy, Hugh Feehan, Michael and Suzi Quinn, Michael Fitzsimon and Maureen Hodder. Today Thomas has taken his late fathers place and Geoffrey Hodder has replaced Hugh; the other six dancers have remained in the set.
The afternoon workshop continued with Jim Barry teaching the Claddagh Set. This is another recently revived set and is from Connemara. This set was taught recently in Malahide and in Abbeyfeale. Timmy Woulfe from west Limerick told me this set was a real winner and anticipates the same success as the Kilfenora. I had not had the privilege of seeing or dancing it until now but I would definitely share Timmy's sentiments. It's a wonderful set. The fourth figure is a little tricky at first, needing a lot of concentration-of course, the ladies have to do all the brain work as usual.
The Saturday night céilí saw Matt Cunningham and his band on stage. The céilí began as 25 sets packed the ballroom and the first set of the night, the Clare Lancers, got underway. Jim Barry called the Kilmeena and Claddagh sets. Most dancers had no bother with the Kilmeena but the chain sequence in the Claddagh saw a few new configurations on the night. Matt concluded by playing a selection of reels and most dancers repeated the Plain Set for the second time. As usual Matt was in fine form-his tunes stay with you long after the music has stopped.
After 10.15am mass on Sunday morning 10 sets gathered for the final workshop of the weekend. Jim Barry decided on the Skibbereen Set from Co Cork. Jim emphasised that this polka set is danced in a smooth, easy style and mentioned that he first learned it from Connie Ryan. With five figures alternating polkas and slides, it was a relaxed set to finish the workshop with. Jim has an easygoing method of teaching yet he works hard with his pupils to ensure that steps and movements are as near perfect as possible. Jim is also famous for his fantastic sense of humour.
Marie Garrity gave instruction on a popular two-hand dance called the Polly Glide. She was most gracious for giving her time and expertise at a moment's notice. At the last céilí of the weekend Heather Breeze provided the music. This local band has justifiably earned admiration for their musicianship all over Ireland and across Europe. During the ceili, Jim Barry called the Skibbereen Set. At the tea break we had birthday celebrations complete with a big birthday cake. Before the céilí concluded with the Connemara Set, Mickey Kelly held a grand draw with first prize of a holiday to Portugal-the lucky winner was Seamus Hughes from Newport, Co Mayo.
Sunday night the bar and lounge area was a haven of set dancing, modern and old time with music provided by the Amethyst Trio. This dancing was interspersed with singing, recitations and two-hand dancing. Maura and Pat Lyons from Limerick danced the Slosh. This is danced regularly in the Limerick-Cork area at modern dances. Maura told us it is danced like the Siege of Ennis in these areas. Another superb festival had finished. This is definitely one for any serious set dancer's diary. It was marvellous that the hotel and the organisers provided tea and coffee breaks at all the ceilis and there were also jugs of iced water readily available at all times. I look forward to my return to Pontoon Bridge Hotel again next year.
Joan Pollard Carew
Dancers in Limerick and Clare were shocked and saddened to hear of the death of Tom Hallinan, Mungret, Co Limerick, on January 10th, 2004. Tom died suddenly just hours after returning from a night's dancing at the Bellsfort Inn, Newmarket-on-Fergus, Co Clare.
He was very well known at dancing venues in both Clare and Limerick, especially Limerick where he attended several set dancing classes each week and mixed comfortably with both younger and older dancers. Tom and his wife Mary always enjoyed dancing and were regulars at the One Mile Inn, Ennis. Even though Tom suffered from health problems in later years he didn't let this prevent him from living life to the full and enjoying dancing on a regular basis. He lived and enjoyed each moment and was a great example to us all.
Our sympathy goes to his wife Mary, his daughters Marie and Joan, and to his extended family.
He will be sadly missed by his many, many friends.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dilis.
Mary Minogue, Limerick
We, past and present members of the Michael Sexton Ceili Band, would like to pay tribute to our band leader Michael Sexton who passed away on December 19th, 2003. Michael was a good friend and a true gentleman to all of us.
During the last thirteen years the band travelled far and wide with Michael at its head. Michael's pleasure was to entertain and delight the many set dancers who attended our céilithe, and they in turn grew to expect the consistently high standard which Michael demanded of us and provided the dancers. He put his heart and soul into every note he played and his high spirits and sense of fun made playing our music a memorable and enjoyable time in all our lives.
Michael's style of music with its inimitable lift and dance rhythm was instantly recognisable. His distinctive flair and professionalism had developed from a lifetime of playing for dancers like those of the Mullagh Set with which his wife Betty and sister Rita danced, and also the experience gained with bands such as the Laichtín Naofa, the Kilfenora and the Bannermen. This unique sound can still be heard on both Michael Sexton Ceili Band CD recordings
We are grateful to Michael for having given us the opportunity to play with him. It was a great privilege for us to have known and to have played with such a brilliant musician, dedicated bandsman and above all a true gentleman. Though Michael is no longer with us we will never forget him or his music.
Michael will be sadly missed by his family, Betty, Miriam, Micheál, Mai, and Rita, as well as friends, fellow musicians and many many fans.
Caroline Tubridy O'Dea, David Culligan, Ralph Morgan, Pat Walsh, Pat Curtin, George Byrt
I give up on dancers who between figures in a brilliant Borlin have to check their text messages. Who can be that important? If they were so important why aren't they out there dancing with them? I don't like technology on the dance floor. This is why mobile phones should be kept off it at any cost and anybody seen with a mobile should be told to get off the dance floor immediately. It reminds me of my old football manager at school. He used to shout, "Anybody seen standing still will be coming off." Needless to say I didn't stay still for a split second and everybody was on mad solo runs all over the place. Unfortunately I can now see ceilis where you'll have a linesman on the edge of the dance floor. Sometimes he will raise a big placard above his head with a dancer's name on it and another dancer's name on another placard. This would be like they do in the All-Ireland Championship, Premiership or the American football when they would be bringing on a substitute. Somebody wouldn't be playing very well or, as in the case in question, be caught checking their text messages on the dance floor! This is the equivalent of going to the movies with your set dancing partner and falling asleep.
This fairly got to me the last night down at the Gathering in Kerry. Everything was almost perfect, the music, the atmosphere, the venue, and the women were playing a blinder booking dances. However when I saw Dugo's dance partner checking her messages I knew something was wrong. My blood boiled as I put my hand in my pocket for my blood pressure tablets. Suddenly the crowd started booing her and shouting, "Off! Off! Off!" All sets stamped the floor hard. She skimpered off embarrassed, head down and I didn't see her for the rest of the night. Set dancers kept on banging their feet to resound with the "Off! Off! Off!" The building shook. I was afraid the place was going to come down around us. Out darted the smiling substitute waving fleetingly. She had a swagger in her hips and the moment she clasped hands with Dugo the music erupted. At least I wasn't the only one who felt this way about mobiles. This kind of thing will have to stop! After the dance I went over for a chat.
"I just knew I shouldn't have asked her," exclaimed Dugo.
"Which one? The one with the mobile? Really, what did you ask her?"
"Would she dance the next one too?"
"Two dances in a row, not on. People would get suspicious besides I don't think she was interested, checking her messages!"
"Yip, good job she was sent off. Besides it's a serious commitment, that two dances in a row."
"Yea sure, a major commitment. You need to think about it carefully," I laughed.
"You'd never know what you're getting yourself into these days, do ye?" joked Dugo.
"Hardly. The substitute was nice though, wasn't she? Oh begob, I'm just after getting a text message."
"Oh no! Well so long as you don't check it out there," I exclaimed.
"Why, have you got an allergy to them?"
"Not really, but I wouldn't like to see you sent off like your dancing partner, Dugo," I declared.
"I won't be sent off. By the way you're not doing too well with the women yourself, are ye!"
When I got back to my little hotel I was tired. I was on the ground floor of a four-storey small hotel. It was a cosy room with a view of set dancers walking home huddled together on that cold but wonderful night. Dugo was in next door and I could hear him singing before he put on the music. I went to sleep despite the noise from the water in the pipes but was awoken abruptly at 5am by a tapping sound above. After a moment there were footsteps descending briskly. Then two more taps on my window with, "Hello! Hello!" I got up and pulled back the curtains. There she was. Leaning over the the spiral fire escape was a beautiful Spanish girl in the pale moonlight.
"I leave key in my room. Can you get me in?" she pleaded.
"Okay. Are you sure you've got the right hotel?"
"Oh, pleease please, I'm walking round Killarney and lost for four hours pleease," she begged.
"I have to be sure you're from here though. I can't let just anybody in, can I?" I whispered.
"This is my hotel, I swear, I promise," she implored.
"Okay, go round to the front door. I'll let you in."
I wasn't convinced so I walked her to her room on the top floor. Just as she opened her door she turned to me and smiled, "Thanks, me and boyfriend are fighting."
"Really, are you okay now?" I asked.
"Yes, but so cold," she shivered.
"Gosh, you are cold and I'm not surprised, out there for four hours!"
"What's your name?" she appealed.
"Highstep. And yours?"
"Good grief, Maria!" I joked.
"Can you call me at breakfast, pleease?"
"Eight o'clock pleease?" she whispered.
"We'll have breakfast together."
We embraced. I walked back down to my room. Dugo was snoring like a pig. I thought I'd get him up to join us for breakfast too!
Copyright © 2003 by O F Hughes
Myself and three friends spent a fantastic weekend in Killarney for the fifth annual Gathering at the Gleneagle Hotel. It was our first time at a Gathering, but I am sure we will be back. We met you there, busy as ever with your camera, so we are looking forward to your selection of pictures in Set Dancing News.
Anyway, encouraged by you I am enclosing a photo taken of my set dancing group in Stanford le Hope, Essex, England. We are only beginners, but that doesn't hold us back, as going to the Gathering proves. Myself and friend Mary, who got our first taste of set dancing en masse at the Fleadh Ibiza last April, formed the group in October 2003 when we realised there was no local group nearer to us than Colchester, some 40 miles along the A12, or going in the other direction it would be London for the nearest groups. We were only able to get the group up and 'stepping' with the help of Mike Revell, who travels from Colchester each week to teach us. He has done wonders with us and is a great teacher, mixing humour and discipline to keep us interested and up to speed-well nearly! We have a good attendance most weeks now of up to twenty and we may even attempt to do a display at a local fête in the summer. So, to anyone thinking of getting a group together I can only say be positive and go for it. It will be worth it for all the enjoyment you get from the music and dancing and the friends you make.
Margaret Sadler, Stanford le Hope, Essex
Extra specialDear Bill,
I would like to say a big "thank you" to everyone who supported the ceili at the South London Irish Centre, Wimbledon, London, on 6th February. It was great to see so many people out enjoying themselves. What made the night extra special was that we raised enough funds to send five children to Lourdes, France, with the Handicapped Children's Pilgrimage Trust. The set dancing community should be proud of their generosity towards needy causes. Many thanks,
Margaret Morrin, Wimbledon, London
Very helpful to dancersDear Bill,
I am enclosing photographs taken at our February céilí at which Lena Williams received a birthday cake and a gift from our club chairman Tommy Ryan. As you probably know, Lena is always very helpful to dancers who are not quite sure of the next movement in a figure of a set and invariably Lena suggests that "chain-chain-chain" is the next movement in spite of the fact that there is probably no chain in the figure.
To mark the occasion Tommy presented Lena with a chain and she tells us that she is having great difficulty in getting insurance for the piece. Lena refuses to wear it until she gets the necessary insurance cover as she fears that the valuable item may be taken by treasure hunters.
I am also enclosing a photograph of our good friend the late Willie O'Brien taken at one of his last visits to Nenagh, seen here with Tommy Ryan.
Sincere thanks to you for the great coverage you gave us in your last issue of Set Dancing News. We wish you continued success with a really great publication.
Danny Morrissey, Club Rince Aonach Urmhumhan, Benedine, Nenagh, Co Tipperary
Thanks from BelgiumDear set dancers,
We, the organisers of the set dance weekend, would like to take this opportunity to express our thanks to all of you for coming to our weekend of set dancing in Louvain and for making it the success that it was. You came from across Europe: from Luxembourg, Holland, Germany, France, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and of course Ireland. We were delighted to have had such a good turn out, especially as this was the first time we had organised such an event. Its success depended on you the dancers coming to support it. We therefore greatly appreciate your participation, your great dancing skills, your good humour and sense of fun.
Once again, we extend to you all a very sincere go raíbh míle maíth agat and we look forward to meeting with you soon again for some more good dancing.
Mary Brennan, Mary Fitzgerald, Judy O'LoanBrussels, Belgium
Grand craicDear Bill
We had a grand craic at our ceili on January 24th. 175 people showed up at St Paul the Apostle Catholic Church in Lighthouse Point, Pompano Beach, Florida. We even had a busload of Irish-Canadians who were visiting the area from Toronto.
Tommy Goodwin and Sharon of the New York area who provided the music kept everyone dancing all evening. The floor was filled with happy couples waltzing, two-stepping and set dancing.
I had sixteen at my house the following Sunday where we moved the furniture and danced the sets for two hours.
Love and best wishes,
Carol Hieronymus, Pompano Beach, Florida
It was cold enoughDear Bill
The people from the West End Irish Group [Gilbert, Pennylvania] enjoy your news of set dancing.
Enclosed are some photos. Some people from the West End braved the cold to come out and practice the North Kerry Set.
I don't know how cold it was in Ireland, but up in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania it was cold enough to do ice sculptures.
Thanks for a great magazine.
Dan DePretis, Hazleton, Pennsylvania
FunThank you for all your hard work in keeping us informed. I hope it's as much fun for you as it is for your readers!
Helen Gardner, Mattapoisett, Massachusetts
An icon, a legend, a master of his art-the list is endless. How does one describe the genius that was Johnny O'Leary?
On the 9th February 2004, the world of Irish traditional music lost one of its finest gifted accordion players, and an outstanding ambassador for the traditions of Sliabh Luachra. My memories extend far and beyond his musical genius and encyclopaedic memory of tune, as I was privileged to know him well for over twenty years on a personal level.
I was introduced to Johnny by his daughter Ellen, a good friend of mine, in November 1985, one damp Friday night in that famous public house, Dan O'Connell's, Knocknagree, Co Cork, a landmark for music and set dancing. I was fairly new to the set dancing scene and was in awe of the musicians and the energetic dancers.
From the moment of being introduced, accompanied by a strong and lengthy handshake, I felt a warmth and a genuine sincerity from Johnny that made me welcome and immediately at home and comfortable. And, I have felt that ease ever since when in his company.
It wasn't just his music or his repertoire of anecdotes ranging from the amusing to the nearly naughty, but his skill at simply talking to people, all people, visitors and locals alike, with humour, ease, good will and interest. He remembered everyone's name and where they were from-not an easy feat when you consider how many people he met during his years of playing and travelling.
Many an evening of music and dance was punctuated by a story or a song, with Johnny being the master of ceremonies. His shout of, "Order please, ladies and gentlemen," was always obeyed. He commanded respect and attention instantly, and not just for his music.
His love for his native county of Kerry was ever present and Johnny was proud to be of the "Kingdom". Although he travelled all over Ireland, the UK and USA, Kerry was always home, and he carried it with him, embracing its music with the unaltered style of bygone days, to its very core and essence.
He is held in great affection by all those who knew him, particularly from the Willie Clancy Summer School, where he played for 31 years. Johnny played generously, always sharing his music with fellow musicians.
He included everyone, from the newest beginner to the most accomplished and renowned of musicians, never excluding the less experienced for the promotion of his own ego-the one thing he didn't possess! Until his death, he remained blissfully unaware of his huge popularity, testament to which was evident at his funeral.
He played from his heart and was always willing to play for a set, with no fuss or no great ceremony of preparation, never refusing, no matter the hour. The lively Kerry polkas and slides flowed easily as those mischievous eyes twinkled, Johnny looking round as he played, smiling, nodding, winking acknowledgement at yet another friend entering or leaving the room.
A wonderful family man, he was rarely separated from his dear wife, Lil. His children and beloved grandchildren were never far away either. They regularly travelled together bringing with them, as well as wonderful music, their unique brand of light-hearted Kerry banter, good humour and roguish antics. For all of that, Johnny was one of nature's true gentlemen.
When he entered a room, it became alive with the sheer abundance of his life force, his music, his energy, warmth, jokes and story telling, memories of his past brought alive with relish and gusto to many appreciative audiences.
I have been with Johnny and his family many times over many years, at various sessions, in their home in Rathmore and more recently, in Ellen's home in Killarney where Johnny lived for the past fourteen months. I can honestly say that I always left him feeling the better for having been with him, leaving his company with a smile on my face, a tune in my head and a promise to myself to return as soon as possible. I think of them as my "mental health" days.
Was it the Kerry air, the magic of Sliabh Luachra or another secret ingredient yet to be identified that made Johnny the man he was? I don't know. All I know is that my life is richer for having known him and I feel privileged to have had that pleasure for so long.
He is survived by his wife Lil, daughters Ellen and Maureen and son Sean. Heartfelt sympathy is extended to them all. Long may his tunes be played, long may his memory be cherished and long may we speak about him well into the night. Whenever we hear his polkas, slides and jigs from now on, we will imagine each note as Johnny spinning webs of his own particular magic from a better place.
The world is a richer place for your being in it, Johnny. On behalf of set dancers everywhere, thank you.
You are sorely and sadly missed. Your likes will never be again. Rest in peace.
Geraldine Thomas, friend and fan, Lavally Lower, Mallow, Co Cork
A new book by Cynthia Neale, The Irish Dresser-A Story of Hope during the Great Hunger, has been published in the USA. Aimed at younger readers, it tells the story of a thirteen-year old girl in rural Co Cork at the time of the famine. The calamity forces her family to emigrate to the United States, and young Nora is fortunate that circumstances allow them to bring along the dresser which stood in their kitchen. She always found comfort by crawling inside, and on the difficult Atlantic crossing it's her private hiding place.
The Irish Dresser is Cynthia's first book, though Set Dancing News readers will know her as the author of the continuing romantic story Loving You in Waltz Hold. She's an American with Irish ancestry living in Hampstead, New Hampshire. Her interest in Ireland encompasses a love of set dancing. She dances regularly in Boston and upstate New York and holds occasional ceilis at home. She visited the Gathering Festival in Killarney in February on her third trip to Ireland.
Cynthia's book is published by White Mane Books, P O Box 708, Shippenburg, Pennsylvania, 17257.
The ever popular Davey Ceili Band have issued their first CD, Pipe 'n' Music, with music for four sets. The Daveys are based in Co Meath and are under the direction of John Davey, who plays keyboard and sings. Joining him on the CD are his daughter Lorna on accordion, Laura Beagon on fiddle and Brian Fitzgerald on banjo.
The band are favourites with set dancers throughout Ireland, and are regular travellers overseas. They recently spent a weekend in Belgium and are playing at a weekend in the Nevele Hotel, Ellenville, New York, in April.
The CD has an interesting selection of sets, the Monaghan, Kilfenora, Fermanagh and Clare Lancers. Copies are available from the band at their ceilis and from John Davey.
Anyone who thinks that 100 is old need only talk to the friends and family of Mary Walsh, and even to Mary herself, to learn otherwise. For on January 6, 2004, Mary Walsh celebrated her 100th birthday!
I first met Mary on St Patrick's Day 1998 when I was working at Schervier Nursing Care Center, Riverdale, Bronx, New York, where she is a long-time resident. In the six plus months that I had been there, word spread that I was a dancer. So on March 17th, when there was a party with live music for the residents just down the hall from my office, someone came around to recruit me to "give us a step." After the impromptu performance, I was introduced to Mary Walsh and we struck up an instant friendship. While I worked there, I often visited Mary during my lunch hour. We would take short walks or just talk-usually about music. When I began to play music Mary was very encouraging, one of my best supporters. Occasionally I would take the box along, and Mary would still be able to find a tune on it! In 2001 I left for a new position in Manhattan, but Mary and I remained in touch.
Mary Donoghue was born on January 6, 1904, and raised in Melleray, Co Waterford, one of six children in a musical family. Theirs was a home where music and dancing seemed to be always present. From a young age, Mary had to struggle for playing time with her siblings over the one fiddle in the home. She quickly realized that she had more opportunities to play "the box" (actually a melodeon), and taught herself to play. Eventually, Mary learned to play the fiddle, as well.
Mary talks about her love of dancing, but she "could never get the steps from [her] head to [her] feet." So, as teenagers, Mary and one of her brothers would play for the house dances. Mary arrived with her sister in the United States in 1925 when she was just 21 years old, following her husband-to-be. Mary later married Maurice "Moss" Walsh. Somewhere along the way, "a man from Scotland" gave Mary an accordion that is older than she is. Although it is in desperate need of repair, Mary still has that box. Mary and Maurice struggled through the Depression, as did most immigrants, and played music whenever possible, for Maurice was also a musician. However, once their instruments needed tuning or repair, the music fell silent. There simply was no money for frivolities.
Although Mary and Maurice had no children, her extended family is very large and devoted to "Aunt Mary." This was quite evident at a birthday party for Mary on Sunday, January 4, 2004. On each of her previous three birthdays I brought one or two musicians to play for Mary. Her genuine love of and appreciation for traditional music has endeared her to each of them.
However, Mary told me that she wanted "the whole band!" And what better opportunity than her 100th birthday? If anyone deserves a special day, Mary does. I made some phone calls to Schervier, musicians and dancers, all friends of mine. I arranged to use the Community Hall there (a large auditorium with a stage) on January 4th. There would be eighteen members of Mary's family arriving on January 3rd from Australia, England, Ireland and Texas. I hoped that they would be able to attend the party.
Sundays are family day at Schervier and we invited all of the residents and their visitors. What a great crowd! Thirty friends and family members were joined by more than seventy residents and their families. The musical entertainment was provided by three of the musicians from Ceol na gCroí Ceili Band (James Keane on box, Linda Hickman on flute and Brendan Fahey on ceili drums), joined by keyboardist and vocalist Denis O'Driscoll and by Hughie Doonan on bodhran. Dancers performing were Margaret Fahey Neist, Paul Keating, Pauline and Michael Mason, Anne Creaney, Frank Caulfield, Michael Schwartz and myself. The musicians began with a set of reels, and we were off. Mary sat front and center, surrounded by her family and friends, with just a small amount of floor space between them and the stage. However, that area was well-utilized by her relations as an impromptu dance floor.
We danced, we sang, there was great music-and Mary's face was lit with a smile during the entire party. She sang the words to every song and waltz we played. The program was to last slightly more than an hour, but Mary's cousins, nieces, nephews, grandnephews and nieces threw themselves into the party-waltzing, joining in the sing-a-longs, offering songs of their own, and her nephew, Tom, brought out the box, "to play a few tunes for Aunt Mary." Her nephew Jimmy, himself 79 years young, sang a little ditty and danced. He announced that "I never thought I'd be on stage in New York City!" Mary is truly a special person and that quality touches everyone she meets-and she is sharper than most twenty year olds I know! She knits and crochets obsessively, watches NFL football, talks about the internet ("you know, those web addresses-the e-things") and listens to traditional music.
Mary also helped to plan a second party for just her family. She wanted it held on the actual date of her birthday, but asked that it be held in another building on the campus. Mary didn't "want any old people there!" Perhaps that is the secret to living such a long and productive life-never thinking that you're old! Mary's family and friends will tell you, as will Mary Walsh herself, "age is only a state of mind!"
Maureen Donachie, Floral Park, New York
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