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).
Returning to Castletown is like coming home. When I arrived here for the Half-Door Club set dancing weekend on Friday, April 30th, the rest of the world seemed to vanish, all my needs were taken care of, my set dancing family was all around me and there was nothing to distract me from a four-day bank holiday weekend of enjoyment.
Castletown is in County Laois, of course, a place made famous by the set dancing weekends here-who ever heard of Laois before the Half-Door Club started the dancing here? I checked in at the De La Salle Pastoral Centre, got keys for a cosy little room upstairs and then savoured a few helpings of assorted salads laid on for hungry travellers. The Centre hosts religious retreats at other times, but makes an excellent base for scores of hedonistic set dancers. Even those who weren't staying in the hostel-style accommodation here were able to take advantage of the facilities and help themselves to tea and coffee at any hour. Some dancers came in caravans and campers and parked them around the centre or down by the hall, while others stayed in B&Bs and hotels.
There's great satisfaction in having five ceilis to look forward to. I strolled down to Castletown Hall, which is in a lovely green setting on the River Nore beside an old bridge and opposite a disused grain mill and a golf course. Matt Cunningham was set up, sandwiches being made, and water dispensers were being filled-there were two this year, one in its own room. It wasn't long before there was an eager crowd filling all the chairs 'round the edge of the hall. The ceili got underway before ten o'clock with around eight sets, leaving ample space for new sets to form as dancers arrived. By the time of the break there were probably twice as many dancing.
Tea breaks in Castletown are unique. The food on offer is top class with a big selection of cream buns, apple pie, scones and other goodies brought fresh from a local bakery. The tea room is open for most of an hour without any interruption to the dancing. When the door opens, the lucky ones are those who are sitting out the set as they have first choice while the rest of us have to finish the set. Matt Cunningham and his musicians took a break, but even then the dancing kept going. Colin McGill filled in during the break and played a lovely Caledonian Set on piano accordion-it was worth skipping the tea! Fully refreshed, Matt and the band returned to give us more of their mighty music and dancing. There was a surprise after the last set when Auld Lang Syne greeted my ears and everyone joined hands around the hall. The cause for celebration was Micheál and Magalie Lalor's third wedding anniversary. Their marriage was on the Friday of the 2001 weekend and Matt played for the wedding night ceili. Micheal is one of the Half-Door Club founding members who plays a big role in organising the weekend. Larry Cooley of the band sang a waltz in their honour.
A beautiful morning greeted me on Saturday as I wandered down to the hall after breakfast. Inside the floor had been cleaned and dusted with talc to improve the slip, which made a noticeable improvement. Setting up equipment for the workshop was Pat Murphy, who has taught here for nine years. Interest in the Claddagh Set was strong as last night I heard several people enquiring when they could learn it. Pat taught it after the lunch break and around a dozen sets sacrificed the sunny outdoors for it. We also danced the Fermanagh Quadrilles, Ballyduff and South Kerry sets during the day. After the workshop many dancers attended Mass in the Pastoral Centre chapel before supper.
Swallow's Tail Ceili Band from Sligo were in charge of the dancing on Saturday night, and the dancers were out in force. Sets were quick to form, with some people getting ready for the next one soon after the last one finished and before knowing what it was going to be. It was a cool evening but the heat of dancing forced open all the doors, and a few sets took advantage of an outdoor platform. The tea break operated the same as yesterday, with two young musicians on fiddle and box relieving Swallow's Tail. During the second half we cleared a big circle around the floor for a show of solo dancing. Aidan Vaughan, Donal and Ronan Morrissey and Gillian Whelan entertained the crowd with sean nós reels. Melanie Barber from Yorkshire stopped the band to do an English clog dance to waltzes-something unusual that most of us were seeing for the first time. There were more sets after that, finishing with the good ol' Plain Set.
Sunday was another beautiful day and with a workshop and two ceilis it was a bit of a dance marathon! Pat Murphy got us moving in the morning with the South Kerry (finishing up what we'd started yesterday) and Doire Cholmcille sets. The electrifying music of the Emerald Ceili Band was energetic enough to blister feet and eardrums. There were more folks dancing today than last night, with twenty sets indoors and as many as five sets dancing in the sun on the outdoor platform. (Unfortunately the sun was behind clouds when I found time to take the cover photograph.) There was the same sumptuous tea served in the break, but this time there were no substitute musicians for a bonus set. An extra set is nice, but I like having a break too. In the second half there was a display of modern step dancing by four local children. My day was made when the band called the Plain Set as the last dance-it was completely non-stop, with not even the slightest pause going into and out of the jigs in the fifth figure.
A new feature of this year's weekend was the barbecue that followed the afternoon ceili. This was a great convenience for people attending both ceilis today and was well supported. Dining was at tables set up outside and the charge was just €5.
The Abbey Ceili Band were in peak form at the Sunday night ceili, with some of the best music they've ever played. I was dreaming all weekend of a West Kerry Set and my dream came true tonight. There was a nice tea break again, but otherwise it was a night of sets, pure and simple and at their absolute best. After the last dance the atmosphere was still so strong that it took the best part of an hour for the crowd to even start thinking about going home.
And of course, there was no need to go home with the late late session under way in the Pastoral Centre. This one was the best of the weekend with many musicians and singers joining in. There was even a welcome appearance by Elvis himself, whose spirit seemed to have taken over the body of mild-mannered Dublin set dancer Jim Monaghan long enough to sing us a couple of songs. The session continued long past my bedtime, and I heard that early risers found the sessioneers still going at 7am.
Bank holiday Monday was a perfect day for lying in after the late session, with no dancing scheduled before the afternoon ceili at 2.30pm. Several dancers, myself included, found time to visit County Laois's other big attraction, the designer outlet mall in Rathdowney, though it was a rush to get the serious shoppers back in time.
Making the first appearance in Castletown for the Monday afternoon ceili were Mort Kelleher and family. Their music was a hit with the dancers who shouted their approval from the floor. There were cheers for Colin Kelleher when he played a solo during one figure. The afternoon tea was our last chance to sample such generous hospitality for another year. In the second half we were treated to another display of solo dancing, beginning with three visitors from Holland who danced steps in a ceili style. The others were all young Irish dancers who gave riveting demonstrations of sean nós-Gillian Whelan, the Morrissey brothers, Sinéad Bray and Edwina Guckian. Melanie Barber gave another welcome clog dance performance, this time danced to jigs. After the last dance there were plenty of farewells, though a significant number seemed to have no notion of going home. As I said, it feels like home here, so why would anyone want to leave?
The Half-Door Club excelled themselves in Castletown this year. Their hard work behind the scenes meant that dancers from all around Ireland and great numbers from England and Europe could do exactly what they love most-dance plenty of sets!
The bands were booked, the tutor was booked, the hall was ready and the workshop had been well advertised. We had all the angles covered or so we thought, then at 4pm on the Friday afternoon disaster struck. Our workshop tutor Gerard Butler rang to apologise that he was feeling very sick and that his doctor had advised him not to travel. However, Gerard had arranged a replacement and gave me Pádraig McEneany's number and said that he was expecting a call. We knew Pádraig and his wife Róisín well from Connie Ryan's workshops in the past, but had never attended any of their workshops. However if they were good enough for Connie they would be good enough for us.
I rang Pádraig and he said that he would come down if that was alright with us, I told him that we would be delighted! He said that Róisín would not be able to come but that he would try to get a friend to come down with him to share the driving. I told him that the workshop started at 10.30 the next morning but we could start a little later. Pádraig said that he would be ready to start at 10.30.
The ceili that night with Taylor's Cross went very well and we informed everyone about the change of tutor with a little anxiety. I got a call from Pádraig the next morning at 9 to say that he was having breakfast in the hotel in Carrigaline! He was at the GAA club before I was, having left Drogheda at 5.30 that morning.
The workshop started on time and Pádraig went through the steps for the Sliabh gCua Set from Waterford. He then got a set out to demonstrate and then put the 6½ sets through the five figures. As I sat watching him I couldn't help noticing the similarities in teaching style between Connie and Pádraig. He placed great emphasis on the style and the individual character of each set. We continued with the Monaghan Set, a lovely set which he said was the only one which he knew of that had reels, jigs, polkas and hornpipes in the same set. Before Pádraig started he spent a long time going through the reel step with us and helped different people who were having any difficulties with the step. He made sure that everyone was doing a reel step before we moved on to dance the first figure. Before we danced each of the figures he went over the steps for that figure. We finished for lunch at 1pm and it was obvious that everyone was delighted with the workshop. There was a great feeling of achievement among the participants.
We continued with the Monaghan after lunch with 7½ sets and even the people who had not been there that morning got through the set extremely well with Pádraig's clear directions. To our great delight he decided to continue with the Claddagh Set. He informed us that this set had been first taught by Séamus Ó Méalóid at Malahide in January and that it proved very popular. He hoped that this would take off at ceilis as he thought that it was a lovely set. Again we spent a lot of time going through the steps for the set. When we had all 'mastered' the steps Pádraig set about teaching us the figures, and yes, they were lovely. We got through the first two figures and then he got the demonstration set to dance the third figure. He took a lot of time to explain the cross chain movement and then they danced the figure! We were all ready to leave there and then, but Pádraig assured us that he would get us through the figure with ease, as we had an hour of the workshop left. We went through the first part of the figure which was easy enough and then came the cross chain. As everyone is doing something different Pádraig went through all the different movements with great patience. Then we put all the pieces together and danced it straight through. We then danced the whole figure through twice and everyone was relieved as they got back to their own partners for the final swing. We all got such a buzz from having completed that figure. We had completed the figure in less than 25 minutes. We finished the last figure and then danced the set right through. The 7½ sets left tired but extremely satisfied.
The ceili that night with the Turloughmore Ceili Band went very well and was very well attended with approximately forty sets on the floor at any one time. Turloughmore, a ten-piece band from Co Clare, played extremely well. Pádraig called the Sliabh gCua set during the ceili and the floor was full. Even those who did not attend the workshop got through the set without any bother.
The workshop resumed the following morning with 5½ sets. Pádraig spent the first part of the workshop going through reel steps and showed us how to build up a battering step for reels and for advancing and retiring. He emphasised that we should 'walk before we run' and be really comfortable with the basics before we progress to more intricate steps. Pádraig said battering should be heard only occasionally and that traditionally in a lot of sets there would be no battering at all. We finished the workshop with the Fermanagh Quadrilles. This set gave us a chance to practice all our new steps as we had to change between reel and polka steps throughout.
The workshop finished at 1pm and Pádraig thanked us all for inviting him to teach the workshop and for our hospitality. Barry Cogan thanked Pádraig on behalf of the Owenabue Valley Traditional Group for a very professional and enjoyable workshop. Someone asked had Pádraig been booked for next year yet, and Barry asked if they should book him, all assembled demanded that they should and so it was agreed that he would come back next year! Barry also thanked Mary Conboy for coming down with Pádraig to share the driving and help out with the workshop.
The weekend finished with an afternoon ceili with the Shannonside Ceili Band. Most of the Turloughmore had stayed on to play that afternoon. What looked to be disastrous on Friday evening turned out to be a great success and we look forward to many more workshops in the future. Gerard has promised to come down in October to do a special one day sean nós workshop. Bígí linn.
Kitty Murphy, Carrigaline, Co Cork
After my first visit to Canada last year for the Easter set dancing weekend in Halifax, Nova Scotia, I knew I wanted to make a return visit. I enjoyed the city and province, the music and dancing and friendly natives and was fortunate to be able to return for this year's weekend from the ninth to the twelfth of April. In the past year the city suffered from the effects of both a hurricane and a blizzard, but fortunately a bright spring day greeted me when I landed.
The biggest difference this year was the absence of Elizabeth MacDonald, who began set dancing here and taught for many years, and her husband Dan Deslauriers, whose life-of-the-party humour and antics were missed by all. Dan and Elizabeth are now living and dancing in Germany. However, back again for his tenth visit to teach the sets in Halifax was Pat Murphy.
A modest Victorian mansion, Titanic House, was our dance hall on Friday and Saturday. Inside we had the use of what would have been a roomy living room with parquet floor. There was a bright, L-shaped porch on two sides of the room with comfy seats and tables stocked with drinks and snacks shared by the dancers. The walls were decorated with pictures of the leaders and members of the women's clubs that meet there. As we arrived on Friday night, the locals informed me with pleasure that we were about to start dancing in the very room where scenes from a movie with the Hollywood star Tom Selleck had been filmed in recent months. As a result, the room was newly decorated and the floor beautifully refinished.
When the sets began, it was obvious why I'd come back a second time. The musicians sitting in a line along the back wall were a group of excellent, lively players who actually like playing for dancers. Even better, the fun-loving dancers wasted no time getting re-acquainted, and we continued with the same madcap dancing I experienced last year. The crowd was small, just three sets, but we easily matched the energy and enjoyment of a bigger ceili.
Amazingly, there were probably more sets at the Saturday workshop than at any of the weekend's ceilis, in contrast to the workshops back home which are always smaller than ceilis. Five sets were here all day, except for the long lunch break when everyone went out to restaurants downtown, half a mile away. Pat taught sets old and new, including the popular new Claddagh Set, which always elicited a satisfying roar of approval when we successfully danced the complicated third figure. There were little chocolate Easter eggs in every hiding spot in the room, left there for us to find by some playful soul who remembered that Dan used to do this.
The Saturday night ceili was a repeat of Friday's, though there were four sets dancing most of the night, and I spotted a fifth assemble itself while the last set was in progress. Kevin Roach played some mighty fiddle music, with his wife Jane Lombard on box and occasional bouzouki, Jeff on banjo and Gordon on bodhran. While Titanic House proved itself a warm, intimate venue, one of its shortcomings became noticeable-the smallest room in the house could relieve only one person at a time, with mixed queues forming during the breaks and at the end of the night.
The mainstay of the set dancing scene in Halifax is the weekly Sunday afternoon live music ceili in the Old Triangle, an Irish pub in the centre of town. The ceili is not to be missed at any time of year, and today it was a triply special occasion-it was Easter, it was the climax of the set dancing weekend and it was Pat Murphy's birthday. Dancers arrived en masse at midday, two hours before dancing commenced, to claim all the tables on the floor space required later for musicians and dancers. Easter brunch was a leisurely affair, until the musicians arrived, then it was all hustle and bustle to clear tables and the floor. When the dancing began, there was barely room for two sets, but three and four were seen dancing during the afternoon. Between sets, Pat was pleasantly surprised when a chocolate cake appeared with three candles, baked and presented by Sue Hill, which was shared with everyone. The sets continued afterward and even when we finished dancing the musicians played on for their own pleasure, with Pat joining in on box for a few tunes. People drifted away slowly to their homes, families and Easter dinners.
The final event of the weekend was a workshop on Monday evening in the Italian-Canadian Club, which has a lovely hall very much like an Irish one with a resonant timber floor. Winter made a return visit this day as it was damp and chilly, and on arrival it was our bad luck to find that the club was locked! Some of us waited patiently, while others were busy with their mobile phones trying to track down the elusive caretaker. After about half an hour he arrived to great acclaim and we rushed inside to warm ourselves up with a couple of sets, including the Ballyduff. Afterward, we saved most of our final farewells for one last visit to the Old Triangle.
The Halifax weekend proves that a good weekend doesn't need huge crowds of dancers. It was like a four-day dance party, intimate, relaxed and friendly. The music was top notch and the dancing was quick, but the overall pace was easy-you could have a conversation after a set without being unduly interrupted when they called the next one. I enjoyed a weekend full of delightful partners and brilliant sets. My compliments to organiser Pauline Hingston and the local dancers for keeping a good weekend going strong.
The weekend after Saint Patrick's Day saw the return of Patrick O'Dea to New Orleans for a workshop, a ceili, a party and even a parade. If memory serves, and that is doubtful, this would be Patrick's seventh trip to New Orleans, eighth if you count his Mardi Gras vacation a couple years ago. Based on the frequency of his visits, the allure of our city just seems to be too much for Patrick to resist.
The weekend got off to a rather inauspicious beginning as less than two hours before Friday night's workshop was to begin we received a phone message from Patrick indicating that he had gotten bumped from his flight and would be arriving late. The workshop would have to be cancelled. I and one other spent the better part of an hour on the phone trying to contact all who we expected to be in attendance that night.
Saturday's workshop got started around ten minutes after the scheduled time-on time by New Orleans standards. We were able to put two sets on the floor. All sets that afternoon would be from County Mayo. He introduced us to the Hollymount and Shramore sets, and reintroduced us to the Derradda Set. Common movements were quickly identified within these sets. Some of these movements are also seen in another common Mayo set, the Newport. The group especially had fun with the 'touching' and 'no-touching' train movement in the Shramore and Hollymount, respectively.
Everyone broke for dinner after the workshop before returning for the ceili, also at Mick's Pub. About half the group took Patrick out to dinner at a neighbourhood restaurant. It was a good time to catch up with him.
The ceili kicked off at eight o'clock. The music was led by Richie Stafford on fiddle and Justin Murphy on flute. Many of our local session players also showed up to fill out the band. New Orleans ceilis have always been a family affair with both set and ceili dances and children doing step dancing step-outs. We also always find someone to contribute a traditional song or two and lead a sea shanty. The ceili ended before midnight as Mick's had another band coming in, but the night wasn't over for at least a few. The next stop of the night for Patrick and a few others was salsa dancing at a local club. I'll leave it to you the next time you see him to ask Patrick about the rest of the events of that night.
Sunday one of our local dancers held her annual Saint Patrick's Day parade party. Her home is conveniently located just two blocks off the parade route. The Mardi Gras tradition of throws is carried over to all parades in New Orleans. And almost any occasion seems to be good excuse for a parade in New Orleans. In honor of Saint Patrick's Day the standard throws of beads are expanded to include potatoes and cabbage. After the parade and after clearing all the furniture from the front room we assembled two sets of dancers for some sets, including the Lancers, Hollymount, and Shramore. It took some coaxing, but Patrick gave us a sample of his sean nós steps. It took even a bit more cajoling, but he also provided us with some of his other talent, the piano.
Kirk Whitmer, New Orleans, Louisiana
Once again, the May bank holiday weekend arrived and with it the ever popular annual set dancing weekend in Portmagee, Kerry. This was the thirteenth annual weekend and in my opinion, the best yet.
Friday night saw the arrival at the Bridge Bar of many dancers from different parts of the country. Pat and Ger Kennedy, owners of the Bridge Bar, run the weekend and are ably assisted by Beryl and Julian Stracey, who work tirelessly before, during and after for the success of the whole weekend. Dublin dancers, who came first with Connie Ryan, still come faithfully and join in the craic and dancing with the same verve and enthusiasm. Dancers also came from Bray, Carlow, Schull, Newcastlewest, Adare, Limerick, Holland, Tralee and our English friends who come back year after year and add greatly to the entertainment with their group Harmonix.
On Friday night there was a lively session of dancing in the bar with music by Pat and Seamus, two local lads who play the best music ever for the South Kerry Set and the liveliest of reels.
Saturday morning dawned with glorious sunshine. When we arrived at the Community Hall for the workshop there were seven sets already on the floor with Betty McCoy ready with her handset and music to get the day off to a flying start with the Mayo Lancers. There was great good humour and immense hilarity at this set, especially at the poigín (kiss). After lunch we had the Killyon Set and Betty finished with the Claddagh Set, which is this year's new set.
Dinner was at 6pm in the Moorings Restaurant, attached to the Bridge Bar. Food here and in the bar is superb. The Saturday session of dancing began at 9.30pm for a terrific night of dancing and fun with music by Seamus and Pat. The night ended with a lively ceili in the Community Hall with tremendous music from Gerry McCarthy and team.
Sunday's events started with a rousing session in the bar by a group of local musicians. A group of visitors from Brittany with many varied instruments played lively Breton music for our enjoyment.
Set dancing followed with Gerry McCarthy, after which Harmonix entertained with very lively modern music and songs. The night finished with the two local lads playing enthusiastically for numerous sets, both inside and on a platform outside.
It was an action-packed weekend with a great attendance of local set dancers who are very friendly, welcoming and always ready to 'share' the sets. It was truly memorable from the fun, learning, good craic and above all dancing and a tremendous tribute to the trojan work of the organisers.
Chris Gleeson, Kilfinane, Co Limerick
Hungary was the venue for a series of set dancing workshops over the Easter holidays. The Kilwee set dancers from the Dunmurry area of Belfast were invited to Gyor, a town situated midway between Vienna and Budapest to teach set dancing at the Gyermekek Haza. This was a national cultural and art centre that had prepared a comprehensive display of Irish culture to celebrate our arrival. There was a genuine interest in everything Irish and hence the invitation to dance.
The trip began at Dublin airport; the first stage of the flight was to Charles DeGaulle airport in Paris and then on to Budapest. Our first night was spent in the Mecure Korona hotel, a beautiful new Hungarian hotel situated near the city centre. We were unfamiliar with Hungarian food but we were pleasantly surprised when we sat down to beautifully presented Hungarian meals. The coffee and cream cakes were to die for. We could have cheerfully spent our time in the many coffee houses.
The next day we travelled by train to Gyor and enjoyed some beautiful scenery on the way. Our base for the next ten days was the Paar Hotel on the outskirts of the town and a short walk from the cultural centre.
At our workshops a wide range of ages arrived and eagerly joined in the sets. We were also taught several Hungarian dances and the cultural exchange was enjoyed by all.
One of the highlights of our stay was a day trip to Vienna travelling by train and having the opportunity to experience the delights of the old city and the architecture of a bygone age.
Another delight was a visit to the local thermal baths with every type of body therapy on offer at a very reasonable cost. This was sheer luxury after the workshops.
At the end of the ten days we reluctantly said goodbye to our new Hungarian friends with promises to return and invites given to them to one day come and set dance in Ireland.
Maeve Gilmore, Dunmurry, Co Antrim
On the 27th April the 21st annual workshop run by the St Patrick's Scór Committee from Lordship was held in the Mullaghbuoy Community Centre nestled in the side of Slieve Foy Mountain in the Cooley Peninsula of Co Louth. The workshop has taken place annually since 1983 with one exception, and that was 2001 when cancellation was forced because of the outbreak of foot and mouth disease. Thankfully the sheep are back again grazing peacefully on the mountain slopes.
The workshops were conducted in the early years by Joe and Siobhan O'Donovan and they in fact were the tutors for twelve years until they retired. Is it any wonder that they're always fondly remembered when this workshop takes place?
This year's workshop was conducted by Gerry Butler from Roscommon who was in the hall by 9.30am making sure that all the equipment was in working order. The tone for the workshop was set when one of the participants to arrive was Mike Slattery from Kilfenora, Co Clare - now we know it pays to advertise in Set Dancing News. We had people from Tipperary, Kilkenny and Offaly with a strong contingent from Dublin northside and southside. These along with all our regular supporters north and south made for a great gathering of ten sets, which filled our hall to capacity.
Having been greeted with the usual tea and fresh scones the workshop got under way at 11am. Just to get people loosened up Gerry got them to dance the Connermara Set to some very lively music. The temperature rose considerably and all doors and windows had to be opened to ensure adequate ventilation at this early stage.
Gerry then began to teach the lively Ballyduff Set which was well received and enjoyed by all the dancers. He followed this with the Glencorrib Set which brought us up to lunchtime. Tea and sandwiches were available for everyone wishing to stay and after that many people went for a walk in the glorious sunshine enjoying the view of Dundalk Bay with the Cooley Mountains in the background. Those who returned early had the opportunity of learning a few sean nós steps from Gerry and his guidance was very much appreciated by those present. They all now know to ask for Miss McLeod's Reelwhen they are performing their party piece.
In the afternoon we were taught the North Roscommon Half-Set and Gerry spent some time teaching the Roscommon Lancers step. After that he taught the lovely two-hand dance, the Polly Glide and this was very well received by all the participants.
The tea trolley appeared again at 3.30pm for some welcome refreshments, the homemade fare being greatly appreciated. The evening finished with the teaching of the Claddagh Set and after several 'takes' the difficult figure was mastered. The workshop finished at 5pm and for the benefit of those who were not able to return to the ceili, Gerry did his usual outstanding solo dance performance.
The feedback from those present was that the workshop was very successful and the credit must go to Gerry who taught in a very thorough and professional manner. The music chosen by him to accompany the various sets was excellent and he was very well prepared for the task he had in hand. The dancers departed tired but happy and a large percentage of them, after a meal and a rest were raring to go again at 10pm.
The music for the ceili was supplied by the Four Provinces Ceili Band. This was their second visit to Mullaghbuoy and they played their hearts out to a highly appreciative group of dancers. It is not surprising that they have been invited back to Mullaghbuoy to play for the November ceili. We thank Orla, Martin, Philip and Colin for a wonderful night's entertainment. The sumptuous sit down supper was served as usual giving everyone an opportunity to relax.
After supper a group of about 25 sean nós dancers entertained and this was followed by a superbly danced brush dance by Gerry Butler, who inveigled his brother Colin from the band to join him. We were entertained to a performance of this dance which can only be described as electric. Their performance received tumultuous applause.
Sadly the night finished with the dancing of the Caledonian at 1am, but all the dancers went home with the happy memories of a wonderful day and night and with feelings of gratitude for those who made it possible for them.
The St Patrick's Scór Committee under the leadership of Jim, Mary and Rose McEneanney can be very proud of the success of the 21st annual workshop and Jim it looks as if you may start planning for next year.
Michael McGlynn, Castletowncooley, Riverstown, Co Louth
The annual North American Comhaltas convention is probably the biggest set dancing event outside of Ireland. During the weekend, members of the North American branches of Comhaltas gather for meetings, workshops, concerts, sessions and ceilis, but no competitions. In a different location every year, this year it returned to the Hilton Hotel in Parsippany, New Jersey, 25 miles west of New York City. This is a suburban-style hotel, with a stream, a few trees and plenty of free parking on the grounds. The hotel was big enough to house several hundred visitors and still have rooms available. Dancers were attracted from across the United States and Canada, bringing them together just as the summer schools and fleadhs do in Ireland.
The opening event was a ceili on Thursday night with music by Mike Rafferty and fifteen sets of dancers. I arrived on Friday and immediately heard talk of the beautiful floor in the ballroom. Before the workshop began that evening I had a look and was favourably impressed. It was a temporary floor laid over the hotel's own dance floor and carpet. The huge expanse was made up of large panels of genuine wood with a smooth and dust-free finish. They fitted together well and never separated all weekend. It was easily the best temporary floor I've used, comfortable and a perfect slide. It was shipped from Kansas City, Missouri, where they use them for line dancing competitions, and I'm told it's cheaper to hire than other flooring. It would be great to see these floors available in Ireland.
Mick Mulkerrin and Mairéad Casey were invited to the convention to hold three workshops. They began on Friday evening with the Kilfenora Set and continued with the Williamstown. Mick had a new way of teaching the last figure of the Williamstown, the polka with the 'strip the willow' move. Usually there's a bit of a rush in this one, so Mick had the leading couple dance at home for four bars, rather than around the house for eight. This left them four extra bars to complete the strip the willow, after which he had them return to place by swinging instead of dancing threes. After that, Mick and Mairéad obliged the large crowd by dancing their sean nós steps. Preferring to dance his steps to live music, Mick grabbed a flute player who was getting reading to play for the ceili. The three gave a mighty show!
The ceili that night was a mixed night of set and ceili dancing presented by musicians and dancers from the Philadelphia area. The seven musicians on stage had prepared themselves by rehearsing for months. I'd booked a friend for the first set, but the dancing began with the Gay Gordons. After that it was the High Cauled Cap so rather than wait any longer, we danced the Connemara Set. The band played polkas which almost put us off, but they seamlessly slipped into reels soon after and we were flying. Sets and ceili alternated all night, though some dancers took no notice and did sets at every chance. Rosemary Timoney was the MC, calling every move in the ceili dances and leaving us on our own during the sets. During the break she taught the Margaret Waltz so we'd be able to dance it when it was called later. The evening probably peaked with thirty sets on the floor during the Plain Set, but had dropped to just four for the Morris Reel. Fortunately a few more came out to finish the night with the Connemara.
Rosemary was back in the morning to teach the basic steps of ceili dancing, a few of the simpler dances and the Morris Reel. The afternoon set dancing workshop was eagerly anticipated because Mick and Mairéad were teaching the Claddagh Set. There was great interest in it, more so than with other new sets. The complicated 'cross chain' in the third figure is what everyone loves most about the set. Mick and Mairéad broke it down, danced a demonstration and gave us plenty of practice with it, and after three or four goes everyone was doing beautifully. Afterward, the crowd cleared a big space for more of Mick and Mairéad's sean nós steps.
The entertainment package for the weekend, priced at , included all ceilis and workshops, plus four meals as well. Saturday lunch and the two breakfasts were help-yourself affairs. On Saturday night there was a seated banquet in the ballroom. Everyone was dressed in their best clothes, a remarkable transformation from the usual T-shirts associated with set dancing events. A full programme of performances is part of the banquet, which if it runs late will delay the ceili. In fact I heard that a past convention banquet finished so late that the ceili began at midnight, and then had to stop at 1am! This year the programme was more carefully controlled, though after everyone left the banquet and the tables were cleared, it was around 11pm when the ceili began. Fortunately it continued through to 2am.
There was eager anticipation for the Saturday night ceili because a dozen of America's most famous traditional Irish musicians were on stage, led by Joanie Madden who kept a jovial banter going with the crowd all night. The music indeed was magic and inspired around forty sets to dance their hearts out. Pitchers containing a gallon of Guinness were brought regularly to the stage to keep the music flowing. The band had gathered so much momentum that they had no intention of stopping after the last figure of the last set. Taking quick advantage of the situation, Mick and Mairéad hopped out and let loose with some sean nós for a perfect climax to a great night.
Sunday morning's workshop began at the civilised hour of 11.30am. Mick and Mairéad took it easy by having everyone do a circle dance based on a figure of the Limerick Orange and Green. The Kildownet Half-Set is a delightful Mayo set not often seen in workshops, so it was a treat to dance it here.
At the final ceili we had two ceili bands and four hours of dancing. A dozen or so New York and New Jersey musicians calling themselves the Fleadh Ceili Band started us off with some lively music. They had a special drummer who was attracting attention and cameras-this young fellow hasn't seen any double digit birthdays yet, but was able to play like a seasoned pro. He was the son of the fiddler and played alongside a full-sized drummer.
After we'd danced a few sets, I was amused when the group's spokesperson, Frankie McCormack on banjo, called the next dance on the programme. "Now here's one you'll all love," he said, "the High Cauled Crap, er, Cap. Don't shoot the messenger!" And before we began, he suggested, "If you guys get tired and want to stop, just let us know." They began with polkas, but soon afterward switched to reels, just as I heard at the two previous ceilis, so despite Frankie's misgivings it was an enjoyable dance. Half-way through the afternoon, the bands changed and we rounded out the weekend with the Green Gates Ceili Band, six musicians led by Eileen Clune Goodman on piano accordion. They play in a lively Sligo style and are a popular favourite with set dancers in the region. The ceilis all weekend long were comfortable not only for the good floor, but for the effective air-conditioning which kept everyone relatively cool and dry.
What made the convention especially enjoyable for me was the chance to meet dancers from across the States and Canada. There were many I hadn't crossed paths with before. Some I knew only from correspondence and reputation, so it was great to be able to put a face to the name. And of course I met plenty of friends I've encountered often in the past so it was easy to feel at home in Parsippany. As well as being one of the biggest dance weekends in the States, it's also one of the best.
The Catskills are a range of wild and wooded mountains in upstate New York, looking beautiful last April as millions of trees were coming into leaf simultaneously. Less than two hours from Manhattan, it's far from the hustle and bustle of the big city. The region has long been popular with tourists, with several large resort hotels catering for them. The Nevele Grande is one of these, with 800 acres set in a valley surrounded by mountains. The grounds include a golf course, ski slope, skating rink, waterfall, swimming pools, tennis courts and numerous hotel buildings with hundreds of rooms. Of course, the only amenity that interested me as I arrived here on April 23rd was the ballroom.
The Nevele is the home of the #1 Irish Weekend organised twice a year by Gertrude Byrne. The weekend offers a mix of Irish entertainment, meals and accommodation for an all-inclusive price. Set dancing is a strong part of the entertainment-totalling up the workshops and ceilis there's over twenty hours of sets during the three days. The other attractions include shows and ballroom dancing.
It was my fourth visit to the Nevele and I'm always impressed at how consistent and well-organised these weekends are-they almost seem to run themselves. On my first visit I remember being unclear on where and when the action was, but it's easy now that I know the routine. People arrived and checked into their rooms all afternoon and evening on Friday. I checked in about 3pm, just in time for the coffee, tea and cake served in the lobby, where there was ballroom dancing already under way.
Set dancing began at 4pm with the Pete Kelly Ceili Band, a New York band with a strong local following. The spacious plywood floor was sparsely filled at first, though newly arrived dancers constantly trickled into the hall to warm welcomes and made up new sets. At 6pm there was a cocktail party where you can eat enough finger food to fill yourself completely, followed by a three-course dinner at 7pm in the huge dining room. By this time the majority of the weekend's visitors were seated around what must have been 100 tables. Considering the numbers, the service is highly efficient and trouble-free. Just as we were finishing up it was time for the night's ceili to begin.
The Nevele weekends are just about the only set dancing events in North America to bring over two (sometimes three) Irish ceili bands. Over the years a large selection of Ireland's favourite bands has been here. This year two were making their first appearances in the Nevele-Matt Cunningham and the Davey Ceili Band. There was a brilliant crowd on the floor from the 9pm start and the Daveys made a great impression. However, by ten o'clock the floor had thinned out dramatically-the show with comedian Brendan Grace had attracted many of the dancers away. After Matt Cunningham took charge of the music, the missing dancers returned, replacing some of those who were calling it a night after five or more hours of dancing. By the time the ceili finished at 2am I'd had seven hours of sets.
Saturday started with a workshop from 10.30am to 1pm, taught by Pádraig and Róisín McEneaney. They taught the Sliabh gCua Set from Waterford and Claddagh Set, surely the set of the year. The Sliabh gCua was straightforward, and so were three of the four figures of the Claddagh. That complicated third figure required lots of practice and Pádraig and Róisín visited many of the sets to help out. The practice made perfect and the satisfied dancers were delighted with themselves afterward.
After the lunch hour, the Davey Ceili Band mounted the stage for the afternoon ceili from 2 to 5pm. Pádraig called the workshop sets and accompanied by brilliant music there was no trouble dancing them. Between the ceili and cocktail hour was the only unscheduled time of the weekend-a perfect opportunity for a rest. Actually most people spent the time dressing for dinner-everyone was impeccable in ties and jackets and dresses and high heels.
Saturday night dinner at the Nevele is always more than just a meal, it's a show in itself. Once everyone was seated, a rousing selection of American and Irish patriotic songs began. With the greatest enthusiasm, everyone stood, sang along and waved little US and Irish flags placed at every seat. Gertrude Byrne herself led a procession through the dining room with two full sized flags following. This is known as the Grande March, which grew longer and longer as many joined in behind, singing and waving. The queue wound around and snaked past all the tables and finished at the podium where the two musicians were performing. When it was over, everyone sat down and got back to the serious business of eating.
Soon after 9pm we were dancing again, this time to Matt Cunningham. The band played a nice Paris Set by request-during the hornpipe they switched seamlessly to marches for sixteen bars while we danced the cast off and lead around. Later we were lucky when another drummer relieved Matt's son Eric so that he could give us a taste of his beautiful flute playing. Pete Kelly took over for the late shift until 2.30am. His fans were very vocal in their appreciation of his music. By the end of the ceili, the total set dancing time had risen to eighteen hours.
At the morning ceili we had an hour of dancing each from the Davey Ceili Band and from Matt Cunningham. The Daveys started at 11am, though John Davey noted that he recently played even earlier on a Sunday morning during his February visit to Belgium. Matt gave us a few final sets to take us up to lunch. Despite the early hour and all the dancing behind us, everyone was in great spirits, relaxed and full of fun.
After lunch there was a final two hours with Pete Kelly, who opens and closes every Nevele weekend. Many people had long journeys home and had to leave before the finish. Every set that was called had fewer sets dancing, so that for the last set there were only two or three sets dancing. But those of us die-hards still going at the very end would have kept going a lot longer, but the clock stopped ticking at a Grande total of 22 hours, more than you'd get at most three-day set dancing events.
So if you like a lot of dancing to excellent bands from Ireland and New York, the #1 Irish Weekend at the Nevele Grande is a great place to go!
Seaview Country Club in Port des Torrent in sunny Ibiza once more played host to Fleadh Ibiza from 18th April to 25th April. 1300 patrons revelled in the best traditional Irish music and dance festival in Europe. Gerry Flynn and his Enjoy Travel Group had surpassed all expectations in organising this very popular event in one of the most beautiful of the Balearic Islands.
I arrived on Sunday night 18th at approximately 9.30pm and was delighted to see that Enjoy Travel representatives were handling the check-in. This exercise was brilliant, as holidaymakers had no delays. With my luggage hurriedly unpacked, a quick shower and change, I headed for the ballroom. Johnny Reidy was on stage and playing the Sliabh Luachra Set his last set for the night. Meanwhile Dermot Hegarty was playing in the lounge. My first dance in Ibiza was with Ronan, a real Fred Astaire-what brilliant quicksteps and waltzes!
At 11pm Mort Kelleher Céilí Band started the second céilí of the night with the Plain Set and finished with the Connemara. Holidaymakers were still arriving as the céilí finished. Eager to start their dancing holiday they stepped it out in the lounge to P J Murrihy and Seamus Shannon. Another Fleadh had swept the Isle of Pines.
Monday morning after a sumptuous buffet breakfast dancers collected by the poolside for the first workshop of the festival. The tutor this morning was dance master Mickey Kelly. Most of the crowd were experienced dancers but there were a considerable number of less experienced dancers and total beginners. Mickey encouraged everyone and started with basic steps for the less deftly footed. The Connemara was his first choice of set. 25 sets crowded on to the beautiful wooden platform with a warm Mediterranean breeze tempering our pale skins. When Mickey was happy with the Connemara he then taught the Derradda Set and moved on to two-hand dances, the ever-popular St Bernard Waltz and concluding with the Country Waltz. Once more Mickey Kelly had set the tone and standard for the festival.
The afternoon workshop continued when Frank and Bobby Keenan taught the Portmagee Set. This set proved very popular with both beginners and advanced dancers. Approximately thirty sets graced the floor. We had a short break before our first afternoon céilí at 4pm. With Johnny Reidy on stage the music and dancing was pure magic.
Tom and Noreen Carter held ballroom dancing lessons in the ballroom. This twosome from Westport in Co Mayo have numerous accolades for their dancing and are in demand as tutors all over Ireland. They were assisted by John Farragher from Castlebar in Co Mayo, also an accomplished ballroom and set dancer.
Monday night the first céilí was at 9pm with Mort Kelleher on stage and Mr Mayo man himself, Mickey Kelly, as fear an tí keeping everyone foot-perfect. All the usual sets were danced including the very popular Kilfenora. At 11pm the Glenside played for the second céilí with Frank Keenan as fear an tí this time. Again all the usual sets were danced but Frank was careful not to repeat any set danced at the first céilí of the night. I was delighted to see the South Galway being danced. Meanwhile the lounge was alive with country and Irish and social dancing.
The adjoining hotel complex, Club Aura, had a mighty seisiún every night under the baton of coordinator Mick Mackey. Mick is synonymous with fleadhs and sessions in his hometown of Clonmel, Co Tipperary, as a musician, singer and organiser, and has travelled on most of the fleadhs to Spain. Mick was accompanied and assisted by his beautiful wife Gene, a talented sean nós and step dancer. The couple are also accomplished set dancers-a very gifted pair.
Tuesday morning after breakfast Mass was said in the ballroom. Originally the cinema room was to be the venue but because the numbers attending were so large the bigger venue was made available.
Fed and with a prayer in our hearts and God's blessing, we started our day with a workshop by the pool with Timmy Woulfe. He taught the Claddagh Set, the most recently revived set on the dancing scene. It is from Claddagh, Connemara, Co Galway and was first taught in January this year by Séamus Ó Méalóid in Malahide, Co Dublin. The cross chain in the third figure posed most difficulties for the less experienced dancers. Timmy took tremendous care and detailed each move to perfection. Dancers who had never done a workshop with Timmy were loud in their praise of his expertise and attention to detail. Those of us lucky to know Timmy were delighted that he had been given the opportunity to show his professionalism as a tutor and dancer. Timmy is a real schoolmaster with the gift to impart knowledge with the knack of introducing humour to relax even the most novice dancer.
Tuesday afternoon the great Mickey Kelly was back at the helm with the Ballyduff Set, a lively Co Waterford set. It proved popular with everyone and as usual Mickey took tremendous care with each detail.
A wonderful half-day of workshops had come to an end and dancers refreshed for the afternoon céilí. Mort Kelleher took the stage to provide the exuberant music with Mickey Kelly as our mentor. We danced the Country Waltz and even those who had never seen it danced before took the floor. With a prompt now and then from Mickey everyone had a great time. The sun smiled on us as we hastened to shower and change for dinner in the great dining hall.
Tuesday night the Glenside was on stage for the first céilí and Johnny Reidy for the second. The bands on stage complemented each other well, and all moods of set dancing and tempo were catered for. Again set dancers mingled between the social dancing in the lounge and the ceilis in the ballroom. The Cellar Bar hosted late night partygoers while those interested in a seisiún thronged to the Aura Bar.
Wednesday morning after breakfast and Mass, Frank Keenan started his workshop with the Cúchulainn Set from the Cooley Peninsula, Co Louth. It has four figures, danced to three reels and a hornpipe. Frank has a wonderful relaxed voice and a meticulous method of teaching.
While Frank was busy with his workshop a little bit of history was made. Gerry Flynn of Enjoy Travel and myself were interviewed live on air by mobile connection to the Gerry Ryan show on RTÉ Radio 2. Their research team had heard about the festival and were intrigued by the notion that such a cultural festival was happening in an island that had a name for other kinds of holidays. Gerry and myself soon informed him that this was a true Irish festival on a par with any fleadh cheoil in Ireland and that the only drugs we needed were the brilliant music and dancing we were enjoying in the hotel complex in this very beautiful sun-kissed island.
Timmy Woulfe was back as tutor for the afternoon workshop and taught the Paris Set. Timmy said he was proud to teach this wonderful Clare set and paid special tribute to Dan Furey who taught it in Labasheeda, Co Clare, and far beyond. After Timmy's workshop we had a tremendous céilí with the Glenside Céilí Band.
As the beautiful Ibiza sun crept below the horizon we gathered ourselves for dinner and our nightly céilí. Johnny Reidy was on stage and the crowds thronged to the ballroom. Johnny was on his first visit to the fleadh and he stole the hearts of everyone, with his boyish smile, dynamic personality and his mega music.
During the céilí Aidan Flood, the Glenside's drummer, and his fiancée Sandra Moroney danced the Bride's Dance in traditional Spanish costumes. Congratulations to Aidan and Sandra who have since tied the knot at the end of May.
Mort Kelleher supplied the brilliant music for the second céilí of the night. Midway through this céilí Mick and Kay Doyle and the Slate Quarry Dancers danced their famous Slate Quarry Lancers Set. This little demonstration has become a feature of the fleadh each year. Danny Webster provided magic music for this set. Danny is well known as a one-man band all over Ireland and plays regularly for feiseanna.
The céilí resumed with the Plain Set and then the High-Cauled Cap. God, there were some variations of this being danced! Some sets looked like a skirmish from a haunted house. Those lucky enough to have sat and watched laughed until they cried at some of the carrying on. I was in one of the 'what the hell are we doing' sets. Perhaps someone should teach this at a workshop next year.
Thursday morning Mickey Kelly gave a beginners workshop by popular demand. Mickey started with the Derrada Set, and proceeded to do the first figure of the Connemara Set. We had 32 sets on the floor by the pool. Mickey then did the Pride of Erin Waltz, the Breakaway Blues and the Polly Glide. Just as Mickey concluded his workshop Spanish rain started to drop on the precious wooden floor and it was all hands on deck to cover it.
However, the rain did not dampen the enthusiasm of the dancers. We had a delightful early afternoon workshop in the ballroom with Clement Gallagher teaching the Gates of Derry, a wonderful céilí dance. The disciplines are somewhat different to set dancing as feet are encouraged to leave the ground-no problem to some of us, I hear you say. Clement is a very able tutor and I could listen all day to his melodious Donegal accent. The rain stopped in time for our afternoon workshop. Timmy Woulfe did the West Kerry Set to the delight of dancers and promised to call it at the céilí tonight.
The outdoor céilí with Johnny Reidy on stage followed. Dancers had a brilliant time basking in their wonderful music and once more energised by the sun. As the céilí came to an end Mickey Kelly organised the annual set dancing in the pool competition and dancers gathered their sets together. We had six sets in the pool and everyone had a fun time dancing, splashing and generally frolicking. The winning set named themselves the 'All Counties Set'.
Thursday night crowds began to gather early as usual. Mort Kelleher was on stage and dancers thronged the ballroom. Timmy Woulfe was fear an tí. We danced the West Kerry, Labasheeda and Paris, as well as the Plain and Clare Lancers.
Then the mega Longford band, the Glenside, took the stage for the second céilí. Jim McCormack from Thurles, Co Tipperary, called the Ballycommon Set. Jim now lives in England and teaches a class there every week.
Friday morning bright and sunny, a large number of dancers gathered for the céilí cruise. With Johnny Reidy on board good craic was assured. This was a two-hour cruise along the stunning Ibiza coastline to the beautiful bay of Cala Tarida. A paella specialty lunch was enjoyed with sangria to wash it down. Several sets were danced and everyone returned relaxed and happy.
I was among the dancers who remained at the complex. We had a wonderful workshop aimed at beginners with Frank and Bobby Keenan as they did the South Kerry Set. Frank said it was a good set for a beginners class with easy polka steps and easy to comprehend moves-one of the best sets to get novice dancers to understand the terminology of set dancing and the shape of sets. The wooden floor was graced by thirty sets, all eager to dance or learn how to do it.
Friday afternoon we had a fantastic céilí with Mort Kelleher on stage. Forty sets packed the floor as was usual all this week for the outdoor céilí. As we relaxed afterward, crowds gathered for the talent competition. This show is surely the highlight of the festival as all participants get a chance to display their often times hidden talents. As in previous years the standard was very high and Tom Flood from the Glenside was at hand to play for anyone who needed a reel, jig or hornpipe-what an unassuming genius this young man is. The outright winner was Daisy Kearney from Ballyhahill, Co Limerick, who told a wonderful tale in a broad Limerick accent.
Just as we thought we could take no more, Mickey Kelly announced that the evening was to conclude with a waltzing competition in the pool. Participants in all kinds of dress and undress took their partners in the pool, and the competition got underway. Kerry man Tony O'Connor and his daughter Mairéad scooped the prize.
The first céilí on Friday night had the Glenside on stage with Frank Keenan as fear an tí, then Johnny Reidy took the stage with Timmy Woulfe as caller. We started with the Sliabh Luachra set-Timmy called this the way it is danced in Johnny Reidy's home place, Scartaglin. In this part of the country the slides are danced as squares. Timmy also included the Paris Set during the night.
Saturday morning Mickey Kelly was in fine fettle as he conducted a beginners' class in the Caledonian Set. Again numbers were high, as eager dancers at all levels took to the floor in the brilliant sunshine. This was the final day of the festival but everyone seemed to have endless energies, not least of all Mickey Kelly. Mickey demonstrated, called and encouraged the large attendance. When the dancers were happy Mickey moved on to his beloved two-hand dances, Pride of Erin, St Bernard, Sweetheart Waltz and finished with the Country Waltz.
Culture and art was eking from all directions as we were treated to a fancy dress parade. I am amazed each year at the amount of thought, work and imagination that participants put into this competition. The winner was John O'Donoghue from Jamestown, Co Kilkenny, as 'Miss Ibiza' who received a free holiday to Fleadh Ibiza in 2005. Second prizes for €50 vouchers went to Chris Quinn and Angela McNamara from Dublin as 'Misses Ireland'.
The final céilí was electric with all céilí bands on stage. Margaret Morrin from London called the Sliabh Gua Set in a very clear voice. Even anyone who had never heard of this set before had no bother following Margaret's precise moves. Moira Dempsey called the Corofin Plain and we had sean nós dancing from Mairéad O'Connor and Shane Ryan. The céilí concluded with the Caledonian Set.
Meanwhile in the lounge the final of the waltzing competition was underway with P J Murrihy and Seamus Shannon providing the music. The winner was Josephine Grimes and P J Curran, who is well known in set dancing circles.
The night concluded with the big prize draw for a cruise for two in the Mediterranean in 2005. Lady Luck appeared twice as P J Curran also won the top prize.
The cellar bar beckoned anyone who hadn't an early flight home and throngs of dancers headed downstairs to sing, dance, drink and spend their last night in Ibiza.
Sunday morning was quiet as holidaymakers were busy packing to return home or meeting friends for a last goodbye before parting. With parting goodbyes everyone recalled excitingly the week's events, all the ceilis, workshops, sessions and the trips around the island. Everyone took home their own little bit of Ibiza; for some it was the cruise; others it was the day trip when they visited historic churches.
But most important of all friends had become reacquainted, new friends were made, phone numbers and addresses exchanged and pledges to stay in contact re-affirmed. I spoke to numerous people who had never been at this Fleadh before and they told me they are already planning to return next year and bring friends.
Another wonderful Fleadh Ibiza had come to an end. Again Gerry Flynn and his team can be proud of this fantastic event. It is surely the best organised festival of Irish music, dance and great wholesome craic in the world. It shows Irish people at their best and therefore we have become the true ambassadors of Ireland. We eagerly await our return to Ibiza for Fleadh 2005.
Joan Pollard Carew
Ireland in the sunThe quiet Sunday morning grew into a busy afternoon for those lucky enough to remain for the second week's festival in Ibiza, called Ireland in the Sun. Set dancers were off to a great start with the Glenside on stage by the pool for an afternoon céilí. We enjoyed more space with only fifteen sets on the floor. New holidaymakers were only arriving, but the atmosphere was great as Pat Jordan and Finian's Rainbow and Curtis Magee played waltzes, quicksteps and foxtrots until dinnertime. Set dancers were happy to meet the new arrivals and we all had fun in the brilliant sunshine. Sunday night was the first night without a céilí but most were happy to relax or join the modern dancing in the ballroom.
Monday morning Mickey Kelly did a beginners workshop by the pool with twenty sets on the floor. The afternoons saw most set dancers taking ballroom lessons in the lounge with Carlow man Michael Behan. He started giving lessons last year and as a result ballroom classes have become a feature of the Ibiza festivals. Michael has many awards for ballroom dancing and is a wonderful tutor. He lined up ladies at one side of the room and gents at the other and went through the respective moves before inviting us to take our partners. Michael is also to be commended for the individual attention he managed to give every dancer.
Monday night we had a fabulous céilí with the Glenside on stage and Mickey Kelly calling. The night concluded with a great seisiún with Mick Mackey as master of ceremonies. We had more set dancing, waltzes and quicksteps, singing, a few stories and jokes. We were privileged to have three brilliant musicians join guitarist Mick Mackey on stage-Michael Mitchell from Trim, Co Meath, playing accordion, and Briege Kelly on piano accordion and her sister Eileen Kane on violin, both from Ballyshannon, Co Donegal.
Tuesday morning saw fifteen sets on the floor for Frank and Bobby Keenan's workshop. Quite a number of beginners had joined us for the second week so the pace moved a bit slower. We danced the Baile Bhuirne Reel Set, a lovely west Cork set, a good choice because the moves are simple and with all polkas provided practice on the down step. At the end of each class even the most novice dancer was comfortable.
The afternoon saw dancers once more either taking ballroom lessons or enjoying social dancing by the pool. Tuesday night we had a céilí from nine to eleven followed with our now eagerly awaited seisiún.
Wednesday morning at eleven Mickey Kelly was back on stage by the pool teaching a beginners class. In the afternoon rain threatened and clouds gathered-all events were shifted indoors. Everyone had a wonderful afternoon.
On Wednesday night as dancers enjoyed their céilí I was invited to a civic reception for dignitaries who were visiting the hotel. These included the president of the island's tourist board, local councillors, president and directors of the hotel and directors of Enjoy Travel.
Another night of singing, dancing and storytelling as Mick Mackey took the hot seat coordinating the seisiún. Gerry Flynn gave us a lively polka on the accordion and P J Murrihy sang a song followed by Pat Jordan. It was wonderful to see the interaction between all the performers and dancers. By now Michael Mitchell and Mick Mackey had found themselves as the resident musicians for the remainder of the week with visits from numerous other musicians and artists.
Late on Wednesday night well-known performer Art Supple asked if he could be my dance partner for the set dancing workshop on the following morning. I was delighted but assumed that this was only a jest.
Thursday morning as I arrived at the poolside Art Supple was already there and eager to dance. The Cork singer with the dynamic voice and huge charisma told me he had done a small bit of step dancing as a child and as Frank Keenan got everyone out in a circle I could see that he was an accomplished dancer. Then you have only to see him on stage-he dances as he sings. Art Supple and the Victors were one of the best known and loved show bands on the Irish circuit in the late sixties and seventies. Today he has his own band and is one of the regular performers during Ireland in the Sun.
Frank Keenan taught the South Galway Set, an excellent choice for the many beginners. As we danced a local photographer watched and took some pictures. These were used to support an article for the following day's paper in which Gerry Flynn was interviewed. "We feel comfortable in Ibiza," Mr Flynn said, "and our set dancing is well connected with flamenco because of the influence of the Spanish Armada. Also the way of living between Irish and Spanish people is so very similar."
Friday morning Mickey Kelly was back by the pool with the Newport Set. By now even the beginners were getting familiar with the language and the steps as Mickey guided, encouraged and praised his dancers. Afternoon gave way to ballroom lessons or social dancing.
After Friday night's céilí with the magic Glenside Céilí Band of Longford on stage we had another seisiún. Gerry Flynn gave us tune on Michael Mitchell's accordion. Gerry is not just an executive businessman, he is also an accomplished musician. Mickey Kelly was in fine voice as he sang the romantic Jim Reeves number He'll Have to Go. Pat Jordan sang the Rose of Tralee, and Art Supple sang Boolavogue. These performances were interspersed with story telling and dancing.
Saturday morning we had our last workshop with Frank and Bobby Keenan. The set selected was the Kilfenora and dancers were delighted with the choice, as this is now a very popular set and danced at most ceilis.
The last ballroom class was held in the lounge and everyone was preparing for the talent show. As in the previous week we were entertained by a large number of participants and the standard was very high. As the floorboards were being taken up Mickey Kelly held a waltzing competition in the pool. Ten couples began the romantic waltz as Curtis Magee played.
Our last céilí was held in the ballroom with the Glenside once more on stage. Then we were all invited outside by the pool for a fireworks display. Excitement grew with each flare and we were all like little children with exclamations of glee. This was one of the most spectacular fireworks displays I have ever seen. What a wonderful finale to the two festivals.
The night concluded with social dancing and all artists on stage with the fancy dress parade at twelve o'clock. Curtis Magee won the prize he dressed as Michael Jackson and very graciously gave the prize of a holiday to a young wheelchair-bound lady.
Ireland in the Sun festival had drawn to a close. Like last week, fond goodbyes were said, with hugs, kisses, promises to keep in touch and a firm hope that we would be all back in 2005.
Dancers have asked me to say a special word of thanks to the Glenside Céilí Band who played for all the ceilis on the second week. All the members of this brilliant band are good humoured, always have a smile and are fantastic dancers too.
Gerry Flynn and Enjoy Travel take a bow-Ireland in the Sun is another fantastic event on its own or as an embellishment to Fleadh Ibiza.
Joan Pollard Carew
Good morning sunshineOn the eighteenth day of April we headed for the sun.
When we gathered at the airport, sure the fun had just begun.
The two hours delay in London gave us time to wet our lip
But our friend she overdone it and she began to trip!
We had some new recruits on board with us,
who did not know what to expect.
But by God when they got going,
they weren't shy to show their pecs!
One man in particular could dance to beat the band.
He attracted so many beauties he needed another pair of hands!
You could hear the odd suggestion, "I'm not dancing tonight,"
But when the music started we jumped up with delight.
They were dancing by the poolside and dancing in the hall,
They were singing in the bushes and a session by the wall.
The holiday was fantastic, we never lost so much sweat.
But we had mighty craic one morning when we did the Dublin Set.
We were heading for the Liffey and heading for the fall.
Some of us were laughing and couldn't move at all!
We got overheated and thought we'd surely faint.
But the 'Blue-eyed Boy', the teacher, had the patience of a saint!
Sheila Carty, Streatham, London
Ibiza × 3Back to Ibiza
For us three times in a row.
To dance, have fun
And enter the talent show.
Arrived at Dublin Airport,
Told an 8 hour delay.
Our hearts sank with sadness,
Disbelief and dismay.
Met up with the Kilkenny cats,
For the Yanks danced a set or two
To the music of Danny Webster
The one man band virtuoso.
During the week we learned the Claddagh Set,
The Gates of Derry too,
Also the St Bernard and county waltzes,
Renewed old acquaintances made some new.
There were music workshops
For the first time this year.
I got some lovely tunes
That are pleasant to the ear.
At the talent show
There was a funny clown
Who did the brush dance
Without falling down.
The Glenside, Mort Kelleher and Johnny Reidy
Were out on their own.
They played their very best
And sent the dancers merrily home.
But all good things come to an end,
Fun, frolics, beer, cheer,
Sun, sand, sea and sets.
It's Ibiza again next year.
Mary Caldwell, Ennis, Co Clare
Tournafulla village is situated on the borders of Cork, Kerry and Limerick, on the fringe of the Sliabh Luachra area, and therefore has a strong tradition of music, song and dance. The parish has 350 houses and a population of 700, but this little community can be proud of their achievements.
Their new hall is called Halla Tadhg Gaelach, named after the 18th century poet, Tadgh O'Sulleabhain, who was born in the parish in 1717. The hall began as a pipedream at a development association meeting in January 1994. Numerous fundraisers were put in place. These included a fashion show, dog night at Tralee Track, parish envelopes, a poker classic, sponsored walks, 'Who wants to be a millionaire', parish draws and wren boys outings on St Stephen Day. In total €200,000 was raised to which half as much was awarded in grants from a number of state agencies.
Work began on the construction of the hall on a voluntary basis in the autumn of 1996 and with the help of a FÁS employment scheme it was completed in January 2002.
I have only started attending ceilis here this year and it's a delight to dance in this fabulous hall. From the moment you arrive you are greeted with a warm Sliabh Luachra welcome, a mug of coffee and delicious food. The ladies spend the earlier part of the evening before the céilí making beautiful cakes for dancers to enjoy.
The dance floor is a dream. Joan and John O'Sullivan told me that the floor was imported from Canada. The top three layers, batons, plywood and maple surface, are all suspended on 3,000 specially designed rubber cushions, which are spaced at twelve inch centres. This gives the floor its particular bounce.
The hall also comprises a Teach Siamsa with a fully fitted kitchen, two meeting rooms and a heritage culture room. The parish has a vibrant branch of Comhaltas. In recent years this group has won many county, provincial and national titles at under-age competitions. The hall is also used for weekly music and set dancing classes, local ICA classes, card games and at varying times by many other parish groups as well as traditional music recitals by some of the country's leading musicians.
Joan and John told me the biggest attraction is the regular monthly céilí, held on Friday nights. All the committee would like to thank all the set dancing regulars, many of whom come long distances to enjoy the special atmosphere at this new venue. The committee is to be commended on their choice of bands which have included Mort Kelleher, Tim Joe and Anne, Johnny Reidy and Matt Cunningham. At the next céilí on 11th June we will be dancing to the Glenside.
Tournafulla has not yet found its way onto the usual road maps. If you are travelling from Limerick, turn left at the church in Newcastle West-it's just seven miles along this road. Coming from Kerry it's seven miles from Abbeyfeale-turn right three miles beyond the town and keep right at the first Y-junction. From Kanturk it's seven miles-turn left in Broadford and go through Ashford. From Newmarket it's only five miles-turn right at the church in Rockchapel.
All roads lead to Tournafulla. The word itself means 'the scene of the battle'. I can assure you the only action you will see in this beautiful village is fantastic dancing to all the leading bands in the country.
Joan Pollard Carew
Isn't it interesting to hear what your ex-set dancing partner has to say about you? Some people would call it valuable feedback. Anyway, it was May bank holiday weekend and, as one of my friends put it, "The sap is up which meant it was that time of year when gentlemen's thoughts turn to women, and women's thoughts turn to gentlemen." We were headed for Castletown and I knew that Dugo must have something cooking from the excitement in his voice whenever I mentioned that village. Unfortunately Fliff and himself had split up and both of them had asked me to take them to that Laois weekend. The only way I could do it was to make Dugo go in the boot without letting Fliff know. This would suit his 'Art of Surprise', a thing he specializes in. He'd always turn up at ceilis where dancers wouldn't expect him to and not turn up at ceilis when they thought they had seen him talking to one of the musicians outside. Dugo was about to hear something about himself as he got close to the spare tyre. As we took off out the road I knew it wouldn't be long before Fliff got onto her favourite subject, Dugo bashing.
"So yourself and Dugo have split up, have ye?" I joked.
"Oh that fella!" she shouted.
"Don't say you still have it in for him?"
"Where will I begin?" she begged.
"I'd say it's a bit more than him insisting to go tops all the time!" I laughed.
"Oh! but the way he's always keeping track of everything."
"Must be difficult with all he'd have going on!"
"I hate seeing older fellas behaving as if they're young ones," she moaned.
"It's worse seeing younger ones behaving as if they are older fellas."
"Well, he's over fifty, isn't he?"
"Fifty but shifty."
"I'll shift him okay but I'd better not say with what!"
Just as she made that remark Dugo gave a sharp cough in the boot! Fliff stared at me for a moment as I pointed to the bright silvery moon. It was a full moon so I decided to turn off the lights on the car to save the battery. I could see very well and I presumed other drivers could see me too. This is a trick I picked up from Dugo on my travels to ceili. We arrived in Castletown just as the music fired up. I parked and walked in with Fliff. I came back for Dugo as agreed though was tempted not to after listening to Fliff a while longer. Later we were lucky to meet girls from Newcastle. They could dance very well despite pretending to be complete amateurs. I had a great dance with one of them who was staying in a camp at a field nearby. It was "Cold and lumpy!" she exclaimed. I told her that I would be more than willing to generate some body heat. However she declined to tell me which field the camp was in. The following night I was informed she had acquired a mattress to put under her sleeping bag. "Who gave you the mattress?" I asked. "A friend I won't mention by name," she laughed. She had made friends that bank holiday weekend too. I can't say I was one bit surprised!
Copyright © 2004 by O F Hughes
Dia Dhuit Half-Door Club,
This is my special letter to you-for the envelope I chose Set Dancing News, and for stamps, people dancing. The only difference is that you might not be the only one reading the letter but, as they say, the more the merrier.
So, here I am in Castletown. I close my eyes and I find myself hearing the music, tasting the brack, smelling the freshly cut grass, seeing the village coming to life in the morning. So far, it could be only a dream. But here you are, my friends from Castletown, holding my hand, swinging me around, and that is for real.
I am really back in Ireland, back to the place I am so fond of, back especially for Castletown. It is amazing how the Irish Celtic spirit reached countries all over the world and it took hold of the heart of a Romanian girl forever-this heart just happens to be mine. And I have good reasons for my words.
The lively music and dances bring so many people and smiles together in reels and jigs, waltz and polkas, leading them around the dancing floor for another set and another set, and maybe for a cup of tea and a piece of cake, and again for another sweat, sorry, set. God, I forget how to walk, I will swing forever, for Ireland. And it feels so good!
Only the light makes the difference between day and night, not the music; the latter seems to be eternal, dances, songs, flutes, whistles, accordions, guitars, voices, so many good voices. I wonder, who taught you to play and sing so well? Who taught you so many songs? I am astonished, all I can do is to applaud-is it enough to be noted?
Still, I have the courage to join the dancing session in the nice pub in Mountrath. But here we go, I might need something else, an anaesthetic to get me stunned in the middle of a jig. How could I forget about Guinness? It is still part of the Irish spirit, no mighty craic without a pint and a music session. I can very well join in. I have the spirit, or maybe the spirits?
Back to the ceili. I couldn't miss any of the five ceilis, maybe a workshop for the sake of the Castletown scenery and beautiful sunny spells. I am finally beginning to remember the figures after two years. Well, I must admit that if it had not been for the partners who stopped me from leaving them for somebody else right in the middle of the set, I would not have made it to the end.
It is not so difficult to remember the figures after all. Each set has something particular: looking in your partner's eyes, greeting the couples, lots of swinging, house, house, house, or this is the way I remember it anyway. For the rest, always be ready to feel the music and to go back to your own partner.
This is just one Half-Door in Castletown-I try to make out the other Half as well. There you are, my friends from Ireland from the Half-Door Club who have always been so kind to me, so welcoming, so genuine. You give me the feeling of truly belonging to this special place. Here I feel home, even far away from home.
You are the very reason why I always want to come back to Ireland.
Go raibh maith agat for making your songs my songs, your dances my dances, your brack my brack and, the most important of all, your Door my Door.
Love from Romania,
Simona Bucsa, Brasov, Romania
An amazing weekendDear Bill
I am enclosing two photographs taken at the set dancing weekend held in Manchester from the 5th to 7th March 2004. Sixteen of us travelled over to hear the fantastic music of the Johnny Reidy Ceili Band. They had two fabulous ceilis and a workshop on the Sunday, directed by Tom Brady.
Not only was the dancing great, the craic was mighty and we made some friends that we'll meet again at ceilis here and abroad. Thank you to the hosts that treated us so well in Manchester and to the Johnny Reidy gang! We had an amazing weekend.
Gillian Whelan, Birr, Co Offaly
Celebrating Mary's lifeHello, Bill:
Thank you so very much for the beautiful 'spread' in the February-March issue regarding the hundredth birthday of my friend, Mary Walsh. Sadly, Mary passed away on April 16th. However, the story in Set Dancing News gave Mary her 'fifteen minutes of fame.' She loved every minute and made the most of it! With your kind generosity, I was able to give Mary a number of original color issues for some of her family and friends. And it seems also that many copies of Mary's story were sent 'home,' as well as to the far reaches of the globe (she has family in Australia). Mary was so very proud of that publication! Thank you for your part in making Mary's hundredth birthday very special.
On what was to be my last visit to Mary, she gave me her old accordion. Turns out to be about sixty years old, but not really a two-row accordion at all. Rather, it is a '2-in-1' melodeon, so to speak-one row is tuned to A and the other to D. Although badly in need of repair, I promised Mary that it would be played again. So, Mary's accordion sits in my living room while I save my pennies to replace the bellows and fix some of the reeds. And each time I sit down to play my own accordion, a little bit of Mary is there with me.
Thank you, again, for celebrating Mary's life!
Maureen Donachie, Floral Park, New York
Very vibrant in TorontoBill,
Set dancing is very vibrant in Toronto! We greatly enjoyed a set dance weekend there May 14-16, their first annual one. Dancers from Toronto and several cities in Ontario were joined by ones from several of the United States. We had seen an announcement of the event in Set Dancing News and decided to attend. We had a grand time and believe all in attendance also enjoyed themselves. Tony Ryan taught the Roscahill (West Galway), Fermanagh, Paris and Claddagh sets in a workshop. His friendly, relaxed style of teaching is very nice.
Larry and Lenette Taylor, Stow, Ohio
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