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).
Here are a few words and photographs from our ninth annual An Céilí Mór, held here in Port Fairy on the weekend of 27-29 August 2004.
Port Fairy is located in the west of Victoria on the southern coast of Australia. The village has a population of around 2,500 and is steeped in history, mostly of an Irish flavour. The town was originally called Belfast by the two men who founded the settlement, and was later changed to Port Fairy-'Fairy' was the name of the clipper which transported many of the settlers to the district.
Port Fairy is in an area known as the Green Triangle, probably because of the lush pastureland in the district but with places named Killarney, Coleraine and "Tarrone," and many of the population bearing Irish names one could be excused for assuming it was named for other reasons.
The ninth Céilí Mór attracted 75 dancers from various parts of Victoria, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory (Canberra). Several of the participants had recently returned from the annual pilgrimage to the Willie Clancy Summer School and other dance festivals in Ireland.
Each year the event has a "Feature Teacher" but this year was an exception as there were five teachers all sharing a series of workshops over the weekend. The tutors were Fay McAlinden (Coleraine and Port Fairy), Ina Bertrand (Melbourne), Marie Brouder (Dublin and Melbourne), Kathy Guiney (Geelong) and Patsy Denneny (Roscommon and Adelaide).
Whilst the residential weekend is primarily a set dance event, this year one ceili workshop was added. Dances taught included the Claddagh Set, which Ina brought back from Ireland; the Dublin Set, a favourite with Marie; Hurry the Jug, which was Kathy's contribution; the old favourite the Sixteen-Hand Reel, which Patsy taught; and the Port Fairy Set, a new set dance which Fay composed especially for the Céilí Mór
The program offered a great deal of dancing with a "how-are-ye" get-together dinner on Friday night, workshops from 9:30am on Saturday and Sunday, an afternoon ceili on Saturday afternoon and a celebration dinner-ceili on Saturday night. This year there was a Greek Olympic theme with food, skits, dances and decor all depicting elements of the Athens Olympics.
In true Olympic spirit, the Claddagh dancers from Melbourne danced the Ballyvourney Jig Set in what they claim to be a World and Olympic record time of 5 minutes 36 seconds-including an eight bar introduction. They now challenge anyone to better this attempt! Their costumes displayed the traditional five Olympic rings-however, these were Claddagh rings!
Again in true Olympic spirit the organisers called for "the set dancers of Australia to assemble in Port Fairy twelve months from now, to welcome Pat Murphy from Westport in Ireland as our Feature Teacher, and in the interim enjoy and perform the wonderful set dances from Ireland and all over the world!"
Already there are more than fifty provisional bookings for 2005, which indicates that Pat will receive a very warm and enthusiastic welcome down under in the Green Triangle.
Fay and Morgan McAlinden, Port Fairy
"G'day, g'day! Welcome! You must be Nora!"
These were the nice words that greeted me on my first outing to a set dance class in Australia.
"Do you know the Borlin Jenny Set? We need one more to dance tops."
After initially arriving at the wrong venue (Set Dancing News occasionally has errors! Not Bill's fault. . . ) in the cold, icy, pitch black darkness of a spooky-looking church in Reid, Canberra, I managed to discover there was another church hall in Corranderk Street with set dancers inside, doing the 'kangaroo hop' to the Borlin Jenny Set.
This was very timely as I had previously that evening seen a most curious sight. A match was being played on the local football oval close to my house, with lots of action on the field under the glare of bright lights, and a mob of interested supporters looking on-kangaroos! They had come down from the dry foothills of Mt Ainslie and Mt Majura to graze on the lush, sweet bits of grass left on the football pitch. I looked on in amazement, for they are normally quite timid and wouldn't stay where there was any type of disturbance. But they were obviously desperate to eat, and to be entertained at the same time! Nobody there took any notice of them at all-perhaps they were happy to have an audience?
Well, there was plenty of jumping and hopping in that first Wednesday night class in July, keeping everyone warm and steaming up the windows nicely. Our master and teacher, Paul Wayper, was doing a good job of teaching the class of three sets the fine rhythm of the Borlin Jenny.
I was keen to know, were there any other differences between Australian and Irish dancers, besides copying the jump of our furry, long-tailed icons? No, it seems that classes the world over are pretty similar. These similarities include that:
- People do not automatically jump into sets when asked by the teacher. There is a certain ritual of coaxing and persuading that goes on.
- People generally have the memory the size of a goldfish when it comes to set dancing, retaining about four seconds worth of information at a time-"How does this one go again?"
- People are always keen for the tea and cake or whatever-you're-having-yourself at the break.
- Garlic and other strongly-odoured smells on dancers do not go down well with partners!
Now that I was happy enough that our rituals and habits were keenly similar, we got on with more dancing. In the last two months, I have learned the finer points of the Limerick Tumblers Set, the Connemara Jig Set, the Labasheeda Set and of course, the Ballyvourney Jig Set-a clear favourite with the locals here.
We are looking forward to Margaret and Bill Winnett coming to teach their annual workshop here on 9-10 October, and hope it will coax out a few more people to dance, as we have a ceili with excellent music on Sunday 10 October.
Nora has recently moved back to Canberra, Australia, after living in Dublin for the last six years, where she was a regular at Padraig and Roisin McEneany's classes at Wanderers Football Club, in Ballsbridge, Dublin.
Kilrush, apart from being blessed with better weather than my adopted East Limerick, is also rich in wonderful musicians and dedicated set dancing teachers, as I learned at the Eigse Mrs Crotty concertina festival here on 18-22 August 2004. I only attended three of the ceilithe but they were all extremely pleasurable.
The Star of Munster on Wednesday and Four Courts on Friday did very well despite missing a few members. The change in personnel did not diminish the verve and talent of either group. I am told that Matt Cunningham gave an excellent ceili on Thursday but the persistent rain in Limerick that day had discouraged me from going.
Johnny Reidy knows how to please a Clare audience and proved it on Saturday afternoon when dancers had to jostle for a space on the floor. That was a most delightful ceili, that was. People came from far and wide for it, even a large posse from West Limerick! I vote for Johnny Reidy as Man of the Year, even though we are only in August. [No further nominations have been received since this was written.]
If I only mention one thing about Kilrush, it has to be the marvellous work done by Mary Clancy, who taught in workshops and worked tirelessly to get people dancing, even the shy, the elderly, the not-so-sure-about-the-steps ones and the very young. Mike in hand, Mary made sure that anyone who had half a heart to dance, did dance, and put a lot of effort into not just dragging people on the floor but forming coherent sets so people would enjoy their dancing. She confessed to feeling at times like an auctioneer, but she got great results for her efforts. She also knew when to call the figures and when advice was needed.
The most commendable is what she did with the children; a more heart-warming and charming spectacle, you would not come across. Like the legendary Pied Piper of Hamelin, she enticed onto the floor whole crowds of children, big and small, some of them only tiny tots-and some with white hair and beards who could not keep off the dance-floor for that length of time! She led them in the two-hand dances that she had taught them earlier, to the delight of the adult spectators among whom some proud and beaming parents.
This bodes well for the future of set dancing as, unlike the legendary figure, she did not make the children disappear but encouraged those who dared to join the adults in the sets that followed. They were good humouredly helped along in the figures of the Caledonian and the Plain. However, nobody could rival with the stepping of those tiny feet.
I am sure that others will want to bring to your attention the tirelessness, the good-humour, the special, gruff brand of charm and the total dedication that Mary Clancy lavished on us all. We should place Kilrush on our calendar alongside the great festivals of the set dancing year, perhaps not in terms of numbers, but for the relaxed, family atmosphere and the quality of events. Many thanks to her and to all the organisers.
Every pub had sessions in the evenings and the music was of great quality. I was told reverently the names of the great musicians that were there playing for their own and everybody else's enjoyment. My feet usually get too itchy to listen to music for long but I regretted having to leave in order to drive home in the small hours and leave behind the enchanted town with music pouring from every doorway.
Eva Coombes, Castleconnell, Co Limerick
I always believed that if you dance well with somebody you'd get along well with that somebody too. Some of the best dancers are not just set dancing partners but also partners in life, partners in golf and even partners in crime. Dugo has completely different ideas on this but then he has always had very complicated ceilis. It was late August as I was heading for the All-Ireland Fleadh in Clonmel. I got a telephone call from the bed and breakfast where I was staying. The owner warned me to hurry up as she wanted to go out on the town. This reminded me of the kind of pressure we're under when you've booked somebody for a dance and they dance with another. They blurt out, "Oops, sorry, I forgot!" and you're left scrambling around too late to get anybody else. Thankfully Dugo had a cup of tea with her before I got even near the place. After she banged the door behind her, he rang me with a full report. He did a good job of preparing me for her slapdashery. She wasn't used to having guests but she certainly could dance. Most of us were in blow-up beds. Dugo couldn't resist pulling the plug on sleepers who snored. He cracked that joke about blow-up dolls so often that I know it now with many different endings. Meanwhile the usual suspects had arrived and before the dancing we got talking.
"She's a hell of a dancer but I don't want to get her into the sack."
"I wouldn't say she wants to get into the sack with you either!" I retorted.
"You seem sure of that. Are you after her yourself?"
"Not really. You ought to be going for an auld forty-something or divorcée, then you could hook up."
"Do you reckon?" snapped Dugo.
"Definitely. There's an awful smell of feet!"
"It's the leather in these old dancing shoes."
"I seen a place here in Clonmel where they do 'Therapeutic Shoeing'," I declared.
"Really? Therapeutic shoeing for dancers, that sounds good. What does it cure?" he inquired.
"I'll let you find out for yourself. Besides, you definitely can hang those up."
"Hang up my dancing old shoes, no way! I hope to get a lot more miles out of them before I do that!"
Copyright © 2004 by O F Hughes
Magalie and I are happy to announce the arrival of our new baby girl, Erin, weighing 8.2 pounds, born on Saturday 4th September 2004. All is well.
Micheal Lalor, Doon, Raheen, Mountrath, Co Laois
Most fantastic music
I would like to thank the Tulla Ceili Band for the most fantastic music I've heard for a long time at the Sunday night ceili during the Feakle (Co Clare) Festival, from one of this band's many followers. Also not forgetting the lovely Four Courts whose music always makes dancing a pleasure.
Maura O'Leary, Stirchley, Birmingham, England
I was one of the brave ones
Hello there Bill,
I was on a cruise in the Caribbean last February (2004). The fabulous Four Courts and Heather Breeze ceili bands played some fantastic music on alternate nights during the week-long cruise. On the last morning of the trip at the farewell Mass, the two bands got together and played some rousing tunes to the delight of the congregation. The two priests who officiated at the wonderful Masses during the cruise were also set dancers. They could see from the congregation that the set dancers could not keep their feet still, so they invited six dancers up to the altar to join them for a set. I was one of the brave ones who ventured up and to the delight of the congregation we danced two figures of the Connemara. I am hoping that one of the many people who took photographs of this unique occasion might see this letter and send me a copy.
I love the new look of the magazine, Bill.
Celia Gaffney, 22 Pine Grove, Templeogue, Dublin 16, email@example.com
Always pleasant, always coolDear Bill,
Please find space in your next Set Dancing News for this tribute to Mona Dingley from Wolverhampton and Armagh.
Mona teaches set dancing in the Emerald Club every Tuesday night of the year for no financial gain. I have been involved with the set dancing first in Telford and then in Wolverhampton for almost seven years. The enjoyment we all share in the sets is down to Mona because she gives so much to everyone who attends Tuesday nights. Mostly we have three sets, sometimes two and we have ceilis. We had Matt Cunningham over in July 2003 and 2004 in the Goodyear Pavilion-wonderful! Mona is at the centre of everything, very lively, always pleasant, always cool and enjoys all that she gives to dancing. She gives so much and is a very special lady and a very good dancer. We have great fun on Tuesday and at any ceilis we attend. Finally in closing may I also include Bridget Chambers of Wolverhampton and Tipperary who is also involved in the set and ceili dancing in both Stoke-on-Trent on Sundays and with Mona on Tuesdays.
May I say your Set Dancing News is a great magazine. I will read it for some time to come. Thank you very much.
Charlie Pogue, Stafford, Staffordshire, England
The Abbey visits Cleveland
"Set dancers and traditional Irish music lovers were thrilled by the music of the Abbey Ceili Band at the Cleveland Irish Cultural Festival in July 2004. The tunes drove the dancers into a joyful frenzy, and just when you thought it couldn't be better the music went up an octave, building even more power.
"The button accordion, fiddle, banjo and keyboard all blended wonderfully. The selection of music, the timing and the smooth transition between tunes completed the perfect set dancing package. Several dancers exclaimed that it was some of the best dance music they had ever heard.
"Once you have heard the band the music will continue to fill your head and heart. Your feet will never want to stop dancing."
Barb Montler of Stow, Ohio, wrote the piece above. She, we and many others enjoyed the presentations by the Abbey when they were at the local festivals. The group was on-stage with great music once on Friday and twice on Saturday and Sunday. She wanted to have something put in the set dancing newsletter. Attached is a snapshot Barb made see below.
Barb is the lady who introduced us to set dancing. Due to health issues, she no longer dances but still stays very close to the Irish music and dancing. She now plays music.
Larry and Lenette Taylor, Stow, Ohio
A few points clarified
In response to your article on happenings in Miltown Malbay during Willie Clancy week 2004 in the August-September edition, I wish to clarify a few points.
You mentioned a tribute to Joe O'Donovan, dance master supreme, and some of his friends who danced some parts of the Ballyvourney Jig Set. You indicated tops danced the small Christmas incorrectly and the enormous cheer that followed when sides danced it correctly!
During the week I enjoyed a day with Joe and Siobhán O'Donovan and some friends from Midleton, Co Cork, dining, dancing and viewing the video of the aforementioned tribute. Joe indicated that those considered reasonable dancers continued the Christmas in a clockwise direction for sixteen bars of music, whereas the more experienced dancers were capable of dancing eight bars in a clockwise direction, jump, and anticlockwise for further eight bars. He also stated very clearly that the acceleration of the music [because bands are playing faster] ensured that the dancing continued in the same direction. Personally, this was how Joe taught the Ballyvourney Jig Set in Arás Pádraig, Mardyke, Cork, in the 1980s and 1990s. He also mentioned a similar situation in the third part of the Clare Lancers, the big Christmas, another change of direction after eight bars. Also the sixth part of Sliabh Luachra Set-the hornpipe is rarely danced correctly today. All dancers should stop dancing for eight bars before the change of partners, with ladies walking around to the gent on her right. Today most dancers form a circle, advance and retire twice, turning the lady onto the gent on her right on the seventh bar of music.
Vis-a-vis the article on Timmy "the Brit" McCarthy, Joe went to Miltown Malbay in 1982 to teach set dancing. Step dancing was considered extra-curricular. Several individuals who did not have the opportunity previously requested the teaching of steps.
A further point to note-the Sliabh Luachra Set is invariably danced as the first set in practically all set dance ceilis in Cork City and County.
I trust you will take note of these comments,
Marie O'Sullivan, Youghal, Co Cork
On behalf of Birr Comhaltas I would like to thank all our supporters, bands and tutors who made our set dancing weekend in June such a success. I look forward to seeing everyone again for our 2005 weekend on June 3rd, 4th and 5th.
Donal Morrissey, Birr Comhaltas Secretary
It was Tuesday, July 27th 2004, and we were half-way through our weekly dancing get-together when the news broke: Mary Noonan was dead. In momentary shocked silence everybody sat down; then the questions started to rain in with dancing out of the question as people tried to ascertain the circumstances. Mary had lost her life in a drowning tragedy at Ballyheigue, Co Kerry.
The next days were poignant ones for all; in particular for her loving parents on whom she doted, the literally thousands to whom she endeared herself through her work with Kanturk Farm Relief Service and the wider set dancing community.
Her funeral must have been the largest ever in this neck of the woods; the cortege, scheduled to leave the funeral home in Newmarket at 8pm arrived at Taur Church at 11.15pm. Many of the dancers remained on to provide a fitting guard of honour, regardless of the hour.
To those of us who knew her well Mary was a special person. She was set dancing for quite a while before anybody mentioned her surname in the true fashion of set dancers. And nobody knew either that she was affectionately known to her friends in the farm relief services as the 'The Queen' because she was the most unassuming queen you'd ever meet.
Mary travelled to ceilis all over the province and her ready smile and easy repartee ensured she was never without dancing partners. Friends said the loves of her life were her dancing and the songs of Christy Moore but the love for her parents transcended all those.
In her spare time she took her mother on various excursions, all punctuated by visits to every church along the way and candles lit for friends and family. In Abbeyfeale she usually danced in the lower half of the hall, whether through modesty or otherwise, though she was as accomplished a dancer as you'd find and her flashing smile and dark hair found their way into the pictorial side of the Set Dancing News on several occasions.
Much as we all miss her our sorrow is as nothing compared to that of her elderly parents who have lost their child in her early thirties, an irreplaceable treasure. For them there is no consolation other than the knowledge that Mary is assuredly in the company of angels and saints where her exemplary life warrants her to be.
Ar dheis an té is feair go raibh sí.
Timmy Woulfe, Athea, Co Limerick
James "Pat" Flynn was born in Toonagh, County Leitrim, and passed away on August 14th 2004 in Hicksville, New York. Pat and his wife Esther (née O'Hara, Ballinamore, County Leitrim) were regulars on the set dancing circuit in the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut for many years. No one was more welcoming at a ceili than Pat, always there to assist in cutting and putting out the soda bread, always ready to jump into any set (and know it cold), and most importantly always there to greet both dancers and band alike with his brilliant smile and kind words. Even when Pat became unable to dance he was incredibly happy to sit and listen to his beloved music; no band was ever having a bad night according to Pat. He was the consummate gentleman and his loss will be long felt by the set dancing community in New York. We were honored to be his friends. Up Leitrim!
Patrick and Kathleen Carr, Long Island City, New York
Michael McHugh, a set dancer from Watergrasshill, Co Cork, died of heart attack at 2am early on Tuesday morning, 23 November 2004, following a ceili on the island of Fiji, on the return leg of the Enjoy Travel set dancing tour of Australia. Michael was buried in Watergrasshill on Wednesday, 1 December.
Michael is pictured above in Castletown, Co Laois, during the Half-Door Club festival in May 2004.
Every year in the first week of July, Miltown Malbay, Co Clare, becomes the centre of the universe for dancers attending the Willie Clancy Summer School and the Armada's International Week of Set Dancing. Your editor danced at two ceilis every day and still wanted more when it was finished.
Everyone arriving at the Armada Hotel on Friday, July 2nd 2004, for the first ceili of the week in Miltown Malbay, had to hurry from their cars into the hall to avoid being blown away by gale force winds and rain charging at us straight off the Atlantic Ocean. It wasn't a good omen for the week's weather but inside all was bright, cheery and summery as we began the best week of dancing of the year. I sympathised with one of my partners, a visitor from the States who was staying for the week in a tent on the nearby beach, but clearly the pleasure of dancing in Miltown far outweighs any minor inconveniences such as weather and accommodation.
The Four Courts Ceili Band has had the honour of opening the Armada's week for several years, and fiddler Joe Rynne warmly welcomed everyone at the start. This first ceili is always a relaxed introduction to the week, though every year there seem to be more and more people attending it. In no time the dancers were complaining (as they always do) of the heat so some of the ballroom's many windows were opened; the strong wind brought relief and made the curtains billow like parachutes. Joe Rynne invited the solo dancers onto the floor and toward the end of the ceili he offered us a choice of set-would we like the Kilfenora or the Lancers? The Kilfenora Set was the overwhelming choice.
Saturday's weather was transformed by the appearance of the sun, though there was still plenty of wind to cool us down at the Armada's afternoon ceili. Last year on this day Michael Sexton and his band played two memorable ceilis here in the peak of their form. After Michael's death in December, the band reformed this year as the Star of Munster Ceili Band with Conor McCarthy on box. Their first appearance in the Armada was eagerly anticipated, and they began well with some new tunes. The dancers were slow to arrive, but eventually there were around twenty sets on the floor. By that time the band was sounding even better and brought back vivid memories of Michael by playing his classic selections of tunes for some of the sets. At the ceili that night they were in brilliant form and moved a crowd of forty to fifty sets just as Michael himself would have done. Dave Culligan, the drummer and singer, took a moment to introduce the band, Michael's niece Caroline O'Dea on fiddle, Ralph Morgan on banjo, Pat Walsh on piano and of course, Conor on the box. Then he asked for a minute of silence in memory of Michael, which left many of us full of emotion, especially those who enjoyed his electrifying music last year on this night.
On another bright beautiful day we were treated to the Abbey Ceili Band at the Armada. Their ceili on Sunday afternoon tempted a comfortable crowd of dancers indoors for a powerful afternoon of sets. During a waltz I found the main floor too crowded so my partner and I slipped onto the extended floor made up of boards on carpet which had plenty room for cross country waltzing. It was then I noticed that the band had seamlessly started playing Shoe the Donkey. Most of us kept waltzing but those who were more on the ball switched over to dance the Shoe.
Johnny Reidy returned to the Armada on Sunday night after his well-received ceilis last year. There was an immediate response from the dancers after the first figure of the night, the Corofin Plain-everyone cheered Johnny's music. It happened again after the second figure and then we just settled into the delight of dancing. At one point Johnny's music ran past the end of a figure in the Cashel Set and there was another cheer. In fact, any time the band felt in need of a big reaction from the dancers, all they had to do was play an extra eight bars-a rousing cheer was guaranteed.
I tore myself away from the fifty sets in the Armada to visit Taylor's Cross Ceili Band who were playing in the Quilty Tavern at their first ceili during the summer school. Here there were only six sets dancing but the enjoyment was as strong as in the Armada. The band's friends from west Limerick came out to lend their support, and everyone present loved the lively music, unusual tunes and joyful dancing. There's a beautiful floor in Quilty, and it was extended over the carpet by a homemade arrangement of linoleum panels and duct tape which was quite danceable. The night included the West Kerry and Sliabh Luachra sets so polka fans were pleased. No ceilis were held in Quilty last year and many dancers were very pleased to see them back in operation.
Monday afternoon I went to the Mill Theatre in Miltown Malbay for a second chance to dance to Johnny Reidy. There may have been just five sets dancing there but it made no difference to those of us there-we danced our hearts out to the stunning music. The Corofin Plain Set which began the afternoon was the best set of the whole week for me. Fuelled by the energy from Johnny's music, we generated our own fun-filled atmosphere and thoroughly enjoyed that set. A few sets later, I mentioned to my partner that my knees were aching after our afternoon escapades. She commiserated and said, "My balls are aching," and pointed to, I hasten to add, the balls of her feet. Our set was in stitches for the duration of that dance.
One couple attended the ceili with their daughter, aged about three, and I remembered photographing the three of them dancing together in a set here two years before. The girl's mother told me that when she was close to giving birth her doctor suggested that he might have to induce labour. So she decided to go set dancing that night and the baby was born the next day without any artificial inducements. "I recommend it," she said.
I had a second chance to hear Taylor's Cross in the Mill Theatre on Monday night along with fifteen sets-the best turnout here outside of the two nights with the Tulla Ceili Band. Sets were rarely called all week, but tonight Mary Friel called the Connemara Jig Set.
The Star of Munster played again on Tuesday afternoon in the Armada, sounding like a formidable team of musicians. Their music was a joy and was often cheered by the crowd. They've got some memorable new tunes that stayed in my head long after the dance was over. I was pleasantly surprised at how many children were dancing at the ceilis, not just in the Armada, but also in the Mill. They're surprisingly good at the sets, some exceptionally so, and well able to keep up with the adults. The highlights of the week in the Mill are the two nights with the Tulla Ceili Band, the first of which was on Tuesday night. The eight musicians in the band, including Martin "he sways as he plays" Hayes, make music with an indescribably beautiful lift and swing. Forty or so sets completely filled the floor and experienced a rare night of gentle but immensely satisfying dancing. During the waltz there was a rousing medley of songs by the band's flute player and MC, J J Conway from Kilfenora, and most of us singing along while dancing. I heard J J say that "Music's not much good without dancing." Near the end of the night everyone crowded around the stage for a captivating solo by Martin Hayes, discreetly accompanied by Jim Corry and Michael Flanagan.
The step dancing classes held in the changing rooms at St Joseph's GAA Club are still going strong, as I saw when I visited on Wednesday. Celine Tubridy, Patrick O'Dea and Margaret Wray each teach a different level, and the students in each class were intent on mastering the complicated steps. Afterward, I wandered the main street in Miltown in the continuing glorious weather. It's fabulous to be in a town where you can walk the street and meet friends every few paces. I was invited to join some friends who were lunching outdoors at the Market Tavern and soon a full session had formed at the table beside us. I dropped into the Lark's Nest pub nearby to watch the Sliabh Luachra Set danced to music by Brendan Begley and Jimmy Doyle.
Joe O'Donovan was honoured by a tribute in the Community Hall on Wednesday afternoon. Joe is credited with starting the set dancing classes at the Willie Clancy Summer School which gave an enormous boost to the set dancing revival. A couple figures of the Ballvourney Jig Set were danced on stage by friends; there was an enormous cheer when the sides danced it correctly after the tops danced it with a variation of their own. Joe composed the Pipers Set for the Brooks Academy in 1985, and a couple figures were danced here. It's the only set to have a figure danced to slip jigs, and has a unique advance and retire step to accommodate the rhythm. The occasion was also Joe's farewell to the summer school as he is retiring from his duties here.
The Armada's afternoon ceili on Wednesday gave us another blast of the unique music of Johnny Reidy. The dancing was fast and furious and the young dancers who like a bit of battering in their sets made the most of the music. They usually danced in the back corner of the hall near the entrance, so if you couldn't stand the racket, you could shift to the opposite side of the room where it was relatively quieter. The highlight of the Four Courts' ceili that night in the Mill came when Aidan Vaughan was invited to dance some sean nós. Before he did, a Japanese admirer of Aidan's steps was encouraged to perform. His steps were very similar to Aidan's, as we could see when Aidan did his turn.
On Thursday I went along to the Brooks Academy class in the Community Hall where I heard that Séamus Ó Méalóid would be teaching the Claddagh Set. Séamus introduced the set at the Malahide weekend in January and it has been gaining in popularity ever since. Unfortunately, Séamus sent apologies and was unable to come, so Brooks Academy tutor Terry Cullen took over. The Brooks teachers operate as a team, so Terry described the set from the corner while the others demonstrated on the floor, and afterward danced it to music. There was plenty of practice as the teachers looked after each of the five sets personally to make sure they had the correct movements. Everyone danced each figure three times to music, and any dancers sitting out were swapped in. Terry had us practice the third figure's complicated cross chain in its entirety before the demonstration set showed it to us. After the demo there was no bother for everyone to dance it correctly after all the practice and help.
At the Thursday afternoon ceili in the Armada we learned the shocking news that a set dancer who was dancing with us there all week, Margaret Haverty, had been killed in a traffic accident earlier in the day. Nevertheless it was a superb ceili, and the first visit of the Davey Ceili Band to Miltown. The music was brilliant and warmly appreciated by the crowd. I was in rapturous joy at the dancing and music, and at the same time was in tears of sorrow thinking of Margaret. Not only does set dancing exercise every organ in the body, it also exercises every emotion.
Having had a great night with the Tulla Ceili Band on Tuesday, I was looking forward to their return visit to the Mill on Thursday night. I didn't think it could be any better tonight but indeed it was one of the best nights ever here. The crowd was slow to arrive, due in part to the dance recital in the Community Hall which overlapped it, but once everyone was here the floor seemed fuller than ever before. On both nights they began the dancing with the South Galway Set, a brilliant little set which deserves to be danced more often. For the waltz, Mary Clancy hopped up on stage to sing Spancil Hill with J J Conway. The floor was so crowded for the waltz that any sets attempting the Waltz Cotillion soon had to abandon all hope of dancing it. After the break there was a Cashel Set, which I always dance with the same people every year on this night-this was our Fourth Annual Tulla Ceili Band Thurday Night Cashel Set. I found my partner and joined a set, but the opposite couple was nowhere to be seen. Then I looked behind me and there they were back to back with us in the next set! We managed to dance together in a couple of figures while the side couples were dancing, but wondered if it might be confusing for them. Near the end of the night Martin Hayes played another solo which was greatly enjoyed by all, and the band's regular fiddler Mark Donnellan joined in for an encore. Paddy Neylon and Aidan Vaughan then danced a few steps before the final Caledonian Set. The band played a blast of three reels after that and no one could keep themselves from dancing.
Mick Mulkerrin and Mairéad Casey's sean nós dancing class in the Mill Theatre was on a break when I arrived on Friday morning, except that no one was actually taking a break. Everyone was out on the floor practising steps, so after five days the enthusiasm was still strong. Some were even dancing outside on the drive. After the break, Mick had small groups show their steps to the rest, then it was back to more practice with Mairéad and Mick looking after different groups. Mairéad told me there were seventy in the class.
I called in to Aidan Vaughan and Betty McCoy's class on Clare battering in St Joseph's Secondary School where they had the benefit of a bright hall and lovely floor. The group of twenty were practicing their steps to slow music while Aidan or Betty partnered each of them. Over in Armada's hall, Paddy Neylon and Geraldine Connolly were dancing the Plain Set with five sets of beginners.
Mary Clancy's class for more experienced dancers had nine sets crowded into the Armada's Lower Deck, all thoroughly enjoying the Cashel Set with the greatest enthusiasm. When they finished the set I was delighted to see one of the students make a presentation to Mary on behalf of the class. They had taken a collection and gave her a cup full of money as a sign of their appreciation.
Wet weather had arrived but no spirits were dampened by it at the Friday afternoon ceili in the Armada. I was amused to see three pieces of 'shrapnel' on proud display at the door-these were bits of metal brackets that had broken off the temporary floor panels. The Star of Munster were sounding better with every performance and were a pure delight to dance to. That night the Emerald Ceili Band were in the Mill Theatre for a night of lively dancing. There was a repeat of the Connemara Jig Set, plus the Mazurka and Labasheeda, which has been popular this week. Top of the pops is the Kilfenora Set, which I believe I danced at every ceili this week. One of my partners tonight told me that she "hit the wall" last night-she was totally exhausted and rested today. I wondered when my wall would come up; no sign of it this week!
Brendan Begley supplied music for a short ceili on Saturday morning in the Community Hall attended by members of the summer school classes. This is the only ceili here during the week which is a pity, as the hall has a lovely floor and always generates a fine atmosphere.
A week of ceilis hadn't diminished the Abbey Ceili Band's powerful music, which attracted a big crowd to the Saturday afternoon ceili in the Armada. There were so many cars that the car park was filled and the overflow parking spilled onto the lawn between the hotel and sea. The cliff edge was marked with beer kegs. There was even a helicopter parked there so clearly some set dancers are able to travel in high style!
That evening I ventured out to the Quilty Tavern for my final ceili in Miltown. Tim Joe and Anne O'Riordan began on time with just six sets but as the ceili progressed I'd say there were as many as thirty sets on the floor. Tim Joe plays the box with great attention to the floor and is responsive to the dancers. There are moments when he stops playing entirely to let the dancers make the music. This happened for the shouts in the last figure of the Corofin and in the Cashel Hop. At the end of the night that duct tape on the homemade floor extension was looking rather tattered after all the feet that passed over it tonight. Thanks to Tim Joe and Anne and the lovely crowd of dancers who showed up, it was a superb end to a brilliant week of dancing.
Perfect summer weather appeared on the first weekend in June 2004 and made the weekend of set dancing in Birr, Co Offaly, especially enjoyable. This weekend has been a small affair in the past but this year attendance was greatly improved with a full house on Saturday night. The Marian Hall is an ideal venue, roomy and light with a resonant, springy timber floor, conveniently located between Birr Castle and a handy car park. It was organised by Donal Morrissey, a local dancer who's probably the youngest person to organise a weekend like this.
The weekend's workshop tutors were Pádraig and Roisín McEneaney, who showed us a couple of Galway sets on Saturday morning, the Connemara Jig and the South Galway. Each set was preceded by practice on the steps used in the sets. The afternoon's dancing included the South Sligo Lancers and Black Valley Square Jig sets. The South Sligo is especially enjoyable for the unusual moves and steps in it; the fourth figure requires the brain to be on high alert at all times.
The Glenside Ceili Band was the big attraction at the Saturday night ceili. Their energetic and 'chunky' music is popular with younger dancers who gave good support to tonight's ceili, along with many of us older followers of the band so there was a great mix on the floor. During a break between sets a succession of solo dancers gave an exhibition of sean nós, everyone of them superb. Pádraig and Roisín also came out onto the floor to dance a hornpipe. It was also great to see Pat Gleeson dancing again after recovering from an accident earlier in the year. The Plain Set finished the night after that.
Afterward, a gent commented about the sweltering heat of the ceili and pointed out the windows which were closed all night. "We'll have to bring a few shtones tomorrow," he said. Fortunately the windows were open on Sunday, so no need to use any stones. The morning workshop covered the Donegal Set and the Kildownet Half-Set in two hours. That left me free for a couple hours before the ceili, so I nipped across the street to have a look around the grounds of Birr Castle. There's a nice variety of woodlands, lakes, marshes, fields, streams and formal gardens which I rushed through. To see it all properly I would have had to miss the ceili and there was no chance of me doing that!
The Sunday afternoon ceili featured another popular band, the Davey Ceili Band. Even with doors and windows open, the dancing was hot but it was impossible to take it easy with such inspiring music surrounding us. The only relief came during the tea break when everyone went outside for a welcome breath of fresh air. Marian Hall has a garden just outside the tea room with roses and other flowers at their beautiful best, so it was a lovely place to relax. Suitably recharged, we were able to resume the ceili with enough energy to enjoy the terrific music all the way through to the last figure of the last set of this excellent weekend.
Galway's Tony Ryan hosted Toronto's first set dancing weekend from May 14 to 16 2004 and it was indeed a triumph! Dancers visited from Ohio, Michigan, New York state, Illinois and Wisconsin among other places and it was wonderful to look around the room and see so many familiar, smiling faces from our dance travels.
The weekend started out with a ceili danced to the driving strains of the Inishowen Ceili Band. This accomplished group of musicians has played at Toronto ceilis for as long as we can remember and for good reason too. When Tony walked in the room, he said that there was such a feeling of electricity in the room that he wanted to be part of it as soon as he could, and indeed he was! The ceilis took place in the hall of Christ the Saviour Russian Orthodox Church. This hall has a superb sprung wooden floor, which our group has graced for at least a decade. A portion of the income from our ceilis is donated towards the church on a regular basis.
On Saturday, Tony taught us five sets in his patient, unassuming manner, the Roscahill, Claddagh, South Galway, Paris, and Fermanagh. The Claddagh Set was by far the most challenging, but under Tony's instruction it was mastered in no time! At lunch, the hungry dancers feasted on wonderful sandwiches and delicious home baked cookies catered by one of our own dancers, Deirdre Kelleher.
On Sunday afternoon the revelry carried on with the spirited tunes of the Celtic Ceili Crew. This group of young musicians has been playing together for approximately a year with astounding results! Even after a weekend of solid dancing, the room was still abuzz with energy.
On Sunday night two of our founding dancers, Chris Aston and Jane Adams, hosted a farewell party, with singers performing tunes, a session, and some sets that went into the wee hours of the morning. It was a very intimate way to finish off a magical weekend.
Tony stayed on with us until Thursday, and made guest appearances at two local weekly classes. On Monday he visited Christ the Saviour Russian Orthodox Church Hall once again for Pat Mahony's class. On Wednesday, he visited Eastminster United Church for Maureen Mulvey's class.
The organizing committee (Jennifer Hiett, Daithi Logue, Greg Debkowski, Deirdre Keleher, Pat Mahony, Angela Bontje and myself) would like to thank our guests for making our first set dancing weekend a success that will hopefully be repeated in years to come. We would especially like to convey a very heartfelt thank you to Tony Ryan for his patient and encouraging presence among us during his stay.
Lisa MacDonald, Toronto
During a four-day feast of traditional music, song, and dance workshops, performances and ceilis at Chippenham Folk Festival in Wiltshire, England, we were delighted to find that set dancing had been re-introduced to this major festival.
John Earle from Exeter ran three workshops and it was great to see not just some familiar faces, but dancers from other traditions, as well as complete beginners. He read the groups well, and pitched the workshops at the right level to give quick access to the newcomers, yet maintaining the pace of activity for the more experienced dancers. We were taken through the South Galway, Derrada, and Roscahill sets, as well as working through the Plain Set in readiness for the evening ceili. It took very little time for any apprehension to disappear from the faces of the novices, to be replaced by smiles and laughter.
Such was the enthusiasm for participation that at one point seven people in the room dragooned a festival steward into signing off duty for a while by radio so that one more set could be completed. True dedication from the festival staff to the enjoyment of their visitors!
For the evening ceili, Between the Jigs and Reels provided music that was exciting to dance to, and John provided a very supportive and happy environment for the benefit of the less experienced. It was particularly pleasing to see people who were keen to join a set for the first time being guided through to a successful conclusion in their first set dance ceili, willingly encouraged by the more experienced dancers. The ceili included the Labasheeda, Sliabh Luachra, the Connemara Reel, and Ballyvourney Jig sets, as well as the Plain set.
It can only be a good thing for set dancing to be included in an event where the large crowd is already dance and participation orientated, and it is encouraging to learn that John has been asked back again for next year. We shall be back for more on 27th to 30th May 2005.
Jim and Sue Crick, Newbury, Berkshire
Clonoulty, Co Tipperary, is an unlikely location for a big set dancing weekend, but thanks to strong local support and a lot of hard work, they've managed to do a great job of it for the past five years. This year's Connie Ryan Gathering, held from the 11th to the 13th of June 2004, was another successful weekend. The Gathering commemorates Connie Ryan, who before his death in 1997 was Ireland's favourite dance master. He was able to draw big crowds of dancers to any corner of Ireland, generate heaps of atmosphere and craic and popularised loads of sets. He came from the village of Clonoulty but his fame never reached here until the day of his funeral. It was then that the locals realised how important Connie was and it didn't take them long to honour him.
Clonoulty has a very nice hall, but it's far too small for a full size ceili. So every year the village erects a large marquee behind the pub, lays down a dance floor in it, installs toilets and brings in a garden shed to serve as a ticket office. Everything was ready to go by the time I arrived for the ceili on Friday evening. Down here in Tipp ceilis start exactly at the advertised time, even at 9pm (it's hard enough to get things started at 10pm in most places). Tim Joe and Anne were ready to go and called the Cashel, and six sets took to the floor. After that it was the Corofin and twelve sets got up, then the Ballycommon Set with eighteen! The dancing continued with a commendable mix of both favourite and unusual sets called by Michael Loughnane, including the Williamstown and Sliabh Luachra. Two hand dances are popular here, so we also danced the Country Waltz, Pride of Erin and Walls of Limerick. Michael revealed that Tim Joe had been under the weather before coming out tonight, but you'd never know from his music, which was in peak form. He finished the night by playing the Connemara Set and played the three reel figures non-stop.
Pat Murphy and Betty McCoy taught the Ballycroy and Ballyduff sets in the Saturday morning workshop, and continued in the afternoon with the Claddagh and Monaghan sets. The Monaghan was one of the sets that Connie taught and Pat included it as a tribute to him. It was a perfect summer day, so the side panels of the marquee were opened to reveal fields with grazing cows, and the shadows of the swallows could be seen darting across the translucent roof. One of the local lads who was helping out, Jimmy Doyle, formerly from Manchester, performed a great service by sprinkling dance dust on the floor to improve the slide. While sprinkling he clucked, "Here, chick chick chick," as though he was feeding his hens.
The MC at the Saturday night ceili was Pat Murphy, who made sure we danced two of the workshop sets, the Ballyduff and Claddagh, as part of the evening's programme. Music was provided by the Davey Ceili Band who play with superb style and skill. The marquee is in the shape of an L-the dancing is in the main part, and the extension around the corner serves as the tea room. During the break there were so many mouths to feed that extra supplies had to be brought in. I heard one fellow say there was a choice of "brack, brack or brack." Before the band resumed, there was a birthday song and a decorated cake for Amanda Davey, the band's flute player. There was plenty of joyful dancing in the second half with a Caledonian Set to finish the night.
Mass for Connie was held on Sunday morning, followed by a tribute at his grave nearby. As I approached the grave I spotted a small dog on it, and was amused to see him lift his leg on a flower arrangement as some children tried to move him away. The priest led a couple decades of the rosary in English and Irish, and a young girl played a slow air on tin whistle.
The afternoon was so warm that the marquee was open at all sides, which allowed the fresh country air to cool down the dancing at the ceili with Matt Cunningham's band and Pádraig McEneaney as fear an tí. Surrounded by the open air, it felt a bit like an old-fashioned platform dance. Matt's music seemed to get better and better with each set, as the dancers got hotter and hotter; the band was absolutely brilliant in the second half. Near the end of the dancing, Billy Maher said a few words of thanks to everyone on behalf of the local committee.
This was the close of the weekend for many of the dancers, but the Gathering still had a treat in store for those staying for the Sunday night ceili. This event is intended for the local dancers, most of whom wouldn't know all the sets, so there were plenty of waltzes and ceili dances as well. Donnacha Ó Cinneide and Jimmy Doyle shared duties calling the dances, and music was by the talented one-man band, Danny Webster. The highlight of the night was a visit by a group of dancers from "Amsterdam" who performed the Ballyvourney Jig Set; actually they were a riotous group of heavily disguised local lads dancing a buck set.
With the close of another successful Connie Ryan Gathering there were a lot of dancers in Clonoulty and throughout Ireland who went home highly satisfied with their enjoyable weekend of dancing.
While spinning around the floor with Helen Conboy at the Pat Murphy weekend in Halifax this Easter, I asked her how many people were coming out to her classes in Charlottetown. "Between eight and fifteen," she replied. Just enough, but not many! The Prince Edward Island group may be small, but their dancers are exceptional. Helen, with her husband Gary, started the set dancing group in PEI, and people continue to join. We are always thrilled when they visit us in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Each year on the long weekend in May we return the favour by visiting them. Canada has a holiday called Victoria Day on the Monday nearest May 24. Originally proclaimed to celebrate Queen Victoria's birthday, it's evolved into a welcome to spring: a time to tend the garden or head to the campground, and in PEI, an opportunity to flesh out the ranks of the dancers.
Prince Edward Island is a tiny Canadian province known for its potatoes, red soil, sand dunes and a spunky fictional character named Anne of Green Gables. Until recently only accessible by ferry, you can now reach PEI by driving the 13-kilometre Confederation Bridge over the Northumberland Strait. This year six Halifax dancers made the crossing. We arrived at the Benevolent Irish Society building in the capital city, Charlottetown, on Friday evening, where local musicians play a weekly concert. Nova Scotian and Islander dancers joined ranks to demonstrate the ceili dances Waves of Tory and Haymaker's Jig. Then we split up to find our beds for the weekend. Local dancers billeted all the visitors.
None of our hosts actually live in Charlottetown, but rather in lovely rural settings within driving distance. Saturday morning we awoke to generous breakfasts, and caught up on news. In the afternoon, Dave and Cheryl Corrigan hosted a slow session (and barbeque) at their beautiful home on the north side of the island, overlooking the Gulf of St Lawrence. Several Islanders have been taking tin whistle lessons, and their progress is impressive.
Saturday night's party was at the home of Karl and Barb Thomson in Emyvale, near the highest point in PEI, a non-lofty 152 metres! Sets include usual suspects such as the Plain and Corofin Plain, but the islanders have their own preferences. Many of the Irish settlers in PEI were from the North, and in their honour, the Monaghan is a regular feature. Local musicians are just getting used to playing for sets, so we generally danced to CDs, with live music between sets. Come 1.30 in the morning, we were still rattling the floor boards with the Baile Bhuirne Jig.
Sunday, a group of us drove over to the west side of the Island for a picnic. Despite a cool breeze, we danced the Clare Lancers on the wooden pier at Northport-just to say that we did!
Sunday night we partied at the home of Fred Horne and Mary Burke, who live in a former one-room schoolhouse on the south side of the Island. More dancing ensued, including the Valentia Right and Left, a favourite in the area. Several beginners were in attendance. They enjoyed the opportunity to hook up with more experienced dancers. Several musicians and singers were also in attendance, and some figures were danced to live music. The singing included PEI, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland folk songs, as well as Irish, with even one song in the Irish language.
Many thanks to the hospitable Islanders, who generously provide beds, food, music, dancing, as well as a warm welcome. We can't wait until next year! Neither can they-we've been invited back in the fall.
Adele Megann, Halifax, Nova Scotia
The Dinder group of set dancers are based in the Somerset village of Dinder near Wells in the west of England. Helen Stonehouse taught the Thursday night classes and organised monthly ceilis for seven years.
At the end of May the group held a set dance party to celebrate (but that seems the wrong word somehow!) Helen's departure to New Zealand. She will be missed by the group who have had the luxury of her very expert and precise teaching for some years now. Helen's husband Roger has obtained a teaching post in Hawks Bay and their intention is to return to the UK in two years' time.
Many friend's old and new gathered for the party which featured a special New Zealand Set that some of the dancers had been practising in secret. The set culminated in a full haka! Helen was presented with a silver goblet engraved 'Dinder Dancing Queen' and many heart-felt thanks were given for her dedication to the group. All of her class wish Helen and her family a hugely successful and enjoyable two years in New Zealand! I have taken over Helen's responsibilities with much appreciated encouragement from all.
Ken Lamport, Bristol, England
I chatted with Deirdre Francis when she was my corner lady during a set in the Armada in July. She was pleased to inform me that her husband had recently taken up set dancing after having a heart bypass operation. Later I met Michael who enthusiastically told me about his experience of set dancing.
My name is Michael Francis and I live in Sallins Wharf in Naas, Co Kildare. I had a heart bypass operation in '98 and one of the requirements after a bypass was plenty of exercise so I did quite a lot of walking. But in the winter time it would be very difficult to go out walking and my son bought me a treadmill. I used the treadmill in the winter but it wasn't really a very social exercise and in the meantime my wife had started set dancing.
So in February this year, 2004, I decided to go out and have a look at these ceilis. I went to a couple of ceilis and decided then that I would get my exercise through the dancing. So went off and started in a class in Blessington with Maureen Denis, and I also did a second class up in Valleymount with Syl Bell and Liz Hand. So that'd be Mondays and Thursdays and since then I've come to ceilis. Went to An Grainán and had great craic there because I didn't really know what I was at most of the time, but people were extremely helpful. I've found in set dancing circles that people are really very helpful and very nice. I've started going to workshops and sometime I hope eventually it'll come. I am very keen because I feel that you have to have the knowledge of it. I think the classes give you the basics and give you detail on some of the movements and then after that it's just a matter of getting to know the sets and knowing the movements. I think one of the most difficult things I found at the beginning was the language, understanding what was meant by 'house around', 'dance at home', 'dance across' and all this kind of thing. I think I've mastered that at this stage and I'm just beginning to understand the sets now. [There are] little difficulties with sets being similar but slightly different but I am enjoying it now. It's my total exercise. I do walk also but the dancing is the main exercise.
This would be my first time to Miltown. We only came down on Thursday and we're staying on till Sunday, but we intend next year to spend the full time. If we start on the Monday I think by the Friday or Saturday we should have learned something or quite a lot, with the repetition being very much the mother of learning. So I reckon next year we'll do the full thing.
I'd never done any dancing before the bypass, as a teenager perhaps a bit of ceili but that's going back some time. I have a daughter who is an all-Ireland world champion, Sorcha Francis. She's actually doing her dance teaching examination now at the moment. We followed her all over the place and the music was always in our heads but we didn't get into the set dancing. We knew Connie Ryan in a different capacity, not in the set dancing, because two of his daughters were dancing in the same school as our daughter. So I met him from time to time but we didn't actually ever deal with him on the set dancing basis.
My wife Deirdre is set dancing a little over a year, about a year and a half. What happened with her is we changed house three and a half years ago, went into a new area. Deirdre reckoned if she wants to meet people, join some group. She reckoned that set dancing might be the thing, so she braved the elements and went off on her own down to Newbridge. The nearest set dancing was Newbridge at the time, but I found I didn't like the idea of Deirdre sometimes coming home half past one at night on her own. So I reckoned I'd have to make some decision and that plus the exercise aspect of it and the social end of it all combined to make me decide.
My cardiologist and the surgeon who operated on me both actually recommend dance as a good exercise. My cardiologist has told me last time I met him he doesn't want to see me again, just to keep the exercise up and keep doing what I'm doing. They're quite happy with the progress.
Most people get this dizziness when you're starting but that's all something in the past. It doesn't affect me physically at all in any way, the exercise. I generally try to dance as many sets as I can. I'm not inclined to sit down and miss too many because I reckon I have to learn some way. I think the learning by mistake is often a necessary evil. I think everybody does the same thing.
I must say from the social aspect, people are fantastic and from a helping aspect they're fantastic also. The teachers we have are really superb and very encouraging all the time. If we go to ceilis and we meet the teachers they'll often take us up and do a set with us, one that might be a bit difficult, and they'll lead us through it. So it's never a lonely situation. You always have plenty of friends around you.
Chicago is famous in Irish music for being the home of the heroic Chief Francis O'Neill, who collected and preserved thousands of Irish dance tunes and airs for posterity. On Saturday, August 28th 2004, the 156th anniversary of his birth, the Irish American Heritage Center in Chicago will have an all day event celebrating Francis O'Neill and the fine Irish traditional music to be heard in Chicago.
Francis O'Neill was born is 1848 in the townland of Tralibane near Bantry in west Cork into a musical family who held dances in their house. Here, O'Neill developed a love and an ear for the traditional tunes and airs from that area and learned to play flute.
O'Neill was also very intellectual and became a schoolteacher as a teenager in Bantry, but his adventurous nature led him away from Ireland and onto the high seas. He sailed around the world and at one point in his travels was shipwrecked on an island of the Pacific. He came to the United States while in his early twenties and worked as a shepherd in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and also as a schoolteacher in Missouri before he came to Chicago, married Anna Rogers and raised his family here. O'Neill eventually enlisted in the Chicago police force, and through his combination of ethics, intellect and daring, rose through the hierarchy to become Chief of Police in 1901, with responsibility for 3,300 police officers, 2,000 of whom were Irish. During his early career he was shot while apprehending a thief, was involved in controlling numerous riots, including the famous Haymarket riots, and built a reputation for courage and integrity and resistance to political influence. Under Mayor Carter Harrison he cracked down on local vice and crime. During the tragic fire at the Iroquois Theater he himself dashed in the burning building to lead in the rescue party. This was just one example of his bravery and numerous exploits.
While he was in the police force, O'Neill met several Irish musicians-and indeed he gave jobs on the force to several of them. At the time, Chicago had a large Irish population with musicians here from every county in Ireland. In the period between 1870 and 1920, the Irish in America had not yet forsaken traditional music (as was done later, in an attempt to integrate into American life and to become more sophisticated) and so there was a thriving Irish music scene. O'Neill was always very active in the music scene as both a player and supporter. He was not only interested in playing and listening, but was interested in the subject of music. O'Neill was able to learn thousands of tunes by ear from the huge variety of Chicago musicians. He also had much music from his own home in Cork. He was able to reproduce these tunes to his assistant, Sergeant James O'Neill, who was able to notate the tunes. So several books of traditional Irish music were created and published.
This effort by O'Neill was an enormous contribution to Irish culture and music. He preserved thousands of tunes that would have otherwise been lost forever. It was provident he did it at that time, because traditional Irish dance music went out of style shortly after that, and many of those tunes would have been forgotten. Today, O'Neill's books are considered the definitive source for Irish dance tunes. Irish musicians all around the world own copies of his books and derive great enjoyment from playing the tunes he preserved. All lovers of this music have great enjoyment from listening and dancing to these tunes. The revival of Irish traditional dance music would have been much more difficult without his body of work as a reference. He did not see these great effects from his bequest during his lifetime, but we all owe a huge debt of gratitude to Francis O'Neill.
Susanna Haslett, Chicago, Illinois
Two-hand dances have made something of a comeback in recent years. They're taught at several classes, summer schools and weekend workshops, but still are a bit of a rarity. If you haven't been fortunate enough to learn any two-hand dances, Donncha Ó Muíneacháin's new video, Beirt Eile, shows how to do several. On the video Donnacha demonstrates the dances with Brenda Hogan, clearly showing steps and movements, and describes any variations. A team of ten couples perform the dances to music by Denis and Mary Liddy and Lorna Moynihan. Included on the video are the Two-Hand Reel, Two-Hand Jig, Stack of Barley, Siamsa Beirte, Shoe the Donkey, Schottische, Peeler and the Goat, Highland Fling and a Three-Hand Highland.
The video was made in Cois na hAbhna, Ennis, Co Clare, and was produced by Comhaltas. Contact Donncha Ó Muíneacháin for further information.
Heather Breeze Ceili Band from Westport, Co Mayo, has gained a wide following thanks to their appearances in Ibiza, Rhodes and the Caribbean, as well as their many ceilis across Ireland. Their first CD, The Heather Breeze, was released in 2001, and a second is now available, called Music in the Glen.
Music for five recently revived sets is included on the recording, the Ballyduff, Claddagh, Inis Oírr, Kilfenora and Louisburgh sets, and a waltz. Get a copy from the band at their ceilis or phone them to order one.
When Matt Cunningham completed his twelfth volume of music for set dancing, it was thought that he could hardly add any more sets to the many dozens already available. However, it didn't take long before the irrepressible Matt issued Volume 13, and now he's just released Dance Music of Ireland, Volume 14!
This new recording has the Claddagh, Armagh, Tory Island and Ballyduff sets. Volume 14 and all the other volumes are always available from Matt at his ceilis and from his record company Ainm Records. The advertisement on page 2 has a special offer for the new CD and for a full set of the previous thirteen.
It will come as no surprise that another recording is on its way. All of the two-hand and ceili dances from Matt's recordings will be collected together on a double CD together with some new dances. You'll read more about it here soon.
The Owenabue Valley Traditional Group is a team of dancers, musicians, singers and storytellers who perform at home in Carrigaline, Co Cork, and at festivals in Ireland and abroad. The group is also responsible for monthly ceilis and an annual workshop weekend in the GAA Pavilion in Carrigaline.
In July they released a DVD called Ceol Na Carraige which gives a taste of their activities. The video shows them performing before a small audience and out on the street dancing the wren. The entertainment includes several songs and stories, step and ceili dances, couple dances such as the Schottische and the Peeler and the Goat, and a figure of the Sliabh Luachra Set.
For more information about the Owenabue Valley Traditional Group and their DVD, contact Barry Cogan.
I don't care what you say but it doesn't have to happen in Miltown Malbaya! Some say that if it doesn't happen there it doesn't happen anywhere. This is a load of bull. Having said that, it was a great week with great excitement in the run up to it. Dancers polished their dancing shoes. The way some of them talked about this you'd think they did it only once a year. As we were shooting up and down the hills to west Clare I noticed the fuel gauge warning light flash on. It was a good job I spotted it. We barely made it to the filling station nine miles away. I was exhausted after the push. Then there was that diversion. Next thing we were surrounded by caravans and there were fortune tellers. Dugo waved to me jokingly as he disappeared in the door.
"There's a lot of pushing and pulling in your life," she blurted.
"How did you know that?" asked Dugo.
"I just know."
"Tell me more," he begged.
"You're a dancer," she declared.
"Well that's not hard to guess."
"Because I'm wearing my dancing shoes."
"They could do with some polish."
"You'll meet someone tonight," she whispered.
"She'll be wearing a butterfly around her neck," smiled the fortune teller.
"Well, I'll be damned-dance like a butterfly, sting like a bee!"
"Oh, she's nice but I don't know if she's available."
It was fast on the dance floor at the Larmwhambada Hotel. I was keeping my eye out for that little butterfly. Dugo asked me what was all the REM (rapid eye movement) about. I wasn't going to tell him though, after all I had seen butterfly girl myself before. She was cute and could really let her hair down. She always put her foot on the accelerator when going round bends in the Ballyvourney. After a few nights dancing, digging up lumps in the floor, smashing floorboards and bumping our heads off the ceiling, there she was. I grabbed her before Dugo got even close.
"I've seen you before," I declared.
"Yea, it must have been at ceili somewhere sometime."
"I bet you can do it right?"
"That's a very male thing," she laughed.
"I'm not so sure about that. We don't always get it right, do we?"
"I'll tell you how to get it right, will I?" she whispered.
"If you're having fun then you're doing it right," she declared.
"You'd put many's the man right?"
"I'd put many's the man wrong!"
"I wouldn't mind you putting me wrong," I joked.
"Who is that guy staring at me?"
"Oh, that's my friend Dugo."
"Really?" "Yea, I like your butterfly. Maybe we can dance again somewhere sometime?"
"Yea, somewhere sometime. Thanks."
The dance was ended and Dugo took her off for another. I didn't see them for two days. The mobile rang on Friday evening. He was driving home and wanted to know if I'd like a lift. When we got to the top of the road we stopped. It was as if we pulled up our horses to look back for the last time that summer on Miltown Malbaya.
"You enjoyed yourself," I commented.
"Yea, how about you?"
"Had a great week."
"Tell me a little bit?" he begged.
"No, not even a little bit."
"You tried to poach butterfly girl on me?" he laughed.
"Did she say that?"
"Well, in a matter of words."
"There's not much poaching at ceili," I joked.
"Is there not?"
"What did she say?"
"Something about somewhere sometime," he moaned.
"Interesting, tell me more!" I pleaded.
"No, not even a little bit."
"There you go copying me again," I jeered.
"Maybe you'd like to copy me with butterfly girl," he laughed.
"Come on, come on! Missing for two days, what the hell did ye get up to?"
Copyright © 2003 by O F Hughes
On Thursday morning, 8th July we lost a friend who was dedicated to many facets of Irish culture. Margaret Haverty had many talents and excelled at everything she was involved in. Margaret was on her way to a set dance workshop in Miltown Malbay during the Willie Clancy week when she was involved in an accident at Caherfeenick cross near Kilrush.
Margaret had a great love of Irish culture and was dedicated to promoting various aspects of our Irishness. Long before Margaret took an interest in set dancing, I had the pleasure of seeing her perform in several Irish Language plays with the Nenagh-based group, Aisteoirí An Aonaigh. From 1992 to 1996 Margaret had major roles in plays adapted and produced in Irish by Sean Ó Morónaigh. These included La Rósa by Tennessee Williams, An Básacán Buile by Molier and Casadh an tSugán by Duglás De Híde. Margaret was also a member of Conradh Na Gaeilge and taught at the annual Cúrsa Samhraidh for a number of years. Even as far back as 1982, Margaret was a member of the Toomevara ballad group that won the North Tipperary Scór competition.
A dedicated teacher, Margaret was on the staff of Kilkeary National School for many years having previously taught at Carrig National School. Margaret always encouraged her pupils to raise the roof with their singing and at her funeral Mass on Saturday 10th July, many of her past pupils demonstrated to the crowded Ballinree Church how well they learned from their much loved teacher.
Three years ago this September Margaret attended her first set dance class in the Abbey Court Hotel in Nenagh. She took to set dancing like a duck to water and within a few months Margaret was out on the floor for every set and she always ensured that if someone in the set was looking for a partner, she would find somebody to fill the set. Margaret travelled all over the country to céilithe and workshops and her appetite for learning new sets, two hand and single dances never waned. The last time Margaret spoke with Michael Loughnane, she told him that she would have the Priest and His Boots perfected before the end of the summer. Alas that was not to be and now we are all the poorer for this great loss.
Margaret was a fluent Irish speaker and always greeted me as Gaeilge. We had many conversations in Irish over the years and Margaret will be sadly missed, both at the weekly set dance classes and at the céilithe all over the region. Someone very special is no longer with us and we all miss her dearly.
Our sincere sympathy to her husband Denis, Margaret's four children Donnacha, Diarmuid, Padraig and Mairead, her mother, brothers and sisters, relatives and many friends.
I líontaibh Dé go gcastar sinn.
Danny Morrissey, Club Rince Aonach Urmhumhan
"My feet keep dancing"We were enjoying ourselves so much dancing day and night at the Willie Clancy week and met up with Margaret for our tea each evening, discussing the ceilis and the bands. Margaret's feet under the table would be dancing away while waiting for the food to arrive and she would say, "My feet keep dancing to the music of Johnny Reidy."
Alas that Wednesday was the last meal we had with Margaret. She was tragically killed in an accident after leaving her B&B near Doonbeg on Thursday 8th July. News spread that evening in the Armada and everyone was shocked that knew her. We were hoping it was not true, but alas it was. A minute's silence was observed at all the ceilis for the rest of the week, and at the ceilis when we arrived home in Delvin and Dún na Sí.
To her family and set dancing friends our deepest sympathy,
Patsy Finn, Eilish Gilsenan and Sean Simon, Co Westmeath
Erc O'Connor was born in Dingle, County Kerry, on July 3rd 1938 and passed away on March 21st 2004 in West Covina, California. Erc and his wife Kay (nee Murphy, Abbeyfeale, County Limerick) joined our dance group shortly after its formation in July 2000 and have been loyal, supportive and dedicated members of our little family since the first day they walked into our class. Erc loved to dance! He was usually the first person to take the floor. There was no one more enthusiastic than Erc. He had the ability to cheer us up by just walking into the room. We will never forget his wonderful smile.
Whenever we had a ceili or performance coming up he would say, "Sign me up!" He didn't even ask when or where a performance might be, he would always make himself available. No matter what was asked of Erc he was willing and more than happy to do his share and more. He always had a donation for a raffle prize or persuaded his friends to join us for all of our events. He was very proud of our dance group and extremely proud to be promoting his Irish culture through our performances.
Erc's last performance with us was at the Manhattan Beach Arts Festival last September. He was dancing as our top man, and was never so proud or so happy to be dancing, especially his favourite dance the North Kerry Set. He would always beam with pride when we announced we had an "authentic Kerryman" in our group. Little did any of us know that within a few days he would be diagnosed with his illness. Erc had retired just the week before, after a 41-year career with the Farmer John Company in Los Angeles and was talking about joining us for our trip to the Willie Clancy Summer School.
Erc was a joy to be around. He always seemed to be in a good mood and his happiness was infectious. We loved his funny phrases and expressions. No matter how difficult a dance move was he would say, "Piece of cake," which has caught on with many members of our group now. Or he would greet us by saying, "How's she cuttin'?" Another favourite was, "Atta boy, Dolly," to our dancer, Dolly Martin from Dublin.
Losing Erc is devastating to our group and the entire Irish community here in Los Angeles, but he will live on in our hearts forever. We recently choreographed a new figure of our Hollywood Set and it is named the Erc O'Connor Jig. We will dance it regularly and maybe someday it will be danced by set dancers throughout the world and will keep his memory alive.
It was a pleasure and an honour to know Erc O'Connor. We were extremely lucky the day Erc and Kay walked in to our class.
To our friend Kay we would like to say that your great loss is also our loss and we are always here for you if there is anything we can do for you.
The entire membership of the Los Angeles Irish Set Dancers were proud and honoured to form a Guard of Honour at Erc's funeral services.
So, we say goodbye to our good friend Erc O'Connor, our favourite Kerryman-and thank you for being a very important part of our lives. We love you and will miss you terribly. Up Kerry!
Michael Breen, Los Angeles, California
Please find space for this photo right in your brilliant magazine which I first saw very recently.
I had the good fortune to go the workshop in the most beautiful place in the world, Halla Inis Oírr, Aran Islands. A great night was had by all with Pat Murphy plus the Four Courts Ceili Band.
Towards the end of the night the band challenged Chris Droney, their concertina player, to dance, so he eventually agreed on condition that Joe would lilt a tune and Joe took up the challenge. Chris had no choice but to dance so he enlisted the help of Tony Ryan from Tuam, both seen here in this photo.
Thanks to the Lord for fabulous Inis Oírr.
Liria Soriano, Oranmore, Co Galway
Bursting with newsBill,
Congratulations on a job well done. Set Dancing News looks great-a wonderful job surely. And the fact that it is bursting with news, pictures, stories and recounting of some of the great ceili events, people stories, etc, makes it a treat indeed.
Keep up the great work.
Maureen McCarthy, Wayne, New Jersey
We will continue to learn sets
Prior to coming to Ireland, I had checked the Set Dancing News website for ceilis and found one during our holiday in Birr, Co Offaly. After contacting Bill Lynch to confirm, it was in our itinerary.
We arrived to the hall late and met Bill Lynch as he was walking out for the lunch break. When the workshop resumed, we met Pádraig and Róisín and started to dance. Pádraig has a strong, subtle voice that projects well and is easy to follow. He explained the steps in basic form and then demonstrated advanced battering. Those participating were from beginner, as ourselves, to advanced. This was our first workshop and we were very pleased with the results. Pádraig is a great teacher and because of this, we will continue to learn sets!
Thanks again to Bill, Pádraig and Róisín. We look forward to dancing with you all again!
Sam Keator and Anne Doherty, Portland, Oregon
Sam is president of the All-Ireland Cultural Society of Oregon and musician coordinator of the Portland Céilí Society. He organises and calls monthly ceilis in Portland, Oregon.
Well deserved praiseDear Bill,
I am biased of course, but I wish to congratulate you on your lovely article about the Castletown festival. It is indeed a well-deserved praise for the Half-Door Club organisers and one does not always realise the joy and fun when one is behind the stage.
Your words reminded me that it is three years [since our wedding]. Micheál got his anniversary song, anyway, and never told me!
All the best,
Magalie Lalor, Mountrath, Co Laois
Magalie is the wife of Micheal Lalor, organiser of the Half-Door Club weekend featured in the June-July issue of Set Dancing News.
Important cultural documents
The magazine is getting better and better.
It is a wonderful read-the interviews are riveting and important cultural documents.
Margaret Costello, Drogheda, Co Louth
The Connie Ryan GatheringDear Bill,
I would like to say a big thank you to all the dancers who came to Clonoulty for the sixth annual Connie Ryan Gathering in June. It was great to see so many dancers thoroughly enjoying themselves to the wonderful music played at the four ceilithe over the weekend.
I want to thank the bands which include Tim Joe and Anne O'Riordan, the Davey family, Matt Cunningham and Danny Webster.
Thanks also to Pat Murphy and Betty McCoy who ran the workshops and to the MCs Michael Loughnane, Pat Murphy, Padraig McEneany, Donnacha Ó Cinneide and Jim Doyle.
Thanks again to you all and I hope we all are alive and well for the next Connie Ryan Gathering on the 10th, 11th and 12th June 2005.
Billy Maher, Clonoulty, Co Tipperary
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