There's more to read in the collections of old news and reviews, volumes 1—1997-1998, 2, 3—1998-1999, 4—1999, 5—1999-2000, 6, 7—2000, 8, 9, 10—2001, 11—2001-2002, 12, 13, 14, 15—2002, 16—2002-2003, 17, 18, 19—2003, 20—2003-2004, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25—2004, 26—2004-2005, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31—2005, 32—2005-2006, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37—2006, 38, 39—2006-2007, 40, 41, 42, 43—2007, 44—2007-2008, 44—2007-2008, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50—2008, 51—2008-2009, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57—2009, 58—2009-2010, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65—2010, 66—2010–2011, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71—2011, 72—2011–2012, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78—2012, 79—2012-2013, 80, 81, 82, 83—2013, 84—2013-2014 (Index).
We were invited to do a workshop at the St John's Folk Festival, St John's, Newfoundland. It's not a cheap destination from west Cork, as we had to travel via London Heathrow. Our previous trips to this part of Canada had always been in October, but this time it was to be August. The weather was just great, 31°C all day long. The festival, which ran over three days, included instrument, dance and song workshops. We joined in a French Canadian dance workshop; it was for a Lancer Set, not unlike our own Clare Lancers.
We then did our workshop, and a great surprise to us was that we were joined by a dozen fiddle players from Cobh, who were visiting Newfoundland at the time. They played live music for us during our workshop. What a bonus! This year, the festival had a French dimension to it, although the music had a very Irish slant. The music and dancing could be described as a little bit of French, Irish and Scots. Local influences have been assimilated into their own style. We went with an open mind, which was filled with hospitality and friendship. We will return!
Our next stage of the trip was an hour and a half flight away to Nova Scotia. Expectations ran high and we were not to be disappointed. The Old Triangle Pub in downtown Halifax is the venue every Sunday afternoon for a group of local set dancers. Their knowledge of Irish set dancing knows no bounds, so whatever set you ask for will be provided and danced to live music. This year we were responsible for imparting the Black Valley Square Jig to an enthusiastic group. You'd go a long way to meet up with a friendlier crowd.
We took our leave for Prince Edward Island. A school house in the Lorne Valley at the east end of the island was where we danced the Souris Set three times! Our luck was good that night, because we won the raffle and after the tea we were asked to show them some dance from Ireland. This we did to great laughter and enjoyment. The musicians were well known in the area; they were the Chaissons, who played some fine reels and jigs for us. I sang a song, and we left down a dirt road to our motel ten miles away. Finally, to the Irish Benevolent Society in Charlottetown, where every Friday night during the summer there is a ceili. We danced the Plain Set and the Waves of Tory to some fabulous live music. Dave Corrigan and Helen Gough-Conboy were in charge.
We have made many visits to this part of Canada and hopefully we will make many more. We lend our dances, and we borrow some of theirs. Our biggest payment was the friends we made, and the people we met-money can't buy that!
Bert and Annie Moran, Schull, Co Cork
There's a new place in the world of set dancing in a hall as old as set dance itself, a place whispering old stories from Basel in Switzerland, and since a set dancing weekend here on November 6th and 7th, it's whispering about reels, swings, mugs and biscuits, too.
There was a 'family' mood right from the beginning with the first dancers arriving a day or two earlier to celebrate the get-together and to visit the fair that was taking place at the same time.
Like the steam rising from a mug of hot tea, autumn unfolded its magic in the Brüglingen Botanical Garden where the wooden hall was located, but there was little time to spend in the garden because Tony Ryan from Galway brought a full programme that kept everybody busy for the whole weekend.
Next to his pleasant style of teaching steps and sets, the participants got the benefit of breaks enriched with a large assortment of muffins and biscuits and there were soon dozens of tea and coffee mugs watching the sets on the floor.
Even with over a hundred muffins, hunger rose in time for an excellent lunch at Villa Merian, the ancient weekend residence of the Merian family which bequeathed this jewel of relaxation, along with the whole park, to the city and its visitors.
The festive mood rose and reached another highlight when the band Mind the Dresser were welcomed in the hall with big applause-participants of past workshops in Basel knew that they were going to play for five hours of sets with great enthusiasm that would spread to the dancers.
Not only did the dancers come a long distance (some came from northern Germany and even from Cambridge, England) the band members and their instruments also had a long journey to the ceili, coming from all over Germany.
If you count all the miles the people travelled to take part in this happening, you get an idea of how long this set dancing dream will remain in our memories, like the whisper of the wood in the hall of the autumn garden somewhere in a Swiss city in the middle of Europe.
Yves Hotan, Basel, Switzerland
Return to Camden Town is a ten-day festival of Irish music and dance taking place at the London Irish Centre in Camden. This is a neighbourhood just north of the city centre which was the heart of Irish London fifty years ago when emigrants arrived in large numbers. The Irish Centre was established in 1954 to cater for the social, cultural and religious needs of the newly-arrived Irish in London-a bit of home in the big city. Many of London's Irish residents have done alright for themselves and have since moved out to the suburbs, but after fifty years the London Irish Centre remains a focus for Irish culture and social services in the city.
Return to Camden Town was the idea of two teachers offering classes in the centre-Geoff Holland and Karen Ryan. Geoff's weekly set dancing classes and monthly sessions have been running here for over a decade, and Karen has been teaching fiddle for almost as long. Their inspiration was the Willie Clancy Summer School, and from the first festival in 1999 the connection was clear. Workshops in music and dance with Ireland's top teachers are a significant part of the week, and there's a strong selection of musicians in concert. This year's dance events offered a variety of ceilis and workshops and I sampled most of them on my visit during the last week in October.
The festival began on Friday October 22nd with a reception, the official opening and the week's first concert. The dancing got underway at half past ten the next morning with the popular duo, Mick Mulkerrin and Mairéad Casey. After a bit of step practice, we began with the Ballyduff Set, followed by the Claddagh Set (my third Saturday in a row dancing it in a workshop) and a bit of sean nós immediately before the lunch break. In the afternoon Mick and Mairéad showed a gem of a set, the Clare Orange and Green, which is varied and entertaining and certainly deserves wider exposure. The duo yielded to numerous requests and danced their sean nós steps for us with great joy. By popular demand the afternoon finished with another go at the Claddagh Set.
There was excitement buzzing in the air on Saturday night. The Four Courts Ceili Band were beginning their four-day residency at the festival with a big ceili. Several folks from Clare came along to lend them their support, some of them former Londoners (like myself) who were keen to meet up with old dancing friends. The music was beautiful as always, the floor in the Irish Centre's McNamara Hall was filled with more than a dozen sets and the atmosphere was sweltering. In addition to the sets, the evening held a few surprises. During a waltz we were treated to a selection of songs sung by the band's fiddler, Joe Rynne-I hadn't heard him sing before and hope he continues it back home! Concertina maestro Chris Droney played a solo which would have won him yet another All-Ireland award if this had been a competition. Then there was an unusual request for Chris to dance a few sean nós steps accompanied to lilting by Joe-both parties agreed and it was a memorable moment. Next out for some more sean nós was Pat Gleeson visiting from Limerick, followed by west London's superb Ciara Gill, and finally gracing the floor were Mick and Mairéad. The sets continued, and then after the national anthem everyone stayed on chatting for the longest time without any thought given to going home.
Sunday morning's workshop with Mick and Mairéad repeated the Ballyduff and Claddagh sets, but in between we danced one I'd never seen before but I certainly hope I come across it again. Mairéad took charge for the Armagh Lancers, a delightful variation on the Lancers theme. There were a few tricky parts in it, including eight Christmases (four big and four small) in the third figure, so some of the dancers accused Mairéad of making it up, a charge she strongly denied. In fact it's said to be very close to the original Lancers Quadrille which was danced in Irish ballrooms as far back as 1817.
The Four Courts were back again, all six of them, for the Sunday afternoon ceili. There was no sense of déjà vu; in fact once the music began all thoughts of last night's ceili were gone and it was as though I hadn't danced for a year. With one of my partners I tried a nice bit of doubling-she told me I ought to have a government health warning! For the waltz Joe Rynne once again blessed us with more of his singing and then the band's drummer Aidan Vaughan stepped down for a sean nós demonstration, and later there was a farewell performance from Mick and Mairéad.
Aidan returned to the dance floor again on Tuesday morning to teach the first of three full day workshops on battering steps for Clare sets. He began with the basic advance and retire to reels, and added batters to it one by one. We had plenty of practice along the way-on our own, with partners and in sets dancing figures from the Caledonian. The recordings Aidan used had been specially slowed down to make it easier to fit in the battering. He introduced us to jig batters as well, so by the end of the day we were ready for the complete Caledonian, though not yet at full speed!
In the early evening Muiris Ó Rócháin of the Willie Clancy Summer School in Miltown Malbay, Co Clare, gave a lecture which was informative and entertaining. He showed numerous and fascinating pieces of video from the Summer School, including dancing by Dan Furey, Micho Russell, Joe O'Donovan and others. Both Muiris and his audience would have happily continued for the rest of the night, but the lecture finished just as the ceili was about to begin.
The Four Courts' final appearance in London attracted a keen crowd of ten sets, despite falling on a Tuesday night. Tonight for the third time, Joe Rynne sang The Mountains of Mourne, Percy French's song which makes some hilarious comments about London life. I can't resist repeating a few verses here-
Oh, Mary, this London's a wonderful sight,
Wid the people here workin' by day and by night:
They don't sow potatoes, nor barley, nor wheat,
But there's gangs o' them diggin' for gold in the street-
At least, when I axed them, that's what I was told,
So I just took a hand at this diggin' for gold,
But for all that I found there, I might as well be
Where the Mountains o' Mourne sweep down to the sea.
You remember young Peter O'Loughlin, of course-
Well, here he is now at the head o' the Force.
I met him today, I was crossin' the Strand,
And he stopped the whole street wid wan wave of his hand:
And there we stood talking of days that are gone,
While the whole population of London looked on;
But for all these great powers, he's wishful like me,
To be back where dark Mourne sweeps down to the sea.
There's beautiful girls here-oh, never mind!
With beautiful shapes Nature never designed,
And lovely complexions, all roses and crame,
But O'Loughlin remarked wid regard to the same:
"That if at those roses you venture to sip,
The colour might come away on your lip,
"So I'll wait for the wild rose that's waitin' for me-
Where the Mountains o' Mourne sweep down to the sea.
When Aidan Vaughan came down from the drums to dance a few steps, he was joined by Paddy O'Loughlin, a Galwayman based in London, whose solo performances are always a rare treat. After the dancing finished with the South Galway Set, the musicians and other visitors received fond farewells from the locals.
There were ceilis on Thursday and Friday, the only dance events of the festival outside the London Irish Centre, both with music by the favourite local trio Dealga Trad. Thursday's ceili was held in Cecil Sharp House, the English folk dance centre on the opposite side of Camden, and Friday's was in the Mazenod Centre in Kilburn (part of the Borough of Camden), where the dancing hasn't stopped in 27 years, though it's now monthly instead of weekly. The box, guitar and banjo (occasionally swapped for a fiddle) played lively music that pleased everyone. Friday's ceili was enlivened by the appearance of Peter Hanrahan, who flew in from Clare to hold a brush dance workshop. He was his own best advertisement for the workshop when he danced a vigorous example of the brush dance.
Back at the Irish Centre on Saturday morning, Peter held two brush dance workshops, in the morning for children (plus a few adults) and in the afternoon for adults (plus a few children). I sat in on the children's workshop, so when I attempted the afternoon I knew what I was getting myself into. Peter first made us practice a half dozen different steps used in the dance. Participants were instructed to bring along a brush, and those like myself who were brushless weren't left out as Peter had us practice in three shifts. The practice was excellent as we repeated the dance many times. The ultimate challenge was dancing it to music. I tried to sit that part of it out but the others wouldn't let me do that. When I attempted to move my legs very quickly over the brush I was amazed at how slowly they went! We were lucky that Peter demonstrated the dance only at the end of each workshop; we might have been discouraged to see him do it at the beginning. In the afternoon Ciara Gill joined him and it was fabulous see them simultaneously flinging their legs over one brush.
Sunday's "matinee" ceili was a marathon lasting close to six hours. Geoff Holland started us off at midday with an informal workshop on the West Kerry Set. This put us in the right frame of mind to dance to Brendan Begley when he began squeezing the box at 1pm. There was a nice mix of Cork-Kerry and Clare-Galway sets, played in Brendan's breathtaking Kerry style. The final half of the afternoon was superbly handled by the Ivy Leaf Ceili Band, four Birmingham-based musicians generating beautiful music that took me straight back to Ireland. I couldn't have had a better ending to my week in London.
In addition to the set dancing events I've described here, there were fíor céilithe on Sunday night (and every Sunday night of the year) and a ceili dancing workshop. Musically, there was something every day-concerts, album launches, sessions, outdoor gigs and workshops. Despite its central location, the Irish Centre is a convenient location for parking, which is easily available and unrestricted after 6.30pm and on weekends. Buses stop nearby and the tube is a ten-minute walk into the centre of Camden. Most events at night finished in time to allow people to catch the last train. One of the rooms in the Centre was turned into a rather nice restaurant for the duration of the festival. Sandwiches, coffee, tea and snacks were always available from the bar-a great convenience that dancers took full advantage of.
Return to Camden Town has a lot to recommend it-there's plenty of dancing, superb Irish and local bands, an interesting variety of workshops, great organisation, loads of brilliant musicians, a well equipped venue, all operated by a dedicated team of volunteers. I was pleased to make my own return to the London Irish Centre for a top class and highly enjoyable festival.
I would like to say a special thank you to Marie Moran and her friends of the Abbeyknockmoy set dancers in Abbeyknockmoy, Co Galway.
On Friday night, 5th November, Marie held a ceili in the local community centre. This ceili was of special interest to us, as the music was being provided by a duo made up of Micheál Sexton Junior (son of the late Michael Sexton) from Mullagh, Co Clare, and Pat Walsh (well-known keyboard player with Michael Sexton's ceili band and now with the Star of Munster) from Cobh, Co Cork.
The first time I had heard these two musicians perform as a two piece band was last January on the Sunday afternoon of the Shindig set dance festival weekend in Tralee. When I happened to be talking to both of them near the end of our set dance workshop I proposed an end-of-workshop session featuring both of them. What followed was amazing, bearing in mind that they were caught on the hop by me. They played an exhilarating Caledonian Set that was totally unrehearsed, yet hard to forget by the set dancers present on the day.
Once I heard they were doing a gig for Marie Moran, I had no choice but to book a room in a hotel in Claregalway and head off, as I really wanted to hear these guys playing for a full ceili.
Having arrived at the ceili we were welcomed by Marie Moran and her friend Geraldine. We were just in time to see Marie's junior set dancers perform for the large crowd of 25 sets who attended. The junior sets were a credit to Marie and you could see the pride on her face as three different sets performed, ranging from seven to fifteen years. Even though they compete in various set dance competitions around the country, they seemed to dance on the night for the sheer love of dancing, which in my mind is the best form of dancing.
The large crowd of locals made Carolyn and I feel very welcome, and gave a large applause when the band announced that we had "driven all the way up from Tralee to attend the ceili."
The music on the night was top rate, whether it was reels, slides, jigs or polkas. They did it with style. There seemed to be a lot of banter between them and it was clear on the night that they both enjoyed it themselves. I think the interaction from the crowd helped this.
I spoke to Marie Moran after the ceili and she told me she has had both of them up on several occasions to play for set dance competitions, and then proposed they come up to Galway and play for a ceili for her.
Michael Sexton has left a great music legacy in the form of his son of whom he often spoke of with great pride.
Again a special thanks to Marie Moran and friends.
Paddy Hanafin, Tralee, Co Kerry
Traditionally, Hallowe'en has been associated with ghosts and ghouls-but now for many set dancers, it has become associated with the Carryduff set dancing weekend, taking place this year from October 29th to 31st. Indeed, there were ghosts, devils, witches, wizards and spiders mixing with the crowd at this year's event. Several people were seen to 'dance with the devil'. A couple of skeletons observed the proceedings from the sides of the stage.
The weekend commenced with a ceili in the Ivanhoe Inn on Friday night. The Davey Ceili Band displayed their own magical powers by playing some wonderful music. Visitors arriving from England, Scotland and various parts of Ireland soon packed the floor. The atmosphere was electric, and that great sense of enjoyment permeated the weekend.
The Saturday workshops, which were well attended, were conducted by Pat Murphy in St Joseph's Hall. Pat managed to teach four sets-the Tory Island, Claddagh, Killyon and East Galway. Even the experienced dancers were challenged by the Claddagh Set, particularly the third figure with the cross chain. Pat, in his usual gentle way, spotted the few relatively inexperienced set dancers and gave them the extra help and encouragement they needed.
Twenty-five sets (including the ghosts, devils, spiders, wizards and witches) fitted easily into the large hall on Saturday night. This is an excellent venue for a ceili, with its well-sprung wooden floor and magnificent ceiling. The music was provided by Swallow's Tail, and the crowd was not disappointed. The music was magical, and the sense of enjoyment from the dancers was tangible as one entered the hall.
For those who felt energetic on Sunday morning, there was the choice of a walk in the grounds of Stormont or an open-top bus tour of Belfast. Both proved popular.
The last event of the weekend was a ceili on Sunday afternoon. Swallows Tail gave another great performance. A superb time was had by all. New friendships were formed, old friendships renewed, and many requests were received to run a similar event next year.
The Carryduff committee is delighted with the success of this year's set dancing weekend. Planning is already in progress to organise one for Hallow'een 2005.
Rosaleen Murphy, Belfast
Ballyvourney is one of those legendary names which all set dancers know thanks to the popularity of the Ballyvourney Jig Set. Not many dancers venture down to the Sliabh Luachra village in deepest Co Cork which is the home of that set, but should they ever make the effort they'll be well-rewarded, as the dancing here is superb. The Abbey Hotel hosts popular Thursday night ceilis which attract ten sets of dancers. Even better is the annual Cork-Kerry Weekend held there every November, three days devoted to the dances and music of the area. Timmy and Rhona McCarthy held their twelfth Cork-Kerry Weekend from November 5th to 7th, and I joined in the fun for my fifth time.
Timmy starts his ceilis precisely at the advertised time, and at 9pm on Friday night two sets began dancing the Ballyvourney Reel Set. For the first few sets Timmy himself played the music and dispensed instruction and numerous words of wisdom. After more than an hour, he was relieved by Richard Lucey on box and John Sanders on guitar, who gave us the Connemara Set, the first of a limited number of reel sets at the ceilis. Timmy's son Tony McCarthy accompanied the musicians, and received a surprise when his sister Susan brought out a cake and candles for his 36th birthday. I recall feeling disappointed when the ceili finished-was it an early finish? I definitely hadn't danced enough, but that was at 1.30am so I'd been dancing for 4½ hours! Those magic polka sets keep you yearning for more. To help us wind down, the musicians played the national anthem as though it was a lullaby.
On the dot at 10.30am Saturday morning Timmy began the workshop with the Sneem Set. He went through one set after another, the Televara, Sliabh Luachra, Jenny Ling, Borlin Polka, Set of Erin. It didn't really matter what they were as long as we could keep dancing to Timmy's polkas and slides.
In fact we did manage to learn a few things as well-Timmy showed the original method for dancing the Sliabh Luachra's fourth figure. He called it the "four shunts" where the gent reverses the lady around the set. When we practiced the final reel figure of the Jenny Ling, Timmy pointed out that it would have been danced with a polka step rather than a Clare reel step. Sounds simple but it's not easy! To finish the day we danced the Waltz Cotillion and a two-hand hornpipe.
Regular visitors would have noticed one major difference at this year's weekend, and in fact Timmy pointed it out himself-"Now we go inside for a breath of fresh air and outside for a smoke!" The clean air introduced by Ireland's smoking ban was a pleasure, and as a result Timmy would disappear outside for couple of minutes at regular intervals.
On Saturday evening seventy of the dancers shared a meal in the hotel ballroom. It was a lovely opportunity for relaxed socialising, something that's not easily done in a ceili.
9pm was the start time again on Saturday night, and Timmy and a couple sets of dancers were ready on time for the Ballyvourney Reel Set-we were all getting to know it better. Donnacha Lynch and his son Ronán played box and fiddle during the first half of the night. The simple Sliabh Luachra music made for powerful dancing.
Afterward there was an interlude of Breton music which inspired many of the French visitors to dance together in a circle. Their linked hands rose and fell rhythmically and they danced simple steps which moved them slowly around the circle. Other dancers joined in so that the circle expanded, snaked around the room, broke apart and reconnected. It was more like a form of meditation than dancing as we know it.
The trance ended as soon as Pádraig Ó Sé and John Sanders sounded their first notes. Anyone within earshot of this duo couldn't fail to be fully conscious! They began with a Plain Set that was worth the price of admission to the weekend, even if it was a Clare set. It got better as it went on until the climactic West Kerry Set ended the night. The music for the last figure was accompanied by backing vocals by Timmy and Pádraig for an exciting finish. It was after 2.30am and again I wondered, is it over already?
The late night made no difference to the morning workshop, which again started at 10.30am with two sets. Timmy's most challenging set, Hurry the Jug, occupied us most of the morning, and fortunately the most difficult dances are usually the most satisfying. Hurry the Jug should be declared a national treasure, it's such a pleasure to dance. Superficially it resembles a figure dance, like the High-Cauled Cap, but the style is what makes it such fun. Timmy plays slides for it and it's danced as you'd do any of the Sliabh Luachra sets, with an earthy, sensual feel totally absent from the ceili style. We practiced it piece by piece, then put it all together and danced it about three times all together. I wouldn't have complained if we'd done it all morning. However, Timmy gave Noel Burke the opportunity to teach the Mealagh Valley Jig Set. Noel is from the Mealagh Valley and the set is like a West Cork version of the Plain Set.
In the lunch break, some of the participants made a pilgrimage to the grave and shrine of St Gobnait, about half a mile from the hotel, where they were treated to a history lecture. The site and its setting are beautiful, and on the day pilgrims were devoutly doing the rounds. St Gobnait was a Clare woman who founded a religious community for women in Ballyvourney. She was famous for her care of the sick and was known as patron saint of bees. The statue at the shrine shows her standing on a beehive.
The weekend's final Sunday afternoon ceili featured Amergin, a four-piece group from Kenmare. They must be the only band playing for sets to include a mouth organ, and the effect is highly appealing. The dancing finished after 3½ hours this time, and after a full weekend of polka sets, I was now completely satisfied. Timmy urged us to "go home and dance these sets."
The Abbey Hotel is a perfect venue for the Cork-Kerry Weekend. It's a small family hotel with friendly and helpful staff who clearly enjoy having the dancers here. Good food was available whenever we needed it without long queues or delays, and there was always space to sit down. I never had to leave the hotel, except to visit St Gobnait, and prices were very reasonable.
Thanks to Timmy, Rhona, the musicians and dancers for another perfect weekend.
Dancers in the Paris area now have a ten-piece ceili band to call their own-the Rolling Notes Ceili Band. French accordionist Gilles Poutoux realised his dream of creating an Irish ceili band in 2003. His inspiration came from the earliest recordings of ceili bands such as the Ballinakill from east Galway. The Rolling Notes successfully capture the easy swing, steady pace and rolling rhythm of a bygone Ireland. All its members are French and passionate about Irish music. The lineup features three accordions, three fiddles, banjo, flute, piano and double bass.
Gilles began playing French traditional music, and his love of Irish music grew over the years. He played box in various bands, including the Paris Ceili Band in 1997, and made several recordings. This year the Rolling Notes recorded their first CD, with twenty tracks of highly danceable music-reels, jigs, marches, slides, hornpipes, polkas and waltzes. Let's hope they inspire more Parisians to take up set dancing!
For more information about the Rolling Notes and their CD, contact Gilles Poutoux.
Ceili and two-hand from MattMatt Cunningham's CD factory has been working on overtime lately. Matt recently issued the fourteenth volume in his Dance Music of Ireland series, with the Armagh, Ballyduff, Claddagh and Tory Island sets. Now just a few months later two more volumes have been newly released!
Matt's fourteen volumes all concentrated on set dancing, but the two new CDs have a different emphasis. 15 Céilí Dances is a collection of twelve tracks covering fifteen ceili dances (some of the tracks do double or triple duty)-Bridge of Athlone, Eight-Hand Jig, Fairy Reel, Harvest Time Jig, Haymakers Jig, High-Cauled Cap, Humours of Bandon, Priest and his Boots, St Patrick's Day, Siege of Carrick, Siege of Ennis, Sweets of May, Three Tunes, Trip to the Cottage and Walls of Limerick.
16 Two-Hand Dances contains fifteen tracks (one double duty) for couple dances which are becoming increasingly popular. The dances are the Barn Dance, Corn Reeks, Gay Gordons, Mazurka, Mil-i-tary Two-Step, Peeler and the Goat, Pride of Erin Waltz, St Bernard Waltz, Schottische, Shoe the Donkey, Stack of Barley, Sweetheart Waltz, Two-Hand Hornpipe, Two-Hand Jig, Two-Hand Reel and Veleta Waltz.
Many of the dances have been recorded by Matt for the first time. Others were included on his earlier recordings, but collecting them together in these two volumes is a great convenience for dancers and teachers. Most of the recordings from the earlier volumes have been re-recorded using Matt's full band. All Of Matt Cunningham's recording are available from Ainm Records.
The Quadrille fully explainedEllis Rogers, a leading expert on historical dance, has published The Quadrille, a treatise on the dance which was the nineteenth century ancestor of Irish set dancing. In a volume of more than 300 pages, Ellis explains the origins of the dance in France and its adoption by London society. He describes every aspect of the dancing of the period in fascinating detail, even including the enormous cost of lessons and other mundane details. There are descriptions of different types of balls, from high society to those open to the public. Many original sources of the period are referenced and quoted.
A large part of the book is devoted to instructions for dancing dozens of quadrilles in period style, with steps and movements described in words and hundreds of diagrams. Ellis traces the life of the quad-rille as it changed over the years and spread to the provinces, colonies and other countries. The quadrille in Ireland figures in his story, from balls in Dublin Castle to its relatively late appearance in rural Ireland. There's even a section on the revival of set dancing, something the author has experienced and enjoyed first hand.
The Quadrille was self-published last year by Ellis and his wife Chris and is available from them at 24 Laxey Road, Orpington, Kent, BR6 6BL, England.
Heather Breeze's BellsHeather Breeze is another busy ceili band, with a new album of sets released just a few months ago. Music in the Glen includes the Ballyduff, Claddagh, Inis Oírr, Kilfenora and Louisburgh sets. Great musi-cians must think alike, because Heather Breeze have now produced a CD of two-hand dances called Waltz of the Bells.
Seventeen popular two hand dances are included on the recording-the Boston Two-Step, Breakaway Blues, Brittania Two-Step, Gay Gor-dons, Gordon Two-Step, Mili-tary Two-Step, Mississippi Dip, Polly Glide, Pride of Erin Waltz, St Bernard's Waltz, Schottische, Shoe the Donkey, Stack of Barley, Sweetheart Waltz, Veleta Waltz, Waltz Country Dance and Waltz of the Bells.
Heather Breeze come from Westport, Co Mayo, a part of Ireland where there's huge interest in two-hand dances. Their Waltz of the Bells will offer new encouragement to dancers everywhere to try them out.
To obtain copies of Heather Breeze's CDs contact the band's leader, Pat Friel.
Sliabh Luachra setsDonncha Lynch is a box player raised in the Sliabh Luachra tradition, and he has passed on his love of music to his three sons, Donncha Jr, Aogán and Ronán. Together they play as the Donncha Lynch Band and have recorded a CD with music for five sets, called Set Dances of Cork and Kerry. The dances are an unusual and most welcome collection of sets from the repertoire of teacher Timmy McCarthy-the Borlin Jenny Reel Set, Ballyvourney Jig Set, Ballyvourney Reel Set, Sliabh Luachra Set, and the fabulous Hurry the Jug. The CD is optimistically labelled Volume 1, even though there is no Volume 2 so far.
Timmy, Donnacha and Donncha's sons have performed in the States on tours organised by US teacher Yutaka Usui, who produced this recording. The Lynches also play at Timmy McCarthy's annual Cork-Kerry Weekend in November.
Donncha's son Aogán has been an acclaimed concertina player ever since he won TG4's (the Irish language TV channel) Young Musician of the Year Award in 1999. To get a copy of Set Dances of Cork and Kerry Volume 1, contact Donncha Lynch. With luck we may see Volume 2 someday soon.
I have been out of set dancing for a couple of years due to life, and the sudden death of my dear husband Seán Ó Laighin two years ago.
My friend Bridie and myself have just come back from Carryduff feeling so full of fun, it's magic really.
From Castletown to Carryduff and now I feel reborn, an evangelist for dancing, its people and its music.
My friends in dancing have supported me ever so gently to get through a painful time and one day I hope to say thanks to people like Micheál and Magalie Lalor, Pauline, Áine and all the Half-Door supporters, to Maureen Culleton and her troops in Castletown, Laois, and the ladies from Belfast, Veronica, Theresa, Colette, and Rosaleen.
Noreen Uí Laighin, Maighean Rátha, Co Laoise
Here comes the "but"Dear Bill,
I have been an avid subscriber of your popular magazine since its inception, and look forward to enjoying many more. Now here comes the "but."
I was disappointed that you failed to mention the set dancing competition in your excellent review of the Fleadh recently held in Clonmel.
As you know, there are numerous regional and county competitions held in the lead up to the Fleadh. In addition to which group took first place, I would be interested in knowing some of the other participating teams and what sets they danced.
Pete Brett, Southampton, Pennsylvania
PS Would the people on the front cover be dancing the fourth figure of the Sliabh Luachra?
Actively reporting on the social side of set dancing doesn't leave me much time for competitions! You might be able to find competition results in the Comhaltas magazine Treoir. The dancers on the front cover are doing the Newport Set.
Efficient and consistentBill,
Greetings and best wishes. If half of the businesses in the country were as efficient and consistent as yourself, the country would be a much better place. Thanks for all the reminders and I've no intention of never getting my Set Dancing News. Keep up the good work.
Marie Twomey, Millstreet, Co Cork
A massive thank-you
All of us here at the Sean Dempsey Set Dance Club would like to express our gratitude and appreciation to everyone of you who came from far and near to support our festival [in Manchester, England, 22-24 October]. We were delighted to see so many of our friends who return year after year.
Congratulations to all the junior and senior dancers who entered competitions. The dancing was a joy to watch. The magnificent Michelle O'Leary and the banjo king himself, Brendan Dempsey, played superbly for the competitors. Over the years we have had some brilliant adjudicators. This year we had Mary Murphy from Dublin and Timmy McCarthy from Cork. Thank you for your tremendous support over the weekend, not only adjudicating and doing workshops but helping in every way you could.
Set dancers have come to expect only the best of the Davey Ceili Band and we were not disappointed. John, Lorna, Laura, Brian and Amanda went on stage three nights in a row and transported us to a set dancing heaven. Thank you, you were sensational.
On Monday night at the farewell ceili when energy levels were dropping, St Malachy Band picked us all up and gave us a fantastic night's dancing. We are so lucky to have these talented musicians on our doorstep. Many thanks to our sponsors whose generosity we never take for granted. Last but not least we thank our volunteers who worked tirelessly throughout the weekend. We would like to take this opportunity to invite you all to join us at next year's festival. Gerry Flynn, Enjoy Travel, has very kindly donated eight holidays in Ibiza as top prize in the competitions.
We sincerely hope you enjoyed the festival and we look forward to seeing you in October 2005.
Josephine Murtagh, Sean Dempsey Set Dance Club, Manchester, England
A bit of practice
Enclosed are a couple photos left taken at the Ardara Dance Festival, Donegal, 8-10 October. The workshop took place in the Nesbitt Arms Hotel on Saturday the 9th October. Sheila Gormley from Irvinestown, Co Fermanagh, took the workshop, teaching the Fermanagh Set.
The sea view photo was taken at Sliabh League cliffs about eighteen miles from Ardara, where these set dancers from Belfast put in a bit of practice before the workshop started.
Gerry Maguire, Belfast
Happy healing wishesDear Bill,
Please extend happy healing wishes to Tomás O'Suilleabháin, set dancer from Glanworth, Co Cork. Tomás had a hip operation and is recuperating at home with his wife Esther and their extended family. God willing, myself and other set dancing friends will be able to enjoy a set with Tomás in 2005!
Nattanya Hewitt, Rockport, Ontario
Their experience was upliftingHi Bill,
I would like through your magazine to thank you and all the people who supported our first ever music and set dance festival at Rathgormack, Co Waterford, 17-19 September.
Our workshops and ceilis were very successful and we are very grateful for the letters, cards and phone calls complimenting us on such a remarkable turnout. Some were at workshops for the first time and their experience was uplifting. As a result it has been declared an annual event, but without your wonderful magazine and advertising this would not have been possible.
Rathgormack Community Committee extends a sincere thanks to you and all attending the weekend from near and far.
Mary and Bronagh Murphy, Kilmacow, Co Kilkenny
A heart full of effortBill,
On behalf of the "Stepping It Out" Set Dancing Club, Co Kerry, we would sincerely like to thank all those who joined us in the Listowel Arms Hotel in October for our second annual set dancing weekend. To the bands-Swallow's Tail, Glenside, Emerald and Matt Cunnigham-who each put a heart full of effort into making sure everyone was happy! To Pat Murphy and John Cassidy for their brilliant and most enjoyable workshops. To all the dancers who without your support this weekend would not be possible. To the musicians in the sessions, storytellers and step dancers, a big thank you! To Bill Lynch for his continued major contribution to our success with his fantastic coverage and photos. We are looking forward and planning next year's weekend and in doing so where possible making sure everyone has a weekend to remember!
Mary Philpott, Jerry and Michael O'Rourke
A loss for wordsHi Bill,
Just finished looking through the photos of the Nevele Hotel in Ellenville, New York, and the Comhaltas Convention in Parsippany, New Jersey, and I am at a loss of sorts for words.
The photos are just beautiful, no, I can't say just beautiful-they are way beyond beautiful! Capturing the spirit and fun of set dancing as no other can do.
I don't know how you do it, but the magazine just keeps on getting better each time I read it. Don't stop please.
Patrick Gartlan, Ancram, New York
Patrick wrote after seeing photos on the Set Dancing News web site. While there may be a lot of photos in the magazine, you'll find even more on the web site, though it takes an extra couple of months for them to show up. Click on the link above labelled Photos.
Only 30 weeks to the next Miltown! Once again this year's dancing in the Armada was as good as ever, and once again next year is already in the diary! But there are a few things that I believe could be improved upon, or at least are worth highlighting. These thoughts are from somebody who danced almost every ceili in the Armada (and probably every set at every ceili).
Not enough variation in the band line-up. In particular, too many Star of Munster and Abbey ceilis. These are two of my favourite bands and some of their ceilis in the Armada were the best of the week. But everybody likes a bit of variation and given the number of equally brilliant bands who weren't playing in the Armada at all (Emerald, Glenside, Matt Cunningham and Swallow's Tail to name but a few), a wider variety of bands would make for a more exciting line-up for the week. In addition, and even more important I believe, bands cannot surely lift themselves for every ceili if they are playing once and often twice a day, for the whole week. The dancers need the band to be on fire, and vice versa.
More variation of sets danced. I think that this year in particular there was very little variation in sets danced from one ceili to the next, and the same core eight or ten sets were danced all the time with only a slight variation according to the band playing. Dancing the core eight or ten sets is great for a one-off ceili but for the Milltown week when most people are dancing once or twice a day, I think we need more variation. There are many great sets that most people would know like the West Kerry, Borlin, Mazurka and Derradda, and many more that could be called (or could be quickly talked through by somebody on a per figure basis-I remember this happened two years ago for the Williamstown to great effect). I would love to be dancing sets like the Williamstown, Clare Orange and Green and the Connemara Jig in the Armada. I can understand that for the evening ceilis people will want to dance sets they are familiar with, but why not introduce two or three less common sets into the afternoon ceilis? People there are maybe not dancing quite as hard as they will later that evening and will either be happy to sit out the odd set or will relish the challenge of dancing something they are less familiar with.
Too many Plain sets. The Plain Set is everybody's favourite, as is the Corofin, or at least they are both up there near the top of your list. The Kilfenora has been recently revived and is often danced now and that is great as it's a lovely set to dance. But my problem here is that it is another version of the Plain Set and if danced at a ceili along with the Plain and Corofin, then you end up dancing three different versions of the same set in the one ceili. Given the number of other great sets to be danced, I don't see the logic behind that. All three Plain sets were often danced at the same ceili in the Armada, and worse still, often one after the other! I think a bit more thought has to go into the sets danced. This concern applies not just to the Armada during the Willie Clancy week but also across the country throughout the year.
As I outlined above, these are points that I believe could improve the Armada experience. But really, no matter what, it is still and will always remain the best week of your life and one that you both live and die for!
Fergus Fitzpatrick, Belfast
PS What happened to the Glenside and Emerald at the Armada, two of the best bands the Armada has ever seen? Who can forget the rapturous reception the Emerald received two years ago and the brilliant performance of the Glenside last year? I would have thought it would have been a priority to bring these bands back, whatever the cost or complications.
The set dancing community mourns the passing of Donncha Ó Muíneacháin on Thursday, 27 January 2005. Donncha died at 12.20pm following a heart attack while in a meeting at work at the Department of the Environment. Donncha was one of the leading figures involved in promoting set, ceili and step dancing in the Dublin area for more than thirty years. Originally from Co Cork, he was an extraordinary step dancer, taught several classes per week and organised countless numbers of ceilis, most of which raised money for charity. He taught workshops abroad in the US and Europe, and also produced a video of two-hand dances. His passing will leave a large gap in the dancing scene which will be hard to fill.
Milwaukee was looking beautiful as I flew in on Sunday August 15, 2004. In the fantastic weather Lake Michigan was a vast, gleaming expanse of blue, reflecting the clear sky above. On the ground even the city streets looked good to my eyes, but the city's best feature has to be the lake itself. The residents are fortunate to have easy access to sailing, swimming, beaches and parks along the lake shore. On a glorious and comfortable summer's day it looked like a bit of paradise.
Milwaukee's second best feature is the annual Irish Fest, which is what brought me to town. The Fest is said to be the largest Irish fest in America, if not the world, offering a mix of Irish entertainment, and it also has a summer school of Irish music, dance, art and language. Needless to say there was plenty of set dancing throughout the week.
The summer school was based in the suburbs about three miles north of the city centre on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. At the opening reception on Sunday evening people gathered as though it was a party, greeting each other with hugs and kisses.
During the formalities, every teacher came forward to the microphone in alphabetical order to introduce themselves and explain what they expected to do for the week, which I found enlightening. Unfortunately the set dancing teacher, Mary Fox, missed this part of the evening because her train to Milwaukee was five hours late.
When the introductions were over, someone pressed a button and one of the walls of the room folded away to reveal a spacious dance floor which had been installed for the week. Musicians gathered at one side and played for the Caledonian, Fairy Reel and Sliabh Luachra, with as many as four sets on the floor.
On Monday morning I began class with Seosamh Ó Neachtain, a Connemara musician and dancer who was teaching sean nós dancing. He began by dancing a few of his fabulous steps, and I'm sure we all thought it would be a week well spent if we could end up dancing like that! We assembled in a circle around him and practiced the steps bit by bit, and when the hour was over it was clear that it'll take much more than a week to even approach his beautiful steps.
Mary Fox is a well-known set dancing teacher from Belfast and Armagh, but I had to go all the way to Milwaukee to meet her. She devoted her class on Monday afternoon to one of my favourites, the West Kerry Set. She taught the complete set, including two figures which are rarely danced. The third figure as Mary taught it1 begins with the standard double house and lead 'round. Then each gent and opposite lady in turn swing in the centre and house. The four ladies star and swing their partners as in the first figure, then all lead 'round and repeat. The lead 'round is walked, which is quite hard to do when you're used to the polka step. I remember dancing this figure in London but have never seen it in Ireland. Mary also taught the final hornpipe where you get a chance to double around the house with each lady; I see it danced occasionally but never in Kerry!
Mary used beautiful solo box music played by Ciarán Kelly in all her classes; they recorded it especially for the summer school. The West Kerry sounded so authentic I was impressed to hear that Ciarán is actually from Derry.
Mary had a second class in the evenings, where she taught the Monaghan Set on Monday. She reported that a group of dancers had recently met in the north and danced the original version of the set, which she taught to us. The difference was in the music, as she played single reels, or slow polkas, for the first and third figures, whereas they're usually danced to standard double reels. In the second figure we learned a unique hold for the swing-hands on the shoulders [photo]. Mary spent time teaching steps, dancing them with anyone needing attention. The figures were danced at least twice so that anyone sitting out could have a go. Mary also shifted us around regularly to give us new partners.
Tuesday followed the same plan, with Seosamh's sean nós class in the morning and set dancing with Mary in the afternoon and evening. Seosamh had us bring out chairs to take the load off our feet while practicing steps. Mary taught the Labasheeda Set on Tuesday, and the class taught her something as well! They never dance that set's fling figure up north, and those of us that know it well feel it's the best part of the set. So while we continued with the last hornpipe figure, one of the dancers went out to find some fling music. We finished up the class by dancing the fling a few times, and Mary herself had a go.
That evening Mary taught the Fermanagh Set. The weather continued to be beautiful outside, but our classroom became hot with the dancing, so one thoughtful dancer handed out several fans; the lucky recipients were dubbed the 'fan club.' An extra bonus followed class on Tuesday night-a ceili. The musicians, Ceol Cairde (guitar, bodhran, flute, whistle and fiddles), played for a mix of sets and ceili, making a gentle evening of dancing.
On Wednesday afternoon Mary taught the Skibbereen Set and in the evening it was the Armagh Quadrilles, a newly revived set. Similar to the Down Quadrilles, it's little changed from the original set of quadrilles danced in Irish ballrooms in the nineteenth century. With Ciarán Kelly's music it was a delight to dance.
There was a party for all the dancers on Wednesday night,organised by a local dancer, Joseph Ruback. His apartment was conveniently nearby and many went along after class. There were no sets, but Joseph put on a long track of big band music and did some swing dancing with three ladies, one after the other. And I had a chance to do a contra dance for the first time, which was a bit like sets and ceili, except that the fellow calling it seemed to be making it up as he went along! Best of all was the chance to chat to folks and sample some delicious watermelon and other American delicacies.
The Irish Fest was beginning on Thursday evening, so Mary's last class was that afternoon. We danced an old favourite, the Corofin Plain Set, and had time to repeat the West Kerry. At the end there was warm applause for Mary who then graciously offered her own thanks to us.
The summer school had ended but the Irish Fest was only beginning. It opened at five that evening for a preview-some of the stages and areas were closed but luckily the dancing was in operation. You'd be surprised at the people you'd meet in Milwaukee. During my initial wander I ran into a friend from Galway, and later met folks from Dublin, Clare, and even from Kilfenora!
By the time I arrived at the dance tent the Connemara Set was already underway. My classmates from the summer school were here, and there were many more who came just for the Fest. It has a strong reputation among dancers and attracted people from across the States and Canada. After the Sliabh Luachra and Corofin sets, the first ceili ended with a waltz, which is customary here. Four ladies calling themselves the Wise Maids supplied the music.
That was just the first ceili. The dance tent, otherwise known as the Sprecher Dance Pavilion, named after the local brewer which sponsors it, has nearly continuous dancing during Fest opening hours. A succession of bands plays for up to two hours each, and the dancing alternates between sets and ceili. Most set dancers took a break during the ceili dancing, and the ceili dancers did the same during the set dancing, so there was little overlap in the two crowds. These breaks were a welcome feature as they gave us a chance to see other parts of the fest. The set dancers would then drift back in good time for their next ceili. There were tables all around the dance floor, but they'd all congregate around the same tables, well away from the ones the spectators usually occupied.
Music at the third and last ceili of the day was by a group from Northern Ireland calling themselves the All Set Ceili Band. Their leader was Martin Dowling on fiddle, a Wisconsinite who has been in Belfast for over a decade. Also playing were Martin's wife Christine (flute) and Mary Fox's husband Iain Carmichael (banjo). Mary called the sets while minding her young son Rónan. There was nearly time for four sets, though we had to quit the final Connemara just before Maggie in the Wood so we could devote our full attention to a spectacular fireworks display.
Opening time at the Fest on Friday afternoon was 4pm, and admission was free until 5pm. I arrived a few minutes before 5pm and I was amazed by the throngs rushing to get in without paying. I considered the daily admission charge of ( on Thursday) extremely good value. This covered two or three set dancing ceilis, as well as the ceili dancing, plus all the other entertainment on a dozen different stages. There was no extra charge for any entertainment, though there were plenty of places to spend money on food, drink and merchandise.
Milwaukee is fortunate to have a purpose-built spacious fairground park adjacent to both the city centre and Lake Michigan. Most stages, food stalls, toilets and other facilities are permanent structures. Some stages, exhibitions and market stalls are accommodated in tents. The park is about half a mile long and an overhead cable car amusement ride runs along half that distance.
The first set dancing of Friday evening wasn't in the dance tent-it was in the open air. Local set dancers gave a public lesson in set dancing and paired up with anyone willing to try it out. Seven sets got out onto the pavement and danced the North Kerry Set, nearly half of them dancing for the first time, with a similar number watching from the bleachers.
Afterward, there was a ceili in the tent to the music of RíRá, a fiddle and piano duo who were lovely to dance to. There followed the changing of the guard when the set dancers traded places with the ceili dancers. When the sets resumed again, we were treated to another ceili with Mary Fox and All Set. That finished around 10.30pm, leaving time to listen to some music before the midnight closing. But I left the grounds early that night to be on time for yet another ceili.
For a number of years the local dancers have held a late-night ceili after closing time on Friday. This began in the days when there was only ceili dancing at the Fest, and the only way to get some set dancing was for the dancers to arrange it themselves. They brought a few musicians from the Fest out to the local Irish centre where they danced till the wee hours. Luckily, this tradition has been kept alive even after set dancing became a popular part of the Fest programme.
The Irish Cultural and Heritage Center occupies a disused church in the city, and the ballroom is an upstairs meeting room with timber floor. Dancing began shortly after midnight to the music of John Whelan, an All-Ireland champion box player based in Connecticut who's a popular favourite here. John was well able to handle the ceili with just a guitar backing him. He always seems to be absolutely delighted to play for sets and everyone else was equally delighted by his music. Between sets and during the break there was plenty to nibble on-you know you're not in Ireland when you find sushi at a ceili! When it all finished close to 3am I was filled with satisfaction and exhaustion in equal amounts.
On Saturday the Fest opened at noon, but the dancing was on hold while a baking competition was held in the dance tent. So I wandered to the opposite end of the park and came across a beautiful session in the Gaeltacht tent. There was an emphasis on Irish here but non-Irish speakers were very welcome too. The music was straight out of Connemara with Johnny Connolly on melodeon, and our sean nós dancing teacher Seosamh Ó Neachtain gave a few of his prize-winning steps. In fact Johnny and Seosamh were in residence here for the weekend, along with several other musicians imported from Ireland, so I found my way back here regularly for a genuine taste of home.
Other musicians playing regularly over the weekend were Joe Burke, James Kelly, Eileen Ivers, Grainne Hambley, Luka Bloom, Tommy Fleming, Téada and a show called Ragús from the Aran Islands which was very popular. Regular favourites Tommy Makem, the Furey Brothers, Gaelic Storm and Cape Breton fiddler Natalie McMaster also performed along with many others. There were dog shows, curragh races, tug-of-war, children step dancing, genealogy, literature, plays-something for everyone.
Saturday's set dancing began with an outdoor lesson on the Ballyvourney Jig Set. Mary Fox and All Set played for a ceili in the afternoon and again for the final ceili of the day. In between those two, the Chicago group Errigal played some great music for a ceili in the late afternoon. On my first visit of the day to the Gaeltacht tent, I witnessed some spontaneous set dancing on a small platform just beside the musicians. From noon to midnight it was a day full of activity.
The Fest opened at 11am on Sunday morning but I only arrived after 12. Unfortunately I missed all but the tail end of the ceili with Chicago Ceoltóirí, four lads on box, fiddle, piano and drums, the only musicians with an authentic Irish ceili band sound. There was another outdoor class (the Caledonian this time), a ceili with Public House Ceili Band and the final set dancing ceili with Mary Fox and All Set. Then there was still time to dance a few figures of a couple of sets at the Gaeltacht tent before the closing.
All activity at the Fest finished at 9.15pm sharp on Sunday night so that everyone could join together in the closing events. This began with the March of the Bodhrans, a parade of flags and several dozen bodhrans which ended at the Fest's biggest stage. Fireworks then filled the sky over the lake in a magnificent and heart-pounding display. We turned back to face the stage and were treated to a brief concert with nearly all of the Fest's musicians performing together. For the finale, Tommy Makem took over the stage for a few songs. The traditional end to the Fest is when Tommy sings Wild Mountain Thyme. Everyone stood and sang along with him for a warm, sentimental ending to a memorable Irish Fest.
The 25th Milwaukee Irish Fest takes place 18-21 August 2005, and is preceded by the summer school, 14-18 August. Contact Jane Anderson and Joanne Woodford for more information.
The play Brigadoon involves an enchanted community which remains unchanged and invisible to the outside world except for one special day every one hundred years when it could be visited by outsiders. On that special day visitors would witness traditional music and dance and be greeted by the warm, friendly inhabitants of Brigadoon.
Sligo has its own equivalent of Brigadoon and it can be found in Tubbercurry during the South Sligo Summer School, also known as Music Week. But unlike Brigadoon, Music Week occurs every year in the beginning of July and lasts an entire week, or longer if you have the inclination and energy.
This year's Music Week was an exceptionally good one. The classes in music, dancing and singing were well attended, the recitals were excellent and the lectures were very informative.
On Sunday the Summer School had its official opening at Cawley's Hotel where we were welcomed by the organising committee, ate an endless supply of hors d'oeuvres, had a pint to wash the food down, listened to traditional music and then headed over to St Brigid's Hall for the first ceili of the week. The Davey Ceili Band was exceptional, the dancing lively and the hall was full but not crowded. It ended at 1 am when we retired to prepare for the classes at 10 am.
During the week my wife and I spent some of our time walking around town visiting the seisiúns. As usual, the pubs were filled with musicians and listeners at the daily seisiúns that would go on late into the night. The musicians came from Europe, North America and Ireland, with local people from Tubbercurry showing their array of considerable talent.
We spent most of our time and energy enjoying the set dance classes and the ceilis. The classes were conducted by Betty McCoy and Pat Murphy from Monday to Saturday, and both teachers were up to their usual high standards. Betty and Pat have the reputation for teaching the sets while making learning fun and enjoyable. This was proven by the fact that there were enough people to fill over fourteen sets at the classes. They taught a broad range of sets-the Roscahill, Claddagh, Clare Orange and Green, Set of Erin, Monaghan, Fermanagh Quadrilles, South Kerry and the South Sligo Lancers. They also threw in the Pride of Erin Waltz for good measure. One of the enjoyable aspects of the set dance class is meeting people from virtually all over the world. During the week we met new friends and became reacquainted with old friends from New Zealand, Australia, the United States, Canada, Finland, Japan, Germany, Luxembourg, Latvia, Switzerland, Italy, Scotland, England and, of course, Ireland. Anyone attending the Music Week quickly appreciates the universal appeal of Irish traditional music and dance.
The ceilis were outstanding. There was an evening ceili every day and an extra afternoon ceili on Saturday for the real fanatics. It seemed the bands played at their peak performances and when the music started you could not sit down, even if you were exhausted. The ceili bands this year were the Davey, Emerald, Heather Breeze, Four Courts, Swallow's Tail, Tulla, Glenside and Matt Cunningham. During each ceili Pat Murphy would call the sets we learned that day at the class. This enabled the class participants to do the new sets under "ceili conditions" and it got those at the ceili who did not attend the class doing sets they were either not familiar with or had not done for some time. After the ceilis we would go to Cawley's for a well-deserved rest, having a nightcap and enjoying the seisiún.
The organising committee did another outstanding job putting this week together and are to be congratulated.
I cannot wait until July 10, 2005 when we can do it all over again.
Allan and Tricia O'Sullivan Raleigh, North Carolina
For someone who went to Boston for a different occasion and just happens to be interested in set dancing, it was certainly a pleasant surprise to hear before I left that I would be just in time for an Irish Festival. I arrived in Logan Airport on Friday June 11th, where we were collected by our friends Mike and Margaret Greenway. Margaret is into set dancing and used to run ceilis in Boston in the past-which all her friends tell me were great ceilis.
After a short stop at Greenway's to drop off our bags we lost no time in setting off for the Irish Cultural Centre in Canton. I could hear the Irish music about half a mile from the centre and my steps starting getting longer and faster to get into the marquee. The music was provided by the Boston Comhaltas with Larry Reynolds the man at the helm. Larry is a native of Athenry, Co. Galway, and many at the festival said that a more generous and decent person one could never find, and one who has done a lot for the Irish people in Boston.
The music was coming from the heart-it was sweet and lively and I enjoyed every minute of it. Larry and his friends played tirelessly into the evening, we enjoyed several sets and everyone was so warm and welcoming that we returned the next two days for more.
One other band that played there was Ceol Tradisiúnta na hÉireann with Billy O'Neill at the helm. They had a beautiful blend of music and played at a lovely pace. Our trip to Boston was for a wedding and there were four sets on the night of the wedding-which is more that one would get at most weddings in Ireland. So set dancing is in a very healthy state in Boston thanks to great teachers, musicians and organisers.
Tony Burke, Kilconly, Tuam, Co Galway
Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann is Ireland's biggest traditional music festival with probably more musicians per square mile than any other place on earth. Thousands of musicians and tens of thousands of music fans descended on the town of Clonmel in Tipperary for the weekend of 27-30 August 2004. Hundreds of dancers came as well to try out this year's improved programme of dancing.
Just before departing for Clonmel on Friday evening I thought I'd phone the Fleadh office to see if there were any beds available, which would save me a long commute. Much to my surprise they found me a place only four miles from town, the closest I've ever been able to stay to a Fleadh, despite being the latest I've booked it!
As I approached Clonmel I knew I was in the right place thanks to the searchlights which roamed the clouds overhead. They didn't help me find the Dome, however, as I circled the town centre twice. Fortunately it was signposted from the bypass; I found my way from there and a handy parking space nearby.
The Dome was back this year, and was much improved over the domes of previous years. The Dome is a temporary dance hall erected in a field, covered in white tarpaulin with a wooden dance floor. This year three such structures were in place in behind a school, one for competitions, another for an art exhibition and the third for set dancing ceilis. The dancing Dome was improved in several ways-it had panelled sides and a new type of floor which was smooth and springy, it was higher and brighter inside and it was smaller and suited the size of the crowd. Also, separating the ceilis and competitions meant that ceilis didn't have to wait for competitions to finish.
As I arrived on Friday night the joyful music of Sean Norman and his band greeted me. Sean never fails to deliver lively dancing and cheers erupted from the sets when he broke into a lilt.
I arrived back in Clonmel late on Saturday morning to soak up the festival atmosphere and was pleasantly surprised by what I found. I first encountered a troupe of Norwegians performing in the street. They were in traditional dress and all of them played the fiddle, sang and danced, sometimes doing two out of three at once.
Next I ran into a group from the Shetland Islands of Scotland who demonstrated a number of their historic dances on the street with three musicians playing very danceable music on a gig rig. There were a few two-hand dances like those danced in Ireland, though with Shetland variations. The Polly Glide was nicely danced in couples, left hands held in front, right hands over the lady's shoulder, rather than holding hands in lines as I usually see it. They danced with handkerchiefs a couple of times, which were very useful when doing the high gates or arches. One dance was rather like musical chairs, with five gents trying to dance with four ladies. The odd gent out patiently waited around the set while the four couples danced; then while the ladies circled, the five gents scrambled around them waiting their chance. As soon as the ladies finished, the gents made a grab and another man was left out. We learned the story behind every dance so it was all very entertaining and informative. They even managed to entice a few spectators out to try an easy dance.
I had a tough time finding the platform for the afternoon outdoor ceili. I wandered the streets looking for it without success, and every dancer I met was wondering the same thing. The answer was simple-there was no platform! The outdoor dancing took place at an intersection in a pedestrian shopping area, rather like a modern version of the old crossroads dance. Michael Loughnane did a great job of encouraging people to join in the impromptu, non-stop and varied programme of dancing. He even offered prizes of chocolate from a nearby shop to entice people to entertain us. That one-man wonder band from Tipperary, Danny Webster, supplied more than enough music to keep everyone going for three hours. In addition to the sets, ceili and waltzes, Michael called on a few solo dancers to perform modern, trad and sean nós steps. Dancers from Nine-Mile-House, Co Kilkenny, danced three figures of their local set.
A choice of three ceilis was available on Saturday night, sets, mixed and fíor, depending on how much ceili dancing you like at your ceilis, none, some or all. I began in the mixed ceili in a school hall close to the Dome where the Star of Munster was playing. I danced three sets and a High-Cauled Cap, so I was already pretty happy when I shifted to the Dome. There I was delighted to see close to forty sets on the floor-the atmosphere was superb. Music was by the Fodhla Ceili Band who sounded better than ever. This was the only ceili of the weekend with calling; Donal Morrissey of Birr, Co Offaly, did the job well without getting in the way of the music.
Outdoors on Sunday afternoon people gathered for a ceili with Tim Joe and Anne O'Riordan. It was one of those highly changeable days where cloud, rain and wind are quickly followed by bright sunshine. During the brief bouts of rain the spectators crowded under the awnings while the dancers took no notice and continued the set.
One lady carried an umbrella for the last figure of the Kilfenora Set, which the wind quickly turned inside out. Tim Joe and Anne were well sheltered so their music was, as usual, consistently superb. Michael Loughnane again kept everyone moving and entertained, and there were plenty of solo spots and songs between dances.
Afterward I went for a meal in a crowded little Chinese restaurant. As soon as my first course was served, a session started up at the table beside me. Music was by Maeve O'Loughlin, Kathleen Nesbitt (both of whom are visitors to Blankenheim, Germany), Kay Webster and Brendan McGlinchey. Two young girls at the next table joined in as well. The restaurant's proprietor was overjoyed and proudly announced the music to all the diners.
There was time after that to drop in on the senior ceili band competition in the large Dome beside the one where ceilis took place. The place was packed, though plenty of empty seats were available. The audience was hushed and reverent while the bands performed, except for cheers at the tune changes. I'm not used to just listening to ceili bands, so soon departed for some dancing.
Matt Cunningham won the competition for me that night as he and the band were in the best of form. He was required by officials to turn down the volume 'just a bit' until the competition was over. It was hard to notice any difference, but certainly in the second half the band took off-the sets were fast and furious and the waltzes were bliss. Matt did tell us later that the competition was won by the St Patrick Ceili Band from Trim, Co Meath; the decision required 45 minutes of deliberation by the adjudicators. After the last figure of the last set, Matt immediately played Auld Lang Syne-everyone took hands and sang together to finish the night.
Monday is often said to be the best day of the Fleadh. With competitions over, musicians are free to enjoy themselves for some great sessions. Indeed there were plenty of sessions on the street as I wandered in the early evening. Sean Norman and a couple of the Glenside musicians entertained dancers under the arches in the centre of town.
The only scheduled event of the day was the farewell ceili with Johnny Reidy. The band was expecting a quiet night but fortunately it was brilliant; how could it be anything else with such mighty music? There were no tea breaks at any of the ceilis, and in fact the musicians always played straight through without a break. Tonight though was a lucky night for hungry dancers-leftovers from the staff barbecue were available. In addition to the sets, including his trademark Sliabh Luachra Set, Johnny played for the Siege of Ennis, some sean nós and brush dancers, and a waltz that turned into Shoe the Donkey.
The improvements to the dancing at this year's Fleadh, the return of the Dome and the reinstatement of the afternoon and farewell ceilis, were welcomed by all who attended this enjoyable weekend.
On Friday September 3rd, 2004, locals and visitors gathered in St Kieran's Centre in the picturesque village of Labasheeda to celebrate once more one of West Clare's own legends, Dan Furey.
The weekend began with the launch of the festival. Committee chairman John Malone went through the programme of events. This hard working committee had once more a superb weekend planned.
Bobby Nugent, nephew of Dan Furey, travelled from Chicago to launch the festival. He thanked the committee for their dedication and tremendous work over the past ten years. "Dan left a great legacy behind. He had no family but the love of his life was Irish music and dancing sets, the Labasheeda, the Paris and the Plain. He taught so many people but it was the committee who had the foresight to start this festival. I am honoured to be invited here to officially open the weekend."
The chairman thanked Bobby, the hardworking committee and the sponsors, and gave special thanks to the supporters of the festival. He then invited Celine Tubridy and John Creed to dance the Priest and his Boots and Michael Tubridy played the tune on his flute.
The Emerald Céilí band was all set up and as soon as dancers converged on the floor the céilí began with the Connemara Set. The main hall and the Long Aisle, an adjoining hall, accommodated the sets and as the music from this young Tyrone band filtered out into the night air. Dancers delighted in the energetic tunes and danced the night away. I was especially pleased that they played the Labasheeda Set. The night concluded with the Clare Lancers and an exuberant set of reels.
The workshop on Saturday started at ten o'clock with Mike Mahony. He began by welcoming everybody and paid a special welcome to Pat Brosnan, chairman of Comhaltas in Clare and also of Cois na hAbhna in Ennis.
The workshop got underway with the Paris Set, a particular favourite of Dan Furey's, and the second set was the Derrada. I was one of the dancers privileged to be invited by Mike to join his demonstration set. Mike is a brilliant dancer and has a wonderful skill of imparting knowledge to his pupils. Everyone was delighted with the morning workshop. In her workshop in the Long Aisle, Celine Tubridy taught Dan Furey's solo jig, the Priest and his Boots. Both workshops were well attended.
Dancers relaxed in the autumn sunshine and dined on freshly made sandwiches, tea and coffee as they eagerly awaited the afternoon workshop.
At two o'clock sharp Mike Mahony was ready to begin the workshop and dancers thronged to the Long Aisle to learn the Claddagh Set, the most recent of the newly revived sets. It comes from Claddagh, Co Galway, and was taught by Séamus Ó Méalóid at the weekend in Malahide in January this year. As Mike said, "All sets have a tricky figure and the third figure is the one to watch out for in this set." Mike detailed each move of the cross chain in his usual concise and meticulous way, until everyone was happy and comfortable. At the end we danced the set straight through with Mike calling-it felt like a mini céilí. Everyone who attended the workshop was loud in his or her praise of Mike Mahony.
Celine's class shifted to the National School in the afternoon where she practiced the Priest and His Boots again and taught the Gabhairín Buí, another of Dan's solo steps danced over two crossed sticks. In her gentle voice Celine had her pupils very comfortable with these two little traditional dances.
In the main hall at the same time as the workshops, the festival's first set dancing competition was taking place. Nine sets of youngsters participated in four categories. The coveted prize for the overall winner was a superb silver cup donated by the Maloney and Fitzpatrick families in memory of Barney Maloney who died in March 2003. Barney was the owner of the Battery Castle and has been part of the festival since its inception. He was always generous in allowing visitors to dance in the Castle and was delighted to speak about its history. Barney was also a personal friend of both Dan Furey and James Keane. The Young Mullagh Set won the Barney Maloney Memorial Cup. Barney's niece Rosaleen Fitzpatrick presented the cup to this young (aged 18 and under) talented mixed set taught by Marion Casey. Micheál Sexton was the resident musician for the competition.
With workshops and competitions over the crowds queued for the scrumptious Barbeque. Father John Kelly celebrated the commemorative Mass at 8.30pm in the village church across the road from St Kieran's Centre.
The Saturday night céilí started at 10 o'clock with the Kilfenora Céilí Band on stage. We began with the Connemara Set and finished with the Caledonian, which by then was the second one of the night. Most dancers were delighted that the Kilfenora Set was included in the list of dances. The main hall and the Long Aisle were packed and everyone had a brilliant night's dancing.
On Sunday morning after 10am Mass we had the usual visit to Dan and James' grave. This year Brother Sean McNamara officiated. Special prayers were offered for both Dan and James; also included were all dancers, musicians and friends of the festival and their extended families.
As the morning mist lifted over the Shannon we made our pilgrimage to the Battery Castle. John O'Connell spoke of Barney Maloney and recalled his last wonderful speech here in 2002. He then invited Martin Fitzpatrick, Barney's nephew-in-law, to address the crowd. Martin welcomed everyone, thanked them for attending and gave a brief history of the Castle. He thanked the musicians, the Kilmurry Players, who have provided the music at the Castle every year since the first festival. Martin then invited Bobby Nugent to speak. He said that this was his first time in the Castle but that he had seen photographs on the Internet, no doubt courtesy of this magazine. The Kilmurry Players started playing reels and two sets took the floor for the Caledonian Set. There were songs, waltzes, the Priest and His Boots, Shoe the Donkey and then three sets formed and danced the Plain Set.
Back in the village the parade was underway. This was a colourful display of cultural and fun-filled floats, some of which were very topical. The Kilmurry Pipe Band and John O'Connell led the parade on his penny-farthing bike. Bobby Nugent and Brother Sean McNamara were the adjudicators for the occasion. Another barbecue awaited those with an appetite and time to enjoy the food and beautiful surroundings on the banks of the Shannon.
The afternoon céilí got underway at 3pm with Longford's Glenside Céilí Band on stage. As usual these brilliant musicians energised us with their fabulous tunes.
Mid-way through the céilí we enjoyed a display of dancing from John Fennel's dancing group, known as Hell for Leather. 32 young boys and girls were a delight to watch as they danced in elaborately choreographed sets, half-sets, lines and columns. They are definitely Labasheeda's answer to Riverdance.
The céilí resumed with the Clare Lancers, waltzes, Shoe the Donkey, the Caledonian Set and finished up with the Plain Set.
The weekend concluded with the Star of Munster on stage at 10pm. Many of the visitors had returned home but local dancers and the remaining visitors enjoyed a relaxed mixed céilí.
The committee and the small community of Labasheeda understand the meaning of community spirit. This is an inclusive festival of music, dancing, art, swimming, football, boating, a donkey derby and the new addition of a set dancing competition. I believe everyone involved in this festival deserves a medal.
Joan Pollard Carew
Set Dancing News, Kilfenora, Co Clare, Ireland
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