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).
Rumours had worried the participants at the Mighty Weekend in the Grand Hotel, Malahide, Co Dublin, 14-16 January 2005, that this was to be the last workshop. However, the weekend was such a success that Betty McCoy and her team announced they would continue and January 2006 was pencilled into the set dancers' calendars. As Timmy Woulfe declared on Sunday afternoon, "This is the flagship of all the workshops. It must go on and on forever!"
The weekend is run as a celebration of the life of the late Connie Ryan. Michael Tubridy says in his book Connie Ryan, The Mighty Set Dancing Master, "it was as if the biggest and brightest star in the sky had suddenly faded away" when Connie died. Set dancing was Connie's life. He was a vigilant teacher, making sure sets were danced in the traditional style yet he was always open to new ideas. He opened up to everyone a milieu that could be narrow and rigid in outlook and there is no doubt that his groundbreaking work set the scene for the many workshops, summer schools and holidays abroad that are now part of our set dancing lives. He was unique, a man larger than life, full of good will, courage and generosity, with a presence that could lift and transform any occasion.
For several years before he died he had organised a set dancing workshop in January. His meticulous organizational abilities had built it up to become the event of the year and when he became ill he started to raise funds for cancer research and donated £14,000 before he died. In the intervening years Betty McCoy with Ann and John Grant and Céline and Michael Tubridy have raised over €55,000.
But apart from the fundraising aspect, it has continued to be a huge social event with old friends meeting up with dancers from Denmark, Japan, France, Italy, the US, Croatia and England, and this year was no exception.
Friday night kicked off with a class by Aidan Vaughan on steps. Bemused waiters at the Grand Hotel looked on as dancers advanced, retired and housed. Emphasizing the importance of timing and listening to the music, he used the framework of the Kilfenora Set to demonstrate his unique style.
At 9.30pm the Slievenamon Ceili Band took to the stage. This band was formed in 1988 when Connie organised his first trip to America and brought 57 dancers to the Glen Echo festival in Washington. The Malahide weekend has become an annual gig and their music created the atmosphere of a pub session yet over 250 people danced in comfort. It was a great start to the weekend.
The Saturday morning saw Pat Murphy opening the workshop with a Donegal theme. He taught two sets, the Fintown and the Tory Island. At halftime the teaching was handed over to Timmy Woulfe from Abbeyfeale, Co Limerick. He introduced the class to the Dromgarriff Half-Set and the Limerick Orange and Green. There were 30 sets yet the floor was comfortable and nobody complained of lack of space.
The Four Courts played for the Saturday afternoon ceili and their versatility was demonstrated when fiddle player Joe Rynne lilted for a dance by concertina player Chris Droney. He chose The Bucks of Oranmore in the key of "S"! When drummer Aidan Vaughan joined him on the floor he asked for "real" music and danced a reel. It was a great afternoon.
After the Mass in Connie's memory, musicians took to the bar area and played for over four hours. At one stage I counted 26 musicians all enjoying each other's tunes.
The Saturday night brought the Davey Ceili Band with their lovely pitched music. Eileen O'Doherty called the sets introducing a variety that everyone enjoyed. For the stalwarts who were still able to lift their feet, Sunday morning was the traditional step dancing class. Céline Tubridy, who learnt her dancing from the late dance master, Dan Furey, taught a single jig. This class is a particular favourite every year and even though it begins at 10am the students turn up on time. I am not sure if the revellers who were in the bar until 5am the night before made it though. Four young Japanese women who had flown in from Tokyo for the weekend were very proficient dancers at the end of Céline's class.
The tempo was upped somewhat when Mick Mulkerrin and Mairéad Casey took over. They taught the Newmarket Meserts and choreographed beautiful steps and timing. Sunday morning was a real treat.
Matt Cunningham played for the afternoon ceili and all the sets taught for the weekend were called by their teachers. It was lively and sociable. Lots of old friends turned up, and others who have been out of the dancing scene for a while. After listening to Matt and his family, they were making plans to come back to classes and look for more ceilis.
As the last set was danced, Aidan Vaughan laughingly claimed to be the busiest man at the weekend. He taught a class, he played the drums with three bands, he demonstrated his sean nós style of dance, he organised the sound and he was a bouncer on the door. He headed for Clare with plans to get into training for next year.
Deirdre Morrissey, Bray, Co Wicklow
Dancing in Portmagee, Co Kerry, will be poorer since the death of Ian Gloinson. Ian died at 8.30 on the morning of January 21st this year after a brave battle against cancer.
Ian and his wife Barbara were regular dancers in the Bridge Bar, Portmagee. They were a great help to us in the Friday class-Ian always willing to dance in the demonstration and to help the beginners.
Every year we were hosts to dancing groups from France, Belgium and Corsica. Not only was he always ready to help teach our local Kerry sets but his knowledge of the French language was a great help in our hilarious efforts to communicate! Ian and Barbara made some good friends among our continental visitors and I know they will miss him.
Ian was a great man for the local community and his fine bass voice will be missed in the church choir, and also at the many musical evenings and house dances at my home where he would give a song and his rather quirky sense of humour added to the craic.
His many friends will remember the hospitality when you called to the house-always a cup of coffee or more often a glass of red wine, French, of course! We'll keep calling, Barbara, and remember the good times.
Ian is survived by his wife, our dear friend Barbara, a great dancer and a fine musician, also his sons Alan and Keith, their partners and family and our thoughts are with them.
We were at Ian's wake and one phrase was often repeated-"He was a gentleman."
Beryl Stracey, Portmagee, Co Kerry
Chicago welcomed the musical stylings of Tim Joe and Anne O'Riordan and the flying feet of Gerard Butler to the fourth annual Chicago Set Dance and Music Weekend, January 14th-16th, 2005.
The festivities began on Friday evening at Chicago Gaelic Park, a magnificent facility built with the spirit of keeping Irish traditional music, dance and sport alive for those far from home. A new event for this year, a two-hand dance workshop, broke the ice for the many dancers who traveled from near and far. Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Iowa, Missouri, Ohio, Kentucky, California, New Jersey, New York, Canada and Ireland were among the states and countries represented. Friday rounded out with a welcome ceili showcasing the amazing flair of Tim Joe and Anne.
Dance workshops were the order of the day for Saturday. The talent of Ger Butler was unmistakable as we learned the Ballyduff and Claddagh sets. His wit and charm transcended the dance floor, which was alive with energy! A delicious luncheon was served in Gaelic Park's magnificent Emerald Room, where an atmosphere of camaraderie and friendship was apparent.
Chicago's very own ceili band, Ceoltóirí Chicago, opened Saturday evening with a dynamite performance. The music was so energetic that the dancers were flocking to the dance floor. After a great ceili with Ceoltóirí Chicago, Tim Joe and Anne returned with a second brilliant performance. Again, the dancers could not contain themselves. The vibrancy of the music set the dancers' feet a-tapping and the sets continued into the wee hours. Tea, coffee and delicious treats helped sustain the energy expelled by the dancers.
Sunday continued with Ger Butler and the third dance workshop. Tim Joe and Anne played for the farewell ceili. Many feet were tired, but could not resist the magic of the music and the call of the dance floor.
This weekend would not have materialized if not for the dedication of Brendan Houlihan and his committee. Brendan is a Chicago native and set dance teacher at Gaelic Park. Through his commitment, Brendan has provided the set dance community with a great venue for its set dancing passion.
Next year Chicago welcomes back Ger Butler and, for the first time, the Davey Ceili Band from Co Meath. We look forward to seeing you, Ger and the Daveys at the fifth annual Chicago Set Dance Weekend at Gaelic Park, January 13th-15th, 2006.
Patricia and Kathleen Killen
I was born and brought up in London in the 1950s. I went to a Catholic primary school in Baker Street in the centre of London which was attended by the children of Irish and Jamaican immigrants. My first dancing class was there and it was taught by a woman called Agnes O'Connell. All the children, black and white, learnt their slip jig and easy reel. There was a feis at the end of the year and inevitably the Jamaican children cleaned up and won all the medals. They had natural rhythm and were definitely the better dancers.
Agnes O'Connell also ran a pipe band. If you had an Irish name you would be approached to join it. I was fairly enthusiastic until I saw the band parading down Whitehall to go to Westminster Cathedral for the St Patrick's Day celebrations. The pipers wore knee socks, kilts and buckled shoes. As I was doing my best to be a Mod (remember the Mods and Rockers?) this was not good for my image, so I withdrew from Ms O'Connell's dancing class and spent my teenage years being cool and dancing at the Lyceum in London's Strand.
Irish dancing came into my life some twenty years later in the late 1970s. My father was a journalist and was asked by Muiris Ó Rócháin, one of the founders of the Willie Clancy Summer School, to open the summer school. I think it was the fifth school.
He took a house for the week in Milltown and invited me and my then young family to join him. We arrived down and installed ourselves in a house next door to Hennessey's pub. That night we went out to Gleeson's of Coor. Junior Crehan and his family were playing their lovely gentle music and about ten couples were dancing a set. I learnt they were dancing a version of the Caledonian. They were all great dancers but one man was exceptional. He was Marty O'Malley. He was a very big man but his dancing was graceful and rhythmic. It reminded me of the Jamaican dancers of my childhood.
The following year set dance classes were included in the Willie Clancy Summer School and I enrolled. Joe and Siobhan O'Donovan taught the Kerry Set for the week and I was picked to dance in the concert on the Saturday night. From then on I couldn't be contained. I came back to Dublin and went to Connie Ryan's classes in Churchtown. It took me a complete year to learn the reel step to dance Clare sets. Connie went to great trouble to make sure that his class could dance steps. He spent an awful lot of time making us do the same thing until we had it right. And I am really glad that he did because dancing has given me so much pleasure.
My husband Johnny came as well and dancing became a huge part of our lives. I dance at least three times a week-at Katie Gallaghers in Bray on a Monday night, in O'Shea's on a Thursday and at a ceili at the weekend. Johnny now plays with the Brian Ború Ceili Band so I go to all the band's gigs. It's a wonderful interest.
Deirdre Morrissey, Bray, Co Wicklow
If you or someone you know has an interesting story to tell about set dancing, please send a few words or contact Bill Lynch for an interview.
The famous and luxurious Brandon Hotel Conference Centre was the new venue to host the twelfth annual Shindig. The hotel is in the heart of the town just a few minutes walk from the town centre and bus and rail services.
The festival weekend got underway with the popular young Clare man Peter Hanrahan giving a Clare battering workshop from 7.30pm to 9.30pm. I visited this workshop just fifteen minutes into the class, and was delighted to see approximately fifty dancers all eagerly participating. Everyone seemed to be enjoying him or herself and Peter was as usual relaxed and yet attentive. What a super young man and tremendous ambassador of dancing!
The first ceili of the festival began with the Longford enigma the Glenside Ceili Band on stage. Paddy Hanafin, the Shindig's organiser, welcomed everyone and the first set of the night and weekend was the Plain. I was thrilled that the West Kerry was included. This is a charming set from Dingle in Co Kerry. Some dancers refer to this set as the "builders set" with all the houses. With the fabulous music of the Glenside in excess of sixty sets had a fantastic time.
The first of Pat Murphy's workshops began at 10.30am on Saturday morning. The first set taught was the Claddagh. About half of the class had not danced it before. I was somewhat surprised by this as this set has gained popularity around the dancing scene in the past year. Pat invited Séamus Ó Méalóid to join him in the demonstration and reminded us that Séamus first taught the set in Malahide in January 2004. He said that we were privileged to have Séamus here with us to ensure that the set was taught as close to perfect as possible. When we had danced each figure and Pat was satisfied with the standard of dancers, to my delight we danced the set straight through. All thirty sets on the floor danced confidently; even the third figure didn't pose many problems.
The second set of the morning was the Drumgariff. This is a half-set danced to two jigs and a hornpipe. Pat invited Timmy Woulfe to join the demonstration set. Timmy originally got this set from Miley Costello who in turn got the set from Gerry Hurley from Glengariff, Co Cork. It's amazing how a set can get popular after lying dormant for some time. A few years ago Miley was looking for a set suitable for competition and Ger gave him this little set. Timmy Woulfe and Josephine O'Connor with Miley and Eileen Costello danced it then at the Fleadh Nua competition in Ennis and won first prize. I am not surprised with this achievement as these are brilliant dancers. The set has the endearing element of being suitable for dancing in a small space like a house dance. With lunch time looming the last figure of this set was left until the afternoon workshop.
The ballroom hosted twenty sets to start the afternoon workshop and the last figure of the Drumgarriff Set. Just as we began to dance the second set numbers began to swell and we had 25 sets on the floor. We then danced the Fintown Set. Pat said he got this set from Mick and Kay Doyle from Galmoy, Co Kilkenny, who originally got it from dancers in Fintown in Co Donegal. This is another little treasure and I am always encouraged by Pat Murphy and the various other dance masters who seem to go out of their way to revive these sets and to ensure we dance these sometimes almost forgotten gifts of our culture with accuracy.
The last set in Saturday's workshop was the Freres Nantais or more popularly known as the Connemara Jig Set. This set was also revived by Séamus Ó Méalóid and was originally danced as a half set. Pat concluded the workshop with the graceful two-hand dance called Waltz of the Bells. What a joyful conclusion to what was a fantastic workshop.
While set dancers were busy in the ballroom all day, Peter Hanrahan gave tuition in sean nós dancing, Clare battering steps and brush dance steps upstairs in the hotel. Peter had over 100 dancers at both morning and afternoon classes.
Saturday night's ceili began at 10pm with the Emerald Ceili Band on stage. It seemed like dancers were coming out of the woodwork as sixty sets graced the floor. Afterwards I counted seventy sets on the floor for the Plain Set.
Energy seemed to grow and when 12am came Paddy Hanafin welcomed Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh on stage to play while the Emerald took a break. Paddy paid tribute to Micheál's father, the late great Michael Sexton, who played for every Shindig until his untimely death in December 2003. Micheál and Pat played the Caledonian and Corofin Plain sets. The dancers thought they were in heaven with these lifting reels-this part of the festival definitely had the wow factor. All the dancers were raving for the remainder of the weekend about these two very accomplished musicians and are eager to see the dates and venues of this magic twosome. Of course Micheál is no stranger to music of all kinds and played at the Shindig last year with the Michael Sexton Ceili Band. Pat Walsh is also well known as keyboard player with the same band and also with the Star of Munster.
The ceili continued when the Emerald Ceili Band returned to the stage. A late night of music and dancing beckoned anyone with spare energy as local and visiting musicians adjourned to the seisiún until the small hours of the morning.
Sunday morning, Pat started with the Newmarket Meserts. Ten sets took the floor and we danced the five jig figures of this set. Pat spoke fondly of Jer McAuliffe who taught this set in Newmarket, Co Cork, on Whit weekend 1992. Pat made special reference to the fifth figure, the lineup. He joked about how Jer made sure the ladies danced outside the line of gents when everyone casts off in this figure by hitting them with his cap. The only tricky little bit in this lovely set is the gates in the fourth figure. Halfway through the workshop another five sets arrived and everyone enjoyed this easy going set. As usual dancers were thrilled with Pat and also his selection of sets for the weekend.
Peter Hanrahan then took over and once more did Clare battering steps, sean nós steps and the brush dance. Peter concluded his workshop by dancing the brush dance to the delight of the hundred dancers present.
The afternoon ceili started at 2.30pm sharp with the Star of Munster on stage. The band doled out tremendous music to the delight of the dancers. The band boasted a new member on keyboard, Fintan McMahon who also plays with the Kilfenora Ceili Band. The second last dance of the festival was the delightful Claddagh Set called by the king of set dancing Pat Murphy. The Caledonian was the last set of the weekend.
As I negotiated the icy roads on my way back to Thurles I still had tunes going around inside my head, but best of all I was taking home beautiful memories of another fantastic Shindig. Paddy, Carolyn and crew can be proud of this festival. The new venue was perfect for dancing, with lots of room even though we had 70 sets on the floor at times over the weekend. I am looking forward to next year's Shindig already.
Joan Pollard Carew, Thurles, Co Tipperary
John O'Neill was a great friend of set dancers everywhere and passed away on the 5th January 2005. He is sorely missed, not only by his wife Geraldine, son Sean, daughters Andrea, Sinéad, Aisling, Gráinne and family circle, but also by so many set céilí dancers and fíor céilí dancers up and down the country.
John was a native of Stewartstown in Co Tyrone. As a young person he competed at feiseanna in various Irish dances. Later on he went to live at Navan where he worked at haulage and helped with the local fire brigade. He was a lifelong Pioneer and taught fíor céilí around that area.
In Navan he met and married a fine Navan lady called Geraldine and they lived there for about six years. The family then moved to Coalisland which is three miles from Stewartstown where he was born and reared. He helped with the Order of Malta in Coalisland.
John was a great céilí man. In the early years he danced fíor céilí with Connie Ryan at exhibitions, not only 'round Ireland, but also in France, America and England. From time to time I would meet Connie Ryan at various sets weekends which could be at Carnlough (Co Antrim), Killarney, Achill Island or elsewhere; Connie would come to me with his big beaming smile and say, "Did you bring Sean?" and I would usually say "Sean is out every week on the fíor ceilis." The fíor ceilis are very popular around here in Tyrone and also in Donegal. Some people from here go to both sets and fíor-they are all lovely people to have a night's craic with!
The O'Neill family lives just across the road from me in Coalisland. About two years ago John started coming with me to our weekly (or more) sets sessions. He took to the sets like a duck to water. From that time on he travelled the country with me, or if I was tied up, he went with John Joe Brannigan and daughter Fidelma from Galbally in Co Tyrone; Mary McCann, Dungannon; Des Gartland, Dungannon; or others. Usually one, two or three car loads of us go to the ceilis every week-needless to say, the craic is mighty. It costs cash to run anything, and we like to support other venues, just as they come and support ours.
John was a kind and charitable gentleman, always ready to help others. We miss travelling with him very much and also his nice approach in the various halls. At the Ryandale Hotel, Moy, Co Tyrone, he asked me for a High-Cauled Cap which I asked the band to play for him. Little did I know it would be the last time he asked me for anything-such is life!
His last night of dancing was in Latton Community Centre in Co Monaghan where we always go to support them-they are such a lovely bunch of people, it would be a disgrace to miss it.
On Wednesday 5th January 2005 John went to work, had a brain haemorrhage and never regained consciousness. Deepest sympathy from all set dancers and fíor céilí people is extended to his wife Geraldine, his son, daughters and family circle. Céilí music was played at his funeral Mass and also at the graveside.
May he rest in peace.
Vincent Lewis, Coalisland, Co Tyrone
Michael was a bachelor farmer from Watergrasshill, Co Cork, with a love for set dancing that took him around the world. He preferred to travel to ceilis rather than dance close to home and could be found anywhere from Miltown to Castletown and Killarney and beyond. He was fond of the set dancing holidays in Ibiza and was on the Round the World tour to Australia when he died. After three weeks visiting Singapore, Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney, Michael was enjoying Fiji and danced at ceilis on both nights the group were there. After the ceili on November 22nd, he was relaxing with a glass of wine at the bar when he collapsed and died of a heart attack. He was buried in Watergrasshill on December 2nd.
It was with shock and sadness that I heard of the sudden death of Donncha. My sympathy goes to Helen and family.
I got to know Donncha approximately 25 years ago during his many visits to Birmingham, either as a guest at our Comhaltas dinners and later on teaching ceili (which he was passionate about) and set dancing workshops. He was a gentleman with a talent for remembering people's names, even though he might not have met them for years. I have enjoyed many sets and ceili dances with Donncha down through the years. He lived for his dancing. He will be so sadly missed by myself and by the many friends he made here in Birmingham.
Maura O'Leary, Birmingham, England
Donncha Ó Muíneacháin died at 12.20pm on Thursday 27 January 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. Donncha, age 57, was buried in Finglas Cemetary on Monday, 31 January. His passing will leave a large gap in the dancing scene which will be hard to fill.
Happy New Year to you. From our point of view it's already flying but I suppose you are all hoping for good weather yet to come. 2004 was a pretty busy year for us and I thought you'd like to see a few photos of the Sydney Irish Ceili Dancers performing at Illawarra Folk Festival at Jamberoo, a very picturesque village about one and a half hours drive south of Sydney. You could be mistaken by thinking you are in Ireland. The Illawarra Folk Festival has been fortunate for a number of years to have Guinness as a major sponsor. This certainly ensured an Irish flavour to an otherwise mainly Australian festival.
The first photo below shows six of our stepdancers performing a heavy Reel. I think the footwork is excellent considering three of those dancing had been learning for just seven months when they performed at the festival. The second photo shows us dancing the third figure from the Ballycommon Set. We refer to this as the "elephant lead"-no prizes for guessing why! The third photo is a classic. Once again no prizes for guessing that this is during the third figure of the Ballyvourney Jig Set!
One other very exciting aspect of our year was to be invited by the Chieftains to dance on their Sydney concerts-especially satisfying was Paddy Maloney's introduction of our group as "the real thing".
Bill and I are planning to come over this year and look forward to catching up with all our dancing friends.
Margaret Winnett, Sydney, Australia
Flying feetDear Bill,
You don't know me from Adam! But I attended my first set dancing workshop in the Community Centre, Rathgormac, Co Waterford, in September.
I can only remember Mary Murphy and her daughters as the "saints" who made sure everyone got out, got placed with someone who really knew what they were doing and made me feel so special. They were privileged to have me was the feeling I got-me! At 71 my first workshop, and flying feet but not so flying brain! "Turn left-no across-not that way," etc.
However, another workshop soon followed in the Clonea Hotel where I dragged two friends. We had a good time-but I think the Rathgormac ambience and friendliness will be hard to beat. Keep up the good work.
Colette O'Dwyer, Kells, Co Kilkenny
Junior workshops are hugeDear Bill,
On behalf of the Sean Óg Set Dancers, Longford, we would like to say a big thank you to the hundreds of dancers who attended our weekend. Once again you all have made it a wonderful success. A big thank you to the five ceili bands for the fantastic music supplied all weekend, Swallow's Tail, the Daveys, Heather Breeze, Tim Joe and Anne and Johnny Reidy.
To the workshop tutors Marie Garrity, Pat Murphy and Peter Hanrahan, all workshops were a huge success, thank you. A special word of thanks to all the junior dancers who attended the Saturday afternoon workshop in the Annerly Hotel. There were children from six to eighteen years. There is such a huge interest in set dancing for juniors it would be nice to see other organisers include junior workshops at their weekends.
Our fifth weekend was such a success we donated €3,000 to a number of charities. This is thanks to each and every one of you who travelled from home and abroad to Longford. I hope you all arrived back to your homes safely as we are looking forward to seeing you all on 18-20 November 2005.
Gabrielle Cassidy, Gerard Butler and all the Sean Óg members
Our musical tasteBonjour Bill,
I was very pleased and moved to discover the text you wrote about the Rolling Notes Ceili Band in the Set Dancing News magazine. You understood well our musical taste. Thank you for your help. We are also hoping that more Parisian people will take up Irish set dancing.
Bonne et heureuse année.
Gilles Poutoux, Paris, France
Only received good reportsDear Bill,
I would like to say a special thanks to your magazine and web site for all your help and coverage during the run up to our twelfth annual set dance weekend, the Shindig. Pat Murphy and Peter Hanrahan who looked after the workshops again this year did an excellent job as usual and Carolyn and I would like to take this opportunity to thank them both very much for a very well done job. A special word of thanks to all the musicians, teachers and set dancers who helped make this year's event the huge success it was. We would also like to compliment the staff and management of the Brandon for being so nice and helpful to Carolyn and myself and also to the large amount of dancers who stayed in the hotel for the weekend. We have only received good reports about the staff and venue.
Next year's Shindig takes place in its new permanent home, the Brandon Hotel Conference and Leisure Centre, Tralee, Co Kerry, on 20th, 21st and 22nd of January 2006. For more information please check our web site, www.shindigtralee.com.
Paddy and Carolyn Hanafin, Timpeall an Tí Set Dance Club
One to rememberOn Friday night, 21st January 2005, there was a traditional Irish night of music, song, dance and storytelling in the Four Provinces, Rathallen, Co Roscommon, for the Asia Fund. The night was a marvellous success and €4,000 was raised. A huge thank you to Swallow's Tail Ceili Band, the Four Provinces Ceili Band and Tim Joe and Anne O'Riordan, who travelled from Cork, and all the other musicians who travelled from near and far to join with all the set dancers to make the night one to remember for all. Thanks also to Attracta Keighran from Newtownforbes, Longford, for her wonderful storytelling.
Well done everyone.
Gabrielle Cassidy and Gerard Butler, Co Roscommon
I'd like to say a big thank you to Fergus Fitzpatrick for his letter regarding the repetition of sets at Miltown and at ceilis generally across the country. Judging by the many post-ceili and bar conversations I've had with other dancers over the past year or two, he is not alone in his views. The topic seems to crop up more frequently now due, I think, to the appearance of yet another plain set at your average ceili.
Set dancing has undeniably grown from strength to strength over the past twenty years or so and has spread far and wide into many countries and cultures, a growth which has developed fairly rapidly from the 'rescue stage' where many sets were recorded probably just in time before their extinction, to the present situation where most of the genuine ones have almost certainly been revived and recorded so their survival is guaranteed, at least in documented form. We are now in the fortunate position of having an extensive selection of books, CDs and DVDs to ensure that this rich and diverse aspect of a social culture is secure for future generations.
When I started dancing fifteen years ago I remember the excitement of learning new sets, trying to get to grips with them, and the satisfaction when one finally sank in and became comfortable. Living in County Clare, it was mostly reel sets of course, but as I became more interested and curious I began to travel around the country and was soon exposed to a whole new world of different steps, styles and music from different areas. I soon began to realise there was more to this than Caledonians, Plains and Connemaras. I clearly remember my first trip to County Kerry where I stumbled upon a pub session with dancing. There was no Plain Set or Lancers, in fact there was nothing I recognised-just polkas, wonderful, lively, wild polkas. From then on I was hooked and wanted more.
Around that same time a steady stream of newly revived sets were emerging from workshop weekends, very often relevant to that area. At these weekends you would often see the local set danced in the pub session and if you were lucky you might get a chance to dance them, or at least try. This added another dimension for me and I saw it as more than a revival. It was very much part of a rich and diverse living tradition, inextricably linked to the local musical style, accents, customs and landscape, and in this context had immeasurable value.
So now fifteen years later after the revival of dozens of sets and with hundreds of enthusiasts from all over the country and beyond, we regularly travel to Kerry, Cork, Donegal or Antrim to spend three or four hours dancing the same old eight or nine sets over and over again, at least fifty percent of which originate in County Clare! Isn't this a little strange? Now please don't get me wrong, it's great fun (which is the main thing I suppose) and it's worked well for a good few years, but can it continue to work in this form and, more importantly, will it continue to attract a steady stream of new blood to ensure its survival?
I know a number of younger people who have passed through the dance scene (but have not passed back!) because they've become bored by the repetition after a while. The boredom factor is I think evident by the way in which some overused sets have become embellished to the point that they bear little resemblance to their original form, which is really very sad. Have we become so familiar with Clare Lancers or Connemara, for example, that we've added all manner of 'bits' to liven them up? Why change a perfectly acceptable established set with its own individual character, when it would be so much easier to do a different one entirely? And at the same time preserve the original individual styles of both!
I wonder if we have become stuck in a comfortable rut? An enjoyable rut maybe, but when things become stuck they seldom last. I also wonder if we have taken the whole thing somewhat out of context, and by the value of its own success created an homogenised version of something which is (or at least was) hugely diverse and individual.
Go to the Armada this year, or any ceili for that matter, and you'll be dancing the same set as you did ten years ago! What a shame, when in the past ten years dozens of others have been painstakingly researched and rescued, many of which are far more enjoyable than the 'big seven'. Surely they deserved to be used? After all wasn't that the whole point of reviving them?
I already hear cries of, "Oh he's taking it all too seriously," or, "We love it as it is." Well that's the whole point, we do love it as it is, but we won't be around forever. If it is to survive with any value it needs a constant new input, a constant supply of energy and enthusiasm. That means variety and change.
So if we want to improve the situation, which I believe the majority of dancers would like to do, how can it be done? Obviously it has to be a team effort of teachers, bands and dancers together. But the question that's always asked is how do you decide which set to introduce to the mainstream? With so many to choose from that's a tricky one. Some sets seem to cause a fair amount of excitement-the Claddagh, West Kerry and Williamstown seem to be always popular at workshops. In fact a couple of years ago the Williamstown seemed like it would get into the Ceili Top 10! Many of us learnt it off by heart, I requested it at several ceilis to no avail, it hung about for a while, then like most of the others it disappeared back into the workshop, back into the archives. What happened to the Mazurka, the Aran, the Derradda or the Borlin?
Maybe we should have an annual dancers' suggestion poll. Could we perhaps have a vote for, say, three new sets of the year? Or maybe go techno and have a mobile phone text poll? At least it would be a democratic decision and we'd all be aware of the ones chosen.
Local classes could concentrate on them, workshop weekends could push them, bands would have fair warning for playing them. Then, before you could say "swing, house, gallop and chain," we would all be enjoying a much more varied ceili scene and have created a healthier situation for a wonderful tradition. The bands get to play and watch different sets, which has to be a bonus for them. They have a great excuse to release more CDs. The dancers get more varied evenings out. We may even encourage a younger crowd to stick with it and a greater following which would lead to greater demand-more ceilis! And Bill gets to take lots of lovely photos of us all doing something other than the wheelbarrow! Which leads me to one condition-no more plain sets please!
Wouldn't it be great to think that in ten years time your average Miltown ceilis would be different every night? See you there,
Carl Wright, Ballyvaughan, Co Clare
A weekend by the sea is always a special pleasure, and if there's plenty of dancing as well, I'm in heaven. I ventured out for my first dancing visit to Dungarvan, Co Waterford, on Friday October 8th for the weekend organised by the local branch of Comhaltas. It was a beautiful evening and heading south from Clonmel I crossed the Knockmealdown Mountains, the highest in Waterford, for some spectacular scenery. Not sure where to find the Clonea Strand Hotel, I headed straight into the town of Dungarvan. I spotted a sign for Clonea which took me several miles east along the coast. When I found the hotel I was delighted to see it faced the sea beside a long sandy beach-I hadn't expected this!
Arriving at the opening ceili I was welcomed by Mary Rossiter, the chairperson of the Comhaltas branch, who informed me that the branch celebrated its fiftieth anniversary this year. I also met Michael Hogan, one of the original founders of the branch, who helped at the door all weekend. Mary told me that Connie Ryan, Séamus Ó Méalóid, Mick Mulkerrin, Pat Murphy and Pat Liddy have taught here in the past. On his fourth visit this year was Jim Barry, a Wicklow-based Kerryman who teaches regularly at a handful of workshops around Ireland.
The Friday night ceili featured three veteran members of Waterford Comhaltas Ceili Band whose vintage music was a dancing pleasure. The band play weekly for ceilis on Monday night at Dooley's Hotel on the Quay in Waterford city, when they expand to have three times as many musicians, and can be heard at other ceilis in the area. So not only was the music a rare treat that night, so were the ladies I met dancing the sets-only one of them had partnered me before.
On Saturday morning the sea and beach revealed itself in glorious sunshine and skies, but a very brisk wind pushed me indoors for Jim Barry's workshop. The day was dedicated to four reel sets, including three from Galway-the Williamstown, Aran and Claddagh sets. The Claddagh is a popular favourite at many recent workshops. The third figure with its complicated cross chain doesn't put people off at all-instead it's the one figure we remember best and enjoy most! The final reel set of the day was the Borlin Jenny from Cork. The day was full of fun for Jim and the dancers, who numbered around six sets. Just before the lunch break there was a bonus when Marie Garrity visiting from Co Tyrone took over from Jim to teach the Polly Glide. Other weekend visitors had travelled from Dublin, Clare, Mayo, France and even New Orleans.
The coal fire in the hotel foyer was a magnet for off-duty set dancers, who gathered around it in the comfy chairs before and after workshops and ceilis. While the hotel was fully booked with dancers, being by the sea there was plenty of alternative accommodation easily available, including B&Bs and holiday houses.
Most of Mort Kelleher's family were on stage Saturday night for the ceili and supplied their Cork music for some exceptionally lively music. Just to make sure we didn't find it too slow (never!) Mort's wife Noreen asked if it was fast enough and warned us when they would be speeding it up a bit. I never noticed the difference; it was beautiful dancing all night. Local teacher John Creed was a shining example of Waterford hospitality as he welcomed arriving dancers and helped fill sets and find partners. It was fitting that he was presented with an award acknowledging him for his work in organising and promoting the weekend. Karen Kelleher, Mort's daughter and fiddler in the band, was also honoured with a presentation-she was given a cake and a few candles for her nineteenth birthday! Jim Barry was on hand to call a couple of the workshop sets, the Williamstown and Claddagh, and Ken Kelleher gave an electrifying accordion solo for the Connemara Set. There were about a dozen sets in the hall, just right for comfortable dancing and a keen atmosphere, and the hotel laid on a generous tea during the break.
After a day of reel sets in Saturday's workshop, polka sets made up the programme on Sunday morning. Jim Barry began with the Skibbereen Set, which has a few moves that I really enjoy, such as the four-bar retire in the wheelbarrow and the "panache" (as Geoff Holland referred to it when I learned the set in London), the elegant eight-bar turn between the gallop and lead around in the fourth figure. Jim also gave me my first experience of the Kilmeena Set from Co Mayo, which was rather like a feature-length version of the Derradda. In between the sets there was clamorous demand for a solo dance from John Creed, which he was unable to refuse. Just as on Saturday it was a fun workshop with plenty of amusing banter between Jim and the dancers.
Co Cork supplied more of its best musicians for the Sunday ceili. Tim Joe and Anne O'Riordan are nearly neighbours to the Kellehers, and in fact Mort and Noreen taught music to Tim Joe starting from the age of five. Tim Joe and Anne are always alert and responsive to the dancers, and have their own distinctive musical style. Occasionally Tim Joe jazzed up the reels by playing a single note for so long that I was never sure we'd finish out the eight bars on time. At other times they momentarily silenced the music to encourage everyone to shout and batter, and all told, their effect on the dancing is exhilarating.
The first set was the Sliabh Luachra and I was afraid the partner I'd booked during lunch had abandoned me when I couldn't find her in the hall. However, she rushed in during the first figure and luckily we were able to form a set quickly enough to dance out the rest of the figure and set. We also danced a workshop set when Jim called the Skibbereen, and broke for tea and cake halfway through the afternoon. By the end of the ceili satisfaction was evident in everyone's face as John Creed thanked the musicians, dancers and committee for making the weekend an enjoyable success. I left Clonea Strand with the sounds of wind, waves and music still in my ears.
As the summer season drew to a close on the Algarve, Portugal's southern coast, holidaymakers flying from Dublin, Manchester, Birmingham and Gatwick airports on Thursday 7th October descended on the beautiful town of Albufeira. Our base for the week was the cosmopolitan four-star Montechoro Hotel.
We had read the brochures and had anticipated the usual high standards we have come to expect from Gerry Flynn and Enjoy Travel but this hotel surpassed all our expectations. From the moment we arrived we were embraced in luxury. Checking in was a dream. Those of us who arrived after dinnertime were invited to the dining room where staff remained late to serve us a beautiful meal.
No official programme was in place for entertainment on our first night but everyone descended on the ballroom as Dermot Hegarty sang beautiful melodies in his wonderful Longford accent. Wicklow man Pat Jordan then came on stage. Hundreds of dancers both modern and set dancers mingled easily as old friendships were renewed and new ones made.
On my way to my room I discovered a session in the foyer, with Mick Mackey, Tommy Mulhall, Geraldine McGlinn and friends. I asked if they would play a few reels and seven dancers joined me and we danced the reel figures of the Plain Set, our first set in Portugal. Most holidaymakers retired to bed around 3am, but as is usual at these festivals the more energetic partied for most of the night.
In the Atlantic sunshine on Friday morning holidaymakers relaxed by the pool sipping complimentary wine and minerals. Gerry Flynn welcomed everyone and briefed us on the festival programme for the week. Mickey Kelly with his usual charm and dedication soon had the dancers tapping it out as he put on Heather Breeze's new CD. We danced the Connemara, Newport and Corofin sets. Irene and Full Circle then took over for the remainder of the afternoon. Dancers enjoyed quicksteps waltzes and foxtrots as this talented lady performed.
Meanwhile in the foyer some holidaymakers joined the already large crowd who were enjoying a wonderful session. Master of ceremonies for the sessions was Mick Mackey who is also an accomplished singer, rhythm guitarist and an avid set dancer. Over the last two years in Ibiza these sessions have proven to be very popular. I spoke to hundreds of holidaymakers in Albufeira who fe-lt that they were the highlight of the festival for them.
At 9pm Friday night, after a sumptuous dinner, set dancers gathered on the hotel's tenth floor to dance the night away to Mayo's own Heather Breeze and the mighty Longford Glenside Céilí Band. Dancing was a dream on the beautiful wooden floor, which Gerry Flynn had transported to Albufeira. It felt like a real maple floor with that lovely bounce. The room was spacious and fully air-conditioned. We danced all the usual sets including the Kilfenora and the Sliabh Luachra. To the delight of the Tipperary contingent Thurles man Jim McCormack called the Ballycommon Set. After the céilí finished at 1.30am, some set dancers then went downstairs to the ballroom and joined in the modern dancing. Others like myself joined in the session at the coffee bar. We whiled away the night listening and dancing to traditional music, interspersed by haunting melodies, beautiful singing and humorous stories and jokes.
Saturday morning as the warm Atlantic breeze tanned our sun-lotioned bodies disc jockey Sean McSherry got us in the mood for dancing by spinning some country and western discs.
At 12.30pm on Saturday, Frank and Bobby Keenan got their workshop underway with the Killyon Set with twelve sets joining in. Beginners and advanced dancers mingled easily and everyone seemed very relaxed. Frank and Bobby kept a close eye on everyone and gave individual tuition to any dancer who needed it. At 2pm Michael Beehan gave ballroom tuition to his pupils in the lower ballroom. For the later part of the afternoon Mick Mackey and friends joined the sun worshipers by the pool for a mighty seisiún.
On Saturday night we danced to Heather Breeze. Frank Keenan was master of ceremonies and began the céilí with the Kilfenora Set. The Sliabh Luachra was a special request by Breffni O'Brien. Later set dancers joined the session already underway in the coffee bar or the modern dancers in the ballroom. The more energetic and late nighters adjourned to the main bar to enjoy Failte Folk Group.
Mickey Kelly started his workshop at 12 noon on Sunday and 15 sets took the floor for the Ballyduff Set. Dancers thoroughly enjoyed this set. Then Mickey tutored us in his beloved two-hand dances including the St Bernard's Waltz, Waltz Country Dance and Southern Rose Waltz. I noticed social dancers who never attempt set dancing getting out for these. Mickey has a gentle style and simplifies each move for his class. He also has a great wit which endears him to everyone. I sometimes see the influence of the great Connie Ryan both in his dancing and sense of humour.
Sunday night we danced to the brilliant and energizing music of our beloved Glenside. Mickey Kelly was in fine fettle as MC. We danced the lovely Derrada and also the Ballyduff. To the delight of the dancers, Mickey also included St Bernhard's Waltz and the Waltz Country Dance.
At nine o'clock Monday morning, three coaches with a total of 120 guests left the hotel for the céilí cruise. We drove through beautiful scenery with orchards of oranges, lemons, almonds and avocados, and some spectacular vineyards, on our way to the commercial harbour of Portimão.
We boarded our boat The Algarve and sailed for one hour along the coast skirting the fantastic rock formation of Benagil. Some seafaring dancers got in smaller boats to go to the caves; others stayed on board and enjoyed the music of the Glenside Céilí Band. Although we didn't have much space for dancing we still managed a few figures of the Plain Set, with a few staggers when the boat took a sudden raise or dip in the ocean. We even attempted waltzing. The boys of the Glenside kept a party atmosphere going with their music. Everyone was relaxed and enjoyed the music, which seemed to mingle well with the sounds of the great Atlantic Ocean.
Approximately 1½ hours out to sea we docked at a beautiful secluded beach called Praia Grande. We had to get into smaller boats to go ashore, but even the smaller boats couldn't go in as far as the beach. We had a lot of fun as we found ourselves walking through water above our knees. Thank God I had my shorts on. Our skipper told us we would have to walk in shallow water and advised us to leave our shoes on the boat. I thought he was joking and left my sandals on. The sun soon dried us off as we explored the beautiful beach or sat and enjoyed coffee.
At 12.30pm we were treated to a beach barbecue consisting of giant sardines and pork served with salad and bread. This is a typical Portuguese lunch, which was washed down with as much red and white wine as one could drink. Orange juice was also freely available for those of us who are non-drinkers.
With lunch over and everyone in high spirits I asked permission of our hosts Cori and Rui to move the furniture to one side in their café to accommodate dancing. They were delighted to oblige us. Tom Skellig, Tom Flood and Aidan Flood set up their instruments and dancing ensued. The three lads from the Glenside Céilí Band are the most obliging musicians I have ever had the pleasure of knowing, talented and unassuming. We danced the Plain and Cashel sets, numerous waltzes and concluded with Shoe the Donkey. I was glad I had my sandals as most dancers had to dance in their bare feet. Ronan from Roscommon danced every set-I am of the opinion that he has leather feet! All too soon the day had flown and we had to head back to our boat for our return journey. We waded our way to the small boats and the skipper José picked each of us up and lobbed us into the boat as if we were children. Everyone saw the funny side of this, but I'm sure José might have a bit of a sore back for a while.
We returned to our hotel at approximately 5pm. Everyone agreed that it was a brilliant day, beautiful sunshine, a mirror calm ocean, wonderful hostesses, but most important of all the tremendous music of the boys from the Glenside Céilí Band. I am sure their music is still echoing in the caves and amongst the cliffs of the beautiful Algarve. The dancers who stayed at the hotel enjoyed Frank and Bobby Keenan's workshop. Frank told me he taught the Limerick Orange and Green to nine sets with many beginners taking part.
Heather Breeze played for our céilí on Monday night. Some were feeling a bit tired after the day of cruising and dancing but as soon as the fabulous Mayo band started to play everyone forgot their tiredness. This music would make your feet move and your heart sing. Our MC Frank Keenan included the Limerick Orange and Green in his repertoire of sets. The céilí finished at 1.15am and dancers persued their own entertainment for the remainder of the early morning. I joined Mick Mackey and friends for the late seisiún.
As we enjoyed the sun on our faces on Tuesday morning, Mickey Kelly workshopped the Mayo Lancers. This set has seven figures but is well worth dancing. There's a great sense of fun in the fourth figure where there is the poigín (kiss). Even though there is a lot of light-heartedness, it is a set that demands concentration. Mickey concluded his workshop with three more two-hand dances. Curtis Magee was due on stage but graciously insisted that Mickey take his time and finish his workshop. Curtis sang the most wonderful selection of songs as dancers enjoyed old time and slow waltzes. You could easily identify Michael Beehan's pupils as they danced with confidence, panache and style.
About 100 dancers availed of the tour to the pilgrimage site of Fátima, over 200 miles away. They left the hotel at 6am and returned at 8.30pm. Even though they had a long day of travelling, most turned up for the céilí with the tremendous Glenside on stage and Mickey Kelly as MC. Once more Jim McCormack called the Ballycommon Set and we also danced the Mayo Lancers-I was delighted to have the opportunity to dance it again. We also danced the two-hand dances from the morning workshop. Another céilí had come to an end and dancers scattered to their favourite places to conclude their night's entertainment. Seamus Shannon and P J Murrihy were playing in the hotel lounge and set dancers were sure of a few figures of a set.
Wednesday our tutors were Frank and Bobby Keenan. We danced the fabulous Claddagh Set. The cross chain in the third figure posed some problem to less experienced dancers but Frank and Bobby worked with these dancers until they were confident. We danced the set through at the end of the workshop. I am sure that in a year's time this set will be danced as much as that little Clare treasure, the Kilfenora.
At 3pm we had our eagerly awaited talent show, a marvellous afternoon. Holidaymakers entertained the artists for a change-what a wealth of talent! First prize went to singer Terry Egan from Bacup in Lancashire. Terry is a publican who runs dances in his own pub and is very involved with the Irish clubs in his area.
After dinner, dancers rushed to put on their costumes for the fancy dress competition, which took place in the lower ballroom, while upstairs we had our last céilí in the Algarve. Heather Breeze was on stage for the first half of the night and Glenside for the second half. It didn't feel like the last night of our holiday-everyone was in great spirits. Dancers shuttled between the ballroom on the bottom floor and the céilí on the tenth floor; most used the very efficient lifts. At 12am the winner of the fancy dress was announced-Kathleen Delaney from Ross, Rathdowney, Co Laois, won the prize dressed as a witch. She is an avid set dancer with Mick and Kay Doyle's group all around the Irish midlands. This talented lady also does line dancing in competition.
We had the grand finale of the festival at 1.30am where all musicians, artists and organizers are invited on stage. I was shocked and thrilled when Dermot Hegarty called my name and invited me to join them. At about 2am with a little encouragement the session musicians gathered themselves for another few hours and we revelled into the small hours.
Many of us had a full day on Thursday to look forward to, as our flight home was not until 8.30pm. By the pool in the morning Mickey Kelly gave us our final workshop of the festival. We danced the beautiful Roscahill Set and concluded with the Waltz of the Bells, Peeler and the Goat, Sweetheart Waltz and Britannia Two-Step. Mick and Kay Doyle from Galmoy, Co Kilkenny, danced the Fermanagh Highland.
Mick Mackey and musician friends entertained us for hours by the pool. Members of Failte Folk Group and Glenside Céilí band joined with the session musicians. We had more storytelling, jokes, singing and dancing. We even had an old Irish song called Níl 'na lá sung by Bridget Whittle-it was a wonderful surprise to hear our native language in sunny Portugal. We even danced a few figures of the Plain Set before we all had to start preparing for our homeward trip.
Fleadh Portugal was definitely one of the most successful festivals of its kind. The location and venue were perfect and the food and service in our hotel were fantastic. The Algarveans, like the Irish, enjoy a slower pace of life. Both the management and staff told me that they had a wonderful week hosting this festival. Thanks to the hard work, dedication and expertise of Gerry Flynn and his team, 750 holidaymakers had the time of their life.
Joan Pollard Carew
For about a year now, my wife and I have been attending set dance classes in the cafeteria of a local school in Smithtown, Long Island, New York. While we had attended small ceilis that our teacher Kathleen Reynolds hosted, we never attended a large ceili. Mainly because we felt we did not know enough about set dancing to join in with a group of strangers and perhaps embarrass ourselves. Nevertheless, when Kathleen announced a trip to the Connie Ryan Autumn Set Dance Weekend at Cape May, New Jersey, we decided to go. Unfortunately, a few weeks before the trip Kathleen told us she was leaving for Florida and would no longer be our teacher. However, since our group of sixteen had already made plans for the trip she did arrange to have two new teachers, Charlene Lowery and Grace Howell, try and prepare us for the ceili. Our group felt that as long as we danced together everything would be alright. That was a mistake.
On the first Friday night in Cape May as my wife and I and three couples from our group began dancing we quickly realized that we were in trouble. Grace and Charlene were not with us and we quickly became lost. We were constantly struggling to read our notes before the music began, then when it started we would look around and see that we were doing everything wrong. It was not a good night for us.
But all our negative feelings disappeared the next day at the workshop conducted by Pádraig and Róisín McEneany. The first set we worked on was the Ballyduff Set. Pádraig began by reviewing the footwork. He arranged a demo team and had them walk through the figures. Then they danced to the music, and what dancing it was! Beautiful footwork, smooth then lively, perfectly in time with the music. Irish set dancing as we had never seen it before. I felt just watching them was worth the trip. Pádraig then had us form our groups and walk through the figures. He would point out the difficult areas where we had to be especially careful. Then we would dance to the music as he called the movements. It was wonderful! When we would make an occasional mistake, Róisín was right there correcting us.
The second set we worked on was the Caragh Lake Jig Set. Pádraig used the same approach as in the Ballyduff Set. A walk through and superb dancing by the demo group, then the students would do a walk through and dance to music. Again Róisín was there to correct our mistakes.
After a break for lunch my wife and I returned to the workshop by ourselves. Our intent was simply to watch the others dance, but we were quickly coaxed into a group that needed a fourth couple. This time we worked on the Claddagh Set and with Pádraig's most competent instructions we felt perfectly at ease dancing with a group of strangers. Indeed they didn't seem like strangers at all, and we began to feel very confident in ourselves.
That night, Saturday evening, with our new found courage, we decided to join in a set with people we did not know. We simply said, "We're not sure what to do, would someone call it for us?"
"Of course", came the reply. Then we were off, dancing with strangers, having a wonderful time. And so it went for the rest of the night. We had come to realize that as long as there was someone who would tell us the sequence, we had learned enough from our teachers to dance all night long.
Pádraig McEneany's workshop had taught us three new dances, washed away our fears, gave us confidence in ourselves and made our first large ceili a great success. We would also like to thank the Greater Washington Ceili Club and the great band (John Nolan, Brian Conway, Brendan Dolan, Jimmy Kelly and Felix Dolan) for a wonderful night.
Jim Keane, Long Island, New York
Having enjoyed ourselves so much last year, the dates for the Sets in Somerset weekend in Croscombe, Somerset, 17-19 September, went in our diary as soon as possible, and everything else adjusted around it. We were not to be disappointed.
Croscombe is a charming English village, nestling in a green valley in the Mendip Hills, between Wells and Shepton Mallet, and the two excellent local pubs are a significant part of the social life of the event! The village hall has a good floor and facilities, although the first workshop took place in the next village of Dinder, only a stone's throw distant, where the regular monthly set dancing session is held, as well as classes on Thursday night.
Although we did not get to the Friday night ceili, we heard that it was a great occasion, with fancy dress adding to the fun and atmosphere. It became obvious to us that we had missed out by not getting there sooner!
Saturday started with the first of two workshops with Pádraig and Róisín McEneany, working on the South Kerry and Rosscahill sets. The McEn-eanys are personal favourites of ours, and we know lifelong dancers in Ireland who also rate them very highly. Pádraig has a gift for 'deconstructing' a difficult move or step and rebuilding it incrementally in a way that is clear for beginners, yet includes style details to satisfy the more experienced dancers. He is careful to also show the moves off the right foot for the ladies, and Róisín, when she is not demonstrating, provides the perfect complement as she moves around the room adding some gentle personal help where necessary. In the afternoon we did the Claddagh Set, and on the Sunday, by popular request, the Armagh Set. Pádraig was asked to finish with some steps for the more advanced dancers, but it is a tribute to his ability that the whole group stayed with him for the full day.
The ceilis were excellent, with music provided by Between the Jigs and Reels, and the Polka Pests. Both were fun to dance to, and their different line-ups provided variety and pace. We enjoyed dancing the workshop sets again, and the other sets were given a brief and entertaining résumé before each figure by Norman Mallis for the benefit of those less familiar.
This is quite an intimate event, with perhaps ten sets, but the welcome is superb and the dancing is just great. Like most ceilis, help and support is freely given, and we even managed to stray out of our preferred second sides slot on occasions! The weekend is definitely on our radar for next year.
The organisers had worked tirelessly to welcome us, to decorate the halls, and to arrange co-operation of the local pubs to fit into our timetable. The trip was worth it for the homemade cakes alone!
Jim and Sue Crick, Newbury, Berkshire
The McEneanys are back in Croscombe on 16-18 September 2005. Contact Richard Cronin.
An incredible sight greeted me as I entered the ballroom of the Listowel Arms Hotel, Listowel, Co Kerry, on Friday evening, October 15th-the room was filled with brush dancers! John Cassidy and Michael O'Rourke, two young dancers from Clare and Kerry, were holding a brush dance workshop and brought along twenty brooms for the participants to practice with. There were at least three times as many people as brushes, so John had the group dance in shifts. The first group practiced a piece of the dance, then they sat down while the second took up the brushes, followed by the third. This was repeated all evening until everyone had done the full dance several times. It was my first time seeing such a workshop and I expect there will be many more of them to come.
This was a remarkable beginning to a superb workshop weekend. The first of these was held just last year in the Listowel Arms, and it was such a success that it was immediately established as an annual event. The town of Listowel is popular with set dancers because it's considered by many to be the best venue for the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil, which was last here in 2001 and 2002. The hotel has a spacious ballroom, comfortable lounge and well-organised dining. More accommodation is available in town, though the weekend's participants probably took every spare bed in the locality.
The crowds were out for the opening ceili with Swallow's Tail Ceili Band. A large group of fifty dancers were on tour from Philadelphia, and there were more from Germany, France, England and all over Ireland. There were more than twenty sets on the night, dancing hot and heavy near the band or spacious and airy by the windows at the back. A tide of dancers flowed up a couple of steps to the small bar area after each set, and back down to the floor when the next one was called. Smiles were beaming from every face on the floor and the band was warmly acclaimed by all.
A full programme of dancing was scheduled on Saturday, so Pat Murphy's workshop began close to 10am. He began with the Claddagh Set, which is a challenge to those dancing it the first time and always a pleasure for anyone who's had a go at it before. The Tory Island Set was a good choice for the second half of the workshop. Its enjoyable and unique moves are danced to polkas and slides, and there are a few sudden moments when a lot of action is packed into eight bars.
Last year, the organisers were innovative in holding a Saturday afternoon ceili, rather than continuing the workshop into the afternoon. It worked great then and was even better this time. It didn't look so good at first when word came through that the Glenside Ceili Band was unavoidably delayed behind a slow moving funeral in west Limerick and were expected to be half an hour late. When dancers gathered in the ballroom they never seemed to show the slightest concern about the delay. There was a great buzz in the hall as we spent the time chatting to friends. When the band finally appeared carrying equipment there was a huge cheer, and several dancers lent a hand to get the gear inside. Bandleader Tom Flood made a sincere apology for the lateness.
The dancing began most of an hour later than planned but it never mattered to the dancers. In fact, I'd say the delay probably improved the ceili. The anticipation raised the atmosphere and enthusiasm so it felt electric right from the first set and improved with every dance. The band played straight through without a break, but there was a pause in the dancing when a boy and a girl performed some solo dancing. When the young lady performed for us last year she burst into tears momentarily; this year she danced with complete confidence. To make up for the late start, the Glenside played for an extra half an hour, by which time all were fully satisfied.
Before the ceili on Saturday night there was a session in the hotel lounge and a large crowd gathered to hear musicians, singers and storytellers. Photographers from the local newspapers took pictures of willing dancers and of the three organisers, Mary Philpott, her brother Michael O'Rourke and their dad Jerry O'Rourke. As time for the ceili approached, people started queuing in a line that nearly went out to the street. The Emerald Ceili Band was a dazzling attraction tonight, and it wasn't just the array of spotlights they brought to illuminate themselves on stage. Their music lifted everyone's feet, and their spirits as well, so that the first half was as good as it gets, and the second half was even better. There was an interlude when the set dancers yielded the floor to the sean nós dancers. Nearly every county in Ireland had a representative stepping it out, finishing up with John Cassidy and Michael O'Rourke, yesterday's brush dance teachers. The last set was the Emerald's trademark non-stop Plain Set, with its instantaneous fifth figure change from reels to jigs and back again. That only left us wanting more, and the band kindly obliged with a final rake of reels to end the night.
It was hard to get started the next morning for Pat Murphy's 10am workshop, but when I stumbled into the ballroom a bit late, the Ballyduff Set was already underway and Pat found me a partner and a place in a set. Then we danced a second Waterford set, the Melleray Lancers, one which is guaranteed to wake everyone up no matter how much sleep you had last night. While it's full of ingenious figures, the highlight is the poigín (kiss) figure-high hilarity is guaranteed every time. Pat rounded out the session with some figures of the Loughgraney Set and practice with the Roscommon Lancers step.
Queues formed once again on Sunday afternoon for the final ceili with Matt Cunningham. When the music began it was clear that no one's enthusiasm had diminished over the course of the weekend, even if our bodies (or mine at least) were a little worse for wear. Matt pulled out all the stops in the second half for a magnificent performance. He also made time for a solo performance by sean nós dancer Aidan Vaughan, who was serving as the band's drummer. Even after the last set, Matt kept the music going with Auld Lang Syne as everyone joined hands for a final farewell.
All weekend I marvelled at the youngsters who supported the ceilis in great numbers-they always add extra life and energy to a ceili. School age children came with parents and young adults came with their friends, young and old mixing well on the floor. Congratulations to Mary, Michael and Jerry for organising an enjoyable weekend with such strong, universal appeal.
There are some reassuring little constants in life: the diurnal round, the pageant of the seasons, and-for a hundred or so set dancing enthusiasts in southern Germany, Switzerland and France, at any rate-the knowledge that the first weekend in October always brings the Heidelberg Irish Set Dancers' annual set dancing workshop. This year was no exception, and so it was that on the weekend of October 2nd and 3rd, the event's loyal following made the annual pilgrimage from the four corners of Europe (and that includes Ireland) to converge on a small guesthouse called the Goldene Rose in a quiet, unassuming corner of Heidelberg. Quiet until the band struck up, that is.
Andrea and Henning Brouwer have been running this event for seven years now, and each year it seems to become more ambitious. Not that its beginnings were humble. The first workshop in 1998 was a sell-out, attracting more than 120 participants and giving Eddie Cleere, our 'teacher-in-residence' for the first six years of the event, a didactic headache as it became clear that four of the sets on the floor were complete beginners while the rest were champing at the bit to get started! In each successive year the standard has risen and with it the desire for céilithe with fine céilí musicians. It is hard to convey the buzz of excitement that ran round the continental community when it was first announced two years ago that there would be not one but two céilithe with none other than the Abbey Ceili Band! There they sat, the legendary quartet, on the stage of the old ballroom at the back of the Goldene Rose, amiably sporting the Bavarian felt hats they had bought that day on a sightseeing expedition to the Heidelberg old town, and playing as if possessed. A surreal and memorable sight, and an intoxicating sound.
And we were lucky; like many of the workshop's participants, they too decided to return. This year, sadly, due to a bereavement Liam Forde was unable to travel with the band, but the three remaining musicians compensated ably for this loss and still somehow managed to fill the hall with irresistible battering rhythms.
One person hasn't revisited Heidelberg, however. Eddie Cleere decided last year to retire from teaching on the Continent, although the personal ties forged over the years naturally remain. Luckily, Jim Monaghan, whom Andrea and Henning have also known personally for years, was more than happy to step into his illustrious dancing shoes. Jim's inimitable humour and sense of fun soon had everyone giggling, as did his affectionate swipes at Pat Murphy and his interpretation of the Claddagh Set. Jim's whole-body style of dancing (including the most vigorous nod of the head I've ever seen in set dancing) is infectious and quite liberating! They don't call him Elvis for nothing.
At some point during the Saturday night céilí, Andrea, Brigitte Kroll (known to most simply as 'Bridget') and I accompanied our friend Miriam out to her car to wave her off. This was no ordinary farewell: Miriam was leaving Germany to join her husband in Texas. Many an Irish ballad recounts the poignant tale of the restless traveller who is destined never to return to her beloved homeland. But times have changed. Within a month, Miriam had sent us an e-mail. How wonderful the workshop with Jim 'Elvis' Monaghan had been. And could we please register her and her husband Vic for next year's workshop straight away? They would be revisiting Heidelberg for sure. And you know, somehow everyone does.
Anna Little, Heidelberg, Germany
The Heidelberg VariationAfter a little break from set dancing in August, I was very much looking forward to a few dancing weekends coming up in Germany at the end of September and continuing into late October. I made my booking for the Heidelberg weekend where Jim Monaghan was teaching for the first time and the Abbey Ceili Band was on duty for two ceilis.
Bad luck hit me only a few days before the dancing weekend. Cycling is very popular in my home town, where another cyclist knocked me off my bike. I ended up with a dislocated elbow and a plaster from my hand up to my shoulder. I know I should have been happy there wasn't any more damage, but the only thing I could think of was the dancing weekend.
As the weekend approached, my decision was clear: I'm going to dance! What a great pleasure meeting so many friends Saturday morning in Heidelberg. Hiding my arm in a scarf, I danced the morning workshop with Bernhard from Switzerland-thanks to him for taking the risk!
Jim Monaghan greeted us in German and this was only the start of picking up a lot of German words while he was teaching. We started with the Killyon Set; I danced it many years ago and never since. I loved doing it again.
Jim asked us for 'man' and 'woman' in German, we told him 'Mann' and 'Frau'. He practised all his new German words right away and was very talented at it! In return, we learned 'luska' (luascadh)-that's Irish for 'swing'.
Jim moved on quickly and we continued with the Kildownet Half Set. With the great help of my dancing partners, I managed to dance with one arm. Before the lunch break we admired the step dancing of Jim 'Elvis'!
Well fed afterward, we continued with that number one hit: the Claddagh Set. With Mary Butler from Luxembourg as my partner I enjoyed this set more than ever. We created so many 'Heidelberg' variations together to manage my injury and when the set was successfully danced we had a great hug and laugh in the end. As the weekend went on, Mary and I often met as partners and invented many more variations in other sets! Thank you, Mary, you were wonderful!
The Abbey was playing mighty for the evening ceili; they gave us all the tunes we know from Ireland. What a pity if I would have missed them! Jim Monaghan guided the dancers safely through all sets, calling them if necessary.
The Mayo Lancers Set was on the program for Sunday morning. Jim took the chance to learn more German, the word 'Kuss' (kiss) was badly required in this set. No problem for Jim saying, "Mann-Frau-Kuss!" All dancers assembled in the hall for the afternoon ceili with the mighty lads from Cork.
Again a good few variations were needed-thanks to all my dancing partners for all their help!
Andrea Forstner, Erlangen, Germany
On 22nd October 2004, a group of musicians and dancers, ten in all, gathered at Shannon Airport heading for BWI airport for ten days of music, song and dance. The first session was in the departure lounge in Shannon-that was a great start! Onward to glory and we arrived in Baltimore to be greeted by our great friends, Susan Boon and Cheryl O'Brien, who were the masterminds in organizing this trip. Later we met with Anne-Marie Russell who too contributed in planning a schedule for us that will never be forgotten. The traveling troupe included Denis Kelleher, John Sheehan, Ted and Julianne Kelleher, Jer O Connor, Martin Murphy, Anne Keane, John Cronin, Paddy Jones and myself, Marie Twomey. All dancers, some musicians, most of them singers, but most importantly, all similarly minded wild crack, airy people who don't have to be told how to enjoy themselves. And enjoy ourselves we did!
We had to hire a bus as there were so many of us and this proved to be well worthwhile as it meant that we could travel together everywhere. We also had room for friends, navigators, stocked cool box and experienced drivers! I am proud to say that Denis and myself both did our duty with the driving without any trouble, despite the scary trip to the costume shop in Frederick.
We danced, sang, played, ate and drank our way around Maryland, Washington and Pennsylvania in that fifteen-seater bus. We were welcomed and treated like royalty everywhere we went. We were fed and watered as well as any thoroughbreds, we renewed old acquaintances and we made lots of new friends. There were many special highlights on the tour and each person would have their own favourites but for me, the wonders included-the wonderful house party that really welcomed us to Maryland; the magical visit to the pumpkin farm and the ride on the hay wagon; driving for the first time a fifteen-seater, automatic, left hand drive bus; finding the right lanes on the wrong side of the road in a strange town, in a strange county, in a strange country to attend an even stranger Mass; the visit to the Amish country; singing in the lift when it got stuck; the special tour of NASA that Anne-Marie organized; the journey to, the ceili and the session at Preston, Diane and Cory Clarke's house; the mad mad dancing; dressing up and crack at J Patrick's; and the potluck suppers. What potluck we had, so much of it that we were christened the Potluck Troupe before we came home.
We tried to hold onto our holiday spirit in Shannon by having breakfast together now that we were home. I learned a few things while I was away, a lot of good things and I cherish the friends that I have and those that I made.
Marie Twomey, Millstreet, Co Cork
Two musicians and eight set dancers from Co Cork came to Washington and Baltimore at the end of October on their own cultural exchange tour. They spent ten days promoting Sliabh Luachra's music, song and dance to hundreds of people in America. Some of them had traveled to New York and Boston in previous years on behalf of the February Gathering Festival in Killarney, but this year they traveled on their own resources.
The Sliabh Luachra music played by Johnny Cronin on box and Paddy Jones on fiddle was spectacular! Their energy for playing at sessions and ceilis appeared to be unending. The fantastic music and talented dancers left great impressions every where the group performed. Johnny and Paddy spent three days in New York City where they played at sessions and a ceili.
They danced at ceilis in Glen Echo Park, Cherry Hill RV Park and the Frost Center. They went to where traditional Irish music thrives in the heart of Baltimore at J Patrick's Pub, and some of them dressed up for Halloween. I overheard a woman say, "It takes people from Ireland to show us Americans how to dress for Halloween!"
When the group was not playing music, singing or dancing, they of course went sightseeing. Four of the visitors had never been to the States before and I enjoyed seeing their reactions. It was a time of firsts, onlys and can-we-do-that-agains. I am truly thankful that they all came here to share their love for Sliabh Luachra music, song and dance. It was a magical time.
Susan Boon, Middletown, Maryland
The annual Taugheen Set Dancing Workshop, now in its eleventh year took place the second weekend in October. It was a beautiful autumn morning with a nip in the air as we arrived in the small south Mayo village of Taugheen, a few miles west of Claremorris. Chris Oates and Chris White, our hosts for the weekend, greeted us with tea and scones in the Community Centre.
Whilst greeting old and meeting new friends, Shay White, our tutor for the weekend from Co Meath, was setting up the sound system. After introductions four sets took to the floor to learn the Cúchulainn Set, a lovely lively set from the Cooley Peninsula of Co Louth with only four figures, which we quickly learnt (allegedly). Shay moved on to teach the Black Valley Jig Set from Co Kerry, a very enjoyable set to dance once we had mastered the slow square followed by the house. We were well into understanding this set and danced it with few hitches. An excellent buffet lunch was served in the annex overlooking the dance floor, and a small raffle took place whilst we enjoyed a cup of tea and a chat.
Returning to the workshop, the Claddagh Set from Co Galway was next to be taught. Shay White explained that all housing was with crossed hand hold, and all swings were in waltz hold. The most difficult part of the set was the cross chain in the third figure, where everyone is moving together. We walked all figures of the set and practised the cross chain over and over again. Eventually it all clicked and we were able to dance the set with gusto!
The ceili that night was with the brilliant Carousel Ceili Band from Co Westmeath. Fifteen sets took to the floor. The music and atmosphere was tremendous, and a wonderful night of dancing was enjoyed by all. Sunday morning arrived too soon for some of us; however at 11am the workshop resumed with the Killyon Set from Co Offaly. Then there was time to do a complete run of the Claddagh Set, as it was one set we were going to dance that afternoon.
After another excellent buffet we were ready for the ceili, the music being provided by one of the most popular bands in Ireland, Matt Cunningham and his band. Nine sets took to the floor to enjoy a wonderful afternoon of dancing, including the Claddagh Set which Shay White called. The music during the afternoon was tremendous. If you weren't dancing, your feet were tapping with the tempo.
Grateful thanks to all who made this weekend so successful. We are already looking forward to the 2005 weekend-Shay White is already booked. See you there.
John Handel, Ballinrobe, Co Mayo
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