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).
On Saturday, 12th February, I joined the All-Star Irish Cruise, organised by Gertrude Byrne, which sailed the Caribbean for a week. Before setting sail from Port Canaveral, Florida, everyone participated in a mandatory lifeboat drill, and then we had the Irish sail away party on the top deck. After dinner that night we had a mighty ceili with Pete Kelly's Ceili Band.
Sunday was a full day at sea and on those days we had ceilis on the top deck by the pool. Pete Kelly played again that afternoon and then on Sunday night we got to dance to the great Sean Norman. His music was just magic-and he drove the dancers wild when he started lilting. Everybody just loved him. He had a great mix of instruments, six musicians including himself. He played sweet, lively music but not too fast.
There was something on board to suit everyone, walk-a-mile, Catholic Mass, basketball, tennis, card games, bingo, wine tasting, art auctions, ping pong, volleyball, shuffleboard, and so on. Services on board included nine bars, four restaurants, casino, art gallery, library, gym, spa, internet café, medical centre, two pools, two hot tubs and shops. The staff couldn't have been more helpful and did everything they could to keep the passengers happy.
Every day a daily schedule was delivered to the cabins, listing all the activities for the day, from early morning to late night. On Monday we docked at Grand Turk, Caicos. On the days we're docked the ship normally dropped anchor about 8am and set sail again about 5pm. While the ship was docked people could get off and go on excursions or shopping, or just go to the beach.
On Tuesday the cruise continued to San Juan, Puerto Rico; Wednesday it was Road Island, Tortola, a British Virgin Island; Thursday we were at sea; and on Friday, Half Moon Cay, Bahamas.
On an average day, food was served from 7am to about 1am. There was no shortage of food-you could eat as much and as often as you wanted. There were two dinner sittings with dress codes-there were formal nights, informal nights and casual nights.
Every night there were concerts. We had Brendan Grace, Brendan Shine, Dominic Kirwan, Michael English, Ann Breen, Mac & O, the Three Irish Tenors and Declan Nerney. On the last night they all did a short performance, and the two ceili bands played together.
On Saturday 19th February we were back in Port Canaveral, having travelled a total of 2,232 nautical miles at a maximum speed of 23 knots. The 1,440 passengers were served by a crew of 647.
I can't wait for next year's cruise and look forward to when Gertrude will organise a Mediterranean cruise.
John Finbar Crowley, Dunmanway, Co Cork
Pontoon Bridge Hotel, situated between Lough Conn and Lough Cullin in Co Mayo, was again the venue for a set dancing and workshop weekend on 11-13 March organised by Mickey Kelly and his very able group. The weekend festival began on Friday night with a ceili. Music for this was provided by the Davey Ceili Band. At 10 o'clock the dancers were on the floor for the Corofin Plain, the first set of the night. We danced many of the usual sets, plus the Pride of Erin and the Sweetheart Waltz. During the ceili solo dances were performed by John Joe Geraghty, Sean Duggan, Martin Hughes, Janet Webster, Una Ní Ríain, Karl Douglas and Daniel Boyne. During the break, tea, coffee and goodies were served. Mickey Kelly was in his usual top form as MC for the night.
Jim Barry began teaching the workshop on Saturday morning at 10.15am. The first set we had was the Killyon Set from Co, Offaly, followed by the Kilmeena Set from Co Mayo and the Mayo Lancers. After lunch Jim continued with teaching the Claddagh Set from Galway and the Dromgarriff Half Set from Co Cork. The workshop ended this evening with Mickey Kelly teaching some two-hand dances, including the Sweetheart Waltz and the Waltz of the Bells.
Prior to the ceili on Saturday night there was a session with dancing to the Amethyst Trio. We were treated to some brush dancing by the Whitehall Dancers from Dublin. At 10pm we were all back on the floor for the Plain Set which was the first set of the night. Matt Cunningham's ceili band was on stage for the ceili. We danced the Kilmeena and Claddagh sets which Jim Barry had taught at the workshop earlier in the day. Mickey Kelly was again MC and during the break we had more refreshments as we also had at the workshops during the day.
During the night the Galmoy dancers from Co Kilkenny gave an exhibition of some excellent dancing. They danced the Hurley Dance and the Slate Quarry Lancers. Their Lancers set is famous for the spectacular way the ladies are thrown when the gents change partners. In their new Hurley Set each of the dancers carried a hurley. It was a choreographed hurling match complete with sliotar, all danced in time to the music. At 11am Sunday morning we had the final workshop of the weekend. The Melleray Lancers was the set chosen by Jim Barry. Mickey Kelly brought the workshop to a finish teaching us some two-hand dances.
After lunch Heather Breeze Ceili Band played the music for the final ceil. The Galmoy Set Dancers performed the Hurley Dance again by special request and Lisa O'Malley from Newport recited Gráinne Uaille which won for her an All-Ireland title at the Réadóire competitions recently. During the afternoon we danced seven sets, a waltz, the Caidhhp an Chúil Áird, and concluded with the Connemara. The youngest dancer in the last set was five years old Ronan Walsh from Westport.
On Sunday night the Amethyst Trio played music for the final session bringing to a close another most enjoyable weekend. Míle Buíochas to the Geary family and their staff for their warm and friendly hospitality. We are already looking forward to the festival in 2006.
Pat and Maura Lyons, Bruree, Co Limerick
Pádraig and Róisín McEneany returned to Italy on the 12th and 13th of February to teach a workshop in Bovolone near Verona. On Saturday afternoon nine sets of people gathered from all over the Veneto, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Piemonte, Lombardia and Emilia Romagna regions to learn Irish sets. A group of us had visited Ireland in January and had seen the Kilfenora Set. We had never learned this set before and were looking forward to dancing it at the workshop.
As always Pádraig and Róisín started by ensuring that everyone was doing the correct step. When they had gone through the reel step and were sure that everyone was able to dance it, they moved onto the steps for the jig figures. Both teachers work with individuals who needed a little extra guidance with the steps. This is part of the reason why they are our favourite teachers. They have the ability to cater for all levels of dancers, helping beginners with the basics and showing more advanced dancers how they can improve their dancing.
When everyone was comfortable with the steps Pádraig and Róisín called out a set to demonstrate the figures. Then Pádraig got them to walk through the particular movements which he felt needed extra attention. We then walked through the movements and danced each figure twice. Both teachers helped individual sets with any difficulties and sometimes got a half-set out to show the movements again. At the end of the afternoon we felt that we knew the Kilfenora Set and were looking forward to dancing it that night at the ceili.
That night we danced the Caledonian and Kilfenora Sets called by Pádraig (in perfect Italian!) and the Castle, Clare Lancers, Plain Set, and the furious Ballyvourney Jig. The dancers were accompanied by the Inis Fail Ceili Band, a group of Italian musicians who play all kinds of Irish music. Three young musicians, Laura, David and Giulio from Treviso, also played Italian and French music.
On Sunday morning at 9.30am we were ready to start again with the Claddagh Set. Pádraig told us this set had recently been revived by Séamus Ó Méalóid and had become very popular at ceilis in Ireland. He showed us the steps for the advance and retire and we all practiced it; again Pádraig and Róisín ensured that individuals got any help they needed. Then the demonstration set was formed and the workshop continued like the previous day. The third figure is a particularly difficult figure to teach but all nine sets danced it without mistakes after our teachers had shown and explained each movement in detail.
We had an early lunch because many of the participants had a long journey ahead of them.
After lunch Pádraig and Róisín spent a lot of time explaining and dancing the Connemara step. We then danced it to slow music, formed sets and danced the house around movement several times. We were delighted when Pádraig said that we would dance the set straight through again. He was confident that we would have no problem and said that he would not be calling the figures the second time and that we would have to help each other.
We were absolutely thrilled when we completed all figures without any mistakes (well not very many). Pádraig and Róisín had really done their job well and we were very confident that we could dance the Kilfenora and Claddagh sets at any ceili in Italy or Ireland without disgracing ourselves or our teachers.
We are all looking forward to the next workshop which we hope will be in the very near future. In the meantime we will continue dancing and improving our steps with the help of our teachers, Stefania and Romano.
Giuseppe and Luisa Sartori, Padua, Italy
February 25th, 2005, Marian Molloy, Maura Lydon and myself arrived in Belgium to take part in the Louvain set dancing workshop weekend which took place in the Institute for Ireland in Europe.
The weekend commenced with a CD ceili where the visitors from various countries got acquainted with one another. The Saturday morning workshop was conducted by Jim Keenan. Jim started with some basic foot steps he then continued to teach the Doire Columcille Set and the Dublin Set.
Later that evening the ceili commenced with the wonderful music of Tim Joe and Anne O'Riordan. Sunday morning started with Jim Keenan doing some more basic foot steps followed by the last event of the weekend, a ceili which began at 10.30am and finished at 1.30pm, another great performance by Tim Joe and Anne which was enjoyed by everyone, though tinged by a little sadness as it was time for everyone to go their separate ways.
We would like to thank Mary Fitzgerald and Mary Brennan for their hospitality and arranging a brilliant weekend, and also the staff of the Louvain Institute for Ireland in Europe for their kindness.
Theresa Joyce O'Toole, Oughterard, Co Galway
News of the untimely death of Teresa was received with great sorrow throughout the set dancing community. She passed away peacefully in Belfast City Hospital on 27th January after a long and courageous battle with cancer. Deepest sympathy is extended to husband Jim, son Adrian, mum Vera, dad Seamus, sisters Imelda, Nuala, Ursula, brothers Jim and John, and also a large family circle.
We sorely miss her. Not only had Teresa to cope with cancer herself, but also lost her only daughter Ellen last Christmas to cancer after a short illness. Despite this unthinkable loss she focused all her energies into helping others, particularly the local Lilac Support Group of which she was a founder member. But her love for set dancing still shone through when she would turn up at ceilis in Moy, Co Tyrone, during her time on treatment.
Moy Set Dance Group and Teresa's family and friends ran a very successful charity ceili some time ago and raised over £3,000 for Friends of Montgomery House. This charity was close to Teresa's heart. We hope to organise another charity event in June this year.
Teresa started going to set dancing classes in Coalisland Heritage Centre about ten years ago, organised by Collette Parks and Patricia Devlin and taught by Mickey McAleer from Omagh. When these classes ceased after a long time, more classes commenced in Moy taught by Thèrése McConnon from Monaghan. We all caught the 'sets bug' and a lot of us travelled together with Teresa to various venues, sometimes near, sometimes farther away. We miss her lovely company now. Teresa was a nurse by profession and spent her life caring for others. Like so many of us, she looked on the sets as a marvellous switch-off at the weekends and other times. Her favourite set was the Newport which is danced in Tyrone at almost every ceili.
Déanaimid comhbrán lena fear cheíle Jim agus mac Adrian. Suaimhneas síoraí ag hanam usal. A Mhuire na nGael, guí uirthi. May her soul rest in eternal peace.
Vincent Lewis, Moy Set Dance Group
The New York ceili scene lost a little of its brilliance when Mickey Diamond, dancer and music enthusiast, passed away on February 11th, just one day shy of his birthday. Mickey was one of those characters who is unforgettable, once you'd met him. He was a kind and gentle friend to so many of us, and he helped and inspired many people in his lifetime.
Mickey was born and raised in Upper Manhattan, bordering the Bronx. For many years, he lived, worked and played hard. For a time, he ran a bar in the Bronx frequented by musicians Joe Cooley, Andy McGann and others. I loved to listen to his occasional stories of his experiences there.
In more recent years, Mickey lost much of his eyesight, and he depended upon others to get him to and from the ceilithe. However, that didn't keep him away from the music and dancing that he loved. Several musician friends of mine told me how Mickey always made a point to thank each band member at the end of a ceili, and in his very gruff, gravelly voice would tell them, "Great f-----' music!"
I know that many dancers will miss Mickey a great deal. However, we will remember his hearty laugh, his complete joy in the music and his heartfelt, "Thank you, Jesus!" during a particularly rousing set of tunes. At a recent ceili at the Cork Lounge there was a short remembrance of Mickey and a moment of silence in his memory. Then, we danced the Plain Set in his honor. At the end of the set, I stepped up to the band and, imitating Mickey's gravelly voice, told them, "As Mickey would have said, 'Great f------- music!'"
"Dance as if no one were watching, sing as if no one were listening, and live each day as if it were your last." Mickey lived his life true to that quote. Save a spot on the dance floor for each of your friends here!
Maureen Donachie, Floral Park, New York
At a specially convened Dungarvan Comhaltas branch meeting on Tuesday, 18 January, a vote of sympathy was passed on the sudden death of our colleague Michael Hogan. A minute's silence was observed prior to commencing our weekly dancing class at the Park Hotel, Dungarvan.
Michael was a member of the Dungarvan branch of Comhaltas for 48 years and was at the forefront of any event that was held by the branch. He was the first to arrive and greet the dancers and non-dancers at our weekly dancing class, workshops or ceilis-always early and never late. He was known far and wide within the set dancing community for his knowledge and expertise of dancing. All who knew him will sadly miss our colleague Michael. We offer our sincere sympathy to Michael's family.
Mary Duggan, Dungarvan Branch, Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann
When dancing in the United States it's not uncommon to see dancers on the floor referring to pocket size instructions for the sets. It's hard to carry Toss the Feathers in your pocket, so these folks have made their own miniature books, as Larry Taylor explains in this article. Pocket computers are also used to store notes for the sets. These practices have yet to show up in Ireland where dancers needing help rely on a caller or others in their set, or just muddle through as best they can!
At one of the first set dance events my wife Lenette and I attended, I noticed dancers pulling out cards for review before a set or a figure started. These dance cards provided shortened notes for sets and appeared to be quite useful since we knew very little about the sets and certainly didn't have any patterns memorized. One of those dancers, Tim O'Sullivan, was kind enough to share his notes with me and I became inspired to create notes for myself. The notes I have today have gone through countless revisions of format and content. In fact, they are still a work-in-progress since I have about a dozen sets for which I have no documentation.
To assemble my dance cards, I reduced full-text notes to a single, pocket-sized page. I collected sets from books by Pat Murphy, Tom Quinn, Eileen O'Doherty, John McManus, Larry Lynch, William Hammond and others, and from the Internet, handouts and video. It was soon apparent many sets were danced differently around the world. I elected to take the middle road by selecting a version then adding the alternate patterns, additions and omissions when space on the page allowed.
Initially cards were printed single-sided on card stock. Even with a small quantity of sets, the bulk of the pocket-sized book was too great so I changed to double-sided printing on plain paper. I bound the pages together with a bead chain through a single hole punched in the pages. That arrangement was difficult to flip open and closed. I next tried two holes, punched at the top of the pages; this also proved cumbersome.
The binding arrangement I have settled upon is two holes punched in a side margin and held together by a split-ring. I've found the three-quarter inch ring works best for my 176-page document. I use an electric drill to make the holes when I have a lot of sheets to process; at other times I'll use a leather punch which makes different sized holes.
The covers are made from clear plastic salvaged from VHS tape boxes. It is thin and flexible yet stiff enough to keep the pages from excessive wear when the book is being carried and used.
The cards are printed from a file created in Microsoft Word. I set page margins to print the text exactly in the center of a sheet of paper. I print a page then manually turn the paper over to print another page on the back of the first. The pages are trimmed to 6 by 3 inches.
The cards remain quite useful to us as we enjoy the fellowship of other set dancers. Others have found the cards valuable-three dance masters have asked to borrow the cards as they were leading a ceili; other dancers often dash over for a quick review whenever we're dancing an infrequently-danced set and a caller isn't available.
Larry Taylor, Stow, Ohio
Perhaps you can print this picture in your magazine to show that in Corsica too, St Patrick's Day is the event for many people who love your country Ireland, its music and set dancing, to enjoy and celebrate.
This year, Tutti in Piazza was in Calvi for a great ceili with Irish and Corsican music and dances.
Monique Alfonsi, Corsica, France
Taking time to engageDear Bill,
Gura míle a maith agat to Mildred Beirne from the Leicester Set Dancers for giving her time to come to Leicester, England, to teach us several sets and steps with enthusiasm, skill and much laughter at our workshop weekend in January.
Mildred made it a memorable and enjoyable weekend for us all, from taking time to engage beginners, to keeping experienced dancers enthused. Our thanks to all who supported the weekend from the Midlands, London and Bristol.
We would like to host the workshop on an annual basis and look forward to Mildred being with us in Leicester in January 2006.
Annie Gallagher, Leicester, England
Full of joy and energyHi Bill,
Agnès, Valérie, Florence and I met up recently to look at the pictures I took in Killarney. Here is one of them which we like below, and we thought that perhaps you could include in the next issue of Set Dancing News!
We had good fun and a great time enjoying the music and dancing as well as the beautiful surroundings of Killarney!
We all came back full of joy and energy, looking forward to our next trip to Ireland!
Best wishes to you,
Catherine Hard, Paris, France
Excellent teaching methodsDear Editor,
The ninth annual set dance workshop was another successful weekend for the Owenabue Valley Traditional Group in Carrigaline GAA Pavilion, Co Cork.
Great music was provided by the Allow (Cork), Turloughmore (Clare) and Four Courts (Clare) ceili bands.
Tutors Pádraig and Róisín McEneany gave another excellent workshop. All who attended expressed their enjoyment of the excellent teaching methods. We learnt the Skibbereen, South Sligo Lancers, Connemara Jig and Clare Orange and Green Sets.
We would like to thank everyone who supported us from near and far and came to the ceilis and workshop. With special thanks to Mary and Donal.
Kitty Murphy, Owenabue Valley Traditional Group
The kids of southwest Clare are the stars of Hell for Leather, a hugely entertaining 2½ hour show of dance, music and song. The latest production in March featured 180 children battering together on stage at Glór in Ennis and the three performances were sold out weeks in advance, as were previous shows last year. The show is produced by John Fennell and features the music of Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh. Those who haven't had the good fortune to witness Hell for Leather in person can take comfort in a DVD of a performance last December. Contact John Fennell to get your copy.
The Langer was a surprise hit song in Cork and beyond for Tim O'Riordan (not to be confused with Tim Joe and Anne) and his group Natural Gas. One of the band members is none other than box player Ger Murphy of the Abbey Ceili Band. The group recently released their first CD, Come Here I Wantcha, where you can hear The Langer and eleven other songs with a unique Corkonian character. One of these, Paddy Rasta, contains the unforgettable lyrics, "My life was a disaster, until I learned to dance. Set dancing saved my life. I love the ceili, the reggae and the rap." If you'd like to hear more, contact Ger Murphy.
Wexford in the nineteenth century is the focus of a slim and scholarly book by Mary Friel, Dancing as a social pastime in the southeast of Ireland 1800-1897. Mary is one of the founding members of Brooks Academy, the Dublin club of set dancers who were pioneers in the revival. In her book, Mary explores the role of music and dance in the lives of people at all social levels. Her study has details on teachers, events and dances of the era, all thoroughly researched with many historical sources quoted and referenced. Contact Terry Moylan for more information.
Regulars on Enjoy Ireland tours will be familiar with Brier, the three-piece ballad group from Belfast. Their fourth CD, Ireland's Favourite Folk Group, has fourteen popular traditional songs and is available from Paddy Gordon.
Hell for Leather is a show that out-does Riverdance with the unforgettable sight of 160 dancers battering on stage at once. The varied show features set, ceili, sean nós, brush and step dancing, all to the music of Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh. Remarkably, the dancers are aged between seven and seventeen and come from the southwest of County Clare. The few shows held in Ennis and Tralee in recent months have been popular sellouts, and this summer you'll find them on tour at the following locations -
22 July 2005 Irish National Events Centre, Gleneagle Hotel, Muckross Road, Killarney, Co Kerry 2-3 August 2005 Community Hall, Doonbeg, Co Clare 5 August 2005 Town Hall Theatre, Courthouse Square, Galway, Co Galway 21 August 2005 Everyman Palace Theatre, 15 MacCurtain Street, Cork, Co Cork
Performances are at 8pm sharp. Tickets are available from the venues. For further information contact John Fennell.
The annual holidays in Ibiza have become a major phenomenon in the set dancing scene in recent years, attracting hundreds of set dancers to places that have never before seen Irish sets. The organisers of these holidays, Gerry Flynn and his company Enjoy Travel have expanded their offerings to include holiday packages in Greece and Portugal. In November their most ambitious holiday package took dancers around the world to Singapore, Australia, Fiji and Los Angeles over three weeks. Among the lucky hundreds attending were Pat and Maura Lyons, who made this detailed report of their trip.
On Thursday 4th November everyone travelling on the Round the World Tour assembled at Heathrow Airport. Approximately 230 people came from all over Ireland and Britain. Our plane left London at 10.20pm and after a 12½ hour flight we arrived in Singapore. There to meet us were Andy and Angela Schofield from Enjoy Travel and very quickly they had us on board our coaches to the Swissotel situated on Merchant Court, where we were to stay for the first two nights. Some members of our group had arrived at the hotel before us as they had come on an earlier flight. Dinner was in the function room during which Gerry Flynn welcomed everybody and briefed us on our itinerary. Pat Jordan and Curtis Magee entertained us for a while before we all retired to bed for an early night, tired after our long flight and the eight hour time change.
On Saturday morning we were all refreshed and after breakfast we boarded our coaches for a tour of Singapore city. We visited the Botanic Gardens, Little India, a jewellery factory, Chinatown and the magnificent Sri Mariamman Temple, the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore.
We had Vigil Mass in the Good Shepherd Church and afterwards most of the group returned to the hotel for an informal session of music and dancing. The entertainment was held in the bar as the function room was occupied by a wedding party. Danny Webster played excellent music for the set dancing and some of the wedding guests joined us for the Caledonian Set. The entertainment ended with Mary O'Brien singing the song Off to Australia which she composed especially for the tour.
We had free time on Sunday to do some shopping and visit the legendary Raffles Hotel where some sampled the famous cocktail Singapore Sling! On Sunday evening we left for the airport and our overnight eight hour flight to Melbourne, with fond memories of the Swissotel and its courteous and efficient staff.
On Monday morning when we arrived at Melbourne Airport there again to meet us were Angela and Andy (they had travelled in advance the evening before) and soon we were on our way to the Crown Promenade Hotel which was our base for the next three days. In the afternoon some opted for a coach tour of Melbourne city and a cruise on the Yarra River while others took the time to relax.
After dinner we all headed for the ballroom where Mickey Kelly held a workshop. We danced the Derrada Set and some two-hand dances including Waltz Country Dance and Southern Rose Waltz. The workshop was followed by a lively ceili with Danny Webster again providing brilliant music. Mickey Kelly was the very able MC. The night ended with social dancing where music was provided by Sean Sweeney, Mary O'Brien, Cliff Austin, Patsy McLaughlin and Kieran Towey.
After an early breakfast on Tuesday morning four coach loads set out to visit the Latrobe Valley and Gippsland Heritage Park located in Morwell. We were officially welcomed by the deputy mayor of Latrobe City and other local dignitaries. In response, Gerry Flynn presented them with Waterford crystal. Lunch was buffet style while we were entertained with music, song and dance by people from the locality. The buffet included all kinds of goodies which we enjoyed while basking in the glorious sunshine. We were then taken on a tour of the open cut mines and power stations in the Valley. These power stations are responsible for providing a large percentage of the electricity for the whole of Australia.
At 5 o'clock we were on our way to the nearby Heritage Park in Moe. Here again we were entertained with local musicians playing traditional Irish music and young dancers performing reels, jigs and hornpipes. We were treated to a scrumptious barbeque prepared by the local people. Many living in the neighbourhood came to be with us for the evening. What followed was a night to remember with music, song and dance under a moonlight sky. We danced sets in the hall and on the grass to Danny's music. Sean Sweeney and his band together with Dermot Hegarty, Pat Jordan, Curtis Magee, Art Supple and Johnny Carroll, the man with the golden trumpet, captivated the large audience with their marvellous performances. The whole night's entertainment was broadcast live on local radio. Close to midnight we returned to our coaches for our 100 mile journey back to our hotel, tired but what a wonderful day and night was had by all!
Wednesday's tour went to Ballarate and visited Sovereign Hill, an open air museum which depicted life in the 1850s gold rush in fascinating detail. There is a strong Irish connection with this place because of the huge number of Irish people who emigrated to here in the 1840s and '50s to seek their fortunes. The coaches arrived back at the hotel with some time to spare before dinner. Some availed of this time to do some shopping, others visited the Immigration Museum, while more went to see St Patrick's Cathedral, one of the grandest Gothic revival churches in Australia. This cathedral also has strong Irish connections as the late Dr Daniel Mannix, a native of Charleville, Co Cork, was archbishop here for over fifty years. A life-size statue of Dr Mannix together with a statue of Daniel O'Connell can be seen in the cathedral grounds.
Dinner was at 6.30pm in the hotel and we all made our way to the ballroom for another night of set dancing. We danced the Newport, Corofin Plain, Cashel, Kilfenora, Plain and Connemara sets, plus waltzes and two-hand dances. Mickey was again MC while Danny provided us with some fabulous music. The 'Enjoy Travel' Band brought the night to a close with music for social dancing.
Thursday was transfer day and we were in our coaches and on our way to the airport to catch our flight to Brisbane, leaving behind us a memorable visit to Melbourne. When we arrived at Brisbane Airport, Andy and Angela again ensured that everything was in place for our arrival. We were quickly on our way to Legends Hotel in Surfers Paradise for another five nights. It was late afternoon when we checked in to our room. Dancing on Thursday night was in the function room.
Friday's tour took us to Lamington National Park with numerous stops en-route to take in the commanding views over the valleys and ranges. We had morning tea at the Canungra Valley Vineyard built in 1958. Our journey continued through the largest sub-tropical rainforest remaining in the world, the Gran O'Reillys. Here in the midst of the rainforest we had lunch in the bistro. The tree top walk nearby allows you to walk through the canopy to see flowering and fruiting trees and vines, beautiful orchids and ferns and the birds and animals that inhabit the treetops. Afterwards we visited the historic village of Canungra and the quaint town of Mt Tambourine. We then returned to our hotel for dinner and the set dancing in the function room. Music was by Danny and Mickey called the sets, ably assisted by Margaret Joyce and Milie Costelloe. The night ended with waltzes, quicksteps and foxtrots.
We had free time on Saturday morning; some went to the beach, while others did some shopping. In the afternoon we had a guided tour of Brisbane, Queensland's capital city. Then it was on to the Irish Club where the Queensland Irish Association had a cabaret and dinner dance organised for us in Queensland GAA Centre. The president of the Association welcomed us as did the president of Queensland GAA. Gerry Flynn presented both with some beautiful Irish crystal. During the function a demonstration of the Newport Set was danced by eight from our group, much to the delight of the 500 people present. Sets that night were called by Milie Costelloe and Danny Webster played the music in his usual excellent style. The night finished with social dancing. Some of the dancers sported their county GAA jerseys on the night and Tony Kearney from Worthing, England, arrived in fancy-dress in his 'ceád míle fáilte' costume. After 10 o'clock Mass on Sunday morning in the St Vincent de Paul Church in Surfers Paradise, we boarded our coaches for a farm tour, where we had lunch and tasted billy tea and damper1 around a camp fire. There was also a sheep shearing show and ram parade, boomerang throwing, whip cracking, sheepdog muster, stock horse round-up, koala cuddling and a kangaroo and emu sanctuary.
We had dinner as usual at our hotel and then it was on to the ceili. Sets that night were called by Milie with Danny providing the music. The organised tour on Monday November 15th was a drive southwards through the twin towns of Coolangatta and Tweedheads to Byron Bay. Maura and myself then broke with the group and travelled south-westward to Warwick with relatives Ray and Bernice who had come to meet us at Legends Hotel. They showed us where the Lyons family from Bruree settled when they emigrated to Australia in the 1860s and the district in which the family have lived ever since. It was late when we got back to the hotel but the ceili and social dancing was held as usual.
On Tuesday we travelled onwards to our next destination which was the Hotel Novotel in Darling Harbour, Sydney, for a further five days. We had the afternoon free to relax and familiarise ourselves with our new surroundings. A special marquee was erected for our stay in the outdoor tennis court with bar facilities attached. We had ceilis and dancing on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday night in this marquee. During the ceili solo step dancing was performed by Margaret Joyce, Maura Kiely, Willie Guinan and Eileen Costelloe. Maureen Halpin and Mickey Kelly danced the Polly Glide and Monica and Joe Beausang danced An Staicín Eorna, the Stack of Barley. Danny Webster played the music and Margaret Joyce joined Mickey and Milie in calling the sets. A duet was sung as gaeilge by Angela McNamara and Seamus O'Suilleabhan, and James Fee also sang. Ann Webster, Irish Consul General in Sydney addressed the dancers during the ceili on Saturday night. Ann, a native of Co Wexford, gave a very fine rendition of the song Boolavogue and afterwards Gerry Flynn presented her with a gift of Irish crystal.
On Wednesday 17th we toured Sydney and its suburbs. We visited the famous Bondi Beach and crossed the Sydney Harbour Bridge to Manly, and back to the Rocks district. Early on Thursday morning we headed for Katoomba in the beautiful Blue Mountains. Our first stop was at Scenic World where we took a ride in a cable car across the chasm, and descended down a cliff in the world's steepest railway. From there we went to the Jenolan Caves, Australia's premier underground limestone cave system.
Friday was a free day so some took the opportunity to do the 3½ hour Sydney Harbour Bridge climb, experience the breathtaking views from the top of the Sydney Tower, take a guided tour of the Opera House or go by monorail to Paddy's Market. At 6.30pm we all got on our coaches to travel to the waterfront to board a ship for an evening dinner cruise on the harbour. After an excellent meal on board, our own musicians entertained us and we danced sets, waltzes, quicksteps and foxtrots while cruising the magnificent harbour, with the city lights twinkling in the background. This surely was an evening to remember.
Saturday's tour on the 20th was to the famous Hunter Valley with its many wineries and was a treat for all of those who appreciate fine wine. A visit was also made to the Hunter Valley Chocolate Company to sample their hand-made chocolate. Mass was in the marquee and the celebrant was Fr Tom Devereaux, a native of Galway now ministering in Sydney.
On Sunday 21st we bade farewell to Sydney and our next stop was Fiji, which is comprised of more than 300 islands, some uninhabited. We were on the main island of Denarau, known locally as Viti Levu. For the next two days our accommodation was in the Sheraton Resort Hotel near Nadi.
Breakfast next morning was under the blue skies of Fiji and then we were taken to Denarau Marina on the Bula Bus to board the Ramarana for a two-hour cruise to the exclusive island of Tivua. The ship anchored about a kilometre from the island and we were taken ashore in small boats. Activities here were snorkelling, canoeing, beach volleyball, coconut breaking, kayaking, swimming and we viewed some of Tivuas' 500 acres of spectacular coral gardens from a glass bottomed boat.
A group of Fijian musicians and singers provided entertainment throughout the day and we danced in our bare feet on the island's very hot sand. On our return boat journey Danny Webster and Gerry Flynn played brilliant music and we danced sets and waltzes onboard. Some of the group were adventurous enough to partake in the ceremonial drinking of kava, which is made from the root of the pepper tree.
After dinner back at the hotel, Danny played some fine music for an exhilarating ceili with the sets called by Mickey Kelly. Our usual solo dancers danced during the ceili and Paddy O'Loughlin performed some sean nós steps as only he can. Several locals joined in the merriment for the night and went on stage to sing the song which Cliff Austin had earlier penned in praise of Fiji, its people, beauty and tranquility. During the night a presentation was made to Angela and Andy Schofield by Mickey Kelly for their help and kindness. Gerry Flynn thanked everyone for their cooperation in making the trip such an enjoyable success and the night ended with dancing to music by all the artists who had entertained us on the tour.
On the morning of 23rd November as we departed our hotel to go to Nadi Airport for our flight to Los Angeles there to serenade us and bid us farewell were the guitar-strumming singers who were also there to welcome us on our arrival. On our way to LA we crossed the International Date Line. Our overnight stay was in the Weston Airport hotel and after a meal in the function room Geraldine Cantillon on behalf of everyone on the tour paid tribute to Gerry and Susan Flynn, Andy and Angela Schofield and everyone in Enjoy Travel and thanked them for organising such a wonderful trip.
Michael Breen, who had earlier been at the airport to greet us, came with Jackie O'Dwyer, Mary Snee and other local dancers to entertain us. We had over two hours of very enjoyable set dancing. In the bar Curtis Magee played the piano for a great sing-along.
On 24th November before catching the return flight to Heathrow the group went on a half day sight seeing tour of LA. We then parted with them and went on to Seattle to visit relatives. While in Seattle we went set dancing in the Irish Immigrant bar in University Way with Jim Belcher and Kathleen O'Grady Graham. Music was supplied by Michael Graham and friends. We danced the North Kerry, Ballyvourney Jig, Plain, Ballycommon, Kenmare and Caledonian sets and had a very enjoyable night.
Hats off to Gerry and Enjoy Travel for the trip of a lifetime.
Pat and Maura Lyons, Bruree, Co Limerick
The Longford Arms Hotel in the cosmopolitan town of Longford once more played host to the Sean-Óg Set Dancing Weekend from Friday 19th November to Sunday 21st November 2004. An air of festivity greeted those arriving for the weekend as dancers gathered at the reception area and greeted each other with hugs and kisses.
The weekend began on Friday evening at 7.30pm, with Marie Garrity's two-hand dance workshop. Marie hails from Dromore in County Tyrone and is no stranger to dancing in many forms as an avid set and ceili dancer. She paid tribute to "the queen of Donegal dancers," the renowned Edie Bradley, and said she had learned so much from her. Marie said it was thanks to Gerard Butler that she had persued the notion of giving this class. He had worked with her in Belleek and had invited her to Longford to give this workshop.
Sixty dancers all eager to take the floor attended Marie's class, which began with the Back to Back Hornpipe. All present participated, some with confidence, others with some trepidation. When Marie was happy with the dancers' progress we went on to the Three Step Jigs, then Breakaway Blues, followed by Waltz of the Bells and Polly Glide. The workshop concluded with the Peeler and the Goat. Marie is a brilliant dancer and teacher. Dancers at all levels took her workshop, and many spoke to me about her lovely relaxed and gentle yet precise style of teaching.
The first ceili of the weekend started at 10.15pm with Swallow's Tail on stage. From the beginning the floor was alive with enthusiastic dancers. The first set of the night and weekend was the Clare Lancers. We danced the lovely Kilfenora, and numerous different sets including the ceili dance, the High-Cauled Cap. The night concluded with the band playing a selection of reels. The music was electric, the dancers were charged, the venue was perfect and everyone had a fantastic night. Approximately forty sets danced the night away. The tone and expectation was set for the remainder of the weekend.
Saturday morning at 10.30am Pat Murphy began his first workshop of the weekend with the Claddagh Set. This is a very interesting set from Co Galway; it has some lovely moves and variations in the figures. I sincerely hope that people continue to dance it. The second set of the morning was the Ballyduff Set, from Ballyduff, Co Waterford, which is in the beautiful Black Valley area near the Cork border. This is a vigorous polka set and one of my favourites. Twenty-four sets enjoyed the morning workshop.
The afternoon workshop started at 2pm when Pat Murphy taught the Aran Set. This little treasure comes from Inis Mór and was recorded by Séamus Ó Méalóid. The second set was the Donegal Set. Pat told us that the late great Connie Ryan taught this set in Churchtown in the late 1980s. The workshop concluded with the Televara Set, a long set with lots of dancing. It has five jigs, one slide and finishes with a reel. The most renowned teacher of this set is Timmy 'the Brit' McCarthy. Regrettably we only had time for the first three figures and the slide and reel at the end. As usual Pat Murphy gave us a brilliant day's workshop, with his attention to detail and individual attention whenever it was needed.
The afternoon workshop increased by four sets to twenty-seven when a coach load arrived from Thurles, Co Tipperary, led by their dance master Michael Loughnane.
While adults enjoyed Pat Murphy's workshop in the Longford Arms, Gerard Butler gave a workshop free of charge for under-18s in the Annelly Hotel across the street. To Gerard's delight 35 youngsters turned up. He told me that he was very anxious to get young people involved in the set dancing scene. He was delighted with the numbers that turned up but more importantly he was astounded with their enthusiasm. Gerard would like other organisers of set dancing weekends to strongly consider including classes for youngsters on a no fee basis. I am sure we all agree that getting more young people involved in set dancing is the lifeline of this very important aspect of our culture.
Mass was held in the ballroom of the Longford Arms Hotel immediately after the workshops concluded.
Saturday night gave dancers a choice of two venues. The Davey Ceili Band played in the Longford Arms and Heather Breeze played in the Annelly across the street. Both ceilis got underway at 10pm.
A large crowd of approximately fifty sets enjoyed dancing to the fabulous music of the Davey Ceili Band. The large venue in the Arms was adequate for this crowd. Meanwhile Heather Breeze played their hearts out in a more intimate space with approximately twenty sets dancing comfortably in the Annelly. I decided to go to Heather Breeze and was not disappointed. Dancers were loud in their praise of both bands, and felt spoiled for choice.
Sunday morning Peter Hanrahan gave a Clare battering workshop at 11am, assisted by John Cassidy. These two very talented dancers would gladden your heart just to watch their enthusiasm, style and panache. The ballroom hosted over 100 dancers for this vigorous workshop.
With lunch over crowds gathered for the afternoon ceili with music by the magic twosome, Tim Joe and Anne O'Riordan. Dancers are always amazed by the energies and expertise of this fantastic couple. They are always smiling and have a wonderful stage presence. They doled out reels, jigs, hornpipes and polkas and kept sixty sets dancing to their hearts' content for the afternoon.
On Sunday night at the grand finale, Johnny Reidy and his band started playing at 10pm on the dot. The magic reels of Johnny would make the dead dance. With his winning smile and joy of playing music on his face, he brings an atmosphere of bliss to dancers. I believe Johnny is the Joe Dolan of ceili music.
All too soon the ceili and weekend had come to an end. The Sean Óg Set Dancers had given all who attended the weekend a wonderful, well-organised festival. On leaving the hotel everyone I spoke to told me they had booked a place for next year. Surely a sign of the brilliant time they had in Longford.
Joan Pollard Carew
December is a nice change of pace from the rest of the year-parties, dinners, everyone in a festive spirit. I was lucky enough to get out to several venues scattered around Ireland, each one in a different county (except for two near home in Clare) and include reports and photos from each. Rita Ann Burke and John Handel also wrote articles about their local events which are included below.
Full benefit of the grandeurWednesday is the set dancing night at the White House Hotel, Ballinlough, Co Roscommon. This is a tiny village on a crossroads between Ballyhaunis and Castlerea, which is distinguished by the rather grand yet modest hotel. Set dancers have full benefit of the grandeur as the fine small dance floor is overhung by four huge chandeliers. The ballroom opens into a large conservatory, a lovely feature in daylight. They dance on Wednesdays year 'round here, with live music ceilis in the summer and classes the rest of the year, all organised by the local teacher Mildred Beirne, who is widely known as well for her ceili diary on Midwest Radio.
Mildred's ceili on the 8th of December was graced by the local Woodlands Ceili Band for a night of sets, waltzes and two-hands. She has been faithfully teaching the Claddagh Set in all her classes and the major excitement tonight was the opportunity to dance it to live music. In my set the first two figures went perfectly so I had high hopes for the third figure with its complicated cross chain. However, some of the ladies hadn't danced it before and unfortunately were left standing when they should have been crossing! That broke the momentum and even the simpler final fourth figure proved problematic as well. Nevertheless it was all great fun!
Halfway through the ceili everyone stopped for a tea-less tea break. The hotel kindly supplied plates of sandwiches and cocktail sausages to each table, while those looking for tea were able to get it from the bar. It's the local custom to finish the night with the Connemara Set, where everyone dances together in a big circle for the final 'Maggie in the Wood' figure. The band kept on playing long enough to let me dance with most of the ladies in the room.
If you used your imagination to dream up the perfect Irish country ceili, you'd probably come up with something rather like the ceili in Kilmactigue on Friday December 10th. The little hall stands on its own a mile or two outside the village of Aclare, which itself is well off the beaten track in a quiet rural corner of Co Sligo between Tubbercurry and Swinford. No one hurries out there so the hall filled gradually until there were as many as eight sets on the floor in time for the tea break. Matt Cunningham seemed as happy to be playing as everyone was to dance to his music.
The dancing paused for a tribute to a local priest by the "weekday Mass goers", who presented him with a large wrapped gift. They were thankful he said Mass every day even though he had an early start teaching at the local school. Unbeknownst to me there were numerous other priests in the hall, who came up to stand beside their colleague until there were six in total. I believe at least three of them were dancing all night and someone told me there was even a seventh one in the hall. Santa Claus arrived for the festivities and distributed sweets to all, and the band supplied plenty of carols to sing along with.
Tea break choreographyA ceili in Carrigaline always makes a great impression and the Christmas party on Saturday December 11th was no exception. The very large hall looks as if it might be difficult to fill but that's no problem here as there are 30 sets dancing at every ceili. A huge share of these are young people, both men and women, still learning the sets, but having a whale of time at it. You couldn't fail to have a good time with the superb music of the Abbey Ceili Band. The floor was quickly filled for every set, even the Siege of Ennis. A couple of sets danced a set during the Siege.
The tea break was so expertly choreographed that it could only have been performed by experienced set dancers. A convoy of trollies loaded with milk, mugs, sandwiches and buttered scones emerged from the kitchen at the back and formed a line down the middle of the hall. Simultaneously, tables emerged from a side door and were arranged in a ring around the hall; mugs and scones were distributed onto each. Tea was brought out separately.
While we were savouring the refreshments, a cake with eight candles was brought out to the floor-this was the eighth anniversary of the Carrigaline ceilis. The honour of blowing out the candles went to Kitty Murphy, one of the ceili's cheerful and welcoming organisers. Before the dancing resumed there was more choreography as the floor was emptied of trolleys and tables and efficiently swept with an enormous broom.
Isn't it a miracle how the dancing seems so much better after we've been refreshed by tea? The Abbey sounded better than ever and by the end of the night had raised our satisfaction levels up to the limit.
Normally fine, decent people
Judging by the ceili in Cavan Town Hall on Sunday afternoon, December 12th, things must get a bit crazy when it's Christmas time in Cavan. I'm sure they're normally fine, decent people, but the ones I met that afternoon had dispensed with any of their usual inhibitions and were done up in all sorts of fancy dress. There were cowboys and Indians, nurses and Santas, and some rather more difficult to classify. Fortunately the Glenside Ceili Band were dressed as themselves, though with extra Xmas spirit, and the dancing was the usual great fun with an extra lift.
Cavan Town Hall is 95 years old and still makes a great place to dance with its good floor and soaring cathedral-style ceiling. Sunday afternoon is a relaxed and pleasant time to dance, and a good opportunity for parents bring along their children. Two young girls in disguise as an old charwoman and a boy in cap and braces danced every set and gave a superb display of brush and sean nós dancing. There was more solo dancing from bean a' tí Marian Crowe and the Co Louth teacher Kathleen McGlynn. Seamus Fay came up to the stage to do some lilting; there was unanimous delight at this and Seamus happily performed an encore.
Box player and band leader Tom Flood graciously thanked everyone for their support over the year and gave warm greetings for the season. The last set of the ceili was the Plain Set, and when the band carried on after that with Christmas carols everyone formed one long train of bodies and sang along together.
Probably the best pubA sign on the wall in the Morning Star Pub claims it to be oldest pub in County Louth and probably the best pub in Ireland, and after dancing there on Sunday night, December 12th, I'd be in no position to dispute those claims. The pub is in Tullyallen near Drogheda, and conveniently located near a junction of the new M1 motorway which allows easy access for dancers from Dublin and the north. In fact I was pleased to meet two friends from England who had been dancing in Dublin over the weekend.
There's a dance here every Sunday night of the year, with beautifully rousing music by Brennie Weldon on piano accordion and Paddy Reilly on fiddle, accompanied on piano by Paddy's son Oliver. The dancing is led by Shay White, who has more energy than a whole set full of people half his age. He kept us dancing with hardly a break, and with a few entertaining sets like the Claddagh and Cúchulainn.
There was a special waltz for Brenny Weldon, who was celebrating his 84th birthday with a cake and candles. A few songs and a couple of solo dances by Serena McManus and Shay himself were also part of the night's entertainment. At the end I was pleased to see that even the musicians stood for the national anthem.
The power of ChristmasBray is a bustling Wicklow town on the Irish Sea a few miles south of Dublin. The sea front has a beach, promenade, a wide street and a backdrop of tall Georgian houses and hotels. Katie Gallagher's Pub is a large, more modern building at the northern end of the street where dancers gather every Monday night for a popular live music session. On December 13th I was lucky enough to arrive there for their Christmas dinner. At the door I was greeted by Angela Bernard, who's in charge of the dancing here, behind a table full of help-yourself chocolates.
Katie's restaurant was set for 150 places, complete with printed menus, candles and Christmas crackers. The food was lovely, and Christmas pudding was offered for dessert, all reasonably priced. Once everyone was fully fed, we went through to the bar for the ceili. The Davey Ceili Band was all set up and ready to go so it didn't take us long to start dancing. There's plenty of space in the bar but dancers filled all of it and there were even some overflow sets dancing occasionally in a small space behind the band.
As many as twelve sets were on hand, demonstrating the power of Christmas to bring out twice as many people as normal, though it could also have been the attraction of a good meal. Dancers stuck for a partner were lucky enough to have the assistance of one of the regulars, Louis O'Rourke, who seemed to be making it his business to fill the sets. The atmosphere was electric enough to generate a surplus to the National Grid, thanks to the powerful music of the Davey Ceili Band.
The best song of the night
Every Tuesday night in the Greenfield Community Centre, Shanliss Avenue, Santry, Dublin 9, there's a relaxed neighbourhood session run by the local Sean Treacy branch of Comhaltas. When I visited on December 14th I was there early enough to help set out the tables and chairs. People were took their time coming in, and by about 10.30pm the musicians achieved a quorum and began to play.
The emphasis was on music, so the sets only happened when the musicians invited out the dancers. There were three or four sets danced, with two or three sets dancing. A few stood up to sing Irish songs, though the best song of the night was in Chinese, sung with full emotion by a young fellow, one of three Chinese people attending with local friends.
Donncha Ó Muíneacháin was the fear a' tí and toward the end of the night amazed everyone with a beautiful solo hornpipe in his own unique style. He pointed out that this session is one of the longest running sessions in Dublin where all the musicians play for their own pleasure without payment.
As good as it getsThe Barn at Vaughan's Pub in Kilfenora is one of the few venues in Ireland where you can dance twice a week year round. Ceilis are on Sunday and Thursday, and occasionally on a Friday, Saturday or another day when an occasion warrants it. Thanks to John Vaughan and his family the Christmas party on the 16th of December was a generous affair-free admission, a free drink from the bar and free tea after the ceili. And thanks to the Four Courts, the music and dancing was as good as it gets. As often as they play in the Barn, it's amazing how the music sounds so fresh every time.
The lighting is normally subdued but took on a magical glow tonight thanks to all the Christmas lights. The festivities attracted more dancers than usual with an overflow set in the Barn's new extension. The sets rarely vary-the Caledonian (first and last), Plain, Lancers, Connemara and now the Kilfenora which has become a favourite. When the dancing finished, a table was immediately set up with tea, cake, sandwiches and smoked salmon on brown bread for all to enjoy.
Tonight was the night
Claddagh Hall in Galway City is in an unusual location-it's right on the Corrib River just yards away from where it empties into Galway Bay. A thriving community of swans lives on the river beside the hall so you have to exercise some care when parking and walking to the door not to disturb them.
Inside the hall, set dancing is thriving quite nicely, with a full house on the Friday night I was there, December 17th. The Glenside Ceili Band have become very popular with the regulars here in the past couple of years. It's one of those lucky places where the young and old dance together in equal numbers and with equal enjoyment.
There was no sign of the Claddagh Set here, though my night is made anytime I get a chance to dance the South Galway, and tonight was the night. The Glenside had strong feedback from the dancers who roared their approval and delight with every set. At the end of the final Connemara Set the band launched into Christmas carols in the Maggie figure and when they kept playing after the set finished everyone joined hands in a frenzy of Christmas spirit.
John Henchy, the organiser and teacher, passed on warm thanks and holiday greetings to everyone. At the end he invited anyone who wasn't hurrying off to help themselves to tea and biscuits in the kitchen beside the stage.
A real buzz about the place
Dunderry Hall, Dunderry, Co Meath, was transformed into a dining room for the Christmas dinner-ceili of the local branch of Comhaltas on Saturday night, December 18th. Everything needed for the banquet was brought in from elsewhere-120 chairs with an appropriate number of tables, place settings and table decorations. Even the food was brought in, fully cooked and ready to serve, along with a team of servers.
As people were taking their seats, four young musicians took to the stage and provided first class music which lasted throughout the meal. There was a pause when branch chairperson Ena McKiernan addressed everyone with her thanks and greetings, and honoured Francie McDonagh by presenting him a special lifetime tea-makers award (a teapot) for making the tea at every class.
Of course, the ceili was the main reason I was here. The few times I've managed to dance here have always been special-there's a real buzz about the place, even more so tonight with the festivities. The first of the non-dining ceili-goers began arriving just as we were starting our meal, and it wasn't till after 11pm that the tables began to get shifted out.
Most of the floor, but not all, had been cleared when Carousel, the three-piece band from Westmeath, called the first set. They're the perfect band to make up lost time after a late start, as their breaks between figures are probably the shortest in set dancing, and they don't waste any time during the figures either.
The dancing paused when special awards were given to teacher and caller Frank Keenan and his wife Bobbie for their sixteen years of service in Dunderry. And of course there was a full tea break because by then our three-course dinner was just a distant memory. The dancing continued to 2am, and tea was again available to those who didn't have to rush off. Some of us didn't depart until 3am!
For the love of itAs much as I'd love to, I've never been able to make it to Drumshanbo, Co Leitrim, for the Joe Mooney Summer School in July. So I was pleased to dance there for the first time on Sunday afternoon, December 19th, at one of the ceilis now taking place there once or twice a month. Some of the summer school magic was missing with only two sets in attendance, but it was still a brilliant ceili thanks to the Emerald Ceili Band.
When I arrived early as usual, the band was already set up and they were happily jamming among themselves, and some of them had even swapped instruments. When the dancing began, you'd never know from the way they played that it was a small ceili. They play with the same passion whether it's two sets or 102. Even during the tea break they continued playing, swapping instruments and making sweet, relaxed music. There was more of their fiery dance music in the second half, and amazingly, after they played the national anthem and the ceili was over, they went back to amusing themselves with their session music again, without any notion of packing up and going home. The Emerald play music for the love of it and set dancers are the lucky beneficiaries of their talent.
Crackers and other fineryThey do things in style in Westport, Co Mayo. The Christmas dinner-ceili of the local Comhaltas branch was held in the luxurious ballroom of the Castlecourt Hotel on Monday, the 20th of December. Tables were set with linens, candles, hats, crackers and other finery to enhance our holiday dining experience. About a hundred were in attendance, including a large delegation of thirty or so from Louisburgh.
Matt Cunningham and his band were the main attraction of the evening, and they began the dancing as soon as the floor was cleared of tables. We danced a few of the local sets, the Newport, the Derradda and the Louisburgh, which was called by Pat Murphy. There were plenty of two-hand dances and a Siege of Ennis to get everyone out onto the floor. A few solo dancers entertained with their steps-one of them was Martin Hughes, a young fellow with a superb relaxed and natural style who was a delight to watch. Matt Cunningham also performed his own solo-a lovely slow air on tin whistle. At the end of the last set our spirits were elevated by all the dancing, and Matt and the band kept on going with a long rake of Christmas carols, finishing finally with Auld Lang Syne when everyone joined hands around the ballroom.
Mike Mahony teaches a popular class on Wednesday at the One Mile Inn on the Lahinch Road in Ennis, Co Clare. His Christmas party on the last class of the year featured live music with the Four Courts. I only arrived just as they were finishing the last set before the break, but I could see that I missed some mighty sets. The dancing resumed with the Claddagh Set, called by Mike who called most of the dances that night.
The Inn has an unusual layout for dancing. The main dance floor is easily filled by five or six sets, so three overflow sets move up to a raised, fenced-in section with a nice floor. The atmosphere here was a revelation and the few remaining sets I danced were enough to keep me very happy until Christmas was long past.
On Saturday night, 11th December 2004, Skreen and Dromard Community Centre saw locals and visitors alike enjoy what is now becoming a regular slot on the ceili scene in Sligo. The Davey Ceili Band provided tremendous entertainment for the night as the Christmas festivities got under way. The centre was wonderfully decorated by the committee, sweets to tempt you as you came through the door, bunting and banners, Christmas lights and Christmas trees as well as Santas in most corners. Speaking of Santa, he appeared at the end of the night with his helper and added a great sense of fun and laughter to an already great night. You even got your raffle prize wrapped from under the Christmas tree. Halfway through we had a wonderful spread of all things delicious to eat making sure we had enough energy to keep going for the rest of the night. It was a wonderful night and we are looking forward to doing it all again next year. Thanks to Helen Kilgallen, the local set dancing teacher, who has brought set dancing back to west Sligo and long may it continue.
Rita Ann Burke, Skreen, Co Sligo
The Christmas ceili season started in Connaught on the 5th December, with a tremendous night at Clonberne, near Tuam in Co Galway. A large enthusiastic crowd danced to the excellent, lively music of the Davey Ceili Band from Co Meath until 1.30am. Many thanks to all in that area who made this such a memorable night.
Some of us were just about awake to dance on the Sunday afternoon with the local dancers at Crimlin, five miles northwest of Castlebar in Co Mayo, to celebrate the opening of the recently renovated community hall dancing to that maestro of music Matt Cunningham and his band. During the afternoon we were given a wonderful display of sean nós dancing by Aidan Vaughan, who was standing in as drummer with the band. I regret I was having an awful job to stay awake and left soon after the tea.
The Ballintubber set dancing class party was held on the 9th at Máire Luke's Bar, Tourmakeady, Co Mayo, overlooking Lough Mask. An excellent meal was followed by dancing to Cahir Sound Ceili Band.
Saturday the 11th saw us at Roundfort Community Centre near Ballinrobe, Co Mayo. Eleven sets danced to the fabulous music of Pat Friel and the Heather Breeze Ceili Band. Great credit is due to Pádraic Keane and his loyal helpers for a wonderful night.
A few of us got together on the 16th for the final class of 2004 at the Scibol, Ballintubber, Co Mayo. Chris Oates put us through our paces dancing the Claddagh, Fermanah, Rosscahill and Monaghan sets-thoroughly enjoyed by all.
Although the weather was inclement on December 18th a large crowd came to Partry, halfway between Ballinrobe and Ballintubber in Co Mayo, to support the ceili organized by Sean Bourke on behalf of the Inhaminga Project. This project is between the local community and Inhaminga, a village in Mozambique, and is helping forty disabled people. Once again the music was provided by the ever-popular band, Heather Breeze from Westport. The night just got better the longer it went on.
The flu then set in and I was forced to miss the New Year's Day ceili at Newport organized by Mickey Kelly. With music provided by Matt Cunningham eleven sets danced the night away.
I was determined not to miss the Wednesday ceili at the Castlecourt Hotel in Westport, for the launch of Heather Breeze Ceili Band's two new CDs, Music in the Glen for sets and Waltz of the Bells for couple dances. All proceeds from the night were for the Alzheimer's Foundation. An enthusiastic crowd danced to the great music well into the night, with all the usual sets including the Claddagh called by Pat Murphy, which is one that is being taught in this area. Several couple dances were enjoyed by all including the St Bernard Waltz and the Waltz Country Dance.
Saturday the 8th of January brought us to the Welcome Inn, Castlebar, to the ceili organized by the Castlebar branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann with dancing to the fabulous music of the Emerald Ceili Band from Co Tyrone. It was their first visit to Co Mayo, and what an impact they made! The young musicians were brilliant and brought an atmosphere of something different to this area, bright lights, melodious melodies, and a selection of sets suitable for all. It was so pleasing to see such a lot of young people dancing, sixteen sets, and a lot sat down for lack of space. It made this a night to remember.
Happy new year to you all,
John Handel, Ballinrobe, Co Mayo
One of the rarer events of the set dancing calendar is the New Year's Eve celebration at Blankenheim Castle in Germany, which was recently held from December 29th to January 2nd. A four-day gathering of music and dance held in a genuine German castle high up on a hill in beautiful wooded rolling countryside could be a very popular attraction, but even castles have their limits. Blankenheim Castle can only handle around a hundred dancers, so no bookings are taken once the limit is reached. What makes it really rare is that it's only held every second year.
Booking a place for New Year's in Blankenheim is tricky. Last year there was a small window of ten days when places could be booked and only through the web site of the organisers Kasia Jankowska and Michael Bender. I learned when the site was open for business thanks to an alert correspondent in Germany, and I immediately passed on word to folks in Dublin and Australia who had expressed their interest to me. Within two days half the places were filled, and after ten days it was fully booked with a waiting list.
Most of the visitors from Ireland came over on cheap flights to Frankfurt, to Dusseldorf or to Charleroi in Belgium, and went from there to Blankenheim by public transport. Whether it was madness or a spirit of adventure, I chose to travel by car. This was a three-day journey by ferry and Channel Tunnel with two overnight stops along the way. On my two previous trips to Blankenheim travelling by air and coach, I always arrived late; this time though I had the luxury of arriving early on Wednesday the 29th.
The sun was out and the hills of the Eifel region were covered in snow. I checked in to the castle which actually operates all year as a youth hostel. The rooms are basic with two or more bunks in them, though a small number have double beds. Many rooms are en-suite. I ran into a group from Ireland who were heading down the hill to the village below. I joined them on the steep and treacherous descent down a winding, icy path and steps, but there was no turning back-our destination was a café with highly recommended pastries. After some pea soup, apple strudel and plenty of chat the climb back up the hill didn't seem so bad.
That evening at 8pm supper was available in the Rittersaal or Knight's Hall, the castle's main room where both the dining and dancing took place. During the light meal of soup, assorted breads, cheese and cold meat, the rest of the Irish visitors, including our teachers and musicians, arrived to a warm welcome. After they'd had a bite to eat, the hall was transformed from dining room to ballroom in a process that was repeated three times a day, every day. Everyone pitched in to empty the room of tables and chairs, which were carried to a storage room just off the adjacent balcony. This involved a few steps outside into the brisk winter air.
With the hall cleared and ready for dancing, Pat Murphy had the honour of leading the first workshop on the Tory Island Set soon after 9pm. In the next hour, Céline Tubridy taught the Priest and His Boots, accompanied by Michael Tubridy on flute. From about 11.30pm Maureen Culleton taught a half-dozen two-hand dances at what must have been the latest workshop ever! She had the benefit of the musicians Liam Purcell, Kathleen Nesbitt, Maebh Ní Lochlainn, Michael Tubridy and Claus Kessler. For those of us who wanted to dance a few sets in the session after the workshops, Liam on box from Roscommon and Claus, a German concertina player, were our heroes. They agreeably played for any set that dancers requested into the wee hours. After Liam retired for the night Claus stayed on and played slides for a Ballyvourney Jig Set which would have left them breathless even in Ballyvourney.
Thursday was a full day of dancing, starting with Céline and Michael's traditional step dancing after breakfast with more work on the Priest and His Boots. I didn't want to confuse myself by learning a second dance, but after seeing a lovely demonstration of the jig Single Time, I couldn't resist. Céline, Michael and Maureen Culleton danced it in a little circle, but as he was unable to play, Michael had to drop the flute and lilt the tune while dancing.
At Pat Murphy's morning workshop he taught the Newmarket Meserts from Co Cork, devoting careful attention to all the figures, particularly the unique form of the high gates in figure four and the line up and cast off in five. Pat told us how he learned the set years ago from Jer McAuliffe, who made use of his cap to redirect dancers going wrong in the cast off. After that we had a welcome chance to dance the Claddagh Set.
Food was served four times a day, with continental breakfast in the morning, a hearty hot meal for lunch, mid-afternoon tea and cake and supper in the evening. The afternoon break didn't require any table shifting; a trolley was rolled in and we helped ourselves to the delicacies on offer. After that Céline and Michael gave more practice in both the Priest and Single Time. After they finished, in came the tables for supper, and then out they went again in time for a ceili dancing workshop with Maureen Culleton. She taught the Eight-Hand Jig with great detail and clarity.
The musicians gathered in a corner of the hall for the ceili at 10pm. They never use amplification at the ceilis in Blankenheim, which I enjoyed as a pleasant change from the usual. At the back of the hall I found it hard to hear the musicians whenever they were starting a figure because of all the conversation; however the dancing silenced the chat and from then on it was easy to hear. Pat Murphy had the benefit of a microphone when calling the sets; we wouldn't have heard him otherwise. In addition to the old favourites, we danced the Claddagh, Kilfenora and Newmarket Meserts. Maureen Culleton also taught a selection of two-hand dances. After most people went to bed around midnight, a late session with Liam and Claus kept the rest of us going all morning. I was contemplating leaving around 3am or so when there was a call for the Borlin Polka Set-I've never declined the Borlin, and never will.
Friday was New Year's Eve, the highlight of the four days, starting again with Céline and Michael, followed by Pat and the Roscahill and Black Valley Square Jig sets. After lunch, Maureen taught one of my favourite ceili dances, the Trip to the Cottage. Its greatest challenge is the move where each couple passes through the opposite couple without ever letting hands go. Following the afternoon tea there was a gap in the programme as the castle staff closed the hall and prepared for the gala New Year's Eve dinner.
The banquet was scheduled for 8pm, and I went to the hall twenty minutes early as I was too full of anticipation to wait any longer in my room. I met a few others on their way and we found ourselves first in the queue, followed before long by everyone else who lined all the corridors leading to the hall. Just a few minutes after the hour, the door opened and we were allowed in to the transformed Rittersaal. The lighting was soft and subdued, with candles on all the decorated tables and high up on the walls. Tables at the back held a sumptuous display of food. Soon after we found seats for ourselves, the five members of the kitchen staff came out so we could give them a round of applause, and then we were invited to fill our plates. The main courses were local specialities, a kind of a turkey stew and ham with prune stuffing, with a selection of vegetables and side dishes. There was fresh bread, salad, cheese, cold meat, a platter of assorted smoked fish, and several dressings to go with them. White chocolate mousse and fruit were the desserts. The queue of diners waiting to fill their plates probably lasted for the best part of an hour as we came back several times to have a taste of everything.
Everyone was slow to move, but eventually the tables found their way out of the hall and the dancers assembled for the last couple of sets of 2004. We finished the Corofin Plain Set just a few minutes before midnight, and at the moment of truth, a piper fired up the bagpipes to mark the occasion. Some people lit sparklers and outside, down below in the village, fireworks were popping and lighting up the sky. Inside, German champagne was passed around and we all started shaking hands, hugging and kissing everyone, an operation that took a long while, especially where kisses were concerned. Irish ladies are quite content with a single kiss, but the German girls prefer three, on alternate cheeks.
The night's best celebration of the new year came in the late session. In addition to the sets and two hand dances, people performed their best party pieces for the crowd. After the Cashel Set, Mildred Beirne from Roscommon sat down between Liam and Claus with her drumsticks, asked them to play a reel and beat out a rhythm on the seat of a chair; she was once the drummer with an all-girl ceili band. Martina Bradley from Sligo was asked to dance a few steps, but declined with the excuse she didn't have her shoes. However, when she was given a pair of shoes, she took to the floor for a superb display of sean nós, even though the shoes were a size too small. Two Germans, Gaby Krämer and Jörg Spross, clearly love performing and did their dancing seated in two chairs while acting out a little story involving a box of chocolates. Liam Purcell's exaggerated sean nós style was the funniest dancing of the evening, with the three-handed brush dance not far behind. Gertrud Uphoff came out in shoes that made noise like a tambourine and danced some spirited steps from the Bahamas. The fun was still going strong when I departed at 5am, and I heard the last folks didn't finish till 7.
Luckily there was a late start on Saturday, New Year's Day, with brunch served until the civilised hour of 1pm. There followed a round of workshops as seen on the other days, with Céline's trad steps first. After that we were privileged to be the first to dance the Fintown Set from Co Donegal in Pat Murphy's workshop. With only two figures, a reel and a polka, it left enough time to dance most of the Limerick Orange and Green afterward. Maureen Culleton taught the Three Tunes in her ceili workshop, a dance incorporating a bit of acting and plenty of variety.
Music workshops were also taking place during the days in Blankenheim. On Saturday night we were treated to performances by all the music students, fiddle, concertina and flute, and by the dance classes, ceili, step and set. A set of ceili dancers performed the Three Tunes, and the step dancers did the Priest and His Boots and Single Time. Céline Tubridy also danced a solo on her own with skill, grace and spirit. Gaby and Jörg did a repeat performance of their chair dancing with one major difference-they turned out all the lights so that we could only see their glowing feet. Their group also danced a couple figures of the Cuirassiers Set, full of clever moves. Michael Tubridy explained how he found instructions for the original quadrille in Birr Castle when he was in charge of the restoration of the historic telescope there. Using these notes, Terry Moylan of Brooks Academy created an Irish version of it. To finish the performances, a set from Pat Murphy's class danced the third and fourth figures of the Claddagh Set, trying hard to dance them perfectly and keep a straight face, but not exactly succeeding at both of those. The set was later danced by everyone in the final Liam and Claus session, where our performances were flawless.
Sunday was a partial day of dancing to allow travellers to make their way home. After breakfast, Céline and Micheal gave more practice in the two solo dances, and then Pat Murphy taught one of the best of the Clare sets, the Clare Orange and Green. The final lunch was served and after hugs, kisses, handshakes and "Auf Wiedersehen," everyone departed for home. I hopped into my car and made a good start on my journey home thanks to two dancers who led me to the autobahn.
The next weekend in Blankenheim Castle is 4-6 November 2005. See www.irish-folk.de or contact Kasia Jankowska and Michael Benden. Cheap flights are recently available from Dublin to Dusseldorf, which shortens the journey to Blankenheim. Driving from Ireland isn't recommended, unless you're feeling adventurous. The next New Year's Eve gathering is expected in December 2006-January 2007.
Gale force winds, bucketing rain and volleys of hail-a fierce storm was raging at the opening of the first set dancing weekend of the year, but it takes a lot more than a bit of weather to keep dedicated set dancers home when there's a ceili on. In fact the Friday night ceili of the weekend at the Abbey Court Hotel, Nenagh, Co Tipperary, from January 7th to 9th was one of the best attended in recent years.
It was a real treat that night to dance to the music of Tom McCarthy and Michael Egan, a favourite local duo who aren't often heard elsewhere on the ceili circuit. They had a good collection of fast polkas, beautiful waltzes and their own style of reels that I was getting very fond of as the night went on. We had to really savour the sets danced that night, the Kilfenora, Cashel and the rest, as we wouldn't be seeing them again all weekend! Michael Loughnane was in charge of the sets and calling, and his intention was not to repeat anything.
Early on there was a break to pay tribute to organisers Mary and Danny Morrissey. As very recent grandparents they were given gifts appropriate for their new status-a ball of yarn and knitting needles, and a pipe. There was another break for a few steps from Aidan Vaughan, which probably helped recruit a few dancers to the workshop he was holding the next day. And of course there was a break for tea and an enormous selection of cakes and sandwiches; so much so that after the ceili was over we were given parcels to take some home with us.
Annual workshops have been running in Nenagh since 1991 when they were taught by Connie Ryan. There was a fantastic reminder of those days with old videos on display as we came into the ballroom for the Saturday workshop. Pat Murphy has capably taken charge of the workshops in recent years and often introduces new sets here. The new one this year is the Fintown Set, from Co Donegal, composed, Pat explained, of several figures which the Fintown dancers have combined into two, danced to polkas and reels. There are a few moments in the set when quite a lot of action is packed into eight bars. Pat also taught a couple of Cork sets, the Black Valley Square Jig and the Newmarket Meserts, where we learned new ways to swing, do the high gates, line-up and cast off.
Meanwhile in a smaller hall, Aidan Vaughan taught his Clare-style steps to a sizeable and enthusiastic group. It made a memorable finish to the workshop when he gave another demonstration of sean nós dancing.
Westport's finest ceili band, and probably Co Mayo's finest as well, Heather Breeze, provided excellent music for a varied and interesting ceili on Saturday. Michael Loughnane continued his no-repetition policy so we danced both familiar and unusual sets, including the North Kerry, Ballyvourney, and Plain sets and, Pat Murphy called the Newmarket Meserts and Claddagh sets. In addition, Michael called a few two-hand dances and the Polly Glide-it was a fantastic sight to see the whole ballroom filled with people doing this. There was another sumptuous tea served in the break, and raffle tickets were sold in aid of the tsunami disaster appeal. The local set dancing club offered to match the raffle proceeds and ended up contributing €1,200 in total to a representative of the charity before the night was over.
On Sunday morning, Pat Murphy had time to teach two Orange and Green sets, the Limerick and the Clare versions. These are two of the most entertaining sets and it's probably my first time doing them together. They each have their own character but the similarities are clear. At the end of the workshop there was time enough to teach the Waltz of the Bells, a two-hand waltz, easy and interesting.
Music for the Sunday afternoon ceili came from Mort Kelleher and his family from Macroom, Co Cork. The music was truly inspiring, but there was a crisis in the middle of one set when Mort's piano conked out, dead as a doornail. The rest of the band played on happily while Mort tried to get things working again without success. This is where the Kellehers demonstrated their musical virtuosity as young Colin gave up the banjo and brought out the bass guitar to replace the piano. The music was still fabulous and brought cheers from the dancers, though poor Mort was temporarily out of a job. A few of the most popular sets might have seen a bit of repetition during the weekend but Michael Loughnane announced toward the end of the afternoon that a total of 22 different sets had been danced at the weekend's three ceilis.
All weekend I hadn't given a further thought to the bad weather as my world had shrunk down to the Abbey Court Hotel. When I emerged back into reality energised and recharged after my enjoyable weekend, I was pleased to see that things had improved outdoors too.
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