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).
Question: Where was the first place outside Ireland and Britain that dance master Pat Murphy taught?
Answer: Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Yes, indeed. By 1995 Pat Murphy, had taught all over Ireland and England, but he was first tempted to venture further afield by Elizabeth MacDonald, who met him at the Joe Mooney Summer School in Drumshanbo, Co Leitrim. Elizabeth was the teacher of a new Irish set dancing group in Halifax.
Pat travelled to Nova Scotia (that's in Canada, by the way-one of the eastern provinces bordering the Atlantic) in August 1995 for a set dance workshop as part of Feis Nova Scotia. That workshop was so successful the fledgling dancers not only named themselves after Pat's book (Scaip na Cleití-Toss the Feathers), they also asked him back for the following Easter, beginning a tradition that's continued now for ten years.
It's always special when Pat comes to town, but a tenth anniversary makes it more special, so we knocked a couple of heads together to come up with some extras this year. Graphic designer, accordionist and mandolinist Jane Lombard collected photographs from previous years and created a collage poster. Copies were sold and our current set teacher Pauline Hingston presented Pat with a framed copy. Sue Hill arranged the production of shoe bags decorated with her husband Ron's design for the Scaip na Cleití logo. Photographer and banjoist Jeff Harper took the shot of Pat that was published on the cover of the Daily News on Easter Monday.
As an informal finale, the weekend after Easter several members of the group followed Pat to the nation's capital, Ottawa, Ontario, for the annual North American Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann Convention.
The weekend itself followed a familiar format. Out-of-town visitors arrived on Friday, and hooked up with their billets. This year we had company from Ottawa, Prince Edward Island, New Jersey and Truro, Nova Scotia.
Official events begin Friday evening with a céilí at the Local Council of Women House, a Victorian mansion in south Halifax. The house is beautifully appointed, with a sturdy wooden floor. Everyone was torn between renewing friendships and dancing, but several sets were arranged. Live music was provided, as usual, by fiddler Kevin Roach and friends, including Glen Coolen, Gordon Cameron, Laura Ballem and the aforementioned multi-talented Jane Lombard. In honour of the absent and much-lamented Bill Lynch we instituted a real tea break this year, complete with sandwiches and squares [a type of biscuit or cookie], "just like in Ireland!"
But the highlight of the Friday night ceili was an opportunity for Pat to practise his vocation as dance-collector. Sets similar to Irish ones are found throughout Atlantic Canada, and we showed him one from the nearby province of Prince Edward Island. Our friends Louis and Leona Dalton from the Burton District on the west coast of PEI showed us their hometown set, the Lot 7. Yes, that is the name of their hometown. The British divided the island into "lots" in the eighteenth century and auctioned them off in a London square. These pragmatic names are still found throughout the province.
As for the Lot 7 Set itself, Pat Murphy said it best: "That's a lovely set and there are shades of many other sets in it." The moves include a diagonal cross like the Corofin, a "crooked figure" like the third figure of the Kilfenora and a wheelbarrow. The last figure involves all sets in a large circle, doing chains, promenades and an advance-retire movement called the "surge," appropriately enough for a maritime region. "I'm looking forward to teaching it," said Pat.
Saturday, it's down to serious business-the workshops. The Nova Scotian dancers love to learn new sets-we have more sets at the workshops than at the céilíthe. In the morning, Pat kicked off his teaching with the varied Armagh Set.
After lunch in various locales in charming and historic downtown Halifax ("We can't all go to the same restaurant," pointed out Pauline Hingston. "It would take forever to be served and we'll all be late.") it was back to the workshop, when we learned the Dromgarriff, a half-set from West Cork, and the Newmarket Meserts, a lively jig set similar to the Portmagee Meserts, the latest dance we've learned in our own Monday night classes. Nova Scotian dancers aren't famous for waltzing and Pat attempted to remedy that with a lovely two-hander, the Waltz of the Bells.
We may have started on time but we ran late, and once the session was over everyone scurried off to prepare for the event at the heart of the weekend. We love our workshops, but we know why we do them-Saturday night is the first céilí when we dance our newly-learned sets, thanks to Pat's gracious and expedient calling. We even tried out our waltz, successfully, I might add. We were also treated to some step dancing demonstrations, including a graceful performance of Rodney's Glory by Patricia Moorehead and Elizabeth Beck.
Easter Sunday morning, after services at church or egg hunts at home we headed to our second home in Halifax, the Old Triangle Ale House. Hordes of dancers grabbed every table in the Tigh an Cheoil (Music Room), and settled in for brunch.
When everyone was satiated, it became clear why we really wanted all those tables-so we could make room for the dancing. The live musicians reappeared and we set and stepped the afternoon away, as we usually do at the Triangle on Sundays, but today more festively. Cameras were flashing all over, including the official Daily News one. Pat and Pauline and several others were interviewed by a reporter, which led to the positive and pretty accurate article that appeared the next day.
By Sunday evening we were getting tired, but that only slowed, not stopped us. Sue and Ron Hill, who were already practising hospitality by billeting Pat, invited us to their cozy home in Dartmouth (across the harbour from Halifax) for a laid-back eat-sweets-and-listen-to-music party. Dancers may rest, but musicians apparently don't.
During the day on Monday people made their own way, some working even (oh dear) and others buying multiple copies of the newspaper. One small group of step dancers met to compare notes and practise on Anita Campbell's wooden living room floor. But it was a brief reprieve before our last workshop of the weekend in a church hall in Dartmouth. Pat taught us the Donegal Set and we reprised the Ballyduff, a Waterford set that was a favourite last year.
Pauline thanked Pat for coming, not only this Easter, but for a whole decade, and presented him with a shoe bag and a copy of the anniversary poster. Pat thanked Pauline for organizing the weekend and maintaining the dance group. Then we retired-you guessed it-to the Triangle, for a last drink and final farewells.
With the anniversary celebrations behind us now, we're looking forward to the next decade and the ones to follow. Thanks, Pat, and see you next year, Bill!
Adele Megann, Halifax, Nova Scotia
The North American Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann convention was held at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Ottawa, Ontario, from March 31 to April 3, 2005. From the restaurant on the hotel's top floor, we could see the Houses of Parliament, the Supreme Court, and the distinctive Museum of Civilisation. Early April is not the best time of year to show off the beauty of Ottawa, as most of the clean white snow was gone and the Ottawa River was still half frozen. Ottawa is famous for tulips given to Canada by Queen Juliana of the Netherlands after her stay here during World War II, but these were not yet in bloom.
On Thursday night there was an evening of traditional music and step dancing of the Ottawa valley which includes Irish, Scottish, French Canadian and Cape Breton styles. Also on the program was a play about Thomas D'Arcy McGee, who was born in Carlingford, Ireland, and became one of the Canadian Fathers of Confederation, the group which drafted the original constitution of Canada.
Dancers at the convention included large contingents from Halifax and Toronto, several visitors from the Prairie Provinces and US visitors from Boston to New Orleans to Los Angeles and Seattle. The dancing part of the weekend got underway on Friday with a ceili workshop led by Maureen Mulvey-O'Leary and a set dance workshop with Pat Murphy, followed by a ceili with music by the Ena O'Brien Ceili Band from Toronto.
On Saturday, ceili dancers got an early start with Maureen and set dancers learned three sets with Pat. We danced the Fintown Set, the Dromgarriff Half Set and the Loughgraney Set. As always Pat's banter, lilting, thorough explanations and elegant dancing were a treat. Some friends were so busy watching Pat's feet during the demonstrations that they didn't have time to notice the movements of the sets! There were at least 25 sets on the floor.
At the convention banquet Saturday night we feasted on potato and leek soup with Newfoundland scrunchins [fried chunks of pork fat], tender roast beef from Alberta and maple mousse cake from nearby Lanark County. The Irish ambassador to Canada, Martin Burke, addressed the group, as well as CCÉ director general Labhras O'Murchu and several Comhaltas chairpersons. All thanked Maureen Maher who was the convention chairperson.
The ceili started at 11.30pm and enthusiastic ceili and set dancers took to the floor until 2am. We danced a set, several ceili dances and then sets for the rest of the night. Pat provided a few hints as each figure started and Maureen led the dancers for the High-Cauled Cap and the Polly Glide. Wonderful music was provided for us by the Ena O'Brien Ceili Band and friends. Julie Schreyer played keyboard while her two-year-old daughter Aine slept in a child carrier on her back!
At Pat's last workshop on Sunday he taught the Clare Orange and Green. This was followed by an elegant demonstration of the Waltz of the Bells, and a chance for about fifty couples to dance it ourselves. The hardcore dancers were raring to dance again for the afternoon ceili, again a mixture of ceili and sets. Set dancing lovers all left on a high after a good fill of dancing over the weekend. Meeting dancers from all over Canada, the USA and Ireland was a great treat and as always the personal connections made at these events will be treasured.
Nattanya Hewitt, Rockport, Ontario
"You'll see the cars parked along the road," I was told when given directions to Sonny Egan's Rambling House. "You can't miss it."
I've been lost on Irish roads often enough to take this advice with scepticism, but when I found what seemed like hundreds of cars parked along both sides of a narrow country lane, I knew I must be at the right place. It was easy to pick out the right house, I just followed everyone else. A knock on the door and I was inside.
Suddenly I was gridlocked, a crush of humanity made movement in any direction an awkward challenge. Sonny's house contained more people than I've ever seen stuffed into a country cottage. Why was everyone here late on a Tuesday night? It didn't take me long to discover the answer-Sonny Egan's Rambling House has the best trad Irish entertainment found anywhere in Ireland.
Sonny was born and raised in this house in the north Kerry countryside between Listowel and Tralee. For 27 years he's hosted his rambling house here. There's one special room in the house, a large, lofty old-fashioned kitchen with fireplace, turf fire, a well-worn timber floor and a flight of steps up to a bedroom loft. Every Tuesday night from December to April the house is open to all visitors, free of charge.
I was here on the last Tuesday in April, Sonny's final night of the season, and it was this special occasion which had brought so many out. The night began with Mass, followed by tea. Two entertaining magicians, one after the other, performed a selection of baffling tricks that went by all too quickly. Every seat was occupied, all the standing room was packed, there were people crowded in the doorways and I presume more outside.
Next there was a bit of drama by a local group featuring Sonny himself as a tinker in floppy hat, long coat and bodhran, a role he played perfectly. There was more drama from the superb storyteller Frances Kennedy, who told a selection of bawdy stories and brought every character in them vividly to life.
Space was cleared on the floor for the local set, which is similar to the North Kerry or Sliabh Luachra, yet different and not often seen elsewhere. [See the West Limerick Polka Set in Pat Murphy's The Flowing Tide.] The only reel set played was the Connemara, though the polka set was danced several times. Music was by two accordion players seated under the steps and Sonny held the microphone near them so the dancers could hear. A few were also called up for solo steps, including a couple who danced a lovely fling.
Most of all Sonny loves singing. There were waltzes galore played by the boxes and sung by Sonny-the small bit of floor crammed with couples. There were many singers present, some sang unaccompanied, and sometimes everyone joined in. For many of the songs the bright flourescent lights were switched off to soften the atmosphere, and then suddenly the brightness came back when it was over.
Around 3am there was a second tea break, with ample sandwiches and cake remaining after the first one. The crowd had thinned gradually, but those still here at this hour had no notion of leaving. Sonny's rambling house often doesn't finish until 5 or 6am, though I parted soon after tea.
Sonny himself is a kind and gracious man, friendly and welcoming to his visitors, truly generous to open his home for the past three decades and a remarkable ambassador of Irish culture. He'll be pleased to see you so be sure to visit!
Sonny Egan's Rambling House is on the road between Lixnaw and Abbeydorney in north Kerry on Tuesdays between December and April.
I expect it must be a record that the workshop in Mullaghbuoy Community Centre on the Cooley Peninsula in Co Louth has been held annually on the last weekend in April since 1983 with only one break when we were statutorily prohibited from holding the event because of the foot and mouth epidemic. In those years we have had a variety of tutors starting with Joe and Siobhán O'Donovan for the first twelve years. We then had Mick Mulkerrin, Declan Morris, Colin Butler and for the last few years Gerard Butler.
Gerard arrived at the venue promptly at 10am on April 30th and after setting up his equipment and having the cupán tae he was ready for action at 11. By this time there were eight sets in the hall and when they had the welcome cup of tea and scones Gerry got them warmed up with a few figures of the Plain Set.
He then proceeded to teach the Deradda Set with emphasis on the Mayo style. He followed up with the Ballyduff Set again emphasizing the Waterford style of dancing. He then took time to teach a few sean nós steps which created a lot of interest. His rhythmic style of dancing is unique and he did his best to pass on this style to all the participants with varying degrees of success. The morning session was now completed and all present took a break for some welcome refreshments. Some of the dancers availed of the break to brush up on their sean nós steps.
After lunch Gerry taught a few two-hand dances which recently have become popular. As luck would have it we had Marie Garrity from Dromore attending the workshop and she is recognized as an accomplished teacher of two-hand dances. Gerry availed of her expertise and together they taught the Back-to-Back Hornpipe, the Long German, the Three Step and the ever popular Polly Glide, which was danced to both hornpipes and Carrick-on-Shannon Cajun music. This part of the workshop proved very popular and we thank Marie for her help.
Next Gerry was requested by some of the dancers to teach the Claddagh Set and we can only admire his patience in teaching all present the difficult third figure. Tea was again served in the afternoon and the break from the pressures of the Claddagh was very welcome. After tea Gerry taught the battering step, going into great detail with every movement and again his patient method of teaching was greatly appreciated. He concluded the workshop with a reel set to give everyone an opportunity of putting the steps into practice.
Gerry was thanked for his contribution to the success of the workshop and before finishing he did a few sean nós steps in the company of his brother Colin who had arrived in the afternoon with his friend Mary from Scotstown to give moral support to his older brother. Their performance received tumultuous applause.
The dancers, happy but exhausted, went home to rest before returning to the ceili at 10pm. The ceili was one of the best attended for some time in Mullaghbuoy and the resources of the catering staff were tested to the limits.
The music, which was magical, was supplied by the Four Provinces Ceili Band, Colin Butler of course being the drummer. Before the ceili ended Colin told us that Orla the banjo player and Martin the box player were getting married in June so we send them our sincere good wishes for their married life together.
It is only when a successful event is over that we appreciate the hard work put into the workshop by a dedicated and active committee. We thank the McEneaney family, the officers of our club for their dedication and we thank all the people who arrived with freshly baked food for the occasion. We are also grateful for the publicity given to us by the Set Dancing News as it is such a reliable source of spreading the news.
Beidhmuid arais arís le Cuideadh Dé i mí Aibrean 2006.
Michael McGlynn, Riverstown, Co Louth
The fishing village of Portmagee, Co Kerry, is at the western end of the Iveragh Peninsula, ten miles off the Ring of Kerry. At the base of a modest mountain a single street of houses faces across to Valentia Island. The village once offered a ferry service to the island but that ended in the 1970s when the bridge spanning the Portmagee Channel was opened. The village is called after a notorious eighteenth century smuggler, but today it's a quiet, respectable little place with restaurants, bars, B&Bs and an abundance of scenic beauty and Irish charm to make it a popular spot for tourists.
Portmagee is also one of those rare places where you can dance sets to live music twice a week every week of the year. These sessions take place on Friday and Sunday in the Bridge Bar, which is operated by Gerard and Pat Kennedy, and they also hold Irish nights on Tuesday during the summer, making it a genuine hotbed of Irish culture!
The highlight of the dancing year in Portmagee is the annual weekend held over the May bank holiday. The first of these began in 1992 when Muiris O'Brien revived and taught the Valentia Right and Left Set with the help of a local dancer who recalled dancing it in his youth. At the next year's workshop Muiris revived the Caragh Lake Jig Set with the help of a fellow in Killorglin. Then in 1994 Connie Ryan took charge of the weekend and following his death in 1997, Connie's dance partner Betty McCoy has stepped into his place.
I arrived in Portmagee for my visit to the fourteenth annual weekend following a 4½ hour journey on a gloriously sunny day; it's only the next county for me but the remote location makes it a long journey. Gerard and Pat and their co-organisers of the weekend, Beryl and Julian Stracey, welcomed me to Portmagee and the Bridge Bar. The Kennedys' establishment includes a restaurant and guest house adjoining the bar called The Moorings where I had a delicious meal, and my lodgings were in a B&B just across the bridge on the island.
The Bridge Bar was bustling all evening, and gradually packed with visitors and locals, only a minority of whom were set dancers. The local band, Seamus Rahilly and Paddy Casey on accordion and piano, set up by 9.30pm and soon three sets of us filled the floor at the back of the bar. It was crowded, hot and lively and a special treat to dance the South Kerry Set in the village where it has been danced continuously for decades. The floor was even more crowded when the band played waltzes. There was cool relief out the back door where another two sets danced on boards in a covered open-air space that also served as a smokers' lounge. I became fully reacquainted with the South Kerry after dancing it two or three times, and we danced a few reel sets as well. We witnessed something a bit unusual when a group of visitors from Corsica danced their own version of a set in one long figure with an endless variety of moves.
On Saturday morning dancers met at the community centre for a workshop with Betty McCoy. The centre is spacious and bright and has a seasoned timber floor for comfortable dancing. The Corsicans were here, along with a set of English dancers, a couple sets worth of folk from Dublin and Wicklow, and miscellaneous visitors and locals. Betty started with the Fermanagh Set, which was challenging enough for some folks, and when she continued with the Aran Set there was great hilarity as everyone tried to master the intricacies of this enjoyable set. Meanwhile, Julian Stracey held a workshop for children in another room in the hall and before they broke for lunch a brave set of kids demonstrated a figure of the South Kerry Set to the delighted adults. There was another demo after lunch by the Corsicans-their quadrille seems to combine dozens of moves and variations in a single dance. Betty finished the afternoon with the Williamstown Set.
Most of the weekend's participants took advantage of a package price which included dinner in The Moorings on Saturday and Sunday. We had a special 6pm seating which was a lovely way to socialise. In fact many of the returning visitors said they enjoy Portmagee more for socialising than dancing. The Bridge Bar is the weekend's focal point-its relaxed atmosphere and friendly patrons are enough to tempt dancers back each year. The dancing is an added bonus.
After Saturday's dinner a session took over the back of the bar for a couple of hours with more sets beginning with the South Kerry. Around 11pm people started drifting over to the ceili in the community centre featuring Autumn Gold, a two-piece band from west Cork with Gerry McCarthy on box and Liam Healy on piano. Gerry has a deft hand with the accordion and played what was probably the fastest Plain Set jig figure in my experience! He stood before the microphone during the entire ceili; perhaps that's the reason for the extra lift in his music. Help with the dancing was only provided once during the night, when Carmel Kearns called the Mazurka Set; otherwise each set had to offer their own assistance to any beginners in their midst. The ceili started at a late hour and finished quite late too, but the dancing was so enjoyable we never noticed the time passing.
Portmagee has a modern church where many went to Mass on Sunday morning. A notable addition to the church is a kind of shrine dedicated to Skellig Michael, the medieval monastic island nine miles off the Kerry coast. Tourists can travel to the island by boat from Portmagee. Skellig Michael has several beehive cells, stone-built domed huts, and there's a replica of one in the church's shrine which was officially opened last year and is available for quiet contemplation without the need for a sea journey.
After Mass there was a day of music at the Bridge Bar. A couple of local musicians led a session which included several visitors, one of them a fiddler from Corsica who played a few solos. Gerry and Liam, Autumn Gold, were back at 3pm for another session of dancing. The bar was more crowded than ever with three sets inside and out. The group then shared a meal at 6pm, by which time we were ready for Harmonix. They're a three-piece cabaret group from England who have participated in the Portmagee weekend for many years. They specialise in playing popular hits of the sixties and seventies and gave a break from the strict diet of trad music all weekend. There were no sets but young and old took to the floor to "bop" around. Every year Harmonix bring more friends along with them to Portmagee; this year they were fourteen in total, most of whom participated in the set dancing. We were back to trad at 9.30pm for the regular Sunday dance session with Seamus and Paddy for a great finish to an enjoyable weekend of dancing.
My break in Portmagee was memorable for the genuine welcome and generous assistance of its organisers Gerard, Pat, Julian and Beryl, the friendly locals and visitors, the enjoyable music and dancing and the beautiful Kerry land- and seascape.
My grandmother used to tell us, "a good dancer could dance on a thruppenny bit." Well I met some of these people in Castletown, Co Laois, on the May Bank holiday weekend. At the end while saying my goodbyes and making plans for the rest of the year and into the next I realised how much I am enjoying the people, the places and the dancing. We practiced doubling in the space of an imaginary shower. In one set a man turned me this way and that till I just let my feet do the dancing and my dance partner decide every which way we manoeuvred. I hadn't the heart to tell him I never danced the particular set before. He was a gentleman, like all the others I danced with from Friday to Monday, both male and female, children and adults. I laughed from the inside out. There is no doctor in the world could prescribe anything that would have the desired effect as a weekend in Castletown dancing. New friends, old friends, new and old talents set us on the road for more.
For what it's worth, my thoughts on the Castletown weekend just gone-
What is in the bubbles in the water in Castletown
That makes us all dance out of our skins?
I have seen lame men jump so high in the air
As if to catch a passing airplane and avoid the queues at our airports.
People with the bad knees passed me by like one of
Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh's greyhounds on a bend at Shelburne Park.
Musicians dance in the Plain Set
While playing for everyone else dancing it.
You would have to have been there to view the miracles-
Backs straightened, cured even
Bodies float, energised and oxygenated.
No medication prescribed
And best of all, no surgery required.
No VHI, no BUPA protection needed,
Just Celtic Crest, the water.
Noreen Uí Laighin, Mountrath, Co Laois
Celtic Spring is the brand of bottled spring water kindly supplied free of charge to dancers in Castletown.
On Saturday, 19 March 2005, we had a St Patrick's Day barbecue and dance at our home in Newcastle, Australia, about two hours drive north of Sydney. We are members of the Newcastle Irish Set Dancers and attend classes every Tuesday night run by Arthur Kingsland and Julia Smith.
Irish set dancing was first introduced to Newcastle in the late nineties by a young, charismatic and great dancer, Christy Fitzgerald. Much to our loss and Ireland's gain, Christy returned to live in his native Kerry about five years ago.
My husband, Phillip, loves "the craic" and the joy of dancing and has built a dance floor which is stored at the back of a double garage underneath our home. It is brought out and assembled on the garage floor for dance parties. The floor is big enough to accommodate at least two sets. For the St Patrick's Day party, our friends Pamela Bradford and Christine Garvin, and my mother, Beryl O'Brien, decorated the garage and party room appropriately (lots of green and shamrocks). I have painted the garage walls with a shamrock frieze and here are photos of "Shamrock Hall" before the festivities commenced on 19 March.
Photo 1: "Shamrock Hall" before the commencement of festivities. Wheelbarrow of the normal variety in evidence.
Photo 2: Photos of guests enjoying pre-barbecue drinks and nibblies downstairs. Shamrock chandelier in evidence.
Photo 3: Set dancing in progress.
Photo 4: Ros and Shane Kerr, musicians who also dance with our group, provided terrific live music.
Photo 5: Lastly, a photograph of some of the group on the night. In the foreground is our dog, Sharna, and kneeling are Arthur Kingsland, Shane Kerr and Ros Kerr. At the extreme right in a blue shirt is Julia Smith.
Irish set dancers visiting Newcastle would be very welcome to come along to our class on Tuesday nights. Contact Arthur and Julia for details.
Thirteen years ago Gretta and Oliver McNulty started set dancing classes at the Glandore Inn in beautiful west Cork. During these thirteen years an amazing variety of sets have been taught, danced and enjoyed by people from near and far.
As it grew and developed so did the friendships formed. Outings were planned and groups visited Knocknagree, Abbeyfeale and Portmagee on more than one occasion. Evening meals were enjoyed in many different hotels and restaurants, often finishing with music, song and dance. The ladies meet regularly for lunch and, of course, any excuse for a party night such as birthdays, St Patrick's Night and Christmas is immediately taken up.
In 1994 we decided to support one charity in particular and chose the Marymount Hospice. Lots of different fundraisers have been held but the biggest event is the annual coffee morning and sale with an auction in the evening with a wide variety of goods auctioned-yes, we have even auctioned a goat! To date almost €32,000 has been donated to this charity, largely due to the huge support from people in the surrounding towns and villages.
The Glandore Inn is now changing ownership and classes finished at the beginning of March. However, new classes have started in the Leap Inn by kind invitation of the Sheehans and we look forward to encouraging and welcoming new dancers to come along on Thursday nights. We consider one of the most important factors in set dancing is fun and we have it in abundance. Lots of luck in your new venue, Gretta.
Janet Robertson, Ballydehob, Co Cork
Rounding up set dancers from various places somewhat towards the north, the coach took off with a full contingent of passengers on Friday 18th March 2005 under the capable hands of our driver Jim Hughes, who stayed with us for the St Patrick's weekend.
"How are you?" and "Glad to see you!" were exchanged as everyone settled down for the longish tour to Liscannor Bay Hotel in Co Clare. Apart from a short break for tea in Ballinasloe, we arrived in nice time for dinner and everyone got settled into their rooms.
However the day was far from being over, as later on that evening the coach got on the road again and all came to the Falls Hotel in Ennistymon for the night's ceili. Music for this was provided by the famous Kilfenora Ceili Band who came from a short distance up the road. Thérèse McConnon was MC for the night and as usual it was enjoyed by all and sundry.
The editor of Set Dancing News, Bill Lynch, turned in and slipped around the house taking some snaps with his beautiful big camera. It should be remembered that the bimonthly magazine does not come about on "fresh air"-it only comes about by people like Bill working hard to provide it-so every effort should be made to keep it in circulation by subscribing to it. It gives excellent sets news on various topics and a fine list of set dances to come later around the country and elsewhere.
Thérèse McConnon organised this St Patrick's weekend trip. Everyone found her organising skills and attention to detail marvellous. We wish Thérèse every success in the future.
After breakfast on Saturday 19th March the coach was on the road again. This time we went to the Cliffs of Moher. Some from our group were never there to see this marvellous sight. We were blessed with a lovely day and gorgeous sunshine. Some of the clan got organised up on the top and danced the "Cliff Set" before leaving! But then I noticed that all the ladies brightened up-even more than they were-when they heard we were all going for a few hours shopping in Ennis!
After Mass and dinner on Saturday evening, music was supplied by a very talented duo from Galway called Celtic Swing. This night was given over to "anything goes" until the wee hours.
Sunday 20th was fixed to be the last day of the tour, but a big surprise awaited us-on to the coach we went at about 1pm and landed into the Falls Hotel for a three hour ceili with the Tulla Ceili Band. This turned out to be another magnificent ceili with many other visitors also attending. It put us all in good mood for the trip back home, apart for a stop for a bite to eat at Ennis on the way.
Many thanks, Thérèse. We look forward to the next bit of gallivanting which may be arranged, "Wherever it will be-from there to here"!
Vincent Lewis, Moy, Co Tyrone
Most set dancers aren't content to sit down and watch a display of dancing-if there's going to be any dancing we want to be doing it ourselves! However, Hell for Leather is one dance show that's guaranteed to keep us fully entertained for more than two hours. The cast of 160 dancers perform sets on stage as you've never seen them before, in large line-ups, circles, stars and diamonds. Every one of the dancers batters steps in the Clare style and together they generate a compelling beat to the show's powerful music. The performers also show their versatility with brush dances, sean nós and traditional step, plus song and music.
The amazing thing about Hell for Leather is that the performers are aged between seven and seventeen, apart from a handful of adults helping them out from time to time. Just as remarkable is that all of them are from one corner of Clare, where John Fennell has successfully involved many hundreds of children in dancing at his classes in the southwest of the county. John has made set dancing a desirable and popular activity among children, both boys and girls. As many as 600 kids in five locations participate in his classes, and there's so much talent that John was able to gather a cast of 160 for the show, with plenty more waiting to take their places.
The first five performances took place last September in Glór, a new venue in Ennis, Co Clare, which seats 485. All were fully booked, as were further performances there in December and March. I caught the show on its first appearance outside Clare in April at Siamsa Tíre, a theatre with 355 seats in Tralee, Co Kerry.
Hell for Leather opens with a brief welcome and introduction by John Fennell, and then for the next two and half hours it's over to the kids. Large groups of them dance on stage together, up to five sets at once, with choreography that would fit right into a classic Hollywood musical. They appear from both sides of the stage and form large rotating crosses, circles and squares, all while dancing a highly rhythmic battering step. Sometimes the dancers will split up and go around the stage in separate directions and return to make a new formation. Then magically they break into sets and dance a figure or two, and then finish up with more elaborate choreography before leaving the stage.
These large production numbers are interspersed with pieces involving individuals and smaller groups, sometimes performing different types of dance, singing or playing music. Some of the most entertaining are the show's youngest dancers. They can dance a set with as much battering as their older colleagues and take great delight in performing on stage. Three of the show's youngest dancers come out holding brooms to perform the brush dance in one of the show's highlights. They show enormous confidence while dancing and take the huge reaction from the audience entirely within their stride. Other interludes in the programme feature figure, trad and modern step and sean nós dancing. There are also breaks for music and songs by the young dancers, and by a few adults as well.
The first half finishes with all 160 dancers on stage. There isn't room for twenty sets on stage so they all dance together in rows and columns. Twenty of them dance on at a time at the back of the stage, each row dancing out in front of the previous until the last row with the smallest dancers is out. Then suddenly, for the show's most exciting moment, all 160 dance forward to the edge of the stage in eight bars. There they batter in unison, embellished with turns toward the four walls and toward each other. It's a thrilling and colourful sight, with everyone wearing a shirt in their dancing class's colour. Toward the end the group moves to the back of the stage and each row dances forward to take a bow before exiting.
The second half begins with a solo traditional step dance followed by the Exile's Lament, songs, recitations and music on the theme of emigration. The dancers then return for more of their creative choreography. Most of the dancing is to reels, and "poetic license" is taken with a few of the sets, mainly to replace any swings with dancing at home to keep the battering going. The third figure of the Plain Set has a clever variation in the show-after the tops finish the figure, all the dancers lead around the stage and form completely new sets in new positions, with the sides now dancing in tops so the audience can see them dance the figure clearly. There's more brush dancing, this time by three older children backed up by another twenty, all with brushes.
All the dance music in Hell for Leather is provided by Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh. Their energetic music suits the show perfectly and contributes enormously to its appeal. Toward the end of the second half, Micheál himself appears alone on stage for a moving slow air which is followed by a reel. Suddenly out of the darkness Peter Hanrahan appears, dancing what must be the wildest brush dance ever seen! The audience roared with delight. In the double finale which follows, the full cast of 160 are back on stage again for a reprise of the first finale. This time the group is unified in the same colour shirt, a battering army of set dancers. They took their bows in front of a standing ovation from the audience.
The logistics of mounting a show featuring 160 children are extremely challenging and John Fennell and his backstage crew of volunteers work hard to ensure all goes smoothly both on and off stage. The children are remarkably professional and entertaining, and hold the audience's full attention for two and a half hours. Hell for Leather is a great night's entertainment for all set dancers, even if you don't get up to dance a set. The pleasure of watching the kids having fun while dancing makes up for it.
I'm just back from another fantastic week in Ibiza. I know you love to add little tidbits of info to your pieces, so here are a couple of things.
Firstly, me and my friends who were travelling home on Sunday morning at 6am Spanish time (5am here) would sincerely like to thank the Glenside Ceili Band for getting out of their beds at 6.30am to come and play for our send-off. What other band would do that? It was wonderful. A figure of a set was danced while we all watched bleary-eyed. Staff arriving for work stood and watched these mad Irish-it was so funny. I would love to thank them so much. It meant such a lot.
Another thing brought tears to my eyes. When the afternoon ceili finished on Wednesday, I wasn't dancing but relaxing at the pool. The national anthem was played, so I stood up, and as I looked around even people who were swimming in the pool stood to attention, as well as all the sunbathers and all the people on their balconies, not one person moving. I wish I had my camera handy, it was so surreal. It is engraved on my mind forever.
We have to congratulate Gerry Flynn and his team for the faultless holiday. Everything was just perfect, including the weather. I'm envious of the people still there, but thankful to have been well enough to enjoy the week. We had a wonderful open-air Mass on Saturday, and all our set dancing friends who are no longer with us were mentioned. Sean Dempsey, one of the main instigators of dancing in the sun, would have had his sixtieth birthday last Wednesday. We know he was looking down on us all, proud to see how his acorn has grown. I was on the very first fleadh in the sun, and wouldn't miss it.
Sorry for waffling on, I'm still on a high!
Keep up your fantastic work, Bill.
Brenda Gaffney, Moneen, Dowra, Co Leitrim
Not only dancing partnersDear Bill,
I have just returned from Ibiza and would like to share a wonderful story with set dance readers. My niece Clare Usher was dancing in Riverdance in New York and she met a nice young man called Jonathan from Sligo. Later this year they are to marry in Manchester. Jonathan has an aunt called Bridget who goes to set dancing all over including Ibiza. I was told to look out for her. But what does she look like? Well this is the story.
Curtis Magee was playing the taxi dance outside in the sunshine where the men line up on the right hand side of the dance floor, the girls on the left. Both lines walk to the top of the dance floor, you meet your partner, dance to the bottom of the floor, you leave your partner and join the line again. I met my partner at the top and we danced down the floor saying we would have a quick step later. Well, the quick step was called and away we went. I asked my partner did she come from Ireland?
"Yes," she said, "I come from Sligo."
I said, "I was looking for a woman from Sligo called Bridget."
"Yes, it's me. You must be Mike, Clare's uncle." I don't know who was the most surprised.
So from next August we will not only be dancing partners but will be related by marriage. I would like to pay a big thanks to Gerry Flynn and his Enjoy Travel team for a fantastic event.
Mike Lally, Manchester, England
A compliant set of dancersHi Bill,
The attached picture is of my husband, Pat O'Sullivan, whom you may recognise, 'instructing' a very compliant set of dancers in Barcelona where we were on holidays recently. He doesn't know I'm sending it to you, so if the quality is good enough would you surprise him by including it in the Set Dancing News sometime?
Thanks a million, and thanks for a great magazine.
Eilís O'Sullivan, Ballyvourney, Co Cork
Thank you to everyoneDear Bill,
I would like, through your magazine, to say a big thank you to everyone who supported our ceili in the Pope John Centre, Heston, London, on 13th May. The ceili was in aid of a local children's hospice and was a great success and a very enjoyable evening.
Many people, including a few that were unable to attend, sent donations of money or raffle prizes. With the generosity of the dancers and club members, we raised the sum of £800 for the Shooting Star Children's Hospice.
Moira Dempsey, Heston, London
Music and sets in my home
I am from Miltown Malbay, Co Clare. I love your Set Dancing News. We had music and sets in my home all the time. Then they had flag floors. You could make a lot of noise. My father played the concertina. Thank you for all your news and I can't wait to read about the Willie Clancy week.
Mary Collins, Springfield, Massachusetts
Corinne Thor's set dancers gave an exhibition at the Trachtengruppe Trimbach 25th Anniversary Jubilaeum on Sunday 21 May. "Trachte" is the Swiss word for the traditional costumes worn. They're a group dedicated to Swiss folk dancing. We danced the Williamstown and Baile Bhuirne Jig Sets, and demonstrated and then included the whole group in dancing the last figure of the Connemara, Maggie in the Woods.
We hope all is going well with you!
All the best,
Tim Thor, Solothurn, Switzerland
On Friday morning January 21st, five eager set dancers set off on the long journey from the south to Termonfeckin, Co Louth, for the third annual Termonfeckin Set Dancing Weekend at An Grianán. Two of the company had not been there before so did not know what a delightful time was in store for them.
We arrived at An Grianán in time for tea and were greeted with a ceád míle fáilte and given every assistance with registering and accommodation. We were officially welcomed at the tea by organiser John McEvoy and given some details of events. After the sumptuous tea and a rest we got ready for the ceili which was held in the Kellogg Hall with the Davey Ceili Band.
The hall filled up quickly, the music was fabulous, fine and lively and much appreciated by the dancers. Céline Tubridy and a number of others danced the Priest and his Boots and Kathleen McGlynn did some sean nós dancing to the delight of the crowd. We retired eventually, tired out from travelling and dancing and eager to get a good night's sleep in preparation for Saturday's events.
Breakfast on Saturday began at 8.45am after which the classes started. Pádraig and Róisín McEneany's class was in the Kellogg Hall, doing the Ballyduff, South Sligo Lancers and Fintown sets. Céline and Michael Tubridy were in the Drawing Room doing traditional step dancing, mainly the Priest and his Boots. Kathleen and Michael McGlynn were in the gym with the sean nós class and we enjoyed it immensely. It rained continuously but that did not 'dampen' our enthusiasm. A huge crowd arrived at the gym where Michael spoke first about the sean nós dancing and then Kathleen took over. She was most painstaking and went over the steps again and again. There was great hilarity but everyone tried very hard. After lunch the classes resumed so we headed for the gym again to find that many more dancers had arrived for the sean nós class. We were glad to go over all the steps again and try to learn them off.
Dinner was at 6pm and again we did full justice to the appetizing meal. The catering staff for all the meals were most courteous and helpful at all times. After dinner, lifts were arranged to Mass for those without cars. We enjoyed the beautiful Mass, music and choir in the local church and were welcomed warmly by the parish priest.
The ceili on Saturday night was at 9.30pm and music was by Johnny Reidy's band. A huge crowd attended this ceili and there was rapturous applause all night for the lovely music. Many of the usual sets were danced plus some of the day's workshop sets called by Pádraig McEneany. John McEvoy was on hand also at all the ceilis to call the sets. He was ably assisted all weekend by his wife Sheila and also Jim Finnegan and his wife.
After breakfast on Sunday morning, Kathleen McGlynn gave more tuition in sean nós dancing and some two-hand dances. These are a welcome break at times from the sets. Céline Tubridy did a short session in the Drawing Room.
After tea at 11am we had a most enjoyable relaxed session in the Kellogg Hall. It was the highlight of the weekend for my husband and myself and I think it was really enjoyed by all present. We had a great mixture of talent performing a terrific sketch of Percy French's song, Phil the Fluter's Ball, with everyone in stitches of laughter at the antic's of the 'actors' and 'actresses'. There was also solo singing, step dancing, recitations, sean nós dancing, instrumental music and the bag pipes-a terrific variety was deeply appreciated and thoroughly enjoyed by everyone. The session of course finished with a set for everybody.
Lunch was at 1pm, another delightful meal, after which the final ceili was held. Music for this was by a local band, Triskell from Co Louth, mostly young people and they gave a magnificent display of lively reels and polkas all evening and were enthusiastically clapped by the dancers. We eventually finished at 5.30pm and after many farewells and expressions of thanks for a glorious weekend we began our long journey home, tired out but very happy to have been part of such a terrific experience.
Chris Gleeson, Kilfinane, Co Limerick.
They're doing something right at the Gathering Festival in Killarney, Co Kerry. Perhaps it's the brilliant music coming at you from all sides at all hours, the perfect balance of reel and polka sets at every ceili, the miraculous dance hall that never gets too hot or too crowded, and the friendly, relaxed and joyful atmosphere. Whatever the combination of factors, there were probably more people dancing sets here than at any other event, all with the greatest enjoyment.
My own five days' immersion in the culture of Sliabh Luachra was so pleasurable that I went home on a beautiful and elusive 'dancing high' that kept my mind in Killarney for days afterward.
The Gathering is based at the Gleneagle Hotel on the southern edge of Killarney, but for the opening event on Wednesday, February 23rd, the festival went to the home of the music which inspires it, into the nearby Sliabh Luachra countryside. The cultural headquarters for the area is the Sliabh Luachra Heritage Centre in Scartaglin, Co Kerry, which hosted a broadcast of the RTÉ radio programme Ceili House as well as a ceili.
When I arrived half the floor was a tangle of wires, microphones and stands as technicians set up equipment and did sound checks for the broadcast. There was a bit of rehearsal for the opening of the programme to ensure that it sounded natural and spontaneous. Three sets of dancers were in readiness and once the programme was underway we got our cues to dance a figure of the Sliabh Luachra Set and another from the Plain. There was to have been a bit more dancing later in the programme but we missed our cues.
A growing crowd of dancers had to wait for the broadcast to finish and for RTÉ to clear out, so the ceili began after 11pm with the Sliabh Luachra Set. Taylor's Cross, the ceili band headed by box player Donie Nolan, was featured on the broadcast and stayed on to play for the ceili. They were fortunate to have a superb piano accompanist on the night, Patsy Broderick, who did more than just back the music-she often played along with the tune which gave a bright lift to the dancing. From this opening night, a pattern of equality was established for the weekend which alternated reels and polkas at every ceili. I was delighted that the West Kerry, Jenny Ling and Borlin sets had equal time with the Plain, Lancers and Connemara. The dancers on the floor were a well-mixed bunch of locals and visitors to the festival mostly from England and America, with a handful from Europe.
Thursday night, February 24th, was Sliabh Luachra night in the Gleneagle's ballroom, with a concert by two groups of local musicians. Chairs filled the dance floor where the most attentive listeners sat. Dancers awaiting the ceili gathered at the back and contented themselves with a chat till the floor was cleared and the ceili began after 11pm. Music was by Tim Joe and Anne O'Riordan, a local duo with a big national reputation and a growing international following. Tim Joe's light touch on the box is always a delight, and he often helps out with the calling. Tonight, he also sang beautifully for the waltz. He keeps a keen eye on the dancers and adjusts the music to suit; sometimes he'll silence the box to let us batter, clap or shout. When things are going really well he'll play a single note for so long it seems as though he'll surely run out of breath, and then suddenly the other notes start rolling in right on time. Despite the excitement caused by the music, it was a relaxed evening of five or six sets, starting with the customary Sliabh Luachra.
The Friday afternoon dance session which happened spontaneously last year became part of the programme this year. Brendan Begley took charge of the music, bringing along his box, melodeon and three sons, who helped out on guitar, concertina and box. The floor in the hotel's main bar hardly had room for three sets, and five jammed into the space for some of the sets. The hour passed too quickly and I was thankful for the rare treat to dance to Brendan's vigorous yet soulful music.
Most dancers attending the Friday night ceili weren't highly familiar with the Four Star Trio, even though they had played for ceilis at the Gathering in the past. Nevertheless a capacity crowd came to dance in the hotel ballroom and had a grand time. The musicians play pure Sliabh Luachra music in a leisurely session style. My most memorable set of the night was the Jenny Ling in which my partner and I discovered an opportunity to do a sixteen-bar double in most of the figures-bliss! After the ceili the action shifted to the session in the bar where a set of youngsters battered the night away until the wee hours of the morning.
The weekend was in full swing on Saturday the 26th. Mick Mulkerrin and Mairéad Casey were in the INEC (Ireland's National Events Centre), one of the largest halls ever used for set dancing, at 10am and starting the dancing soon after with a couple figures of the Connemara. To keep everyone from spreading out to the farthest reaches of the floor, Mick had us bring out chairs to confine the sets to half the floor, and even then it was more than spacious for the twelve or fourteen sets. In the morning session we learned the Fintown Set and the Newmarket Meserts.
During the lunch break, many of us stopped into the hotel's second bar beside the INEC where a few local players in session inspired another Sliabh Luachra Set. Back in the hall, Mick and Mairéad had a treat for us before returning to the business of learning sets. A few sean nós dancers were invited out, beginning with Mats Melin, a Swedish fellow based in Scotland and currently studying in Limerick who dances in the Cape Breton style as though he was born into it. Mick and Mairead did their bit as well before everyone returned to the dancing with the Derry Colmcille Set and Claddagh Set.
It will probably never be known for certain how many sets danced at the Saturday night ceili but I've heard figures of ninety and 140 sets. In any case, if it wasn't the biggest ceili in my experience, it was one of the biggest. The INEC is so spacious that it never felt full and once they turned off the heating at the start, it was comfortable dancing. The band which drew the crowd and kept them in motion was none other than the Glenside Ceili Band, all the way from Co Longford. No matter what the size of ceili, ten sets or a hundred, their music is irresistible and their manner always charming. The number of polka sets was slightly reduced tonight to permit a few more of the standard sets, which seemed entirely appropriate for such a big Saturday night ceili.
When the dancing was over people thronged into the bar and lounge areas of the hotel where sessions were under way in every nook and cranny. Those young dancers with the entertaining battering steps danced again in the bar, along with a set of older folks, while the rest of us were content after our ceili and just relaxed.
Mick and Mairéad taught the delightful Clare Orange and Green Set on Sunday morning, February 27th. When we successfully completed it, there was another display of solo dancing, this time by Agnès Haack from Paris who happened to be celebrating her birthday, so there were kisses and best wishes for her.
Anticipation was so high for the afternoon ceili that there was a long queue of a couple hundred people waiting at the doors at least half an hour before the ceili was due to begin. Once the doors opened everyone filed in and the queue cleared quickly. Johnny Reidy and his band were the big attraction, local musicians with a strong local following that's expanding all the time. Johnny's polkas are legendary for their breathtaking speed and the opening figure of the Sliabh Luachra Set was enough to convince everyone that his music is ideal for the set. As soon as we finished that figure, a spontaneous ovation rose from the floor and the musicians basked in its warmth. More ovations followed the second figure and on numerous other occasions throughout the afternoon. With Johnny on stage there was no way we could neglect the polka sets, so we were back to alternating with reels, which were just as inspiring as the polkas. After the national anthem, the crowd around the stage stood ten deep trying to shake Johnny's hand.
The Gathering's scheduled dancing ended with the ceili so most people dispersed home, though many were content to stay another night. The programme included nightly concerts throughout the weekend and the Sunday night concert was one which dancers could enjoy without the distraction of a ceili. Others were lucky enough to find dancing at a restaurant in town, and some trekked out to the regular ceili at Dan O'Connell's in Knocknageee. But there was no need to leave the Gleneagle at all as there was dancing all night at the session in the bar.
The sixth Gathering Festival was a remarkably satisfying weekend in many ways-superb music and plenty of it, unbeatable dancing, convenient hotel facilities, huge friendly crowds. It's also well suited to non-dancing music fans with quality concerts, instrument workshops and singing sessions in addition to music sessions in the bars and lounge. There were at least half a dozen sessions scattered throughout the hotel on Sunday night. Killarney has plenty of alternative activities to offer with its nearby lakes and mountains. The Gathering filled both the Gleneagle and the newly opened Brehon Hotel beside it. Others stayed in B&Bs, self-catering, hostels and other hotels-there is handy accommodation to suit all tastes and budgets in town. The Gathering is one of the top weekends of the year and highly recommended to all!
7am, Mullagh, Co Clare, the weather is mild, even a touch of spring in the air. Taking the ferry from Killimer to Tarbert on the river Shannon. Heading for Kerry airport. Taking the 12 noon flight to Frankfurt-Hahn. Catching the bus to Frankfurt main rail station. Hopping onto the fast train to Nuremberg, wintry weather with snow on the ground.
At 7pm in the evening I was delighted to welcome Aidan Vaughan back in Germany for his third workshop weekend in Erlangen, 28-30 January. It is certainly a long way from Clare to here!
The following day, the weekend started off with a warm-up workshop Friday evening. All participants travelled to Erlangen on wintry roads, but everybody got here safe and in time. Aidan got a warm and hearty welcome from all of us. Aidan warmed up our feet with the Paris Set emphasizing the lovely flow in this wonderful set from County Clare. We finished our warm up with the Caledonian-Aidan is a master of it with his mighty steps. Then it was a five-minute walk from the hall to the Irish Pub where we did a "chill out".
Saturday morning friends from near and far, like Switzerland , Tübingen, Karlsruhe, Heidelberg and Würzburg, gathered for great welcomes, hugs and kisses. Set dancing is connecting people, that is for certain! We were all looking forward to the next two days with Aidan who kept us dancing continuously, always in the traditional style.
I remember a few serious words Pat Murphy said to the dancers in Malahide, that the sets are lovely in the way they are handed down to us through the years. They should be left like they are and not changed in fancy ways. The best example for that would be the second figure of the Clare Lancers which cannot be recognized as the Lancers at all sometimes. With Aidan teaching, there is no fear of that!
He got our feet going in an exercise with reel steps. We tried to take good care with the little dribble at the end of the advance and retire, "Heel one two, heel down!" We continued with more practise in jig steps and after an hour were all longing for cups of tea and coffee delivered by good local friends.
The six sets on the floor now continued with the South Kerry Set, needing some time to get the house and square to home going. With a twinkle in his eye he asked us if we knew why the top men start with a chain in the first figure-"Because the women are always talking!" We finished the morning workshop with the North Clare Set, a variation of the Caledonian. All couples are dancing at the same time so it can be danced with any number of couples in a big circle together. After lunch we had a go at the Portmagee Meserts followed by the Ballyduff-one of my favourites for the weekend-and we finished the afternoon repeating the Paris Set.
For the evening ceili we gathered in the softly lit hall waiting for the local band Greenfield to play. These lovely local guys were in great form and really eager to play for all of us. It was their third time playing at this weekend and their best ever! Their music and good tempo created only smiles on the dancers' faces. Having a mighty sean nós dancer like Aidan the ceili wouldn't be complete without a demonstration of his high speed steps. It was a touching moment to see friends gathering around the dance floor watching him flying.
On my request the lads from the band played and sang City of Chicago, having a dancer from Donegal and Chicago amongst us. At the end of this wonderful evening we had danced the Connemara, Cashel, Paris, Kilfenora, Plain, Ballyvourney Jig, South Galway, three waltzes and Lancers! With a ceili like this only once a year in town, it was just a mighty result! With music still in our ears we walked out into the winter's night to meet for a drink and a chat in one of Erlangen's pubs. We have 365 of them, one for each day of the year.
At 11am next morning five sets gathered in the hall again for a final workshop. We repeated the South Kerry Set and danced the Caledonian trying to use Aidan's typical steps for this set. Most of the participants from outside town stayed overnight in Erlangen and so it was great having a dance, chat and tea together before we had to say good bye.
After a three-minute 'step show' from our dance master and some powerful applause for him, Rosita, a local friend of mine, presented Aidan with a bottle of power drink. Having a close look at it I found out it was pea schnaps, a lovely local specialty containing 40% alcohol. Slainte Aidan! A wonderful weekend with friends came to an end.
Andrea Forstner, Erlangen, Germany
The weekend from 25th to 27th was Milwaukee, Wisconsin's fourth annual Midwinter Set Dance Weekend. Four years! Seems like only yesterday it was a wee bairn of a workshop weekend. Soon it will be dating.
Tony Ryan was the instructor and accordingly John Whelan played for the nightly ceilis. The official attendance figure was a whole bunch of folks-about eight sets to be exact. Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Kentucky, Louisiana, Ontario, Galway and North Carolina were all represented. There was even a couple from Atlanta, Georgia, who just wanted to do some Irish set dancing that weekend, strolled through the Internet, and there we were.
The weekend started on Friday night with a reception and céilí at the Milwaukee Irish Cultural and Heritage Center. Milwaukee folk music legend Joseph Ruback serenaded the reception with his mountain dulcimer and mandolin. The céilí lasted for three hours and it was nice as usual to see my friends from around the continent converge in my little town for a weekend of our favorite pastime.
Saturday's workshop was held at Long Wong's, a Chinese-American restaurant with a great floor and an even better buffet. Publican Paul Wong has been very good to my people in his salutary support of our set dance cause, and did a wonderful job of hosting and dining us.
Tony warmed us up by just turning on the music and dancing his numerous steps within the circle of workshop attendees. We followed along and picked up from him whatever we might. I think it is a brilliant way of teaching steps because it allows everyone at different experience levels to learn something.
Tony taught two polka sets, one familiar to Milwaukee dancers, the Borlin Set, and one new to our feet, the Ballyduff from County Waterford. He taught another unique set, also new to these shores, called the Fintown. It is two rather long figures that is not so easy to classify by tune type since one figure is to polkas and the other one to reels. By request Tony then brushed us up on the Kilfenora Plain Set. He ended the day's workshop as he began it-with a step session, showing us all the different possibilities of stepping out to reels, jigs and polkas.
We danced our new sets at that evening's céilí. Unfortunately there was a party crasher trying to ruin everything. Some bug or virus or other microscopic Visigoth was giving battle to John Whelan's immune system. But the invaders did nothing to dispel his humour or charisma and John fought back like the true Celtic warrior he is by providing us with his big and powerful button accordion sound.
After the four-hour céilí that ended at midnight, Tony brought his entourage (his equally kind-spirited fellow Galwegian traveling companion Morgan O'Donnell) to a get-together at two of the dancers' house, which is now internationally recognized for its hospitality and good times. (I am a bit biased since it is also my residence.)
The gathering was a complex, multi-level affair. In the kitchen Tony led an interesting and serious discussion about the current state of Irish set dancing. In the living room, at a much lower and ribald level, was a singing session featuring the songs of Sesame Street and potty mouth medieval carols. The camaraderie, though, was memorable and a perfect example of why this type of dancing is known as social dancing.
Sunday's workshop had Tony teaching the Claddagh Set. I was at last spring's Toronto workshop weekend where Tony taught this set and upon hearing its name I immediately thought I wasn't going to like it. ("Claddagh Set? Why not the Shamrock Set or the Celtic Knot set or the Danny Boy Compilation CD For .95 If You Order Now Set?" I remember cynically thinking.) But this time I put aside my unfounded prejudice and enjoyed it for the lovely, fun and challenging set that it is.
Complimentary lunch was served between the workshop and céilí. In honour of the Oscars being awarded later that day, one award was bestowed upon the best-dressed man. (Remember, the guy who wears the kilt wins the award-ancient Brehon law.) Very kind and eloquent words were spoken in honour of our headlining guests by weekend co-organizer Julie Gale (who, along with her fellow conspirators, deserves a thousand thanks herself.)
Madison, Wisconsin's Irish string trio Public House Ceili Band played for the farewell céilí. It was ended by bittersweet moments of saying "Slán" to our out of town friends, but also saying, "See you in August," for the 25th anniversary of Milwaukee Irish Fest.
Thanks again to everyone who helped organize and provide for the event. To John and his embattled corpuscles. To Tony for his mastery of his craft as well as for being the nicest person who ever lived. To our guests and the miles they traveled helping us keep alive a simple dance from a little island very far away but very near and dear to our hearts.
Tim McAndrew, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
The warmth of an Abbeyfeale greeting is legendary. Hugs and kisses are guaranteed on entry to West Limerick Set Dancing Club's ceilis and workshops, and are provided whenever needed after that. There's great music and dancing here too, and the genuine affection makes it extra special. They love set dancing in west Limerick, and they especially love set dancers. This was plain to see at their annual workshop weekend on March 4th, 5th and 6th.
The welcoming began on Friday night at the Railway Bar on the Glin Road just outside the town. The Railway is a famous local spot for dancing with live music every weekend, and having the opening ceili here gave us a nice taste of the atmosphere in a good country lounge bar. Tim Joe and Anne O'Riordan brought along their brilliant music and gave us set after set without a break or delay. The Railway has a fine floor which has been well seasoned by many years of ballroom dancing. It was a tad slick for the sets, but there was no fear of falling once it was packed with ten or twelve sets, as there was just no room for anyone who wasn't vertical. Visitors kept arriving all night long, their faces lighting up as they experienced the greeting and felt the energy from the floor.
The town of Abbeyfeale lies just inside the Limerick border only a short distance from Co Kerry. A hilly rural landscape makes a beautiful backdrop. The town is something of a mile-long traffic bottleneck on the main road between Limerick and Tralee, with a handy collection of good cafés, restaurants, pubs and shops. Opposite the church on the Limerick side of town is a convent and school where the club's ceilis are based. Dancing is in the Convent Hall, a gymnasium hidden all the way to one side in a non-descript building. First-timers might have trouble finding their way, so there were numerous small signs placed along the drive to give them reassurance.
Early arriving visitors to the Saturday morning workshop were treated to tea and a generous assortment of scones. The workshop started on time when Pat Murphy, Betty McCoy and a demonstration team showed the Donegal Set. Despite coming from the far north of Ireland, it felt rather like a polka set from the south. A genuine set from the south, the Newmarket Meserts, rounded out the morning.
At lunch everyone emptied into town to savour the delights of Abbeyfeale's eateries. On our return, the Fintown Set made its debut in Abbeyfeale, another Donegal set that has recently been making the workshop rounds. Pat and Betty received requests for the Claddagh Set, probably the most popular workshop set at the moment, and taught only the complicated third figure, the cross chain, to save time for another set. The final set turned out to be the Down Lancers, another northern set, from the Protestant tradition in Co Down. I danced it here for the first time as the set is rarely danced. It's supposed to be one of the sets closest in form to the original Lancers Quadrille. There are many similarities to the Clare Lancers, though it has a different square in the first figure. I was amused to hear Pat explain, "If you do the square in the Clare Lancers wrong, you'll probably get it right." The set was enjoyed by all, as were all the sets of the day. It was a day of good craic as much as a day of learning.
A Kerry priest celebrated Mass after the workshop in the GAA club on the edge of town, which is actually in Co Kerry. The local priest in town was unable to hold the service in Convent Hall, whereas they were happy to oblige in Kerry. After Mass, the priest commented that the congregation, even though we were sitting on padded bar stools and upholstered benches in front of a bar, was far more reverent than those normally attending service in church.
Those dining later in Leen's Hotel in town were fortunate to have their meal accompanied by a lively session. The music inspired Paddy Neylon onto the tiles for a few of his patented sean nós steps, and then seven more hopped to join him for a set.
Despite the entertainment in the hotel, I rushed back to the Convent Hall to avoid any chance of being late, and found that nearly everyone else had the same idea. The hall already seemed full and the buzz of conversation was approaching a roar. Normally people tend to show up a bit late for a ceili, but when Johnny Reidy's band is on stage, the old habits vanish and everyone arrives early! And isn't it odd how Johnny sits before us nearly motionless, emitting such powerful music that he sets us all in motion in a frenzy of dance! There were a share of polka and jig sets, such as the inevitable Sliabh Luachra, Newmarket Meserts and Jenny Ling, as well as the Labasheeda and other reels. The delightful music transformed each set into something new and exciting, no matter how many times we'd done it before. Outside it was a cold and frosty night; inside it was a tropical heat wave. The tea room during the break was even steamier than the hall! In the second half there was a pause for a birthday celebration-Betty McCoy received warm wishes from the West Limerick Club and from many of the dancers.
Anyone in need of a breakfast only had only to show up for the workshop on Sunday morning when another fine lot of pastries and scones were on offer along with tea and coffee. Pat and Betty taught their third Donegal set of the weekend, the Tory Island Set, which is another one having a southern feel to it. The Clare Orange and Green Set is among that county's greatest contributions to mankind. Both sets generated a lot of pleasure on a fine morning.
Another full floor greeted the Glenside Ceili Band at the Sunday afternoon ceili. Pat Murphy had time to call the Orange and Green before heading home, and Timmy Woulfe called the Claddagh in the second half, as well as most of the sets all weekend. A lot of the beautiful sunshine outside leaked into the hall, dazzling some dancers. So the organisers got a ladder and hung some sheets of black plastic for a tiny bit of relief. Toward the end of the ceili, Timmy Woulfe paid tribute to the young dancers attending the special kids' workshop on Saturday with Gerard Butler, and those attending the ceilis. On Saturday and Sunday a number of young adults occupied a piece of the floor near the stage and turned it into batterers' corner, a place where anything goes. Younger children were also out on the floor. Sunday afternoon ceilis can be good family outings for those lucky parents with children who love to dance.
Once the ceili was over there was an air of complete satisfaction with the weekend among all its organisers and participants. The hugs and kisses continued until the very last of them headed for home.
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).
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