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).
The town of Birr, Co Offaly, has an air of gentility and timelessness, thanks to the streets lined with beautifully preserved Georgian buildings from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In the centre of town is Birr Castle, an historic mansion set in a hundred acres of gardens which are a popular attraction for visitors. The castle has been home to the Parsons family for most of 400 years, and today the seventh Earl of Rosse is resident here. The fourth Earl was an astronomer who built what was the largest telescope in the world from 1845 to 1917 in the castle grounds. After falling into disuse, the telescope was restored to full working order between 1996 and 1998; the engineer in charge of the project was none other than Michael Tubridy, better known to us as a dancer and musician.
With such a prestigious past, you might expect the set dancing in Birr to be old-fashioned and genteel, though it's anything but. There's an active community of keen young set dancers here who've taken on the job of running an annual weekend which is as lively as any on the calendar. This year's Birr weekend ran from June 3rd to 5th in the spacious and well-floored Marian Hall, just opposite the gates to the Castle. In charge of the weekend was Donal Morrissey, probably the youngest organiser of any set dancing weekend.
Thanks to the weekly bingo in the hall on Friday night, the opening ceili was held at the rugby club across town. A couple of "Ceili" signs on the main road pointed the way and around ten sets of dancers found their way here. The smaller venue suited the crowd, as did the music of the Star of Munster Ceili Band, and everyone was full of enthusiasm at the start of the weekend. Words of welcome were spoken at the start by Donal, then later by broadcaster and local Comhaltas chairman Paddy Duffy, who heaped praise on Donal's work organising the weekend.
On Saturday we moved into Marian Hall for the rest of the weekend. Not only is it a handy location for the Castle, it's also a stone's throw from the town centre and conveniently located beside a free car park. Pádraig McEneany began the workshop at 10.30am by directing us into a big circle around the hall to practice steps for the Paris Set. He repeated the step practice later for both the Aran and Durrow Thrashing sets. These three sets are old favourites that are fun to dance.
The highlight of the workshop came when Padraig taught the Lorrha-Aglish Quadrille Set for the first time at any workshop. These places are just a few miles away across the border into Tipperary where Donal Morrissey and Mick and Mary McGeeney helped several locals revive the set. Three ladies who danced the set in their younger days were present to show it to us, all togged out in their best dresses and hair-dos. The set is in five figures, four danced to jigs in a half-set, the last to polkas in a full set. The figures are short and easy, though watch out for the different type of line-up in the third figure. The three lady demonstrators, while no spring chickens, showed a definite spring in their step as they danced with great enjoyment. It was just as much fun to watch them as it was to dance it ourselves. After we'd finished, the three ladies from Lorrha and Aglish received a well-deserved ovation as they left the hall.
Arriving in good time for the ceili that night, I thought the hall seemed emptier than usual-there was no sign of the Glenside Ceili Band! It was five minutes to ten when they started to set up their equipment and by that time the hall had filled and was buzzing with anticipation. Dancers don't seem to mind a late start at all; it's a great opportunity to chat to friends and it gives the chance for the atmosphere to warm up. But fifteen minutes later the floor was filled with dancers and the air with music. More than thirty sets got up to dance during the night, and even when Pádraig called the Lorrha-Aglish Quadrille Set at its first ceili nearly everyone got up to give it a try and danced it without difficulty. The band's powerful music encouraged spontaneous cheers from the floor many times during the ceili. By the time we finished the last set it was long past 2am.
Age is no barrier to teaching or learning dancing, I observed on Sunday morning. Sinéad Bray of Dunderry, Co Meath, taught a two-hour sean nós workshop, and it mattered not a bit to the many dozens of dancers there that she's barely into her twenties. Her confident and patient teaching gave both young and old a few steps. The dancers on the floor ranged from about eight to eighty and all gave Sinéad their full attention for the two hours. She began with the basics and progressed slowly to more complicated steps, with plenty of repetition along the way. Even during the half-time break she continued to teach those who were looking for extra help. There were also breaks for sean nós demonstrations by Donal Morrissey and for a brush dance by a young girl dressed in her Sunday best, Ciara Murphy, the daughter of Clare dancer John Murphy. At the end of the workshop, Sinéad herself was unanimously encouraged to show a few steps. Her skilful, relaxed and confident sean nós dancing exactly matched her style of teaching.
The youthful enthusiasm and energetic music of the Emerald Ceili Band made them an ideal choice for the final ceili of the Birr weekend. There was plenty of room for dancing when we began at 3pm, and gradually people arrived to fill twenty sets. Pádraig led us through another successful attempt at the Lorrha-Aglish Set. Just before the break there was a waltz, and tables full of cakes, cups and sandwiches were brought out and set up in the midst of the whirling couples. In between the sets during the second half we were entertained by displays of sean nós dancing by Tom Brady, Ger Butler, Cora Feerick, Emer Moore, Gillian Whelan, and Donal and Ronan Morrissey. The final Plain Set left the crowd shouting for more but that would have to wait for next year.
A good venue, a beautiful town, top music and superb workshops, but the real success of the weekend in Birr was bringing all ages together to share in the pleasure of set dancing.
The good people of Clonoulty, Co Tipperary, have their own method of handling the hundreds of dancers attending their annual workshop weekend, the Connie Ryan Gathering, held this year on 10-12 June. Each year they erect a huge marquee on a tiny patch of ground squeezed between the back of a pub and a meadow grazed by cows; the village hall is too tiny for the crowds. For our dancing comfort they go to the trouble of installing smooth panels over the basic marquee floor. The area is without hotels and B&Bs so the locals put dancers up in their own homes. The people who showed up here for the gathering were rewarded with a sincere country welcome and as much great music and dancing as anyone could ask for in three days.
Tim Joe and Anne O'Riordan provided the musical entertainment at the opening ceili on Friday night. We started right at 9pm with just a few sets, and the constant stream of arrivals meant there were more sets on the floor with every dance. After a couple of sets, the local set dancing teacher, Margaret Slattery, Connie's sister, bid everyone welcome and officially opened the weekend. The ceilis in Clonoulty provide a welcome opportunity to dance a few unusual sets, most of which are chosen and called by Michael Loughnane. He gave us the Sliabh Luachra and Claddagh sets tonight, plus an assortment of the regular favourites. The music was exuberant and Tim Joe and Anne were relaxed and happy-they're expecting their first child in October.
Betty McCoy was Connie's dance partner and "floor manager" at his workshops, and on Saturday she provided essential assistance at Pat Murphy's workshop. Pat taught the Fintown and Aran sets in the morning, a new and an old favourite. He began the afternoon by teaching the Lorrha-Aglish Quadrille Set for the first time. Helping out in the demonstration set were Donal Morrissey and Pádraig McEneany, who had danced it the previous weekend in Birr. The Dromgarriff Half-Set and Clare Orange and Green Set completed the afternoon's dancing. The weather turned sunny and hot, and the sides of the marquee were opened to expose the fresh country air and vista outside. My dancing was distracted by the shadows cast by the swallows as they zoomed over the marquee. Other dancers moved chairs out into the sun and became so relaxed they fell asleep.
The music of the Davey Ceili Band brought a good measure of joy to the ceili on Saturday night. We danced the Lorrha, Orange and Green and Claddagh sets again, and there were plenty of folk on the floor that night who would benefit from tuition on the Claddagh's third figure. Among the 25 sets of dancers were several celebrating birthdays and adding to the festivity.
Connie's friends attended Mass with the local congregation on Sunday morning, and then gathered in the cemetery for two decades of the Rosary, one in English, the other in Irish. After a young girl played a tribute on tin whistle we walked back talking about Connie. Before the ceili began, there was time to gather in the pub for a session and a meal, and we were joined there by a coachload of people down for the day from Durrow, Co Offaly.
Johnny Reidy and his band attracted a few more dancers to Clonoulty for the Sunday afternoon ceili starting just at 2pm. That irresistible power in Johnny's music kept us dancing with total delight; we were going at full speed like a non-stop express train. His Kerry origins must make it genetically impossible for him to play slow polkas; even Maggie in the Wood is at Kerry speed, and great fun because of it. Over an afternoon the time saved probably let us fit in an extra set. It was the biggest ceili of the weekend with 28 sets counted at one point.
One final ceili on Sunday night was intended as a mixed night of dancing for the locals, and it was as enjoyable as the rest of the ceilis. There were only half the number of dancers but we generated twice the atmosphere to make up for it. Danny Webster was alone on the stage but produced enough music to fill the marquee and move everyone in style. He can play it all, from fast reels, polkas and slides to slow waltzes and fox trots. Jim Doyle, a local man returned from Manchester, kept the action going all night long. He awarded loaves of leftover brack as spot prizes, and there were numerous other prizes awarded. The highlight of the night was the visit by a set of dancers who were said to come from "South Africa," consisting of four priests partnered by four pregnant ladies. Not quite a buck set, as there were ladies dressed as men as well as men dressed as ladies, but it was a light-hearted bit of fun at the end of a lovely weekend.
Clonoulty was unheard of among set dancers until the death of Connie Ryan in 1997. A decade ago his popularity as a workshop teacher was enormous-he filled halls to capacity every weekend around the country. On the day of his funeral in Clonoulty, Connie's home village, the locals were overwhelmed by the set dancers filling their church. We were invited back in 1999 when the village inaugurated the Connie Ryan Gathering and such was its success that they've continued every year since. Those of us who knew Connie are pleased to remember him here, but the main reason the crowds keep returning is the pleasure of the dancing.
Victoria Day weekend in May is an opening for Canadians, the beginning of the camping, angling and gardening seasons. But this year in the Atlantic provinces unusually cold, wet weather put a damper on outdoor activities. "Thank goodness we dance indoors," said the Halifax dancers as they headed from Nova Scotia over to Prince Edward Island (PEI) for the annual set dancing event that links the two provinces. Good old RDF (rain, drizzle and fog) hid the beautiful scenery we usually enjoy on the way over, but spirits were high amongst the dancers car-pooling across the thirteen-kilometre Confederation Bridge.
New dancers joined us this year, and they were apprehensive about heading off on a weekend without even knowing where they would be staying. "You have to experience PEI hospitality to believe it," we told them. On Friday May 20, all hands met at the Benevolent Irish Society Hall in Charlottetown for a concert featuring local musicians. The dancers were expected, and we pulled on our shoes in time to perform a set before the concert end.
Once again we experienced fabulous PEI hospitality. Sure enough after the concert Fred Horne, the island organizer, announced the billeting arrangements. Old friendships were renewed, and new made as we went off to our respective accommodations. After a leisurely morning, Saturday's activities began with a slow session at the Rustico home of Dave and Cheryl Corrigan, which would have been overlooking the Gulf of St Lawrence if we could have seen it through the fog. The friendly session included singing, fiddles, bodhrans, bones, mandolins and most of all, whistles, the mainstay of the PEI musicians. Just to prove that our creativity knows no bounds, dancer Cathy Coates sketched players and instruments in the act. We rounded out the session with a lively rendition of the Ballyduff Set, one of the sets we all learned from Pat Murphy at Easter in Halifax.
The evening's event took place in Tyne Valley, a village an hour's drive into the west side of the Island, where the seasonal Landing Oyster Bar and Pub had recently opened for the year. A local trio, the Jigsmiths, proved that they could also forge reels and polkas. There was not much room for dancing, but we were only briefly stymied by a pillar in the middle of the cozy pub. We designated the pillar as our Maypole and danced around it.
Sunday, the slow session made its public debut at a nursing home for the celebration of Fred's grandmother's 103rd birthday. We must have made a good impression; well, they gave us cake and ice cream.
That evening found us in Emyvale at the home of Karl and Barb Thomson. I was concerned at first by the appearance since last year of a lovely new hardwood floor. Surely they won't let us dance on that! And, this year, it was too cold for the deck! Not to worry. "We built this floor with dancing in mind," Barb assured us. "We want people to dance on it." So we did!
The musicians started off the evening, but we needed faster music for dancing. Helen and Gary Conboy came to the rescue with their nifty compact music system-a minidisk hooked up to computer speakers! Soon that brand new wood floor was rattling, much to our hosts' delight.
We started with sets familiar to us all with a minimum of calling. Then Helen, the PEI teacher, led us through the Newmarket Meserts. We all learned this elegant set from Pat Murphy when he came to Halifax this Easter. The islanders have been practising the Newmarket since then, while the Haligonians have been reprising one of our favourite sets, the similar Portmagee Meserts. Helen led us through the finer points of difference, and we once again asked the age-old question: Are any two high gates ever the same?
Monday, still no sign of sun, but we could have stayed anyway. Regular life was calling, however, and we dragged ourselves back to Halifax. The sun has since made some appearance, but it's memories of good friends and lively dancing that keep us warm.
Adele Megann, Halifax, Nova Scotia
It's a wonder to me how men with hands like shovels can draw exquisite notes from tiny squeeze boxes, delicate flutes and finely tuned fiddles.
On Saturday night, the 25th June, Celtic tigers dusted off their go faster stripes and danced it out in the London Irish Centre, Hammersmith, west London. Fingers finding just the right notes, Andy Martin's Set Dance Gang sent feet flying and hearts soaring. Jigs, polkas, reels and hornpipes, whirling and whooping, we danced the night away. Andy on the button box, opening its heart, pulled and pushed powerful memories of fleadh cheoils, ceili mors, and gaeltachts. Sixteen again, under starry skies at Enniscorthy; infused with the same magic the Set Dancing Gang carried us away. Energy and determination in equal measures, they never missed a beat. The fiddle, its belly as powdered and puffed as our shoes, periodically outdid the mighty box; guitar and flute vying for pride of place sent notes high and low and set dancers into old places-'round tables, past dressers, through kitchens and crossroads, backwards and forwards from Cork to Donegal.
It was one hundred years ago, it was here and now, we were young again, not a care, not an ache, not a pain. Traipsing home under lucky stars (down the A316 in truth), thanking God for the magic and the music, for dedicated men and women, who make these ceilis come to pass.
When and where will we see them or their likes again? Part of the magic is you only know if you go. Without fuss or fanfare, flyers appear on tables, signalling the next event. It's all part of the wonder, the waiting and the wanting.
Yvonne Fitzpatrick Grimes, London
A community festival in Irvinestown, Co Fermanagh, on the weekend of 17-19 June included events of appeal to the locals and dancing which attracted folks from outside the area, including couples from Denmark and Switzerland and five dancers from Scotland. I found myself in Irvinestown for the first time on Friday evening in good weather. It's a small town with a wide main street, always busy with traffic, and a hotel, Mahon's, where most of the dancing took place.
The weekend opened in nearby St Mary's College with a musical pageant of Irish history where students in period costume acted out the roles of historical figures. Afterward, there was a barn dance in the Delaney Suite adjacent to Mahon's Hotel. This is a classic old dance hall, decades old but in fine condition and still in regular use, with a high ceiling, plenty of comfortable seating, a balcony and a compact floor.
Here in Fermanagh a barn dance is an evening of mainly two-hand dances, and a few experienced barn dancers came along, which was a great help to those of us who are new to this kind of thing. They were up for every dance and after seeing them do it, I was usually able to get up with a partner and do it too. The music was by a two piece group on box and piano called Cascade who played beautifully. We also did plenty of waltzes, jives and a few figures from a couple of sets, though the barn dances were the real highlight of the evening.
There was an ambitious plan for three dance workshops on Saturday, with sets taught by Pat Murphy, ceili by Clement Gallagher and two-hands by Marie Garrity. Unfortunately, there weren't enough dancers for all three, so Clement Gallagher joined us in the Delaney Suite for Pat Murphy's workshop, and in the afternoon Marie brought her class down as well. That made for a varied day, as in addition to Pat's sets, Marie gave us the chance to properly learn the barn dances we attempted last night.
It was a night of pure set dancing at the ceili with the Emerald Ceili Band, interrupted only for some waltzing and a few spectacular solo steps from Gillian Whelan and Donal Morrissey of Birr, Co Offaly. The Emerald were back again on Sunday for a more relaxed and mixed afternoon of dancing. A few locals had come along expecting barn dancing so the rest of us were only too happy for another chance to practice the two-hands.
During the afternoon, Derek Gilhooley from Edinburgh made a special request to Sheila Gormley, the weekend's organiser and caller at the ceilis. It has long been Derek's ambition to call a set at a ceili in Ireland and Sheila graciously offered him the microphone. He chose an appropriate set, the Fermanagh, and had notes prepared to help him through it. The calling must have been effective because we had great fun dancing it.
Following the ceili several of the dancers went on a cruise to Devenish Island organised as part of the weekend. We boarded the boat a few miles from Irvinestown and sailed along Lough Erne for close to an hour to get to the island. Glowing in the golden sunlight of a spectacular June evening was a fully intact round tower and the ruins of a monastery. There were a few words about the history of the island and prayers by the priest from Irvinestown who accompanied us. Complimentary coffee and tea were served on the return journey-the total cost of the outing was only £2 each.
The final event of the weekend was a fíor ceili, which is a ceili where only ceili dances are danced, such as the High-Cauled Cap, but no sets. It was already in progress when I arrived at the hall in St Mary's College. I've never attended a fíor ceili before, although it was much the same as the weekly ceilis they used to have when I first started dancing in London. At those ceilis you'd also get waltzes and a few figures of a set, but not in Irvinestown-strictly ceili only. Nevertheless there was great enjoyment and a fine crowd of dancers, thanks to the lively music by three lads on stage, the McElhinneys.
The barn dancing and Devinish cruise made this weekend a bit different from the usual, and I still had plenty of sets, good music and entertaining workshops in a cosy venue. Thanks to Sheila and her friends in Irvinestown for inviting us.
On Sunday July 10th, Bray seafront in Co Wicklow had a rare treat. The sun shone, the sea sparkled and the Tulla Ceili Band filled the air with their unique sound. It was the second annual set dance marathon organised by Carmel Kearns of the North Wicklow Set Dancers and Anne Blount, newly elected president of Bray Lions Club.
The event started at 10am when dancers took to the floor of the bandstand and began dancing a wide variety of dances to taped music. It was a challenge to remember dances that had been taught at workshops and classes during the year but callers were on hand and sets that are rarely danced at ceilis were danced with enthusiasm and expertise. Holidaymakers and locals walking the Victorian promenade delighted in watching the dancers and stood around clapping and giving encouragement. At 2pm the Tulla struck their first note from the Guinness gig rig which had been erected beside the bandstand. The sound was wonderful.
They played the favourites associated with their repertoire including P Joe's Reel. It was very nostalgic for Clare people living in Bray who remembered P J Hayes and Francie Donnellan leading the band. Fiddle virtuoso Mark Donnellan ably introduced the sets giving a running witty repartee throughout the afternoon. It was unusual to see the band members wearing shorts and having to apply factor 15 to their skin. The heat was intense but their pace and lift to the music made dancing easy for the dancers who had begun at 10am. Eileen Hackett from Enniskerry did not miss one set and despite blisters on her feet at 6pm she said she would have kept going. Susan O'Shea from Greystones had never heard the band playing live before and vowed to pay a visit to Co Clare to hear them again. Sean Cotter maintained they were the best band in Ireland, "far better than U2." Carmel Kearns, who had initiated the day, was tired but happy. It was her birthday and she was presented with a bouquet of flowers. Quoting Van Morrisson she never thought "they'd be days like this."
So successful was the event, that Danny Bohan of Bray Lions club promised to bring the band back-"We will bring the West to the East again next year."
There was, of course, a serious side to the day's event as Anne Blount reminded everyone to dig deep in their pockets in aid of Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children, Crumlin.
Anybody who wishes to send money to support this cause can contact Anne or Carmel.
Deirdre Morrissey, Bray, Co Wicklow
What do you think when you hear of Siemens? Power stations, trains, medical systems? Set dancing?
For their 35,000 employees in Erlangen, Siemens runs a lot of after work sports and activity programs. Half a year ago I got the chance to start a set dancing class at the Sports Group Siemens (SGS), a sports club with large grounds in the centre of Erlangen. Starting up with hardly one set we're now up to three sets sometimes!
Thousands of people from countries all over the world work for Siemens here in town. Some of them heard of my Irish set dancing class at the SGS, turned up, joined in and loved it! I'm happy to have a young lady from Killaloe in the class who hasn't danced sets before. Other dancers come from the USA, England, Romania, China, Korea and Spain. All I can say is I love this "multi-culti" class!
Dancers did not hesitate a minute to join me for a few figures on stage at the fiftieth anniversary of the SGS on 16 July. After a few extra training classes, we danced two figures of the Clare Lancers and a figure of the Connemara on stage before a large audience to the wonderful recorded music of the late Michael Sexton. The class performed again on 24 July at an Erlangen sports festival.
Without set dancing, those people from different nations probably would have never met. Set dancing can create wonderful friendships connecting people all over the world!
Andrea Forstner, Erlangen, Germany
The highlight of your editor's dancing year is the week of non-stop dancing at the Willie Clancy Summer School and Armada Hotel in Miltown Malbay, Co Clare. The report you'll read here is the result of dancing ten hours a day while sleeping only five for the entire ten-day period.
Friday July 1stThe excitement started to grow way back in January when I felt a little twinge of pleasure every time I mentally advanced myself six months into the future. In June when it was only a month away, all my dancing seemed charged with extra excitement. There's something about dancing in the summer, and now here I was at the start of the year's dancing climax!
The opening night at the Armada Hotel is a relaxed affair, a pleasant way to ease into the hectic dancing of the week. There were just enough dancers tonight to fill the Armada's main floor, about a dozen sets, plus another set or two dancing on the boards laid on the surrounding carpet. The week in Miltown is unique for the people who assemble here from around Ireland and the world, the greatest gathering of set dancers of the year. Folks trickled in all night long; eyes met across the hall with delight; everyone warmly shook hands, hugged and kissed.
The Armada's jovial fear an tí, Dermot Halpin, welcomed everyone and introduced the Four Courts Ceili Band by telling a joke about each of them. The band's spirited Clare music, played without a break, left us fully satisfied for the night yet full of anticipation of more to come.
Saturday July 2ndEarly in the afternoon I was at the Community Hall in Miltown where the queue for summer school registration went out the door and down the street a bit, and this was before they were open. After two o'clock the inner door opened to the registration room and the queue moved slowly forward. Inside a dozen volunteer schoolgirls sat behind desks taking names and fees for the various classes. The Star of Munster Ceili Band played for the first afternoon ceili in the Armada. There were about as many as were here last night, plus a number of young kids who added fun to the atmosphere. The music was well received by everyone, especially in the second half when there was spontaneous cheering from time to time. The band were enjoying themselves too as they gave us an extra rake of reels at the end.
I ventured down to Quilty Tavern on Saturday night where the summer school was holding a ceili with Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh. The musicians were ready to go at 9pm so we began with just two sets, and as the night progressed there were around ten sets. The Quilty Tavern has a lovely old floor near the band which was extended over the carpet by a few plastic panels stuck together with duct tape. Micheál and Pat's electrifying music is heard to great effect in John Fennell's Hell for Leather shows, and John and some of the kids from the show danced here with great pleasure. In the second half, there was a break for some solo dancing by Eddie Beatty from Inishmore, Kathleen McGlynn from Lough, and Carolyn Hanafin from Tralee. One of the stars of Hell for Leather, seven-year-old Tara Lernihan, danced the brush dance with ease and complete confidence. Her performance delighted all present and received a rapturous ovation.
Sunday July 3rdSeveral days of cool, damp and dull weather continued today, with moments of sunshine as well. The Glenside Ceili Band was set up in the Armada for the afternoon ceili, and before bandleader Tom Flood was able to announce the first dance, the floor had filled with sets. The band received rousing cheers throughout the ceili. At one point in the middle of a figure, the music suddenly went quiet due to some problem with the band's sound equipment. The musicians kept playing and the entire room of dancers kept dancing, assisted by all the battering. When the sound was restored, the music and dancers were perfectly in time. For the final Plain Set, the band played two figures at a time without stopping. In good or bad weather the views from the Armada's windows are always inspiring. I noticed many ladies were dressed in their holiday best of T-shirts and diamond jewellery, combining the casual and the elegant.
Johnny Reidy attracted a huge army of dancers to the Armada on Sunday night. Johnny's music always makes an immediate impression on everyone, inspiring a spontaneous ovation after only the first figure. There was another after the second figure and after many of them all night long. The first couple of sets were comfortable to dance, but by the third set I was getting squeezed off the floor and I heard later that an estimated 75 sets or so were there that night.
I opted for the more spacious dancing at the summer school ceili in the Quilty Tavern. The Sliabh Luachra set was in progress when I arrived and I immediately felt the atmosphere of light hearted excitement. The gorgeous music mystified me at first. I was expecting Taylor's Cross Ceili Band, but this music wasn't familiar to me. It turned out that the band's leader and accordionist Donie Nolan brought along three new musicians on concertina, fiddle and piano, making a beautiful combination. The dancing was brilliant fun, and everyone was in a playful mood.
Monday July 4thThe late night and early start this morning didn't leave much time for sleep, but I arrived on time at Timmy McCarthy's class at St Joseph's Secondary School in Spanish Point near the Armada. This was the start of Timmy's first time teaching a week of classes at the Willie Clancy Summer School. This happened thanks to the availability of a new hall at the secondary school. The former chapel has been transformed into a spacious light hall, and a temporary dance floor was installed with a layer of padding beneath for some extra bounce. The hall is normally used as a computer lab, judging from the computer screens all around the floor. Timmy began with the Ballyvourney Reel and quickly progressed onto the Ballyvourney Jig and Ardgroom Polka. He contrasted Ardgroom's flat style of dancing and the bouncier Ballyvourney style. He also gave three rules of Sliabh Luachra dancing, and the only one I can remember is-"Stay behind the people in front of you and in front of the people behind you."
Having received an incomplete dose of Johnny Reidy last night, I went along to his afternoon ceili in the Mill Theatre, the summer school's main ceili venue on the Ballard Road in Miltown. There may have been only eight sets in the large hall, but the pleasure of it was immense. Those of us there were the most dedicated fans of his music and Johnny and company lifted us to new heights of enjoyment. One partner said, "You'll have to scrape me off the ceiling!" I was so happy to be dancing here that the smiling muscles in my face were suffering from unaccustomed strain. It turned out to be the ceili of the week for me.
The summer school held two ceilis in the Quilty Tavern on each of the two weekends. John Fennell filled in the mid-week schedule by organising a couple of ceilis with Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh. While there were some kids here on Saturday night, they were out in force tonight, up for every set with plenty of shouts and battering. I divided my time between there and the Mill Theatre where I had another chance to dance to the new line-up of Taylor's Cross. I've noticed that every ceili I've attended so far has included all three plain sets, the Kilfenora, Corofin and Plain.
Tuesday July 5thTimmy gave us plenty of practice in the Ardgroom Set, with special emphasis on its unique 'walking polka' figure where we slowly zigzag around the set. The steps are easy; the challenge is mastering the style. We also danced the Sneem Set and Set of Erin, the last figure of which bears a similarity to a rugby scrum.
The door was locked when I arrived for the Armada's afternoon ceili, and I could hear the Emerald Ceili Band playing inside. A queue patiently formed in the wind and rain until the doors opened and we could pay our way in. The hall was soon nicely filled but I was glad it wasn't too packed. The Emerald had a good reception on their welcome return to the Armada after two years, and received several of the cheers which are so warmly given to the bands here. After the ceili the band seemed to forget about packing up their equipment, and instead were playing music quietly and chatting to friends.
After that ceili I rushed over to the Quilty Tavern where the Hell for Leather troupe had just finished a show. The venue is a bit smaller than they're used to so the place was packed. The spectators were all thrilled to have had a chance to see the show during the week and the kids were overjoyed with the reaction to their show.
Tonight was the first of two big ceilis in the Mill Theatre. The Tulla Ceili Band is the star attraction here, the only band which can fill this large hall. One of the members of the band who always plays here with them, Martin Hayes, was not present tonight, missed by many of the dancers, but the music and dancing were as enjoyable as ever. The Tulla are always able to deliver a superb ceili and tonight was no exception. Actually, another musician, Jim Corry, was missing at the start and the music began without him. Jim's the pianist and when he started playing in the second figure he nicely filled out the music. At the start of the second half, J J Conway bravely tried to get us to dance something a little different from the usual. We had already started forming sets when he announced the Claddagh Set, a great set but not widely known just yet, so the reaction was rather lukewarm. When J J changed it to the Plain Set a big cheer rose from the hall. The Tulla's Cashel Sets played at these ceilis have consistently been some of the most memorable Cashel Sets I've ever danced. They managed to play it at a very lively speed, and not even the Kerry bands play their hornpipes as fast as the Tulla did tonight-it was gorgeous!
Wednesday July 6thThe South Kerry Set is one of the few Cork-Kerry sets that Timmy hasn't had a chance to learn yet, so he arranged for Patrick O'Dea to teach it to us today. Members of Patrick's old-style step dancing class joined us as well. Patrick's style of teaching made a change to Timmy's, with bold instructions keeping us all in control. Timmy took careful notes of the moves, but wasn't able to dance it himself as he had to play the music for us. After Patrick's class left us, we continued with the Jenny Ling Set and a couple of figures of the West Kerry Set. Timmy had never seen the final hornpipe figure before, which is described in Terry Moylan's book, The Quadrilles and Other Sets. By lucky coincidence, Terry happened to be with us and agreed to teach it. Timmy was delighted to have learned a couple new dances in his own workshop.
Today I was beginning to feel the effects of my half week of non-stop dancing and limited amounts of sleep. The joints were aching and I was tired. Nevertheless I went along to Johnny Reidy's afternoon ceili in the Armada and I was a changed man as soon as I started dancing the very first figure. The music lifted me, sent me flying, and all thoughts of aches, pains and sleep totally vanished. There's something remarkably curative about set dancing! There was a sad moment during the ceili when Dermot Halpin gave a moving tribute to a dancing friend, Margaret Haverty, who died in a crash en route from her B&B to the Armada exactly a year ago today.
The last of John Fennell's ceilis in the Quilty Tavern was an eye opening experience tonight. The music of Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh again attracted a large number of dancers, including their most loyal fans, the kids of Hell for Leather. They were up for every set, whether they knew it or not and managed to dance them all very well. We danced the Ballyvourney Jig and I could see a neighboring set of girls watching us very carefully and copying our moves exactly. The Plain Set required some special management-there was one strictly for adults and later a second one for kids. There was a pause for some performances in the second half. A set of eight danced the Plain Set, embellished with a bit of choreography at the start and finish, and once again Tara Lernihan did her brush dance to roars of approval from the huge crush of spectators. Overall I felt the kids danced well with the adults. They kept in their own sets and while they battered constantly and were full of exuberant fun, they were well behaved. This ceili gave me a glimpse of the future, as these kids will be dancing sets long after I've stopped.
Thursday July 7thAt class today we danced through the West Kerry Set and devoted more time to perfecting the Ardgroom's walking polka, which will be demonstrated by two sets on stage at tonight's dance recital. Timmy spoke with pleasure about Hurry the Jug, one of the masterpieces of Irish dancing. It's rather like a complicated ceili dance along the lines of the High-Cauled Cap, but danced to slides in a Sliabh Luachra style. Timmy gave us a quick run through and promised to let us dance it tomorrow.
Making their first appearance in Miltown at the Armada's afternoon ceili were the Davey Ceili Band, who have become a great favourite of set dancers, brought smiles to all the faces here today and generated numerous cheers of enjoyment from the floor. During the second half, Dermot Halpin led us all in a minute of silence for the victims of the London bombings which occurred earlier today.
A repeat performance by the Tulla Ceili Band brought another full house to the Mill Theatre tonight. The crowd was light during the first hour, and filled up after 10pm once the dance recital had finished. Several of the numerous Japanese dancers that always enjoy the Tulla here every year were dressed in traditional Japanese kimonos, colourful full-length robes tied with a wide cloth belt fastened in a large bow at the back. They were invited to perform Japanese dances on stage in the recital and kept the costumes on to dance the sets tonight. I was in the Cashel Set with four of them and wondered if they were hot to dance in. I learned that they were wearing light cotton summer kimonos which are suited to the hot summer weather in Japan. The sleeves of the kimonos were very long and there's a practical side to this-the ladies kept their fans in them and one gent showed me the digital camera he kept in his! Most of them had changed into dancing shoes, but some of the ladies were wearing sandals. One lady joined the Corofin Plain Set wearing wooden sandals like platform clogs. I feared for her feet and treated her with care when she danced with me in the final figure. It was a night of great fun thanks to the Tulla Ceili Band, the Japanese dancers and everyone else!
Friday July 8thI missed my chance to do Hurry the Jug and skipped Timmy's class today so that I could visit the two most popular dance classes at the summer school. Mick Mulkerrin and Mairéad Casey have had great success with their sean nós dancing class over the years, and attract around seventy people for the week. They split the class between them, with Mairéad handling the bigger group of beginners, while Mick took the more experienced dancers. They danced on opposite sides of the Mill Theatre, which has plenty of space for everyone, but they had a challenging time keeping their music separate. Mick took a back seat for a while when he and his group practiced an old jig step taught by Roy Galvin of Tipperary. Mairéad was pleased with the progress made by her group, some of whom were complete beginners.
Mary Clancy was teaching her nine sets how to dance the Williamstown Set on Friday morning. They managed it well though a few of them went a bit astray in the final Haymaker Jig-style polka figure. But it was no bother to Mary, she just repeated the figure for them and gave a guiding hand to any needing help. Mary is a local teacher in west Clare from Mullagh, and her manner is relaxed, engaging and practical. She teaches the sets that you're likely to actually dance at a ceili and so this is a popular class for experienced beginners. The class showed their appreciation for her hard work in a special way by presenting Mary with a bouquet of flowers and the proceeds of a collection.
I spent the afternoon with the Abbey Ceili Band in the Armada, where we were probably the biggest afternoon crowd of the week so far. The beautiful playing was bright and spirited-the Abbey at their best. Toward the end of the ceili a dog arrived in the hall and wandered between the sets. No one seemed to take any notice, dog or dancers.
In the Mill Theatre tonight we had the pleasure of dancing to Tim Joe and Anne O'Riordan, and were doubly blessed to do a few of the slightly less common sets, like the Newport, Sliabh Luachra, Labasheeda and Mazurka. Refugees from the Armada reported that 100 sets had filled the hall there for ceilis with Johnny Reidy in the main hall and the Four Courts in an adjacent smaller hall.
Saturday July 9thBack in Timmy's class this morning we danced the Waltz Cotillion and Ballyvourney Jig, plus a selection of a few other figures from Timmy's Cork-Kerry sets. Class finished early to allow us to gather in the Community Hall to dance a few sets to live music. By this time, dazzling warm sunshine had suddenly emerged everywhere to make us completely forget about the cold damp stuff we had most of the week. Brendan Begley brightened the day even more with his stunning playing on melodeon and box. There was time for three sets in the ceili, the Sliabh Luachra, Caledonian and Plain, with about a dozen sets on the floor.
In the afternoon I was one of a very select group who opted to dance to the Davey Ceili Band in the Mill Theatre. With the weather in high summer mode, those who'd waited all week for a day at the beach had found their opportunity, leaving only a few of us to support the ceili here. Despite the heat and small crowd, the Daveys put every ounce of their energy into the music.
Tim Joe and Anne played for the final summer school ceili from 9pm in the Quilty Tavern. Starting with around ten sets, the crowd grew steadily until the floor was jammed with dancers. Numerous Armada regulars were here for their only summer school ceili of the week. Finishing off the week in the Mill Theatre, as they do each year, were the Kilfenora Ceili Band, an impressive sight on stage with all ten members dressed in black. The music was the same rousing fare that won them competitions over the years and sounded better than ever. They concluded another great week at Miltown for me, and when we finished dancing we took our time to wish each other farewell. I've already started to think ahead to next July and twinges of excitement flash through my mind!
Even though it was hot enough to fry an egg on the pavement in New York City, we could not resist the opportunity to dance Sliabh Luachra sets with Timmy "the Brit" McCarthy to the music of Jackie Daly. So we decided to take a trip to East Durham to catch part of the Catskills Irish Arts Festival. This is a week of classes in music and dance followed by a festival on Saturday-and total collapse on Sunday! It is run by Paul Keating, one of the Founding Fathers of set dancing in the US, so we knew we were in the right hands.
We arrived early Friday afternoon and went straight to Timmy's set class in an air-conditioned room. Timmy was in the middle of teaching Hurry the Jug, a complicated (perhaps too simple a term) dance that we were never able to sort out well enough to teach or even dance. Now I know the trick, it's all in the amazing footwork that Timmy has. He is a great teacher with a wonderful respect for the dance tradition, and his classes are so much fun, you can have a great time just watching. With a little practice, you even begin to understand him, which is important. Not only do you want to hear the dance instructions, but you definitely don't want to miss the stories and jokes. I liked the one about his wife sending him over with four new pairs of pants that were falling off after a week of dancing in a New York summer. Great dancing, brilliant music and weight loss, too! Was there ever a spa that was so much fun?
The ceili that evening was a special event featuring the music of Sliabh Luchra and hosted by Timmy. There is nothing like Jackie Daly's music to lift you out of your chair and onto the dance floor. With Jackie were Matt Cranich, Paul McGrattan, Tess Slominski and Paul deGrae. It was truly mighty music. Although we could not attend for the full week, friends of ours did and had great reviews. The week has three kinds of set classes, step dance classes (with Donny Golden, no less) and music classes with such an incredible roster of musicians that you would be tempted to take a music class even if you didn't play anything. Then there is the added bonus of dining with the stars. Where else can you have breakfast with Liz Carroll, Seamus Connolly and Noel Hill? This week rivals Milltown Malbay and Tubbercurry-with an important difference. When it gets hot in East Durham, you can always go down the road to the Catskill Creek for a swim.
Donna Bauer, New York
Cut off from the worldThe following article wasn't written for publication, but as it gives a vivid flavour of the atmosphere at the Catskills Irish Arts Week, permission was obtained to allow all to enjoy it here.
Back from East Durham and I had a great time! The first couple of days there I wondered about a hundred times what on earth I was doing sweating to death in that strange place, but of course by Friday I was making plans to return like everyone else. I think much like the Willie Clancy week, the oddities become part of the charm.
Music and dancing were fantastic, but the town itself is kind of a strange place, like going back to a Twilight Zone version of the fifties! No cell phone reception at all because of the mountains and public computer access non-existent, not even phones in the motel rooms, so you kind of feel like you're cut off from the rest of the world-which is actually not such a bad thing in some ways. The advice I got from my friend about where to stay turned out to be reputable as it really was the best in town, which is not saying much. Think of a Motel 6 when it still cost . I don't think the place has been remodeled since 1952! But there was a tea room, a pool, a pub and a nice dining room with meals included in the price so we couldn't complain, at least not too much, and you should have seen the other places! One friend of mine stayed at a place where she had to bring her own towels and sheets and one teacher was stuck in a place where the front door wouldn't even close, much less lock, and the air conditioning wouldn't work. Everyone had hilarious stories about their places and hot water was known as such a luxury that I started to feel like I was at the Hilton by the end of the week. One dancer told me the health department had come during the day and cited his place for health violations.
Bugs there were huge and heat was miserable, in the nineties every day with absolute and complete humidity, so my hair made me look like a demented lion who had one too many shock treatments. At first I tried to tame the wildness but eventually gave up the losing battle and joined the rest of the frizzed and sweating masses! On the first day, the step dance class was held in a barn-like place with no restrooms, no air conditioning, and the only water available was an old spigot out back. Luckily another room was found the next day. We set dancers actually were quite lucky as our class was held in a pub with a lovely wooden floor and at least limited air conditioning. But the music and dancing were pure and complete magic! Classes with Patrick O'Dea and nightly ceilis great fun, concerts every night and sessions everywhere. So, yes, I would very definitely go back!
Lorie Steinhauer, Southfield, Michigan
On Wednesday June 29th a group of set dancers and friends travelled to the Black Box Theatre in Galway to view the dance show composed and directed by Eric Cunningham, son of the ceili band leader Matt Cunningham, which has taken the world by storm. Dance of Desire, which consists of original music, song and dance, is based on the legend of the Children of Lir. When Lir's wife died he married her sister Aoife, who became jealous of the love Lir had for his children so she plotted a revenge. Lir protected his children with the Magic Sword of Light. The evil Aoife watched and waited and in time stole the magic sword and with its magical powers she changed the children into swans. When the Milesians challenged the domination of the Tuatha De Danann and became the founders of the Celtic Kingdom of Erin they witnessed the misfortune of Lir and sought to return his children to the Island of Youth and help banish Aoife forever. To do this, the Sword of Light, which is the centrepiece of much of the dance, had to be won back. The story took a magical turn when a Milesian princess fell in love with one of Aoife's servants. The secret which this servant could reveal regarding the whereabouts of the sword was to lead to a "happy ever after" conclusion to the story.
The legend was translated onto stage by using a combination of soft and hard shoe dance of different tempo and mood, facial expressions, lighting variations and stunning costumes. The highlight of the evening for me was the dance when the princess and the servant fell in love. This was a masterpiece which has to be seen and experienced to be appreciated. To try to describe the vibrant dance, colour, music, singing, costumes, grace and precision of movement is an impossible task. My advice to everyone is to go along to the show to be entertained by top class performers. You will even get a chance to meet them after the show to offer words of appreciation and congratulations.
Míle buíochas agus beannacht Dé ar an obair!
Maureen Culleton, Ballyfin, Co Laois
Clarecastle, Co Clare, hosted its ninth annual Ceili at the Crossroads Weekend from 20th to 24th July. This little village on the outskirts of Ennis became a haven of traditional music, singing and dancing for the throngs of people who visited in the area for the weekend. Mike Mahony from Shannon gave a beginners workshop in the Abbey Hall on Wednesday night, and Thursday and Friday there was music and singing in numerous venues.
Saturday from 10am to 5pm in the Abbey Hall a large group gathered for the set dancing workshop by Timmy Woulfe, taking over this year from Mike Mahony, who had a family wedding. Timmy is a renowned dance master from west Limerick and dancers were privileged to have his company and expertise. Timmy taught the Dromgariff Half Set, Mazurka Set, West Kerry Set and Clare Orange and Green.
Saturday night at 10pm over 100 eager dancers in the Abbey Hall were ready to dance the night away. At 10.15pm it became apparent that there was some mix-up with the band and organiser Eugene Brennan announced regretfully that we didn't have live music for the ceili. Eugene offered everyone's money back but invited us all to stay as Timmy Woulfe had volunteered to play CDs for the night. The committee, he said, had prepared tea and brack and it would be a pity to see it going to waste.
Timmy got going with the Caledonian Set. I didn't see anyone leave and I believe no one took their money back either. He called the Claddagh Set and the Mazurka. We also danced the Waltz Country Dance. Dancers may have been bereft of live music but the craic was mighty. Timmy Woulfe kept the music rolling and all the dancers rose to the occasion. It just shows that things never really go wrong in life-it is all about our attitude to every situation. I had one of the best night's dancing in years in Co Clare.
We danced the night away to the recorded music of the Abbey Ceili Band, P J Hernon and the wonderful reels of Michael Sexton RIP. Eugene Brennan thanked everyone for his or her support and for staying on. He thanked Timmy Woulfe for the brilliant workshop and for coming to the rescue by providing the dancers with music.
Sunday evening at Kerin's Cross south of the village we had platform dancing in the open air. The evening sunshine brought out over one hundred dancers and spectators. The sweet, wholesome and uplifting music of the Four Courts Ceili Band kept dancers stepping it out continuously from 5pm until 8pm. Peter Hanrahan of Hell for Leather fame gave us an exuberant brush dance. We concluded our afternoon's dancing and the weekend with a selection of reels to die for.
The ninth Clarecastle Ceili at the Crossroads Weekend had come to an end. I don't know how they manage it but we always have beautiful weather for this outdoor event every year. Perhaps Biddy Early, the legendary magical lady of Clare, has something to do with it.
Joan Pollard Carew, Thurles, Co Tipperary
As the August Monday Bank holiday approached others were wondering how they would spend it.
I, on the other hand, have no such problems. One flick through the diary (or Set Dancing News) and Maureen's céilí in Ballyfin with the great Brian Boru Céilí Band playing is pencilled in. I hoped nothing comes up in life that will prevent me from participating. As the weekend progressed family and friends came and went, all knowing to evacuate to the four corners of Ireland before Monday evening or come to the céilí, which they have on many an occasion.
Maureen's céilithe are something special as are herself and the bould Christy, who informs us later when kettle is boiled. The music starts on time, 9.30 sharp, and from the very first set, the Corofin Plain, we were all flying. Some sets I was dancing in I would like to have been able to watch also. They felt so rhythmical. In and out, up and down, agus timpil timpil. The music was just mighty altogether. The food and tea devoured, we headed back to dance till night ended with the one and only Ballyvourney Jig. The dancing was wonderful, to watch and to dance. We were all flying, free as a bird on a breeze.
Noreen Uí Laighin, Mountrath, Co Laois
Received the latest Set Dancing News today [7 June, within a week of posting]-another great issue, thanks! It is so exciting in colour. We're just back from the Canberra Irish Set Dance Weekend run by Paul Wayper. It was a fantastic weekend of workshops shared by Ina Bertrand and ourselves. On the Saturday night there was a ceili with music provided by the talented Canberra Ceili Band. Thought you might be interested in the light entertainment provided by the "Canberra Chrysanthemums"-photo attached see above. Ever since my husband Bill and I saw Connie Ryan's "Tubbercurry Tulips" we've wanted to show what our gorgeous Aussie men can do down under! Naturally, they danced figures 2 and 5 of the Clare Lancers! See you very soon.
Margaret Winnett, Sydney, Australia
Stepping it out togetherBill,
I am attaching a photo of Brian McDermot and Zita McMahon who were married on the 29th of June last in Roslea, Co Fermanagh. Brian and Zita were well known in set dancing circles in Dublin and Fermanagh respectively until their eyes met across a crowded dance floor in the Armada Hotel, Miltown Malbay, in July 2003. They have been stepping it out together since, and all their set dancing friends wish them the very best for their future together.
Kathleen and Patrick Farrelly, Navan, Co Meath
Thanks from BirrDear Bill,
On behalf of Birr Comhaltas, I would like to thank everyone that supported our set dancing weekend on the 3rd, 4th and 5th June 2005. Special thanks to Pádraig and Róisín McEneany and Sinéad Bray for the beautiful workshops, also to the Star of Munster, Glenside and Emerald Ceili Bands for the beautiful music for the ceilis. Looking forward to seeing everyone again next year on the 2nd, 3rd and 4th June 2006.
Donal Morrissey, Birr, Co Offaly
Gratitude to the committeeDear Bill,
Tubbercurry this July was as good as it always is, with top bands and excellent workshops with Pat Murphy and Betty McCoy taking us to new levels of set dancing. This year had the added bonus of sunny days that gave the South Sligo Summer School a Mediterranean feel. When it was all over and the dancers were preparing to return to whatever spot on the globe they arrived from, the one thing we all agreed upon was our gratitude to the committee for getting us all together. Thanks from all of us to the South Sligo committee. We will all be looking forward to next year, not just for the sets and Pat and Betty, but to dance and talk with old and new friends. We may only meet them occasionally, but take delight in spending some days with them in Tubbercurry.
Derek Gilhooley, Edinburgh, Scotland
I am totally hookedDear Bill,
I was pleased to meet you at one of the evening dances at the Summer School of Irish Traditional Music and Dance at Tubbercurry in County Sligo. It was my first school and my first lesson in set dancing. I am totally hooked! What a joy to meet people from literally all over the world with the common interest of set dancing. I met people from England, America, Australia, Spain, Switzerland, Italy and Japan and I wasn't even keeping track!
During the school, our instructors Betty McCoy and Pat Murphy kept us stimulated with many different set dances. They taught with humour and grace and were a joy to be with. It was dancing from 10am to 1pm and then a dance each evening to absolutely top notch bands. Bill, I found new muscles I didn't remember that I had and also found set dancing to be a fun and healthy way to get and stay in shape. When I looked at Set Dancing News I found a whole new world I was not aware of before. If I choose to I can dance my way across the globe, getting and staying fit, hearing wonderful music and meeting all kinds of people with the same interest, a wonderful boon for this widow! Thanks, Bill, for producing this magazine and making it so professional and welcoming at the same time. Thanks to you also, Betty and Pat, for making my first experience so wonderful!
With respect and tapping feet,
Gemma Burke Bourré, Co Mayo and Florida
I went to Glór
On a Thursday night
To see Hell for Leather,
What a sight!
The Fennell School of Set Dance
Put on a spectacular display
In purple, orange and blue,
What more can I say?
The dynamic duo
Michéal and Pat
Played mighty music
At the side as they sat.
All night long
They kept the show on the road
With the polkas, jigs and reels,
The audience sure weren't bored.
Frank on the pipes
Played a haunting air
For the American wake spot,
It sure would draw a tear.
The dancers from West Clare
From the small to the tall
Skipping and battering
Co-ordinated one and all.
In sequence they danced
Out on to the stage floor
The audience shouted for more.
There were brush dancers,
Sean nós and song
But Peter was the king,
He didn't get a foot wrong!
I wish the show luck
When it goes on tour
To Tralee, England
And I'm sure many places more.
Mary Caldwell, Ennis, Co Clare
The luxurious four star Sirenis Seaview Country Club and the adjacent Aura Hotel in sunny Ibiza once more hosted Fleadh Ibiza 2005 from 24th April to 1st May. 1500 patrons revelled in the best traditional Irish music, song and dance festival in Europe. Enjoy Travel had once more surpassed all expectations in organising this very popular event in one of the most beautiful of the Balearic Islands.
I flew from Dublin via Gatwick to Ibiza with a number of musicians on Saturday night 23rd April. Long before we arrived in sunny Ibiza a party atmosphere had captured us. Everyone was in great form, and as Sylvester McGrath serenaded us with his songs, we sipped coffee and relaxed on our comfortable flight. From Gatwick airport we travelled by coach to Manston Airport for our onward journey to Ibiza. On arrival at the Seaview Country Club we were checked in most efficiently and treated to a beautiful salad meal. Most holidaymakers retired to bed in the small hours of the morning eager to rest for the beginning of the festival the following day.
The first day got off to a start with a céilí outdoors by the pool in 23 degree sunshine. Danny Webster was in fine form as he played a fantastic selection of music. Many holidaymakers were only surfacing as the evening progressed. The night céilí saw Danny Webster once more on stage. This musician's energy and enthusiasm is remarkable. Margaret Morrin from London called the Mazurka and the Sliabh gCua sets. Margaret has a lovely clear voice for calling and is very precise in instruction.
Monday morning all holidaymakers finally put on their party shoes as Mickey Kelly began the first workshop. Eleven o'clock saw twenty sets dancing the Ballyduff Set. Mickey in his usual charming style had everyone at ease and even the many beginners present were enjoying having a go at dancing. The St Bernard Waltz and Britannia Two-Step were next on Mickey's agenda.
The afternoon saw thirty sets enjoying the brilliant music of Longford's own Glenside Céilí Band. Mickey Kelly was our master of ceremonies for the first half, and then Timmy Woulfe took over. Thanks, Timmy, for giving us the wonderful Sliabh Luachra set, the first of many over the festival. Pale skins began to turn golden as holidaymakers danced in the Mediterranean sunshine. As evening approached in the beautiful dining room we enjoyed a hot and cold buffet of the delights of the island and more traditional fare.
Monday night's céilí began at 9pm with Mort Kelleher's Céilí Band, though Mort was unable to travel until later in the week. Maria Lynn-McHugh, keyboard player with Heather Breeze, joined Noreen Kelleher and family on stage. The ballroom hosted 45 sets and everyone had a marvellous céilí. We even danced a High-Cauled Cap. Some dancers shared their dancing time between the céilí in the ballroom and modern dancing in the lounge. Late-nighters boogied to P J Murrihy and Seamus Shannon in the Cellar Bar until the sun began to rise.
Tuesday morning's set dance workshop was a special treat. In recent years we have seen a number of newly revived sets from many corners of Ireland and the midlands is no exception with the Lusmagh Set from Co Offaly. Frank and Bobbie Keenan told us that they had only found out about this treasure at Dublin Airport while chatting to Joseph Sullivan and Bid Ryan, two of the Offaly dancers. Joseph only revived this set in the last year. His mother danced it eighty years ago at house dances. We were privileged to have a full set of Offaly dancers to demonstrate-Joseph Sullivan, Eileen Daly, Patsy Maher, Kathleen Coughlan, Teresa Nolan, Della Horan, Mick and Bid Ryan. Frank told us that this was the first time it was danced outside Co Offaly. It has three reels and a polka and I anticipate that when it hits the Irish workshop scene it will become popular, as it is a simple yet enjoyable little treasure. The 35 sets that danced it in Ibiza were charmed with it.
Frank and Bobbie then taught the Cúchulainn Set. We were blessed to have Danny Webster play his magical accordion for both sets. As modern dancers gathered at 2pm to dance by the pool, set dancers retired in to the shade of the ballroom to Timmy Woulfe's workshop. On arrival there I met Clement Gallagher who told me he was delighted with his fíor céilí workshop, where he taught forty dancers the High-Cauled Cap, Sweets of May and Walls of Limerick. Timmy proceeded to dance the Claddagh Set. This was by special request as some dancers were still unsure of the third figure. Timmy spoke of the set's sometimes forgotten little idiosyncrasies, like the advance step where the leading foot stays in front.
Four o'clock saw set dancers outside again dancing to the treasure of Mayo, Heather Breeze. Among the sets danced was the Claddagh, which Timmy Woulfe called. We danced the night away until 1am to the Glenside with Frank Keenan as MC. I counted 55 sets at one time, yet everyone had adequate room to dance and enjoy him or herself.
Wednesday was céilí cruise day. Mick Mackey and his musicians from the nightly Aura Bar sessions accompanied the seafarers as they cruised the southwest coast of Ibiza. Some took a dip in the crystal clear waters. A few figures of the Connemara and Caledonian were danced on the beautiful little Pirates Island. Everyone enjoyed lunch and some had a drop or two of sangria before returning back to the hotel for dinner.
Back at the Seaview another day of set dancing ensued. Mickey Kelly started the day at 11am with 25 sets dancing the Derrada on the beautiful wooden floor. Mickey then did the Southern Rose Waltz and the Waltz Country Dance. At 2pm Frank Keenan was joined by ten sets as he taught the Aran Set in the ballroom. This is a beautiful set and it's a real treat to see it danced in the true Connemara step. Afterward fifty sets gathered outside in the warm sunshine to dance the evening away to the music of the boys in the Glenside Céilí Band. When the céilí finished the pool set dancing competition got underway with five sets in the water in the evening sunshine. A set of Abbeyfeale dancers and friends won the event.
Tom and Noreen Carter from Westport in Co Mayo gave ballroom dancing workshops each day in the ballroom from 4 to 6pm with forty to fifty dancers attending. Tom and Noreen are teaching for the past fifteen years and thoroughly enjoy passing on their wonderful talent.
Dinner eaten and refreshed, set dancers once more converged on the ballroom to dance the night away to the sweet wholesome music of Heather Breeze. With Frank Keenan as MC we had a night of mixed sets. Experienced and less agile footed dancers had a brilliant céilí. From 9pm to 1am in the Aura Bar, Danny Webster provided the music for the fíor céilí with Clement Gallagher as MC.
On Thursday morning Timmy Woulfe was back for another workshop. We danced the Dromgarriff Half-Set, which recently came to prominence earlier this year in Malahide, Tralee and Abbeyfeale. I was delighted that Timmy chose to do the Jenny Ling Set. The fifty sets which had come out to dance in the sunshine on the especially constructed timber floor were delighted with the selection of sets.
Back in the shade of the ballroom ten sets gathered that afternoon to dance the Newport Set with the great Mickey Kelly as tutor. Mickey paid tribute to Connie Ryan and remembered him teaching this set years ago in the Green Isle Hotel, Dublin. He reminisced on his friendship with Connie and his colourful character. I could swear I saw a tear or two in Mickey's eye as he remembered Tipperary's legendary dance master.
54 sets crowded the wooden dance floor by the pool for the evening céilí as Danny Webster supplied the exuberant music. The sets included the Claddagh as we had Timmy Woulfe as MC. The Galmoy Dancers from Kilkenny, led by Mick and Kay Doyle, treated us to the Slate Quarry Lancers Set. Mick said they had first danced this set almost twenty years ago for the late Sean Dempsey and that they were dancing it today in his memory. I have been privileged to see this skilful and unbelievably fast moving set many times and it's always a joy to watch. The enjoyment of the dancers is almost contagious-you would feel like jumping up and joining in.
Mort Kelleher arrived earlier in the day and was in fine order to take his rightful place with the family band at the ceili that night. Once again 55 sets graced the floor; Mickey Kelly was our MC. We danced as if there was no tomorrow and included in our selection of sets were the lovely Derrada and Newport.
While many set dancers danced the night away in the ballroom, some of them were spreading their talents at the waltzing competition in the lounge to the music of P J Murrihy and Seamus Shannon. I was thrilled to learn that two beautiful dancers, Phyllis and Pat Harnett from Limerick, had won the competition.
Friday morning's workshop was a treat. Due to popular demand Frank and Bobbie Keenan once more did the Lusmagh Set. Frank spoke of how privileged we were to have Joseph Sullivan in our midst to ensure that we had all the moves correct.
The afternoon was set aside for the talent competition with forty entries. What a wealth of talent in all age groups! It was delightful to see the young people taking part who up until then had gone unnoticed. Pat Jordan did a tremendous job as MC, Curtis Magee provided music where needed and of course our darling Tom Flood was as always at hand for dancers with his big smile and enthusiasm. At one stage he even jumped out of the swimming pool to play at the request of one of the dancers. Tom, you are one of the greatest ambassadors of music I have ever met. Willie Drea from Co Offaly won the competition doing a sean nós dance.
We had a céilí to follow and dancers put on their shoes and danced until dinnertime to Danny Webster. The night céilí began at 9pm sharp with the beautiful music of Heather Breeze. Timmy Woulfe called a fantastic selection of sets including the Jenny Lind, Sliabh gCua and Williamstown, and then Jim McCormack called the Ballycommon. While the céilí was in full swing a bucket collection was taking place to help raise funds for a bus for special needs people in Celbridge, Co Kildare. Dancers, musicians and friends were so generous that €4,400 was raised in a little over one hour.
On Saturday the final day of Fleadh Ibiza 2005 had dawned. Mickey Kelly was the workshop tutor and we danced the Roscahill Set, another little gem that should be danced a bit more, and continued with some of his wonderful two-hand dances. I spoke with three lovely ladies from Monaghan who said they had a ball. Bernadette Murphy, Rosaleen Gorwan and Dernella Mulligan said they would definitely be back next year. Bernadette said set dancing was like a secret world.
Sally Glennon played wonderful quicksteps and waltzes until 3pm, then Mort Kelleher took the stage. Set dancers formed fifty sets and danced until 5pm when the fancy dress parade began. Everyone spent a lot of time, thought and effort for the wonderful display that graced the floor, gladdened our hearts and gave a treat to our eyes. After long deliberation two winners were announced. Theo McKeon from London won junior section-this four-year-old boy was dressed as a leprechaun and looked very credible. Teresa Duignan and Elizabeth Devine won the senior section dressed as the 'Isle of Ibiza Twins.' Teresa and Elizabeth are avid set dancers from Castlerea, Co Roscommon.
Mass was celebrated outdoors at 5.30pm. The dance floor became a large seating area and the stage became an altar as almost everyone who had enjoyed the festival gathered together. Singers and musicians gave freely of their talents. There was an incredible feeling of joy, togetherness and sharing as we prayed and sang in the glorious evening sunshine. It was one of the most spiritual experiences I have ever shared.
After dinner hundreds enjoyed the Johnny McEvoy concert. P J Murrihy and Seamus Shannon featured first on stage. With the magic accordion playing of Seamus and P J singing heartfelt songs, hankies were at the ready and feet were tapping. It was extremely difficult to sit still when Seamus played the Kerry Polka and the Tamlin Reel. Johnny McEvoy came on stage at 9.40pm and brought most of us down memory lane with a repertoire of his songs.
The Aura hosted a mixed céilí from 9 to 11pm with Heather Breeze and calling shared by Mickey Kelly and Clement Gallagher. Our sets included Mickey's beloved Newport, and céilí dances Harvest Time Jig and the Three Tunes. At 11.30pm everyone gathered outside for a fantastic display of fireworks.
At 12am the main ballroom was packed with eager set dancers who wanted to use up every ounce of energy they had left in the grand finale céilí. The wonderful Glenside Céilí Band was on stage and we danced our feet off. The grand prize draw took place at 1.30am-the winner was John Carroll from Manchester who won the marvellous prize of a Mediterranean cruise for two. Many holidaymakers returning early on Sunday didn't go to bed but enjoyed a late late seisiún or partied in the Cellar Bar.
Tom Flood from the Glenside was outside at all hours of the clock playing a few figures of a set for early and late departing holidaymakers. He wanted to ensure that they would return home on a high.
Another Fleadh Ibiza had come to an end. This was once more a brilliant success. Testimony to this is the large numbers of people I spoke to who said they couldn't wait until next year and that they would be bringing friends along. The venue is perfect, the musicians and artists are first class and the people who travel to these festivals are the salt of the earth. Gerry Flynn and his team at Enjoy Travel are to be congratulated. This is one of the best-organised events I have ever had the pleasure of being involved in. The expertise, dedication and attention to every detail is most professional and yet you can sense the personal touch. Roll on Fleadh Ibiza 2006.
Ireland in the Sun 2005
Sunday morning, the 1st of May, as holidaymakers were returning home from Fleadh Ibiza, its companion festival, Ireland in the Sun, got underway. Guests arrived from early morning to a slightly cooler climate than the previous week. Although this festival shifts emphasis from set dancing to country 'n' Irish, set dancers were definitely catered for in every possible way and featured more set dancing than in previous years.
Mickey Kelly was all set for another week's set dancing workshops and began at 11am with the Derradda Set. Numbers at first were small but halfway through the class we had six sets dancing in slightly overcast weather yet with a quite warm breeze. After Mickey did the Pride of Erin Waltz we all made a big circle around the floor and danced the Circular Waltz. I had never danced this before and thought it was a most sociable dance as the ladies moved on around the circle thus enabling us to chat to many dancers.
At 1pm Danny Webster was on stage providing the music for the week's first céilí. Fifteen sets took the floor and one could easily differentiate the newcomers with their extra energy but lack of tan. Curtis Magee then played for modern dancing and set dancers enjoyed the more relaxed waltzing and quicksteps and the lovely lyrics of his country songs. After dinner set dancers gathered in the main ballroom for a night's céilí with the mighty Glenside on stage and Mickey Kelly calling.
Monday began with a few clouds in the sky but soon brightened to a beautiful day. Mickey Kelly was on duty again with his workshop. Gerry Flynn then hosted a welcome meeting for guests of the festival. Everyone relaxed and sipped champagne or soft drinks. From 1pm to 3pm Danny Webster played for set dancers by the pool then Irene and Full Circle took the stage followed by Pat Jordan. We all had a brilliant time dancing the evening away.
Johnny McEvoy was in concert tonight at 8.30pm. Hundreds of holidaymakers thronged to the ballroom and enjoyed a fabulous show. P J Murrihy and Seamus Shannon were first on stage and gave the audience a magical hour of music and song. Johnny McEvoy, accompanied by Philip O'Duffy on guitar, took many of the attendees down memory lane. Everyone was charmed with this special event. Johnny Reidy and his ceili band had arrived from Kerry for the second week and were on stage in the ballroom immediately after the concert. We revelled in his Scartaglen music until 1.30am.
Tuesday by the pool Frank and Bobbie Keenan did the Fintown Set. Frank thanked Mick and Kay Doyle for giving him this set which they had practised last week out in the hotel garden in the blazing sunshine. Eddie Lee, Johnny Reidy's pianist, and Cathriona then went on stage and we had a mix of country and rock and roll dances. Dancers were overjoyed with their performance and choice of songs. That night every type of dancing was catered for in the ballroom and set dancers switched to the lounge for the céilí. Danny Webster played for the first two hours from 9pm then the Glenside took the stage.
Wednesday morning by the pool Mickey Kelly danced the Bruca Set from Co Mayo. Brid and Mary O'Neill joined the demonstration set; it was their mother who revived this little set in recent times. The afternoon progressed with ballroom tuition by tutors Tom and Noreen Carter. Music tutorials were in the Aura Bar and modern dancers danced by the pool to numerous artists. Set dancers danced the night away to Danny Webster for the first half of the céilí and Johnny Reidy for the second. Feet were tapping and hearts were racing as dancers barely touched the floor with the fantastic music of these talented musicians.
We were treated to a show by the Lough Ree Theatre Company in the Aura ballroom entitled The Beauty Queen of Leenane. I thoroughly enjoyed myself at this excellent piece of satire played out on a set that was shipped over especially for the occasion. The play is set in the Connemara village of Leenane, where a manipulative old woman and her bitter daughter struggle together in mutual loathing. The old woman spends her days demanding cups of tea and Complan and watches Australian soaps on television. Her daughter yearns for a lover or at least sex and freedom and when she finally brings a man home everything then takes an unusual twist.
Thursday morning brought rain but no rain could dampen the spirits of the dancers as ten sets gathered indoors in the lounge where Frank Keenan taught the West Kerry Set. We had great fun with it, especially the final hornpipe figure. Everyone danced for a few hours to Sally Glennon until the sun came back out to greet us. We all then adjourned to the poolside for the talent show. Like last week we were treated to the cream of talent and Brian Geraghty from Dublin was a popular winner with his repertoire of jokes. The set dancers had another four-hour céilí with Johnny Reidy for the first half and the Glenside for second.
The ballroom hosted a special guest tonight and rumours that Daniel O'Donnell was visiting set pulses racing. I left the céilí to take a photograph and on the way in I was told in a whisper that it was a young look-alike. There was a panicked hush in the crowd and dancers divided like the waters of the Red Sea. A gorgeous young man, the spitting image of a younger Daniel O'Donnell arrived on stage amid near hysteria from the large crowd. The young artist is Gary Gamble from Sion Mills in Tyrone near the Donegal border. I was privileged to chat to him afterwards. He told me that he has been doing the impersonation for three years after he won a talent competition back home. He has a full band of his own since January this year. Gary was a huge success with everyone even though some were disappointed that their darling Daniel was not there.
There was an air of expectation on Friday as Mary O'Brien and Sean Sweeney of the Enjoy Travel Band were getting married at 1pm. At 12.45pm a hush and then a squeal of delight came from the dancers as Mary O'Brien, chaperoned by Dermot Hegarty, walked through the gardens on her way to the limousine. Dressed in a traditional long white gown, Mary looked like a goddess. Mary and Sean were married at 1pm in the beautiful little church at San Rafael. Afterwards we all gathered outside the Seaview Hotel and formed a guard of honour for the happy couple as they returned to the Aura Hotel for their reception.
That night the ballroom took on a real party atmosphere as Mary O'Brien and Sean Sweeney arrived to mingle with holidaymakers. Musicians Curtis Magee and Johnny Parker on stage did their own send up of the bride and groom to the delight of everyone. This pair are always up for a laugh at someone's expense, but yet they are never offensive, just a daft pair of true artists. Saturday was the final day of the festival and all the daily workshops held their last lessons. At 4pm we had the fancy dress competition. There was a huge splash of colour, enormous effort and endless time spent on this entertaining element of the festival. The winners were the 'Three Degrees' who were Pearl Fisher, Laura Hicks and Lorna Torr from Leicestershire, England, originally from Co Cavan.
We had our final Mass by the pool once more with Father Fred as chief celebrant. Most of the 900 holidaymakers attended for this very touching service. All deceased dancers, musicians and friends were prayed for. The Mass in some way reminded me of a spiritual concert with hundreds of participants. Faith of Our Fathers never sounded so good and Hail Glorious St Patrick echoed in the waters of the Mediterranean long after we had returned home.
With our last dinner of the festival holidaymakers were beginning to feel lonely. Johnny Reidy played for first half of céilí then the Glenside were joined by champion flute player Noel Sweeney.
At 12am we watched a spectacular fireworks display, then it was back to dancing until Gerry Flynn interrupted proceedings for the grand prize draw. The lucky winner of a cruise for two was John Reidy from Watford, England, who hails from Cree, Co Clare. He was over the moon and hugged me as he told me it was his birthday and that the ticket had been bought for him as a gift.
The grand finale in the lounge hosted all céilí musicians on stage, Danny Webster, Johnny Reidy and his band and the darlings of Longford, the Glenside. With a selection of reels to lift the roof we danced a mighty Connemara Set, the last in Ibiza for 2005.
The country and western stars had another grand finale in the ballroom. Gerry Flynn went on stage and took over on drums. With Johnny Carroll on trumpet, Seamus Shannon on trombone, and Pat Jordan's and Dermot Hegarty's vocals, we had a big brass finish-what a send off and close of the festival!
Another Ireland in the Sun festival had come to an end. Enjoy Travel can be proud of this excellent festival. I would be hard pushed to recommend the first week or the second. If at all possible make your holiday a two-week stay next year and enjoy two mega festivals.
Joan Pollard Carew, Thurles, Co Tipperary
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).
Set Dancing News, Kilfenora, Co Clare, Ireland
076 602 4282 Republic of Ireland
087 939 3357 mobile
+1 410 504 6000 North America
+353 76 602 4282 elsewhere
+353 87 939 3357