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).
Glencolmcille is a place of remarkable beauty and long history on the southwest coast of Co Donegal. It was the legendary place of sanctuary for St Colmcille and still today devotees of the saint follow a five-kilometre pilgrimage trail or turas with stops at fifteen stations marked by ancient crosses and cairns. The centuries have not changed the feeling of sanctuary experienced in this green valley surrounded by mountains which opens onto the Atlantic. The tourists are here, but they usually make their own way, so it's free of the streams of coaches found in Clare and Kerry.
This part of Donegal is a Gaeltacht where most of the natives were raised speaking Irish. The revival of the language has introduced a new industry to Glencolmcille which brings in a new type of pilgrim. Nowadays many visitors to the area come to take Irish language courses at the Oideas Gael school which offers numerous weekend and week-long courses for adults throughout the year. The school also offers courses in cultural activities including music, art and hill walking. The one that interested me, of course, was the week of Donegal dancing, held this year from August 14 to 20.
The opening class was scheduled at 3pm on Sunday. This year as many as two dozen dancers had signed up, which unfortunately was more than could be accommodated in the tiny replica one-room schoolhouse at Father McDyer's Folk Park, Glencolmcille's lone purpose-built tourist attraction. Instead, the class shifted to the new GAA clubhouse beside the playing field and there we waited for the class to begin. We were delighted when our teacher Edie Bradley arrived, set up her equipment and started us dancing.
Donegal dancing is two-hand or couple dancing, which is what was traditionally danced in the barns and houses here more than the sets. Edie Bradley plays an important role in keeping the tradition alive in the area, and is now a strong influence on the increasing popularity of these dances in the rest of the country. Most of the students in the group were experienced dancers, some on repeat visits, and three set dancing teachers were here as well, Helen Lawlor from Dublin, Maureen Culleton from Laois and Kathleen McGlynn from Louth. Nevertheless, Edie gave great attention to the beginners in the class. She used our first session on Sunday to evaluate everyone's dancing and concentrated on basic steps for those who needed help.
There was time for three dances on that first Sunday, the Long German, Highland and Stack of Barley. The room in the GAA clubhouse we were using wasn't entirely suitable as it had a rough concrete floor. At the end of the class I discovered a new hole had emerged in the sole of one of my shoes. Luckily they promised us a different room for classes the next day.
Oideas Gael usually organised a bit of evening entertainment for everyone participating in the courses. On Sunday night folks from the language, hill walking and Donegal dance classes met in a large carpeted classroom for a 'ceili'. This was a half-hour lesson in the Walls of Limerick, Siege of Ennis and Waves of Tory conducted in Irish and English. The first two dances went well, but when everyone in the room crammed into one long line for the Waves, the resulting scrum turned out to be more of a penance than a pleasure! After that, everyone decanted to the three village pubs where some genuine Donegal music was available, with the respected fiddler James Byrne in one of the pubs that night.
A room full of training equipment was cleared for our use on Monday morning. It was the only timber-floored room in the clubhouse and was conveniently located next to the kitchen. Edie gave us further practice in yesterday's dances and continued with a new selection including the Military Two-Step, Pride of Erin Waltz and Shoe the Donkey. Before the class Edie expressed concern to me that I might be bored doing these easy dances, most of which I've done before. That thought never occurred to me at all while dancing. Even when doing Shoe the Donkey, which I must have done a thousand times, I enjoyed every minute. There's no chance to get bored because the dances are quick; after a few minutes we've moved to the next one.
Edie's teaching is superb. She's always in firm control of the group with her powerful voice and strong dancing. All her teaching is in English even though the week is organised by a school of Irish language. Her steps are easy to follow as she beats them out on the floor. She explains them with meticulous detail and always makes it clear which foot to use and how to get there. She has a keen eye for anyone out of step and will make everyone practice repeatedly until the errant stepper falls into line. If that doesn't do the job, Edie will partner him or her as the lady or gent. The practice is done in several stages-a slow breakdown of the steps and moves, slow and faster walk-throughs, and then we dance it to Edie's lilting. Only after all that do we dance it to the recorded music. Her thorough teaching style is combined with plenty of good humour and mighty craic, so the atmosphere is bright and lively and the time passes quickly.
There's a generous two-hour lunch break between the morning and afternoon sessions, time enough for a good lunch at restaurants at Oideas Gael and the Folk Park, plus a visit to their shops. And even then I had time to drive over to an adjacent mountain and make a quick walk halfway up and back and still return early to class. Our tea breaks were always major occasions too, with plenty of volunteers to operate the kettles, make the tea and pour it into our mugs. There were tables, chairs and benches indoors, but most of us stepped out and sat on the dusty ground to make the best of the warm, dry August weather.
On Tuesday, Edie introduced a couple more challenging dances, the Mazurka and the Millennium Barn Dance. The traditional Donegal Mazurka is not to be confused with the Mazurka Set. It's a couple dance done in waltz hold to mazurkas and is unique to Donegal. The unusual step is a sequence of stamps and hops on one foot then the other, and the couples turn back and forth, slowly then quickly. It's something I'd love to get used to but I need to start dancing it more often than once every four years! The Millennium Barn Dance is one of Donegal's newest two-hand dances and was created by Edie and her friend and colleague Jacinta Gallagher in 2000. They've incorporated a bit of everything into it-left and right turns, sevens, stamps, claps, heel-and-toes. Once we were up to speed, it flowed beautifully and became quite addictive. It would be lovely to see it danced widely.
That afternoon, Edie tempted us with a glimpse of the dances she'd be teaching the rest of the week. She has a new version of the Polly Glide with just one step that's done repeatedly rather than three. She even demonstrated a Cha-Cha-Cha and offered to teach it to us if we wished.
For our Tuesday night's activity, Edie kindly informed us of a weekly Irish night taking place in the Harbour Bar, Killybegs, a journey of close to twenty miles from Glencolmcille. Distance is no object for dancers and most of the class turned up soon after 10pm even though Edie advised us it would begin at 11. Music was by Country Traditions, the two-piece band which recorded all the music used in the classes, so once we heard the tune we knew what to do. The two hands were mixed with waltzes, quicksteps and foxtrots and the small floor was filled for the two hours.
Unfortunately that ended my visit to Donegal and the next day at home I found myself pining for the hills of Glencolmcille and for the beautiful dancing with Edie. I hope to get back there again one of these years and stay the full week because three days was not enough!
Pat Murphy was invited to New Zealand and Australia to teach sets on a four-week tour in July and August. The reports here are about Pat's first two stops, and further reports are expected in the next issue of Set Dancing News.
It was the morning of Saturday 30th July in beautiful Hawke's Bay on the east coast of New Zealand's North Island. We were in the city of Hastings which is surrounded by vineyards and orchards. We arrived at the Taikura Rudolf Steiner School Hall where all of the weekend's events were to be held. Pat Murphy was in good form despite having spent almost three days travelling to get here. Six sets were made up to dance the Kilfenora Plain set, with Pat leading everyone gently through the figures. Some of us were experienced set dancers coming from both the Auckland class and our local class, but many people had bravely come along with no idea what to expect.
By lunchtime we had danced all six figures and everyone was thoroughly pleased with themselves. The afternoon saw us through the Ballyduff Set and the Waltz of the Bells. We were joined for the evening ceili by a good number of people who had not attended the workshops. The dances were mainly English country dances, plus Pat taught a couple of figures of the Connemara Reel. Last Ones Out provided great music throughout the evening.
The next morning's workshop had a lovely mellow feel, and encouraged by Pat's confidence in us we danced our way through the Claddagh Set. We finished the weekend with a session at the Cat and Fiddle Pub, and the dancers were still keen for a set even after a full roast lunch!
Some people have made new friends, for many the weekend kindled a new interest, everyone enjoyed Pat's wonderful teaching, and certainly everyone went home having thoroughly enjoyed themselves.
For me, all the planning, anticipation, excitement and worry was more than worth it, and we're all hoping that this was just the first of many New Zealand set dance weekends.
Helen Stonehouse, New Zealand
Well, folks, it finally happened, the long awaited tour by Pat Murphy of the eastern states of Australia (well, as much as was feasible in three weeks) took place from the 2nd until 23rd August. Ports of call were Port Fairy, Geelong and Melbourne in Victoria and Sydney in New South Wales.
Pat's visit was eagerly awaited by the set dancers downunder and Port Fairy in Victoria's Western District was his first stop to teach. He was the Feature Teacher at the tenth annual An Céilí Mór, a weekend long festival of set dancing. He wowed the hundred dancers who gathered from far afield to see and experience the maestro at work. The dancers were completely at ease with Pat's relaxed, informative and engaging style for the three days of the event.
The weekend opened with a How-are-ye Ceili and dinner on the Friday night. Workshops were held on Saturday from 9.30am, yes 9.30 in the morning, until lunch and then again in the afternoon until 5pm. From 5 'til 7pm there was a Blackboard Ceili hosted by Kathy Guiney, a young set dance teacher from Geelong, who was ably assisted by other young and prospective teachers.
Pre-dinner drinks happened at 7.30pm and these were followed by dinner and a hooley, the theme of which was pantomime, with an Irish flavour. The Three Pigs and Goldilocks were a few of the panto favourites making an appearance. The craic continued until the wee small hours and ended with, of course, the Ballyvourney Jig Set danced on some very tired legs and feet.
Sunday started again with an early morning workshop at 9.30am and the weekend formally finished after lunch about 3pm with a few farewell sets danced by anyone who was left standing at the time.
Pat Murphy was the first dance teacher brought from overseas to An Céilí Mór and his visit was a huge success. His enthusiasm, expertise, patience and skill amazed the participants who had varying levels of knowledge and experience. The dancers hung on every word and followed instructions in minute detail. However, they did not attempt to emulate Pat and dance and lilt at the same time, unlike dancers in another far flung set dance outpost.
There was a real bonus attached to Pat's visit to Victoria. He was accompanied by Tom and Deirdre Ryan and Dan and Mary Morrisey, all from Nenagh in Tipperary, who had arranged to join him whilst on holiday down here-a ready made half set on call at all times, even at 9.30 am!
Geelong, Victoria's second largest town, was the next stop on the tour. On Tuesday the 9th August, Pat ended up in the Court House, which is now the venue for set dancing in this city. People travelled from neighbouring districts and towns to be part of the one night workshop here. Almost eight sets enjoyed a terrific night of dancing and socialisation.
The train moved on to Melbourne on the Wednesday morning where a week of all sorts of traditional Irish activities kept the party entertained before moving on-Pat to Sydney and the Nenagh brigade back to Ireland.
Fay and Morgan McAlinden
Éigse Mrs Crotty is an annual festival of concertina music held in Kilrush, Co Clare. This was the tenth year of Mrs Crotty's festival, which ran from August 17 to 21. It honours local musician Lizzie Crotty who achieved fame in the 1950s for playing concertina on radio. She was a local publican, and her pub on the square still bears the Crotty name and serves as one of the festival's venues. The focus is on the concertina, its players and their music, with sessions, concerts, music classes, repair workshops and lectures.
Dancing is important here, too. This is Ireland's only festival offering five outdoor ceilis, all free of charge. The town of Kilrush is located on the Shannon River in southwest Clare. A fine square occupies the town centre with wide, straight streets radiating from it, lined with shops still retaining their old-fashioned facades. A large timber platform, neatly fenced, is set up in the square and the bands, dancers and spectators support the ceilis, rain or shine.
The opening ceili on Wednesday evening was a good test of dancers' resistance to precipitation. Just before the start, the organisers consulted with the musicians, Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh, about whether to shift to the hall in deference to the light rainfall, and all decided to stay in the square. The floor was squeegeed of excess water, MC Mary Clancy called the Caledonian and around five sets were keen enough to overlook a little dampness. With Micheál and Pat's music, it would take a monsoon to distract you from the dancing. Halfway through the ceili another musician joined them to make a trio-it was Kieran Hanrahan on banjo, the festival's musical director. The dancers were out for every set, as many as eight and dropping down to a hardy two or three toward the end. Equally supportive were the spectators around the floor, who also stayed to the finish. There was a brilliant atmosphere for such a wet night so it was a good decision to stay outdoors.
We were surrounded by blue skies and sunshine at the start of Thursday's ceili. Matt Cunningham and band were on stage playing for a succession of sets mixed with a few waltzes. Mary Clancy was down on the floor filling and calling the sets and helping out the dancers. The sun may have gone down toward the end of the evening but the sky stayed clear and fifteen sets of dancers enjoyed the ceili.
Thursday was Éigse Mrs Crotty's official opening, which was held in a school hall. Following a wine and hors d'oeuvres reception and the opening by Kieran Hanrahan, Mick O'Connor from Dublin delivered an hour-long tribute to Michael Tubridy. Michael is a native of Kilrush who knew and played music with Mrs Crotty and has been involved with the festival since its beginning. The lecture covered most of Michael's life, his early days in Kilrush, playing with the Chieftains and his interest in dance. Mick O'Connor illustrated his talk with numerous interviews on video, including a few excerpts of Michael speaking about his own life and a message from three of the Chieftains. At the finish, everyone present rose to give Michael an ovation. He's a modest man who didn't appear entirely comfortable with all the attention and showed some reluctance to say a few words. He'd find it far easier to deliver a lecture on any subject than to endure one about himself, and spoke about this when he came to the microphone. He was presented with an original painting and his wife Celine received an arrangement of flowers.
Mary Clancy taught a workshop on Friday afternoon in the Kilrush Youth Centre, which has a lovely hall converted from an old schoolhouse. There were about forty people on the floor, many of whom were beginners, so Mary started with step practice before teaching the Derradda Set. The set was a good choice as it's easy enough for beginners and offers dancing to jigs, polkas and reels. There was time for a few two-hand dances to finish the afternoon, the Two-Hand Reel, Two-Hand Jig, Shoe the Donkey and the Stack of Barley.
The Four Courts were on stage from 7pm for the Friday evening ceili. The dancers were out in force again tonight and the spectators around the perimeter were standing in as many as five or six rows. The lucky ones managed to get chairs, which were scarce. People of all ages came along, not just for this evening, but to every ceili. Large numbers of children danced with great skill and were out in every set. Older folks who danced sets in their youth enjoyed watching, and a brave few got up to dance a Caledonian or waltz. For the benefit of those of us at the workshop, Mary Clancy called the Derradda Set and some two-hand dances. Our dancing must have been good entertainment to keep so many spectators watching and standing through the entire ceili.
The workshop on Saturday afternoon was taught by John Fennell with more than enough attending to fill ten sets. Half of them were children, some experts, some beginners, and the rest of us adults were somewhere in between. John catered for everyone by teaching the basic steps and then all seven figures of the Labasheeda Set. He arranged the sets so that there was an experienced couple dancing first tops, which meant they were able to dance without the need for a separate demonstration set. When he needed to show a move or make a point, John grabbed any set or dancer for a quick demo. When we completed the Labasheeda, John divided the gents from the ladies and taught a basic battering step with plenty of practice. Before moving on to a more complicated step, he invited those who wanted to continue practicing the basic batter to go outside into the yard, where his experienced kids were only too keen to provide further help. About half the group stepped out and the youngsters were genuinely patient and helpful with sharing the steps with the adult learners. Where else do you find kids eager and able to teach adults a few new tricks?
The Saturday ceili with the Star of Munster Ceili Band immediately followed the workshop at 4pm to avoid clashing with the festival's big concert that evening. The afternoon was dry and comfortable with a broken sky that occasionally let through a bit of sun. We were treated to a few displays of solo dancing by some of the kids, many of whom are well used to performing for an audience thanks to their involvement in the Hell for Leather show. I counted seven different solo dancers, including three brush dances. The only adult to get up was Tommy Browne, age 70, who danced a jig. At the other end of the age range, Tommy was followed by Tara Lernihan, age 7, who danced her famous brush dance to great acclaim.
The ceilis may have been free for everyone to attend, but the very real cost of staging them was covered by generous local and national sponsors, and by voluntary donations collected at the ceilis. The only break in the music at each ceili was for the few minutes festival workers went around the square with collection bins in the Clare colours.
A couple of traditions are observed at the final ceili of Éigse Mrs Crotty on Sunday evening-the Kilfenora Ceili Band always plays and it always rains. The tradition was observed this year. Hopes were high at the start when everything was dry for the first set, the Caledonian, but by the last figure the drops were falling. There was optimism during the second set, but when the rain continued after that the band played a few concert pieces while dancers huddled under brollies and hoods hoping it would pass. There was no chance of that so the band called the Plain Set and miraculously about eight sets appeared on the floor. Mary Clancy announced this was now Riverdance and said, "Did you ever realise you could get into it so handy?" There were another few sets plus a blast of reels with plenty of dancers out for all of them. Even the spectators stayed on, surrounding the floor with a ring of umbrellas.
I enjoyed the outdoor dancing at Éigse Mrs Crotty. There was a fine mixed collection of locals and visitors from across Ireland and abroad, and it was even fun having a ring of spectators on all sides. The floor is spacious, the music the best available and the atmosphere as good as any indoor ceili. The late afternoon and evening starts make for cool, comfortable dancing when it's dry, and the unavoidable Irish August rain never dampened the enthusiasm and atmosphere.
I returned to New York after spending the first two weeks of July in Clare, expecting to ease back into my routine here. However, I found that I was feeling more and more homesick as the days went by. Before long I realized that I had to go back. I knew many of the musicians from the NY area who were heading to Letterkenny to compete in the Fleadh Cheoil at the end of August. I also knew a large number of parents and friends who would be there, as well as some of our local dancers. Perhaps I would be able to manipulate my finances enough to make another trip this summer. Hmm, there was an extra pay date in August. . . . At the end of July I managed to book a flight at a "reasonable" price, and once again I was lucky in landing a B&B at a late date! I told myself that the trip was meant to be.
Upon landing in Dublin on Wednesday, August 24, I took the so-called express bus to Letterkenny; remember, I live and work in New York City, where patience is at a premium! It was a four-hour trip through an area of Ireland that I really hadn't seen much of before, and it was beautiful despite the clouds and scattered showers. From the Letterkenny bus depot I took a taxi to my B&B, a beautiful home on the hillside overlooking the town. At that point I didn't know that everything in Letterkenny is built on a hillside! Maureen McCleary, my landlady, greeted me with tea and bread-a very welcome gesture after traveling for nearly twenty hours, without sleep! After a nap and a shower I set out on foot to wander around Letterkenny, to find the Fleadh office and competition venues, as well as to locate some of my friends who should already be there. I estimated that I walked at least seven miles, maybe more, that afternoon and evening-without seeing one person I knew! Letterkenny is built on a series of rolling hills, and for the first two days, I swear that I only walked uphill. It didn't feel as though I ever went back down, only uphill! That first evening I finally made my way to the Clonree Hotel, on the outskirts of town. Funny, on the map it didn't seem as though it would be much of a walk. However, I just kept going and going, without any indication that the hotel was any nearer. But I didn't want to turn back, because it was probably "just around the next bend" in the road, as I kept telling myself. Eventually it was.
At the Clonree there was a seisiún for the Scoil Éigse students led by some of their tutors. There were at least 200 kids, parents and spectators in the main ballroom, with musicians of all sizes and experience levels scattered throughout. It was fun and interesting to watch this very different type of seisiún. In the main lobby, a group of young musicians, probably in their mid-teens, had organized a terrific seisiún of their own. In another large room there was a youth ceili underway with instruction from a local teacher and live music provided by local musicians. It was great to see that the room was full of young dancers-from approximately eight years of age through seventeen or eighteen. At the Clonree I finally hooked up with some of my friends from the States. However, when I left in the early morning hours the rain was coming down in sheets, it was gusty, and I was already exhausted. I just couldn't face the thought of another two-mile uphill climb to get home, and I broke down and splurged for a taxi. By the end of the week I would become great friends with those taxi drivers!
On Thursday I decided to walk into town again to do some sightseeing and shopping. The light showers were rolling through fairly quickly, so I could wait inside somewhere until each one had passed, then the sun would reappear for a time-there actually was more sun than rain that day. I made a stop at the Fleadh Office, then headed "uptown," walking along Main Street, drifting into and out of music shops. As I stood on the sidewalk in front of the Cathedral, just after another shower had passed, I heard someone shouting my name. I didn't pay too much attention, because "Maureen" is not as uncommon in Donegal as it is in New York City. However, a car suddenly stopped in front of me, and a woman was hanging out of the passenger window, calling to me-friends from home! Eileen and Gerry were meeting their kids after classes, and I went along with them. We all headed back to "their house" for tea while the kids practiced for their competitions. That night they took me with them to the Pins American Pool Hall. The name does not do it justice-a very nice bar with a separate pool hall. There were perhaps fifteen young New York musicians there for a seisiún, along with their parents and friends. It was unfortunate that there really wasn't room to dance, because the music was great!
The first ceili of the weekend was held on Friday night. The venue was Trinity Hall-an old church now used for community events. When I walked into the hall, I was surprised to see friends from New York-people I hadn't known were coming to the Fleadh-then my friends Sally and Joe Harney from Boston arrived. Sally teaches sets in the Boston area and is from Donegal. We hadn't seen one another in several years, and it was great to catch up. Then more Yanks came in! It was like "old-home" week! I also met up with some of my new friends from Willie Clancy week, and we all introduced one another to our friends. Unfortunately, the windows in the hall are the old stained glass windows from the original church, set high on the walls and not meant to be opened. There were no fans, air circulation or water available, and the crowd was twice the size the room could comfortably accommodate. Eventually we opened the double doors at our end of the hall. Sean Norman played for the ceili, but the acoustics did not do justice to the good music. This was billed as a sets ceili, while there was another being held elsewhere for ceili dances, but a number of ceili dances were called. Hopefully the Fleadh Committee took note of the large number of dancers that the evening attracted and will consider moving the opening ceili to a larger venue next year.
During the day on Saturday, I hiked back and forth between the competition venues-a mile or more apart. The streets were closed to cars, so one literally had to run to catch some of the events. I was among a horde of fifty or so would-be spectators who were denied entrance to the set dancing competition because the theatre was already full! There were a good many irate people in the hallway outside the theatre. A larger venue should be secured for next years' competition.
On Saturday night the ceili was held in a very large ballroom in the Mount Errigal Hotel, about a mile from the center of town. The committee did a wonderful job in planning this ceili. There was a plywood floor laid down, fairly level with few loose corners, and there was plenty of seating and water available. There must have been 300 or more dancers, and I noticed a number of spectators at this ceili-hotel residents who just came in to watch. The music was provided by Matt Cunningham, whom I've heard play for many céilithe in the States, but it seems that I had never heard Matt play with a full band on his US road trips. I could not have been more happily surprised! There was terrific lift, energy and rhythm to this music! The drummer was phenomenal, which several of my friends also said. Many dancers really "feed" off the drummer, and this certainly was the case on Saturday night. All of the musicians were outstanding and really seemed to enjoy themselves. A friend commented that she couldn't remember the last time she had seen me dance so much-every set, I think. I made a point to thank Matt at the end of the ceili, and I left on a very high note! You could have scraped me off the ceiling, as they say!
After taking in a few more competitions, I headed out to the Sunday night ceili, held again in the Mount Errigal with music by the Fodhla Ceili Band. There was a small crowd, with about twenty sets. Of course, the senior ceili band competition was held at the same time and the weather did not cooperate, either-torrential downpours and gusty wind driving the rain sideways made traveling difficult. I left the senior band competition about midway and walked only a quarter mile to the hotel. But by the time I arrived, I had to wring out one side of my skirt, change my soaked hose and try to find a warm spot to dry my street shoes. The ceili was only underway for about half an hour, so I didn't miss too much I was told. The Fodhla played some very nice tune sets, different from those played the night before, which keeps things interesting. The timing was great: "You could dance all night to that tempo," as my friend John Droney would say. However, the large expanse of the ballroom that served the dancers so well the night before was actually a detriment on Sunday. There weren't enough people to fill the hall, but we all enjoyed ourselves-is there ever a bad night of dancing? The Plain Set at the end of the ceili was played straight through for the first four figures, with one terrific tune leading into another! So, the night ended on a great note. But then we had to say our good-byes, as all would be heading off in different directions the next day.
Overall, I enjoyed the events that I attended at the Fleadh. My friends and I are always able to create our own fun, so to speak, regardless of the circumstances, rain and hills or less-than-perfect dance halls. However, I found the atmosphere on Letterkenny's "main drag" and in the pubs there to be that of a huge beer fest gone out of control. The number of people who were there simply for the drink and craic seemed to far outnumber those who were actually there for the music and dancing. The pubs that I was actually able to make my way into and through to the music were not places where I would want to stay for very long, and I certainly wouldn't want young musicians in there! But that atmosphere was not indicative of Letterkenny in the days leading up to the weekend, and I found the residents and shopkeepers to be more hospitable than I would have ever imagined or expected. I hope to revisit when I have time to travel throughout Donegal, as it is one of the most beautiful areas of Ireland that I've been to.
Maureen Donachie, Floral Park, New York
During a mighty long distance trip through the west of the USA, including Yellowstone National Park, the north west coast, Death Valley and San Diego, my family and I finally visited Phoenix in the Arizona desert.
Looking for a chance to do some Irish dancing in Phoenix, I visited Bill Lynch's fantastic and informative web site and found the Irish Cultural Center (ICC), located nearly in the heart of downtown Phoenix. What a wonderful treasure of Ireland I found there in the desert!
The thermometer was nearly melting at 105ºF (41ºC!) when I stepped through the gate into the Center's grounds and suddenly I was in Ireland! I was warmly welcomed by Sean Prior, a native Cavan man. He works in the center as a volunteer, as are most of the people there. Sean guided me through the two-acre site generously supported by the city of Phoenix, a sister city of Ennis, Co Clare. This place is packed with Irish treasures.
The courtyard is etched with the map of Ireland, including the four provinces and 32 counties. The Halla Mór (Great Hall) is reminiscent of an 1850s-style meeting hall. It is beautifully decorated inside and I didn't trust my eyes when I saw the magnificent fireplace made from Liscannor stone, quarried near the Cliffs of Moher. The Irish cottage opposite the hall is a replica of an 1800s Co Clare farmhouse containing a museum store and exhibits.
In the cottage I was welcomed by Pat McCrossan who provides music lessons on various Irish instruments, and met Mary Moriarty, the executive assistant in the Center. Chatting away with her I learned that set dancing has not been practiced at the Center yet, whereas ceili dancing is what they do in their classes and workshops. Without hesitating, Mary invited me to join an ICC board meeting the same evening to introduce Irish set dancing.
Evening temperatures were still exceeding 98ºF (37ºC) but dancing inside the Halla Mór was no problem due to air conditioning-an invention dating back to the early 1940s.
After the board meeting I was invited to introduce myself and set dancing and then I had the pleasure to teach a wonderfully mixed group of dancers a few figures of the Clare Lancers. Some in the group were well experienced in ceili dancing but nobody had ever danced a set. What a delight it was to see the enthusiasm Martin Blair, a nine-year-old boy, showed during his first set!
After the dancing we all stayed together for a long time talking the desert night away. The mission of the Irish Cultural Center in Phoenix is to "provide a link between the people of Arizona and the people of Ireland and other cultures." This really happened that night.
Andrea Forstner, Erlangen, Germany
A beautiful sunny day, August 2nd, brought out the crowds for the annual crossroads ceili in Swinford, Co Mayo, as part of the Síamsa Sráide festival. Brid O'Connell has to be congratulated for having everything running so smoothly. Promptly at three o'clock, we were dancing to the wonderful music of Shaskeen.
The following Saturday, August 6th, the village of Kilmaine, situated between Ballinrobe and Headford, was the venue for another ceili. Despite the weather being very warm and humid, a large gathering danced to the fine music of Matt Cunningham and his band well into the night.
A smaller than usual crowd came to Partry on the 26th (a lot had gone to Letterkenny for the All-Ireland Fleadh). The Carousel Ceili Band was at their best and a tremendous night of dancing followed. It has been very noticeable this summer that the number of visitors coming to the ceilis has increased, which can only be good,
Nestling below the Party Mountains, halfway between Ballinrobe and Westport, lies the village of Killawalla. The Community Centre was packed to capacity for the ceili on September 3rd. That fantastic trio from Co Westmeath, Carousel, provided the exhilarating music. Starting with the Derradda Set, in all ten sets and several waltzes were danced during the ceili, a memorable night enjoyed by all.
On the 10th September the Cois Abhann Centre in Hollymount resounded to the music of the Woodlands Ceili Band from Co Roscommon. The music, dancing and spread on the tables at tea time were fabulous.
The following day Chris Oates and the Circle of Friends organized a 5km holding of hands, with a ceili afterwards in Taugheen Hall with Carousel providing the music. All proceeds from these events were for the purchase of am MRI Scanner for Mayo General Hospital. Thank you to all who supported this worthwhile cause.
John Handel, Ballinrobe, Co Mayo
The picturesque village of Labasheeda, set on the banks of the River Shannon 22 miles west of Ennis celebrated its eleventh Dan Furey Weekend from Friday 2nd September to Sunday 4th September.
On Friday, locals and visitors gathered in St Kieran's Centre to celebrate once more one of west Clare's own legends, Dan Furey. The weekend began with committee chairman John Malone welcoming the large gathering. John paid special welcome to Michael and Céline Tubridy and Joan Hanrahan, fiddler and broadcaster on Clare FM radio. Joan had recently married and just returned home from the honeymoon in time for the festival. John then invited Father John Kelly, president of the festival, to say a few words. He congratulated the hard working committee on their wonderful community spirit. Michael Tubridy then addressed the crowd. Dan Furey, he said, left with us a legacy of old-style dancing, particularly the Labasheeda and Paris sets. The Priest and His Boots is one of the most popular dances being danced all over the country. Michael played Dan's own unique version of that tune while Celine Tubridy, John Creed and Maureen Davis danced this beautiful old-style dance.
John Malone gave us a briefing on the programme of events for the weekend and then invited Joan Hanrahan to launch the festival. She spoke of Dan's music and dancing and the way he travelled around Limerick and Clare leaving his amazing gift with us. Joan congratulated the community of Labasheeda on this fantastic festival in Dan's honour. He is remembered not just in west Clare but also in many other corners of the world, from where people come to this small village to celebrate Dan's life, music and tradition. Joan then proclaimed the festival open to rapturous applause.
Johnny Reidy was all set and ready to go. Dancers thronged the floor long before the music even started and we were away with the Corofin Plain Set. The main hall and the adjacent Long Aisle were alive with exuberant dancers. Johnny and his band doled out their usual brilliant music, including a wonderful Sliabh Luachra. My highlight of the night was the Plain Set, which I danced with Timmy Woulfe from Athea, Co Limerick, in the Long Aisle. We were joined by six teenagers who had the energy of athletes. Their feet hardly touched the ground at times and other times they battered their steps with gusto. Timmy and myself did our best to keep up and enjoyed and admired their enthusiasm and style. It's marvellous to see so many young people set dancing in Co Clare. I have no doubt that John Fennell's work with the Hell for Leather show has been an inspiration to many of them.
Saturday morning Mike Mahony began his workshop by welcoming everyone and thanking the committee for inviting him back again. He reminded us that his father came from Labasheeda and that he felt privileged to be here today. Mike began with the South Galway Set, a simple little reel set and then stayed in the Galway region for the Williamstown Set from the Galway-Roscommon border. Mike taught the set with meticulous detail and danced himself in the demonstration sets with ease. It's a pity the Williamstown is not danced more at ceilis. The next set Mike taught was the Lusmagh Set from Co Offaly. He picked it up earlier this year in Fleadh Ibiza, where he videoed the set being danced in a workshop. Joe Sullivan only revived it in the last year. His mother danced it eighty years ago at house dances. It's a sweet, easygoing set.
We had a break for lunch then the first set of the afternoon was the Roscahill Set, another Co Galway set from near Oughterard. Mike concluded his workshop with the Labasheeda Set by special request. Most dancers knew the set but Mike, being the gentleman that he is and so obliging, was delighted to teach this tremendous set. The workshop concluded and dancers had a brilliant day. Thanks to Mike, they took away the steps and moves of five sets.
While the set dancing workshop was taking place in the Long Aisle in the community hall, Celine Tubridy conducted a step dancing workshop in the school, and spent the morning teaching the Priest and His Boots. There was further practice on it after lunch, and then by request she taught the first step of a hornpipe. Also during the afternoon in the main hall there was a junior set dancing competition and a swimming, diving and jumping competition at the pier.
A sumptuous barbecue rounded out the afternoon and dancers packed in the calories for the night time ceili with Co Cork's own Abbey Ceili Band. At 10pm dancers once more thronged the floor in the main hall and the Long Aisle. Temperatures were high as the night was very warm and the dancing electric. Everyone had a super time.
On Sunday morning after Mass, prayers were said at Dan's grave by Michael Cassidy and Michael Tubridy played An Gabhairín Buí on the flute. Michael said he was playing Dan's version of this tune and that he never heard anyone else play it this way. We also visited James Keane's grave in the same cemetery.
The Battery Castle was our next destination. John O'Connell welcomed the large crowd that had turned up. He recalled the many times Barney Maloney, the former owner, welcomed everyone here in previous years and the way he was always delighted to tell the story of the Battery. Martin Fitzpatrick, Barney's son-in-law, welcomed everyone, thanked them for attending and gave a brief history of the castle. He thanked the Kilmurray Players, the young musicians who have provided the music at the castle every year since the first festival. Party time got under way as Michael Tubridy joined the musicians to play a selection of reels for brush dances by Martin's daughters Ciara and Deirdre and by Siobhán and Ciara Joy. The music continued to reverberate through the castle when four sets took the floor for the Caledonian. A selection of songs followed as several performed their party pieces. Accomplished storyteller Matt Joe O'Neill from Caherciveen recited Ireland Long Ago. Celine Tubridy and some of her pupils danced the Priest and His Boots. To more wonderful reels we danced the Plain Set, a few waltzes and two-hand dances. The party finished with a repeat performance of the brush dance.
Back in the village, locals were excitedly waiting for the parade and floats. This was a colourful display of cultural and fun-filled themes with some topical floats. As usual the standard was very high and the parish community put in a lot of work. Another barbecue was set up for anyone who had time to partake of its delicious fare. Tea, coffee, sandwiches and snacks were also available in the tearoom in the hall.
The Glenside Ceili Band was raring to get going and at 3pm sharp the ceili started. Despite the two spacious halls available, dancing was fairly tight especially for the Castle and Plain sets, but we all managed and everyone had a fun time. The Glenside's box player Tom Flood invited everyone to come to his wedding party on the following Friday in Mullingar. We wish Tom and his wife Máire all the best for the future and many congratulations. All too soon the ceili finished and some dancers made their way home.
The weekend's final ceili was popular with the locals, many of whom showed up only on Sunday night to dance to the Star of Munster. A good number of visitors also stayed on for one last ceili in Labasheeda, so there was an even mix of locals and visitors. The more relaxed and cooler atmosphere made for a pleasant night, and after the huge crowds all weekend, the spacious floor was a genuine luxury. Musicians and dancers were all in a great mood and the ceili finished with everyone fully satisfied by a night of beautiful dancing.
The Dan Furey Weekend is growing in popularity due in no small way to the warm, welcoming people in this beautiful village of Labasheeda on the banks of the Shannon and more importantly to the tremendous work of the hard working committee and the fantastic camaraderie of the community. Dan Furey deserves to have this festival to commemorate his wonderful talents and in some small way to thank him for the legacy he has left behind.
Joan Pollard Carew
The weekend of September 16th found set dancing fans enjoying a wonderful three days of music, dancing, entertainment, excellent food, and of course the great craic for which Ireland is famous. Fifty-eight dancers from Aghagower, Ballina, Ballyheane, Belcarra, Belmullet, Breaffy, Castlebar, Claremorris, Crossmolina, Inismor, Killala, Kilmeena, Kiltimagh, Louisburgh, Newport, and Westport (all in Co Mayo) set out by bus from Crossmolina to Oughterard and the Connemara Gateway Hotel.
The weekend's organization was in the capable hands of Mickey Kelly and the Newport Set Dancing Club committee of John Joe Geraghty, Mary Kelly and Anne McManamon.
After dinner on Friday night a ceili was held with dancing and craic 'til the wee hours of the morning. Saturday we left for the island of Inisheer for a day of sun (which we did get!) and fun. Our gathering spot on the island was the Óstan Inis Oírr.
The electricity was out when we arrived, but no bother-we had great fun with our own "electric" personalities! We enjoyed some local impromptu talent in the form of Réamon D Carghaile, who played accordion with our resident musician, John Francis Chambers from Newport. We began with a couple of sets, the Connemara and Plain.
Sean nós dancing was performed by local Tomás Conneely as well as our own John Joe Geraghty and sisters Nora Traynor and Kathleen Murphy. Paraic Poil sang My Tender Hearted Parents in Irish. The Breakaway Blues was danced to the tune of Roamin' in the Gloamin'-we danced it out of the pub, around outside and then back in. We followed with the Peeler and the Goat and then a very beautifully performed Military Two-Step. Kathleen Murphy and John Joe Geraghty performed a skit which kept all laughing. Then we were back to a few more sets. At 2.20pm the lights came back on amid cheers and orders for hot food!
We returned to the hotel at Oughterard in time for a nice dinner and another evening of music, dancing and wonderful talent shared. Sunday morning we were up for breakfast, Mass and our last dancing of the weekend from 2.30 until 5pm. We boarded the bus at 6pm and were literally entertained all the way home through the kindness of dancers sharing their many other talents to include singing, joke telling, etc. I am amazed at the giftedness of the set dancing community and it is certainly a joy to see how open they are to sharing their talents!
We arrived home very tired but filled with the wonderful memories of people who know how to enjoy each other and life and just a little more understanding of the beauty available to us here on earth! Thanks go to Mickey and the Newport Set Dancing Club!
Gemma Burke Bourré, Belcarra, Co Mayo
It was with great shock and sadness that we learned of the unexpected death of our dancing friend and colleague Mary McAleer on 23rd June after a short illness. Our deepest sympathy is extended to her husband Mickey, sons Martin and Shane, and large family circle.
Mary was a nurse by profession and spent her life caring for the sick. She was a dedicated wife and mother and was highly respected as a good friend and neighbour in the local community. The esteem in which she was held was evident by the large crowds that attended her wake and funeral.
The McAleer family are well known for their long-standing love of Irish culture and tradition and have travelled the length and breadth of Ireland attending and competing in feiseanna and fleadhs. Everyone was welcome to their home. Music sessions were commonplace over the years and a night of first class music and hospitality was always guaranteed.
In later years Mary and Mickey took up set dancing and travelled far and near to attend sets workshops and ceilis. They were instrumental in setting up our local set dancing club (Omagh Traditional Dancing Club) and while Mickey taught the sets Mary provided unwavering support as she continuously worked in the background to ensure the smooth running of classes and workshops. A competent cook and baker, many people have commented over the years on the excellent suppers that she prepared for workshops and ceilis. Her dedication to caring was reflected in the way that she catered for everybody's needs.
The short poem is a tribute to you, Mary-your memories will remain with us forever. May your soul rest in peace.
Mary we are saddened by your passing back in June,
It happened rather sudden in the early afternoon.
You had made your preparations, the rosary it was said,
You slipped away so peacefully-your family round your bed.
A woman with a heart of gold-unique it must be said,
And many a one remarked how you could bake a scone of bread.
When a neighbour was in trouble, or felt the strain of living,
Mary she was always there-her life was full of giving.
When dancing sets with Mickey you travelled far and near,
And many a good weekend we spent down in Inisheer.
Throughout the whole of Ireland and even Spain and France,
The jigs, the reels, the polka steps with Mary we did dance.
A mother oh so special-a warm and gentle wife,
For Martin, Shane and Mickey were the centre of your life.
Your friends and neighbours loved you-the gap you left is vast,
We'll remember you forever, now your time on earth has passed.
We didn't want to let you go-your parting was so sad,
But the Good Lord had a place for you with Noel and your Dad.
For we will pray with hope and faith and in God we are relying,
For we know you're up in heaven dancing sets with Connie Ryan.
Jimmy Carrigan, Omagh Traditional Dancing Club
Most members of the set dancing group in New Orleans, Louisiana, (as pictured twice in the last issue of Set Dancing News) have suffered the effects of Hurricane Katrina which devastated the region at the end of August. Nearly all the thirty or so dancers have had to move outside the area and have suffered damage and flooding to their homes. Those rehoused in Louisiana and Texas had to endure a second evacuation for Hurricane Rita in September. While they may have lost homes and jobs, there were no injuries or casualties among the set dancers and their families.
Noel Reid is the chairman of the local branch of Comhaltas, which has seventy members, and a keen dancer who often turns up at events in Ireland. Before the storm, he drove to Atlanta and then flew from there to be with his son in Chicago. His house top right in Slidell, on the opposite side of Lake Ponchartrain from New Orleans, received roof damage from falling trees but was not affected by flooding bottom right. However, other areas of his town were badly affected.
Debbie Cornett, another New Orleans dancer, also lives away from the city and was not badly affected by the hurricane despite house damage. She says that people are now thinking they want to dance again and forget about their problems for a few moments. However, with the group scattered across the country it'll be a while before they get together. Our thoughts are with them.
A stroll in the town park on a lovely spring day to feed the ducks and play on the swings with my grandchildren contrasted to a boat trip down the Danube in Budapest with a welcome light breeze on a warm sunny autumn day with the fun people of the Sonas dance troupe, and a great deal happened in between these two events. It seemed like any ordinary everyday set dance text message, "Would you be available between these dates if something came up?" Gathering up the children we rambled back to the car where my diary was flicked through yet again and my return text read, "Most certainly."
First there was the excitement of going somewhere new, not realizing the preparation, planning and practice that would have to be done. My fretting set in shortly before going on our trip, realizing that my brain and my feet don't always sing from the same hymn sheet, not to mention the programme we were supposed to be working from. We were assured by teacher-mentor (Maureen Culleton) that all was going to plan and it would be fine on the days and nights ahead of us. I won't say I didn't believe her, as I do trust her completely so that's all that mattered, right there and then.
We flew off on September 7, a group of twenty, sixteen dancers and four wonderfully talented musicians, multi-skilled and multi-talented, each offering support, kindness, care and lots of encouragement to each other all throughout our journey from start to finish. We danced on the top of a building in the open pleasant night September air and shared our dance and music with a group in Budapest. We had a guided walking tour of the city with interpreters who were part of their group and have been in Ireland to dance festivals where they have made lots of dancing friends.
We travelled on to Pecs (Pécsi) and Kozármisleny where our host family met us. This experience of staying with real families living ordinary everyday lives with the common bond of dance was most memorable for many different reasons for each individual within our group. We slept in their homes and ate at their table with them. Some families had some English, some had a little, others had none. We had no Hungarian at all, but our hand movements were second to none. Their hospitality knew no bounds.
Their costumes were exquisite. Their dances were lively, energetic and dynamic. There is an age restriction when they must stop dancing because for the girls the weight of the many layers of starched material is very heavy and can cause back problems. The men on the other hand get knee and joint damage (RSI) from the jumping and clap-slapping movements which at times looks like a cross with the brush dance and our sean nós.
We met many other visiting groups from countries such as Croatia and Romania, all of whom wanted to share in our Irish dance and music. On the streets some people joined with us during the parades. They had the rhythm naturally and picked up the steps quickly also.
Next to the dancing, the thermal baths in Harkany were awesome. I intend to return to Hungary if only to bathe. My legs and body were beginning to ache before the timely baths; then like a miracle (surpassed only by Lazarus) we were off again as if just starting out on our tour.
There were churches visited, towers climbed to view the city. We've seen painted eggs, cotton cloth being hand woven, a little wine tasted and a power of food ate. We feasted of pig on a spit, Hungarian goulash and desserts you would die for.
Noreen Uí Laighin, Mountrath, Co Laois
This is a follow-up letter to the article I wrote for the magazine last year, in which I expressed concern over the lack of variety in the sets being danced in the Armada during the Miltown week in July. Despite a favourable response from lots of people and many words of support, this year's Miltown was more of the same with almost no sets danced outside of the standard eight or ten.
But this letter is not just about the Armada during the Miltown week. This lack of variety in sets danced at ceilis is, I believe, becoming a major concern throughout the country and throughout the whole year. I'm just back from a great weekend in Labasheeda, with great music and great dancing, but outside of the usual sets, I think I danced one Sliabh Luachra and one Labasheeda-like, one Labasheeda set in four ceilis and we were in Labasheeda! We did of course dance three plain sets at every ceili (Corofin, Kilfenora and the Plain). I'm afraid that, as much as I love the plain set, by the time you're doing your twelfth horse and cart figure in one weekend, you do find yourself starting to wonder if this is all set dancing has to offer.
Which is what this is all about. Set dancing has so much to offer and we all do it because we love it so much. But I hate to admit that at times I do find myself terribly bored of dancing these sets over and over again. There is no longer the tingle of anticipation and excitement arriving at a ceili because, depending on the band playing, you almost know not just the sets that will be danced, but the exact sequence as well.
If this is what the majority of people want, then that's fine and dandy, but based on the response to last year's article I don't believe that it is, and I sincerely hope that it isn't. So what I would love to see at ceilis is, first of all, not dancing the three plain sets in the one ceili-one or two at most. Also then, let's start to dance brilliant sets like the West Kerry, Borlin, Labasheeda, Derradda, Williamstown, etc. Most people would know these sets without them having to be called. Then there are beautiful sets that people will have danced before but may not be able to dance without calling, like the Clare Orange and Green, Claddagh, Aran, Connemara Jig and so on. These sets should be danced at ceilis and called by somebody-anybody! I know calling can interfere with the music, but if it's only done for one or two sets in a ceili then that's a small price to pay. And anyway, calling can be discreet and can perhaps even add to the excitement of a dance if it's done well.
So if these changes are going to happen, how do they happen? Is it the bands who need to respond, or the people who organize the ceilis? Or both? I would imagine that in Labasheeda there at the weekend, it was the bands who were choosing the sets. And naturally the bands will play the sets that they think people want to dance. So I challenge the bands to start expanding the repertoire of sets danced at ceilis, or at least to liaise more closely with the organisers of ceilis and weekends to agree on the sets to be danced. And similarly, I challenge the organisers behind ceilis and weekends to be a bit more courageous and adventurous in the sets they choose to be danced.
So I believe this has to be brought out into the open and discussed. I would love people to reply to this-I suppose through letters and emails to the magazine. If people are in agreement that there needs to be change, then there is no reason why it cannot happen, and sooner rather than later.
Whatever the outcome, I believe the future of set dancing depends on it.
Fergus Fitzpatrick, Belfast
The hassled beginner's viewHello Bill,
At our June ceili, we had a surprise address by Steve Zubricki, one of the budding set dance students. It gives some humorous insights as seen from the hassled beginner's view. Slainte,
Larry Tormey, Danvers, Massachusetts
Address to the class of 2004-2005Wrapping up the Danvers Set Dancers 2004-2005 season with a gala ceili, Steve Zubricki, the class valedictorian, took the microphone and delivered the following farewell:
As we leave this hallowed dance hall, stepping lively into summer set dances, I would like to leave our class of 2004-2005 and distinguished guests with a few thoughts to highlight our achievements.
In the beginning, some of you started out on the wrong foot. I recall seeing some people shoeing the lady instead of shoeing the donkey, advancing instead of retiring, as well as sliding when gliding was called for.
Thanks to the magnificent eyeballing of Eileen, the Dancing Queen, and the keen memory of Larry, the Dancing Dean, you all have come a very long way.
This class is to be commended, especially for your expertise in chasing the ladies, your finesse in the cozy hold, peeling the banana and allowing the cheese to stand alone. Many Irish set dance classes, I have been told, find all of these maneuvers extremely difficult.
Not to be negative, but from time to time you have gotten completely lost with the notion of anti-clockwise motion, all the while staring at the big hand and the little hand as well. You need not be too hard on yourselves! After all, we are living in the Digital Age!
Your skirt shaking is tops-even some of the men have been observed performing this little tidbit. I have been amazed that with just a little remedial instruction your sets have been kept tight and gone down just as smooth as Tullamore Dew.
I am proud to present the class of 2004-2005 with the "Big Wheel" award-it is well earned! As you all know, there is only one "Kerry Body" award and that's a done deal, going to the gentleman from Tralee. As for the "High Gates" award, although there are several contenders (not all from Ireland), absolutely no one merits it as yet.
While I am at it, let there be no guessing of who has earned the "Irish Soda Bread" award this year, as last, Ann Marie's renderings have been totally Blue Ribbon all the way.
We will have to wait until next season to see what new heights our dancing may attain. In the meantime, have a swinging summer and, if we meet, no need to full-chain around-a firm handshake will do just fine!
Steve Zubricki, Danvers Set Dancers
The Danvers Set Dancers meet on Thursdays in Danvers, Massachusetts. Eileen Dugal is the teacher and Larry Tormey is the "facilitator." Eileen uses the term "the cheese stands alone" (from the nursery rhyme The Farmer in the Dell) to describe the dancer left alone after his or her partner has joined another couple.
Outstanding successHi Bill
Dance 'Neath the Comeraghs 2005 was an outstanding success, thanks to Set Dancing News for advertising which no doubt added to its success. Our Saturday workshop was very encouraging and the revival of the Rathgormack Lancers attracted much interest. The Borlin Jenny Reel Set and the Caragh Lake Jig Set were also taught. The three ceilis were well attended. All 32 counties were represented with people joining us from the UK, Australia and USA.
Mary Murphy, Waterford
Wonderful serviceDear Bill,
Thanks for the wonderful service you give us with your lovely magazine. Everyone enjoys it and it has great memories for many people. God keep you,
Sister Richard Dufficy, Boyle, Co Roscommon
Several DVDs of interest to set dancers are now available. Matt Cunningham's new series was mentioned here in the last issue.
Pádraig and Róisín McEneany have released Faoi Do Chois, a three-part package with DVD, a CD of music and a booklet of instructions. The package covers four sets, the Connemara, Durrow Threshing, Fermanagh and South Sligo Lancers. The filming was done in O'Shea's Hotel in Dublin and music is by the Co Louth group Triskell. Obtain a copy from Pádraig and Róisín using the order form in the ad.
Something a bit different is offered by Pat Murphy. The Pride of Erin is a DVD of 26 two-hand dances including all the old favourites like the Stack of Barley, Shoe the Donkey and the Pride of Erin, plus other interesting and enjoyable ones that deserve to be more widely danced. Music is by Heather Breeze, who of course have their own CD of two-hand dances, The Waltz of the Bells. The project has been a labour of love for Pat Murphy, who did most of the production work himself-the filming, the editing and even the cover. The DVD is available from Pat.
Danny Webster launched his new CD of sets, Ceili Time in Ireland, at the Devil's Bit ceili on October 2nd. Danny is the amazing one-man band who does it all, sets or ballroom dancing, accordion and song. His music is becoming increasingly popular, thanks to his appearances in Ibiza and other Enjoy Travel holidays. This is Danny's first CD with music arranged for sets and includes the Ballyduff, Ballyvourney Jig, Cashel, Connemara and Newport sets, plus a waltz. Get your copy from Danny and Mary Webster.
New marriages and babies
Weddings continue to be good news here at the Set Dancing News news desk!
Tom Flood, the amiable leader and mega box player of the ever-popular Glenside Ceili Band was married on September 9th to Máire Twyford. The reception in a Mullingar, Co Westmeath, hotel had music by the Davey Ceili Band and musicians and dancers from around the country made it a mighty night.
Ollie Griffin and Marie-Celeste Rafferty were married on August 16th in Malta. Both are from Co Cork and have been dancing for a few years after meeting at a ceili in Carrigaline. Ollie teaches weekly set dancing classes in Ballinhassig, Rathcormack and Fermoy.
It was reported in the last issue that Janette Durnin and Paul Mongan, fiddler and pianist with the Emerald Ceili Band, were hitched in July. Proof has arrived and one of their wedding photos is included here for all to enjoy.
In related news, it has been reported that the well-known set dancing teacher from Co Armagh, Mary Fox, and her husband, banjo player Ian Carmichael, have expanded their family with the addition of a pair of twins. Siobhán and Caitríona were born on August 2nd. Their older brother Ronán is suddenly outnumbered by sisters!
Another family expansion occurred in Co Laois where Micheál and Magalie Lalor of the infamous Half-Door Club were blessed with their second daughter on September 6th. Young Colleen weighed 8 pounds 15 ounces and looks like her big sister Erin.
Congratulation and best wishes to all the newlyweds and parents!
A group of musicians and dancers mainly from Clare were lucky enough to receive an invitation to a week-long festival of quadrilles called the Festival International de Haute Taille et des Quadrilles du Monde. In June they travelled to the Caribbean island of Martinique, a department of France, to join dancers from around the world in the town of François. One of the dancers was Peggy Doherty from Clarecastle, who describes her experiences on the trip in this report.
Sitting aboard the early morning train from Limerick, I stared across at my travel companions, Carmel and Geraldine Greene, one asleep and the other looking out the window, and tried to imagine for the hundredth time what the next few days would bring. The invitation to dance at the Haute Taille (High Waist) Festival in Martinique had been issued two months previously. Set dancing in the Caribbean? We were all incredulous, but enthusiastically accepted the offer, which came through Desi Wilkinson and Mary MacNamara, two of the group's musicians. We only knew that this was a celebration of the quadrille-of which set dancing is a direct descendant-and that along with other countries, namely Poland, Corsica, the Seychelles, Guyana, Cuba, Guadalupe, France (Brittany) and of course, Martinique, we would demonstrate some of our dances.
I ran through the programme in my mind: a few figures from the Plain Set, the fling from the Labasheeda, figures from the Borlin, the Ballyvourney, the Caledonian, the Connemara-we had rehearsed a variety dances. With Ger Butler's help, we rounded off the selection with the Polly Glide, the Back-to-Back Hornpipe, the Country House Waltz and the Mayfair. All we would need after that, said Anita MacNamara, would be the inhalers after dancing in 30ºC heat.
Well, it wasn't 30ºC when we landed. It was 40ºC. I looked around at the group of Martinique dancers who greeted us and marvelled at how cool and sophisticated they all looked. Our little group of fourteen began to glisten and suffocate after putting luggage on the bus. How were we going to dance for 45 minutes? Granted, this was 14th June and our main performance wasn't until the 18th, so surely we'd adjust to the heat by then!
After an exchange of token gifts, flowers given to the Irish dancers and whiskey presented to the Martinique dancers, we headed off on the bus to one of the local halls. For all its heat and humidity, and probably because of it, Martinique experiences torrential downpours of rain for a few minutes every day. The result is a tropical rainforest covering much of the country. It was in this setting we found the local dance hall.
We milled around for a while, not really knowing what was happening while the Martinique dancers served us rum, one of the country's main exports, and finger food. I think it's safe to say that the rum lover in many of us emerged that day. We smiled and nodded a lot (see rum above) due to the fact that the majority of Martinique people speak only French and Creole, a combination of French and African dialects, and very little English.
After a while, some of their musicians and their "commander" assembled on stage and the dancers stood up to form a "set". The commander is one of the band, often on percussion, who sings the moves for the dance-a bit like calling the set, but much more musical, rhythmic and lively. They were short two men, so Mark, one of the dancers from Brittany, and Ger Butler volunteered. This is where the art of communication took on a new meaning (see puzzled expression below). As far as I could determine, the Martinique exhibition closely resembled the second figure of the Connemara, yet it seemed to last for three quarters of an hour. The footwork wasn't elaborate, one-two-threes mainly, but all the activity happened in the hips. Before long, our two volunteers were into the swing of things-in every sense of the word. We repaid the compliment and danced a figure of the Plain Set, by which point Ger needed a dry set of clothes and the first of the inhalers.
We were fit to fall down by the time we were shown our accommodation, which consisted of holiday cottages in a remote part of the island. We could hear the waves lapping the shoreline somewhere in the distance as we trudged up the hill to our new homes, but because Martinique gets dark around 7.30pm, the full beauty of the location only hit us upon waking the next day. We were in cottages perched along a hillside overlooking the Atlantic, surrounded by palm, banana, and coconut trees. The shocking beauty of the location was matched only by the shock of the air conditioning abruptly ending at 6am, thereby forcing the majority of us out of bed. After a communal breakfast, we found respite from the heat either in the ocean or the pool for a few hours before boarding the bus for the journey to our first performance.
The town of François was hosting the festival, and it was to their community centre we were brought to perform for the local school children. Other Martinique groups were to dance as well, and it was at this point that I knew our decision for the ladies to wear bright green skirts and colourful sashes was the right one! We were met by an amazing splash of colours in the costumes of the other groups, and for the first half hour, we just wandered around taking photos of everyone.
When we eventually settled down again, we discovered that each group had its own tent within which to change clothes and practice. With the wooden floor really enhancing the battering, we let fly, and the children swarmed around us. They were all so beautiful in their colourful costumes! I found it difficult to know whether they were impressed or shocked though, because we were so different from any of the other groups. The resulting applause from the audience after our fifteen-minute performance on stage confirmed the former opinion. It also gave us a taste of what we could expect from our own physical abilities for the 45-minute performance on Saturday night.
After only a few days, we felt as if we had been in Martinique for weeks, such was the ease with which we fell into its lifestyle. Michael O'Rourke, who had been unable to join us on the flight over, eventually landed (after a longer stint in Paris than he or anyone could have imagined!) and this gave us another boost. For someone who had never travelled outside Ireland, except to the UK, he seemed to acclimatise very quickly, and his freckles began to multiply.
In between swimming and sightseeing, we met in the evenings for practices and sessions. One evening, the group from the Seychelles sat in with us for what was christened a "sess-chelle". Our musicians joined their musicians, and we traded dance steps and routines. Their dances are also based on the quadrille and are simply called "The Waltz", "The Mazurka", "The Polka" and so on. These sessions all added to our stamina, and by the time Saturday night rolled around, we were ready for our main performance.
Again onto the bus, and this time the Corsicans joined us for moral support. When we arrived in François, instead of going to the community centre we were brought to a huge outdoor stage, where there seemed to be over a thousand people already gathered. One of the many Martinique groups was already performing, and along with the Guadalupeans, we were the other "foreign" group. None of us seemed too anxious though, because according to the line-up we were to go last. So we reckoned we'd have a little time to practice and didn't rush to change into our costumes.
Until, of course, one of the organisers told us we were going to go on next. Maybe it was because we were beginning to adopt a Martinique view of life, but this little twist didn't surprise us. We all piled into a corner of one of the tents, threw on the costumes and assembled at the foot of the stage waiting for the Guadalupeans to finish. Then the wave of panic-who had brought a brush for the brush dance? Michael O'Rourke looked at Ger Butler, who looked in several directions at once. I began to wonder how James Monahan would feel about offering his leg again as a substitute brush as he did during one of the practice sessions and tried to picture the effect this would have on the audience-not to mention James. I didn't have to worry for long though; the brush arrived just as the Guadalupeans were finding their way off stage.
We started with two figures from the Plain, and since I had my back to the audience, I was able to remind everyone of what figure was to come next. Things were running smoothly, despite the perspiration and sound, which faltered occasionally. We had scheduled a song at the half-way point to give us all a chance to catch our breath, and Desi, our designated singer, got the audience to participate by giving them the lyrics in Creole. This went down extremely well, and with Desi's ability to speak French, he aptly reinforced the public's perception of an Irish person's gift for the gab. This was more for our benefit than the audience's, and by the time we took the stage again we were well-rested and the audience was in great form. The finale of sean nós and the brush dance brought our performance to a close, and I will always wonder how Ger and Michael managed to keep a hold of the brush, given that heat!
One of our last official functions took place the next morning, when we assembled for Mass and then a parade through the village of François. We had the benefit of performing the night before, so the townspeople knew us and smiled and clapped. I'd like to say it was one of the nicest experiences of the whole trip, but then again, there were many-right down to the Seychelles dancers giving us some presents the night before we left. With any luck, you'll see them and some of the other countries dancing in Ireland in the not-too-distant future. (Watch this space!)
In the meantime, don't be surprised if you find the Polly Glide on your next holiday in the islands around the Indian Ocean.
Peggy Doherty, Clarecastle, Co Clare
It was a lovely sunny, cloudless weekend for the four day traditional festival of music and dance over May Bank Holiday weekend, 27-30 May. The festival was packed with workshops, displays, street performances, concerts and ceilis for all ages and was sited all over the centre of the historic town of Chippenham in Wiltshire, England. There was a wonderfully carefree, almost carnival, atmosphere, mostly pollution free, as many of the roads were closed to traffic. People strolled from one event to another taking time to eat and drink at the various cafes, bars and pubs around or just sat by the River Avon enjoying the festive spirit, listening to music or soaking up the sun.
In amongst this cocktail of music and dance treats, we were lucky to have three Irish set dancing workshops, one each on Saturday (Corofin Plain), Sunday (Ardgroom Polka) and Monday (High-Cauled Cap), and an evening ceili on Sunday night. These were run by John Earle from Exeter who taught the workshops with his usual enthusiasm and easy-to-follow instructions. This was great because the participants varied from complete novices to the more experienced dancers. I speak from experience as I am relatively new to set dancing, having started last September by being thrown in at the deep end at Sets in Somerset-an Irish set dancing weekend of workshops and ceilis with Pádraig and Róisín McEneany in Croscombe, Somerset-a true baptism of fire! Having survived that weekend, I am now a convert to the cause and dance as much as possible.
This weekend got off to a cracking start when over nine sets of dancers turned up for the first workshop on Saturday and that set the spirit which continued for the rest of the weekend. The whole experience was a real treat for me and enabled me to learn more and enjoy the dancing. By the end of each workshop, everyone was able to dance the complete set which had been taught with some confidence and maybe even with panache! The atmosphere was great, the more experienced dancers helped the beginners and everyone had a good time, which was easy to tell from the many smiling and happy faces around.
The evening ceili on Sunday night had nine sets of dancers, most having attended the two previous workshops. The sets danced were the South Galway, Sliabh Luachra, Corofin, Ardgroom, Connemara Reel, Ballyvourney Jig, Derrada and West Kerry. Again, the instructions from John were very clear and easy to follow. The atmosphere was lively and everyone had a good time, smiling and laughing as they danced. There was live music for both the workshops and the ceili from Between the Jigs and Reels, which was greatly enjoyed and appreciated by all. The musicians themselves seemed to be having a good time too.
So, it was a great success with a friendly and welcoming atmosphere! There were dancers of all ages, from under 10 years to over 70 years of age, who enjoyed a variety of dances from different parts of Ireland. Old friends met up again and new friendships were made. This was a wonderful opportunity to learn new dances and to practise dancing skills.
It is encouraging to hear that the festival organisers were delighted with the positive spirit and enthusiasm of those participating in Irish set dancing. I for one have already marked it in my diary to return next year when it will be held again from 26 to 29 May 2006.
Sue Joel Baker, Bath, England
I am pleased to report that at the ceilis in Co Mayo we are now starting to dance some of the newer sets which we have been learning at the classes, the Ballyvourney Jig, a very exhilarating set from Co Cork, the Claddagh Set from Co Galway, and the now very popular Kilfenora Plain Set from Co Clare. I'm sure that by dancing a wider selection of sets, a greater interest is being shown by the younger dancers, whom we must encourage to come to the ceilis.
The village of Kilconly situated in north Co Galway on the border with Co Mayo held their annual crossroads ceili on May 1st, in conjunction with the Kilconly Festival. Matt Cunningham and his band played some wonderful music for us to dance to and it drew a large crowd of foot-tapping onlookers, whom I think with very little persuasion would have joined us on the floor-it was that kind of music, beautifully played. The weather stayed reasonably good for the four-hour ceili, despite the menacing dark clouds that kept appearing from the southwest. The first shower prompted a well-earned tea break. With the sun shining again it was back to the dancing until the heavens opened up at 6.30, which caused an abrupt end to proceedings. Matt continued to play but it was really far too wet to dance. An excellent afternoon of dancing in fine company, enjoyed by all. I was interested to learn that the crossroads ceilis in Kilconly had been running for the past fifteen years, and that in the first few years two bands played for three hours each. At the first ceili, Matt Cunningham and his band played along with the Cahir Sound Ceili Band.
The Cois Abhann Centre, Hollymount, Co Mayo, saw a capacity crowd gather on a very warm evening, 11 June, to dance to the fabulous music of Matt Cunningham and his band. Despite the warm conditions the floor was packed for every set. During a very welcome break for the tea it was announced that Kathleen McGrenra, who has been responsible for the area ceili calendar for the past few years, was giving up her responsibilities. Many of us rely on the calendar to know what is on and where to go. Thank you Kathleen for all your hard work.
Chris Oates and Chris White organized a successful ceili in Taugheen Hall, outside Claremorris, Co Mayo, on yet another warm night (18 June) with music by that popular trio from Co Westmeath, the Carousel Ceili Band. During the evening we danced the Ballyvourney Jig, Claddagh and Fermanagh Sets. A first-class night of dancing was enjoyed by all.
A group of students and lecturers from Michigan State University, who were staying in the area studying the equine industry of Ireland (no better place to see it at its best), joined us at the Sciobol, Ballintubber, Co Mayo, for a class with Chris Oates. They were more used to American square dancing, but soon got used to our sets and were a joy to dance with.
On 25 June the Town Hall in Claremorris resounded to the tremendous music of Heather Breeze from Westport. The large gathering, which included a party from Co Cork, enjoyed an excellent night of exhilarating dancing.
To all the organisers of our ceilis, the people who provide the wonderful spreads of food, and to all the bands who play such excellent music for us to dance to, thank you, on behalf of all set dancers.
John Handel, Ballinrobe, Co Mayo
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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