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).
It is Saturday morning October 15th in the rural village of Taugheen, Co Mayo. The sun is shining and there is an early morning calm about the day. The beautiful timber floor in the Community Centre is clean and ready; the chairs are neatly placed around the hall. One would never be able to imagine all the work and planning to come to this gentle time. It is the calm before the storm. The sun is streaming in through the windows promising a light-hearted day of laughter and learning. The set dancers are beginning to converge from many counties across this fair country. Women are in the kitchen preparing sandwiches, fighting over who gets the ham first! Our instructor, Shay White from County Meath, practices some of his wonderful footwork. Shay informs me that he has been teaching set dancing for fifteen years and credits Pat Murphy with his love and knowledge of set dancing. There is one full set ready and raring to go before the scheduled opening of the workshop, so Shay has us warm up with the Corofin Plain Set. As he begins, he rattles off the first figure of the set. When I say rattles, I mean rattles. He actually has me scared, worried that I would not get anything from this workshop because he spoke too quickly. He sounds like one of those tobacCo auctioneers in the southern states in America, and I am lost! As it turns out, typical of his personality, he's just codding us and then begins to go through the explanation at a normal pace.
Ten-thirty am marks the beginning of the twelfth year of the set dancing workshop in Taugheen. First, Shay teaches us the Cuchulainn Set. He informed me it was a set put together in 1998 in Cooley, Co Louth, by Michael and Kathleen McGlynn. I find it to be a lovely four-figure set with the third figure having a fun little batter in it. Outside of the Connemara swing, everything else in it set is original. Our next set is the Monaghan Set from Co Monaghan; a set revived many years ago by Joe O'Donovan.
The learning and laughter make us rather hungry and a lunch of hot country vegetable soup and sandwiches with tea, trifle and lively conversation is enjoyed by all. The organic food and vegetables are supplied by locals. The ladies from the Young at Heart group provide all of the home baked goods which are delicious. One of the things I love about enjoying a meal together is the laughter, interesting conversations and all around getting to know each other a little better. I find out that two of the families present consisted of three generations of set dancers!
It is now time for the second part of the Saturday workshop and Shay begins to crack his whip with the Mazurka, which is a reel set from County Clare. My expression is, "You can go berserka doing the Mazurka!" From that Shay begins instruction on the Glencree Set, a quadrille set of six figures from Co Wicklow. We find that we have to repeat certain figures a few times and patience becomes a virtue. The enjoyment of learning new sets together seems to set a bond between us and as we dance towards 5pm we look forward to the ceili to be held that evening.
As we get our break to clean up and change for the evening's festivities, there is one woman who has not a moment for a break. She is Chris Oates, a well-known set dancer and philanthropist in the Castlebar and Claremorris area who is at the helm for this weekend. She manages to oversee everything in a calm and rather unassuming way. As with any weekend, there are bound to be things that go wrong and Chris seems to handle it with the best of humor and certainly it is not evident that it has ruffled any of her feathers!
The evening brings dancers from many parts of the country: counties Dublin, Meath, Monaghan, Donegal, Roscommon, Galway, Longford, Sligo, Clare and our own County Mayo and we have somewhere upwards of eighteen sets. The music is by the wonderful Carousel Ceili Band, who get our feet tapping promptly at 10pm. We begin with the Derradda Set and on to the Corofin Plain and the Ballyvourney Jig Set. We enjoy the Kilfenora, Claddagh, Plain, Cashel and Connemara Sets and somewhere in there, we Shoe the Donkey, Stack the Barley, have a Barn Dance and then do the Schottische. It is a great evening of dance to say nothing of the wonderful food served with the tea. I am so impressed with all the helpers behind the scenes-a lot of the people who were cooking and cleaning weren't even set dancers; just people who knew how to love and wanted to serve others who were enjoying themselves. To all of you-we are so grateful.
It's Sunday morning and Mass is held in the church next to the hall. I have to admit that I love worshiping along side the people I have been dancing with. I feel like a little child laughing, playing, eating, worshiping and dancing with friends; for me, it completes the picture.
After Mass we head over to the hall to work on learning the Labasheeda Set from Co Clare which was originally known there as the Reel Set. I learned this set in Labasheeda but you would think I didn't know one thing about it! It doesn't seem to be done very often so I am back to square one (no pun intended) with Shay's lesson. Following the Labasheeda we take a break for soup and sandwiches with baked goods as well and then it's back in the hall to work on the South Kerry Set.
The Sunday ceili begins at 3 and continues to 6pm. The music of Matt Cunningham and his musicians keeps us moving from set to set. However, before the beautiful national anthem ends our weekend, Chris Oates brings forward a large check in the amount of €16,746.50 raised by set dancers and people throughout many communities. This money was collected to help purchase an MRI Scanner in Castlebar. One woman, Áine Egan, raised €1,052.50 by holding three nights of a dance show in Ballina with 115 children doing a mix of all types of dance. Chris for months has been seen carrying cards to every ceili and asking us to give what we can. I do believe the hearts of set dancers are as strong as the muscles in their legs when it comes to charity. Though any proceeds from this weekend are in aid of the Taugheen Community Centre a great deal of money goes to the larger community.
I think the dancing in small, rural communities is marked by a highly personal touch and that is certainly true of my time in Taugheen. Congratulations to Chris Oates and her able bodied workers who do such a wonderful job. The craic was so good that poor Shay White had no voice left by Sunday afternoon-but he was literally still kickin'. Thanks Shay for the lessons, your patience and the great craic!
Gemma Burke Bourré, Belcarra, Co Mayo
Autumn painted the trees with warm colours in the picturesque village of Riehen north of Basel and gave us sunshine which invited us to dance like the falling leaves. A new colour arrived in the village, the colour of Irish happiness with a green shine in the eyes, and a new scent of tea and muffin spices in the air.
During the final days before the workshop weekend on 22-23 October the Basel Irish Set Dance Group had almost developed a Christmas mood. Hundreds of muffins and biscuits were baked with exciting flavour combinations-ever had a banana-kiwi glaze on a pineapple-coconut muffin?-and many hosts got ready to greet their friends coming from far away. And some came really far: Philip made the trip from Cambridge to be with us again, and a new record was set by Bill Wadden who made the trip from New York with his family. It was also an honour to welcome Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh to their first performance outside Ireland, together with their families. With Lorraine (Pat's wife) and Lisa (Micheál's daughter) we got two really wonderful dancers from Ireland.
On Saturday morning the workshop attendees entered the magnificent hall of Landgasthof Riehen to experience two days of little wonders. As a starter, Tony Ryan brought the brand new Lusmagh Set over from Ireland-a delight indeed. A familiar feeling arose around the dance floor; it was impossible to imagine any feet that wouldn't fall in love with it.
The Landgasthof restaurant offered treats for lunch and provided energy for the long days of dancing, and the days were long and joyful indeed. At 8pm the ceili started and didn't stop for several hours. There was only one pause in almost five hours of dancing, with music performed by the hottest new ceili band on earth. Micheál and Pat played very nice tunes at a brilliant speed-you can't get enough of it! Luckily for us their first CD had just been released a few days earlier-Basel was the first place to get it-and we took advantage of it. As another first, this was the first time Micheál and Pat could walk to a gig; the short distance was easy on the ladies' shoes.
A pleasant Sunday morning of sets and steps taught by Tony readied us for another three-hour ceili in the afternoon. But the star of this day was Pat's daughter Aisling who celebrated her third birthday-a cordial celebration during part of the ceili for the youngest dancer among us. Could a workshop weekend have a better ending? We don't think so.
The fragrance of birthday candles and cakes along with feelings of happiness remain in our hearts as souvenirs.
Yves Hotan, Basel, Switzerland
On Wednesday September 7th a group of twenty dancers, musicians and singers calling themselves Sonas left Ireland to travel to Hungary for five action packed days. When we arrived in Budapest we enjoyed a superb ceili on a fifth floor outdoor terrace. The weather was balmy, the dancing lively, the music excellent. Our musicians were joined by locals playing fiddle, bodhrán and whistle. The standard of dancing, the warm and friendly atmosphere, the friendship and welcome made this a truly memorable experience.
Next day a walking tour of Budapest was on the agenda. This is a magnificent city with the majestic Danube flowing through its centre.
At about 7pm we left Budapest to travel to Kozarmisleny to be greeted by our host families. Next morning it was sightseeing in Pecs. After a succulent lunch we visited the egg art museum. The evening was spent wine tasting in the Villany Hills. At this venue we were greeted by a local man playing music on a piano accordion. A sing-song followed and with a hornpipe and a set thrown in for good measure the wine became more tasty as the evening progressed. Later on we enjoyed another mighty ceili during which the Hungarian dancers were delighted to join with us and likewise we tried our feet at the local dances.
Saturday was a busy day comprising of a parade and a stage performance in Kozarmisleny and Kovagoszolos. People in the area were celebrating the wine harvest. They had stalls set up in which they displayed their homegrown produce and invited everyone to share and taste. There was a marquee where visitors and locals could sit and enjoy stage performance by Croatian, Hungarian and Irish dancers. That night after partaking of tasty barbecue food, followed by a stage performance, the sing song and session continued 'til the small hours.
Sunday morning brought us to the thermal bath in Harkany which was a real treat for us Irish. A parade and stage performance followed in which about fifteen countries including Ireland were represented. They each presented their native dance in spectacular costume and entertained a great crowd gathered for what reminded me of Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann. The farewell party, which included the exchange of gifts, words of sincere gratitude, invitations, food to die for and a mixture of set, ceili, salsa, two-hand, jiving and Hungarian dances, concluded just in time to pack and get an hour's sleep and be ready to depart at 8am.
On arrival in Budapest there was some time to spare so a cruise on the Danube was arranged by our guides Bernadette and Gregg to whom we express our sincere gratitude for two beautiful days in Budapest under their expert guidance. Our heartfelt gratitude to Melinda also for her good company and dancing and most of all her invaluable help and advice in planning the trip. May our group Sonas fly the flag in many other countries and may we spread the music, song and dance of Ireland to the four corners of the world.
Maureen Culleton, Ballyfin, Co Laois
The tradition of Halloween was alive and well at the annual Carryduff set dancing weekend from October 28th to 30th in St Joseph's Hall, Carryduff, Co Down, five miles south of Belfast. On my arrival at the hall on Friday night, I couldn't help but notice the decorative cobwebs, the skeletal figure of a lady who waited rather too long for a waltz partner, black and orange balloons on the walls and miniature candle-lit pumpkins at every table. Fortunately there was nothing frightening about the dancers there that night, just a fine crowd of perfectly normal looking folks out to enjoy the music of the Davey Ceili Band. I did get a tiny bit of a scare when organiser Hugh McGouran opened the ceili with a safety announcement pointing out the numerous fire exits-this happened at each ceili so it must be a requirement of the hall. The dancing that night was as good as it gets, thanks to the Davey's amazing music and the interesting selection of sets called by Joe Farrell, including a rare chance to dance the Sliabh gCua. Newly arrived dancers kept showing up at the door all night long from locations all over Ireland, so that we had close to twenty sets that night.
St Joseph's is a handy location for a weekend with a huge spacious hall and plenty of parking. It's beside a hotel which was filled to capacity so dancers had booked into several other hotels and B&Bs. I stayed in a city guesthouse which was only a quarter of an hour from the hall. Fortunately, Belfast doesn't suffer the traffic problems of other Irish cities and even during Friday's evening rush hour I found myself moving freely.
Those of us arriving early for the Saturday workshop were able to help ourselves to tea and fresh homemade scones, baked that morning by club member Isobel Woods. I learned two new sets today in Pat Murphy's workshop, the easy little Lusmagh Set from Offaly and the Kilmeena Set, a typical Mayo set rather like the Derradda. After the lunch break we also danced the Fintown Set and Dromgarriff Half-Set, which would have been new for many of the participants.
It was at the Saturday night ceili that the Halloween spirit (or spirits) arrived in form of devils and nuns, witches and ghosts, cowboys and vampires and plenty of others defying description. In total around fifty people took the trouble to dance for 3½ hours in wigs, masks, hats, long garments and paint, a fantastic turnout of dancers who enjoyed making an exhibition of themselves on this special occasion.
The costumes made for a festive atmosphere in the hall, which was amplified by the pure Cork music of Tim Joe and Anne O'Riordan, though on this occasion Anne was otherwise occupied. Earlier in the week she gave birth to a daughter called Grace, so filling in for her was the ever-smiling Mort Kelleher. The two played their hearts out and made music which was completely irresistible. Joe Farrell slipped a few special sets into the programme, including the Mazurka and Roscahill, and Pat Murphy stepped in to call a most welcome West Kerry Set. Tea, coffee, sandwiches and cakes were served at the break with an efficient and strictly enforced a one-way system.
In the break Mort Kelleher asked one of the nuns if she had Reverend Mother's permission to be here. She pointed out that Reverend Mother was here herself; she was the one carrying a big stick! At the start of the second half all the Halloweeners gathered together to pose for inspection and photographs, and to learn which of them would be selected as the best dressed. A team of anonymous judges had been circulating among us during the first half of the ceili to spot the likely candidates. Hugh McGouran called the two winners, a witch in purple and a Phantom of the Opera, to the stage and presented each with a basket of fruit. We danced a few more sets, then the ceili concluded with a thrilling, partly non-stop Plain Set, and that was about as much excitement as one can stand in one night.
Sunday morning's workshop was probably the biggest two-hand dance workshop ever held. Seventy people showed up at 11am for Marie Garrity's class, assisted perhaps by that extra hour in bed due to the overnight change to winter time. There's as much fun in two-hands as there is in set dancing, and everyone had a blast-even Tim Joe and Mort were out dancing.
The only thing better than a ceili with Tim Joe and Anne (or Mort in this case) is two ceilis with them, and luckily we were able to have a second dose on Sunday afternoon. Halloween was now out of everyone's system and we were free to be ourselves and just enjoy the dancing. Joe Farrell continued to call a great selection of sets, including the Borlin and Paris, and was out there on the floor for nearly all of them, having as good a time as we were. A few two-hand dances were most welcome in the second half, as was a round of waltzes. We finished the ceili with a Plain Set and a Ballyvourney Jig Set for a great close to the weekend.
The dancing may have ended on Sunday afternoon, but for me and I'm sure many others who were there, the pleasure of Carryduff remained with us for days afterward.
After the Carryduff weekend I took the ferry from Belfast to Stranraer for a couple days of a break in the southwest of Scotland. I enquired about dancing classes in a small town library and the ladies behind the counter couldn't have been more helpful. They phoned around from one friend to another and located a class for me in the town of Gatehouse. The Monday evening I went there happened to be Halloween and kids were out in their fancy dress seeking treats as I went looking for the community centre. I drove around the town a couple of times before locating the most likely looking place, a former schoolhouse. The building was dark, but I was early so waited until a couple cars drove up and the lights went on inside. I stepped in, walked past a room with a lovely floor and found one lady getting ready in the kitchen.
"Is this the Scottish dancing class?" I asked.
"Yes," she said, "but we're not having class tonight."
"Oh, why is that?" I wondered.
"We're having a party to celebrate our fiftieth anniversary."
I was just a little gobsmacked to have shown up by pure chance on such an auspicious occasion, but I was made very welcome. I was mightily impressed that the club had been going for as long as fifty years, and as people arrived, I met a few who were founding members. The club president, a spry little woman 98 years old who didn't look a day over eighty, took a seat of honour beside the piano and watched over the proceedings. She gave up dancing a couple years earlier I learned, but had actually driven herself to the party alone in her own car! The club's teacher and caller was only 83, and explained each dance with numerous anecdotes in his dignified and erudite style.
Most of the gents attending were dressed for the occasion in kilts, though others were more casual so I didn't feel out of place in my set dancing gear-except for the shoes, that is. Nearly everyone wore the soft black leather slippers that Irish step and ceili dancers sometimes wear and my big old set dancing shoes felt twice as big as normal. Immediately before the start there was a brief, obligatory warm-up to waltzes. A couple of ladies took my hands and we went up and down on our toes a few times. A few couples were actually waltzing, but before I had a chance to grab a lady, the music stopped and we got ready to dance.
Set dancing and Scottish dancing are as different as night and day, but I did of bit of it in my London days so had an idea of what to expect. It's closer to ceili dancing, especially in the steps. There were probably 24 couples dancing in one long line, ladies facing gents, divided invisibly in sets of four couples. Couple number one started the dance and couples two and three joined in with them as well, while couple four could watch for a while. By the end of the first time through, couple one ended up in second position and then repeated the dance from that spot with couples three and four. After dancing a second time, couple one moved to the bottom of the set and couple two danced it twice, followed in succession by couples three and four. We probably did about ten different dances and they all operated this way. What distinguished the dances were the different moves in them. The challenge for me was doing the same dance from three positions, where there was something different to do in each position. I was using brain cells that hadn't seen the light of day for years!
Still, I did okay. At first they made sure I danced in fourth position, but I must have met with their approval because after a couple of dances I found myself mostly in first position. It was most helpful that we walked through all the dances first and I was pleased I could remember the moves when it was my turn-the concentration was intense! I didn't want to spoil the dance for anyone and embarrass myself, especially as all eyes seemed to be focused my way. The steps were like very precise ceili dancing steps, and easy enough to do to reels and jigs. Several of the dances were done to strathspeys, which are like very slow reels and I found it hard to keep my steps going in slow motion.
The atmosphere was from another world. I recall asking my partner, "Doesn't anyone talk while dancing?" There was very little of it. I even heard a few Irish shouts coming from my own mouth when I was particularly enjoying the music, but I felt like I had to suppress them because there was no such thing as shouting here! The only contact between dancers was through their hands, and I soon found myself longing for waltz hold. An enormous part of the appeal of set dancing is the physicality of it-two people dancing as a unit, your partner's body in your hands, feeling the weight in your arms.
There were two musicians on piano and piano accordion who took turns playing solo. The accordion was here because it was a special occasion and the regular dancers much preferred it and thought the piano to be very ordinary. While both musicians were good, I was totally captivated by the reels played on piano and gave the pianist my sincere compliments.
For the tea break we moved out of the hall and down to the kitchen where we filled our plates from a table laid with an interesting variety of goodies, sweet and savoury, and picked up a cup of tea. An adjacent room was beautifully set up with a dozen small tables for four, with green paper tablecloths and fresh flowers picked from a garden on each. I met a number of Irish people among the dancers, most of them living in Scotland for many years. One lady spent a holiday in Clare without finding any dancing (I offered my assistance for her next trip) and another knew a set dancing friend of mine-the set dancing world has links everywhere!
After the tea we returned to the hall for a few more dances and a few words commemorating the occasion from the teacher. I felt extremely fortunate to be able to join the dancers of Gatehouse on this occasion and found it a pure pleasure to dance with them. I can only hope that some day I'll be able to attend the fiftieth anniversary parties of set dancing clubs and that I'll still be driving myself around to them at the age of 98.
We sat in the Blue Room
And talked of our families
Sipping cups of coffee,
Our time was our own.
The music would be starting
At 9.30, like every night.
You were taking time out
To meet friends and share some time.
Your beautiful big brown eyes,
And that broad Scottish accent,
Everyone who met you loved you,
You were everybody's friend.
Your lovely flowing white hair,
You were magic with the drums.
A true professional artist,
You loved all music and all dance.
Our trips now with Enjoy Travel
Will never be the same.
We will always remember you
And miss you, Jimmy Kane.
In memory of my musician friend Jim Kane who died suddenly during Fleadh Portugal 2005.
Joan Pollard Carew
At the Sean Og festival in Longford
I missed your warm embrace;
For the quicksteps and waltzes
No one else could take your place.
For years we danced sets together
And laughed along the way.
We shared a joke, a great big hug,
And danced the night away.
Our times of polka-ing together
In Dún na Sí are gone,
But the friendship that we shared, Jim,
In my memory will live on.
You are dancing now in heaven
Some reel or jig or set.
I can almost hear your bellylaugh
At some silly thing I said.
So long my darling dancing friend,
This is not a last goodbye.
Some day we will dance sets again
In that great dance hall in the sky.
This poem is a tribute to my wonderful friend the late Jim Marlowe from Kenagh in Co Longford. Jim passed away on 24th October after a short illness. He was well known and loved in set dancing circles.
Joan Pollard Carew
The vibrant and relaxing Longford Arms Hotel and its sister hotel, the Annally, once more hosted the Sean-Óg Set Dancing Weekend from 18th to the 20th of November. Longford town is situated right in the heart of the Irish midlands, which makes it an easy place to reach either by road, rail, sea or sky. The large cosmopolitan crowd who turned up for the festival epitomises this.
I arrived just as dusk started to embrace the day and was greeted by friends and fellow dancers. Gerard Butler was close by welcoming dancers and ensuring that everything was in first class order.
At 7pm the festival got underway with a mighty ceili in the Annally Hotel. The magic twosome, Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh, provided the awesome music. The ceili began with twelve sets on the floor but before the first set of the night, the Corofin, had finished the numbers had grown to eighteen sets. We danced six sets in all over the two-hour period and finished with a set of reels. I was delighted to note that Mike Mahoney's set decided to dance the first three figures of the Claddagh Set-this was the only airing this set got all weekend.
With this ceili over everyone made haste to the Longford Arms for the second ceili of the night. This time the wonderful young Emerald Ceili Band kept us all dancing until just after 1am, finishing with the Plain Set which they played straight through including the jig figure. The transition in tempo from reels to jigs proved no problem to these very talented musicians. At the short break Gerard Butler and Gabrielle Cassidy presented a beautiful bouquet of flowers to two members of the Emerald, newlyweds Janette Durnin and Paul Mongan. Some dancers retired to bed; others lingered on in the foyer to sing or play a few tunes by the fireside.
Pat Murphy's set dancing workshop started at 10.30am on Saturday morning with the Lusmagh Set. We had sixteen sets in the hall. Pat said that he got this set from Mike Mahony from Shannon in Co Clare. I originally saw this set danced in the spring of this year at Fleadh Ibiza where Joseph Sullivan from Co Offaly and his dancers demonstrated it for Frank Keenan's workshop. This is a simple, easy going set and a good set to start with no tricky moves or steps.
The next set Pat taught was the Longford Set. Pat said he always makes a point of dancing the local sets if at all possible. The set has three figures, two reels and a polka, nothing too difficult in the moves, but the Longford reel step can be a bit difficult to maintain. Pat advised us that if dancers are to perfect this step they must practice, practice, practice.
We had an hour for lunch and at 2pm we were back with twelve sets dancing the Fintown Set from Donegal. Pat told us that it had evolved from an older set known as the Currien Set. One can see a strong ceili influence all through the set. All handholds in this set are high and ceili swings are the order of the day.
We moved on to the Lispole Set, a lively little west Kerry Set. Pat Murphy paid tribute to John Chambers who gave him this set during the Listowel weekend in October. John hails from Camp, near Tralee, and is also a brilliant dance teacher. The set has five figures, two polkas, then a slide, another polka and finishes with a hornpipe. There is something very special about Kerry sets; they always lift your heart and soul.
Pat wasted no time in moving on to the next set, the little Kilmeena Set from Co Mayo. Typical of Mayo sets it has the figures, jig, polka and reel. There are many similarities with the lovely Derradda set.
We finished our workshop with a Co Clare set, the Loughraney. Pat just called this set and we all danced it. It is quite similar to the Caledonian. Pat got through an amazing six sets in total, surely a record for a single day's workshop. As the workshop came to a close I noticed that numbers had grown as the afternoon progressed and we finished up with fifteen sets.
While Pat Murphy and his adult set dancing class danced their hearts out, children were not forgotten during this prestigious festival. Gerard Butler and Gabrielle Cassidy taught step and sean nós dancing to eighty youngsters. Gabrielle told me that they had a good mix of boys and girls taking part. Gerard and Gabrielle are to be congratulated for their innovativeness. These two wonderful dancers and tutors give this workshop free of charge and are bubbling with enthusiasm and energy. This is the second year that they have run this workshop for youngsters. No wonder then that of all the places in Ireland that I dance in I am always amazed by the numbers of young people at ceilis in Longford and Roscommon.
The large ballroom was cleaned and prepared for Mass at 5.30. After Mass dancers ate dinner, showered and hastened to the Annally Hotel for the first of the two ceilis of the night.
Brian Ború Ceili Band was on stage as crowds gathered for a good night's dancing. We started with the Corofin and soon the hall had twenty sets. Some dancers went across to the Longford Arms for the Davey Ceili Band but I found it impossible to drag myself away from these five brilliant musicians. I especially loved the music from the concertina played by Tipperary-man Johnny Morrissey. My Granny rip often played reels and jigs for me on her concertina. With the ceili finished in the Annally I rushed across to get the last hour of the Davey family on stage. Dancers were just finishing the Caledonian Set when I arrived. I was all set with a fine dancer for the next set, the Kilfenora. Pat Murphy then called the Fintown Set, and I was privileged to dance it with Kevin Larkin from Co Galway, my dance partner for the workshop.
We danced a few waltzes and quicksteps and finished with a mighty Plain Set. As John Davey played A Soldier's Song the hundreds who had danced all night applauded the fantastic music this talented family had doled out.
Sunday morning at 11am crowds gathered for the two-hand dance workshop. Marie Garrity is no stranger to dancing in its many forms-she is an avid set dancer and ceili dancer from Dromore in Co Tyrone. Last year Marie's workshop was a huge success and this year the crowds were even bigger. Last year her class was on the Friday night. I was delighted to see it changed to Sunday as it gave more dancers a chance to participate.
Marie started with the Highland, then the Barn Dance, and the Circle Waltz, Breakaway Blues, Eva Three-Step, Back-to-Back Hornpipe, Mayfair Quickstep, Spanish Jive and finished with the Polly Glide. Marie is a wonderful instructor very clear, gentle and concise in her approach.
Tim Joe and Anne O'Riordan gave us music that energised us. Even those who thought they had no energy left found hidden reserves with the music of these two Corkonians. At the short break Gerard Butler and Gabrielle Cassidy congratulated Tim Joe and Anne on the birth of their first child, their beautiful daughter Grace. Gerard and Gabrielle presented the couple with a fabulous bouquet of flowers and a lovely cuddly white teddy bear for Grace.
Gabrielle also remembered the late Jim Marlowe who died on 24th October. She said that Jim was always at the festival and that everyone missed him. Ann Murtagh made a presentation of a plaque to Jim's daughter Shirley on behalf of the Sean-Óg Set Dancing Club.
During the second half, Marie Garrity called two-hand dances, the Eva Three Step and the Back-to-Back Hornpipe. The ceili concluded with the Caledonian Set and a big blast of reels-we decided to dance the first three figures of the Labasheeda. I was pleased to be dancing with John Joe Geraghty from Co Mayo. He is some dancer, a giant as light as a feather and what wonderful steps-the highlight of my weekend.
A seisiún had started by the fireside in the foyer as dancers relaxed after dinner and were lulled by the talented musicians and the warmth of the fire.
The Sean-Óg festival is one of the most cosmopolitan festivals in Ireland. I met with dancers from the four corners of Ireland, also dancers from Canada, America, Germany, and France. One young couple that sang as a duet in most beautiful harmony enthralled me. I later asked them where they were from and they told me they were from North Carolina. Juliet and Todd Gladson had been in Ireland for the past three weeks and visited the Trad Festival in Ennis and heard about the Longford weekend. They were having a ball they told me. They had taken part in the dancing workshops and thought set dancing was a little bit of heaven. They're also gifted musicians. Todd plays the fiddle, banjo, guitar and mandolin, Juliet plays the fiddle. They have vowed to seek out set dancing when they return home.
Some dancers left for home but the majority stayed on for the last ceili of the festival. No one was disappointed. Swallow's Tail Ceili Band more than satisfied the dancers. Their music was fantastic, the dancing brilliant and no one wanted the night to end. Dancers lingered to chat and say goodbye and I am sure a few tunes got played in to the small hours of the morning, but I retired to my room to pack for my return journey home the following morning.
Gerard, Gabrielle and their committee are to be congratulated on a superb festival. No effort has been spared in ensuring that everyone who attends this festival leaves with wonderful memories. Hospitality flows just like the lovely river Shannon. No wonder almost everyone who attended this year has made an advance booking in the hotel for next year's festival.
Joan Pollard Carew
Fergus Fitzpatrick's sentiments in his letter to the last edition of the Set Dancing News will resonate with thousands of set dancers around the country and beyond. That he felt it necessary to write this as a follow-up to a previous one on the same subject is to the discredit of us regulars who failed to respond to his admirable contribution. In fact, his most recent one, in particular, is a comprehensive discussion document for the present state of set dancing and its future. In brief, I have homed in on a few of the issues raised as my reaction to his thesis and hope it may further the discussion in a positive way.
He speaks of the lack of variety in the programme of sets at most ceilis, and, in particular, at the Armada during the Willie Clancy week where one might dance through the entire week with little or no variation in the 'menu'. Similarly, at Labasheeda there was a limited quota. It goes without saying that, for experienced dancers, this is a recipe for boredom, lightened only by the quality of the music played.
The very pertinent question he poses is: is this what the majority want? A definite no, I would suggest! There is, of course, a significant minority who would quibble with this assumption which poses the question of a reasonable compromise. This is the nub of a resolution to a situation which, if unchecked, will undoubtedly lead to disillusion and to the decline of the set dancing boom we have experienced for the last twenty-plus years.
There are, say, a dozen or so core sets out there which are done to death from ceili to ceili. Few would disagree with this; however, why should people bother going to workshops if they never get the opportunity to dance the sets they learn there at subsequent ceilis?
At our ceilis in West Limerick we have attempted to satisfy everybody by having a selected menu posted on the wall and including one or two unusual ones which are called by our callers. We think this a pragmatic mix, though there are the usual objectors who (a) do not agree with published lists and (b) object, for some reason, to any sets being called!
It should be the responsibility of the organisers to select the sets to be danced rather than leave it to the discretion of the unfortunate bands who may be from the other end of the country. Hopefully, we practice discreet calling rather than a non-stop rant which irks dancers and infuriates band members who try to maintain their own cohesion rather than be overpowered by the spiel of an out-of-control 'caller'!
On a personal basis I am of the opinion that we have seen the golden age of set dancing pass and only a national debate will prolong it's existence. Maybe a central committee could stabilise the situation, though this would have its pitfalls also.
Either way we should be grateful to Fergus-and previously Carl-for opening up a debate which is after all about an integral part of our cultural heritage, which was put on a firm footing by the late, great Connie Ryan and which we fail to cherish at our apathetic peril. Thank you Fergus and Carl. Hopefully, others will take up the cudgels in subsequent issues of the Set Dancing News.
Timmy Woulfe, Gortnagross, Athea, Co Limerick
Too set in our waysHi Bill,
In response to Fergus Fitzpatrick's article, I would like to share my experience since I started dancing approximately ten years ago. I have attended approximately fifty workshops during that time (almost all in Northern Ireland) and been introduced to many, many dances which were taught at the workshops, usually danced at the evening ceili and which I've never danced again, unless on the odd occasion it came up at another workshop. I can list over twenty sets that were taught and which I have never heard of again-Gillen, Tyrawley, Cloonagh Lancers, Shramore, Ballycroy and Knocknaboul, to name just a few. Some new dances have come out of workshops-Williamstown, Corofin Plain, Kilfenora Plain, Newport and occasionally the Roscahill. I think we have become too set in our ways (if you'll pardon the pun!) and more variety is needed. As Fergus stated, put it up for discussion and see what happens.
One last thing-can anyone tell me why the Plain Set has to be the last dance of the evening at almost all ceilis? I personally love this set but find that by the end of the evening I am usually too tired to dance it. Maybe it's just my age!
Sheila O'Kane, Newtownabbey, Co Antrim
Room for improvementHi Bill,
I hope this is only one of many letters in support of Fergus Fitzpatrick's article in the last issue of Set Dancing News. I remember reading his letter last year regarding Miltown and wondering how big a problem it really was, after all everyone loves dancing the plain sets, but after dancing for the first time at Miltown this year I have to agree. Of course I had an amazing time and the dancing was fantastic, but with very little variety in what was danced at each ceili I certainly felt there was room for improvement.
Living in south west England I dance a lot over here too and even though the standard of dancing is certainly not so high as in Ireland we do dance a greater variety of sets-mainly because with a higher proportion of less experienced dancers at a ceili we are used to having more calling-and if a set has to be called it's just as easy to call a more unusual one. We've also incorporated a number of sets that have been taught at weekends over here-like the Ardgroom taught by Timmy McCarthy and the Connemara Jig taught by Pádraig and Róisín McEneany. This is a good way to incorporate new sets into ceilis-after all how many of us have learnt a new set in a workshop and commented on how much we liked it, only never to dance it again?
As Fergus suggests there are a number of sets that could be danced at a ceili that many people would know already, for example the Borlin and West Kerry-both brilliant, lively polka sets that are great to dance. And for reels, the Labasheeda, Clare Orange and Green and whatever happened to the Claddagh Set? After this was revived in Malahide two years ago it seemed like it would make it into ceilis, but it seems to have slipped away again, which seems a great shame.
So what's the next step? Maybe it would be useful to hear the views of some of those people who organise the weekends we all love, and it would be good to hear from the bands and musicians too. Many people seem to agree with Fergus but unless more people speak out we will just carry on dancing just the three plain sets, the Caledonian, the Cashel, etc, which would be a real shame when set dancing has much more to offer.
Lucy Taylor, Kingsteignton, Devon, England
Only one reel set a night!Dear Bill,
We had a great weekend of dancing last week at Ballyvourney [11-13 November] with Timmy McCarthy, and only one reel set a night! However, following on from Fergus Fitzpatrick's letter in the October-November Set Dancing News, I think at least half the people in the workshops were from the UK, not from Ireland. Does this mean the Irish people are happy dancing three plain sets a night and don't want to do anything else?
I must admit I very rarely go to Ireland to dance, and when I do it is quite nice to stay inside my 'comfort zone' with familiar sets, though after a week at Miltown I was glad to try things I don't know, like the Newport. Ceilis in England, especially here in the south west where they are few and far between, are usually called and we dance a wide range of sets. When I'm planning a dance I try to make a mixture of dances most people know and some which are less known to keep some variety. I don't think calling is too intrusive on the music, and better that than having less experienced dancers in your set not knowing what is coming next, getting muddled up, spoiling the set for other dancers, maybe losing confidence and not going to ceilis in the future.
Thanks very much,
Maggie Daniel, Newton Abbot, Devon, England
Lots of encouragementDear Bill,
I'd like to respond to Fergus Fitzpatrick's article in the last edition of Set Dancing News on the future of set dancing. I am completely in support of the arguments he makes in favour of enhancing and improving the variety of sets danced at ceilis. His suggestions to introduce calling at ceilis for the less well-known sets and that the organisers liaise with the bands to play those sets are the only way forward.
I have recently been to two fantastic weekends of dancing, where I've seen these suggestions work to great effect: Carryduff (28th-30th October) and Listowel (14th-16th October). As well as the superb organisation, the friendly welcome and Pat Murphy's lovely workshops, the most enjoyable and exciting thing about both weekends was the sets we danced outside 'the big seven.' In Listowel, we danced the Labasheeda, Borlin, Clare Orange and Green (called by Pat Murphy) and Sliabh Luachra. Everyone I chatted to about Listowel agreed it was a great line up of sets, yet when I complimented the organiser on their innovation in including those sets, they had received a complaint-somebody expecting all of 'the big seven'. Organisers who are pushing the boat out in terms of having more variety in the line up of sets at their ceilis deserve lots of encouragement. It is a shame that people who complain to the organisers are more likely to be heard than those who are satisfied.
The Carryduff weekend in Belfast is a perfect example of how calling can help out with dancing less familiar sets and make it very enjoyable. Joe Farrell called at all the ceilis that weekend-he is an expert at calling sets and calls them all in a professional manner with a great sense of humour. Over the weekend, safe in Joe's hands, we danced the Ballyvourney, the Roscahill, Sliabh gCua, Labasheeda, Newport, Borlin and Paris sets! I never saw any decline in the number of dancers taking to the floor for each set-people were enthusiastic and enjoyed dancing the less well-known sets. I for one was delighted with the variety of great sets and Joe's calling added to my enjoyment of them.
Numerous conversations with set dancers have highlighted that we're all concerned about the lack of variety in the sets we dance at ceilis. Indeed at Carryduff Pat Murphy talked about how he would like to see sets such as the Clare Orange and Green (among others) danced regularly at ceilis again. On a personal note, can I suggest we include the Claddagh Set more at ceilis? Most weekends and other ceilis would have at least one person present who could call this set, and a lot of dancers have come across this set over the past year. It's up to you! At your next ceili, ask for the Claddagh Set and then you will be dancing one of the nicest sets around. Let's recognise the great effort put in at workshops to teach new sets by dancing those sets at ceilis.
We all have our part to play in having more varied sets danced at ceilis to enhance the set dancing scene. I think it is the responsibility of those who are involved in setting up the ceilis and weekends to introduce the newer sets and organise somebody who can call those sets. In conjunction with the band, they can arrange a line up of sets that includes the regular sets and maybe one new set at every ceili. The arguments for including less familiar sets at ceilis far outweigh the arguments against. I don't believe that people really want to dance the same sets over and over again-just like I don't believe we should replace all of the sets we currently dance-but surely people are willing to dance a wider range of sets? Let me know, let other people know through Set Dancing News. Let's have a proper debate on the future of set dancing!
Martina Venneman, Galway
A form of social enjoymentDear Bill,
I am writing to you in regards to recent interviews and articles published about set dancing being very sexual see page 47. I have put quite a bit of thought into this topic over the past few days and I would have to say I disagree with this statement.
In my opinion set dancing itself is not sexual. Granted it is a form of social enjoyment and it is possible to meet a future partner, husband or wife while going to ceilis and classes, but it is also possible to do so in any other form of dance or activity. If this is the case, can it also be said that any form of socialising, for example going to the pub for a drink, is sexual?
We must realise that the notion of set dancing being sexual came from set dancing being compared to lap dancing. Now please correct me if I'm wrong but I can't see one similarity between the two. The way this topic is being discussed it would seem that there are all sorts of sexual acts taking place on the dance floors of Ireland, which is most certainly not true and definitely not good for the promotion of set dancing. Is it a possibility that parents upon hearing these statements could stop their children going to classes and learning set dancing? I would hope that the people hearing these ridiculous statements would take into account that set dancing is one of our oldest traditions, a great form of social enjoyment and a great way to meet new people and make new friends.
One more item that was mentioned in these articles and interviews was that there was a lot of pounding in set dancing today. In one particular interview on national radio a female listener went so far as to say that pounding takes place mainly in west Clare. I'm sure that the likes of Willie Keane, Dan Furey, James Keane, etc, would turn in their graves if they were to hear such comments. There is a big difference between pounding and battering, it can take years of going to classes and practising to learn and perfect how to batter. I don't think young people should be knocked for battering at ceilis, after all it is a part of our heritage and long may it continue!
Peter Hanrahan, Lissycasey, Co Clare
P J's sleeping habitsDear Bill,
I hope you are well. I am writing to you regarding the recent set dancing trip to Manchester. I'm sure you're aware that a group of 37 people from Tipperary crossed the water for the weekend. My brother P J was driving the bus for them whilst taking in a bit of set dancing as well.
P J and the talented poet Tommy Molloy from Thurles were allocated a twin-room, which meant that Tommy would have to endure the brunt of P J's sleeping habits. The experience moved Tommy to write a poem about The Snoring Bus Driver.
So I'll set the scene for you. The group are having breakfast when Tommy takes a stand and reads his poem about the snoring bus driver. Needless to say a great laugh was had by all and I for one am sorry to have missed it. I enclose a copy of the poem and thought you might enjoy reading it.
Noreen Ryan, Clonoulty, Cashel, Co Tipperary
The Snoring Bus Driver'Twas six in the morning, we set off for the port,
For a weekend in Manchester, set dancing and sport.
After a hectic night's ceili, Johnny Reidy at his best,
We went back to our hotel, all in need of a good night's rest.
We went to our rooms and had a big chat,
I said, "Goodnight P J," and thought that was that.
The night that I had, I've never had before,
Not a wink did I sleep, my God did he snore.
To get him to stop I tried kicking his bed,
He went quiet for a while, Jays, I thought he was dead.
After three minutes he roared like a lion,
All I got for my troubles was a pain in my groin.
I was reared with suck calves, I was reared with sick pigs,
I was reared with accordions that played loud reels and jigs.
But the sound that they made could not compare,
With the noises that came from that fella there.
Margaret stopped dancin', we needn't ask why,
She never could sleep, though hard she did try.
If a cure for snoring don't come into force,
My advice to Margaret would be a quickie divorce.
If I'd known before-hand how my partner snored,
One thing's for certain I'd have jumped over board.
Tonight in my bed if he keeps me awake,
I swear to God, his life I will take.
Tommy Molloy, Thurles, Co Tipperary
Another summer weddingDear Bill,
A romance started through set dancing when Thomas McGlone from Moneymore met Margaret Fitzgerald from Navan at a ceili in Cavan. They were married in June and the reception was in the Headford Arms, Navan. What an enjoyable day! Their honeymoon was spent in New York.
Mary T Carron, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh
I am hooked on it!Dear Bill,
My name is Maura Hurley and I am a dedicated and loyal reader of Set Dancing News. I read it every month. I have only started getting into ceili dancing about a year and half ago. I am hooked on it! If I wasn't doing it, there would be a big part of my life missing. The excitement and atmosphere is mighty! I'm from west Cork (Dunmanway is the town) and we have our own set dancing team, 'Atha Caoire.' We're all heading off to Manchester on the 28th October weekend-can't wait! A gang of us were in Listowel (Kerry) a small while ago at the festival. It was brilliant- Johnny Reidy and the Emerald Ceili Band! The Emerald would be my favourite band ever!
It's a pity because I won't get to hear them that much, as they're from Tyrone. I still love them the best. I also love Johnny Reidy, Glenside, Micheál Sexton, the Abbey, etc. Nearly all of my friends dance so it's great. Mighty craic! I hope some of the Listowel pictures will be in the next magazine. I was there-I had a pink top on. Very good day and night. I was in the Abbey Hotel today, Ballyvourney (Cork) listening to Johnny Reidy. Very good!
Hope to talk to you soon. If you read this, thanks!
Maura Hurley, Shanacrane Cross, Dunmanway, Co Cork
A most memorable occasionHi Bill,
If you have a small space left in your letter section, I would like to thank everyone who attended my birthday party [4 November at St Anne's, Bohernabreena, Tallaght, Dublin 24]. I had a wonderful time, thanks to each and every one of you who came to celebrate with me, you helped to make it a most memorable occasion. Also a big thanks to Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh . Love to all,
Celia Gaffney, Templeogue, Dublin 16
Interest with the 'youngies'G'day Bill,
A brief message to say hello and to let you know how we are getting on Down Under.
Martin and I started running a Monday night class here in Canberra in July this year, and it has grown from one set to three to four sets in that short time. We are coordinating with Paul Wayper, who runs a class on Wednesday nights, and we hope to get a web site set up to aid communication here on what is happening with set dancing across Australia.
We have also formed a dance demonstration set with our first event this weekend at a local festival. We hope to dance at a range of events here to recruit more (younger!) people to set dancing. We have some plans to approach some local schools in the area to try to get some interest with the 'youngies'.
The dance scene in Canberra is very vibrant, with many people here dancing two, three or more styles of dancing-Scottish, Scandinavian, bush dancing, Colonial (very popular), ballroom, rock 'n' roll, jive, swing, salsa-it goes on! Canberra has a population of just over 300,000 people, so we are confident that we will be able to make set dancing as popular here as all the other styles.
We very much enjoyed Pat Murphy's visit here-he was very generous with his time and knowledge. We hope that other teachers, dancers and musicians from Ireland will make the trip to Australia-we would be very pleased to welcome them and to show them around our lovely bush capital.
Finally, thanks to you for the ever-improving Set Dancing News. People here who have traveled to Ireland have told me that they are very impressed with the website information and it has been invaluable to giving local information about where the dancing and music is for those not familiar with the Irish dance scene.
So, as Canberra is finally warming up for summer (28ºC today), we send warmest greetings to you and to all our set dancing friends in Ireland-don't forget us and we'd love to see you here one day.
Very best wishes,
Nora Stewart and Martin Largey, Kaleen, ACT, Australia
Set dancing burst into the media spotlight in Ireland on November 23rd when a court case in North Carolina was reported in the Irish Times with the headline, "US judge rules that Irish set-dancing is erotic." In that case the judge overturned provisions of a state law which banned erotic dancing with the help of testimony from anthropologist and dance expert Dr Judith Hanna. Her testimony that, according to the Times, "Irish set-dancing replicated the rhythm of sex" was found to be "credible and uncontradicted" by the judge. As Irish dancing, as well as football cheerleaders, were not banned by the state law, he was convinced that lap dancing clubs should not face discrimination and ruled in favour of two such clubs.
Gerry Ryan on RTÉ's 2FM morning radio programme picked up on what he called an "absolutely bizarre" story. After he read out the article, a succession of lady callers disagreed with the notion that set dancing is erotic, while speaking of their own pleasure in doing it. One of them invited Gerry to join her dancing at O'Shea's Merchant in Dublin. Some callers took offense at the notion that all set dancers "pounded" the floor while dancing, saying that this was mostly confined to the lively dancers in west Clare. Gerard Butler also phoned in and pointed out that the type of dancing referred to in the case was probably the modern style of step dancing seen in Riverdance or Lord of the Dance. Paddy Hanafin testified that his Shindig festival was responsible for six or seven marriages over the past twelve years, and extended an invitation to Gerry Ryan to come to Tralee as his guest to see the dancing for himself. Gerry seemed eager to take up this offer but this has still to be confirmed.
The Irish Times followed up with an amusing weekend article by Shane Hegarty, who managed to contact Dr Hanna for her side of the story. She was indeed speaking of step dancing, not set dancing, and made her comments "just to show how preposterous a government regulation banning sexual dance is. I took it to the extreme because no one would consider Irish dancing sexual." Shane reported that set dancers were in a bit of a fuss because set dancing was deemed to be erotic. He supposed that Pat Murphy's books, Toss the Feathers and The Flowing Tide, "might be considered the dance's Kama Sutra." Some quotes from your editor further muddied the waters with comments equating set dancing to a twenty-minute marriage, something that loyal readers of this magazine might remember reading here in 2000.
Since then, the controversy has gone quiet, at least at the time of this issue's publication, and some other topic is receiving its fifteen minutes of fame in the media. Pat Murphy was delighted for his books to be placed in the same category as the Kama Sutra and was anticipating fresh phone calls from publishers as a result. Peter Hanrahan expressed his feelings on the matter in an excellent letter you can read. Any others wishing to comment are most welcome to send their thoughts for the next issue. Meanwhile, we'll all get back to our intensely pleasurable pastime and try to get in as much dancing as we can before they try to ban us from doing it.
A new type of festival for IrelandA new week-long festival of traditional music and dance called The World Fleadh is being inaugurated in August 2006 in Ballybunion, Co Kerry. Over the course of seven days from Monday to Sunday, August 14th to 20th, the festival will offer nightly ceilis, daily dance and music workshops, concerts, scheduled sessions, music and dance competitions, a market and even fireworks. Up to 50,000 people are expected to attend the event in its first year, which will be filmed for television broadcast. The event is expected to cost €1 million to stage.
The town of Ballybunion is a popular coastal resort in north Kerry with numerous hotels, guest houses and B&Bs. The World Fleadh coincides with the opening of the Tinteán Theatre, a €4 million development which will stage some of the events. Other venues will be in a temporary fleadh village built especially for the occasion. The set dancing will take place in a marquee with a custom-built dance floor and state-of-the-art sound system. The programme features daily dance workshops in all aspects of dance-set, ceili, two-hand, sean nós, traditional step-with different teachers every day. Ceilis are held nightly and also in the afternoons on the final weekend and feature Ireland's best ceili bands. The dance marquee will also offer performances by John Fennell's Hell for Leather troupe and by well known solo dancers in the sean nós and modern traditions.
The inspiration for this ambitious fleadh comes from the large Irish music festivals taking place annually around the world in Milwaukee, Glasgow, Cambridge, Lorient, Denmark and Belgium. These are large-scale festivals which prominently feature concerts by Ireland's best-known professional musicians.
"There is presently no national festival of such a stature and magnitude in Ireland which celebrates the most professional and widely revered performers within the Irish music tradition," according to The World Fleadh organiser Eric Cunningham, who is also a flute player, composer, producer and son of popular ceili band musician Matt Cunningham.
Eric contrasts The World Fleadh with Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann, the major traditional music festival organised in August by Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann.
"The Fleadh Cheoil is in the main preoccupied with fostering the amateur Irish traditional musician and giving succour and impetus to the Irish music, song and dance tradition in its purest sense," Eric says. "The World Fleadh on the other hand is devoted to celebrating those professional musicians who have become household names, both at home in Ireland and throughout the world."
The World Fleadh will provide a platform both for musicians famous for their traditional style, as well as those known for their innovative methods.
Books and disks
Three ceili bands, a flute, a concertina and a few stepsA flood of new disks indicates that there's a lot of activity in the music and dance worlds. All these will be of interest to set dancers.
In Full Flight by the Swallow's Tail Ceili Band is not actually a new disk, having been out for a couple of years, but up to now it has escaped the notice of Set Dancing News. The members of the Swallow's Tail come from Sligo and Mayo and have had a strong following for many years now. This is their second CD and the first to be arranged for sets, with four 'C' sets-the Cashel, Clare Lancers, Connemara and Corofin Plain sets. Pick up a copy at their ceilis or get in touch via the phone.
Brid O'Donohue is a flute and tin whistle player from Miltown Malbay, Co Clare, who may be familiar to Clare dancers as an occasional member of the Four Courts Ceili Band, as when she played with them during the Merriman Summer School. Her first recording is called Tobar an Dúchais and has been acclaimed for its pure unaccompanied traditional music. It is distributed by Claddagh, Copperplate and Ossian.
The dynamic duo Micheál Sexton (Mullagh, Co Clare) and Pat Walsh (Cobh, Co Cork) have been going for less than a year but have made a strong impression with set dancers, and with organisers who are eager to book them for ceilis at home and abroad. Their first CD, simply called Live, was released in October, and contains four sets played in their unmistakeable style-the Caledonian, Cashel, Kilfenora and Plain.
Buail cois ar! is the new DVD of sean nós dancing by Mick Mulkerrin and Mairéad Casey. That translates to "throw a step on it", something that Mick and Mairéad are likely to do at the drop of hat, whether it be a floor, door or table. Their new DVD is a teaching video which presents a dozen different steps in a half-hour presentation. Their legs are filmed from behind and from the knees down which makes it ideal for home practice. The two had great success with their first Steps for Sets video back in 1998, so this new disk is most welcome.
At the November Trad Fest in Ennis, Co Clare, the Turloughmore Ceili Band launched their second CD, Seven Streams. The Turloughmore are a ten-piece band who made a name for themselves as Munster champions and All-Ireland runners-up. They play in the classic Clare ceili band style and are worth seeking out on the occasions they play for ceilis. Readers in the New York and Philadelphia areas will have a chance to hear them when they're on tour in the USA in February. To give a listen to their new CD, as well as their first one, Bee's Wing,
Chris Droney from Bell Harbour, Co Clare, is probably the most highly regarded concertina players in Ireland, and has had that status for close to fifty years. In the fifties and sixties he won the All-Ireland titles on nine occasions and played with numerous ceili bands including the Kilfenora. Today at the age of 81 he's a regular member of the Four Courts. Chris recorded solo albums in 1962 (The Flowing Tide) and 1995 (The Fertile Rock), so it is a momentous occasion when a new one is released. In November Chris's new CD, Down from Bell Harbour was launched in Vaughan's Pub, Kilfenora. The music is Droney at his best, as vigorous and moving as ever, and highly recommended to all music lovers. It is available from Cló Iar-Chonnacta.
Those ordering Matt Cunningham's new DVDs, Irish Set Dancing Made Easy, were pleased when they started arriving in the post in November. Volumes 1 and 2 are now available and Volume 3 will probably be shipping by the time you read this. Frank Stubbs of Ainm Records, the record company which produces all of Matt's recordings, is delighted with the response he's had in the short time the DVDs have been out. Happy customers said they are "fantastic" and "the dancers are beautiful and move with élégance."
Cappamore takes Manchester prizeThe winners of the grand prize at the Sean Dempsey International Set Dancing Festival were the Cappamore Set Dancers from Cappamore, Co Tipperary. Eight senior dancers in the mixed open competition won a trip to Fleadh Ibiza in April 2006, with a performance of the Cavan Reel Set. Up to 25 family members and friends will be booking places to join them on the set dancing package holiday.
Pauline Hynan is the teacher who has been training the team since they were age five. She also brought junior teams to Manchester who won numerous first, second and third prizes.
The International Set Dancing Festival has been held annually since 1989 in Manchester, England. It was started by the late Sean Dempsey who was responsible for the set dancing revival in that city. In addition to two days of competitions, this year's festival also featured ceilis by the Johnny Reidy Ceili Band from Co Kerry. Over 1,000 people attended during the four day festival.
Tim Joe, Anne and GraceCongratulations to Tim Joe and Anne O'Riordan whose baby daughter Grace was born on Monday October 24th. Anne and Grace came home from hospital the following Friday, when Tim Joe had to set off for a weekend playing music in Meath and Belfast with Mort Kelleher in his wife's place.
After three weeks at home, Anne returned to her piano at the November ceili in Carrigaline where she received a huge welcome and rousing cheer. Grace attended her first set dancing weekend when she accompanied her parents to the Longford Arms Hotel. Best wishes to the O'Riordan family from Set Dancing News on behalf of all set dancers.
Yes, that was me, I admit it. For ten years (!) my friends did all they could to get me to Miltown for Willie Clancy week. Initially they told me that it was "just like transporting the Cork Lounge (a popular dance hall in New York City) to Miltown." I figured that if I wanted to dance with New Yorkers, I could do that here. Then they tried the "but the music is great!" tactic. However, we are very spoiled when it comes to Irish traditional music in New York. We are quite fortunate to have terrific ceili bands and legendary dance musicians, such as James Keane (Castle Ceili Band of the '60s) and Martin Mulhaire (Tulla Ceili Band of the '50s) among others, any time we want them. My friends tried everything they could think of to convince me that I was missing something quite special. I just didn't believe them. But this year I finally relented and went to Miltown. Now I believe! It was the best week I have ever spent in Ireland!
Nothing went as I'd planned, yet it was the best vacation in memory. My flight from NYC to Boston (along with all others that afternoon) was cancelled, due to severe storms. As I stood at the ticket counter, tears rolled down my face at the thought of missing my connecting flight in Boston. I had waited three years for a vacation, and now I may have to return home, only to start over again the next day, traveling on stand-by. However, a plane that had been on the runway for 3½ hours returned to the gate for refueling, and a passenger wanted off! I was, quite literally, spirited onto the plane in his place. Once in Boston, we had to wait again as the incoming flight was also delayed, but at least I hadn't missed it. We left Boston three hours late, but arrived nearly on time in Shannon with the help of those storm tailwinds.
At Shannon I boarded the bus and headed to Kilfenora, and after a short nap, I was off to Vaughan's for the Thursday night ceili with the Four Courts-another first. I had looked forward to dancing here for several years, and I was not disappointed. However, I was a little nervous, as I have never before walked into a ceili, in the US or Ireland, where I didn't know any other dancers. But, I know the Four Courts musicians, and the local dancers were very friendly to me. I also met dancers from Los Angeles, and we joked about how you could pick out the Yanks-the women, anyway-because we were the only dancers wearing skirts. The music was brilliant, of course, and I had a great evening.
The next morning my friend Lisa arrived early and after breakfast and a tour of the crosses of Kilfenora, we arranged a lift to Miltown. I arrived without a place to stay, which was quite uncharacteristic for me, but at the summer school office, one phone call on my behalf located a room to share, just up from the Mill Theatre.
That evening my housemates, friends and I were off to the first ceili of the week, the Four Courts at the Armada. That day was also Lisa's birthday. Our friends back home in NYC, members of Ceol na gCroí Ceili Band, had sent a card along ahead to their friends in the Four Courts, and Joe Rynne made the appropriate announcement during the ceili. He called Lisa to the stage, presented her with the card and one from them as well, and we all sang Happy Birthday. Lisa was very happy that her special day was remembered by her friends. The number of dancers that evening was just enough to create "good dance energy" without overcrowding the floor. There were very few people there whom I knew or even recognized, but the music was terrific with brilliant lift and timing! I am very partial to Clare bands when dance music is involved, and I have rarely, if ever, been disappointed by any of them!
Once I agreed to attend Willie Week, I told myself, and everyone else, I wasn't going for the dancing-I was going for the music, the classes, the sessions, and maybe a ceili or two. Well, let it be said that I danced at sixteen céilithe in the ten days that I was there. I don't have the patience to do dance workshops, and I really didn't want to take the music classes, either, although that had been the original plan. Rather than enrolling in the summer school, there were opportunities to head out on short daily road trips around west Clare, a pastime I never tire of in my very favorite place in the world-as long as we were back in time to dance.
On Saturday afternoon we all headed to The Armada again to dance to the lively music of Star of Munster. It was the first time I had heard the band play since Michael Sexton's passing, whom I fondly remember meeting many times. It was a little emotional at first for me to look up and not see him sitting with the band. It is always difficult for a band to undergo a personnel change, but Conor McCarthy was a wonderful choice. Their tempo and tune selections still make them a favorite with the dancers. The floor gradually filled up, with people greeting one another in voices tinged with many different accents-English, Irish, Scottish, German, Dutch, Japanese and others. For a moment, just a split second really, I had a fleeting thought of walking along Fifth Avenue, where I work in NYC, always surrounded by dozens of accents and languages. That was the last time I thought of home for a long while! Many dancers recognized or knew one another, and it was quickly apparent that many were repeat Willie Weekers. I met up with friends from Boston whom I hadn't seen in a year, as well as friends from Clare whom I hadn't seen in nearly three years. And I was introduced to anyone my friends already knew and off we all went to become part of the crazed masses!
But, I still had yet to figure out what the Big Attraction of Willie Week was. So far, a couple of ceilithe at the Armada-no big deal, I'd danced there on other occasions. And these ceilithe were no better or worse. As my friends will attest, I am extremely picky about the music I dance to! There are times when I hear great music but it just isn't great dance music. And I've always felt that the best ceili bands come with drummers-I said I was picky. That being said, I danced to the Abbey on Saturday night, and was completely lost in the music-and without a drummer! Blasphemy! The energy of the dancers fed the band and, in turn, the music fed the dancers, as it should be. After the ceili, we had too much energy to turn in, and we found the session at the Bellbridge House Hotel to be enjoyable and a great way to wind down. We were to return there each night during the week once the dancing was finished.
I suppose the band that I found most surprising and exciting was Johnny Reidy. His band had appeared in NY recently, and I had heard mixed reviews from dancers who were there, so I wasn't sure what to expect. However, his band really put the music under my feet! There was such energy, such life in their music. At home, I typically sit out many of the polka sets, too repetitious, somewhat boring. But here, in Clare of all places, I didn't want to dance only the reel sets! I now know the Sliabh Luachra backward, forward and sideways. We danced to their band several more times during the week-I even passed up the first night with the Tulla (miss a Clare band?-unheard of!) to go to the Armada for the ceili with Johnny Reidy. Their music had the dance floor absolutely packed for every set-sometimes it felt as though it was too close for comfort, and I chose to listen rather than take part in "defensive dancing" when you have to hold your elbows out to fend off the set next door!
I did spend most of my dance time at the Armada. However, on Wednesday night I went to Quilty where Micheál Sexton and Pat Walsh were playing and on Thursday night I went to the ceili in the Mill Theatre with the Tulla Ceili Band. The tunes we have come to associate with the Tulla, the lift in their music and the sheer joy of dancing to it made this the most memorable ceili of the week for me and one that I will remember for a very long time. The dance floor was full but not overcrowded, and there was great energy. I didn't even mind pulling my partner through the Plain Set (my favorite) while calling it for four others who had never danced it, and two of them spoke only French-interesting! Once I reminded myself that these people had come a long way to learn the dances and music that I was so fortunate to have been raised on, I was up for the challenge, and we laughed our way through it. The music for the Lancers Set at the end of the evening was brilliant! On the way out the door, I told Jim Corry that "it was worth coming 3,000 miles just for this night." What was particularly nice for me was that Jim, several others in the Tulla and a number of musicians in other bands greeted me personally, although I hadn't been over in three years.
On Saturday afternoon the music by the Glenside was inspiring, as was the brilliant sunshine and the grassy cliff overlooking the bay. I went outside at the break, lay down on the grass and didn't want to move when I heard the music start up again. I stayed there through two more sets and then made it back in for the final few dances. I had heard Tom Flood play drums with the Tain some years back, but had never heard him on the box. He played some inspiring music that afternoon! But not alone, of course-the musicians were all equally talented and the mix was great. Which brings me to the close of the week. On Saturday night, we started out at the Mill with the Kilfenora-I can't go to Clare and not dance to them! We stayed for the first half-a small dance crowd by the week's standards, but great music as always. I think the lack of atmosphere and the poor acoustics kept dancers away from the Mill. Then it was off to the Armada. On Friday and Saturday nights the main dance floor was so crowded that I moved back and forth between that and the smaller room where the Four Courts were playing. What a treat to have two great bands to choose from for each set! The Four Courts are always my sentimental favorite, as I learned set dancing in the States from John and Frank Droney, brothers of the band's concertina player Chris. The band always provides brilliant tunes, lift, timing, a little humor and a lot of heart! And they always "put the music under my feet!"
So my friends have asked what I thought of Willie Week-did I enjoy it? Would I go back? Yes, yes, yes! It was by far the best week that I have ever spent in Ireland-the music, the dancing, the dancers, the energy, the new friends, the faces that I now recognize in Set Dancing News photos. I guess I should probably now be thought of as another Willie Week groupie, or is it junkie? Anyway, I am now considering that perhaps I should head off to some of the other dance weekends and events that I have avoided over the years-Malahide, Tralee, Castletown . . . But, wherever my dance shoes lead, I'm fairly certain that I will be back in Miltown next year.
Maureen Donachie, Floral Park, New York
The official opening of the Joe Mooney Summer School was on Saturday 16th July on the High Street of Drumshanbo, Co Leitrim. People arrived from near and far for a warm fáilte with ceol traidisiúnta by Comhaltas and friends. An opening concert at the Ramada Hotel, Lough Allen, was the highlight on Sunday. Crossing the Shannon, a well-choreographed traditional show, featured local song, dance and story.
Twenty-two sets crammed into the Community Centre for Pat Murphy's set dancing workshop on Monday morning. But even with three sets up on the stage, it was more than a bit crowded for such a small space. When we regrouped in the larger hall next door on Tuesday, it was a pleasure to move in comfort and everyone seemed relieved with the freedom of space. Among the many sets taught that week, Pat introduced a few lovely Donegal ones with various touches of céilí style, such as holding inside hands shoulder height for advance and retire. Being a céilí dancer and teacher, I was delighted with these deviations but had to remind myself to use set dancing footwork.
My only complaint about the Joe Mooney set dancing workshop this year is that, while enrolment was higher than previous years, unattached male partners were in short supply. As my friend Anne always says, "When I do social dancing, I want to dance with a fella." Still, in spite of this scarcity, I had the pleasure of dancing with a few good partners at the evening céilithe. And I was delighted to be invited up for one of the demonstration sets.
The céilithe in Drumshanbo were well attended every night. Locals, as well as people from Cavan and even as far away as Galway, drove in for the evening. Dancers seem to follow their favourite bands and that was evident by the numbers who came to step it out to the sounds of the Swallow's Tail, Emerald, Carousel, Glenside and Heather Breeze.
Edie Bradley did her magic with the ever more popular two-hand dances on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons. She taught a couple of new dances and added variations to some she had taught the previous year. The Long German is a favorite with my students in New York City. Edie's classes were well attended and I noticed more than one of her waltzes being tried out at céilithe in the evening.
Something else that caught my attention one evening was the crowd of dancers who took the floor for the Peeler and The Goat. I learned this two-hand dance years ago and enjoy teaching it to my students. I was pleasantly surprised when Pat Murphy introduced it to round off one of his morning sessions this summer.
Roisín Ní Mhainnín from Connemara lashed into a great sean nós dance lesson on Friday afternoon. All levels of ability benefited from her professional teaching methods-breaking down the steps and giving us lots of repetition. I know I wasn't the only one who wished her time in Drumshanbo could be extended. The plan to conduct two classes almost back to back the same evening had lots of people's knees and ankles crying out for more rest in between sessions.
On Saturday afternoon, the outdoor céilí on High Street is always a great feature of Joe Mooney School. However, I can't give an account of that here because, as my mother used to say, "There I was-gone." I had accepted a lift back to Mayo that morning and was on my way to attend Scoil Acla, a writers' summer school on Achill Island. So for me, that was one great week after another.
Geoff's First SundayOne of the highlights of my summer holiday this year was a stop at Geoff Holland's First Sunday session when I went for a quick family visit to London. My niece Caroline and her friend Linda took me to this popular afternoon session which boasts céilí, two-hands, waltzes, quick steps, jives and plenty of sets. The first thing I noticed after a warm welcome and a lively dance with Geoff was that women did not dominate the charming hall of the London Irish Center in Camden Square. That's right: men and women were in equal proportion. I can't say if it's always the case, but there were plenty of guys to dance with that first Sunday in August. I would have been on the floor the entire afternoon had I not chosen to sit out one of the jives.
The perfect dance host, Geoff made all his regulars and visitors welcome including a group of non-English speakers who arrived towards the end of the session. It wasn't long before they found themselves in the Plain Set with lots of help from Geoff and friendly dancers who attend his regular sessions. I think "friendly" is the operative word at Geoff Holland's dance session.
You should go next time you find yourself in London on a first Sunday.
Maura Mulligan, West New York, New Jersey
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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